Climate change is putting it too lightly, now that the threat of rising global temperatures are causing rampant droughts, historic ice melt, and rising sea levels. The damage is evident and worsening, and it has already begun to change the vernacular.
In June 2019, Senator Kamala Harris gave a passioned plea during the Democratic presidential debate. She shared her personal feelings about the looming threat of global warming and climate change, and what she chooses to call it.
“I don’t even call it climate change,” she said. “It’s a climate crisis.”
The Guardian has likewise taken steps to amplify the urgency of reporting on similar topics by forgoing “climate change” for “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown.”
According to editor-in-chief Katharine Viner, “Huge-scale and immediate action is needed to slash emissions, but they are still going up—that’s an emergency or crisis,” Viner said. “Extreme weather is increasing and climate patterns established for millennia are changing—hence breakdown.”
And the Guardian isn’t alone. News outlets around the world are changing the way they report on climate issues. According to the New Republic, Spanish news agency EFE and Noticias Telemundo, the biggest Spanish news network in the United States, are favoring the word “emergency” over “change,” and fostering conversations that reflect the same.
“The use of clear and accurate language in covering critical subjects such as the climate emergency is not merely an option for journalists; it is their duty,” Luis Fernández, Telemundo’s executive vice president of network news, wrote in a release. “The scientific community and linguistics experts agree that the world is facing a ‘climate emergency.’”
So, why now? Why is “climate change” outmoded after decades of use? To answer that question, it helps to understand where it came from in the first place.
As the Guardian reports, the phrase comes from a study by geophysicist Wallace S Broecker published in 1975, “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”
In the political arena, conscious-raising “global warming” was soon overshadowed by the newly coined “climate change.”
Republican strategist Frank Luntz advised Republicans in the George W. Bush administration to refute the growing amount of scientific evidence showing rising global temperatures with a consolidated message of uncertainty. Luntz urged Bush and the Republican party to drop “global warming” for “climate change,” which had all the urgency of a jaunt “from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.”
His plan worked, for a while.
With the evidence of rising global temperatures now all to pressing to ignore, climate change has once again been shelved. Meanwhile, at Grist reports, “climate crisis” has even found its way into the name of a House committee.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.