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Climate Change climate change at Mauna Loa

Published on September 19th, 2019 | by Steve Hanley


Words Matter: At The Guardian, Climate Change Is Out, Climate Crisis Is In

September 19th, 2019 by  

Every publication has a style guide — a set of rules that determine grammar, punctuation, and language usage. It’s designed to ensure the content of the publication has a uniform look and feel to it. For instance, in some parts of the English speaking world, publications use such words as “whilst” and “favour.” Those conventions make perfect sense to readers in the UK but not those in the US, where “while” and “favor” are preferred.

climate change at Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa observatory. Credit: NOAA

The Guardian has decided to update its style guide so that certain terms more accurately describe the environmental crisis facing our global community. Henceforth, instead of saying “climate change,” writers for The Guardian will use the more forceful “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown.” “Global warming” will be replaced by “global heating.”

“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” explains editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity. Increasingly, climate scientists and organisations from the UN to the Met Office are changing their terminology, and using stronger language to describe the situation we’re in.”

Viner notes that UN secretary general António Guterres now speaks of a “climate crisis,” and says, “We face a direct existential threat.” Climate scientist Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a former adviser to Angela Merkel, the EU, and the Pope, also uses the phrase “climate crisis.” Professor Richard Betts, who leads the Met Office’s climate research, says “global heating” is a more accurate term than “global warming” to describe the changes taking place to the world’s climate.

The most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detail the increasing risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Many scientists warn that humanity is in jeopardy from the accelerating annihilation of wildlife and destruction of the ecosystems that support all life on Earth. All of those reports have convinced The Guardian that more robust terms for what is happening to the Earth are needed. (IPCC may want to consider a change to its name as well.)

In addition, The Guardian will now use “wildlife” rather than “biodiversity,” “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks,” and “climate science denier” rather than “climate sceptic.” Greta Thunberg is credited with promoting the changes in terminology. In May she said, “It’s 2019. Can we all now call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?”

In addition, The Guardian will now include a new graphic in its daily weather reports to show the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Viner says, “People need reminding that the climate crisis is no longer a future problem  — we need to tackle it now, and every day matters.” We are experiencing a climate crisis. Let’s call it what it is. 

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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