Language in Environmentalism and the Idea of Public Reason

By: Michelle Bastien
When you and I, as ordinary citizens (assuming of course that you are an ordinary citizen), sit down and chat about the current environmental issues, we speak in a very specific language.  This language is not technical or academic, per say, however this language has jargon; words such as “environmental impact”, “sustainability”, “pristine wilderness”, and “biodiversity”.  These terms mean something specific in regards to our discussion, they convey a certain argument or position.  Proper understanding of environmental jargon is important because it influences many of our decisions as consumers, as political beings and/or as business owners.  Yet, our specific definition for these words varies, which inevitably creates ambiguity in the terminology when it stands alone.  What I consider sustainable environmental practices may not be what you consider sustainable.  Yet the term “sustainable” can be applied in both of our environmental philosophies despite the fact that we hold differing positions.  This is frustrating when one tries to really understand an environmental position, however this language serves a very specific function in our democratic society and there is a reason for the existing ambiguity.  Exactly what that function is, I hope to answer by the end of this piece.