How to Talk About Climate Change
Climate change is being talked about in classrooms, on the news and in our everyday lives. We created a list of definitions for frequently used words and phrases so we can all have a deeper understanding of climate change. Each definition also includes a video, infographic, podcast and article for more context. We learned a lot through the process and we hope you do too.
Climate activism is a powerful global movement representing a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations working in scientific, social, academic, conservation, and political realms, that address concerns and impacts of climate change. Climate activist Greta Thunberg is one of the world’s most noted climate activists and creator of the international global climate movement FridaysfortheFuture. Environmental activism has played a crucial role in policy to pass laws that protect people and the planet and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Collective activism through campaigns prompts students, collectives, and communities to identify key issues, join together, and pressure decision makers to enact diverse solutions to heal the planet (EcoWatch).
Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change as well as prepare for future impacts (United Nations).
Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle. (Regeneration International). Common practices include abandoning tillage, eliminating time and space of bare soil, fostering plant diversity on the farm, and integrating livestock and cropping operations on the land (LaCanne and Lundgren).
Industrial agriculture is the large-scale, intensive production of crops and animals, often involving chemical fertilizers on crops or the routine, harmful use of antibiotics in animals. It may also involve crops that are genetically modified, heavy use of pesticides, and other practices that deplete the land, mistreat animals, and increase various forms of pollution (NRDC).
An unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems (National Geographic).
An atmosphere is the layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body. The atmosphere protects life on earth by shielding it from incoming ultraviolet (UV) radiation, keeping the planet warm through insulation, and preventing extremes between day and night temperatures. The sun heats layers of the atmosphere causing it to convect driving air movement and weather patterns around the world (National Geographic).
Biodiversity refers to the variety of living species on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. While Earth’s biodiversity is so rich that many species have yet to be discovered, many species are being threatened with extinction due to human activities, putting the Earth’s magnificent biodiversity at risk (National Geographic).
Carbon dioxide is the gas that accounts for about 84 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S. the largest source of carbon dioxide (98 percent) emissions is combustion of fossil fuels. Combustion can be from mobile (vehicles) or stationary sources (power plants). As energy use increases, so do carbon dioxide emissions (UC Davis).
A carbon footprint is a simple way to express that impact. The “size” of your carbon footprint depends on multiple factors. The primary one is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere by a given activity. People, products and entire industries have carbon footprints. Your personal footprint includes emissions from a variety of sources — your daily commute, the food you eat, the clothes you buy, everything you throw away … and more. The larger your footprint, the heavier the strain on the environment. (Conservation International).
The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in a fixed molecule in soils, oceans, and plants. Carbon sequestration secures carbon dioxide to prevent it from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The idea is to stabilize carbon in solid and dissolved forms so that it doesn’t cause the atmosphere to warm. The process shows tremendous promise for reducing the human “carbon footprint” (UC Davis).
Long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures (United Nations).
Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants. Anything that grows decomposes eventually; composting simply speeds up the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi, and other decomposing organisms to do their work (NRDC).
Conservation is the act of protecting Earth’s natural resources for current and future generations, which encompasses the landscape and geography as well as the wildlife that lives there. It includes maintaining the diversity of species, genes, and ecosystems, as well as functions of the environment, such as nutrient cycling (National Geographic).
The permanent removal of trees to make room for something besides forest. Deforestation can include clearing the land for farming or livestock, or using the timber for fuel, construction, or manufacturing. These forested areas produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), and are home to an estimated 80% of Earth’s terrestrial species. Forests also are a source of food, medicine, and fuel for more than a billion people (Live Science).
A geographic area where plants, animals, and other organisms, as well as weather and landscapes, work together to form a bubble of life. Ecosystems contain biotic or living, parts, as well as abiotic factors, or nonliving parts. Biotic factors include plants, animals, and other organisms. Abiotic factors include rocks, temperature, and humidity (National Geographic).
“Environmental Justice” (EJ) 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. The environment refers to everything around you. It is your home, your school, where you play, where you work, and any other places that you visit. Justice means fair treatment for everyone. EJ simply means making sure that everyone has a fair chance of living the healthiest life possible (NIEHS).
A form of systemic racism whereby communities of color are disproportionately burdened with health hazards through policies and practices that force them to live in proximity to sources of toxic waste such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads and emitters of airborne particulate matter. As a result, these communities suffer greater rates of health problems attendant on hazardous pollutants (World Economic Forum).
