Why “climate blight” is a useless phrase

Over the past couple of years the popular imagination has really latched onto the phrase “climate blight,” probably because it sounds fairly serious and really gets a reader’s attention. Just as “climate change” replaced “global warming,” so “climate blight” has taken off in the popular imagination.

Even a simple Google trends search reveals the increase in usage of this phrase, beginning about five years ago.

However many scientists are beginning to question whether “climate blight” is the best phrase to use to describe the collection of conditions now affecting everything from marine technology to agriculture to the economy.

Dr. Andreas Leiter of the University of Bonn, writing in the most recent volume of the European Journal of Plant Pathology, explains it this way.

What we used to call ‘cancer,’ we now recognize, thanks to gene sequencing and other modern advancements, as a collection of individual pathologies like lymphoma, squamous-cell carcinoma, etc. When this realization became part of the oncological mainstream, we were able to begin personalizing treatment with much greater levels of success than when we tried to treat a ‘catch-all.’
So too do we find that ‘climate blight’ is an insufficient term to describe the related complex of pathologies underlying the uptick in new plant diseases of the past decade.

Dr. Leiter goes on to describe an entire menagerie of microorganisms and the conditions they cause, from Halobacterium nigrum (“water soot”) to Bactula eximpferens L (“grey dust”) to Bacillus F (“arctic rust”), which are all categorized, in the popular imagination, in the “climate blight” category.

Arctic Rust (Bacillus F)

And this is the crux of the matter: to address “climate blight,” we need to identify the underlying causes of each of the conditions we associate with it. If we continue lumping all of these conditions into a single category, the fight against “climate blight” will face the same procedural delays within the scientific community that kept us from effectively treating “cancer” for so long.