Words Matter: It’s not fuel

Words matter.

We’ve had quite a discussion on our Facebook page this past week over the word “fuel.” It is related to the misuse of the word “forest” for the four national forests in southern California. Habitat is not fuel. Chaparral is not forest.

When a word is used that has the impact of masking necessary details or truth, it needs to be called out for what it is. Yes, shrubs provide fuel for fires to burn. Yes, the four large federal land holdings in California are part of the national forest system. But both words fail miserably in communicating what they are supposedly describing.

Worse, these words minimize and marginalize in the same way ethnic slurs demean entire groups of people. By continually describing the burning chaparral habitat as fuel during the fire in Glendora this past week, NBC was dismissing a valuable ecosystem. It is unlikely it would use the word “fuel” to describe a burning neighborhood or fire victims who ended up in the burn ward.

Why does it matter? Why do we disagree with those who are asking us to “get over it?”

One only has to observe what has happened to word choices as numerous minorities in our country have demanded equality. Words can have powerful impacts and can shape our attitudes and actions.

Calling a person by their real name is powerful. He or she will feel welcomed as theire sense of belonging grows. Others will feel it too. As a person’s name is heard in conversations, people will remember the person’s identity as an individual and will more likely recognize them in a crowd.

It’s time to use the right words and ditch the ones that are dis-empowering or mask the truth.

Speaking of names, it is time to start calling the four national “forests” in Southern California by their right name (see photo below).

Sign Los Padres Sign II copy

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