Is It ‘Climate Crisis’ or ‘Climate Change'? The Guardian Updates Its Style Guide
The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.
In an update to its house style guide reported Friday, the paper now recommends writers use "climate emergency, crisis or breakdown" instead of "climate change" and "global heating" instead of "global warming."
"We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue," Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner explained. "The phrase 'climate change,' for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity."
The changes were also emailed to staff and added to the online style guide the same day, Carbon Brief Director and Editor Leo Hickman reported on Twitter. Other changes include replacing "biodiversity" with "wildlife," "fish stocks" with "fish populations" and "climate sceptic" with "climate science denier."
"The OED defines a sceptic as 'a seeker of the truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions,'" the new style guide reads. "Most 'climate sceptics,' in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny climate change is happening, or is caused by human activity, so denier is more accurate."
Writing for journalism think tank the Nieman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen noted that The Guardian was ahead of the curve in paying attention to climate change, pointing to its decision to include carbon dioxide concentrations in its weather reports.
"Wording around climate really does matter, and though The Guardian's changes are technically small, they may help reinforce the importance of climate reporting in the minds of both readers and newsroom staff," she wrote.
The Guardian said the changes were in response to a number of political and scientific developments, among them
1. The October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that found that carbon dioxide levels needed to fall by nearly half by 2030 in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid catastrophic impacts.
2. A May UN report warning that biodiversity and natural systems were declining across the globe, putting the human societies that rely on them at risk.
3. The use of the term "climate crisis" by United Nations Sec. General António Guterres and climate scientist Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who has advised Angela Merkel, the EU and the pope.
4. The UK Parliament's declaration of a climate emergency this month.
The Guardian also referenced the words of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, whose school strike for climate action inspired a youth movement.
"It's 2019. Can we all now please stop saying "climate change" and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she asked on Twitter this month.
Scientists had mixed responses to the changes, according to quotes assembled by the Science Media Centre.
"We have a decade to change how humanity abuses the Planet. The climate and environmental emergency declared by the UK Parliament is real. The language we use to discuss the greatest challenge facing humanity must reflect the urgency and the importance," University College London Climatology Prof. Mark Maslin said. "The Guardian new editorial guidelines show a clear understanding the world has changed and the zeitgeist generated by Extinction Rebellion, and the climate school strikes."
However, others said the new terms were too value-laden to be truly scientific.
"In my view, 'Climate emergency' and 'climate crisis' are a matter of opinion, not science. They are to do with how people & society view climate change and whether / how to respond. individuals will have personal views on these but they are not scientific terms," Met Office Fellow Prof. Richard Betts said. "'Climate breakdown' seems more like an attempt at a scientific term, but it implies a judgement on what an 'unbroken' climate is. Scientifically I don't think there such a thing though. There are ranges of climate conditions to which humans are adapted, and we will obviously be in big trouble if the climate moves out of those ranges, but that's still not really the same as the climate 'breaking down.'"
It was Betts who inspired The Guardian to replace "global warming" with "global heating."
"Global heating is technically more correct because we are talking about changes in the energy balance of the planet," he said at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland last December, as The Guardian reported.
Betts clarified the difference between the terms for the Science Media Centre.
"I think Global Heating describes the process — changing the Earth's energy balance. It implies attribution," he said. "Global warming (the rise in temperature) is the consequence of global heating. So, both are OK, it depends exactly what you mean."
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They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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