Climate language we’d notice
Would we call last spring’s flooding a mere “rise in water levels”? Last year’s never-before tornadoes, would we call them “several days of strong winds”? Do we call forest fires, “combustion events, off in the bush”? Are the near-weekly public shootings in the USA described as, “anger-management issues” ... or something similar?
We don’t use such bland language, so why do we insist on calling the scorched earth, 8-metre higher sea levels, longer, stronger hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes – plus ash-tainted air, world-wide migrations, food-system collapse – why do we continue to call all this only “a change”?
“The climate’s been changing since it formed,” the delayers-and-deniers tell us; “go back to sleep.” They’re right, about climate’s constant change.
But this isn’t constant change, it’s complex and dynamic change: it will constantly change what it changes, making backward remediation all the more difficult. It brings unpredictability, guaranteed ever-greater swings in temperature, rainfall, storms, droughts – and the resultant fires, grid collapses, transportation breakdowns, even criminality and warfare. That’s what complex systems bring, and there’s little that’s more complex than weather and climate.
Calling our Anthropocene rupture “climate change” is like calling the Black Plague, “a contagious fever”. Scientists avoid exaggeration; their statements are matter-of-fact out of fear of being labelled alarmist ... but how far can they go in describing today’s slippery climate shifts? How long can they announce ocean current drops, glacier melt-downs, insect and song-bird collapses, even multi-year droughts – the planet’s “Australian flu” – and without reporting the increasing struggles over water sources, spreading refugee camps – how long before the scientists themselves will only burst into tears at their public announcements?
If they did burst into tears, if they recounted stories of children lost, pets drowned, then the public might pay more attention, trained as we are to see news only via “stories”.
Don’t we have to stop speaking of “climate change” in the way we talk of changing bed sheets? When will each of us actually sit up and get involved – reign in our own daily lives? Frankly, as much as individual responsibility and personal choices and behaviour are essential, it’s essential the world’s real polluters undertake real change.
They aren’t. Not by a long shot – scientists measure green-house gas emissions and pollutants from all sectors – homes, manufacturing, resource extraction, transportation – and these are the big actors, the wholesalers. They’re in for the profits, period. The Industrial Revolution launched the climate’s nose-dive.
At least we’ve moved from the mild, “global warming” talk. But what would be reality in our language: global meltdown, climate catastrophe (or collapse) – “The Great Collapse”, say – “Earth’s Melting Point”, the Scorched Earth? Or we reach “Planet Critical” and approach our own “Pre-Extinction”? And what about post-extinction? What will be happening then, in humanity’s absence?
It’s unlikely they’ll look back on our period today as merely “Climate Change” – whoever are doing the talking after us.