7 More Key Terms You Need to Know to Understand the Climate Crisis
With demand for a better understanding of how we talk about the crisis higher than ever, we thought it prudent to explain what exactly we’re talking about right now so you’re as informed as possible about the climate fight.
One of our most popular blogs of 2023 isn’t from this year at all. Over seven long years ago, we published Key Terms You Need to Know to Understand Climate Change, and it has remained popular ever since, as people seek out a basic understanding of what climate change is and how together we can fight it.
Every term on that list remains vital to understanding the fight for a better, more sustainable tomorrow, but as with most things, how we talk about the climate crisis has grown and changed. New dimensions of the crisis arise and with them, new terminology enters the lexicon.
We’re here to help. With demand for a better understanding of how we talk about the crisis higher than ever, we thought it prudent to explain what exactly we’re talking about right now so you’re as informed as possible about the climate fight.
So below are seven key terms that are vital to understanding what the climate movement looks like in 2023.
Greenwashing is a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly. Companies that intentionally take up greenwashing communication strategies often do so in order to distance themselves from their own environmental lapses or those of their suppliers.
Greenwashing can take many forms, including:
- Making false or misleading claims about environmental benefits.
- Using vague or ambiguous language that makes it difficult to understand true environmental impact.
- Distorting the facts about a company's environmental record.
- Overstating environmental benefits.
- Hiding environmental costs of a product or practice.
Greenwashing can be harmful to the environment because it can mislead consumers into believing that they are making environmentally friendly choices when they are not. It can also make it more difficult for companies that are genuinely committed to sustainability to compete in the marketplace.
A just transition is both an outcome and the process of achieving a clean energy future. It is a “framework for a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable, and just,” according to the Indigenous Environmental Network.
A just transition will invest in jobs, guarantee social protection and human rights to all, invest in community renewal, support innovation and technology sharing, and ensure the involvement of workers and communities impacted by the transition to clean energy technologies.
Climate feedback loops are “processes that can either amplify or diminish the effects of climate forcings.” “Forcings” here are the initial drivers of our climate – things like solar irradiance, greenhouse gas emissions, and airborne particles like dust, smoke, and soot that come from both human and natural sources and impact our climate.
In plain English, feedback loops make the impacts of key climate factors stronger or weaker, starting a cyclical chain reaction that repeats again and again.
Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
It is achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and there is equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
1.5 Degrees Celsius
When we talk about 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, we’re talking about the increase in the Earth’s average temperature. We measure this increase from a baseline average temperature in the mid-to-late nineteenth century – when the Industrial Revolution swung into high gear.
At about 1.5 degrees of global warming is right about where there’s enough heat to push many of the natural systems that sustain us past a dangerous turning point. It is a general indicator of where many climate impacts could go from destructive to catastrophic.
And we are nearing it quickly – but there’s still time to hold the line.
“According to an ongoing temperature analysis led by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by at least 1.1° Celsius (1.9° Fahrenheit) since 1880,” according to NASA. “The majority of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15 to 0.20°C per decade.”
Frontline communities are those that experience environmental injustice and the impacts of the climate crisis first and worst.
Overwhelmingly and disproportionately people of color, individuals in these communities have endured the incredible physical, economic, and mental burdens of climate change. They’ve been forced to rebuild their homes and lives after climate-fueled floods or wildfires take everything they’ve worked for. They’ve lived through heat wave after heat wave or watched endless droughts turn crops into dust.
Because of their lived experience, people in frontline communities have become experts on the climate crisis: not just what it’s like to go through, but what solutions actually work on the ground. Which is why their voices and leadership are so important to the future of the climate movement.
Proponents of so-called “natural” gas like to portray the fuel as a cuddlier cousin to coal and oil when it comes to climate because it generates less carbon dioxide when burned. But its CO2 emissions are only one piece of a far more nuanced puzzle.
Let’s just get straight to the real climate Big Bad when it comes to natural gas – it is predominantly composed of methane.
Methane is a very, very powerful greenhouse gas. In the atmosphere, compared to carbon, it’s fairly short-lived: only about 20 percent of the methane emitted today will still be in the atmosphere after 20 years. However, when it first enters the atmosphere, it’s around 120 times more powerful (ton for ton) than CO2 at trapping heat and 84 to 86 times stronger over a 20 year period.
So we’re still talking about a fossil fuel here, one that still contributes to climate change when extracted, transported, and burned. And achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of this century is essential to the long-term health of our planet, making our continued reliance on “natural” gas incompatible with our vital climate goals, particularly in the shorter term.
Join Us to Fight for a Better Tomorrow
We believe that together, we can create a world where we rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to end the climate crisis, safeguard our health, strengthen our communities’ well-being, and ensure justice for those who have been marginalized in the past.