What’s an enthymeme, and what does it have to do with clean energy?

A brief search of the JLF network of sites shows I am the only one to use the term enthymeme. That being the case, I suppose I should explain myself before poking fun at one published today in The News & Observer about the need for a clean energy plan in North Carolina.

An enthymeme is a syllogism with a premise left unstated. Often it’s done because stating it would be redundant; it’s something everybody knows. Such as “It’s going to rain, so you better grab an umbrella.” It doesn’t need to be stated that one dislikes being rained upon (or going further, that an umbrella’s function is keeping one from being rained upon).

Sometimes, however, it’s done because the speaker cannot provide the other premise. Perhaps the speaker wishes you, the listener, to provide the premise he dare not say aloud. Or maybe the speaker can’t think of it at all, like the infamous “Underpants Gnomes” of South Park (10-second link, one profanity) or this cartoon:

Either way, the hasty rush to conclusion is like an IOU: One Half of the Logical Foundation of My Conclusion. It those cases it is non sequitur.

In the N&O today, a joint op-ed by a Sierra Club official and a former EPA analyst argued there was, per the headline, “A clear need for a clean power plan in North Carolina.”

A clear need, mind you, not one of those muddied-up needs you sometimes get.

What is this clear need? “Evidence of sea-level rise is everywhere on North Carolina’s coast, from Wilmington to Corolla. … The seas are rising. … Can we stem the rising tide?” So stemming sea-level rise is the need.

They write:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently proposed limits on carbon pollution, known as the Clean Power Plan, give us a fighting chance to do our part in addressing climate change. If we respond decisively, this landmark proposal can help us achieve profound progress toward reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to climate change and sea-level rise and harming our environment and public health.

The proposed rule, which EPA will finalize this summer, provides tremendous flexibility to states, allowing each to tailor its own plan for meeting the emission reductions required by 2030. After EPA finalizes its rule, states will have a year to complete their plans.

Premise 1: North Carolina must adopt the EPA plan to limit carbon pollution.
Premise 2: ?
Conclusion: The seas will stop rising.

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...