Prince Charles spoke out on climate change last week, berating “corporate lobbyists” and climate “sceptics” for turning the earth into a “dying patient”. In doing so, he did the planet a service but also provided us with an example of how to get a message across effectively – use metaphors, ideally extended.
Lady Gaga: Using metaphors to get the message across
He told an audience of government ministers, business people and scientists, “If you think about the impact of climate change, (it should be how) a doctor would deal with the problem…A scientific hypothesis is tested to absolute destruction, but medicine can’t wait. If a doctor sees a child with a fever, he can’t wait for (endless) tests. He has to act on what is there.”
He added: “The risk of delay is so enormous that we can’t wait until we are absolutely sure the patient is dying.” I have just read Joseph Romm’s book Language Intelligence that demonstrates the linguistic devices used to communicate and persuade. Jo Romm is a physicist and writes the leading blog Climate Progress. Romm wrote the book to help climate science advocates “harness the power of rhetoric at least as well as those spreading disinformation have.”
“The rhetorical seduction of global warming denial is built upon a foundation created by the tobacco industry and funded by the fossil fuel industries…This seduction has been met with messaging failure by the scientific and environmental communities, and progressive politicians”.
Romm maps the rules of good rhetoric including the use of repetition, short words, eloquence, foreshadowing, seduction and most importantly metaphors, especially extended ones.
Metaphors are powerful devices of communications.
A metaphor will make you think and at the same time create a visual image that connects to something already residing in your memory, such as the image of a sheep being herded and blindly following a shepherd (“The Lord is my Shepherd”)
The extended metaphor is the most important rhetorical device for Romm. It is used throughout the Bible, by Lincoln (“Gettysberg Address”) through to Ronald Reagan (“…there is a bear (USSR) in the woods”). Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” is an extended metaphor for love as a game of poker and chance.
Romm argues that the extended metaphor “makes ideas and phrases more memorable, expanding the vivid visual imagery painted by a single metaphor to create an entire mental mural for the audience”.
Prince Charles is harnessing the power of rhetoric and metaphor and so helping to reverse “messaging failure” of the environment and science communities.