The Language of Climate Change

Ahead of the CT Forum on "Our Fragile Earth," a look at climate change semantics

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"Our Fragile Earth" and the way we talk about climate change.
Semantics around scientific processes including "climate change" and "global warming" is important. Photo:Stephen Thomas (Flickr Creative Commons)
Where We Live: The Language of Climate Change
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Where We Live: The Language of Climate Change

A big part of the conversation about our earth and our environment is about how we talk about these issues. Despite what is considered “settled science” on climate change - the language around it still includes political landmines.

And, despite what’s widely viewed as one of mankind’s most pressing problems, reports have shown flagging interest in the subject of climate change in recent years.

Here to talk about the “whys” of all this is Anthony Leiserowitz. He's the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. He’s won the Environmental Merit Award from the New England Office of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The terms "global warming" and "climate change" are frequently used to describe the rising temperatures on the planet. As Leiserowitz said, "Most of us have very little shelf space in our heads devoted to these upper atmospheric processes that are invisible." The term global warming is not intuitive because warming isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's nice to be warm.

Now the preferred term is "climate change," which brings along its own set of questions. "Is change good? Is change bad? Climate? What exactly is that?" asked Leiserowitz. But he said it's too late to "rebrand" the issue. "Those are the terms we've come to know," said Leiserowitz.

For more discussion on "Our Fragile Earth," join Where We Live host John Dankosky at The Connecticut Forum on May 5, 2012. He's moderating the panel with Michael Pollan, Majora Carter and Dan Esty. For more information and tickets go to ctforum.org.