Why We Should Start Saying ‘Climate Crisis’

What’s in a name? When it comes to environmental terminology, a lot, apparently. Though we’ve been trained to refer to our environmental woes as “climate change” or “global warming,” research from an NYC advertising consulting agency concludes that “climate crisis” is a much more effective phrase to use.

Compared to climate change, the term climate crisis generated a 60 percent higher emotional response. Researchers hooked up test subjects of various political persuasions to a machine that measures brain activity. They then read environmental statements using different terms to see which elicited more emotional responses.

Whereas “climate crisis” registered highest among Democrats, Republicans and Independents combined, climate change and global warming received way less concern from the participants.

The lack of response to the usual terminology is probably partially due to familiarity, but Grist also points out that “warming” isn’t alarming because people tend to like warmer temperatures and “change” doesn’t necessarily accurately portray how rapidly and unnatural the shift is.

Really, any phrase that heightens the intensity performed better than the usual nomenclature. In the same study, less common expressions like environmental collapse and weather destabilization also registered more concern, with “environmental destruction” triggering Republicans the most by a sizable margin. (Interestingly, the response to environmental destruction was so uniquely strong to conservatives, however, that researchers caution it could backfire and push them away from the issue.)

Admittedly, we probably don’t need fancy brain-reading technology to determine that using the term “crisis” gets people more worked up than other words. That’s a political tactic the president himself uses when he refers to people seeking asylum as a “border crisis.”

Spencer Gerrol, a researcher on the project, points to a similar example when the GOP changed the conversation on the estate tax, a tax on inherited wealth, by rebranding it as a “death tax.” Suddenly, Americans who had little vested interest in money being passed between one generation of millionaires to another were opposed to a tax after death.

However, unlike certain hyperbolic turns of phrase aimed at directing partisan behavior, climate change legitimately is a crisis. Time is running out to take meaningful action, and the consequences are dire. No one ought to feel bad about calling out the situation as what it really is. Euphemisms aren’t helping anyone at this point.

So say it with me: climate crisis. The more we pepper this kind of language into our everyday speech, the harder it’ll be for the average person to dismiss the environmental situation.

48 comments

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D4 days ago

I have been using the term "Climate Crisis" since about the time Al gore released "An Inconvenient Truth".

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Thanks.

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Chad A
Chad Anderson11 days ago

Thank you.

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Robert Fitzgerald

CLIMATE CRISIS!!! Yes!!! Also. How about Apocalyptic End-Times. Human Extinction Event.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan B12 days ago

Lorraine A.,
So true. Every little think is being called a crisis today.

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Callie R
Callie R12 days ago

Thanks.

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Callie R
Callie R12 days ago

Thanks.

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Muriel S
Muriel Servaege12 days ago

Thank you but we already know that. But we need to do something without waiting, not to put off our actions until it's absolutely too late.

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Laura R
Laura R12 days ago

Thank you.

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