Important issues demand accurate language

The language that the media uses in reference to the issues we face today needs to reflect their urgency and importance, even if it is polarizing. This is especially true for the climate crisis.

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Important issues demand accurate language

by Lily Hart, Editor-in-Chief

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In 2019 The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, not only made an environmental pledge, but made six changes regarding climate to its style guide. (This is their standards for writing, editing and language usage.) Their first new rule? “Climate crisis” would replace “climate change.” Paul Chadwick, the Guardian’s readers’ editor said, “the urgency of climate crisis needed robust new language to describe it.” 

This is not just a boring policy change to dismiss as unimportant; this is a significant step forward with huge implications. The language we use to describe the issues we face shapes the way we act on them. The Guardian took this idea and ran with it. Important issues, like the climate crisis, require the media to use accurate and precise language so that the public understands its gravity, even if it is polarizing.

As long as the main idea gets across, word choice is often overlooked as trivial or unimportant. This is a dangerous assumption. Take “climate sceptics” for example. When we see or hear “climate sceptic” we can all understand that it refers to those who deny that climate change is happening. Then why don’t we say “climate deniers?”

The Guardian addressed this as well. To be a sceptic is to doubt an idea in search of the truth, but in this context, “climate sceptics” are not sceptical about the phenomenon of global warming. They fully deny it and its predicted disastrous effects on the earth. Thus, their second new rule to change “sceptic” to “denier. These are the kind of steps we need to take. Even though “denier” has a harsher connotation, it is technically more accurate and should be considered the correct word to use.

If used to its full capacity, language can increase the sense of urgency that written pieces or speeches carry when they touch on this issue.

Changing some of the words we use is not unheard of or impossible to do. Remember our exclusive usage of “global warming” phase? “Climate change” has practically replaced it and is widely accepted today as the most accurate term for the process the earth is undergoing. According to dictionary.com, the term, “global warming,” caused the misconception that the only repercussion of continuing to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would be that there won’t be winters anymore. Climate change takes the idea of global warming and expands on its long term effects on the climate such as the melting of the polar ice caps, extremities of cold, droughts, fires and storms.

Even more than individuals, the media must consider the language they are using because that’s what the public turns to first for their information. If they can change the way they talk about the climate crisis to a more specific, streamlined and accurate way, then people will follow suit. Language is how we think, speak and communicate — we internalize the words in all of their meaning, connotation and context. If language changes, our thoughts and actions will change. But, it has to start in the media.

Like The Guardian, we all need to reframe the way we use language surrounding the climate crisis. It is not just a slow global heating process where we will no longer have winters. It is a critical turning point for the human race — a time to decide whether we’re serious about saving our planet or let our own apathy, greed and disinterestedness destroy us. Our language needs to reflect this urgency in accurate terms so that our actions can as well.