God-Terms as Exigence in the Rhetorical Battle over Keystone XL

  • Steven Slasten University of San Francisco


This essay analyzes the rhetoric used by opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline in an attempt to understand the ways in which the issue has become so polarizing. Drawing upon Kenneth Burke’s terministic screens and god-terms, along with Richard Weaver’s own analysis of god-terms, I conduct a close reading of the media surrounding the debate over the proposed pipeline, paying close attention to the two god-terms I identify as key to the debate: safety and progress. My analysis reveals that opponents of the pipeline have constructed the issue into a symbolic battle over the future of North American clean energy, and I conclude that Keystone XL, while an important issue to debate, does not merit treatment as an exigency so great as to decide the future of our nation’s energy.