March 9th, 2010

What’s Better? Climate Change OR Climate Disruption


A couple years ago global warming was the hot term to describe how our earth atmosphere was getting filled up with too much CO2.

Then, the liberals/progressive or whatever they want to be called thought that  global warming might be the incorrect term, because although the temperature of the earth on average is increasing, in some places the average temperature might decrease. And to describe an ecosystem where some places have increasing temperature and other decreasing have decreasing temperature, ‘change’ is a more accurate term.

I can see why they did they did this. They wanted to be more correct and also show that this issue affects all people and in different ways.

The problem is that the word ‘change’ does not evoke strong emotions. Here, lets do a test. When you hear the world ‘change’ what imagery comes to your mind? I think of change, as in coins, people growing older, and other inert things. In my mind, it’s not really a positive or a negative thing, its just something neutral, not to be afraid of. I would argue when most people hear the word ‘change’ after ‘climate’ they don’t think the world is ending. Do you?

The reason this is important is we all know that people actions in reaction to fear can by strong and quick.

No, I’m not part of any political party. However, republicans have traditionally been good at the branding and framing of issues and democrats have not. This is yet another example of this. Instead of climate change it should be called climate disruption. In my mind, disruption makes me scared. I think of someone breaking into my house, or getting robbed, or a perfectly working engine that breaks down. To me, it brings up imagery of a system that used to work well that broken and needs to be fixed ASAP.

I’ve laid out my arguments and why I now use the word ‘climate disruption’ when talking about ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’.

What do you think will be more effective to change peoples actions: climate change or climate disruption?

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Chris Williams

About Chris Williams

Chris Williams is the editor of Green Light Distrikt and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring . He has experience in business development, prototyping and new venture research with a focus on geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. Chris is an IGSHPA accredited geothermal installer and NABCEP certified solar installer. Chris is focused on solving customer facing issues in the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and products. Chris has installed over 300kW of solar and tens of geothermal systems. He's invented the PV Pal , developed many trainings at HeatSpring, publishes the NABCEP Study Guide , the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech and has done due diligence research for Urgent VC . Feel free to connect with him @topherwiliams , on Linkedin , or through email about new ventures, collaborating, writing, research or whatever is on your mind.

  • steve

    So you think that we should scare people into action? Do we see people making their best decisions when they are afraid? I think you are still looking for a “current-system” solution to the “problem” of climate change/disruption. The problem is not climate change. Climate change is the solution. The problem is too many people living unsustainably. There will never be a top-down, global solution. The world is not ending. The human race is ending. The world still has several billion years to go until the sun swells and engulfs it. The human race, however, is going to change profoundly. There is no going back. There is only going forward. Adapt, migrate or perish are the choices.

  • Chris Williams

    Steve, thank you for your comment. You’ve brought up so many points I don’t know if I have time to get to all of them!

    “so you think that we should scare people into action” I guess, I do. The one thing I learned from our reaction to Haiti is that we need to understand how people react and frame our messages accordingly and not try to change how people think ( I think that from Haiti most people thought ‘we need to make people more reactive instead of proactive’ which is true but too hard. What I learned is that we need to realize that people are reactive and then frame issues so that they can react to something. What do you think?

    And many on the right would say, is there really a problem with species going extinct? In 10 million years humans will only be a blip. However, the difference between us and say ants are, is that we have emotions. It’s painful for us to think about other humans dying, whereas, as far as we can tell ants and other animals don’t seem to care too much.

  • steve

    People used to be proactive and emotionless. We have devolved to the state we are in now largely because of greed and stupidity and a desire to view ourselves as somehow separate from and better than the rest of creation.

    The difference between us and ants is that ants work together to accomplish things within the paradigm of the living matrix, whereas we humans compete against each other to amass wealth and resources beyond our needs and largely disregard the impact that this behavior has on the rest of the world.

    And when an anteater comes along and wipes out the colony, ants don’t respond by dropping bombs on all the anteaters in the world.

    Humans are the only species on the planet that think they are not subject to the laws of nature. We’ll see how our emotions and pain avoidance strategies work when there in no more oxygen left to breathe.

  • Eddie

    You may have seen the recent exchange between Thomas Friedman and Joseph Romm over the correct naming. I guess it’s difficult to name emergent phenomena. Romm sums up his position: “Frankly, I don’t care what term you use as long as you talk about what’s happening and the science behind it.” Makes sense to me.

    And I guess that’s the whole point of this blog and the work you’re doing. Keep it up. I’ll be following your work.

  • Chris Williams


    Thank you for your comment. On some level I agree about your statement.

    But we should remember that what is important is what people hear, NOT what we say. I’ve started to realize more and more that we need to be more thoughtful in framing the issue to our advantage and can’t really on the fact that it is politically correct and backed by science and that that alone will be good enough and people will figure out the rest.


  • Brian Hayden

    I attended the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Tuesday night public forum before the Building Energy show last week. The topic was climate change and my favorite quote from the evening was: “Change happens when present circumstances are no longer acceptable.”

    I’m not sure who gets the credit for the original statement, but it was John Abrams of South Mountain Company who said it on Tuesday. And I think it really gets to the heart of the matter. Different people have different definitions of ‘unacceptable’, and most people think things are OK the way they are.

  • Chris Williams

    I completely agree. People hate change, but anyone will change if their current situation stinks!

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