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The Crisis Formerly Known as Climate Change: Wrong Re-Branding

| June 10, 2019

Warming crisis. (Gael Varoquaux)

By Peter Dykstra

The British industrial city Manchester is pretty much known for three contributions to global culture: Its soccer team, Manchester United; Herman’s Hermits, the dreamy 60s pop band; and The Guardian newspaper, the nearly 200-year-old bastion of British liberalism.

The Guardian took its act internationally decades ago, and in recent years has published an American edition that routinely puts most homegrown U.S. media to shame in its reporting on issues like climate change.

A few weeks ago, The Guardian announced it was re-branding climate change, encouraging its writers and contributors to use more urgent terms like “climate crisis.”

Here’s why this is very wrong.

Climate change, or global warming, already has enough names for a public unready or unwilling to recognize it as the existential threat it is, whether or not “climate change” is the ideal, all-encompassing description for the biblical Ten Plagues that await us.

Don’t get me wrong: “crisis” is a fine word. And I say that as a citizen of a nation plunging into a constitutional crisis that tends to steal all the headlines from other legitimate crises, including the climate one.

But to the extent that the public — at least the American public — has little clue or concern about the depth of the climate crisis, outright changing names on them serves no one well.

Not advocates, journalists, politicians, voters, nor the American majority who don’t see enough crises out there to motivate them to vote.

The headline of this piece refers of course to the late Prince Rogers Nelson, who abbreviated his name to Prince before reaching superstardom.

No one remembers that he changed his name three more times total, but none of his obituaries called him:

prince logo

The name change impact was the same for Sean “Puffy” Combs/Puff Daddy/ P. Diddy/Diddy, who is still alive even if his star status is on life support. The marketing folly of these music icons has real relevance to how we discuss climate change.

We’ve invested a lot into presenting the public with the concept of “climate change.” This isn’t the first effort at re-branding.

Many, including John Holdren, Obama’s Science Advisor, advocated “climate disruption” a few years back. It didn’t take with many.

A communications guru backed “climate change” as the favored term 16 years ago. Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz counseled his soulmates to use “climate change” as a less threatening term than “global warming.” Here’s how The Guardian covered it in 2003.

Somehow, Luntz’s good counsel was turned on its head. Many climate deniers, including the future Tweeter-in-Chief, saw “climate change” as a cynical re-branding by wealthy climate scientists to further bamboozle a gullible American public.

So, go figure.

For me, there’s a twist on a time-honored American cliché that carries the day: Let’s dance with the name that brung us.

Peter Dykstra writes on politics, baseball and environmental health for Environmental Health News.

20 Responses for “The Crisis Formerly Known as Climate Change: Wrong Re-Branding”

  1. Richard says:

    Climate Change, Global Warming, Climate Crisis, Climate Disruption, yada, yada, yada. Who cares exactly what you call it! It is real and humans have caused it. But the biggest difference is that the US has been attempting to minimize the human impact on our planet. SO what have the other 194 countries been doing to also minimize their impact on this earth? Please write about that subject as many curious minds in America would like to know.

  2. Laura says:

    The majority of countries (all except 8) have lower carbon emissions per capita than the United States, Richard, so we clearly haven’t tried that hard. A quarter of China’s energy is from renewable sources as opposed to under 13% in America. Why do you assume America’s putting in so much effort, when its statistically evident that its not?

  3. Sherry says:

    Richard. . . Greetings from Paris. . . just take a look at what Google easily comes up with.

    God Forbid I mention anything the “Democratic Socialist” countries are doing about climate change. Here is a tiny fraction of what France is doing:

    Their latest issue of the Air France flight magazine is filled with article on the subject. I’m bringing a copy home with me, but could not find it “on-line” yet.

    And the UK:

    There’s PLENTY of attention paid and work being done in “other” countries. . . trump’s “idiot” America is just not part of the solution or even the conversation.

  4. marlee says:

    Sooooo, Richard…like my mother used to say…
    “If they all jump off the bridge, are you going to, also?”

  5. Willy Boy says:

    We’re going back to the moon, then off to Mars. Rats leaving a sinking ship.

  6. Hmmm says:

    Last time i checked, the US wasn’t even in the discussion for world leaders on environmental protection. You can look it up. Its easy to pull up. Its easy to believe the US is the only country that matters.

  7. Outsider says:

    This is a load of crap. Some 450,000,000 years ago, the Earth experienced an ice age. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was between 2,000 and 8,000 parts per million. Today, it is around 410 ppm. So if carbon dioxide causes global warming, why was there an ice age when the concentration was five to 20 times higher than it is today? The answer is that there are so many factors affecting global temperatures that no one really completely understands all the relationships involved; if they did, the predictions they make would be spot on, and they are not. If they did, then scientists would reach CONCLUSIONS, not CONSENSUS, which is not a scientific term. Dinosaur bones have been found in northern Canada. They were cold blooded, like alligators, so alligators could have lived in Canada, but they don’t now because the Earth is much colder. The climate has been changing for hundreds of millions of years, so why should it suddenly stop, and why is 1958 the “ideal” temperature for the Earth, and why does anyone think they can stop what’s been occurring for eons? Think about this: in 1958 the CO2 concentration was 310ppm. That’s .0000310; expressed as a percentage it’s .00310%. Today it’s .0000420, or .00420%. It’s such a tiny number that it’s unthinkable that it could have a measurable effect on anything. The world is full of gullible people.

