The Language of Weather

August 8, 2008

I firmly believe that one of the weirdest things you could possibly watch on TV is the news, especially the weather reports. Have you ever noticed that no matter what the forecast is, the meteorologist always seems oddly excited? Even when telling the viewers that the next seven days will not bring the rain that they need or will be dangerously hot, they still deliver it with a smile and optimistic viewpoint. They might even try to cheer us up by expressing hope for things getting better next week. But the worst offense is using language to dress things up by making the situation sound better than it really is.

This is where I think something should change. Language is such an important thing to be conscious about, especially when used to communicate our environmental state. I believe the most frequent misuse of language in weather reports is referring to things as records. We constantly hear things like “we set a new record high of 108 degrees today” and it needs to stop.

The word record almost makes you feel like we accomplished something. Growing up I honestly was excited when we set a new weather record, made me feel like I had lived through an important event in history. I think most of us are quite aware today that setting these records isn’t anything to be proud about. However, the word record has such a positive connotation that it doesn’t accurately convey the situation.

So how do we communicate that these increasingly severe weather events aren’t what we’re looking for? A good first step is changing the language we use to describe them. What if instead of saying that today set a new record high, we said that today we lost our previous high. Using the word lost almost makes you depressed, it might even provoke a competitive response.

Ultimately I think it is hard to get our nation to truly take action and change our behavior because climate change is a rather abstract and difficult thing to comprehend. But the weather is all about our climate and it’s something that people are actually drawn to and can feel. So in many ways weather reports are the perfect setting to remind people of the impact that we have.

Imagine the changes that could take place if we stopped saying, “I’m sick of this weather” and started saying “I’m sick of how we’re screwing up the weather”. The latter of those two is an empowering statement because it points the finger at someone, us. It also sends the message that we have the power and desire to change what frustrates us.

Thankfully we all have good intentions and I firmly believe that with the right motivation those good intentions turn into good actions. So along with changing the language that we use to describe the weather, it would be great if we got tips on how to do our part to help our environment whenever we lose a previous high. Tips like how much your fuel economy drops as your speed increases.

After all, informing people of the road that we are on is important, but that only creates good intentions. Educating people on how they can help might turn those intentions into actions.


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