Friday, February 27, 2009


Today's poll is about the politics of our language.

I've been thinking a lot about what words we use--and what words the folks who disagree with us use. Over the last few years, I've become comfortable with certain usages--and I was shocked out of that complacency yesterday when I heard really good reasoning why I should use the term I had discarded. Before I tell you my own thinking on this issue, I would love to hear from you.


Global Warming.
Climate Change.
Climate Chaos.
Global Meltdown.
Something else?

What do you say? Why? Why do you think other people (who believe or don't believe what you believe) choose to use different words?


Willo said...

I was eavesdropping at the Y the other day and I heard two older people discussing this. The man was saying that it is too cold here in Michigan, guess they can't say global warming. The woman was saying, it doesn't matter what they call it, it won't hurt to start changing things.

I am totally with that woman. I know we have to have a language around things to discuss them, but sometimes I think that gets in the way. People get hung up on the terms instead of focusing on the fact that taking care of ourselves and the planet is just the right thing to do.

Tameson said...

Global warming or climate change. I think the climate IS changing. I think it IS getting warmer (despite the snow and yuck my winter has been so full of this year). Whether or not humans had any direct contribution to the increase I haven't fully figured out yet, and possibly never will, necause what's more important is that the climate is changing and what to do going forward than to worry about how it came to be that way.

Global meltdown seems to me to be more descriptive of the global financial climate than the weather.

Heather @ SGF said...

Global warming is what I usually use, but then most people assume this means everything is getting warmer and other aberrant weather doesn't apply.

And climate change sounds too benign...

How about "Mother-Earth-will-eventually-kill-us-off-if-we-don't-get-off-our-butts-and-do something-about-it" or MEWEKUOIWDGOOBADSAI for short, of course :)

Daphne said...

I mostly hear global warming or climate change, in that order. The scientist in me likes climate change better since some part of the world may well get colder instead of warmer depending upon who's climate change theory you listen to. Then again mother nature may have the last laugh after all and Yellowstone may erupt into a super volcano and we might go into an ice age. But barring mother nature induced ice ages that may or may never come in the next millennia, I'm still working on reducing my carbon output and calling it climate change.

Carmen said...

I'm ambivalent on whether or not the world will continue to warm. I think there are a lot of unknowns and the science is highly politicized. I think arguing about the temperature exclusively gets away from the main point of "is our environment becoming more toxic to us?" To me, this question is clearly a "yes". How can it be a bad thing to specifically address protecting the health of our environment? I'd rather focus on proactive things we can do to protect the health of our environment rather than to argue about highly uncertain climate models which have never been very good about predicting the future.

Green Resolutions said...

"Chaos" and "meltdown" are so "the sky is falling" -- maybe it is, but no one is going to believe you. I keep thinking the same thing about "TEOTWAWKI." Maybe we really should be thinking of this, but the phrasing just seems so alarmist that I think the majority of people discredit the people who use the term.

I wrote this before I read the other comments and mean no disrespect to Heather! :)

Green Bean said...

I use Climate Change because the climate for regions across the planet will change and not all of them for the warmer.

I used to use Global Warming but a) I don't think that is scientifically accurate because people assume all regions will get warmer and b) I think that term has been poisoned by those opposed to taking action on this crises.

I think the other terms are too negative, too scary for people to hear. As true as they may be. They inspire us to go hide rather that pick up our bicycles and canvas grocery bags and do battle.

Amber said...

I too think 'climate change' is more accurate than 'warming'.
'Warming' can be very misleading.

Last winter was particularly long and cold in most of Ontario and I remember one friend commenting, 'so much for global warming eh?'.

However, 'climate change' doesn't quite cover the seriousness of the situation. The climate has always and will always continue to change, so what's the big deal?

I remember reading an article by, I think it was Thomas Friedman, who referred to it as 'climate weirding'. I kinda liked that because it touched on the unpredictability of 'climate change', and it carries less of the alarmist feel that 'climate chaos' has.

