word fight: global warming v. climate change

The names of things are important. Sometimes people come up with two different terms to describe the same thing and the terms rattle around in your head, biting and scratching at each other’s eyes, until one of them defeats the other and takes full control of your brain.

There is this thing happening to the planet. People are burning a lot of fuel, which is changing the atmosphere, which is driving the temperature up, which could eventually make Earth an unfriendly place for humans. Crops may fail, societies may collapse, etc. If we don’t stop burning so much fuel, this thing — which we call either “global warming” or “climate change” — is going to get worse, probably a lot worse, probably very fast.

Neither of these terms really conveys the urgency of the situation. “Global warming” sounds cozy, like a nice cup of hot cocoa in the dead of winter. “Climate change” has the opposite problem: It sounds cold and clinical. “Change from what into what? Maybe the new climate will be better!” The new climate will not be better.

But what would we suggest instead? Global clusterfuck? Climate disaster? No, those aren’t right either.

Coming up with a short name for a complicated thing is not easy to do, even when your goal is to be accurate. That’s one reason to pay attention to names. Another is that the people who name things aren’t always trying to be accurate.

extremist

An extremist is a person — usually a violent one, but not necessarily — who takes an idea really really far (from where you take the same idea).

Nobody ever mentions the second part — that extremists are extreme only relative to what you think and do — but it’s a necessary consequence of the definition of the word. “Extreme” is meaningless unless you have something to compare it to, and in the case of “extremists,” what you’re comparing them to is yourself.

Would I do this thing? Would anyone I like do this thing? What about people I don’t like, but might dislike less than I dislike people who do this thing? No? None of us? Good. Then let’s do something about those extremists.

toxin

A toxin is something that can kill you or make you very sick or stop your cells from working the way they’re supposed to. It’s toxic. That’s why they call it a toxin. Some examples of toxins are: botulinum, diphtheria, tetanospasmin, and anthrax.

Here’s something people say about toxins: “They are building up in your body and the only way to get rid of them is to drink lemonade with cayenne pepper in it! Or visit a sauna! Or stop eating wheat!” This is a scary thing to say.

When people say scary things about your body, it can be tempting to do whatever they tell you to do, just in case. But next time someone offers to help you flush toxins out of your system, I want you to imagine a doctor rushing into an emergency room to help a patient who has just inhaled six or seven pounds of anthrax powder. “Quick!” yells the imaginary doctor. “Get this man some red-pepper lemonade!”

Or: Ask your friend which toxins are building up in your body. Just ask him or her to name a few. See what happens.

premium

Premium means really good. Great. The best.

A premium is a reward (usually cash) for a job well done.

It is also what insurance companies call the money you pay them every month. That’s how much they like getting your money (and how good they feel about what they’re doing with it).