Is “Global Climate Disruption” More Pressing than “Global Warming?”

Does the term “global climate disruption” sound like a call to action? Does it carry any more urgency than the benign “global warming?” To many conservative-leaning media outlets “global climate disruption” represents a new approach by the White House to spin the climate crisis after the climate-energy bill stalled in the Senate earlier this year.

Earlier this month John P. Holdren, a top White House science adviser, gave a speech in Oslo in which he said the term global warming was a “dangerous misnomer” because it suggested that effects of greenhouse gases would be uniform around the world and “quite possibly benign.” Instead he said a better term would be “global climate disruption.”

Fox News, the Drudge Report and other conservative bloggers, jumped on the speech as a sign that the White House, which backed the energy legislation, was changing its tactics.

“They had their shot at ‘cap and trade,’ carbon taxing and enslaving the economy to their arcane theories, but they came up short,” the Washington Times wrote in an editorial. “Now they hope to win an argument through fear that they couldn’t carry by reason.”

A spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said the comments did not reflect any attempt to rebrand global warming.

But maybe it should. Is there a difference between “global warming” and “global climate disruption?” Neither sounds all that alarming. Putting aside the many independent studies that talk about the impact of carbon emissions into the atmosphere or surveys such as the one released in 2007 by the non-partisan Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University  in which more than eight out of ten American climate scientists believe that human activity contributes to global warming, consider some other items of interest:

Germany has set a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in that country by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Why would the German government do that if not concerned about a problem?

In early August China, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, said it was ordering more than 2,000 energy-intensive factories closed by the end of September as it tries to meet its energy efficiency goals. The economy is growing in China, as is the middle class. The Communist government is taking steps to offset the environmental impact.

High-profile corporations such as General Electric and IBM have moved aggressively into the development of alternative energy sources and the design of more efficient processes such as supply chains. They see governments and corporations around the world responding to climate change.

Many major U.S. corporations, state and local governments, colleges and universities across the country are measuring their environmental impact and taking steps to reduce it.

Would the smart people who work in those governments, companies and colleges waste time and resources if they thought the climate crisis was a hoax? And what would be the reason that scientists from around the world would conspire to perpetrate such a hoax?

The fact that climate change deniers pounced on a rewording in terminology by a scientist connected to the White House demonstrates their diligence in fighting the obvious and preserving the turf for vested interests. Yet if the matter of climate change is ever going to be elevated to the level of urgency where it belongs, it will require stronger language from top than “global climate disruption.”