Is ‘Climate Change’ too nice?

An interesting letter in New Scientist, suggesting that one of the the reasons we as a society have not done enough about climate change is the name ‘global warming’—it makes it sound quite nice, especially for us in northern latitudes. And some thoughts following the COP21 agreement in Paris.

There was a really interesting letter in New Scientist a few weeks ago, suggesting that one of the the reasons we as a society have not done enough about climate change is the name ‘global warming’—it makes it sound quite nice, especially for us in northern latitudes. I include the whole letter below,

Climate chaos by any other name

Psychologist Robert Gifford identifies 33 psychological barriers stopping us from tackling climate change (11 July, p 28). But what about nominative determinism? Maybe we haven’t taken action on global warming because the word “warming” has positive connotations for the inhabitants of temperate regions, where the world’s decision-makers tend to be. When global warming first hit the headlines in the UK, it was regarded as an exciting development.

One newspaper even printed an artist’s impression of what your suburban home might soon look like, with bunches of grapes growing around the front door. The word “warming” might be technically accurate and might even have been chosen to avoid alarmism. But a shot of alarmism might now be useful. So how about replacing the expression “global warming” with the clearer “global overheating”?

— Jane Lambert, Cambridge, UK [link to original letter on NewScientist.com, published 18 Nov. 2015]

It’s difficult to remove the positive connotations of the phrase global warming, and scientists predict that not all areas will increase in temperature at the same rate, so perhaps we should all stick to calling it by the more accurate term ‘climate change’, or as the editor of New Scientist hints at ‘climate chaos’.

Paris Agreement

I write this as politicians and diplomats are patting themselves on their backs for agreeing “a historic deal”at COP21 in Paris. I would like to be enthusiastic about this, and I think it is a step in the right direction, but hopefully those politicians see it as what it is, a starting point for further cuts in emissions.

While the agreement is apparently ‘legally binding’, whatever that really means[1]The emission  reduction pledges for example are voluntary. Global climate deal: In summary, BBC News, it only aims to limit warming to 1.5ºC above the industrial average. And the world’s nations have already emitted enough greenhouse gases to lock in about one degree of warming. That doesn’t leave much room for manoeuvre, especially when the pledges announce in the past few weeks would suggest a warming of closer to three degrees[2]World’s climate pledges not yet enough to avoid dangerous warming – UN, The Guardian, if they are met. Which I think must be a very big if.

Scotland prides itself on having strict emissions targets, but so far has missed them all[3]Scotland misses carbon target for fourth year in a row, The Guardian. We have abundant sources of renewable energy in this country, and yet we don’t have the political will to harness them, and limit our emissions.