As a former senior member of the Climate Department of the Environment Agency I can reveal the reason behind the renaming of drought and the process we followed in choosing a new name. Environmental Stress caused by Rainfall Deficit - ESRD.
The move away from drought was started when Environment Minister Caroline Spelman became disturbed by the bad publicity surrounding the current drought and hosepipe bans in the south and east of England. Holding her hands over her ears and shouting 'blah blah blah' when drought was mentioned on TV was not making the problem go away.
At her request I was seconded to set up a team to tackle the problem. It was not a simple problem. Even experts as reliable as Michael Fish could not promise to do anything about the weather.
We played about with a few new acronyms and euphemisms without much success.
I offered Acute Rain Shortage Emergency but this came bottom of our list.
Fortunately I had done a module about marketing in Uni. I proposed to just rename drought while at the same time giving the new name better publicity. As my team had no other ideas we adopted this approach. We set about re-branding drought. If only we could link drought to some kind of affliction that people know we can't really do anything about then the general public might accept drought and stop whining.
We brainstormed. Inevitable bad things we couldn't do much about were listed: Death, Terminal illness, The end of the world, Corruption, Crime. Not a very promising list.
Then it struck me, like a bolt of lightning. STRESS! The back pain of the brain. One of the most used excuses in all walks of life. An excuse that everyone knows we can't really deny. One we can't do anything about! So STRESS was in!
Now that we were up and running the rest followed quickly. What else could we attach to the name that nobody was keen on but everybody knew we couldn't do much about. Again, like a sudden squall it hit me, the DEFICIT! Nobody likes it, nobody can fix it without upsetting somebody and we all know deep down there is not much we can do about it.
I encouraged the team. All we needed were a couple of positive words to offset the nasty ones and we are home and dry. The environment was a good word. Everybody cares about it, or at least wouldn't dare speak out against it. What would everyone want if there was a drought? Rainfall.
Having come up with the words we passed on our report to the civil service department responsible for acronym construction an validation who did a brilliant job in producing the new snappy name.
ESRD – Environmental Stress (caused by) Rainfall Deficiency.
This ticked all the boxes. Sympathy not scorn - The poor old environment is being stressed by a shortage of something the government can't control. Four letter acronym. A phrase that slips off the tongue. Looks good in departmental press releases - “Due to the recent prolonged ESRD ...” “ESRD, possibly caused by global warming...”
I must record my thanks to my team for giving me the full credit I deserve for this achievement.
I have now been assigned as a special advisor to the Culture Secretary to work on a new project which has something to do with credibility, integrity, honesty and other troublesome human qualities that are getting in the way of his preferred way of operating.