Warming is a 'burning' issue


Global burning:  Although the term is more emotive than scientific, it seems to work. File photo

The idea cropped up during a recent presentation in Beijing by the head of UN OzonAction Rajendra Shende. Ahead of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Shende was outlining the lessons that might be learned from earlier international efforts to halt the thinning of the ozone layer in the atmosphere.

In the 80s, the “hole in the ozone layer” was almost as iconic as Duran Duran and Maggie Thatcher. The world worried and governments responded. International meetings were called, scientists identified the cause (CFCs and other ozone depleting gases), politicians agreed to phase them out, funds and market mechanisms were put in place to achieve this goal. Despite opposition from the CFC industry, which pooh-poohed the scientists’ warnings, the Montreal protocol came into force in 1989.

And shock, horror, it worked. Imagine that — an international agreement that signatories abided by. CFCs have been eradicated. The ozone layer is recovering. And, as an added side-benefit, the restrictions imposed by the Montreal protocol made a bigger impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto protocol.

Shende identified several reasons for success. Among them were high-level political leadership, close cooperation between developed and developing countries and an early, binding commitment to take action that sent a clear signal to the markets and industry. What was also impressive was the importance of finding the right language to drive the message home. “The media made a big contribution. The coining of the term ‘ozone hole’ was amazing. It made people feel there was a hole in the roof of their home,” said Shende. “But it was not a hole at all. It was higher rate of depletion in the Antarctic sky.” Could the same happen with climate talks?

The key phrase we now use is global warming, which sounds bearable, even comfortable, probably a fairly accurate reflection of how most people feel about the 1C temperature change the world has experienced in the past half century. But scientists warn disaster looms above 2C, when the risks of floods, droughts and mass migration increase substantially. If we accept that is beyond our comfort zone, why not define this as “global burning?” I daresay others have suggested this before. Perhaps there are better suggestions: global boiling, global melting? Some might complain that these terms are too emotive or lack precision. But shouldn’t we start using language that conveys the urgency of the issue?

Reducing carbon will be much harder than reducing ozone-depleting gases, but there is as yet no clear commitment by the international community. Agreement on a temperature target would be a start.

Whether that is 2C will be debated. But let's at least get a clearer idea what is at stake.
We are trying to prevent pain and suffering. Why not call it “global burning” (quanqiu biantang) rather than “global warming” (quanqiu biannuan).

The Guardian

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