A scheme by any other name…
Such was evident recently during a panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills. The panel focused on the effort to limit carbon dioxide emissions by trading carbon credits, commonly called a cap-and-trade scheme, and creating such a system in the United States.
That’s the rub, said Elizabeth Kanna, a marketing professional who said that “scheme” is an awful choice because, for most Americans, it means something sinister.
“Most Americans don’t understand carbon. It’s a confusing subject,” said Kanna. “You can’t convince Americans it’s a good idea by calling it a cap-and-trade ‘scheme’. I know ‘scheme’s’ a bad word. In other countries ‘scheme’ is not a bad word but you cannot create a global market using a word like ‘scheme’ that doesn’t work everywhere.”
To the British, scheme means a plan of action. Scheme is also used often for programs at the United Nations, where its meaning is neutral. But to Americans, it implies a plan of action in an underhanded way.
In fact, both definitions are correct. U.S. dictionary Merriam-Webster defines scheme as “a plan or program of action; especially: a crafty or secret one.” However, it also gives another definition: “a systematic or organized configuration.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives similar definitions, including “a secret or underhanded plan” and “a systematic plan”
“We have to come up with a better word,” said Kanna, who lives in Sacramento, California. “Here’s a story to illustrate my point. In January, I was in New York. In the cabs now, they have the news on flat screen. On the bottom of the screen, it said, ‘Madoff Ponzi Scheme.’ It was a new assessment of the money lost. Scheme. At the same time, the cab driver has on the news and they said ‘The cap-and-trade scheme was going forward in Washington.’ ”
While “scheme” may not evoke images of green fields and clear skies for some, the word is a better choice than what has been used in the past, said Robert Hahn of the American Enterprise Institute.
“We’ve come a long way from ‘license to pollute,’ ” said Hahn, referring to the phrase common in the 1990s when the northeastern U.S. states formed a market to trade sulfur dioxide emissions in a successful effort to curb acid rain. (Nevermind that outside the United States, sulfur is spelled sulphur.)
“Carbon tax” is also a marketing non-starter, said Andrew Treusch of Environment Canada, the federal agency.
What do you think? Is this a serious concern? Should the use of scheme be capped? Scrapped?
Photo Credit: Reuters/Dan Riedlhuber (Petro-Canada’s Edmonton Refinery and Distribution Centre glows at dusk in Edmonton February 15, 2009)