Feeling the heat? The language of climate is a-changin’

As global temperatures rise, activists are amping up the vocabulary used to describe the crisis in media and politics.

People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris
People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a heatwave broke temperature records [Pascal Rossignol /Reuters]

Four European countries saw soaring temperatures smash heat records this week, putting July on track to be the hottest month ever recorded. A mass of steamy air from the Sahara Desert gave Western capitals mercury readings more common in Middle Eastern cities. Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions are causing the much warmer weather, and activists are changing the jargon around climate change to keep pace with the thermometer.

Why change climate terminology?

Because the globe is getting much hotter. Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands all experienced record-beating temperatures this week, with Paris seeing the highest heat  – 42.6C (108.7 Fahrenheit) – since records began.

Climate scientists say that such heatwaves are only becoming more frequent and are a direct result of rising temperatures from emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases. Experts are saying that, of the 1,675 months since January 1880 – when temperature records began – July 2019 will probably be the absolute hottest globally.

Is there global ‘heating’ or global ‘warming’?

By most reasonable standards, recent temperature patterns suggest that the Earth is now experiencing “heating” well beyond mere global “warming”. So, many climate advocates – and their allies in media outlets, ivory towers and legislative bodies – prefer the stronger term.

Is climate change actually a ‘crisis’ or ’emergency’?

Activists are increasingly calling for the words to shift from climate “change” to a “crisis” or “emergency”. Environmental groups argue that these terms more accurately reflect not just record-breaking temperatures, but also recent droughts, floods, storms and other weather-related disasters – in addition to the agricultural collapse, mass migration and violent conflict that results from climate disruption.

The United Nations certainly recognises this as a “crisis“, as 860 local governments in 18 countries have declared it an “emergency“.

What’s worse: a climate ‘sceptic’ or a climate science ‘denier’?

Due to the overwhelming evidence of a worsening climate and increasingly common “natural” disasters, most scientists think that there is a definitive link between pollution by humans and rising temperatures. But for those who reject the scientific reality, activists feel “sceptic” is too weak. They prefer to use the more pointed term “denier”.

Will the ‘Green New Deal’ solve everything?

In the United States – the world’s biggest economy and the largest contributor to historical emissions that have caused global heating – the Green New Deal framework is increasingly considered a viable way to reduce fossil fuel consumption, transition to alternative energy, and revive depressed communities that are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

The concept is an ecological version of the New Deal set of policies that created the US social safety net in the 1930s. While the necessary technology can be developed, it remains to be seen whether the political will exists to undertake such a massive programme.

How about mass ‘mobilisation’?

Another framework that might help ordinary citizens and political leaders take on the monumental climate task refers to the upcoming economic transformation as a “mobilisation”. The historical reference is to the World War II period when US government policy – as well as efforts in many other countries – was focused singularly on channeling all economic resources into the war effort. 

Should we fight a ‘war’ to save the planet?

Some pessimists believe only a truly catastrophic event – far worse than any previous hurricane or refugee crisis – will adequately motivate people, fund the huge challenge, and begin to solve the climate problem. Yet many activists argue that the best way to mitigate the climate emergency is through political mobilisation akin to when a society devotes its capacities to waging a war.

Is climate victory a ‘moon shot’?

Fifty years after humans first landed on the moon, a number of US political leaders – including current candidates for president – have cited the accomplishment as the best framing for a successful launch of climate endeavors.

Former New York City Mayor and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, who recently announced a $500m Beyond Carbon initiative, said recently that “It may be a moon shot – but it’s the only shot we’ve got”.

Source: Al Jazeera