Half the battle lies in the language. ‘Warm’ is not a scary concept. ‘Warm’ is a word we use to describe positive emotions. ‘Warming’ means heartwarming, snugly and pleasing. It is not a description to inspire concern, much less fear. Global warming. It’s like wrapping the world in a nice woolly jumper.
Climate change is at least a broader description, and may be more accurate, because we don’t really know what effects we’re going to have on the planet. ‘Change’ isn’t a scary word either. Ok, most people find change a bit unsettling, but we also know that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ and that change is part of life. Nothing to be afraid of there.
How different would the debate be if we couched it in more dramatic terms? We should be talking about global disaster, total climatic uncertainty, radical change to weather systems, and the potential for terrible impact on human life, the destruction of habits and cultures, and the small window we have in which to avoid this.
Governments and business squeal about the costs and squirm over the inconvenience. It’s painfully short term. And really, if we push our species to the edge, people are not going to be devoting their wealth to turning the wheels of business, are they? The cost of getting this wrong, or doing too little, too late, doesn’t seem to be crossing enough minds just yet. The cost in terms of human lives lost or blighted isn’t on the agenda to anything like the degree it should be. The ice caps are melting, fact. The sea will rise due to this, and water expands when it’s warm, and this means the sea takes up more space – the water levels go up. How much land can we afford to lose? What value do we place on the great god that is economic growth, when we compare it to the devastation we are going to face if we get this wrong?
Let’s turn this around for a moment and imagine that the minority of climate sceptics out there are entirely right, and that the world is able to soak up what we do, and that as a species we aren’t committing collective suicide right now by this particular method. We are still destroying species and habitats. We are still filling the air, water and soil with pollution, and that isn’t doing us any good at all. We still have finite resources and one day the oil is going to run out. No amount of saying climate change doesn’t exist makes these other issues go away. There are not plenty more fish in the sea. We are not in a position to ship everyone off to some other planet and start over. If we start figuring out how to live within our means, how to be sustainable, then surely, medium to long term, business, governments, individuals benefits. If we’re really clever, we might get to keep this affluent, indulgent way of life. We might even be able to do more.
So, whether or not a person, or government, or business thinks climate change is a real threat, there are plenty of other things that definitely are, and that are going to need dealing with. Doesn’t it make more sense to fix things before they become more dangerous to us? Or are we going to need to push ourselves as a species, right to the edge of what is viable, before we shake off our collective apathy and take our own futures seriously. And in the meantime, let’s stop messing about with this unthreatening not-a-real-problem language. Climate disaster. Lethal pollution. Unsustainable growth. Economic madness. Mass suicide. Let’s call it what it is, and do something about it while we still can.