It’s the snow’s fault. Everything’s the snow’s fault: all errors, omissions, backsliding, procrastinating, overeating, bad hair, and bad tempers. I’m blaming it all on the snow until the last crunchy crystals sublime and leave nothing but black smudges behind. I guess the fact that few heaps still remain is livin’ proof that global warming is a hoax, because if it were real the snow would have melted by now. I just can’t wait until the big “I told you so” we all know is coming…
But seriously, it really does prove that naming is power, and that every system—or debate—is highly sensitive to initial conditions. Had the term “climate change” or “climate instability” been the initial description we might have a different discussion. Instead, attempts to redirect things with new names tend to rile up the doubters and serve as evidence of our slippery and untrustworthy natures.
“Warming” is, unfortunately, a word with a host of good and comforting associations. Why, it’s almost onomatopoetic. Say it slowly…waaaarrrming…with rounded lips and just a hint of smile on the “ing.” Now, try “climate instability” with its short vowels and clipped consonants. I prefer that one to “climate change,” because depending on one’s usual situation, change can look pretty good. Instability though, that’s a different story. Who doesn’t like a little warming? Heck, it’s warming up out there (I TOLD you so!) right now and everyone looks so happy about it, even if the flip-flop wearers are pushing it just a wee bit. Maybe “global broiling” or “pan roasting” would get the message across, but in fact it is instability and abnormality that we should fear.
Nuclear winter. Now that was a chilling—literally and metaphorically—phrase. An endless winter brought about by our own actions was probably one of the most frightening scenarios put in front of the public in the dark waning years of Cold War. In a short essay in 1983 Carl Sagan culled the facts from a scientific paper for which he was one of the co-authors, "Global Atmospheric Consequences of Nuclear War," and laid them out in a way the public could grasp. His goal of course was action, not only description and prediction. In words that could apply just as easily to the present climate change tempest, Sagan asks:
Conceivably, we have left something important out of our analysis, and the effects are more modest than we calculate. On the other hand, it is also possible-and, from previous experience, even likely, that there are further adverse effects that no one has yet been wise enough to recognize. With billions of lives at stake, where does conservatism lie in assuming that the results will be better than we calculate, or worse?