What’s in a Name?

  • Should we call it “global warming,” “climate change,” a “climate crisis,” or something else?
  • Sometimes they means different things, but in the vast majority of instances, these terms are interchangeable.
  • The terms we use matter, and we should be using terms that pack a punch and more accurately reflect the urgency of the situation.

Hold up!

What are we talking about here? Is it “global warming,” “climate change,” a “climate crisis,” “climate emergency,” “global heating,” or what?

All of these terms mean generally the same thing: Humans have been releasing greenhouse gases into our atmosphere — mostly from burning fossil fuels and agriculture — and that’s trapping more of the sun’s heat, raising the global average temperature and throwing our very stable climate out of whack, making existence more difficult for life on Earth.

In the 1990’s the term “global warming” was the most popular way to describe this phenomenon. But in the 2000’s, “climate change” had become more popular.

Why? Because the fossil fuel industry launched a successful PR campaign (which was promoted by certain politicians) to popularize a term they felt was more neutral and less scary. The goal was essentially to bore people out of taking action by making this crisis seem like a dull issue that only Al Gore and his lame, nerdy buddies cared about.

But what happened when the environmental movement noticed that everyone was saying “climate change” instead of “global warming”?

We said, “Cool, let’s do something about ‘climate change’ then.”

The movement adopted the new term and just ran with it without missing a beat. To paraphrase Shakespeare: a crisis by any other name would still require swift, effective action.

But now, environmentalists have become a bit more PR savvy ourselves. Both the terms “global warming” and “climate change” are a bit too banal to capture the severity of the moment. It’s a bit like if Pompeiians said “Oh, dear, looks like Mt. Vesuvius is having a case of the Mondays.”

Also, those terms have more technical meanings: “global warming” is the general trend of rising atmospheric average temperature, while “climate change” is the spin-off effects of global warming, which range from more intense storms, colder winter storms, desertification, changing rain patterns, etc.

Some people intentionally try to muddy the conversation by confusing these terms, saying things like “How can global warming be real if we just had the coldest winter storm on record?” Which is a silly, inane argument to anyone who keeps up with climate science.

This is why many environmentalists, including us here at The Carbon Offset Company, are using terms like “the climate crisis” or “the climate emergency,” to more accurately convey the urgency required at this moment to avoid catastrophe for the younger generations and those that come after.

The words we use matter. We like to think we aren’t so easily swayed by a simple name change, but many people many will order “Rock Salmon” for dinner, but would never order “Spiny Dogfish,” it’s original name. Name changes may seem superficial, but they genuinely can alter the way society thinks about a topic.

So, we’ll keep using these terms interchangeably. We mostly use the term “climate crisis,” but still use “global warming” and “climate change” to tie in terms people are more familiar with. But just know they all are equivalent to Mt. Vesuvius having a case of the Mondays.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store