Goodbye Global Warming

This one proved too contentious for my editors but I’m including it here as a bonus article so you can decide for yourself.

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”
Thomas Paine.

I want you to stop talking about ‘Global Warming’. The toothless phrase has become too glib, too cosy, too easy to argue against. In fact, thanks to human psychological quirks like the Backfire Effect and Confirmation Bias, ‘global warming’, as a catchphrase, has actually become counterproductive. It’s meaning and use has morphed from a simple factual description into a banner announcing political allegiance. It’s interpreted as a virtue signal that turns off as many people as it engages, a prompt to just stop listening. It’s become divisive in an area where cooperation is paramount.

We need something less confrontational, that better reflects the reality and the dangers we currently face. ‘Climate emergency’ won’t do. It might be the Oxford Dictionary ‘word of the year’ but only if you are preaching to the converted. The namby-pamby indecisiveness of ‘climate change’ is hardly a clarion call to action either. I’d like to suggest something else. Replace the phrase ‘global warming’ with ‘climate instability’. Not only is ‘climate instability’ a more accurate description of the world’s situation, it’s an inherently more effective expression of danger. No one wants unstable ground, unstable buildings, unstable people. It’s a warning signal that slips past our conscious and unconscious biases to go straight to our primeval monkey brains and tickle their deep-seated survival instincts. It’s an uneasy word, a wary word, a word that people pay attention to.

But don’t the facts speak for themselves? Isn’t the weight of evidence overwhelming? Isn’t reason enough? No, not for everybody. The argument from reason has done all it can. Everybody who could be convinced by the facts and figures has been. Everybody who would be moved to action by film of a starving polar bear already is. Too many people though have embedded denial in their politics, culture and self-image. The more strident the alarm call, the easier they dismiss it. The more you push, the fiercer the resistance. To persuade them, you need to take the science out of the discussion.

Extra C02 = global warming = climate change is too long an argument. It has too many hidden ‘because’ clauses that need to be explained, too much science that vested interests can undermine. ‘Climate instability’ is a simple one-hit, go-to phrase that sums up everything. Everybody who’s ever ridden a bike or even spun a coin understands instability. It doesn’t need explaining. It’s easy to say that CO2 causes climate instability rather than just warming things up. It takes rain from where it’s needed and puts it where it isn’t. It makes storms stormier and more often. It makes things, in a word, unpredictable. Sure, things are vastly more complicated than that but you’ve already reached everybody who can or will grapple with the complexity. Reality is complicated, the message doesn’t need to be.

Any fool can stand up on their hind legs to argue against research and deny global warming but who can deny climate instability? You see it every night on the TV. Half the world is on fire, the other half freezing and that’s when it’s not flooded or popping round to the neighbours to ask for it’s storm-stolen roof back. You can see it for yourself from your front door with every early spring and unseasonable frost and snowless hill.

It’s even easier to use the phrase to argue for action. There’s no need for storm frequency statistics or hockey stick temperature graphs. If you need to resort to charts or numbers you’ve already lost the audience. Stories are what stick, preferable easily relatable ones.

Surely storms/floods/droughts have always happened? Yes, and kids fall off their bikes but if you kid falls off their bike ten times in a week you should take them to a doctor. No science, just homely metaphor.

But everybody has to sing from the same hymn sheet. We need to replace the phrase ‘global warming’ with ‘climate instability’ at every opportunity. There should be no reports on ‘global warming’, rather reports on ‘climate instability’. No statements about the ‘results of global warming’, rather the ‘results of climate instability’. Every time someone says ‘global warming’, correct them and say ‘climate instability’ is the more accurate term. Press it home at every opportunity – persistence is half of any battle.

A 2018 Gallup poll showed 40% of Americans don’t believe global warming is a serious issue or will affect them personally. Some people don’t believe it’s real at all. A simple change of name, from ‘warming’ to ‘instability’, moves the climate change argument away from politics and into personal experience. It does something no amount of science or fact or outside persuasion can do. It lets people to do their own convincing. It allows them to own the idea for themselves. It makes the message so loud that even the dead might hear.

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