Is climate change the emergency that many scientists purport?

Is climate change the emergency that many scientists purport?


By Joanne Layh

Is climate change an emergency? The vast majority of climate scientists think so, and an increasing number of political leaders aren’t afraid to say they agree.

In June the House of Commons passed a motion to declare a national climate emergency in Canada. Put forward by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, the motion passed 186 votes to 63.

This announcement happened around the same time we learned Canada is warming at twice the global average, with northern Canada warming at nearly three times the global average. 

However, one week after the announcement to ban single use plastics and a day after declaring a climate emergency, the Liberals announced (not for the first time) the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. So much for an emergency.

However, on a local level hundreds of municipal governments around the world have also declared a climate emergency, including over 50 Canadian municipalities.

Some segments of the media are also rethinking the terminology we use when we talk about what’s happening to our climate.

Earlier this year the UK’s Guardian newspaper explained why it’s changing the language it uses about our environment.

Instead of “climate change” the publication now prefers the terms “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” over “global warming.”

Likewise, the publication’s style guide also promotes the use of “wildlife” rather than “biodiversity”, “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks” and “climate science denier” rather than “climate skeptic”. 

“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” said the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

Back in Canada, the CBC weeks later reported that in response to inquiries from its journalists, it too recently updated its language guide.

‘Climate crisis’ and ‘climate emergency’ are okay in some cases as synonyms for ‘climate change.’ But they’re not always the best choice. For example, ‘climate crisis’ could carry a whiff of advocacy in certain political coverage,” the guide now says. 

Taking a less circumspect stance, Sean Holman, journalism professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, called on Canadian journalists to start reporting climate change as an emergency. 

In doing so, he says he wants to be clear that he’s not recommending journalists become activists. 

No one is suggesting journalists have a bias when reporting on the AIDS crisis or the opioid crisis or the housing crisis. By calling something an emergency we acknowledge that circumstances require urgent action. 

(Joanne Layh is editor of the Peachland View.)