Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Phenomenon That Dare Not Speak Its Name When Did 'Climate Change' and 'Global Warming' Become 'Clean Energy'?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Phenomenon That Dare Not Speak Its Name When Did 'Climate Change' and 'Global Warming' Become 'Clean Energy'?

Article excerpt

What happened to "climate change" and "global warming"?

The Earth is still getting hotter, but those terms have nearly disappeared from political vocabulary. Instead, they have been replaced by less charged and more consumer-friendly expressions for the warming planet.

President Barack Obama's State of the Union address was a prime example of this shift. The president said "climate change" just once -- compared with zero mentions in the 2011 address and two in 2010. When he did utter the phrase, it was merely to acknowledge the polarized atmosphere in Washington, saying, "The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change."

By contrast, Mr. Obama used the terms "energy" and "clean energy" nearly two dozen times.

That tally reflects a broader change in how the president talks about the planet. A recent Brown University study looked specifically at the Obama administration's language and found that mentions of "climate change" have been replaced by calls for "clean energy" and "energy independence."

Graciela Kincaid, a co-author of the study, wrote: "The phrases 'climate change' and 'global warming' have become all but taboo on Capitol Hill. These terms are stunningly absent from the political arena."

In 2009, the Obama administration purposefully began to refer to greenhouse gas emissions as "carbon pollution" and "heat-trapping emissions." This change is evident in statements from top officials such as White House science adviser John Holdren, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Ms. Lubchenco told a reporter that the choice of those terms "is intended to make what's happening more understandable and more accessible to non-technical audiences."

These choices are also reflected in news coverage around the world. My colleague Maria Mansfield and I monitor 50 major newspapers in 20 countries, and we documented that explicit mentions of "climate change" and "global warming" dropped by more than a third from 2010 to 2011.

There is power in how language is deployed, and people setting policy agendas know this well. In 2002, Republican political strategist Frank Luntz issued a widely cited memo advising that the Bush administration should shift its rhetoric on the climate. …

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