Don’t know your Greta from your Green New Deal? Your eco-fascism from your eco-angst? With the climate emergency finally getting the global attention it deserves, now comes a whole host of new terms to understand. Unpicking it all can be a serious headache. So: welcome to your easy-read, zero-effort, zero-emissions climate crisis glossary. (This is a carbon-neutral feature. As long as you don’t print it out to read it.)
Climate Change: OK, so you may feel you’re totally up to speed on this one. It’s the shift in global climate patterns attributed to the increase in carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels that will, eventually, destroy us all. But here’s the thing: many activists are reticent to use this term. After all, climate change seems positively polite. It’s calm, gradual and merely capricious. Like the planet is a mood-ring gently shifting colour. Take notice, then: the preferred terms are climate emergency or climate crisis. You know, something with a sense of urgency befitting the destruction of the entire planet in a sixth mass extinction. That sort of thing.
Use it in a sentence: “Fuck climate change. We are in a climate emergency. Now glue yourself to that government building immediately.”
Carbon Footprint: We all know this one, right? Wrong! It’s more than just what you hope to reduce by turning down that private flight aboard EltonJet. It’s defined as the total level of carbon emissions (carbon dioxide and methane, etc.) which usually come about from the combustion of fossil fuels, deforestation or even livestock. Yes, the cow fart thing.
Use it in a sentence: “Wow, I flew nine times this month. That’s really going to increase my carbon footprint and therefore further contribute to the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which will increase the earth’s temperature beyond historical values as early as 2047, with devastating consequences for ecosystems and human life. Don’t hate me. Please?”
Climate Apartheid: No, nothing to do with South Africa. However, the term is not used flippantly. It came to prominence in 2017, thanks to Jeff Goodell’s book The Water Will Come, and in a UN report published in June this year. The term describes the brutally distressing fact that, when it comes to climate change-we-mean-crisis, the gap between rich and poor could mean the difference between life and death. Developing nations are expected to suffer at least 75 per cent of the consequences of climate change, despite contributing less than 10 per cent of carbon emissions.
As seen in: Everywhere from New York to Lagos. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Manhattan HQ of mega bank Goldman Sachs was protected by thousands of the bank’s own sandbags. It also lost no power, thanks to its own generator. Local folk living in the city, not so much. In Lagos, a delta city built around a lagoon and therefore prone to flooding, there is a planned new complex, Eko Atlantic, for the more prosperous strata of Nigerian society. While the slums of Lagos experience devastating flash floods and even cholera outbreaks, Eko Atlantic will fortify itself from rising sea levels with a wall.
Global Warming Potential: This is a seismically important facet of climate change. It measures how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere, relative to carbon dioxide, within a specific time frame. It’s even more complicated than that, so here comes the non-science: GWP is basically how we measure global warming. High GWP = bad.
Use it in a sentence: “Substances which should be restricted are those with a high GWP. Like a Trump speech, ha.”
Carbon Neutrality: The idea is that carbon emissions are either reduced or removed completely (i.e. by using renewable energy sources), or any carbon emissions unavoidably accrued are balanced out by carbon removal. Planting a tree, say, or supporting a responsible carbon project. This is known as offsetting. Key point: the accepted position is first reduce, then offset, as the concern is that offsetting is being relied upon by people who wish to carry on emitting irresponsible levels of carbon.
Use it in a sentence: “Sharon, just because you planted one tree after flying a private jet four times this week does not mean you have achieved carbon neutrality.”
Eco-Socialism: What it says on the tin: socialism, but green. Adherents believe that capitalism (or climate barbarism, see below) is the root cause of poverty, injustice and, of course, planetary degradation. Capitalism should therefore be dismantled for the good of the environment.
As seen in: American author Henry David Thoreau was an early proponent, way back in 1854, as were many other progressive thinkers who cautioned against the destruction of nature in the face of the Industrial Revolution sweeping the globe. Fast forward, belching smoke, to today: step forward today’s Green political parties and most climate crisis activists – notably Extinction Rebellion.
Climate Barbarism: The brutal and violent consequences of a capitalist mindset on the planet. It trickles down from the phrase “socialism or barbarism”, coined by the Polish/German Marxist theorist Rosa Luxemburg, executed for her revolutionary beliefs by the Germans shortly after the end of the First Word War. Whilst that binary may seem severe, within the confines of the climate emergency, wilfully destroying the planet and its poorest inhabitants to make a profit does seem pretty barbaric.
As seen in: The fact that we in the developed world increasingly assume climate change will affect “future generations”. The depressing reality is that CO2 emissions have risen globally by 40 per cent since the Industrial Revolution, meaning that the developing world is suffering these consequences right now. See: Cyclone Idai hitting Mozambique in March. One of the worst storms in African history, it killed more than 1000 people. Meanwhile, Mozambique’s contribution to carbon emissions = practically negligible.
Tipping Points: An irreversible change to the climate, beyond which life on earth will never be the same again. Important, very obvious facets are “tipping elements” like the melting of ice-caps or the irreparable collapse of entire ecosystems.
As seen in: The Moist Greenhouse State, which is a rather damp (pun intended) way of describing the rather terrifying crisis these tipping points would lead us to. In a Moist Greenhouse State, large parts of the earth would be uninhabitable. Unless you’re Swamp Thing.
Climate Change Denialism: The equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears, going “la la la”, and pretending the world isn’t, literally, melting around you. We’re looking at you President Chump. But the alarming fact is that many people actively believe that climate change is not happening, denying the scientific consensus, particularly the extent to which it is caused by humans. You may think you are exempt from this. But climate change denialism can be implicit: knowing it’s happening but doing nothing about it, or refusing to admit your part in it, can be a form of climate change denial. So, step up.
