Semantics Matter: It’s Climate Change, Not Global Warming

Global-Climate-ChangeAmong other research techniques, I have created a Google feed that brings me every day supposedly top news in the field of global climate change. This feed includes items both from the scientific community and its supporters, as well as links to what the climate change deniers are saying these days. I must admit I often find the latter disconcerting and confusing, but it’s important to know what the other side is thinking, even when they appear not to be. Thinking, that is.

For some reason, I noticed in today’s feed a significant number of headlines that use the phrase “global warming” instead of the vastly preferable “climate change” which is not only more accurate, but less arguable. In fact, four of the nine items offered by the Google feed use the words “global warming” in their headlines.

As a writer and as an observer of the human condition, I have often commented on — some would say railed against — the improper labeling of political positions in particular. Most of my friends are by now tired of hearing from me when they use the phrase “pro-life”. I maintain that I don’t know anyone who isn’t pro-life. The issue isn’t life or death, it’s choice or force. So I prefer calling those on the conservative side of that argument “anti-choice,” simply because it seems to me to be more accurate depiction of their overall philosophy. But I digress.

Not all climate change manifests as increasing temperature. Even though that is the underlying cause of climate change at the atmospheric and oceanic levels, the experience of it on earth often takes the form of extreme weather, much of which can be utterly cold. The use of the term “global warming” gives cover to those opponents — I should say disbelievers — of climate change when they want to talk about it at a time when there is a great snow storm brewing. I still have a picture in my head of United States Senator on the floor of that once-august body offering a snowball from outside the capital as evidence that global warming was a hoax.

The imprecision and even inaccuracy of the term should by itself be enough reason for professional journalists and concerned bloggers to avoid it. We are experiencing climate change, on a global scale, greatly exacerbated by the behavior of us humans as we go about our business in unsustainable ways. It does no one any good to confuse the issue with outdated terms.


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