Notes on Terminology

Photo by bixentro | CC BY 2.0

Climate Crisis
, Not “Climate Change”

My next-to-last CounterPunch essay (“Someone Tell a Reporter: the Rich Are Destroying the Earth”) elicited a smart criticism from a senior scientist:

“Please stop using the phrase ‘climate change.’ I am a 78-year-old, Ph.D. physicist who has been talking about the CLIMATE CRISIS for more than 35 years. To me, the mild, innocuous sounding phrase ‘climate change’ is like experiencing fingernails scratching on a blackboard! To show how silly the phrase is, would you ever consider renaming the ‘opioid crisis’ by calling it’ ‘opioid change’ instead? It does sound kind of silly! George Monbiot was on Democracy Now at the end of August and he said it beautifully! Calling what is happing to the earth ‘climate change’ is like calling a foreign invasion ‘unexpected guests’. Go George! George likes ‘climate breakdown.’ I always use ‘climate crisis’ although the real description is ‘climate catastrophe.’ I urge you to abandon the phrase climate change and use the more descriptive phrase Climate Crisis.”

The physicist is 100% correct. We’re talking about the Greenhouse Gassing-to-death of life on Earth (a crime that will make the Nazis look like small-time gangsters), speeding us to the unlivable benchmark of 500 carbon parts-per-million by 2050 if not sooner. “Climate change” just doesn’t quite capture that. It’s like calling a full-scale coronary attack…

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