Snowmageddon 2010

By Jennifer Tucker  

Snowmageddon 2010

Jenny's Car: February 6, 2010

It is “Snowmaggedon 2010” in Washington DC, and I now have 21 inches on snow on my front porch.  This, of course, offers the perfect oportunity to write about global warming.

From an advocacy perspective, “global warming” is perhaps one of the worst labels ever chosen by science, for one primary reason: people generally do not make personal choices according to the law of averages. Is the average global temperature increasing over time? Depending on the timescale you choose, the math says yes. Do people buy that in any kind of tangible and actionable way after they’ve just dug out from 21-inches of snow? Not so much.

It’s hard to find melting icebergs compelling when you appear to have one in your front yard.

Climate change (now often included as an “also known as” phrase after global warming) is a far better term if you actually want to see belief and buy-in at a local level. We all go through sensemaking processes to extrapolate personal and local experience into understanding our world in terms of larger scales of time and space. In this sensemaking process, the term “climate change” is a far better bridge term than “global warming” when it comes to the weather. When people experience personal stories of violent hurricanes, droughts, snowfall records, or heat waves, they experience a real change from things that have happened in the past. The concept of “climate change” is a lot easier to get one’s arms around in forming a bridge between personal experience and earth-level happenings.

Global warming, or climate change? Semantics, some would dismissively say.

Yes, it is, in fact. Semantics is about meaning, and it is the meaning that we assign to something that ultimately makes us want to better understand and act on it, or not. Language matters, and when science blends with politics, the choice of scientific language matters even more. It’s time to do a global search and replace, to allow global warming (even in its truth) to fade as a background term in favor of a phrase that is equally accurate, but far easier to connect with in a tangible way.

Because, in the end, it’s change we will ALL be living with.


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