Want to Fix the Climate Change? Start With the Words You Choose.

Climate and energy truths logo Climate and Energy Truths: Making the Necessary Connections, our communications research project conducted to determine effective
frameworks and messages for speaking with the American public about
energy, climate change, etc., was referenced in two recent articles discussing ways of referring to climate change. Framing and language are important when communicating with mainstream Americans. One of the articles included in full, after the jump.

Posted Feb. 17, 2010
By Nikki Gloudeman, change.org Blog

Want to Fix the Climate Change? Start With the Words You Choose.

"Atmosphere cancer."

If New York Times writer Andrew Revkin had his way, this is how people would describe our changing climate.

Why? Like many enviros, Revkin understands progress won't come
unless we successfully sell climate change—and language is key to the
hard sell.

Last year, John P. Holdren, the head of Harvard’s center on science and technology policy, told
a science panel that climate change was "hardly a transformation one
would describe with a gentle word like warming." Dr. James Lovelock has
suggested the more aggressive "global heating," while psychiatrist
Steven Moffic recommended "global boiling" in a New York Times Magazine letter last week.

In addition to the forcefulness of language, precision is also important. This became evident during the recent snowpocalypse
hullabaloo, when denialists were able to successfully pitch their claim
that "If it's cold, there can be no global warming." Though patently
false, the argument worked because of its linguistic shrewdness.

In fact, "global warming" as a phrase does not account for
oscillating climate shifts, and implies a false connection to
weather—so it was very easy for naysayers to exploit the disparity.
That is why organizations like NASA have suggested
scrapping "global warming" for the more scientifically accurate
"climate change." (Note that if denialists had used "climate change" in
their claims, that linguistically would have supported the existence of extreme snowy weather).

Specific provisions associated with climate change could also benefit from linguistic mindfulness. Last year, the environmental non-profit ecoAmerica suggested
the confusing "cap and trade" be replaced with "cap and cash back" or
"pollution reduction refund." Conversely, Republicans did a lot of
damage to cap and trade when they dubbed it an "energy tax" during the climate bill debates.

Finally, there's the issue of linguistic association. EcoAmerica
conducted a poll last year that found "global warming" is often
associated with "shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex
scientific disputes." Their solution?
Avoid the loaded phrase altogether, and instead talk about "our
deteriorating atmosphere" and "moving away from the dirty fuels of the

At this point in the game, it's probably too late to expect a
completely new phrase to dominate the rhetoric, or for people to give
up on their ingrained terminology. But it's important to remember that
real change has never happened without careful, persuasive language
behind it.

No Responses to “Want to Fix the Climate Change? Start With the Words You Choose.”

  1. Also, the imagery. If you’re trying to reach an its-a-hoaxer, your efforts are doomed if you use words and imagery that evoke human-to-human combat. The enemy is physics…

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