The language of global warming

A couple months ago, I signed up for Google Alerts on certain keywords. Two of them are “global warming” and “climate change.” I wanted to get a sense for what is being said and argued in the blogosphere and the general media about these topics. I don’t begin to read all the posts and opinions that come to me each day. In fact, I find myself increasingly wanting to tune out.

Why? First off, let me state that I’m deeply concerned about the broad environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change, and I absolutely believe human actions contribute greatly to, and are maybe the sole reason for, our warming atmosphere. I believe we must act now, collectively and individually, to avert the worst outcomes of climate change. But I also have a new concern: the rise of global warming fear mongering, what others view as hysteria and alarmism.

Unfortunately, on this point I find myself sympathetic to the complaints of those I will call “The Deniers” — those on the other side of the debate (FOX News, anyone) who deny the existence or predicted impacts of climate change and continuously rant against the alarmist claims they see spewing from their liberal enemies. And let me tell you, they have plenty of fodder for their daily diatribes over the global warming movement. Consider a few of the headlines I pulled from my Google Alerts in just the past three days:

– Global Warming Linked to Worst Mass Extinctions in Earth History
– Global Warming And A Deadly Amoeba That Feeds On Your Brain
– Global warming report gives grim outlook for state
– Pumping Particles Into the Atmosphere: A Global Warming Doomsday …
– Climate Change, Past Tipping Point
– Environment: Climate Change: Can We Stop It?
– The rising threat from global warming affects us all, warns Sir Emyr
– Another reason to sweat about global warming
– Global warming driving up humidity levels, says study
– Burning Earth: Linking Wildfires to Global Warming
– Global warming may aggravate Argentine energy woes
– A matter of life and global warming
– Global warming brings additional woes to orangutans
– WITNESS – Global warming changes face of high Alps
– October heat wave adds to global warming fears
– Where Climate Change is Felt More Strongly Than Anywhere
– Papua’s forests and global warming
– Climate Change “Mega Disaster”
– GLOBAL WARMING: Connecticut lobsters dying off
– Will Global Warming take away monsoon & food?

These headlines are from bloggers and journalists worldwide: US, Asia, Europe and South America. The Deniers would look at this sampling as evidence of hype, junk science and liberal conspiracy. I view it as the potential cause for human inaction. Yes, some of us read posts and articles like these and feel compelled to act, out of fear or a deep sense of obligation to Earth and its inhabitants. But I’m also convinced that these dire-sounding reports and opinions, repeated over and over again by well-meaning media and bloggers, will lead many to tune out and send others into a tailspin of depression and powerlessness. In which case, scientists, politicians, journalists and concerned citizens attempting to raise awareness and ignite action on global warming will be stymied.

If large numbers of people stop listening because the drumbeat of warnings is too loud or are rendered inert by the perceived vastness of the problem, the doomsday warnings will become self-fulfilling. Those who are out front on climate change issues worldwide need to rethink and carefully monitor the effect of their language choices. We need everyone on board in this great cause.

October 11th, 2007


  1. I think you raise a valid point, but exactly what would you suggest in the way of alternatives? IMHO, I don’t think it’s a practical or responsible course of action to downplay the effects and consequences of global warming. The reason why there is hysteria and hype on the part of media and bloggers is because we’re past the point where climate change can be explained away as junk science. Imminent action must be taken by all of us, and I think that these kinds of stories are more likely to spur people on than alienate them or make them feel helpless.

    Comment by Jeff — October 11, 2007 @ 7:45 pm

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