Skip to main content  
  Helping the environment one joke at a time, Grinning Planet. Click to go to home page. flying letter; click to go to signup page for free email version
Get GP free
via email !

Environmental Doublespeak

Political spin, misrepresentations and outright lies about the environment are all forms of environmental doublespeak, which covers environmental ethics, anti-environmental propaganda, and greenwashing language.   Updated Sep-2008

Eco-Logical cartoon graphic of cube-shaped globe

Environmental Doublespeak — Environmental Ethics, Anti-Environmental Propaganda, and Greenwashing Language

In George Orwell's amazing (and scary) novel 1984, people used "newspeak" and "doublethink." It was soon after that the term "doublespeak" started being used to describe the words of politicians who were trying to sound like they were saying something without really having said anything tangible they could be pinned down on. More recently, doublespeak has been increasingly used as a clever way to cover up lies.

In this decade, a new brand of this twisty-turny language emerged: Environmental Doublespeak. Here are a few of the dubious phrases:

  • "using common sense"
  • "modernizing regulations" or "updating laws"
  • "simplifying and streamlining regulations" or "eliminating red tape"
  • "clarifying regulatory language"
  • "improving the way we protect the environment"

picture of politician with microphone to his mouth On the surface, these concepts are hard to argue with. Who wouldn't be in favor of reforming laws that are so outdated that they have become useless? What right-minded environmentalist wouldn't want to improve the way we protect the environment?


The problem is that environmental-doublespeak phrases are usually code language designed to obscure the fact that the speaker really intends to weaken environmental protection. Here are some common statements you hear from the sham environmentalists:

  • "We're taking another look at the science associated with the problem."
  • "We plan to invest in more study of the problem."
  • "We want to make decisions based on sound science."

Again, such statements seem reasonable enough; but in practical terms, one can usually substitute the following phrase with perfect accuracy: "We plan to do whatever we can, including funding more studies on topics that are already well understood scientifically, to delay any strengthening of regulations in this area."

Much of environmental doublespeak is about "framing"—a political technique for using language that implies something positive rather than language that implies something negative. The most famous frame is probably "pro-life" (instead of anti-abortion). Our brains are more receptive to positive phrases, especially those that imply a broader positive meaning when taken outside the debate topic. In the case of "pro-life," if you take the phrase beyond the abortion debate, well, who isn't "pro-life"?


The phrase "we need sound science" has been used a lot during this decade to cast doubt on scientific evidence that is already solid, make the anti-environment speaker sound prudent, and make his opponents sound like reactionary Chicken Littles. But don't blame the phrase—the concept of sound science is a fine one; it's just been co-opted for use as cover by plutocratic, polluter-friendly politicians.

Environmental doublespeakers are also fond of stressing the need for "balance" when crafting environmental laws. Again, this is reasonable on the surface, but the devil is in the details. Today, the result desired by those preaching a need for "balance" is usually environmental regulation that is more acceptable to corporate polluters.


There's another type of environmental doublespeak: statistical manipulation. Consider, for instance, the statement, "The environment has gotten much cleaner in the last 30 years." That is a fact, at least in developed nations, but the implication is that there is a constant positive trend and that things are just about to the point where they're "clean enough"—so forget about toughening up any more.

But much of the environmental progress of the last 30 years occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s. We should be asking about RECENT trends and actions—i.e. what have you done for me lately? Half of US residents live in counties with unhealthful air and 40% of our surface waterways are not safe for swimming or fishing (with nearly all states having issued health warnings about mercury contamination in locally caught fish). Does that sound "clean enough" to you?


Twisting statistics is an old game, and foes of a clean environment and public health are old pros at it. More and more, though, they just outright lie. For instance, proponents of genetically modified crops constantly say that GM crops reduce pesticide use and are needed to feed a hungry world. Both assertions are false.

So, how does one know when an industry rep is exaggerating, twisting statistics, or lying? There's no easy answer to that, but an old joke comes to mind: How do you tell when a PR flack is lying? His lips are moving.

As energy issues have become prominent, doublespeak is creeping in there too:

  • When they say "gas-price relief," they often are referring to their plan to ease regulation of refinery emissions or pollution-reducing gasoline blends.
  • Politicians have become fond of saying that we can drill for oil in an "environmentally sensitive" manner—while simultaneously subverting efforts to regulate or ban environmentally damaging drilling techniques like fracking.
  • When politicians speak of "energy independence," they use it as an umbrella term that excuses the limitations and negative consequences of many of their "solutions" like drilling in coastal areas, biofuels, and nuclear energy.

There is also something that might be called "insult doublespeak." This type of environmental doublespeak is intended to not only assert the speaker's enthusiasm for making progress on environmental problems but also to cast doubt on the motives or mental capacity of anyone who would criticize or oppose their views:

  • "Those opposed to this plan are guilty of 'old thinking'; we need 'new thinking' on environmental problems."
  • "Criticism often comes from those who seek to protect the status quo."
  • "We should regulate based on science, not emotion."

Euphemisms are another problem; for instance, program cuts and layoffs at the US Park Service were at one point described as "service level adjustments."

The overall strategy of practitioners of environmental doublespeak is to soothe the public's concern about environmental problems while they quietly act to implement changes that please political patrons and weaken environmental protection. Here are a few additional phrases to beware of, either because they are meaningless without positive action to back them up or because they are code language designed to disguise true intent:

  • "we're committed to the environment"
  • "better ways to protect the environment"
  • "reduce regulatory uncertainty"


This article is not meant to provide a definitive list of environmental doublespeak phrases. That would be impossible—the phrases themselves are relatively innocent; it's the duplicity behind their use that is the problem. Additionally, political spinmeisters are constantly coming up with new strategies for doublespeak. We simply urge a general attitude of suspicion towards language used to describe positions on the environment.

