Episode 4, Series 1: The language of climate change

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In episode four of the EarthRights podcast, Mel is interviewing Pippa about her dissertation, where she investigated the metaphors used when politicians are talking about the climate crisis. 

Pippa chose to focus on Obama’s speech from the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. To begin with, Pippa explains why she made this decision and why this is a landmark speech when it comes to the climate movement. 

It is easy to think of metaphors as a purely rhetorical device used in poetry or creative writing, but in fact, metaphors are pervasive throughout the English Language. Many of our daily expressions are metaphorical in nature, we just might not realise it at first, for example, ‘you’re in high spirits’ is a realisation of the metaphor – happy is up and sad is down. 

Due to their pervasive nature, metaphors can be extremely important in framing the way we look at a social issue, and a growing body of research has suggested that metaphors not only influence thought but they can also influence action.  

So when it comes to the climate crisis, one of the biggest and most complex issues that mankind has ever faced, looking at how politicians frame and discuss this issue is vitally important in our understanding of it. 

Throughout this episode, Pippa goes into detail about the specific types of metaphors used in Obama’s speech, but the fundamental point Pippa makes is that the language we use when talking about a social issue is vitally important; it can create action, invoke hope and also help us to realise the severity of the issue at hand. 

In May 2019, the Guardian recognised the importance of this and endeavored to use the terms ‘climate emergency’ or ‘climate crisis’ instead of ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming.’

Katherine Viner, editor-in-chief, said: “We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

EarthRights also joins the Guardian in this pledge, as we explained in this podcast episode, the language we choose to use is vitally important – it has the potential to invoke action.