Climate crisis

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"Climate crisis" is a descriptor for climate change and global warming.

Historical use of the term[edit]

The term "climate crisis" is often used to urge aggressive climate change mitigation.[citation needed]

A 1990 report from the American University International Law Review repeatedly used the term "crisis" to refer to global warming and climate change, its selected materials including a description of "The Cairo Compact: Toward a Concerted World-Wide Response to the Climate Crisis" (December 21, 1989).[1]

In late 2018, the United States House of Representatives established the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, a term that a journalist wrote in The Atlantic is "a reminder of how much energy politics have changed in the last decade".[2]

In 2019, a "Call it a Climate Crisis" campaign urging major media organizations to adopt the term stated that in 2018, only 3.5% of national television news segments referred to climate change as a crisis or emergency.[3]

An early-2019 neuroscientific study from an advertising consulting agency involving electroencephalography (EEG) and galvanic skin response (GSR) measurements concluded that the term "climate crisis" elicited stronger emotional responses than "neutral" and "worn out" terms like global warming and climate change, thereby encouraging a sense of urgency—though not so strong a response as to cause cognitive dissonance that would cause people to generate counterarguments.[4]

On May 17, 2019 The Guardian announced it would begin using the new expression, along with "global heating". Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner explained, "We want to ensure that we are 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.”[5]

In June 2019, 70 climate activists were arrested for demonstrating outside the offices of The New York Times, urging the newspaper to adopt the phrases "climate emergency" or "climate crisis", the demonstration being part of public pressure that swayed the City Council to make New York the largest city to formally adopt a climate emergency declaration.[6]

Alternative terminology[edit]

The media also sometimes describes the effects of climate change in catastrophic terms without necessarily using the phrase climate crisis. To illustrate the point, ABC (Australia) has an online a documentary in which David Attenborough takes a look at "a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe". However, on the ABC website, the documentary is promoted under the headline Climate Change: The Facts.[7] In a similar vein, WorldWideLife describes climate change as a "threat that impacts the earth" - but doesn't describe it as a crisis.[8] Similarly, the Environmental Defence Fund says "climate change plunders the planet".[9]

Climate scientist Peter Kalmus recommends we use the term “climate breakdown.” [10] The New York Times recently used “climate chaos.” [11] Some scientists suggest “global heating.”[12]

Concerns about crisis terminology[edit]

Some commentators have written that "emergency framing" may have several disadvantages.[13] Specifically, such framing may implicitly prioritize climate change over other important social issues, thereby encouraging competition among activists rather than cooperation and sidelining dissent within the climate change movement itself.[13] It may suggest a need for solutions by government, which provides less reliable long-term commitment than does popular mobilization, and which may be perceived as being "imposed on a reluctant population".[13] Finally, it may be counterproductive by causing disbelief (absent immediate dramatic effects), disempowerment (in the face of a problem that seems overwhelming), and withdrawal—rather than providing practical action over the long term.[13]

Others have written that, whether "appeals to fear generate a sustained and constructive engagement" is clearly a highly complex issue but that the answer is "usually not", with psychologists noting that humans' responses to danger (fight, flight, or freeze) can be maladaptive.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meyer, Robinson (December 28, 2018). "Democrats Establish a New House 'Climate Crisis' Committee". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on July 27, 2019.
  2. ^ "Call it a Climate Crisis". Retrieved 26 July 2019. Earliest Wayback machine archive is May 17, 2019.
  3. ^ Yoder, Kate (April 29, 2019). "Why your brain doesn't register the words 'climate change'". Grist (magazine). Archived from the original on July 24, 2019.
  4. ^ Carrington, Damian (May 17, 2019). "Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment / From now, house style guide recommends terms such as 'climate crisis' and 'global heating'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 6, 2019.
  5. ^ Barnard, Anne (July 5, 2019). "A 'Climate Emergency' Was Declared in New York City. Will That Change Anything?". Archived from the original on October 11, 2019.
  6. ^ Climate Change: The Facts.
  7. ^ "Environmental Threats | WWF". World Wildlife Fund.
  8. ^ How climate change plunders the planet
  9. ^ Peter Kalmus on Twitter
  10. ^ Climate Chaos Is Coming — and the Pinkertons Are Ready,New York Times Magazine, 10 April 2019
  11. ^ Global warming should be called global heating, says key scientist, Grist, 16 December 2018
  12. ^ a b c d Hodder, Patrick; Martin, Brian (September 5, 2009). "Climate Crisis? The Politics of Emergency Framing" (PDF). Economic and Political Weekly. 44 (36): 53, 55–60. Archived from the original on July 26, 2019.
  13. ^ Moser, Susan C.; Dilling, Lisa (December 2004). "Making Climate Hot / Communicating the Urgency and Challenge of Global Climate Change" (PDF). University of Colorado. pp. 37–38. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 10, 2017. Footnotes 33-37. Also published: December 2004, Environment, volume 46, no. 10, pp. 32–46.

Further reading[edit]