Chavez: Examine the Language We Use to Describe Climate Change


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By Paij Chavez, Opinion Writer

Studying the impact of climate science communication — the language people use to describe climate-related issues — may lead to more productive conversations about climate change. There is a scientific consensus that Earth’s climate is warming and human activity is a contributing factor. Ideally, this means it could be addressed, so it is critical to communicate the problems of and solutions for climate change efficiently.

Our conversations and communication tools when discussing the problems we’re facing must be refined. Literacy in such complex scientific issues is not enough — there must be communicative mechanisms that can succinctly explain the problem to the average person.

Framing Theory helps us understand that communication sources define and construct information and that everything is presented through a certain perspective or framework. This is fairly easy to spot in daily life, perhaps by looking at all the different headlines written for the same news story. There may be a negative or positive spin put on the story depending on where it comes from. Taking a moment to think about the author or publisher of a piece of work, and what their motivation is, can keep you from being persuaded or believing something that isn’t true.

Framing can occur in collective consumer markets, too. Marketers advertise to consumers a litany of worries and perceived needs — but worry not, there is a product or service that will fix all of those worries, so long as you can afford it. Meat and dairy alternatives, electric cars, metal straws and shoes made from recycled plastic are just a few examples of relatively recent innovations to improve environmental impact, but they are not financially accessible to everyone. In many ways, being seen as eco-friendly is only for the well-to-do who can afford to shop at Whole Foods. There remains a culture of shame towards those not able to do these things to support our environment. 

Claiming that climate change can be tackled by individual choice has problems of its own. Encouraging individuals to lessen their carbon footprint still ignores the immense amount of waste and pollution created by corporations and the United States Armed Forces. Unless the government reduces the number of greenhouse gas emissions from these large entities, switching to a metal straw and wearing shoes made from recycled water bottles really isn’t going to do much in the grand scheme of things.

This may feel daunting, and I have days where I feel like we might be doomed. What’s a person that cares about the Earth supposed to do? I’m not advocating for acceptance of defeat — everyone should try their best to reduce their carbon footprint in ways that work best within their own circumstances. But we also need to change how we talk about protecting the earth.

Operating under the narrative that we, as individuals, can save the planet from the destruction that we have caused, is very arrogant and anthropocentric. Anthropocentrism is the perspective that human beings are the most important beings in the universe. It is very hard for humans to accept that we aren’t in control, even those with well-meaning hearts feel like they must do something to fix this. However, the truth is that Earth will be just fine without us and will probably thrive once human beings are extinct. 

The way we can do something, and show respect for the environment which provides us with the building blocks of life, is to take care of each other. Voting for leaders that care about climate change issues will not only improve human life, it will also lead to legislation that regulates greenhouse gas emissions and protects animal and plant ecosystems. The relationship we have with the Earth will change once we start deconstructing the ideologies and systems that have led us to this point. If we really want to save the planet, then we should start by saving each other. 


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