“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug” – Mark Twain
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. — George Orwell, Politics and English Language, 1946
Over the last few days to a week, I’ve been sifting through a leaked version of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement — the actual signed copy is still not posted on the website. Other reviewers and criticisms of the agreement suggest certain Orwellian characteristics. I quite appreciate this comparison, as Orwell was a fan of simple language and wrote novels like 1984 about the dangers of political-speak (newspeak).
Now I may not go so far as to suggest that this particular agreement is making lies sound truthful (although maybe yesterday’s post suggested so) and murder respectable; however, there is certainly no shortage of that type of language in our political elite, which has certainly become well adopted by the media and in the delivery of TV nightly news (news-speak). For example, when “collateral damage” is used to make murder sound respectable.
(I have alluded to this in several earlier posts on this site: Words Matter; Why Business People Speak Like Idiots; how the term “conservation” is like scotch broom; bullshit bumpf to blame for salmon disappearing, and so on…)
The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement is full of these empty, meaningless, wind-full words that obscure any meaning like a Pacific coast fog bank obscures landmarks. When the fog of empty-bumpf language rolls in — active adaptive management, precautionary approach, sustainability, ecosystem-based management, ecological integrity — meaning disappears faster than the horizon, or the island of real meaning that was just moments before serving as a beacon for our direction.
If you’ve ever spent time on the coast, you know that Pacific fog banks slide in so thick sometimes that vertigo sets in. One can not tell the sea from the sky, up from down, north from south… in a kayak, or a seaplane, it can be especially dangerous, more so without a compass to trust.
Several years back, I fell into a fisheries contract as the person initially hired was killed in a float plane crash. She had been working in an isolated logging camp on Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Is.). Her and her crew were picked up by float plane on the west coast and were flying back to town. The Pacific fog bank rolled in, and the pilot was left trying to navigate by flying very low and following a logging road on the ground and relying on local knowledge.
The only problem is he followed a different logging road then he thought… the one he followed ends abruptly in a mountain cliff.
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And that’s the point here. When we all get lost in fog-full empty-language which has lost meaning and obscures reality — how do we navigate safely to make sure that we are saying what we mean, and meaning what we say?
What compass (moral, integrity or otherwise) do we use when business, environmental groups, government, or otherwise start using fog-full language that obscures any actual meaning?
And — especially — know what we are signing. And — most especially — know what we are communicating to greater audiences (e.g. marketing tool for big business to appeal to consumers).
if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. — George Orwell
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Following my first few posts re: the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement — I emailed all of the ‘communications’ people listed on the Agreement website including the Forest Products Association and the nine enviro groups to let them know about this site and my thoughts on the agreement.
I did it partially as a test to see how well everyone was standing by language in the Agreement — specifically that any signatories were supposed to let other signatories know about “third parties” that “may take a position or make public statements that are contrary to the principles and intent of the CBFA” — pg. 38 under Goal 6: Marketplace Recognition. (which makes me think maybe the signatories don’t understand social media…?)
I think some of my comments might be considered “contrary”…? (and by the way if you’d still like to send a letter to the CEO of Abitibi-Bowater — one of the signatories — protesting their operations in Canada’s Boreal Forest… you still can: from Greenpeace’s (one of the signatories) website.
I only got a response from two individuals — both enviro signatories. To be fair, I won’t state who and what organization; however, this is part of one of the responses:
We at the […] are confident in the science that underpins the agreement and are hopeful that other key stakeholders in this unprecedented process will ensure that at the end of the day the Boreal is indeed protected.
The “science”? hmmm.
The “Goal” of this Agreement, as clearly stated in its own section:
"Goal" of Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement; pg 5 of leaked version
(Is this not one of the worst run-on sentences you have ever read… worse than a “short” salmonguy blog post… I have visions of my grade 8 English teacher butchering that sentence with her red pen bayonet)
Here’s a decent definition of science from Wikipedia to use as a barometer:
Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories. As knowledge has increased, some methods have proved more reliable than others, and today the scientific method is the standard for science. It includes the use of careful observation, experiment, measurement, mathematics, and replication — to be considered a science, a body of knowledge must stand up to repeated testing by independent observers.
So what is the science “underpinning” this Agreement?
- The science of “boreal forest conservation” and “forest sector competitiveness“…?
- The science of “conservation and protection of boreal biodiversity“…?
- The science of “forest products… recognized as a climate-friendly choice in the marketplace“…?
- Or, the science of a “global source of supply of sustainable forest products“…?
Oh, no wait… it’s the science ‘underpinning’ the Agreement… So that would be the: “Core elements of the agreement” , which include: ecosystem-based management, active adaptive management, protected areas, precautionary approach, “recovery of species at risk” , greenhouse gas emission (GHGs) reductions, and so on…
Somebody please explain to me the “science” of ecosystem-based management…
Where in the world has the science of “ecosystem-based management” been implemented over a long enough time period; over a large enough geographic area to prove that it assisted in “recovering” species at risk…(for example caribou which have declined by over 60% from historical estimates)?
Where has it significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions…? Where has it been used along with “active adaptive management” and the “precautionary approach” in a mass industrial development setting?
Where have all of these been “scientific principles” been utilized in such a manner as to be recognized as “testable laws and theories” and have resulted in a “body of knowledge” that has stood up “to repeated testing by independent observers.” ?
— it’s voodoo science at best. It’s mushy, fog-full language, simply reproduced through the mating of corporate enviro groups, corporate industry, and government spin-doctors resulting in offspring that resemble this Agreement and many other document like it (e.g. The Wild Salmon Policy)
Harsh… maybe… however someone explain to me exactly how a “sustainable” forest industry operates…. what is “sustainable”? What does it mean? What does it mean for the communities in those forests? What does it mean for the revered ‘bou (caribou)?
Somebody show me were a “network of protected areas” has made a difference for large migratory animals like caribou (or salmon, or grizzly bears – yeah Jasper and Banff are doing wonders for the grizzly)…
how big does this “network” have to be? How big was it before industrial forestry? (Oh wait, it was all of it…)
Show me exactly how “science” is going to allow severely depressed caribou herds to co-habitate with expanding industrial forestry, tar sands operations, and mineral exploration and mining — which is only going to expand as world populations grow (ever heard of Potash?).
It’s not possible. This is a big experiment… with a whole lot more flash; then dash. A whole lot more: ‘maybe this, maybe that’. A whole lot of fog bank language rather then saying what we mean, and meaning what we say.
It’s high time that folks stop hiding behind bullshit bumpf words like ecosystem-based management, precautionary approach, sustainability, adaptive management, and whatever other concocted bafflegab gets cooked up over the burners of windowless boardrooms, transcontinental jet flights offset by carbon credits, and float & bloat schmooze fests in the ‘wildernesses’ of North America.
What the hell are we actually trying to do here…?
“If you think learning your vocabulary words doesn’t make a difference, try going into a store and asking for toilet paper when you only know the word for sandpaper”
— Alan Webber: Rules of Thumb: 52 truths for winning at business without losing yourself –