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Global warming and the role of language in social transformation
This paper explores the proposition that the world is shaped by language. It takes as axiomatic the notion, familiar to critical discourse analysis (CDA), that language (discourse) and society are mutually constitutive. It reviews several key notions of CDA, including framing, presupposition, naturalisation and memetic transfer to develop a model of the processes involved. Just as the institutional structures in society have been shaped, over the years, by the discourses that have circulated about them so, it is argued, the future of the planet depends on the successful naturalisation of the ‘human agency hypothesis’ in the matter of global warming. The paper uses CDA tools to examine a blog which advances the ‘anti-human agency’ hypothesis, to explore the way such ideas might be spreading around the worldwide web today. Although up to 97% of the world’s scientists accept that human industrial activity is responsible for climate change, the fact that protocols such as that of Kyoto (1992) are consistently flouted demonstrates that meaningful social change has yet to result from widespread acceptance of the idea. The opposite hypothesis still finds supporters in the global business community and the U.S. Republican Party. Human agency in climate change, then, can be seen as the ultimate test case for the proposition that language and the social world are mutually constitutive, since the survival of the planet itself is at stake in the conflict between the two hypotheses.
Keywords: critical discourse analysis, memes, presupposition, ideology, framing, naturalisation, ecology, global warming, climate change