Written by Lee Schneider, producer of Future of Food
At the start of Drawdown, Paul Hawken’s comprehensive plan to reverse global warming, he writes about language. Calling things by their proper name is the beginning of wisdom.
The climate emergency is at the top of our human agenda, as Hawken writes, or at least it should be. But it is so large and so overwhelming that even naming it can be a challenge. Should we call it global warming or climate change? It is a climate problem, a climate emergency, or a climate crisis?
Drawdown is worth your time with its step by step plan to arrest and reverse global warming. Hawken’s editorial team ranks reducing food waste at the number three way to address the crisis. Adopting a plant-rich diet is number four on the list. The way we eat, and what we throw away, is hurting the planet and messing with our future on it. At the top of the list, at the number one practice that must be changed, is refrigeration — “every refrigerator, supermarket case, and air conditioners … continue to cause planetary trouble.” Changing what we eat, how we store it, and what we throw away is what will matter for us and our children.
Words also matter. Much of the language around climate has been composed of words of war. Climate change may be our adversary, but the language of aggression will not help us win.
The earth has adapted to change over eons. We are its most noisy, aggressive, and creative inhabitants, but also its most destructive. It’s starting to look like humans have been done to the Earth rather than beings who simply existed upon it. Writing about the climate crisis, many spin words of disaster, like “the end of the planet.” What’s coming, unless we take action, is not the end of the planet at all. It’s just the end of people on it, or a severe reduction, limited to those who can survive underwater, or with water shortages, or food shortages, or with what may become known as a climate war, a real one. Not the one we have going on in our heads.
Hawken points to solutions in his book. The Guardian recently because the first major news organization to announce that it will no longer accept accept advertising from oil and gas companies. The ban on taking money from companies that extract fossil fuels will hurt the publication financially, its editors acknowledge, but they called out “the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world.” Climate misinformation, in other words. They’re acknowledging it and working to counterbalance it.
The editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, announced last year that the Guardian would adjust its style guide, and focus its language, around climate. They have already started using terms like “climate emergency” and “global heating” rather than “climate change” and “global warming.”
I’m going to take their lead in my work. Words matter in what I do and they matter in what you do. The way we speak about the crisis shapes our response to it.
In Hawken’s words, this is not game over. It’s game on.