Tackling things at last

The Stern Report warns that the world has 10 years to tackle climate change, or face a global recession costing about $10 trillion. This certainly has woken up the politicians. As a result, today I had a Major Language Moment. I caught Helen Clark on TV3 news talking about energy efficiency, sustainable land use, biofuels in petrol, and so forth. Then she uttered these immortal words:

'All of these things have to be tackled.' I nearly fell off my chair.

For the last 10 years, every news broadcast has featured at least one person - and not just politicians - talking about 'addressing the issues'. How vague. How non-committal. How pompous. How remote. How utterly unconvincing are those weasel words, 'addressing the issues'.

Addressing... writing a name and address on an issue shaped like an envelope? Saying 'Greetings, o ye issues! Let us have a pointless little meeting'? Whether talking or writing, addressing is not exactly an energetic verb.

And issues... issues are not problems or crises, let alone things. They are abstract topics of esoteric academic interest. Professors can debate them for years. They never go away.

Together, 'addressing' and 'issues' create a cool, undemanding, cerebral concept. They absolve the speaker from actually solving problems. They are a comfortable refuge for people who have no taste for action.

But today Helen Clark blew away all self-protective ambiguity and uttered that grunty rugby word, 'tackled'. Sure, her verb was passive, so perhaps someone else is destined to do the tackling. But I have no trouble picturing our prime minister hurling herself at these 'things', determined to bring them down, and fast.

With the change from weasel words to action verbs, plain language took over, physical, active, and convincing. Oh please, may Helen's words influence our nation. And may she resist the temptation to relapse.

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