By any other name, it’s still Hell and High Water
Last week Fox News and other conservative media outlets tried once again to fabricate controversy over climate science when they pounced on a presentation made by the President’s science adviser Dr. John Holdren in Oslo. In it, Holdren makes the case (for the umpteenth time) that it’s time to move past the oversimplified term “global warming” and start facing the painful reality that without sharply reducing our carbon pollution, we face something more akin to a “global climate disruption.”
Sadly, even the Atlantic monthly (which is seen as center-left but is center-right on climate) repeated the right-wing narrative that the White House was somehow pushing new rhetoric in place of real science with its stenographic post, “Right Has Field Day With New ‘Global Warming’ Term.” Ironically, the Atlantic criticized Holdren’s phrase “global climate disruption” while its own construction “the scientifically supported but nevertheless controversial theory of global warming” is risible. Yes, well, it is only “controversial” if one buys into and keeps repeating right-wing anti-science talking points.
I’ve been writing about efforts to come up with a better term than “global warming” for a long time (see “Is ‘Global Weirding’ here? Humans are warming the globe and changing the climate. But what should we call it?”). I myself tried to coin the term “Hell and High Water” a few years ago, since that is a more accurate description of what is to come if we stay on or near our current emissions path. It didn’t take — even though Time magazine used the phrase for its Pakistan flooding story, which didn’t mention global warming and which wasn’t shared with U.S. readers anyway!
It was GOP strategist and wordmeister Frank Luntz who counseled in a confidential 2003 memo that the Administration and conservatives should stop using the term “global warming” because it was too frightening:
It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.
1) “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.
So let’s set the record straight on two points. Holdren’s speech focused on laying out the rock-solid and increasingly dire science (must-see PPTs here). And the term he was recommending is essentially identical to one that he and many other scientists suggested 13 years ago:
Global Climatic Disruption
June 18, 1997