Burnies versus Greenies ?


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Refocusing the Communication Challenge for the Greens


Groups promoting environmental conservation in any form are frequently labelled as Greens. The term is used both by themselves, as in Green Party, and by those critical of them or opposed to their policies. Use of “green” is of course consistent with a range of colours in the natural environment, typically forest leaves and grass. In an increasingly urbanised world, the term may be used with respect to any “green belt” protected by planning regulations around cities.

The variant, “Greenies” is notably employed as a term of deprecation to refer to opponents of unchecked urban development and industrialisation. It then carries implications of innocence and ignorance to frame the Greens as misinformed and misguided in their arguments and policies. This usage then exploits some qualities valued and promoted by the Greens, namely the innocence of nature unsullied by industrialisation, and a precautionary principle in the light of potential ignorance regarding the consequence of ill-conceived development. Use of “Greenies” is readily associated with the strategic arguments of those who rely on the slogan There Is No Alternative (TINA) — an implicit deprecation of Green strategies.

For communication purposes, the Greens do not appear to have been able to frame, with an equivalent term, those promoting policies endeavouring to endanger the natural environment. The question explored here is the possibility of facilitating the promotion of Green policies through identifying such a term in relation to the policies and mindsets associated with such problematic attitudes. The term of deprecation proposed here is “Burnies” — as a variation of “Burn”, namely analogous to the deprecatory use of “Greenies”. This gives a focus to what Burnies stand for — effectively naming the problem, from the Green perspective.

As with “Green”, “Burn” also has valued qualities for those with whom it can be associated — being a notably feature of the industrial revolution and processes characteristic of industrialisation. Recognition of this ambiguity helps to avoid the extremes of negative campaigning.

This exploratory exercise is seen as a contribution to reflection on the communication processes essential in a highly media-sensitive environment. As with respect to other political campaigns, it is a question of identity and image. The argument being that the “Greens” have been deprived of an advantage by allowing qualities associated with their identity to be reframed for purpose of deprecation by their opponents. In a political context, consideration can be usefully given to returning the favour and providing a label with which policies and groups endangering the environment can be associated — hence “Burnies”.

The approach follows from previous consideration of the misuse of military metaphors to frame sustainable development initiatives (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998). Such use of metaphor is seen as characteristic of emergent “memetic warfare”, as separately discussed (Missiles, Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: navigation of strategic interfaces in multidimensional knowledge space, 2001; Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008)

Variety of environment-endangering processes associated with Burnies

Although Burnies in general, and especially individual Burnies, may not be directly associated with some of the examples indicated below, the argument is reinforced by the implication that they may be complicit to a degree, perhaps as with the “fellow travellers” pejoratively used in relation to Communism.

Burning non-renewable resources (oil, gas, coal, wood): Burnies are most clearly associated with the various forms of combustion of non-renewable resources, most notably those resulting in carbon emissions. These are seen as vital to industrialisation and to development in general. Any constraint on burning such resources is seen by Burnies as a direct constraint on growth — framed as vital to the economy and employment, to which the policies of Greenies are perceived as a threat.

The operation of vehicles based on internal combustion engines (automobiles, trucks, airplanes, trains) is seen by Burnies as vital for purposes of transportation, whether of goods required for economic purposes or of people. Burnies vigorously defend the latter use as basic to the desirability of freedom-loving lifestyles requiring mobility.

The burning of fuel in rockets is seen by Burnies as exemplifying the adventurous spirit of humanity in its exploration of the new frontiers of space. Burnies are inherently resistant to questions relating to the purpose of such exploration and the associated use of increasingly scarce resources to that end.

Deforestation (slash-and-burn, forest fires, wildfires): The earliest Burnies are the forest tribes which practiced slash-and-burn agriculture to provide fertile ground for growth of their crops. Modern variants of slash-and-burn, practiced by Burnies of the 21st century, are evident in the deliberate destruction (“clearance”) of forest areas to enable the growth of cash crops and the subsistence farming practiced by an ever-increasing population. This has been most evident in the Amazon rainforests.

As a consequence of their procrastination regarding global warming, Burnies are effectively associated with the increasing pattern of heat-waves and drought. These enable the proliferation of wildfires in vulnerable regions, of which Spain, Portugal, Greece and Australia have offered recent striking examples. The incidence of such wildfires has been associated with suspicions concerning their criminal origin through arson, possibly at the instigation of those Burnies favouring alternative use of land otherwise reserved for forest growth.

Deadly use of weapons: Metaphoric use of “burn” has been intimately associated with use of weapons. It is characteristic of a “scorched earth policy” through which conquered territories are physically devastated — burning the infrastructure of their society — for purposes of punishment or revenge. Metaphoric variants of such policies may be employed to inhibit competition. Burnies would tend to be associated with both physical and metaphoric forms — being indifferent to their consequences.

The development and use of weapons of mass destruction (thermonuclear devices, thermobaric weapons, and incendiary weapons) would naturally tend to be favoured by Burnies — rather than resisted by them. Burnies would be similarly favourable to the development and proliferation of firearms.

