An Overheated Debate: The Influence of Premillennial Apocalyptic Rhetoric on Climate Reform Discourse in the United States
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
apocalypse, Christianity, climate change, environment, evangelicalism, rhetoric
Arts and Humanities | Rhetoric | Rhetoric and Composition
Despite decades of scientific research and increased civil and governmental calls for reform, the United States continues to spiral toward climate catastrophe. Apocalyptic rhetoric helps us understand how even the most pressing environmental and societal threats are perceived differently according to audiences' rhetorical and ideological frameworks. Drawing on the work of Barry Brummett and Kenneth Burke, I argue that the premillennial sub-genre of apocalyptic rhetoric constitutes a rhetorical frame through which many secular climate reformers and evangelical Christians make sense of the environmental and societal impacts of climate change. In chapters that analyze secular and Christian climate reform discourse and apocalyptic evangelical discourse produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, I demonstrate through rhetorical analysis that apocalyptic rhetoric is a persistent frame through which citizens make sense of not only climate change but other perceived threats. I suggest that by attending to the influence of apocalyptic rhetoric on the production and reception of climate change and climate reform discourse, climate reform rhetors may be positioned to produce environmental discourse that is more likely to engage (or at least not alienate) a wider variety of U.S. audiences, especially evangelical Christians. Drawing upon the findings of environmental rhetoric and communication scholars, I outline a series of rhetorical strategies that may be used to more productively engage not just climate resistant audiences but a variety of audiences whose attitudes toward a particular societal problem are characterized by intense ideological resistance. Despite the potential for such strategies to create possibilities for rhetorical engagement, I suggest that the influence of premillennialism on U.S. climate action leads us to reconsider the role of deliberative democratic discourse as a means of resolving such large-scale, pressing problems in the public sphere. I conclude this project by reflecting on the implications of apocalyptic rhetoric for climate reform discourse within the U.S. more generally, as well as the structural inequities that continue to fuel such resistance among evangelical Christian audiences.
Gall-Maynard, David Charles, "An Overheated Debate: The Influence of Premillennial Apocalyptic Rhetoric on Climate Reform Discourse in the United States" (2022). Dissertations - ALL. 1360.