Letter: When it comes to dealing with climate change, language matters

Image credit: NOAA

The Salt Lake Tribune, in a Sept. 3 Associated Press article, soft-pedaled the catastrophic impacts of global warming, choosing a weak quote about Hurricane Ida’s devastating floodwaters: “experts” said the storm’s power was “slightly exacerbated by climate change.”

We need far stronger language if we hope to face the crisis engulfing us.

How did other media cover this climate change-fueled disaster? The New York Times’ bold-faced subhead pulled no punches: “A huge volume of rain overwhelmed the region’s infrastructure, showing the lethal impact of climate change.”

The Washington Post ran a story titled: “How climate change helped make Hurricane Ida one of Louisiana’s worst.”

In USA Today I had to read to the sixth paragraph to find New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski’s warning: “The disaster should be a wake-up call. Anybody who believes that it’s too expensive to stop climate change … has got to wake up to the fact that we cannot afford not to.”

Then, I looked at Fox News. A single polarizing line noted that President Biden “blamed” Ida’s strength on climate change. On the Fox home page later that day, climate change was not even mentioned in a brief story on the storm.

Language matters. We can only force elected officials to act by repeatedly hammering home the peril we face right now. Every story about forests in flames, about deadly flooding and heat domes, about the aridification of the desert West, must lead with climate change. Every day we fail to take transformative action guarantees a more dismal future for millions of human beings.

We need the power of the press more than ever before. Every writer and media outlet shares in the responsibility to educate and mobilize readers. Every story that fails to foreground climate change as our existential threat makes the world a more dangerous and calamitous place.

Stephen Trimble, Torrey

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