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Words Matter: Time to Rebrand "Climate Change" as "Climate Crisis.”

The term “climate change” has lost its power. Like a tuned out football coach who once provided strategy, vision and inspiration, the message is disregarded and no longer heard.

The words used to describe and define ideas that truly matter need to be explicit and easily comprehended. Climate change truly matters. But, these days it is so easily dismissed as white noise in a sea of information.

Climate change was first introduced to me as “global warming.” I remember watching wide eyed Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. He explained the concepts of the greenhouse effect and global warming. Greenhouse gasses like C02 and methane trap heat in the atmosphere. These gasses warm the earth similar to how a greenhouse warms plants.

“It sort of lends itself to misinterpretation when it also impacts the cold,” said professor of human geography Mike Hulme from the University of Cambridge in an interview with CNN. When Hulme started academia in the 1980s, scientists were using the term “greenhouse effect.” “Climate change” became the standard term in the 2000s.

Fast forward to the year 2022. On February 28, the IPCC released its most daunting message to humanity. This is from the press release:

BERLIN, Feb 28 – Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit…,.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

So, what was the world’s response to the report? Here is a screenshot of the global market cues on the date of the release:

The IPCC report of 195 member countries and hundreds of scientists didn’t even get mentioned. There was no appreciable effect on the markets. Why is this happening? Do the investors of the world simply not care? In the 2021 Columbia Law School’s Blog on Corporations and Capital Markets, Are Climate Risk Reflected in Stock Prices? a paper is analyzed that answers the question:

Our findings reveal that the risks generated by government intervention, not the direct risks from climate change, are priced into the stock market.

Thus, investors are only worried about the government response to climate change -not climate change itself. Investors don't see climate change as a financial risk.

So, how about the general public? How do they respond to the term "climate change?"

New York-based firm, SPARK Neuro, "an applied neuroscience technology and research company revolutionizing the evaluation of audience engagement in advertising and entertainment. " conducted a neuroscience study that pitted 120 Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the United States against six politically charged terms for climate change.

The company set out to find out "if it’s time to rebrand climate change, using down-to-the-millisecond electroencephalography (EEG) and galvanic skin response (GSR) recordings taken as voters of each political affiliation listened to audio recordings of controversial statements." The EEG and GSR responses were distilled into a quantitative neurological measure of emotional intensity. Spark Neuro said that the same algorithm successfully predicted the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

This is their findings:

“Global warming” and “climate change” are the most-used descriptors of their kind…yet in our comparison of 6 similar terms, they elicited the two weakest emotional reactions from both Republicans and Democrats. Amongst Democrats, any of the alternative phrases were significantly better than the status quo. Amongst Republicans, two phrases really stood out where “global warming” and “climate change” fell short.

The top two terms, “climate crisis” and “environmental destruction,” evoked nearly identical net intensity across all 120 participants

There you have it. The term “climate change” does not garner attention from the markets, politicians or even the general public. The word has lost its message. It’s time to rebrand. The situation is dire as the biosphere degrades before our eyes. The world needs to start paying attention again. It’s time to call it what it is- a climate crisis.

By Geoff McFarlan

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