Later they will say: This is the time when the heat waves started. We are witnessing a disaster moving very slowly and we haven’t found the right words to talk about it yet. Words are strange things. Since they look the same in different situations, we think they mean the same thing too, but that’s never the case. A word like love sounds obvious, but every love feels different. And there is a love for different kinds of creatures, as well as German literature, clouds or trains. That is why Wittgenstein calls word direction indicators. The fact that they do not always mean the exact same thing does not mean that they are not accurate, quite the contrary.
Heat waves are part of the climate crisis. We first talked about climate change. Critics have found the too-friendly change to be an optimistic word. Climate warming, sea level rise, species extinction: these are all climate words, both abstract and distant.
The words climate and the word “climate” itself are used primarily in science and politics – the press follows those discussions. The language of science is realistic, studies are often written in English, and understanding it requires knowledge. In politics, “climate” is something you support or oppose, something that has goals to be achieved or something that sounds the alarm about. Anyway, annoying thing. Political language often consists of short, repeatable sentences intended to persuade.
Read also the NRC Ombudsman’s contribution on climate language: The biggest story of our time is also the most difficult: the climate crisis
Wittgenstein calls these types of language practices language games. According to him, a dictionary is not enough to study a language: you have to look at the meaning of concepts in the language games in which they are used. “Climate” means something different to the world than the political. This is fine, because different types of knowledge are generated in different fields. Science, art, literature, and everyday life (in their practical wisdom) are all areas in which people give meaning to their surroundings. The novel and the academic essay present reality differently.
Some people feel at home in the language of science and politics, while many do not. This is a democratic problem, because the future is everyone’s business — which is why citizen councils are important, for example, as better listening in and out of politics, and climate education. But the language you use also determines what you can say.
We lack the words to signify the loss of the living world, and the words and habits to counter that loss. in article on amazon Joanna Castro Pereira and Maria Fernanda Guibara write that the meaning of that region for different groups is very different. The word “forest” means future profit for large corporations, while for humans the forest is a living being, with which they are associated with countless other animals. These connections are expressed in an attitude of respect and in stories that offer an alternative to technical and economic language.
I myself miss winter with snow and ice. This is the woe of winter, a sadness that accompanies the dark months. Then there is the heat anxiety. Perhaps we can learn to deal with the heat of butterflies hibernating in summer. Shades of trees are part of the tree’s comfort, which you can also feel in the woods. We can annually celebrate Potato Day (which is also nice for farmers, but it is a vegetarian holiday) or Flying Ant Day. Flying Ants Day falls on a different date every year, the day all the ants decide to go abroad, and that means pay attention. And that’s what that day is all about, paying attention to the little animals that keep the planet livable for everyone. We are just little animals. Forgetting it is dangerous.
Eva Majorwriter and philosopher, writes a column every two weeks.
A version of this article also appeared in the July 19, 2022 newspaper
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