Why we’re adopting ‘climate crisis’ and ‘climate emergency’ to describe our changing climate

TL;DR: Because that’s what it is.

A big reason why many members of the Antenna Group team, including myself, choose to work here is our abiding belief that how we communicate matters. We devote our professional lives to telling stories about the companies and people who are solving climate, environmental and economic problems with new and exciting technologies. When we do our jobs well, those companies get the attention, investors and customers they need to maximize their positive impact and create a more sustainable future for both humanity and the planet.

So what does that mean for the biggest problem in the world right now—arguably the biggest in human history—climate change? Some three decades after scientists first articulated the phenomenon of human-induced climate change, it means that it’s time to start calling this ongoing reality what it is: a full-blown crisis. 

The evidence has never been clearer that we have changed our climate and are currently feeling the negative impacts of that change; all signs point to those impacts intensifying as time goes on. The report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last November described, in the words of the New York Times, “a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.” If that’s not a crisis, what is?

Such powerful evidence and dire predictions based on solid science compel us as professional communicators to shift our language to match the day-to-day reality. That’s why, from this point forward, Antenna Group will use climate emergency and climate crisis to refer to the current state of our changing climate. We adopt this new language in concert with The Guardian and other media outlets and organizations that we respect and admire.

While climate change remains an accurate descriptor, it falls short of conveying the urgency of the situation for humankind. A change can be a good thing or a bad thing; it can be big or small. “I’ve changed a lot since high school.” Ok good, you’re more mature and responsible than when you were a teenager. In contrast, crisis and emergency are less ambiguous: they send an unmistakable signal that something terrible is happening and that there is an urgent need to address it. These terms also correctly imply that lack of action will have catastrophic consequences.

That urgent need for action is another important factor in our adoption of this terminology. With so much at stake, all of the companies, governments, nonprofit organizations and individuals working on solutions to the climate crisis (to both mitigate and adapt to its impacts) deserve recognition for embracing humanity’s biggest challenge, often taking personal and professional risks in the process. By accurately describing the challenge as a crisis or emergency, we make clear that the actors who are solving these problems are benefiting us all and deserve attention and support from investors, customers and the general public.

As Antenna Group adopts this new language, we will be advising our clients to do so as well. At the same time, we understand that this new and stronger language won’t work for every client or in every circumstance. With this in mind, we will of course defer to their preferences.

Sometimes the way we define a problem can make a big difference in how and how fast we solve it. Words can be the difference between a coordinated global effort and a weak patchwork of valiant but fragmented attempts at solutions. We’re not sure if language can be a difference-maker in solving the climate crisis, but as professional communicators committed to environmental and climate action, we’re standing with the people and organizations leading the effort to find out.

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