Call it global warming

Back in the day when this blog was in it’s infancy (5 years ago!), I was working in health communication research (how to tailor and target messages to make them relevant and effective for a given audience).  That work, combined with my interest in sustainability and “climate change” led me to do some literature searches into the subject of climate change communication.  How could we have all this information that was just not getting through to people?

Turns out, Yale has a whole center devoted to the topic, the Center on Climate Change Communication, and the group just released a report saying that we’ve been getting it all wrong with by using the term “climate change,” when, in fact, the term “global warming” is both more relatable and more likely to cause concern.

So, how did this switch come about?  “Climate change” more accurately describes the range of changes that we are seeing, but this terminology change, at least in the U.S., did not necessarily come from the scientific community.

As reported in this article from The Guardian:

George W Bush swapped the term climate change for global warming in 2002, on the advice of the Republican political consultant, Frank Luntz.

In a secret memo before the mid-term elections, Luntz warned Republicans – and Bush in particular – were singularly weak on the environment. He advised a strategy of disputing climate science, and of avoiding the term “global warming’ because of its highly negative connotations.

“It’s time for us to start talking about ‘climate change’ instead of global warming … ‘climate change’ is less frightening than ‘global warming’,” said the memo obtained by the Environmental Working Group.

Gah — suddenly “climate change” feels so dirty!  Twelve years of word trickery and misinformation!  Twelve years (and more) that we’ve been sitting around debating while global warming continued, unabated.

Since April, I’ve been collecting global warming-related articles, trying to reconnect to this important topic:

  • From Climate Change Study Finds U.S. Is Already Widely Affected
      • In the Southwest, the water shortages seen to date are likely just a foretaste of the changes to come, the report found. In that region, the report warned, “severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already overutilized in many areas . . .”
      • . . . the effects of global warming that had been long foreseen by climate scientists are already affecting the planet.  [The report’s] documentation of changes occurring in the United States, and of future risks, makes clear that few places will be unscathed — and some, like northerly areas, are feeling the effects at a swifter pace than had been expected.
      • One of the report’s most striking findings concerned the rising frequency of torrential rains.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words, so check out these images.
  • From Let This Earth Day Be the Last

Any discussion of the situation must begin by acknowledging the science and the sheer lateness of the hour—that the chance for any smooth, gradual transition has passed, that without radical change the kind of livable and just future we all want is simply inconceivable . . . . there’s good reason to believe that a rise of two degrees will lead to catastrophic consequences. And of course, what’s “catastrophic” depends on where you live, and how poor you are, and more often than not the color of your skin. If you’re one of the billions of people who live in the poorest and most vulnerable places—from Bangladesh to Louisiana—even 1 degree can mean catastrophe.

  • Finally, in Climate Change: The Bigger Picture, Charles Eisenstein offers some food for thought:
      • If advocates of fracking or nuclear power can argue plausibly that their technology will reduce greenhouse emissions, then by our own logic we must support those too. This is already happening: witness the “Think about it” campaign touting the climate change benefits of natural gas.
      • What would happen if we revalued the local, the immediate, the qualitative, the living, and the beautiful? We would still oppose most of what climate change activists oppose, but for different reasons: tar sands oil extraction because it kills the forests and mars the landscape; mountaintop removal because it obliterates sacred mountains; fracking because it insults and degrades the water; offshore oil drilling because oil spills poison wildlife; road building because it carves up the land, creates roadkill, contributes to suburbanisation and habitat destruction, and accelerates the loss of community.

This is hard for me to explore, because I know my own modest efforts are a tiny little drop in a great big ocean, when what we need is widespread, sweeping change in how we interact with our environment and natural resources.  (It also makes it difficult to continue to blog, when many of my posts seem frivolous, by comparison.)

Realistically, at this point, we will be forced to adapt to many of the changes already underway, while doing our best to mitigate damage.