As seen in: A worrying number of figures with influence and power. Senator James Inhofe (conveniently funded by political contributions from the fossil fuel industry) once brought a snowball into the US Senate in 2015 to “disprove” climate change, while British politician-turned-peer Lord Nigel Lawson set up the Global Warming Policy Foundation to oppose climate change mitigation policies. Oh, and our pal Trump believes global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so catastrophically alarming.
Decarbonisation: The reduction of carbon emissions by the biggest contributors to climate change: the power sector. This breaks down as lowering the amount of carbon intensity per unit of electricity generated – by, for example, increasing the use of renewable energy sources.
As seen in: The UK Committee on Climate Change recommends that by 2050, the UK’s power sector should be entirely decarbonised, meaning its emissions should be close to zero. Wind farms ahoy!
Climate Change Feedback Loop: One action causes another, which causes another, which, in turn, changes the first action = a feedback loop. In climate change, a feedback loop is something that increases or decreases warming. A positive feedback accelerates a temperature rise, whereas a negative feedback decelerates it.
As seen in: Melting ice. Ice, being reflective, causes a large proportion of the sunlight that hits it to be bounced back into space. This, typically, reduced the amount of warming. But as the world gets hotter, the ice melts, and we see darker-coloured earth or water underneath the ice. This means that more of the sun’s energy is absorbed, which in turn leads to more warming, which in turn leads to more ice melting – and so we move depressingly on.
As also seen in: starving polar bears.
Eco-Fascism: A tricky one. The goal of eco-fascism: to combat environmental issues that are destroying the planet. That is A Good Thing. The method: an authoritarian regime with a far-right ideology. That is, um, not so much. Two wackjob ideas of eco-fascists are that immigrants are responsible for the climate crisis and that population control is the best means to combat it.
As seen in: Christchurch, New Zealand – the shooter in this year’s horrific mosque attacks, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, described himself as an ecofascist and stated: “Green nationalism is the only nationalism.” So, shunning multiculturalism and keeping races in their original regions will force a population balance that will save the planet. To further help the ethos, he murdered 51 people and injured 49.
Multi Breadbasket Failure: Our food system is incredibly globally interconnected. Climate change could catastrophically affect that. The breadbasket in question is the fact that we rely on three major crop – wheat, soybean, maize – in five major global food producing areas. If these areas become too hot to produce these crops, food shortages and famines are the not-unfeasible outcomes. The “multi” aspect: these crops may fail simultaneously, causing planet-wide disaster.
Use it in a sentence: “Climate change promises the lot: rioting and starving while you fry and/or drown.”
The Green New Deal: Landmark proposed US legislation that aims to tackle two of the most impactful and interlinked issues of our time: climate change and income inequality. The idea is not new – there was discussion of it in the 1970s, while the term is thought to have been coined in a 2007 New York Times article by journalist Thomas Freidman. But this 2019 congressional resolution was put forward by Senator Edward Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. It pushes for the US to use 100 per cent renewable energy resources, and for legislation to be put in place to protect the communities most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. The deal, sadly, failed, but those behind it have promised to keep fighting. Equally, the idea has iterations in many nations, including Canada, Australia – and the UK. First proposed here in 2008, it has recently been revived by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.
Use it in a sentence: “The climate crisis needs more than just activists and protests to make a real difference. It needs structural change in the form of proper legislation, like a Green New Deal. Where do I sign?”
The Paris Agreement: The much-discussed 2016 Paris Agreement is a UN resolution (under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change) to tackle climate change. It requires each signing nation to commit to reducing their carbon emissions; agree to keep the increase in global temperature rise this century to well below two degrees of what it was pre-industrial revolution levels; and to pursue further efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees. It included financial measures to help contributing nations shift their power to more renewable sources. As of March 2019, 196 had signed the agreement.
Use it in a sentence: “Yes, him again: President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement was reckless and globally irresponsible.”
Fossil Fuel Divestment: A trend in responsible investment, referring to the institutional divestment (i.e. selling) of assets such as stocks and bonds in companies that extract fossil fuels. Basically, if you are contributing to climate change, chances are you losing financial investment as we speak.
As seen in: Fossil fuel divestment was described in 2015 as one of the fastest growing divestment movements in history. University campuses across the UK have seen widespread protests resulting in at least four universities – including SOAS and Kings College London – committing to drop investments in the most polluting fossil fuel companies. In 2015 the Church of England committed to divesting £12 million from tar sands oil and thermal oil holdings.
Climate Anxiety: Feeling hopeless about climate change? No wonder. Amongst young people especially the condition is reportedly manifesting in waves of anxiety rising as fast as the seas. The worry of many activists, however, is that a condition also known as eco-angst all too often morphs into climate apathy: the feeling that you are powerless to stop it.
Use it in a sentence: “Snap out of it! Climate anxiety won’t save the planet. Take action now. No more single-use plastic, try Meat Free Mondays, reduce your EasyJet habit. And, if you’re feeling up to it, glue yourself to a government building immediately.”
Eco-Sexuality: Ever wondered if even your sex life could be harming the planet? There’s a whole movement of people dedicated to a sustainable sex revolution, championing everything from bio-degradable sex toys to carbon-neutral lube, from people generating electricity through vigorous copulation* to those who have vowed not to have children in order to reduce the population burden.
Use it in a sentence…“No, I’m not shagging while the planet burns. I’m an eco-sexual.”
*OK, we made that one up. But why not? We’d be game. Hook us up to the national grid!