By: Malik Russell, Director of Communications at The Climate Mobilization
Interestingly, while 2019 was the Year of #ClimateEmergency, many in media and the political world are very very afraid of this word and still using the term “#ClimateChange.
This term became popularized due to a deliberate strategy by conservative strategist Frank Luntz to find ways to push back against the growing push for environmental protections.
According to cognitive linguist George Lakoff, “the idea of climate change, actually, was introduced by conservatives, by Frank Luntz in the 2004 campaign. He found that global warming alarmed people whereas climate change sounded fine. It was just change, as if it just happened, and people weren’t responsible. And climate is a nice word. It sort of gives an image of palm trees and nice climate, as opposed to hurricanes and, you know, and huge snowstorms and floods.” #globalwarming
Luntz was also responsible for terms like “death tax” instead of the estate tax and advising the current administration to use the term”border security.” Like Charlie Sheen, Luntz continues to win the framing battles. The framing of issues is not simply wordplay, as Lakoff talks about in his breakthrough book “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,” its a powerful tool for reaching people.
“When we successfully reframe public discourse, we change the way the public sees the world. We change what counts as common sense,” he argues.
It’s sad and perplexing watching politicians and media stumble around this issue while the planet burns. The Climate Mobilization believes the right term to use at this point in time is #ClimateEmergency because when you look at places like Australia, California or the Amazon – that’s exactly what’s happening.
Many in the U.S are way behind in understanding what needs to happen to sustain our society. In many cases, including media, European outlets are far ahead of where we are and it doesn’t make sense. There are some good things happening with Columbia Journalism Review’s Covering Climate Now initiative, Climate Nexus and the townhalls from CNN and MSNBC, but they are not enough because #ClimateEmergency is framed as some “special” news and not a part of regular coverage -which in the opinion of many advocates focuses way too much on Trump – and according to Lakoff’s logic AMPLIFIES his frames exponentially. When we repeat his frame – guess what? We reinforce it.
We’ve got to do better, I mean it’s only the planet we’re talking about.
Utilizing #ClimateEmergency puts people in an emergency-mode of mind, where casual actions and incrementalism won’t work if we are going to protect our communities and planet. We need to mobilize -quick, fast and in a hurry and do it in a way not seen since WWII. We’ve got about a decade to move with all deliberate speed to counter global warming and the Climate Emergency or face a possible extinction-level climate-related disaster.
If we move with force we can transform our society and utilize the process as a means to create a Green New Reality and remedy anachronistic concepts of the 20th Century ranging from inequality, racism, and militarism. We can begin this journey on the right foot by simply agreeing to wake up and telling the world we’re in a Climate Emergency! Speak the words and break the silence.