polluted public square

Sun, 2014-03-30 14:06Carol Linnitt
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Why, When We Know So Much, Are We Doing So Little?: Jim Hoggan on the Polluted Environment and the Polluted Public Square

jim hoggan, the polluted public square

Speak the truth, but not to punish.”

These are the words the famous Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh told DeSmogBlog and DeSmog Canada founder, president and contributor Jim Hoggan one afternoon in a conversation about environmental advocacy and the collapse of productive public discourse.

Over the course of three years Hoggan has engaged the minds of communications specialists, philosophers, leading public intellectuals and spiritual leaders while writing a book designed to address the bewildering question: “why, when we know so much about the global environmental crisis, are we doing so little?”

Hoggan recently recounted some of the insights he has gained into this question when he spoke at the Walrus Talks “The Art of Conversation.”

He begins with the basic axiom shared by cognitive scientist Dan Kahan, “just as you can pollute the natural environment, you can pollute public conversations.” From that the logic follows – if we’re serious about resolving our environmental problems, we are going to have to attend equally to the state of our public discourse.

In Canada, says Hoggan, we face particular challenges when it comes to polluted pubic conversations, especially with the heightened tenor of rhetoric regarding environmentalism and energy issues surrounding the oilsands and proposed pipelines.

The ethical oil, foreign funded radicals campaign,” he says, “has made Canadians less able to weigh facts honestly, disagree constructively, and think things through collectively.”

Tue, 2013-04-23 00:08Jim Hoggan
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Subsidized to Pollute the Public Square?: Sun News and Ezra Levant Vie for CRTC Support

Ezra Levant

It was more than a little convenient to hear right-wing commentator Ezra Levant recently deliver his latest public apology, just in time for the start today of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) hearings into his Sun News Network’s application for “mandatory carriage.”

A favorable ruling by the regulator would put Levant in every Canadian home with a basic cable package and $18 million a year in the pockets of Sun Media. That might be good news for Levant and Sun Media parent Quebecor Inc, but for Canadians looking for unpolluted public discourse, not so much. What’s more, in return for rescuing Sun media from the red ink, Canadian subscribers would get an increase in cable rates.

Levant likes to make headlines, even when most of them are unflattering. The last one in March was to Canada’s Roma community, following a racist rant he gave on his Sun News Network show The Source in September, during which he described the community as “gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers” that have come to Canada as “to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.”

Tue, 2013-01-29 11:47Jim Hoggan
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Ethical Oil Doublespeak Is Polluting Canada's Public Square

“Like any other tool, language can be abused, used not to build but to destroy, not to communicate but to confuse, not to clarify but to obscure, not to lead but to mislead.” 
- William Lutz⁠

Retired American linguist Dr. William Lutz spent much of his career at Rutgers University studying how language is abused in public conversations. He pointed to government and industry as the worst offenders in a practice known as Doublespeak, which Lutz described as “language designed to evade responsibility, to make the unpleasant appear pleasant … language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t. Language designed to mislead while pretending it doesn’t.” 

Dr. Lutz worried that doublespeak has invaded public discourse about important issues. When killing innocent men, women and children is called 'collateral damage', torture becomes 'enhanced interrogation' and the dirtiest fossil fuel becomes 'Clean Coal', public conversations lose meaning. We struggle to make sense of things. These euphemisms sanitize language and steer important issues below the public’s radar. 

Thu, 2013-01-17 11:46Jim Hoggan
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Cleaning Up Canada’s Polluted Public Square

The most urgent environmental threat to Canadians isn’t climate change, the declining health of our oceans, or the extinction of species. It’s the pollution filling our nation’s public square.

The public square – the forum for free debate that we depend on in a democracy – is being choked by misinformation, denial and bitter adversarial rhetoric. It is causing the Canadian public to turn away in despair, creating an epidemic of mistrust and what’s worse, disinterest.

Instead of open and healthy debate, dysfunctional public conversations have become the norm, preventing us from confronting the reality of our destructive impact on the planet. We seem unable or unwilling to weigh facts honestly, disagree constructively and deliberate collectively.

Thu, 2012-12-06 12:53Jim Hoggan
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The Web We Weave When We Practice to Deceive

Peter Kent, Environment Minister

We are not muzzling scientists.” - Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister.

I shook my head reading Margaret Munro’s Weekend Vancouver Sun article on freedom of information documents that caught Canada’s Minister of the Environment lying about muzzling scientists.

Kent has repeatedly denied that the government is muzzling scientists. But according to the documents, Kent’s office clearly muzzled Environment Canada researcher David Tarasick, preventing him from speaking to a number of media outlets about an unprecedented hole that appeared in the ozone layer above the Arctic in 2011.

According to Munro, “the documents also say Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office, which reports to the prime minister, decide when and if Environment Canada scientists are allowed to brief the media about anything from wildlife to water quality.”

Why would the Minister of the Environment block public discussion of scientific work that may be important for the health and safety of Canadians and their environment?

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