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Should I say “climate crisis” at school?
Should I say “climate crisis” at school?
Dan Castrigano avatar
Written by Dan Castrigano
Updated over a week ago

Language matters. As teachers, we know that word choice is profoundly important in teaching and learning. So when it comes to climate change, what words should we use? Should we say “climate crisis” at school? Would that scare the students?

There are many terms to choose from when discussing climate with your students. You can simply use “climate” or “climate change.” Many people also choose to use the terms “climate crisis,” “climate emergency,” or “climate and ecological emergency.” There are other alarming terms as well, including “climate breakdown,” “climate chaos,” or “climate catastrophe.”

I have found that “climate” and “climate change” are appropriate terms up through 5th grade. Calling anything a “crisis” or “emergency” in elementary school can cause eco-anxiety in young students.

I find using the terms “climate crisis” or “climate emergency” can be appropriate for students beginning in 6th grade. Middle school students have the capacity to understand the scale and severity of the situation once they learn the basic causes and impacts of climate change, including the greenhouse effect, extreme heat, extreme weather events, melting ice, sea level rise, and biodiversity loss.

And if you are unsure about that, Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres used the phrase “climate crisis” in August 2021 when he called the latest (at the time) IPCC report a “code red for humanity.” His stark language continued, saying “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.” Guterres’s statement also includes phrases like “becoming irreversible,” “perilously close,” and “climate catastrophe.”

It is important to speak the truth. Word choice matters. As always, use your best judgment when choosing language to use with your students.

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