Can words wake us up?

Will ‘global boiling’ be the phrase that sparks real action on climate change? Here Mike Reed, ECD of Reed Words, examines the role of language in inspiring meaningful action

UN Secretary-General António Gutteres recently announced that the “era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived”. The situation is, as he put it more straightforwardly, “terrifying”.

It is – but we’re not behaving as if we’re terrified. In part, this is down to the awful paradox of climate change: it’s a screamingly urgent crisis that’s arrived slowly, and which even now maybe doesn’t seem so bad – at least, not to those in the relatively comfortable global north, where most of the power is.

Even wildfires chasing tourists out of Greek hotels, or the air turning toxic orange in New York City, still have a freakish aspect: awful for those affected, but broadly aberrant and bearable – like an earthquake or tornado.

The Secretary-General’s somewhat strained language of “global boiling” is just the latest attempt to find language that might pierce this complacency and inspire real action. It reminded me of this recent piece by Jonathan Freedland, about the importance (or possibly impotence) of language in times like these.