Will Calls to Tone Down Rhetoric Return Civility to Green Debate?

The tragic shooting of Gabrielle Giffords has resulted in vehement calls to "tone down" the intense political rhetoric that has gripped the nation as of late. These calls come from left and right-wing pundits and politicians alike, and they're aimed at dialing down all of the gun metaphors and violent terminology that's commonplace on talk shows and on Facebook pages. Does this mean it's safe to have rational discussions about green politics again?After all, one always has to question the efficacy and actual impact of such claims -- how, exactly, will the rhetoric be "toned down"? Who will place the muzzle on Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, or other other impassioned orators? And how long would conscience-driven restraint really last?

This is not to say striving for political civility shouldn't be a goal -- in fact, this tragedy offers us a fine opportunity to examine ideas that could lead us to more sustained bipartisanship in our politics. And the debate over green and energy issues has certainly gotten out of hand on a number of occasions.

The above video, for instance, exuded an unnecessary degree of hostility towards an energy bill that was designed to curb carbon pollution (and the bill was already dead, anyways). Then, of course, there were the rampant comparisons of green policy ideas to socialism -- and talk of socialism, of course, was frequently paired with fear-inciting rhetoric. Glenn Beck stirred up fear and hate of environmentalists on a semi-regular basis, even going so far as to call them 'Hitler Youth':

Beck's attacks on Obama's green jobs adviser Van Jones resulted in the man stepping down -- for next to no reason at all. But it wasn't just Beck -- the famed climate skeptic Lord Monckton also called climate activists Hitler Youth, and such language was repeated by many on the right. In return, liberals fired back, attacking conservatives for being know-nothing deniers and so forth. And so the cycle went on, ever-escalating, and self-perpetuating. Will the national dialogue on green issues be "toned down" as a result of this moment of abject violence? Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was, after all, something of a green champion -- can we carry on with greater civility in honor of what happened to her?

Unlikely. Sure, there may be a pause in the more inflamed rhetoric. But the schisms that produced it in the first place remain deep and entrenched -- and deep and entrenched differences give rise to angry words. Ridiculous as it is to compare environmentalists to the Hitler youth, as Jack Shafer points out in Slate, it's next to impossible -- and potentially dangerous to free speech -- to seek to eliminate name calling in the public discourse.

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the vast scientific consensus still firmly maintains -- more firmly than, ever -- that human activity is warming the climate. It just means we have to win the argument.

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Tags: Congress | United States

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