The Corner


From ‘Climate Change’ to the ‘Climate Emergency’

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed “Green New Deal” to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2019. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

In an article titled “We Are Living in a Climate Emergency, and We’re Going to Say So,” Scientific American magazine has announced that it will henceforth refer to “climate change” as a “climate emergency” in its ongoing environmental coverage:

Given the circumstances, Scientific American has agreed with major news outlets worldwide to start using the term “climate emergency” in its coverage of climate change. An official statement about this decision, and the impact we hope it can have throughout the media landscape, is below.

The statement goes on to assert that the alteration of terms is “not a journalistic fancy” because the magazine is “on solid scientific ground,” which they establish by citing an academic study in which more than 10,000 world scientists warn that climate change is an emergency.

As the statement itself notes, the move comes as part of a larger trend among media outlets to accept the terminology of those who are most concerned about the threats posed by climate change. Columbia Journalism Review, for instance, recently published a long feature piece entitled “Living Through the Climate Emergency,” which asserted, “The planet is burning. It’s time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here—and to emphasize that this is a statement of science, not of politics.”

But despite this doomsday rhetoric, there actually exists an extensive and divisive debate among scientists about the extent to which climate change is a significant concern and, if it is, whether human action can do much to stop it. It isn’t a simple “statement of science” for journalistic outfits to take a side in an ongoing debate under the guise of proclaiming the supposedly settled science.

While there undoubtedly are plenty of experts who would agree with these outlets’ conclusions and terminology, the decision to use the phrase “climate emergency” is more a matter of politics or pushing a particular perspective than a matter of using strictly accurate scientific language.


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