Opinion

The Changing Climate Won’t Be Televised

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We like to track storms, but climate change flies under the Triple Doppler radar. (istock)

They say the revolution won’t be televised. And neither, apparently, will climate change.

But you can be sure that headline-grabbing extreme weather events will be. In the past few days, newscasts have been studded with scary militarized weather terms like Bomb Cyclone and Bombogenesis.

Snowstorm, anyone?
The literal media barrage of storm coverage in advance of the Jan. 4 blizzard sent the usual panicking crowds to the grocery stores, where the masses stripped the shelves of bread, milk and even broccoli before hunkering down, presumably to watch more storm coverage.

[Cut to the shot of the fur-hooded reporter squinting against the wind informing viewers that, “It’s really coming down out here.”]

The mainstream media, in general, does a great job of covering extreme weather events such as storms — it’s their bread and butter (and milk), so to speak.

But the challenge of contextualizing extreme weather events as part of a larger pattern of climate change continues to elude the news media. Perhaps it’s because climate change is a complex and slow-moving disaster, and one that’s difficult to distill into word cocktails that trigger clicks, hashtags, and retweets.

It could be the media is simply responding to what viewers want. It’s far easier to think about an impending snowstorm than it is the existential threat posed by human-made climate change. Ain’t no amount of bread and milk gonna fix that.

As I watch the falling snow — or is it the “bombing” snow? — I’m still waiting for the day that climate change will begin to inspire the same level of action, anxiety, and preparation that motivates the bread-and-milk crowd before a winter snowstorm.

So, here’s a thought. Let’s start by eliminating the hyperbole around weather terminology. Here are some suggested replacements:

Bomb Cyclone (n.) Snowstorm
Nor’easter (n.) Snowstorm
Bombogenesis (n.) Snowstorm
Snowmageddeon (n.) Snowstorm
Frankenstorm (n.) Snowstorm

As for Climate Change (n.), we need to come up with a far scarier term to get prime media placement and the accompanying attention of those bread-and-milk folks. Please send suggestions to jo@ecoRI.org, subject line: Triple Doppler Threat Tracker.

Joanna Detz is the ecoRI News publisher.

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  1. I agree that "climate change" is too mild of a term that makes some people (e.g. Mr. Trump) conflate it with "weather." I thought Global Warming was a better term and not sure why we moved away from that. Other potential terms: "Global Heating" "Global Roasting" "Catastrophic Temperature Rise" or "Global Meltdown."

  2. Dear Ms. Detz, Thank you for your lively and interesting essay. I agree with your general argument; however, we environmentalists/climate change believers must be careful with our climate change anxieties and terminology. If we choose terms too dire, we risk losing our credibility and being called–as Oren Cass in Foreign Affairs called us–"catastrophists." On the other hand, if American civilization does not start making better decisions regarding the environment, it shall certainly go the way of Norse Greenland in the middle ages. Please see my essay: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165689.

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