I seek the truth wherever it lies.
As a climate activist of the literary kind, I am very concerned about how things look on the printed page. In fact, I have been lobbying editors at major English-language newspapers and magazines for the past ten years to start capitalizing the word ”Earth” when reporting on climate change issues, be it in TIME magazine or the New York Times. In 2019, the campaign is gaining steam. So far, they aren’t listening to me. But that’s about to change I think. Here’s why.
In this age of famous climate activists Greta Thunberg and Bill McKibben, I recently contacted TIME editors Edward Felsenthal and Ben Goldberger about the optics of lowercasing ”earth.”
Ed was busy, but Ben replied: “I will be out of the office this month and slower to respond to messages. Please contact managing editor Ratu Kamlani for any urgent questions about TIME magazine, and editor Sam Jacobs for any other pressing TIME matters.”
I did. I wrote to Ms Kamlani, the managing editor at Time, and she was kind enough to reply by email: “Hi Dan, what do you need?”
I replied: “Hi, Ratu, thanks for your note. I am longtime TIME reader since my college days in 1967 onward, and now am now a climate change blogger. What I want to know is this: Does TIME magazine have a house style on spelling the word “Earth” in climate change news stories in terms of capping it as Earth rather than lowercasing it as “earth”? I have recently seen TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal lowercase it in his notes to readers at the front of the magazine, but I also saw Jane Goodall capitalize it in a quote in TIME’s Asia print edition. So what is TIME’s editorial policy?”
I added: “Could you please direct me to the person who handles house style inquiries? I just want to know what’s up with ”earth” or ”Earth,” because I see both being used in every issue of TIME and the policy does not seem to be consistent throughout the magazine. Some sections lowercase, other sections uppercase it. Who can I ask about this? As a climate activist, and for the sake of optics, I favor ”Earth” but I can live with ”earth” if that is your stated policy there in New York. I just want to know.”
A few days later, Ms Kamlani sent me an email, writing: “Hi Dan, here you go: We only cap the word Earth when we’re talking about astronomy and only when another planet is mentioned: For example, our house style guide says: ‘Capitalize earth only when used in conjunction with names of other celestial bodies. Subsequent uses of earth (not the earth) in the same story should also be capitalized. Always lowercase earth when it’s preceded by the. (If it’s used in conjunction with other capitalized astronomical bodies, delete the and capitalize). ‘Sun’ and ‘moon’ are always lowercase. For example: ‘Eventually, great sailships will ply the trade routes between Earth, the moon and Mars, and even fly to the stars. The ships will be launched by rocket into Earth orbit’.”
But she told me that TIME also says this in its house style guide: “The space station will orbit the earth.”
Here’s what I said to Ratu in reply to her good letter:
”Thanks, Ratu. That’s the house style at the New York Times, too. And it makes sense, for 1953 but not in 2019. I appreciate your taking the time to help me on this. I’m a climate activist of the literary kind, and I feel that in 2019 the English-language media worldwide should start capping ‘Earth’ as a show of respect for our fragile planet which is in the midst of a ‘climate emergency,’ in the words of Greta Thunberg. I’ve started a national lobbying campaign with the hashtag #CapitalizeEarth and I’ve enlisted Greta and other outspoken climate activists in my campaign. You will be hearing from them soon.”
I added: “I realize I can’t fight the powers that be on this, but I plan to raise this ‘optics’ issue with every major newspaper and magazine in the English-speaking world. I realize it’s a losing battle, of course, but that’s what street fighters are for. Give me another 20 years.”
If readers here would like to put in their two cents into the uppercase lowercase debate for the word “Earth” in print media articles related to climate change issues, feel free to write a letter to editor at either TIME (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the New York Times (email@example.com).
I am sure editors there will be happy to get feedback on this from readers around the world. It’s no longer 1953 and the old, out-dated house style guides at both publications need to change. It’s 2019 and the planet is in big trouble in terms of runaway climate change impact events.
One thing newspaper and magazine editors can do for their readers is to start capitalizing the word “Earth” and revise their ancient house style guides formulated in the 1950s.