Friday, March 27, 2009

Fill in the Blank

Purloined writes:

Thank you all for participating last month in the discussion about what to call the current environmental situation. Is it Global Warming? Climate Change? Or is it Climate Chaos, a phrase which seems to be more common in Britain and Canada than it is in the US?

Several of you suggested that "Climate Change" is more accurate--since some areas may actually get colder even as the earth warms over all, and because there are some theories that global warming could trigger an ice age by disrupting the Gulf Stream or by some other process. This labeling also means people are less likely to get stuck by the daily or seasonal weather conditions (ie, a very cold day or even a cold winter) Instead it might encourage them to think about climate in a larger way.

People tend to disagree a bit when they puzzle out which term sounds more serious. Some people feel that when people hear "climate change," it doesn't sound threatening at all and certainly not anthropogenic. If we don't see this as a problem, and we don't think we can have any affect, will we take the issue seriously? Others feel that "global warming" might sound too pleasant--especially on those days we're freezing our buns off.

Almost universally, people said in the comments to the original post that "climate chaos" was confrontational and alarmist. While some thought the term was literally wrong, even those who thought we might be facing chaos believed that too many people would take that kind of labeling as a "sky is falling" craziness and ignore the problem.

I love Heather's suggestion to call it MEWEKUOIWDGOOBADSAI: "Mother-Earth-will-eventually-kill-us-off-if-we-don't-get-off-our-butts-and-do something-about-it," but I'm not sure it will catch on with the mainstream crowd...

Amber calls attention to a post which proposes the term climaticide. Johnny Rook suggests the term because:

1) It accurately describes what we humans are doing to our current climate, which is, quite simply, killing it. 2) It’s a catchy, easy to remember term (IMHO) 3) It avoids the ambiguity of other expressions such as global warming, which many people find confusing ("It’s not getting warmer where I live. Hell, we got a lot of snow here in the Pacific Northwest this winter. It’s June now and it’s still cold") and climate change, which doesn’t sound sufficiently scary or urgent (”Not all change is bad, you know? "Maybe they’ll be able to grow watermelons in Helsinki…") expressing instead a plainly obvious evil. (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the suffix -cide “as denoting an act of killing”) and 4) It’s a perfectly apt descriptor not only of the process but also of the perpetrators: we are the climaticides, the killers of our climate. (Second COED definition of -cide: "denoting a person or substance that kills").

He acknowledges that we're not killing the actual climate--just the climate to which we and many other species have evolved to inhabit.

Crunchy Chicken suggested in a post on her blog that we face an "environmental apocalypse," citing this terrifying article to back up the claim.

Belinda, who has a great post about this issue on her own blog, suggests that "climate crisis" might be a good choice. As she wrote in the comments last month, this phrase "is still reasonably uncompromising about the severity of the problem but seems to trigger a more able to/must fix reaction."

I personally agree with Belinda and have used the terms "climate crisis" and "environmental crisis" as my standard over the last couple of years.

Two comments to my original post made me think in a new direction.

Carmen points out that we sometimes get so hung up on how (or even if) the climate is changing that we sometimes forget to mention all the other environmental components as we face an increasingly toxic world. Perhaps using terms like "environmental degradation" or "environmental crisis" can get to this issue.

Jenni suggested that we might need to be talking about "energy security" rather than climate issues. Although she did not elaborate, I think their are several reasons why this might be exactly the right move, at least sometimes. Many Americans are primed to hear this message. It gets past the political divide that separates the environmentalists and the deniers. It in fact gets us to change our lives in ways that have both immediate consequences as well as longer-range environmental ramifications. In addition, Peak Energy may hit us hard and fast. Are you reading, Jenni? I'd love to hear more about your family's thoughts about this issue in the comments.

What do you think? Has anyone persuaded you one way or another? Is your thinking changing over time as more information about the environment and about climate issues comes out?


Carmen said...

I think this is such a great post and an important discussion to have. Thanks for the great summary of all the comments.

I think "environmental crisis" or "climate crisis" the most. Maybe I get hung up on the semantics (but of course, this discussion is all about the semantics). But, climate is always changing. Climate change in and of itself is not a crisis and climate change in and of itself is not a bad thing for the earth and the environment, it is the natural order.

It is the specific concerns about the way climate is changing (more extremes, raising ocean levels, higher greenhouse gases), the speed at which it is changing, and the impact it will have on our ability as a species to thrive that makes it a crisis. And I believe that a term like that takes away some of the semantic debate issues... such as "climate has always changed". Because the point isn't that the climate is changing, right? The point is that the best science we have today says that there is a major risk that if things proceed along the current path, the changes to the environment will impact our ability to thrive...

Sorry for the long comment - it's a hot-button issue for me!

Joyce said...

I think "evironmental degradation" is the one that works for me. People can see that literally happening around them, whereas climate change can be less easily observed. It's important to pick a phrase that resonates with the most people, motivating them to change their habits.

scifichick said...

I guess I'm starting to lean towards 'climate crisis'. I think I now like 'environmental degradation' the most. It seems the most accurate, with not as much emotion attached. I am little tired of hearing about 'energy security' though. Mainstream media talks so much about it, and they normally try to sell us on some new idea about saving the world while continuing all the consumption. It also normally goes hand in hand with exploring oil sands, calling coal clean, and so on...

The Tell-Tale Heart said...

Thanks for starting the discussion, sharing your own thoughts, and pulling it all together. I was getting worried you were going to leave us all waiting on the edge of our seats.

Another theme that emerges from the discussion is that we may need to select our words to fit the situation. How we talk to our green co-evolvers should be different perhaps than how we talk with our parents or the media.

Thinking about context, I also feel that the issue of habitat destruction and the resulting mass extinction sometimes needs to be raised separately from CO2 emissions and global warming. The phrase "environmental degredation" is broad and potentially useful as it encompasses them both. At times, when trying to find solutions and motivate change, I think I'll stick with the more specific climate crisis.

DS is home, time to sign-off. Thanks again!

Betty Black said...

Thanks for talking about all of the differnt terms. I haden't heard 'climaticide' before. I like it best although as with catch phrases it may or may not catch on.

skymring said...

Here in Norway, we refer to it as the climate crisis. I think it works well, as it adresses it correctly as a crisis, and thus, something that calls for our immediate attention. I also think that thereby, it draws attention to our need and ability to do something about it - you don't just ignore a crisis of that scale.
Haha, by the way, the word verification for this comment is 'drepti' - take out the 'i', and you have 'killed' in Norwegian :)

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

Sorry that I am coming in late to the conversation. Thank you so much for adding my comment to your post! Rather than fill up your comment space with a lengthy explanation, I'll just point you to my husband's blog post on the subject.

You summed it up quite well- basically using a term that speaks to the naysayers who are mainly concerned with the almighty dollar. I think some of what he says is a bit tongue-in-cheek but it is an interesting thought.


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