Impartial, unbiased, objective – this is how we would like to see news coverage. It should then be up to us to make our own judgment. However, despite strict editorial standards, even choosing what is worthy of news coverage can never be completely objective. Seemingly neutral terms shape the framework of interpretation in which we see events. This is what communication science calls “framing”.
Climate crisis – an accurate description
The Guardian, a British newspaper, believes that we should be changing the choice of words and thus the framework of interpretation on one of the most important topics of our time: In its recently updated style guide, it recommends no longer using the term “climate change”. Instead, the preferred terms are “climate crisis” or “climate emergency” as they describe the situation much better. “Global heating” is considered more accurate than “global warming” and “climate sceptics” should rather be called “climate science deniers”. The new terms are used to ensure that the paper is “scientifically precise”.
Has the polar bear’s life changed?
“Bento”, a format of the German news website “Spiegel Online”, conducted an interview with the linguist Elisabeth Wehling on this topic. She said: “When I look at how a polar bear lives today compared with 20 years ago, hardly anyone would say, ‘The life of the polar bear has changed.’ The quote clearly shows what she’s getting at: While the word change is not wrong, it is “a very neutral interpretation of what is happening at the moment. And it describes a process without implying that human beings contribute to this change from the outside.”
Warming Stripes for all of USA from 1895-2018
On showyourstripes.info, climate scientist Ed Hawkins shows with his “warming strips” how average temperatures have changed worldwide since more than the last 100 years. Each strip stands for one year, the color indicates the deviation from the average temperature 1971-2000. More blue means colder than average, more red means warmer. The picture shows the warming stripes for USA from 1895-2018; on showyourstripes.info there are data for each country.
Hot days in Alaska
If you don’t care much about polar bears, you might be more impressed by learning in this article in the New York Times how the lives of people in Alaska have already changed due to higher temperatures: The frozen rivers in Alaska are an important – and often the only – supply line for remote settlements. In a way, they are highways through the wilderness. But by 2019, the ice had already thawed in March instead of May, and for weeks it was 20 degrees warmer than usual for the season. And in May 2019, more carbon dioxide was measured in the atmosphere than ever before since modern records began.
The testing industry and how to deal with the climate crisis
What does all this mean for the communications department at TÜV Rheinland, where I work? Firstly, that we need to discuss internally how we write or talk about the climate crisis. For us as a testing company and for our industry as a whole, this topic is becoming increasingly important. This was confirmed just recently in an exciting study by the industry association TIC Council: According to the survey conducted among decision-makers from companies around the world, testing companies in particular are called upon to support business in dealing with the climate crisis. And secondly, it means that in everyday communication we have to repeatedly check seemingly neutral terms to see whether they still describe what we actually want to express with them. Because all those who communicate shape the framework of interpretation and thus the way we think.