As climate change and our debate around it intensifies, so are the words we use to describe it.
Why it matters: The presidential election season is directing more attention to our words and characterizations as we follow debates and rallies around the country. Words are especially important on a topic like climate change that is less tangible than others, such as health care.
Driving the news: Activists and many progressive politicians are calling climate change an emergency, while most Democrats say it’s a crisis.
- Certain media outlets are revamping their coverage and, in some cases, changing their style books and using words like crisis — as CNN's Dana Bash did during the debates the past two nights.
- Some Republicans, meanwhile, are slowly acknowledging the problem publicly, yet are turned off by the intensifying language used by many on the left. Conservatives aren’t (for now) offering much in the way of new, big policies.
My thought bubble: I use words like issue or problem to describe climate change. Elevating that description to crisis or emergency doesn't really fit because it implies a sudden urgency that doesn't capture the decades the problem has been developing or the centuries we'll be living with it.
- Some outlets are adopting words like climate crisis and emergency, such as the left-leaning British publication The Guardian.
- A spokesperson for the AP, whose stylebook is considered the journalistic standard, declined to comment on whether they would change their style to use words like this.
The other side: The biggest drivers of Earth’s rising temperature — oil, natural gas and coal — also have huge benefits to the world. That point has often been absent in the discourse as the problem of climate change worsens.
- This makes the problem of climate change even harder, as nations work to swiftly reduce their dependence on these fuels without raising the energy costs on their people.
The bottom line: Climate change is like diabetes for the planet — and, if left unchecked, could worsen crises like flooding and heat waves. The best we can do is simultaneously cut carbon emissions and adapt to a warmer planet. That may not be the best description to grab headlines, win debates and rally activists — but it's the most accurate.
Go deeper: Read my full story, which includes some good ol' fashioned dictionary references.