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A Quick Guide on the Language of Climate Change

The conversation about climate change is becoming a crucial discussion in the 21st century society, one that we can no longer avoid. We will explain some of the most important terms you’ll likely encounter regarding climate change as well as the main do’s and don’ts of the conversation.

A brief climate change dictionary

Greenhouse effect – the trapping of warmth from the sun in Earth’s lower atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases – gases which contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation from the sun. The four main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. 

Greenhouse gas emissions – the discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Climate change – the changes in climate patterns largely attributed to the increase in worldwide levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Global warming – a gradual increase in temperature of the world’s atmosphere. Global warming is a component of climate change, not a synonym for the term.

Carbon positivity/neutrality/negativity – these terms refer to how a particular activity affects the current amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon negative/positive means that more greenhouse gases have been captured than emitted in a particular activity, while carbon neutral means that no additional greenhouse gases have been emitted.

Climate drawdown – the point at which the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere begins to gradually decline. This is a milestone without which we can’t hope to tackle climate change.

Carbon sequestration – the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via a natural or artificial process and the holding of captured CO2 in liquid or solid form.

Fossil fuel – fuel such as coal or natural gas, the burning of which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are a finite resource.

Renewable energy – a form of energy source that is not depleted with use, such as wind or solar power.

Carbon offsets – actions meant to compensate for the release of CO2 into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. Carbon offsets often involve carbon sequestration, funding of renewable energy projects or energy-efficiency improvements.

Weather vs. climate – weather refers to short-term changes in the atmosphere, while climate describes long-term weather patterns in that specific area.

The do’s and don’ts of a climate change conversation

DO remember that not everybody has the same level of knowledge about climate change and the same access to information about it as you do. Some people may have never been taught about it or led to do their research on the topic.

DO look up the facts. To discuss climate change most effectively, especially if you’re talking to people who aren’t well-informed about it, you need to be able to present the scientific facts. This will strengthen the discussion as well as help you become more informed.

DO practice what you preach. Don’t tell people about ways to reduce their impact if you’re not going to walk the talk. Do your part first.

DON’T assume that everyone has the same motivations. For you, the reason why you are working to reduce your carbon footprint may be something another person may not relate to. Try to find out what is important to the other person to lead an effective conversation.

DON’T overuse the climate change lingo. While the terms we’ve shared above will help you stay up to speed with research and keep up in a conversation with those who are more knowledgeable about the topic, not everyone is familiar with the language. Keep that in mind.

DON’T be afraid to say that you don’t know something. Most of us aren’t climate researchers, which means that most of us aren’t experts in climate change. If somebody asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t try to hide it.

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