Of interest in that respect is slang use of “burn” as a description of the wounding or killing of an opponent with a firearm — possibly derived from a traditional form of capital punishment by burning. This metaphor may also be employed in business competition or sport.

Burning waste: Societies, especially industrial societies, generate ever-increasing quantities of waste. Where waste disposal can no longer be ensured by dumping in landfills or the ocean, Burnies would tend to favour incineration — despite the resultant toxic air pollution — rather than the development and implementation of more assiduous recycling.

Lifestyle diseases (smoking, heart-burn, burnout): Appropriately, perhaps ironically, Burnies tend to be most resistant to restriction of tobacco smoking, despite the diseases to which it may give rise in smokers or in those exposed to them as passive smokers.

Excessive consumption, notably of fast foods, is increasingly recognized as giving rose to disease (notably obesity) of which one symptom is ironically so-called heartburn. This consumption pattern is one which is particularly characteristic of Burnies.

A further irony is evident in the pace of life which Burnies tend to favour, as a consequence of “burning ambition” — with the risk of so-called burnout at an unnaturally early age. This may be understood as psychological burnout, a syndrome characterized by long-term exhaustion and diminished interest, especially in one’s career, or as occupational burnout, characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy within the workplace.

Book burning: This is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material. In modern times, in addition to book burning, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned or shredded. Book burning is usually carried out in public, and is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material. Burnies would tend to favour this treatment of media supportive of views perceived as undermining their own.

Complicity of Greenies and Burnies?

The above framing of Burnies, for purposes of deprecating the policies they favour in contrast to those promoted by Greenies, can be placed in a larger context by considering the implications of the ambiguity of the processes in which both indulge. These include:

  • Cooking: This typically requires the destruction of that which is “green” and the application of heat to it
  • Transportation: This currently implies use of combustion engines to ensure the mobility on which both Greenies and Burnies rely
  • Burning passion: Those most active in pursuing agendas, whether of the Greenies or of the Burnies, would readily describe themselves as having a burning passion. This may well lead to a form of burnout.
  • Personal environment: Those most ardent or successful, whether Greenies or Burnies, will tend to cultivate a place to be which echoes the characteristics of a natural environment in some way, most notably a garden — preferably with unrestricted exposure to wilderness or nature in the raw

Rather than exacerbating any tendency to tit-for-tat negative campaigning, use of “Burnies” might be held in reserve as a
possibility — only to be employed in active response to pejorative reference to “Greenies” or their policies.

The future relationship between Burnies and Greenies could be imaginatively reframed through a switch in metaphor. The final outcome of the various forms of burning with which Burnies are associated is typically “black” in colour or implication — including an overriding preference for “being in the black” on any balance sheet. Ironically, and consistently, a much favoured clothing style of Burnies is also ash gray or black, whether for men or women. At the major gathering place for Burnies, the clothing at the annual Davos World Economic Forum is predominantly ash gray or black-suited. Mixing metaphors, the challenging relationship between Burnies and Greenies could then be framed in sporting and musical terms, as separately explored (All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global
strategic discord through polyphony? 2007).

Footnote: In using “Burnies” in the above proposal, apologies are due to the citizens of the delightful port city of Burnie (Tasmania) where the proposal happens to have been formulated. Appropriately, but unfortunately, Burnie also happens to be the urban centre for exploitation of the Tarkine wilderness area. This has long featured prominently in the Australian media as a subject of contention between the “Greenies”, and mining and logging interests — culminating in
recent protests in Burnie in favour of further exploitation (Tarkine row at boiling point, The Mercury, 18 November 2012; The Tarkine is a precious place: Burnie rally draws 3000, Tasmanian Times, 17 November 2012).

The Tarkine represents Australia’s largest remaining single tract of primeval rainforest and is the largest wilderness dominated by rainforest in Australia. As an area with a high concentration of Aboriginal sites, it has been described by the Australian Heritage Council as “one of the world’s great archaeological regions”. Its fate is of continuing concern to the Australian Conservation Foundation which in November 2012 became part of a historic agreement to end the
decades of conflict that have surrounded Tasmania’s forests (Agreement for forest peace in Tasmania!), later to be undermined, as reported by the Australian Greens (Tarkine trashed in cynical pre-Christmas dump, The Greens, 10 December 2012). The United Tasmania Group (UTG), one of the Australian Green parties, is generally acknowledged to be the world’s first Green party.

Coincidentally, the protests in Burnie occurred at a time when 250 climate scientistis were concluding an 8-week meeting in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, to complete one of three final reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (The IPCC at work in Hobart). Presumably to the delight of Burnies everwhere, the confidential draft report was leaked by one of those involved (Unauthorised posting of the draft Working Group I contribution to the
IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, IPCC, 14 December 2012; Major Climate Change Report Draft Leaked Online: IPCC).

Go to Original – laetusinpraesens.org


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