In the past few years, you may have noticed that journalists, academics, and people who care about the environment have been referring to climate change as the “climate crisis” or the “climate emergency”. But, why?
It might feel like semantics, but language affects how people can visualise the scale and the reality of the issue we’re dealing with. So this shift in language signals that the climate crisis is something to be dealt with now, rather than passively observed. As we face a real existential threat, it’s become more widely accepted that the language we use needs to match the severity of the situation.
Publications and relevant organisations are changing their language on the climate crisis
Many organisations like the UN and the Met Office have changed their terminology around the climate crisis.
In 2019, The Guardian, also announced that the newspaper will be making changes around climate language. The publication’s editorial guidelines now state that “climate denier” will now be used instead of “climate sceptic” and “global heating” instead of “global warming”. Meanwhile, “wildlife” will be used instead of “biodiversity” for accessibility and clarity.
Editor-in-chief Katharine Viner wrote: “We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue.”
Saying “climate change” implies the climate crisis is slow and natural
Not too long ago, we were talking about “climate change” as a thing that was supposed to happen somewhere in the distant future. The ice poles were meant to melt in 100 years’ time and we weren’t meant to witness the extinction of polar bears just yet, but here we are, hurtling towards a possibility of both happening in the coming decades.
Saying that the climate is “changing”, implies that there will be no negative consequences to such a change or that this change is slow and natural. Instead, referring to the climate crisis as a crisis reminds us that it is entirely man-made, and a crisis to be dealt with now. As a term, “climate change” is passive, whereas “climate crisis” is far more active.
The climate crisis is happening right now
We’ve seen how the climate crisis is wrecking parts of the world. In the UK, extreme weather events like storms and floods are already becoming a regular occurrence. Elsewhere, the world has seen horrific floods – with the flood in New York killing people in their basements – catastrophic wildfires are ravaging the hottest point on earth and also increasing in regularity, all kinds of wildlife including animals and insects are going extinct and the seasons are getting irregular, severely affecting food chains. Today, more people are displaced by the climate crisis than they are because of conflict and violence.
It’s exceedingly clear that the climate crisis is something that is happening now and it’s happening very fast. Calling it a “crisis” or an “emergency” implies that difficult and important decisions must be made in the present.
The climate crisis is something we can absolutely tackle
Referring to the climate crisis as a “crisis” also implies that it’s an issue that can be solved. While “climate change” sounds like the destruction of our planet is inevitable and not much can be done, a “climate crisis” implies that we can course-correct by applying green solutions.