Climate Change Language

We Need A Better Language for Climate Change – that Acts as a Call to Action


Below is as essay that makes the case for a new six-box classification system for global climate change – two columns and three rows. The core idea here is to move climate change out of a subject for the editorial page and into a subject for daily new – much like how storms, earthquakes and epidemics are covered. We want a language that serves as a “call-to-action”.

The news would inform the world about climate-change related occurrences that have impacts that are “major”, “disaster”, or “global disaster”, and that are either “incidents” (one-time) or “recurring”.

I worked this out with Karen . I am the scribe. Obviously, this is DRAFT 1.

Climate Change Language

CREDIT: Karen Flanders-Reid

Karen and I read today’s NYT article about California wildfires, and found ourselves musing – is the language of climate change right? Why is a “wildfire” just an isolated incident? Why isn’t it part of a larger wildfire classification system (“BREAKING NEWS: THE CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE HAS JUST BEEN RECLASSIFIED AS CATEGORY V.”?

We went on to ask: if climate change is the critical issue of our day, why Why isn’t the wildfire in California an climate change incident – part of a larger climate change classification system?

Why do the NYT editorial writers have to scream – everything is related to climate change!!!! After all, news breaks when a Hurricane is re-classified: “BREAKING NEWS: THE TROPICAL STORM OVER CUBA HAS JUST BEEN RE-CLASSIFIED BY THE WEATHER SERVICE AS A HURRICANE.”

Why doesn’t climate change have its own global classification system? How do we move from the editorial opinion desk to the news desk? How do we move from “The science is being ignored.” To “BREAKING NEWS: THE WILDFIRES IN CALIFORNIA HAVE JUST BEEN RECLASSIFIED BY THE WEATHER SERVICE FROM A CLIMATE-RELATED INCIDENT (CRI) TO A CLIMATE-RELATED DISASTER (CRD).”


To identify a powerful classification system, and the new language it implies, it first would be useful to identify the other global classification systems that exist – especially those with imply a call to action.

There are at least four:

Storms; Classified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), using the Saffir–Simpson scale:

Tropical Depression
Tropical Storm
Hurricane/Cyclone Categories 1-5


Earthquakes: Classified by the US Geological Service, using the Richter Scale:
Moderate (above 8)
Strong (7-7.9)
Major (6-6.9)
Great (5-5.9)

Infectious Disease; Classified by the global centers for disease control, the classes are:

Outbreak (more incident than expected)
Epidemic (spreads rapidly to many people)
Pandemic (spreads rapidly to many people globally)



To Begin

We recommend s simple structure, with easily understood terms, that evolves over time:

Starts with a few terms, and adds terms over time.
Begins classifying major occurrences only, and evolves to classify most occurrences.
Begins classifying evidence-based occurrences only (where science is conclusive that the occurrence is climate-change-related) and evolves as science becomes increasingly conclusive.

Initial Terms

“Occurrence” – a natural phenomena that occurs somewhere

“Climate-Change-Related” (CR) – a shorthand for saying that the preponderance of science indicates that a given occurrence is a contributor to or the result of climate change.

“Incident” (I) – an episodic occurrence (with a beginning, middle, and end)
“Recurring” (R) – an on-going occurrence (no end in sight)

“Major” (M) – an occurrence with sufficient size to merit being classified.
“Disaster” (D) – an occurrence, with major impacts
“Global Disaster” (G) – an occurrence with major global impacts

Initial Classification System:

Climate-related Occurrences shall be identified.

Once identified, they shall be classified in one of six classes:

Either “incidents” or “recurring”.
Either “major”, “disaster”, or “global disaster”

“Climate-Change-Related Event” (CRE) – any occurrence that is deemed to be a contributor to climate-change.

“Climate-Change-Related Outcome” (CRO) – any occurrence that is deemed to be the result of to climate-change.

All major climate-change-related occurrences would be classified as follows:

CR Incident (CRE-I): An episodic event, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
CR Disaster (CRE-D): An episodic event, with global impacts

The Weather Service would be tasked with implementation, and aligning with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and other agencies around the world.