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Climate Change vs. Global Warming

December 16, 2009

Climate Change = Global Warming, right? In the world of politics and corporate media, the equation is never that simple. In reality it looks more like this: (Global Warming – Blame) x Corporate Control = Climate Change.

The phrase “climate change” is just another example of euphemistic language used to cover up the reality hidden just beneath the surface. Of course, this is nothing new. Think how often the word “abuse” was used instead of “torture” when news of Abu Ghraib broke. Or how about “collateral damage” instead of civilian deaths when the destruction from US bombs in Afghanistan is mentioned?

The mainstream press more often than not choses to use the phrase “climate change” rather than “global warming.” Just look at the news coming out of Copenhagen.

But what is the reasoning behind this?

To start out with, the mental image conjured up when thinking about “global warming” (a sweltering Earth) sounds horrifying, whereas ‘climate change’ sounds much more pleasant, like going from this frigid Michigan winter down to the tropic warmth of Key West. It almost seems like a natural occurrence when saying “climate change,” which the majority of scientists claim it is not.

While NASA scientists argue that “global warming refers to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect,” I don’t think this is the only reasoning behind the use of “climate change.”

Author and journalist Steven Poole points out in his book Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons that:

“it is clear that in the phrase ‘global warming’, after all, the word ‘warming’ implies an agent doing the warming. And once you accept that human beings might be the cause of the problem, again you will eye skeptically those with an interest in burning coal, oil, and gas. Thus the preference for the term that seems to assign no blame, ‘climate change’…”

And that hits on a key point. The assignment of blame to those in the coal, oil, and gas industries. It should come as no surprise that these big three industries have meddled with the framing of important issues like global warming, in particular oil industry giant Exxon Mobil. But these industries didn’t stop there. They went on to attack the very words themselves, as Poole says, “States with oil interests, including Saudi Arabia and the US. . .specifically lobbied for the elimination of the phrase ‘global warming’ in agreements.”

With the politically tepid “climate change” in mainstream use, the urgency of the situation is lost.  And our nation’s industries that are the chief producers of greenhouse emissions are more easily let off the hook.

Perhaps this seems trivial to some, but words carry within them so much meaning. How can we understand something if we do not correctly label it? How can we get to the root of the problem if it is not known in its entirety? In order to understand this issue facing our country and our world, we need first to call this impending environmental catastrophe by its true name and come to grips with our nation’s culpability in it.

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