Call it a climate crisis. Emergency. Breakdown.
That’s what the Guardian now recommends in its updated style guide, with an announcement today that those terms are now preferred to ‘climate change,’ a term its editor deemed too “passive and gentle” for the reality of the issue.
The announcement spurred a flurry of responses online and opened up a greater dialogue about how the media talks about climate change.
While the Guardian hasn’t given terms like “climate change” or “global warming” an outright ban (“global heating” is now the preferred term), editor-in-chief Katharine Viner has advised her staff to think twice before using those words.
“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” Viner told environment editor Damian Carrington. “The phrase ‘climate change,’ for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”
The catastrophe she’s talking about includes the possibility of:
- One million animals and plants going extinct in the near future, according to a UN wildlife report
- Severe drought, dangerous heatwaves and more destructive wildfires, according to a report by the federal government
- Mass migration and American climate refugees
Skeptics vs. deniers vs. doubters
In general, the USA TODAY Network follows the Associated Press Stylebook. The style guide advises terms “global warming” and “climate change” can be used interchangeably, but climate change has more scientific accuracy.
AP also recommends avoiding the terms “skeptics” or “deniers” when describing people who dispute or don’t accept climate science. The guide instead recommends using “climate change doubters” or “those who reject mainstream science.”
The Guardian’s announcement said it would now use the term “climate science denier.”
Dave White, sustainability scientist at Arizona State University, said he supports the decision to strengthen and clarify language so when journalists explain complex processes to the public, it is not only accurate, but relevant to people’s personal experiences.
He agreed with most of the Guardian’s updated terms.
“For instance, the recommendation to avoid ‘climate skeptic’ is a very effective change,” White said. “’Climate science denier’ is a more descriptive, accurate title for those expressing opinions that are presented oftentimes as differences of fact, when really they’re misinterpretation or intentional ignorance of climate science.”
He also agreed that it would not be journalistically ethical or accurate anymore to give equal treatment to deniers by including them in a debate.
White disagrees with discouraging the use of “climate change.”
“Climate change is a specific, earth science phenomenon,” White said. “I believe you can still talk about it as a process and still convey urgency by using words like crisis that convey the importance and impact of those changes.”
More than the language
For 16-year-old Aditi Narayanan, an effective way to talk about the impact of climate change requires more than just the words people use. It’s about localizing the problem and giving people solutions, she said.
Aditi, a junior at BASIS Phoenix High School, was one of the principal organizers of the Arizona Youth Climate Strike. On March 15, hundreds of demonstrators rallied at the state Capitol to demand action on climate change.
“A lot of people blame the public for not being conscious,” Aditi said. “But a lot of people just don’t know, don’t know how (climate change) affects their community, their own lives, their families and generations to come. They think it’s just a glacier melting in the North Pole.”
How Arizona politicians avoid talking about climate change altogether
As President Donald Trump continues to reject climate science, leading up to the 2018 midterm election, the Republic noted climate change hardly came up in political campaigns. This was despite a poll showing climate change was a concern for the majority of Arizonans.
The Republic also sent 16 candidates three questions about climate change, water management and rising temperatures. None of the Republican candidates mentioned the role humans play in causing global warming, despite scientific consensus saying there’s a 99.9999% chance humans are driving global warming.
Sen. Martha McSally gave a minor concession in saying “there is likely a human element to it.”
Gov. Doug Ducey agreed climate is changing, but stopped short of putting the blame on humans. Even later, when discussing the Drought Contingency Plan, Ducey used the phrase “drier future,” but avoided making the link between climate change and drought in the Southwest.
MORE: ASU researcher says there’s time to reconnect with the environment
The lack of urgency concerns Brad Voracek, a computer science teacher in Phoenix Union High School District. Voracek also coordinates the Phoenix chapter of the Sunrise Movement. The national, youth-led organization advocates for the Green New Deal.
“I think that trying to communicate the urgency of everything is really important,” Voracek said. “Language is how we communicate everything. Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand science. Everyday language is what people use, so conveying the urgency is really important.”
Voracek said that other than Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego being “huge on sustainability,” he hadn’t heard much from other state and local leaders about climate policy. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema sent the Sunrise Movement her stance on the Green New Deal, saying she did not support the resolution but favored incremental steps, Voracek said.
“Her response shows she doesn’t take the urgency seriously,” he added.
Despite this, Voracek said he looked forward to hearing what leaders have to say about climate action.
There also seems to be a positive trend coming from those advocating for policy response, White said. People have shifted toward talking about climate impacts as something happening now rather than as a future threat, he noticed.
“That language is reflecting our better, improved understanding of climate,” White said. “We are now able to link drought, wildfire and flood risk more directly to climate change.”
So which is it: Climate change or climate crisis? Tell the reporter what you think at Priscilla.Totiya@azcentral.com or 602-444-8092. Follow her on Twitter: @PriscillaTotiya.
Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. For more stories visit environment.azcentral.com or follow OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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