In fact, environmental doublespeak is a minor subset of a much broader suite of propagandistic tools covering the entire range of political topics. The oratorical tool kit includes...

  • framing,
  • phony research outfits and their junk science,
  • mysteriously funded think tanks whose sole purpose is to craft propaganda and political strategies to advance agendas that serve to maximize corporate profits and serve the interests of wealthy elites,
  • the general suppression of meaningful news on corporate-media outlets,
  • video news releases ("fake news"),
  • total saturation of our "thought space" with marketing and spin,
  • cooption of university research programs and suppression of research results that don't conform to the desired outcome,
  • "rewriting history" and controlling what is allowed in school text books.

We are constantly exposed to very carefully crafted programming designed to make us think the way The Powers That Be want us to think. A brief but fascinating history of such persuasion techniques is presented in this article by Dr. Tim O'Shea: The Doors Of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything.

So, the next time you hear a politician talking about the environment say something like "We have different solutions, better solutions," you might want to say, "Could you be a little more specific, Senator Smogg?"

Keep thinking, keep questioning!

Know someone who might like this Environmental Doublespeak article? Please forward it to them.


Updated: 20-SEP-2008
(Original: 19-OCT-2004)

Free email version -- options:

More GP articles and resources....

Get Grinning Planet free
via email every month

Environmental Doublespeak


High Gasoline Prices — The Real Problem Lies Elsewhere


Environmental Hypocrisy The Too-Clever Ways of Right-Wing Conservatives


Corporate Media and News Talk Shows — Tune In, Turn Off!



free audio news clips link; image of zombie kid - DON'T BE A MAINSTREAM MEDIA DRONE! - Free MP3 news download at Grinning Planet
Books for a Better Planet

For more reviews or purchase info, click on any title to go to

  book cover for The Political Mind, by George Lakoff, 5/29/2008

Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain   (by George Lakoff)

In The Political Mind, George Lakoff explains why a great number of Americans actually vote against their own interests. As it turns out, human beings are not the rational creatures we imagine ourselves to be. Ideas, morals, and values exist physically inside the brain, with previously established thought structures guiding formation of new thoughts. We form specific narratives in our minds just like we form specific muscle memories for activities like typing or dancing, and then we try to fit new information into those narratives. Breaking this default pattern can be very hard. Lakoff argues that progressives must better understand such fundamentals of thinking and learn to wrest control of the terms of the debate from their opponents rather than accepting their opponents' frame and trying to argue within it.

  book cover for Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, 1/1/1949

"Thought Police"... "Big Brother"... "Orwellian"... These phrases have entered our vocabulary because of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, 1984. The story of one man's nightmare odyssey as he pursues a forbidden love affair through a world ruled by warring states and a power structure that controls not only information but also individual thought and memory, 1984 is a prophetic, haunting tale. First published in 1949, 1984 remains a must-read as it addresses the direction we are headed today—the destruction of truth, freedom, and individuality. (Note: Although 1984 has become the popular form for the title of the book, the original pressing was titled Nineteen Eighty-Four, as are many today.)

  book cover for Trust Us: We're Experts, by Sheldon Rampton, John Stauber, 1/10/2002

How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future

"Facts are facts." That's a truism, but corporations are proving that science doesn't have to be fact-based. Find out the tricks they use to manipulate science, public opinion, and policy. The slimy behavior ranges from paid scientific "experts" to PR firms that specialize in propaganda, to fake grassroots letter-writing campaigns. We've been slimed!

  book cover for Don't Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff, 9/15/2004

Know Your Values and Frame the Debate—The Essential Guide for Progressives   (by George Lakoff)

In Don't Think of an Elephant!, George Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. He outlines in detail the traditional American values that progressives hold but are often unable to articulate. Lakoff also breaks down the ways in which conservatives have framed the issues, and provides examples of how progressives can reframe the debate.


Search for more...


Or see more books on GP:

Back to . . .

Political Language Cartoon/Joke

Public Speaking Cartoon/Jokes

Environmental Cartoons

Jokes/Cartoons (non-eco)




Hey, we don't pick
the Google ads!   – GP



"He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument."

— Shakespeare, "Love's Labor's Lost"



"Whenever people say, 'We mustn't be sentimental,' you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, 'We must be realistic,' they mean they are going to make money out of it."

— Brigid Brophy


Turn a child's love of animals into a love of reading with Zoobooks magazine, a magazine for kids; sign up now and receive FREE Elephants Zoobook and Tiger Poster; opens in new window

   > document gif Sign up to get Grinning Planet free by email, or get more info about it Email a link to this page to someone  
   > Issue Number 97
Copyright 2008 © Mark Jeantheau — All rights reserved.   More info

MP3 News Download
Video/Audio News Sites
Environmental News Sites
Investigative Journalism Sites

    - Articles/Resources By Topic
    - Articles By Date

Environmental Quotes
    - Funny Environmental Quotes
    - Peak Oil Quotes

Environmental Cartoons/Jokes
    - Environmental Videos/Animations

Environmental Products
Eco/Nature Greeting Cards

Grinning Planet Farm


Funny Jokes/Cartoons
    - Environmental Cartoons

Funny Animations/Videos
    - Environmental Animations/Videos

Funny Quotes
    - Environmental Funny Quotes


Environmental Books
Global Warming Books
Energy Books
Solar Energy Books
Peak Oil Books
Food-Gardening Books
Media Books


Environmental Movies
Environmental Songs
Environmental Music Videos

Album Reviews
Fun With Lyrics


Home Page
Site Map
About Us
Free Subscriptions
Privacy Policy