Why is Mother Earth on Life Support? Metaphors in Environmental Discourse
From mother nature and carbon footprints to greenhouse gasses and the race against global warming, popular discourse on environmental issues is saturated with metaphor. Some people view these metaphors as obfuscating or ineffective, while others believe they are crucial for improving climate communications and environmental attitudes. In this paper, we provide a systematic overview and evaluation of the use of English metaphors in Anglo environmental discourse, drawing on a range of empirical and popular media sources. We begin by discussing the role of metaphor in language in thought. Next, we introduce a range of metaphors used to frame discussions of (1) our relationship to nature (e.g., the earth is our common home), (2) our impact on the environment (e.g., we are knocking the climate off balance), and (3) how we should address this impact (e.g., reduce our ecological footprint). We classify these metaphors along several dimensions, including how conventional they are, how systemic they are, how emotionally impactful they are, and how aptly they capture the topics they are used to describe. From this analysis, we derive several promising candidate metaphors that may help increase public understanding and engagement with environmental issues. However, we note that such claims must be tested empirically in future research; currently, there are few large, systematic, replicable experiments in the literature assessing the impact of environmental metaphors. We conclude by offering general recommendations for using metaphors in communications about climate change and sustainability.
Flusberg, Stephen J., and Paul H. Thibodeau. 2023. "Why is Mother Earth on Life Support? Metaphors in Environmental Discourse." Topics in Cognitive Science 15(3): 522-545.
Topics in Cognitive Science
Climate change, Systemic metaphors, War, Conventionality, Conservation, Emotions, Aptness, Analogy, Mind