The words we use when talking about the fires that ravaged the Amazon Rainforest, Australia, and other situations related to the climate crisis are important. It’s also critical to be clear about the science that supports your claims and strictly use reputable sources. This is why word choice matters when discussing the climate crisis.
Late last year Collins Dictionary declared climate strike the 2019 word of the year after finding the use of the word had increased by over 100% on websites, newspapers, magazines, and social media. Green keywords are growing in popularity. Rewilding (restoring to a natural state) was a runner up in 2019 and single-use was the word of the year in 2018. The Oxford Dictionary 2019 word of the year was climate emergency.
The term climate strike was first used in 2015 during mass demonstrations occurring during the United Nations (UN) conference on the Paris Agreement. The Trump administration has since withdrawn the United States from the international agreement to combat the climate crisis.
The Global Climate Strike took place on September 20, 2019, and became the epitome of the term. The strike resulted in 4,500 protests in 150 countries with over 6 million participants around the globe. It was the largest climate strikes in history. The worldwide event took place in the days leading up to the UN Climate Summit where world leader’s gathered to discuss the fate of our future.
One of my best friends got married that afternoon so I wasn’t able to attend the massive strike in New York lead by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg. But, I did get the chance to join Greenpeace in making signs with Indigenous activists in midtown where I briefly met the inspiring Ecuadorian Helena Gualinga. It was a powerful experience.
For Earth Day this year, Greta Thunberg’s Climate Organization, Fridays For Future, released a minute-long film, “Our House is on Fire.” The spot depicts a family home covered in tiny flames—but these little fires everywhere aren’t a sitcom, they’re the reality of the inferno waiting for us if things don’t change for the better quickly. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states we have 12 years to attempt to undo our mistakes such as cutting CO2 emissions in half.
The campaign was inspired by Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 World Economic Forum where she said: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is”. At the same event in 2020, Thunberg repeated her plea, “Our house is still on fire and your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour.”
IT’S TIME TO CALL IT WHAT IT IS
It’s time to stop using the misleading phrase climate change and call it what it is—a climate crisis. Climate change implies that the impact of the climate emergency is in the future, it’s not. The Earth’s climate is always changing which doesn’t always result in a crisis.
Avoid global warming as climate crisis deniers like to argue that some parts of the world are getting colder or drier. These changes are also caused by the climate crisis and a sign of the ongoing devastation. Global warming wasn’t even officially added to Collins Dictionary until 2008 and it’s already become a useless term—that’s how quickly things are shifting.
If climate crisis doesn’t suit you below are two other terms to consider using in your dialogue about the jarring state of the environment. As you can see, these words are mostly interchangeable and all mean climate crisis. On Cambridge Dictionary, each term refers to human activity increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Harmful changes to the world’s weather
Urgent problems caused by changes in the world’s weather
Climate genocide, wildlife collapse, climate-related security risk, ecological collapse. These terms are also set to become commonplace terms as the crisis further impact the livelihood of animals—including humans. The International Organization for Migration estimates there will be anywhere from 25 million to 1 billion climate migrants by 2050. For more sustainable terms check out my green glossary for Architectural Digest.
WORDS ABOUT THE CLIMATE CRISIS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE
In English, the word solastalgia describes climate fatigue or grief. It’s a combination of the Latin sōlācium (comfort) and the Greek root -algia (pain), and is also a play on nostalgia, a combination of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache.”
In Italian, the new word gretini refers to the thousands of teenagers who have taken part in climate demonstrations over the last few months. The new word is often used as a derogative term by climate crisis deniers.
In Spanish, the new phrase migración climática describes the relocation of people because of climate changes.
In Swedish, after an uptick of flight shame, the word flygskam became a popular way to describe to guilt caused by flying on a plane.
In German, klimanotstand roughly translates to “climate emergency” and means that there is an acute and present threat to climate and human life which requires immediate action.
In Portuguese, justiça climática demands that countries in the Global North must take responsibility to solve the climate crisis as countries in the Global South are face the harshest consequences of climate deterioration.
In Dutch, treintrots literally means taking pride in opting to utilize train travel instead of flying. Trein is train and trots is pride.
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