Broadview editor and publisher Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Regina Garcia)

Topics: Ethical Living | Editor's Letter

It’s time to stop using the term ‘climate change’

Broadview has changed how we talk about the emergency facing our planet

 | 

Emergency. Crisis. Breakdown. These are the words the Guardian newspaper wants its reporters to use when describing the state of the global climate. “Climate change,” Katharine Viner, the editor-in-chief, said in May, “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

News of the U.K. media outlet’s decision quickly spread throughout the industry. The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the CBC launched internal reviews of the words they use to describe the climate. Here at Broadview, we did the same.

Although a wording change has no direct impact on carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, words can shape ideas, and ideas can inspire action. Words like “crisis” and “emergency” most accurately capture a situation where we must halve carbon emissions by 2030 to avoid putting millions of people in climate-related jeopardy. These words have just enough edge to get our hearts pumping.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who launched the school strike for climate movement, is both adept at choosing words and at understanding their impact. In January, she told the World Economic Forum: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic .… I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”

Some argue that raising the rhetoric only causes people to tune out, shut down and become too depressed to act. We’ve all felt despair as scientists deliver reports indicating we’re headed toward the world’s sixth mass extinction. But the scary truth is that even faced with our own demise, we seem more prone to indifference. There’s nothing like the blaring of an emergency alarm to get people off the couch and out the door.

In our cover story, “The adults have failed us,” writer Alanna Mitchell uses the phrases “climate emergency” and “climate crisis.” We’ve chosen to adopt these phrases for all of Broadview’s climate-related coverage.

In June, the Canadian government declared a national climate emergency, becoming the third country to do so. Will efforts to use more impactful language shift the collective consciousness enough to inspire the needed action? Or will we be ratcheting up our rhetoric again in a few years? Let’s hope not. Or, better yet, let’s not hope. Let’s heed Thunberg’s request and set hope aside in favour of action. Because when the house is burning, you don’t sit back, observe the “change” and hope it will stop.

This editorial first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “Sounding the alarm.” For more of Broadview’s award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today. 

Jocelyn Bell is the editor-publisher of Broadview.

Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

  • says:

    Climate crisis, climate emergency, climate chaos, climate catastrophe all instill a much greater sense of urgency than climate change. I also believe it is important to further define the term by including anthropogenic or man made. WE are in large part the cause of this impending crisis and change will only come once we acknowledge our complicity and responsibility.

  • says:

    It's the words we use will always indicate who we are and what's important to us. So yes, I agree that it's important to be accurate about what is happening to the only earth we'll ever love. I also know that when we love someone or something we don't misuse it.

  • says:

    I think that a large part of me is STILL in denial, but the noose around my neck does appear to be getting snugger all the time.

  • says:

    This is a very complex problem because the solutions have immediate impact on the current way of life for many Canadians.
    Car transportation for medical treatment, daily truck deliveries of food, plus jobs for remote communities and labour saving devices on the family farm are all examples of the advantages of oil. Using "house is on fire " indicates very quick movement away from many of the current operational methods.
    What about the large number of truck drivers in the Canadian economy (currently a major group of employees)? Are they off the road and out of a job? What about supplying our food for the food stores? Does the government pay the drivers for not working and where does the money come from. More taxes on the existing businesses? How fast do we change our energy sources and how fast can we do it and at what cost?