Posted by: JohnnyRook | June 19, 2008

Why Call it “Climaticide”? The Power of True Names

Welcome to the Climaticide Chronicles, a blog about politics, society, science and ethics with special attention to global warming and climate change. Climaticide is a term that I coined several months ago (only afterwards did I learn that the term already existed in French but with a narrower meaning) to describe the human-driven destruction of our Holocene-epoch climate, the climate in which our civilization has developed, thrived and prospered, and which we now threaten to irrevocably alter without regard to the consequences.

I chose Climaticide for several reasons: 1) It accurately describes what we humans are doing to our current climate, which is, quite simply, killing it. 2) It’s a catchy, easy to remember term (IMHO) 3) It avoids the ambiguity of other expressions such as global warming, which many people find confusing (“It’s not getting warmer where I live. Hell, we got a lot of snow here in the Pacific Northwest this winter. It’s June now and it’s still cold”) and climate change, which doesn’t sound sufficiently scary or urgent (“Not all change is bad, you know? “Maybe they’ll be able to grow watermelons in Helsinki…”) expressing instead a plainly obvious evil. (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the suffix -cide “as denoting an act of killing”) and 4) it’s a perfectly apt descriptor not only of the process but also of the perpetrators: we are the climaticides, the killers of our climate. (Second COED definition of -cide: “denoting a person or substance that kills”)

Now, obviously, we will not destroy climate per se. What we may do however is destroy the climate to which we are so well adapted. If we fail to take the measures necessary to avoid that destruction (first limiting, then reducing our emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the environment) we will create a world that is, at best, much less hospitable to human civilization, and, in the worst case , one in which not only human civilization but our survival as a species may well be impossible.

In her famous, fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin explores the power of what she calls “true names”. In Earthsea everything has two names only one of which is “true” or real. In order for a wizard or mage to have power over some object or person, he must know it’s true name. If one does not know the true name of something one cannot control it.

This is true in our world as well. Why have oil, coal, and gas companies and utilities spent so many millions to confuse the public about Climaticide? The answer is simple: they do not want us to know the true name and nature of the crisis we face. They want us to think that Climaticide is “natural”, slow acting, or too nebulous a concept for scientists ever to agree upon. They avoid calling things by their true names because they know that if we do not know the true names we will not be wise enough to act.

I use the term Climaticide because it is the true name of the crisis that threatens us. As the poet Thich Nhat Hanh has shown, calling things by their true names makes us aware of their complexity and wary of simplistic solutions.

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

In the Climaticide Chronicles my goal will always be to call things by their true names, for how we fare from now on is more dependent than ever on our being able to see and say the true names of things. I look forward to your help in discerning those names and then taking the necessary actions.

Thus it happens in affairs of state, for when the evils that arise have been foreseen (which it is only given to a wise man to see), they can be quickly redressed, but when, through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them. there is no longer a remedy [Niccoló Machiavelli, The Prince

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Responses

  1. Great name! Very nice site and start too. Looking forward to checking in often.

  2. Thank you, Ken. Really appreciate it.

  3. Human Climaticide may be one symptom of our malignant cancer – uncontrolled and toxic growth beyond the capacity of the organism to sustain.

    Great site, thanks for describing it so well.

  4. Thank you Richard. I appreciate you stopping by.

  5. […] … Perhaps to begin with his first post at this site that he started just last June: Why call it climaticide? The power of calling things by their true names. I use the term Climaticide because it is the true name of the crisis that threatens us. As the […]

  6. […] poem appears in a blog post “Why Call it “Climaticide”? The Power of True Names” by Johnny Rook. “They avoid calling things by their true names because they know that […]

  7. johnny rook, i just heard about you today, through greenfyre. Just want to say thank you. I don’t really have the words to express how grateful I am that there are people like you in the world. I promise you to continue this fight for as long as I’m here.

  8. Thank you for this post – it reinforces my resolve to communicate with others clearly about what is happening and to do what I can to change the disastrous course we are on.

    Thank you again.

    Link followed from http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2009/03/02/do-not-say-that-i%E2%80%99ll-depart-tomorrow/

  9. […] is a term developed by Johnny Rook and explained in Why call it climaticide? The power of calling things by their true names. Climaticide is a term that I coined several months ago to describe the human-driven destruction of […]

  10. […] Johnny Rook – The Power of True Names […]

  11. […] is a term developed by Johnny Rook and explained in Why call it climaticide? The power of calling things by their true names. Climaticide is a term that I coined several months ago to describe the human-driven destruction of […]


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