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What’s in a name?

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A recent Bloomberg piece by Faye Flam, “Inspiring Terms Are Simple. ‘Climate Change’ Isn’t,” makes the point, I guess, that climate change as a term is not very effective.

Flam writes, “As scientific terms go, ‘climate change’ is failing. Good terms are specific, descriptive and help people to understand complex concepts. Climate change is ambiguous, referring perhaps to the most pressing human-generated environmental problem of the century, or to other kinds of changes that happen through natural forces and have been going on since long before humans arose.”

Basically, the term is “failing” because it’s too ambiguous, too confusing and too complex at the same time.

That’s right, climate change encompasses all those things; it’s not simple by its very nature. But why is “simplicity” the key to inspiring action?

I think I get the point — if only we had a simpler, sexier, more “inspiring” term for the climate change crisis, we could deal with it better and perhaps make progress. I think that’s specious reasoning: for one thing Flam is not giving much credit to people’s ability to understand what the crisis is and what it means for humanity, plus she is giving cover to the “climate is always changing” crowd of yahoos that will always question what is happening with the climate due to fossil fuel use, no matter what it is called.

The column has no purpose except to describe a minor sideshow about climate terminology. It’s not even mildly clever. And then it offers no alternative terminology, or terminology that is obtuse. If you are going to knock down climate change as a term at least offer a reasonable alternative.

Climate change is not a PR or marketing idea that needs to be “sold.” That idea just muddies the water and makes it harder to act. Better to debate what to do about climate change, not what it should be called.

The Bloomberg editors were correct to offer the disclaimer that the column “does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.”

Image: Danger Climate Change by Environmental Illness Network via Flickr CC


Written by William DiBenedetto

14 May, 2018 at 11:56 am

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