Urgent Pathos by Erik Seroogy

In Vicki Arroyo’s TED Talk, titled “Let’s Prepare for Our New Climate”, Arroyo explains the future threats of climate change, such as drought and flooding. She illustrates how climate change will bring about widespread chaos if no preparation is made to brace for this inevitability. Arroyo uses her background in environmental law, biology, and ecology to communicate her point to the audience. She uses examples from both the past and present as warning signs of larger forms of devastation that have the potential to occur. It is Arroyo’s rhetoric that allows her to get the point across and instill a sense of urgency in her audience. The rhetorical appeal that Arroyo uses most strongly, and most frequently, is pathos, an appeal to the human emotion. Utilizing the appeal of pathos in her TED talk, Arroyo moves her audience, effectively convincing them to follow her advice on preparing for the destructive results of climate change.

Arroyo is aware of who her audience is. She is an environmental activist, hence the majority of her audience will be activists and progressive academics. These groups of people are often susceptible to being convinced of an idea by a pathos appeal due to their intense passion towards whatever idea or movement it is that they are supporting. Realizing the emotional vulnerability that her audience feels towards issues involving climate change, Arroyo uses images of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, such as destroyed homes and submerged neighborhoods, in order to invoke a heartfelt response from them. Arroyo says, “In 2005, the world watched as New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. One thousand, eight hundred and thirty-six people died. Nearly three hundred thousand homes were lost,” reminding the audience of how many people tragically die, and/or lose everything they have, during natural disasters. She starts off many sentences with the words, “Could you imagine…” This phrase can help people relate to what is being said, and she repeats this phrase multiple times. This is an intelligent maneuver by Arroyo, demonstrating her rhetorical effectiveness. One could even go as far as to say that she is manipulating the feelings of the audience in order to convince and motivate them. Arroyo continues to tug on the audience’s heartstrings by exclaiming, “…a lethal 1995 heat wave turned refrigerator trucks from the popular Taste of Chicago festival into makeshift morgues.” This incredibly negative, morbid, and emotional connotation is an excellent use of pathos.

Arroyo is not very gifted in the realm of presentation elements. Her voice sounds incredibly shaky throughout her entire speech, giving her a constant air of anxiety and inexperience, at least as a speaker. Because she is talking about such sensitive and enormous issues, it is understandable why she does not use any humor in her speech whatsoever. She walks to the other side of the stage and back occasionally. This movement is better than no movement, but she still seems a bit awkward during the process. Small gestures with her hands help add some semblance of importance to what she is saying. Her body language does not display confidence or passion. She looks very stiff during most of her talk. Strangely enough, the shakiness and stiffness of her presentation seems to add to her pathos appeal. This display may not seem like it is up to presentation standards, but it actually makes Arroyo sound more urgent, caring, and passionate. Her urgent tone is her most obvious speech mannerism, making her sound sincere and responsible, like she truly wants to solve all of these world problems as soon as possible. Once again, Arroyo provides an example of exactly how she is adept at pathos appeal.

Arroyo is illustrating one specific side of an issue that is difficult not to agree with. Arroyo knows what she’s talking about, as evidenced by the global examples she provides from both the past (Hurricane Katrina) and the present (widespread droughts in China). She already assumes that the audience agrees with her general stance on the results of climate change. This assumption can be dangerous to make, but it seems her audience agrees with her wholeheartedly nonetheless. While Arroyo uses pathos skillfully, but her goal is not one that the vast majority of people would disagree with. Her goal is, basically, to save families from being displaced or torn apart by any natural disaster similar to Katrina. She rallies the audience and confirms this goal with an urgent quote: “It’s up to us to look at our homes and our communities, our vulnerabilities and our exposures to risk, and to find ways to not just survive, but to thrive…” Not that many people will oppose saving lives, especially those who are part of Arroyo’s audience.

Pathos is a hugely important rhetorical factor when one must convince a large amount people, especially when those people are passionate in their ideals. Arroyo realizes this fact, and capitalizes upon it to create an effective and moving speech. She talks about improved infrastructure, building, planning, and adapting. There are examples of what is being done, but no advice on exactly what one should do to help. She does not go into any further detail than that, simply because she does not need to. This is thanks to all of the pathos that she has fed to her audience. Using pathos, Arroyo effectively convinces her audience of her point, even without using a lot of any other rhetorical appeal. Emotion has the power to inspire, motivate, and move.

Work Cited

Arroyo, Vicki. “Let’s Prepare for Our New Climate.” Speech. TED. TED Conferences, LLC. 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.