Alex Steer

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A note on ‘heatist’

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Andrew Gilligan's Telegraph piece on some of the operating costs of putting on the Copenhagen climate summit introduced me to a new word in its description of the climate protests taking place in the city.

In the city's famous anarchist commune of Christiania this morning, among the hash dealers and heavily-graffitied walls, they started their two-week "Climate Bottom Meeting," complete with a "storytelling yurt" and a "funeral of the day" for various corrupt, "heatist" concepts such as "economic growth".

'Heatist' seems to be new. If we assume that it's an addition to the set of words in -ist that contains words like sexist and racist, as well as newer formations like ageist and heightist, then at first sight it seems to imply that concepts like economic growth are prejudiced in favour of certain kinds of heat (just as sexist people are prejudiced in favour of certain sexes, racist people in favour of certain races, etc.).

Clearly, though, 'heatist' means something more specific than this, and that definition will not do. In context ('corrupt, "heatist" concepts such as "economic growth"'), and with the benefit of knowledge of the whole article, we can see that 'heatist' denotes something that promotes or permits global warming. Note that economic growth does not cause global warming, but because of its focus on production and progress rather than sustainability it acts as an enabler and driver of unsustainable environmental practices (burning fossil fuels, etc.).

So how old is 'heatist'? There are no hits for it on LexisNexis (barring Gilligan), in the British National Corpus (which runs to 1993), in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (to 2009), or in the TIME Corpus (to 2009). And so (with due apologies for method to ACL-SIGWAC) we turn to Google (Web and Usenet searches) and various searchable social media sources. Andrew Gilligan's piece is dated 5th December 2009, and there is very little evidence of the term in use online before this. There are already a few postdating examples, though all seem heavily influenced by the Gilligan article.

If looking for 'heatist' as an adjective runs into the ground, then the result are slightly better for 'heatist' as a noun. All the earlier examples I have found for 'heatist' are as nouns. However, the original sense (in contexts relating to global warming) is different. A heatist was (and is) a proponent of the idea that global warming is real or man-made. I've assembled a specimen quotation paragraph below. Only very recently does 'heatist' as a noun or adjective assume this new meaning - see the second and third quotation paragraphs. So far I have found no examples of the plausible relevant sense of 'heatism'.

A caveat: electronic texts are subject to change. Formally, many of these quotes should be dated 9 December 2009, as this is when I found them, so this is the earliest I can prove they were written in their current form. For the sake of ease I'm treating the stated dates of composition as genuine here. (Some former colleagues would kill me if I didn't mention this.)


heatist n.

1. A proponent of the idea that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, esp. one caused by human environmental activity.

[2006 Cerebrate's Contemplations (Electronic text) 11 June, Dear feminists, masculinists, leftists, rightists, blackists, whitists, straightists, gayists, heatists, coolists, pacifists, militarists, lifeists, deathists, and assorted other activists of all stripes...] 2008 Global Warming Nonsense in Pistonheads (Electronic text) 26 Apr., I'd say the heatists are in danger of doing more harm than good, however well intentioned their actions are. 2009 So where are the warmists now? in Harmony Central (Electronic text) 20 Nov., I just got back from the services at the Church of Global Warming. All the acolytes are warmists and the priests are heatists.

2. A proponent of practices contributing to global warming.

2009 T. White Twitter (Electronic text) 1 Dec., I've just been called a warm-racist and a heatist.

heatist adj.

Of a concept or practice: that indirectly promotes or contributes to global warming.

2009 Telegraph.co.uk (Electronic text) 5 Dec., They started their two-week "Climate Bottom Meeting," complete with a "storytelling yurt" and a "funeral of the day" for various corrupt, "heatist" concepts such as "economic growth". 2009 'Kardon' Twitter (Electronic text) 6 Dec., I declare myself a proponent of "heatist" concepts, anyone who does not like that can go freeze to death this winter.


The new sense of 'heatist' may have developed within the protest community organising around Copenhagen, and so deserve the 'new-word quotes' that Andrew Gilligan gives it. Without more evidence it's hard to be sure. It's not clear whether it was used adjectivally before Andrew Gilligan picked it up, or whether he is re-analysing a noun as an adjective. Any further evidence, especially antedatings, would be welcome. (Email alex@cantab.net.)

The sustainability debate is one of those areas that churns out a lot of new words and senses as well as a lot of feeling, though there's no guarantee of which new coinages will thrive. The new sense of 'heatist' is interesting for more than just lexicographical reasons, as it represents an attempt to reclassify unsustainable behaviour and concepts as kinds of hate activity by assigning them to a lexical-semantic class normally reserved for such things. I'll keep tracking 'heatist' for a while and post anything interesting here.


Update: As a side note, there is a contributor to the conservative blog Knowledge is Power who uses the handle 'Claire, Ideologically Stubborn Heatist Ruralite', and who has posts under that handle dating back to 2006. However, because under many blog systems changes to online handles are backdated, there's no guarantee that this handle was in use in 2006, so it can't really be counted as evidence of the term in use then (unless I hear different).

# Alex Steer (09/12/2009)