From Oct 2020 Guardian journalists will no longer report on “climate change”, they will write articles about the “climate crisis”. Why? Because the editorial team believe this subtle word change more accurately reflects the science and will help its articles “…inspire hope” for the “systemic and fundamental societal change” the publication believes is needed.
Changing a few words seems like a futile contribution to a crisis, yet the editors have taken the time to carefully review, analyse and report on the new guidelines. Why?
Because there is immense power in the subtly of word choice.
Changing “climate change” to “climate crisis”, for example, increases the urgency. People act in a crisis. A crisis is always bad whereas change often has pros as well as cons.
Replacing “biodiversity” with “wildlife” brings the impacts closer to home. “Wildlife” is more personable – we see “wildlife” outside the windows of our offices and home and on weekend walks. Rarely do we think of these insects, birds and mammals as “biodiversity”.
And describing those that refute the climate science as “deniers” rather than “sceptics” infers that they are wrong. It is often wise to be “sceptical”, denying the truth on the other hand, is rarely considered a positive attribute.
Together with the publication’s new photography guidelines, which put people centre frame, the new style is likely to make readers feel that climate change will affect them and their families, that they need to take action now and spread the word.
It’s an interesting and useful case study. The Guardian’s changes neatly demonstrate the tremendous power in the nuances of language.
It also shows why skilled PR professionals and copywriters are so important to businesses. Carefully crafted copy conveys so much more than the overt marketing message your conscious observes; it infers business’ values and product positioning, forms associations as well as persuading and enticing readers to take action.