Talking ‘Climate Change’ – Why It’s Time We Updated Our Vocab

  • 11 months ago

Climate change. Two words which should fill us with urgency and emotion.

But if these two words leave you feeling a little lacklustre, then believe us, you’re not alone. Climate change. Climate crisis. Climate emergency…with so many different ways to describe the threat to our planet, communicating this urgency is no easy feat.

We’re storytellers and communicators, as a purpose-driven agency, we spend our days communicating the climate crisis and shining a spotlight on those brands calling for action. But even we find the landscape complex.

So what’s our issue with ‘climate change’? We’re not pioneering this shift in language and it’s something that’s been in conversation for a while, but we think it’s time to bring this debate to the forefront. In 2019 The Guardian stopped using the phrase ‘climate change’ and instead opted for climate crisis or climate emergency. So why did they make this shift?

This might seem trivial, but often the smallest words can have the biggest impact. Language has the power to move us to action, to shock us, to inspire us and to give us hope. The Guardian claimed that “Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation” and hey, we couldn’t agree more! Change suggests something that is slow and gradual, and something that can’t be prevented. Change doesn’t empower people to act. And change can also be positive, it certainly doesn’t reflect the urgency that faces our planet.

Photo by Enviral : 2020 Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate

Humans love stories. Whether we’re reading to a child, telling stories around a campfire or catching up on our weekend antics over a coffee… stories move people. Engaging people in the climate crisis means creating a narrative which involves us all, one which shows that if we all come together then we can truly make a difference. It’s important we help create a shared sense of purpose and responsibility, and the word ‘change’ doesn’t reflect this. What we need is a rallying cry, we need people to come together, to get inspired and to truly understand the threats that face our planet.

We’re not saying it’s time for scaremongering, and we’re not saying it’s all doom and gloom. In fact, quite the opposite. Gloomy messaging can often extinguish hope. It can cause overwhelm, negativity and prevent people from action, no matter how small. It’s important that language stays positive, stays inspiring and shows people that they can help make a difference.

Photo by Enviral : 2019 Bristol Climate Strike

That’s where the word change comes in. Like the change of seasons, this word evokes a sense of powerlessness. It makes us feel that something is going to happen, with or without our input. Yet, the key to fighting climate breakdown is getting people to act and ‘change’ doesn’t communicate urgency or action.

We think the evolution of the language used here is super interesting, the phrase ‘climate change’ has been around for years and perhaps it no longer carries the same weight as it once did. Have people become desensitised to it? The Guardian obviously thinks so. 

Really, we think it’s all about finding a balance. A balance between doom and gloom, a balance between information overload and actionable and positive takeaways. A consideration of your audience because they won’t all respond in the same way to the same words. Language should be able to take the reader on a journey that can offer education, insight and understanding.

Words lead to action so we need to make sure the words we use are the right ones. So whether you’re calling it climate breakdown or the climate crisis… it’s vital to emphasise the urgency while educating, inspiring and motivating your community to act.


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