The language of climate change at the bayshore

My work involves speaking with a wide range of people about observations in nature. I am clear that this is the largest issue affecting our lives, our community’s future and our society but this ‘heavy stuff’ is of course not the message of day-to-day communications. More likely, I get questions like “Why are the fish coming in later?” or “Why can’t I get a building permit?” These are not simple topics to discuss. Like many others in a similar position, I struggle to find the right words to use to communicate the extent of what I observe on a day-to-day basis here at the bayshore. I’ve had more formal training is science in general, and climate science in particular, than most people. Some call it indoctrination. I call it command of facts. But that’s not necessarily an advantage when it comes to leadership. A leader must engage a wide community group base but how is this possible on the issue of climate?

When I think about local media coverage like last June’s front page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer where I was one of several intelligent, educated and well-informed business owners (I know them all pretty well since this is such a small community) who deal with climate issues on a day-to-day basis at the core of their businesses. The writer chose to give more print and apparently did not make any attempt to fact check the statements of the local mayor who said “There is no sea-level rise, and it’s a bunch of hogwash”. The mayor admits that he has no training in science or climate issues. Yet his statement as given more prominence that the considerable better-informed sources. Why would a major newspaper allow this? Would they have printed the story the same if the mayor said the earth is flat or that the planet was created 5,000 years ago? If not, then what possible basis are we using to justify the public expression of these unchallenged false climate statements? This is just one example. I am also aware of a local book writer whose work in progress seems to give credence to climate deniers.

I know that certain words trigger an angry response, can cause our businesses to lose customers and may even cause us to lose government infrastructure funding. I’ve been physically assaulted and verbally threatened for my talk about climate-related issues. Yet I’ve been clear that climate denial is not a logically or legally defensible position. In fact I would be willing to be a witness for the prosecution in future cases that challenge climate change deniers.

In our local market dominated by trumpist thinking, even mention of the term “climate change” in print sets off angry responses. Other words like “strategic retreat”, “inundation”, “sea level rise”, “fact”, and even “science” itself are controversial.

So how then do I talk about the things I see and the things I can’t explain without an understanding of climate issues? It his latest book Thomas Friedman1 offers some suggestions from his conversations with Greenlanders:

“Just a few years ago,… but then something changed…”

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before…”

“Well, usually, but now I don’t know anymore…”

“We haven’t seen something like that since…”

That’s all climate-speak—“surpassing,” “highest,” “record,” “broken,” “biggest,” “longest.”

The fact is that the impact of climate change, acidification, sea level rise and warming temperatures affect me and my industry more than anything else. It would be nice to be able to talk about it.


1Friedman, Thomas L.. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (p. 162). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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