Some drawbacks to it that a friend pointed out: 1) the use of the term 'weird' potentially relegates it to the fringe, making it less acceptable to the mainstream
2) 'weird', similar to 'chaos' makes people think it's a problem beyond their control, thus not something they would take action on
3) not likely a term that people would actually adopt because it sounds, well, weird!

JessTrev said...

Hmmm. Yes, been using climate change. And I really like climate weirding! But probably, for reasons Amber spelled out, weirding doesn't quite have the gravity we're shooting for. I do think that semantics matter, and I do think we need a word that conveys a sense of urgency without being alarmist.

scifichick said...

I use climate change most often. When I hear other people say 'global warming', there would always be someone who says that why is it getting so cold then?! Maybe the world is warming, but so far the effects that we have been feeling here are actually colder summers and snowier winters. Well, this one. It seems to be very unpredictable at this point.
I don't like 'chaos' or 'meltdown' because they are such loaded terms. Is the planet really in chaos? I don't think planet really cares. It's us who care because we live on it and it affects us. And then when you use those kinds of terms I think people just write you off as being nuts.

Farmer's Daughter said...

This has been a topic of discussion among the AP Environmental Science list-serve that I belong to. The consensus seems to be "climate change."

I think "global warming" opens up a chance for people to say, "well it's cold today, so it must be wrong."

Donna said...

I hear global warming & climate change -- haven't even heard of the others. Personally, I use global warming, because that's what's happening, and I know that it means some places will get colder in a weird sort of way. I've even heard a extremely believable explaination of how a rise in global temps could trigger an ice age. I don't care what anyone calls it as long as they understand that something really big is happening right now!

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

My husband is a scientist and always corrects me when I say global warming. He says that we should really be using the term climate change because greenhouse gases affect climate differently in different parts of the world and that the warming trend slowed for the past 10 years.

Although when I just now asked him about this, he tells me that he is writing a blog post about how we should probably stop using the term climate change and use 'energy security' instead.

But ignore him!:)

Carmen said...

The problem with the term "Climate Change" is that climate always changes over time with or without the human influence. It's the nature of the world. "Human-influenced climate change" or "accelerated climate change" is more appropriate I think.

ruchi aka arduous said...

I used to use the phrase global warming, but then I got to grad school, and quickly got used to saying "climate change" because that's what everyone calls it these days. I think the idea is that climate change acknowledges that the impact will be different in different areas of the world, which is probably important. I also read in a book recently the important point that though it is true that the global temperature will increase ... that's not something that any of us can conceptualize on an individual level. 2 degrees of warming worldwide is a very abstract concept. It doesn't tell you how it will affect YOU. Climate change, of course, doesn't either, so maybe both phrases are problematic...

I do agree that the other phrases are too TEOTWAWKI. Although, sometimes I do want to shake people a little!!

belinda said...


You all came up with much more consensus than I did when I was discussing the same question..

My instinctive like is toward climate chaos as I find it the most reflective of what the science is predicting.. that said I don't usually use it as it does tend to bring out the "my DOG we're doomed" reaction.

My fall back is actually "Climate Crisis" it is still reasonably uncompromising about the severity of the problem but seems to trigger a more able to/must fix reaction.

The above is where I went into quite a few details on why I don't particularly like the new politically acceptable "climate change".

EcoBurban said...

Global Climate Confusion

That's what I usually tell people when they say "It's 10 below here in Michigan, global warming my a@#!"

We've gotten over 60 inches of snow this year, it's been frigid, windy and wet. However, this summer will most likely see record high temps, humidty and drought.

Poor, poor, confused planet.

Amber said...

This is a little late to the discussion, but I just came across this post by following some links, and thought it appropriate to add.
The blog author proposes 'climaticide', "because it is the true name of the crisis that threatens us. As the poet Thich Nhat Hanh has shown, calling things by their true names makes us aware of their complexity and wary of simplistic solutions."
I thought it was a very interesting post.


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