Use of terms ‘climate crisis’ and ‘global heating’ prompts reviews in other newsrooms
— The Guardian’s decision to alter its style guide to better convey the environmental crises unfolding around the world has prompted some other media outlets to reconsider the terms they use in their own coverage.
After the Guardian announced it would now routinely use the words “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” instead of “climate change”, a memo was sent by the standards editor of CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, to staff acknowledging that a “recent shift in style at the British newspaper the Guardian has prompted requests to review the language we use in global warming coverage”.
Senior CBC management told staff they were able to use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” when covering the wide-ranging impacts of temperature rises around the world.
“Neutrality is an important principle in our journalism,” said Paul Hambleton, standards editor of CBC News. “We recognise that ‘climate crisis’ and ‘climate emergency’ are increasingly common expressions in debates over what to do about global warming.
“‘Climate change’ and ‘global warming’ offer a neutral starting point for that debate, but as with all our journalistic decisions, context matters.”
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We're updating our style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world. For example, instead of saying “climate change”, our preferred terms will be “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown”. We'll also favour saying “global heating” over “global warming”. Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner explains the decision is about “being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.” Follow the link in bio for more details about this change and let us know what you think in the comments.
Along with the revised use of “climate change”, the Guardian’s style guide also now favours “global heating” instead of “global warming”. Meanwhile, the term “biodiversity” is discouraged in certain instances to instead emphasise “wildlife”.
“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” said the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”
Newsrooms around the globe have been digesting the changes, with journalists at several UK and US media outlets reporting internal conversations about the language used around climate.
Laura Helmuth, the health, science and environment editor at the Washington Post, said there were no new guidelines at the newspaper as yet, but she had “circulated the Guardian story about your guidelines to our reporters and copy desk for inspiration”.
The Los Angeles Times still uses “climate change” and “global warming” but that may soon change.
“We are also reviewing our style guide in light of the recent report from the United Nations,” said Scott Kraft, the managing editor of the LA Times, in reference to a stark report last year that found humanity must cut its planet-heating emissions by nearly half by 2030 to avoid severely escalating climate-driven disasters such as flooding, wildfires and drought.
Others are being more circumspect. “We use various terms, ‘climate change’ being the most frequent, and we strive to define what that means in the context of our stories,” said a spokeswoman for the New York Times.
The Guardian’s new language around the environment is aimed at better illustrating a rapid breakdown in the natural processes that drive the planet’s climate and the society-wide danger that represents.
Without urgent intervention, global heating will reach a point where hundreds of millions of people are displaced by flooding, food insecurity and unrest, while the degradation of landscapes has led to the potential loss of 1m species and the unravelling of ecosystems that support human life.
Whether a change in media tone will help address these problems remains an open question given the general lack of focus on the topic.
A report this week found the major US TV networks spent far more news time on the birth of Archie, the new British royal baby, than a report warning of 1m species extinctions. One network, ABC, covered Archie for longer in one week than it spent in the whole of 2018 on the climate crisis.
“For better or worse, I think climate change and global warming are likely to remain the primary names for the phenomenon,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale programme on climate change communication.
Leiserowitz said the media could help elevate the climate issue by using images that showed the impact on people, rather than remote depictions of melting ice and forlorn polar bears.
“I don’t mind terms like climate disruption, climate chaos, climate crisis, which can help a little. But I view them more as seasoning than entrée,” he said.
by Oliver Milman | The Guardian