Is ‘Planet Earth’ The Key To Our Eco Failure?

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 10 march 2009

As I declined the plastic bag to take my purchase in at Duane Read last night I explained to the girl behind the checkout, “A small step to help save the world.” She didn’t understand me. Of course, it could have been the accent or it could be too late in her shift. But I also realized as I finished speaking that I had used the wrong word at the end of my sentence.

When it comes to environmental issues, the word we use for the place we live isn’t ‘world’. Instead we often use ‘planet’. We talk to each other about ‘Saving the planet.’ Sometimes we see this ‘planet’ written (rather than said) as ‘Earth’ or ‘planet Earth’.

As I thought about my mistake as I left and crossed Broadway with my shopping on show I wondered if our eco-lexicon led was a factor in the slower take up of eco consciousness by the general public.

I don’t think we call the place that we live as our planet. We don’t use the term ‘Earth’ as the familiar name of the place we live. We live in our ‘world’, we see the ‘world’ around us and we travel across the ‘world’ sometimes to the other side of the globe.

Could the use of the words ‘planet’ and ‘Earth’ by environmentalists of all strips have a negative impact on the public’s perception and relationship to important issues?

Take a look at something that is taken seriously by everybody right now: the downturn. Consider the way that change is described by the media and politicians and you and me and notice the difference in use of words that describe the situation. We use terms such as ‘global recession’, ‘international crisis’, ‘world economy’ – and those terms have impact on the way we perceive our well-being.

Take a look at an extract article in the Wall Street Journal published hours ago:

Even as world trade takes its steepest drop in 80 years amid the global economic crisis, the administration is preparing to take a harder line with America’s trading partners.

If the WSJ used eco-terms, the extract could sound like this:

Even as Earth’s trade takes its steepest drop in 80 years amid the planet’s economic crisis, the administration is preparing to take a harder line with America’s trading partners.

Maybe ‘Planet’ and ‘Earth’ are too connected in our minds to science and not to our daily lives, maybe the use of those words sounds a little Sci-Fi for the rest of us to really digest and take seriously. It’s interesting to note that there is no mention of ‘planet’ or ‘Earth’ in Obama’s Agenda for the Environment eiher.

I’m not saying that these words aren’t used by enviornmentalists. It’s just that their use of words that don’t relate to the world around us, might psychologically obstruct our support for international solutions to combat environmental damage around the globe.


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