  8. Sherry says:

    @Outsider please cite your credible “SCIENTIFIC” source for your claims.

    All those intelligent enough to desire education on the subject, this from NASA:

  9. Sherry says:

    A great source of education on many “scientific” studies and endeavors . . . take the time:

  10. Richard says:

    Again, all I read here is a lot of the same form the same Trump haters. I guess you must have missed the years that America has been reducing its human impact on this earth. But from these Trump haters you would think that Trump is responsible for ALL the worlds environmental problems and for not fixing the worlds problems. ROTFLMFO!

  11. Outsider says:

    @Sherry: my numbers are all facts, which can be verified by a simple google search. My expert source is an acquaintance of mine, who happens to be very close to his PhD in meteorology; you know, the study of all things atmospheric.

  12. gmath55 says:

    @ Sherry – A one sided discussion. LOL
    Is Human Activity Primarily Responsible for Global Climate Change? Pros and Cons.

  13. Sherry says:

    LOL! Really guys? I much prefer “Scientific Facts” from NASA and the vast majority of other “Scientists” over somebody’s friend who is studying meteorology and stuff on a web site founded by: was formed under section 501(c)(3) of the US Internal Revenue Code as a public charity in Santa Monica on July 12, 2004 by Steven C. Markoff, a Los Angeles businessman, who is also the co-chairman of A-Mark Entertainment, a film production company.

    Thanks for the laugh though!

  14. gmath55 says:

    OH really? NASA Scientist: Global Warming Is Nonsense.

    And, some people still believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. LOL But, don’t let the cult climate change or global warming stop your mind from thinking.

    Yes, we enjoy laughing!

  15. Agkistrodon says:

    Sherry I happened to finish my career with NOAA at Woods Hole. UCSUSA is a joke and NO credible SCIENTIST would use anything from them or their site in an ACTUAL PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL ARTICLE. I guess the SCIENTIST who review those Journal articles think different than you.

  16. Sherry says:

    LOL! LOL! LOL!

  17. Sherry says:

    This from Reuters:

    Woods Hole Scientist: Trump’s EPA Pick Wrong About Human Impact On Climate Change04:52

    January 19, 2017Updated Jan 19, 2017 3:22 PM
    Bob Oakes
    As warnings from climate change scientists grow more dire, it’s unclear how President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will address the issue.

    Scientists say 2016 was the hottest year on record. That’s been the case for the last three years, with each record breaking the last.

    Philip Duffy, president and executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center, joined Morning Edition to discuss these developments.

    Interview Transcript
    You saw the latest report from NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and NASA scientists, saying we’ve now had three years of consecutive record-breaking heat. Help us understand what that means for those of us living in New England.

    Well what the record means is it’s just reminding us that climate change continues unabated. As you said, it was the third record in a row, and actually 2016 was a record by a record amount. And again, you shouldn’t attach too much significance to the temperature in any one year, but just again a reminder that climate change marches on.

    In terms of what that means to us in New England, some of the impacts are already manifest in terms of impacts on fisheries. A lot of the fish species have moved north including lobsters. We’re starting to see sea level rising and we expect to see more.

    We heard Donald Trump’s EPA pick [Scott Pruitt] said he believes in climate change but didn’t exactly promise to tackle the issue. How optimistic are you about this incoming administration in regards to climate change?

    Well his statement was not, I think, accurate and it was very waffly and sounded to me like an attempt to sound conciliatory. And, specifically, he said essentially that the degree of human influence on climate should continue to be debated, and that sounds to me like an excuse for inaction. The science is a hundred percent clear about that and your listeners probably know there’s a body called Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which involves thousands of scientists. And their latest report which came out in 2013 said that all of the recent global temperature increases, as near as we can tell, are attributable to human activities.

    We hear a lot of warnings. We heard these warnings. But what can we actually do? And maybe more importantly, are some of the effects of climate change reversible at this point?

    Well, some of them are preventable. They’re preventable by strong climate policy. In terms of reversing climate change, the only way to do that is through removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And one of the sad milestones that we passed a while ago, is we passed the point where we can avoid the worst impacts only by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We now actually need to remove quite a bit of CO2. Well that, in my opinion, is the great unsolved technological challenge. The only way we know how to do that now is through what I call climate smart land management, meaning things like reforestation, things like agricultural techniques which can store more carbon and soil. And those measures, if implemented very widely, can actually remove a lot of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but possibly not enough. And it’s also very challenging to do that on a policy basis, because there’s other competing uses for land, essentially.

  18. Agkistrodon says:

    Problem is your data. The 2016 was the hottest year on record. WHEN DID THAT RECORD KEEPING START? Find that out you will have your answer.

  19. Agkistrodon says:

    Sherry, you do realize that when “they” say “hottest or coldest on record” They mean in the last 135 years. You are trying to equate the climate of a planet that is over 4 billion years old to that of the lifespan of humans. Your data set is SKEWED. Now from Ice cores we know RELATIVELY SPEAKING, what temps were further back. HOWEVER in that data set it shows the earth WARMING BEFORE the Industrial Revolution, as well as many warming and cooling periods, BEFORE the population was what it is now. Again your data set is SKEWED to yield the desired result.

  20. Sherry says:

    This is NOT “my data”. . . “I” don’t claim to know more than vast majority of scientists who say that humans are damaging our environment. I simply defer to the scientific analysis of those at places like NASA and Woods Hole.

    I don’t suffer complete obstinate fools gladly. . . therefore, will not comment further on this article.

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