I hate buzzwords! It's not "carbon," it's "carbon dioxide"

And what about these stupid yellow ribbons everywhere? I hate that too!

By Cary Tennis
July 18, 2007 3:03PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I work for a large architecture firm that specializes in green building. I'm not fond of "movements," though I have worked in the background of environmental causes since the 1970s and have managed to avoid zealots. After "carbon-neutral" became a buzzword, I asked a co-worker to explain what it meant and what carbon had to do with it. Was that covered in the parts of "An Inconvenient Truth" I had skipped over?


The co-worker explained about carbon dioxide offsets and this was a concept I understood, even though it seems a lot like the buying of indulgences. What I don't understand is why no one is calling the concept correctly -- carbon is not carbon dioxide! One is a black solid. One is an odorless, colorless gas. Couldn't they call it CO2 neutral? Not buzzwordy enough? Why does no one question this? Is it a symptom of post 9/11 obedience where no one questions the flaws in the foundation? The very keystone of the movement has the wrong damned name!

No one seems to think my objection to this is particularly important. I think it's the banana peel on the slippery slope. It's like yellow ribbons everywhere, where a cheesy Tony Orlando song created a symbolism trend. Yellow. Cowardice. Or does everyone miss that, too?

I'm not sure what my question is, Cary, except that I feel angry that people are trying to make me feel guilty that I'm focusing on what they consider trivial. I think it's a lurking evil and not trivial at all. It's lack of questioning like this that got us into a war. It's symbolic of a badly poured footing. In the face of such apathy, within the very cause that spawned it, I don't know what to do. I want them to use the right terms. What can I do? Take out billboards?


Bothered by Bad Buzzwords

Dear Bothered by Bad Buzzwords,

The crowd is dumb but it knows what it wants. It wants a picture of the pollution it opposes. It cannot see carbon dioxide, but it can certainly see the evil Blackie Carbon!

So it names this thing it opposes "carbon," rather than "carbon dioxide," in an act of willful synecdoche.


Likewise the crowd does not care what color the ribbon is or that the story was about a man getting out of prison. It cares only for itself, its belonging and remembering, its cohesion and immortality; it cares only for the ecstatic loss of self experienced by individuals within it. So it would be sacrilegious to suggest in the midst of the crowd's sacred celebration of correctness that its iconography is all wrong.

The crowd hates us when we dare to point out that it is carbon dioxide and not carbon that is pouring out of exhaust pipes, and that the song was about a guy getting out of prison after all and not a war hero. You just don't get it, the crowd replies. It's the spirit of oneness we feel in opposing what we oppose. You obviously do not feel the ecstasy of belonging that we feel, so it is irrelevant to speak to you. You are not one of us. If you want to be one of us you must perform a sacrifice. You must put aside your carping about facts and join us in spirit. We are the crowd. We are omnipotent. We have the songs to prove it.


There is a strange, powerful thrill in joining the crowd, a feeling Elias Canetti so strangely evoked in "Crowds and Power." You leave behind the differentiating engine of logic. You release yourself from the necessity of knowing the difference and you just go. You follow the crowd to the bullfight or the execution or the site of passionate oratory.

Mobs crave the ecstasy of their own belonging. They will murder any meaning to achieve it -- while you and I stand outside shouting with impotent rage, It's not carbon, it's carbon dioxide!

I think, incidentally, this disdain for the crowd is why my old and dear friends at the Gawker love me so much, reporting as they do from the center of the universe where there is so much pressure to conform. Being courageously free and of generous spirit, they hear in my voice something strange and distinctive that both lures them and repulses them and about which, being the tolerant and open-minded people they are, they express their appreciation in many kind, thoughtful and humorous posts. The feeling they express toward me, I must say, is quite mutual; I, in fact, must easily have double the regard for them that they have for me, or even more, though out of modesty I do not express it. It is truly wonderful to have such friends. I dream of them at night and wake to their cheerful chirping on my windowsill.


So let us, you and I, having settled the matter of the mob, agree to say "carbon dioxide" rather than "carbon," and should I disappear one day or just be very late for dinner after meeting with my friends at the Gawker, do not, under any circumstances, tie any kind of ribbon around any kind of tree.

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