Sea Snake Speech – Green Technologies Pelamis System
Sea Snake Speech
The green movement – though faltering slightly due to the recent economic struggles – has been a go-to topic for reporters for some time now. Most of the articles on the matter focus on the new Green Technologies that are going to end our oil addiction and stop global warming. Being such a pertinent topic major media outlets often accommodate their reporting to be more appealing to broader audiences. On March 2007, Jason Margolis reported on a fledgling green technology. His article titled, Wave farms show energy potential, outlined the headway being made on a large device known as the Pelamis System. As Margolis explains, The Pelamis are very large snake-like tubes that bend with the ocean’s currents. As the tubes bend at their linkages fluids in the tubes’ joints are shifted laterally to move turbines that in turn, generate electricity. The electricity is then sent to on-shore terminals via large underwater cables. This is the extent in which Margolis explains the technical details of the technology. Most socially pertinent green technologies are already fairly well understood by the general public. Considering that this was the first time I had ever heard of the Pelamis System, I figured the article would be more about the emerging technology, instead it focuses most on its potential implementation. This is Margolis’ first case of rhetorical accommodation.
In Jeanne Fahnestock’s Accommodating Science, she mentions a foreword written by Albert Einstein (speaking on his theory of relativity) in which Einstein comments on rhetorical accommodation. Einstein eloquently states the dilemma that a writer faces when they over simplify their scientific subject matter. Einstein states, “[The writer] succeeds in being intelligible by concealing the core of the problem and by offering to the reader only superficial aspects or vague allusions, thus deceiving the reader by arousing in him the deceptive illusion of comprehension”. Margolis’ article provides just enough information about the technology that the reader has the illusion that they understand how it works. This results in the reader being satisfied with the “knowledge” they’ve been provided rather than striving for more. I believe Margolis attempts to do this because his article is structured around the advantages and drawbacks of the Pelamis System, and it is important to give the reader a background in how the system actually functions to do this, however brief it may be.
In this article Margolis attaches very visual and personifying rhetoric when he describes the Pelamis system. Off the bat Margolis tags the Pelamis System as a “wave farm” and the machine itself as “train-like” consisting of “massive, red, steel tubes”. Strong rhetoric like this simplifies things and instantly places an image in the reader’s head. It also creates an allure, mystifying the reader while simultaneously capturing their attention. This pathos appeal opens the door for Margolis to present the quantitative portions of the article.
Though only a small portion of this article, Margolis’ quantitative descriptions such as “Wind power has reduced its cost by 80%” and “ equal to about six-and-a-half percent of our total capacity” further illustrate the rhetorical approach of this article. Simple percentages are a means in which Margolis’ provides rhetorical comparisons that are relevant to larger audiences. However, the majority of the percentages are coming from quoted sources. This is another major aspect of accommodation in scientific papers. When a scientist or researcher is interviewed about their findings or work they will rarely get down to the nitty-gritty science stuff. Instead, they present the grandest and most appealing portion of their work. Rhetorically, this makes for some good quotes, some “meat” for the article, so to speak. However, they generally only add to the illusion of understanding. Margolis uses these quotes further in comparing like green technologies. After presenting the notion that Pelamis sea snakes are still very much in their early design stages and uncompetitive with current means, Margolis offers logos to merit the potential of the fledgling technology. This warrant is provided when Margolis quotes “What gives us tremendous hope with this technology is that our opening costs are substantially below where wind power started 20, 25 years ago”. He then goes on to paraphrase, “Wind power has reduced its cost by 80% since the technology has been deployed and optimized”. This excerpt is very logically structured. Since wind power is so relevant and booming in our current energy infrastructure this logos works very well to provide the hopeful outlook Margolis is trying to convey.
Another component to rhetoric that is often overlooked is kairos, Margolis’ piece draws similarities to a very important point in world history. The September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center mark one of the deepest darkest moments in American history. In one day, the Taliban went from a “group of insurgent rebels” to “terrorists”, “public enemies number one”. The whole rhetoric of America and media outlets changed forever. Similarly, since the global economic collapse any affair that has any fiscal insinuation has a whole new set of rhetoric attached to it. This article was published on March 2, 2007. At this moment in time, America’s stocks were falling but few knew of the impending financial crisis that was about to ensue. With that said, at this instant people were very emphatic about pursuing new avenues in green technology. This is completely evident in the Margolis’ rhetoric. The length of the article consists mainly of a sense of optimism for the technology working past its fiscal drawbacks. Searching for “market enabling mechanisms, in other words subsidies” is the answer he presents for funding problems at the time. In today’s economy, subsidies for experimental technology just aren’t there anymore, there isn’t even money for NASA. Optimism like these is rarely seen in today’s media. Though majority of his rhetoric lends no insight into the opinion of Margolis on the matter, this section clearly does. The optimistic rhetoric Margolis presents, expresses his hesitant advocacy for the Pelamis System.
In reading, Wave farms show energy potential, Jason Margolis paints the picture of the up-and-coming wave energy industry. His use of rhetorical appeal allows the article to flow easily and present a clear image of the current state and future of the Pelamis wave energy system. However, Margolis struggles with “Scylla and Charybdis” that so often plagues science-centric articles. By accommodating his rhetoric to broaden his audience, Margolis fails to provide the language that his readers need to fully understand the Pelamis System. Further evaluating this article it seems as though readers will only be left with the “illusion of comprehension”.
Margolis, Jason. “Wave Farms Show Energy Potential.” BBC News – Home. 2 Mar. 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6410839.stm>.