Why We Need To Call It Climate Crisis

Some neurobiology and how it can help avert global catastrophe

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The original People’s Climate March, 2014, Christyl Rivers

People are increasingly aware of climate havoc and its consequences. By now, many people are believing their own eyes, ears, smoke alarms, and flooded basements.

However, an even greater number of people have not yet had such critical loss, nor will they, until the damage is too late to reverse. Perhaps our ho-hum descriptions of the problem, ‘change’ and ‘warming’ need to be as retrofitted as our homes and businesses.

Recent neurological research has revealed that our most common language for the climate, and extinction, era we now live in, is failing.

For many people, they have just gotten so tired, and in some cases confused, that the words don’t register. Or, for some, they don’t believe the science and think the alarm is agenda-based fear-mongering. But, if anything, most researchers are now realizing language, and message, have not been urgent enough to stir action.

Advisors and researchers have revealed that using the terms ‘climate crisis’, rather than ‘climate change’, is more effective use of meaningful language. For some places, particularly in Europe, this has already become the more common terminology.

The words “climate change” and “global warming” are so worn, and frayed right now, that people hearing them no longer register an emotional, and therefore, investment worthy response.

Consultants at Spark Neuro, who study the brain processing of new information, have run labs with people with conservative, liberal, and independent political views.

One might think that the liberal Democrats, those most pushing the alarms buttons the hardest and demanding more leadership and a green new deal — especially for healthcare and jobs creation and economic prosperity in green industry — would have the greatest response to emotionally laden words. They don’t.

It is in fact, the Republicans tested who showed the most emotionally engaged reaction to words used to describe our over-heating planet. Three times more Republicans tested revealed more meaningful emotional response to the term climate crisis. With an EEG, electroencephalograph, a significant spike in electrochemical brain activity was measured. And with GSR, Galvanic Skin Response, receptors fastened to finger tips revealed heightened emotion was skin moisture and temperature measurements. Facial response was also measured. These are the same sort of tests used to detect emotional, and stressful, reactions as lie detector tests often employ.

The term ‘environmental destruction’ was also more effective, than the just as accurate ‘destabilization.”

University of Bristol cognitive psychologist, Stephan Lewandowsky, recently spoke about the consequences of imprecise language around climate.

“Concerning the specific term ‘climate crisis’, I think it strikes an appropriate balance of conveying urgency without hyperbole.”

Indeed, scientific papers, journals, and thousands of articles on the subject have routinely been using the term ‘crisis’ for more than a decade now. Clive Hamilton, expert, author, and philosopher, has remarked that “We should treat the public like adults, and tell the truth.”

Journalists, then, are the ones who have been a bit slow to jump on the trend. Many who study psychology, culture, politics, and more have instead made real efforts to balance skepticism with climate science. What resulted is what Science Alert magazine calls “balancing opinions” which is ineffective at conveying truth about real concerns because “There is plenty of evidence and expert opinion that the crisis label is not baseless alarmism — indeed, it has its place in how we communicate about climate change, and we can expect to see more crisis talk going forward. Even if some will continue to disagree.”

Among the general public, the terms ‘tipping point’, seems less impressive than emphasizing a ‘point of no return.’ And contrary to popular belief, the term global warming was not replaced with climate change to recruit activism, or terrify people. It was, in fact, put forward by the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, during the second Bush administration precisely because it is less frightening to the general public.

As for scientists, they have used both terms to more accurately describe, and record, two different phenomena.

But there is also good news about tipping points and political power. People are overwhelmingly realizing the potential hazards of continuing on with polluting and heat-causing fossil fuels.

New emphasis is being demanded of world leaders, and in the USA, political contenders for 2020.

The news is out about cover ups by energy giants and oil companies over the last fifty years. And a new generation, led by young people with every reason to care more about the future than older “fossils” are taking up their concerns for a cleaner world. We are seeing with people such as AOC and Greta Thunberg, Young Climate and Extinction Rebellion, an ever-growing demand for a greener world.

Waking people up to the factual dangers, and more importantly, to the reality of what each individual person can do to feel empowered and effective, requires strong words and deeds. If that is what it takes to avoid loss of life, resources and economy, and trillions of dollars in projected costs that climate chaos will bring, we have to take on the challenge.

Written by

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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