Over the last ten years, we have enjoyed the benefits of assistance – financial and technical – from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) an agency of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Our local conservation district has brokered cost-sharing from NRCS for our projects. These efforts improve the quality of our land for wildlife and native plants. They increase resilience in the fabric of the natural systems that provide clean water, clean air, and healthy soils that can sequester carbon. These agencies provide invaluable expertise and assistance to landowners across the nation who steward a vast amount of acreage.
All of these efforts can be undone by precipitous climate change, caused by humans. This fact is one of the greatest threats to our continued existence on earth. Yet, the current Administration in Washington D.C. is bent on wasting time clouding the issue, and refusing to address it for the emergency it has become.
The Guardian newspaper ran an article revealing email discussions and instructions within the USDA and NRCS, beginning in January 2017, to modify language to eliminate certain straightforward terms in public communications.
According to the article, “A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and what should replace them.”
“Climate change” is in the “avoid” category, to be replaced by “weather extremes”. Instead of “climate change adaption”, staff are asked to use “resilience to weather extremes”.
The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”.
–The Guardian Monday 7 August 2017
I receive regular newsletters from the NRCS and I have noticed this language. There is a hollow quality to it, a void where climate, and carbon should be highlighted because that is what the real topic is. Sure, soil organic matter is a big deal. It’s a big deal because it is an especially powerful way to change the course we are on with climate change.
This is more than just substituting different words and continuing to do the same work, changing the message because your boss has changed the message, hoping your budget won’t be cut to the bone. Words matter more than ever. Precision matters. Telling the truth makes a difference when truth and reality are being assaulted at every turn by those who hold power over policy and budgets.
I am disappointed and appalled that the USDA and the NRCS have caved in to use “newspeak” instead of true and appropriate scientific terms. If department heads stand up to this pressure, they might lose their jobs, perhaps they feel staying with their agencies is important to the survival of the few good things they can still accomplish. But if no one at all agreed to play this dangerous game, we would all be better served. This bad behavior, the generation of fear and lies, can be resisted. And it must be resisted at every turn.