By Mo Schriner
with contributions by e-news editor Jerry Striegel

We are in a climate crisis. Those words more accurately describe the catastrophe for the earth’s environment – and for humanity – than the phrase “climate change,” which “sounds rather passive and gentle.”

That was the rationale from The Guardian editor-in-chief on May 17 in directing the news staff to use the terms “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” instead of climate change, reports NiemanLab.

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The news media are making their own headlines in the news, as the environmental movement is advocating for news media to provide more coverage and to use more accurate language in their reporting on the climate crisis. Columbia University’s journalism school recently hosted the #CoveringClimateNow conference, which is organizing a September week of climate-related stories in media outlets across the nation.

A petition for major TV news outlets to use “climate crisis” and cover it as a crisis has been launched by, the international organization of which MN350 is part of, along with Public Citizen, The Climate Reality Project, Food and Water Watch, Climate Hawks Vote, The Climate Mobilization, Years of Living Dangerously, Hip Hop Caucus, Friends of the Earth, Progressive Democrats of America and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Call it a Climate Crisis Campaign notes that in 2018, only 3.5 percent of national news segments that mentioned climate change referred to it as a crisis or emergency.

Sign the petition to national TV news media here.

There is physiological science for transitioning  from “climate change” to “climate crisis,” explains Kate Yoder in her recent Grist column. SPARK Neuro conducted testing with people from a range of political views, measuring their brain activity and sweaty palms as well as tracking their facial expressions. The phrases “global warming” and “climate change” had the lowest levels of audience engagement and attention of any of the terms tested. “Climate crisis” had a 60 percent higher emotional response.

The new language guides for The Guardian also include the use of the terms “climate science denier” or “climate denier” rather than “climate skeptic” to reflect the overwhelming consensus on the climate crisis within the scientific community.  Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment.

Updating Lessons on Climate Literacy

The words used to describe the climate crisis aren’t the only aspect of communicating on the environment that need updating. Online educational materials about what’s happening to the climate are “actually junk,” according to this Associated Press report.  The AP cited findings of the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, which found in its review of over 30,000 free online resources for educators that only 700 resources provided materials that were scientifically and technically sound. The research is funded through grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The project is now syndicated to NOAA’s portal.

A climate education coordinator at NOAA told the AP that a lot of the information being provided free to educators is “broken, old, misleading.”  The review found materials produced by climate change deniers, the oil industry, including k-12 lesson plans promoted by ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell.

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One sixth-grad teacher attended a training session by the Oklahoma Energy Resource Bureau. She kept the $50 stipend and free science equipment, but tossed lesson plans that featured “Petro Pete,” a character that had nightmares about all the petroleum-made products that would be missing from his life, from his toothbrush to his school bus, if there were no more petroleum. The teacher called the Petro Pete lessons “borderline propaganda.”

One savvy science teacher is using the climate literacy lessons she provides to her class to discuss how to identify misinformation, such as a petition dismissing the dangers of global warming signed by more than 30,000 “scientists.”

Fossil Fuel Propaganda

Lesson plans on climate are one of many places the fossil fuel industry has been promoting the propaganda of climate deniers. The bankruptcy filings of a Wyoming-based coal mining corporation disclosed contributions to conservative advocacy groups and think tanks paid to attack science on the climate crisis. Lee Fang’s report on The Intercept highlighted a number of groups that Cloud Peak Energy was funding, including Americans for Prosperity, a political activist organization of the Koch brothers to oppose Democratic politicians and climate regulations.

Bankruptcy filings provide “a rare window into secret political donations,” writes Lee Fang. Although fossil fuel propaganda secrets have been found in other ways. The coal company’s approach to positioning on climate deniers was revealed when, in 2016, an environmentalist stumbled upon a presentation by the VP of government and public affairs for Cloud Peak Energy, titled “Survival Is Victory: Lessons From The Tobacco Wars.”  The VP was a former exec from Phillip Morris and was arguing the coal industry emulate the tactics of Big Tobacco, which spent decades deceiving the public over claims tobacco was a health hazard.

Extinction Instead of Climate Crisis

For Osita Nwanevu, staff writer at The New Yorker, the words “extinction” and “death” are more accurate in shaping the narrative for the environmental degradation of our climate.  In his column, “A New Generation of Activists Confronts the Extinction Crisis,” Nwanevu highlights a wave of scientists, officials, journalists and activists who are speaking more frankly than ever before about the destruction of our planet and what it means for human survival.

He quotes Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash, “It’s not about animals somewhere off in the Artic. It’s about the life that we lead, and whether we can keep leading it, and the chaos and violence that could ensue if we don’t do something immediately.”

Partisan politics is a critical barrier in the movement, Nwanevu notes. The assessment from one Democratic U.S. senator is that there is no issue with a bigger divide between Democrats and Republicans than on climate and pollution. “Do we spend our time continuing to try to convince Republicans, or do we spend our time going and winning elections? I wish we could rely on the former, but I suspect the latter is increasingly our only option,” says Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.

Spreading the Climate Crisis Message

Activists at MN350 are taking action to spread the word on the climate crisis. Letters to the editor are one activity achieving success, as this letter in the Star Tribune by Rosemary Schwedes of Edina demonstrates.

In her letter, headlined “As corporations wake up to the danger, politicians should, too,” Schwedes reinforces the Star Tribune Editorial board’s advocacy for the State of Minnesota to step up its activities to combat the climate crisis, just as Minnesota corporations have been doing.

“We can only hope that the intelligence and good sense displayed by corporations in Minnesota and elsewhere will influence politicians who continue to tie their futures and the future of the earth to oil and coal interests…”