Extreme Weather Events
Includes unexpected, unusual, unpredictable severe, or unseasonal weather; weather at the extremes of the historical distribution – the range that has been seen in the past. Extreme events include heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes (COAPS).
Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand. The idea is to get the newest styles on the market as fast as possible, so shoppers can snap them up while they are still at the height of their popularity and then, sadly, discard them after a few wears. It forms a key part of the toxic system of overproduction and consumption that has made fashion one of the world’s largest polluters (Good On You).
Fossil fuels are sources of non-renewable energy, formed from the remains of living organisms that were buried millions of years ago. Burning fossil fuels like coal and oil to produce energy is where the majority of greenhouse gases originate. As the world has developed and demand for energy has grown, we’ve burned more fossil fuels, causing more greenhouse gases to be trapped in the atmosphere and air temperatures to rise (The Climate Reality Project).
Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. Since the pre-industrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased Earth’s global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), a number that is currently increasing by 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land (NASA).
The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is one of the things that makes Earth a comfortable place to live (NASA Climate Kids).
Many of the chemical compounds in the earth’s atmosphere act as greenhouse gases. When sunlight strikes the earth’s surface, some of it radiates back toward space as infrared radiation (heat). Greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation and trap its heat in the atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect that results in global warming and climate change. Many gases exhibit these greenhouse properties. Some gases occur naturally and are also produced by human activities. Some, such as industrial gases, are exclusively human made (EIA).
The long-term change in ocean chemistry due to the excess absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which increases the acidity (due to decreasing pH levels) of seawater. This disrupts the lifecycle of ocean fauna, like corals and seashells, since they are highly sensitive to carbon levels. Roughly 30 percent of all human-made CO2 is absorbed by the oceans (UC Davis).
Oceans are large continuous bodies of salt water that are contained in the enormous basins on Earth’s surface. (Britannica). They are one of our greatest allies against climate breakdown, but so often, they’re forgotten. Diverse and bountiful oceans help mitigate climate change because the organic life in them allows for the capture and storage of carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change in the atmosphere (The Maritime Executive).
Organic food, specifically, is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, such as human-made pesticides and fertilizers, and does not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Foods that carry the USDA organic label highlight that they have met government standards (Britannica).
Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. (U.S. Forest Service).
A pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma). Pollinators include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, birds, flies, and small mammals, including bats. The movement of pollen must occur for the plant to become fertilized and produce fruits, seeds, and young plants (National Park Service).
The introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants, which damage the quality of air, water, and land. Pollutants can be natural, such as volcanic ash. They can also be created by human activity, such as trash or runoff produced by factories. (National Geographic). Things as simple as light, sound, and temperature can also be considered pollutants when introduced artificially into an environment (Live Science).
The process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling includes three steps, which create a continuous loop: collection and processing, manufacturing, and purchasing new products made from recycled materials. Recycling has many benefits for the community and the environment, such as conserving natural resources, reducing waste in landfills, and creating jobs (EPA).
Energy that comes from naturally replenished resources, such as sunlight, wind, waves, and geothermal heat. Most types of renewable energy produce no CO2 at all once they are running. For this reason, renewable energy is widely viewed as playing a central role in climate change mitigation and a clean energy transition (MIT).
The process of assisting in the recovery of an ecosystem that has been damaged, destroyed, or degraded. Damages can include human impact such as deforestation or extreme weather such as hurricanes. The full recovery of establishing a self-organizing ecosystem may take years, decades, or even hundreds of years (Society For Ecological Restoration).
Sea Level Rise
Sea level rise is the increase in the average level of large water bodies (sea, ocean) primarily due to two major factors: the melting ice and the thermal expansion of the water. (National Geographic). First, more water is released into the ocean as glaciers and land ice melt to increase the sea level. Second, the ocean expands as ocean temperatures increase. Warm water expands and takes up more space than colder water, increasing the volume of water in the sea. This puts millions of people who live in coastal communities at risk (Smithsonian).
Soils are complex mixtures of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and countless organisms that are the decaying remains of once-living things. It forms at the surface of land – it is the “skin of the earth.” Soil is capable of supporting plant life and is vital to life on earth (Soil Science Society of America).
The integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse, and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come. The practice of sustainability recognizes how these issues are interconnected and requires a systems approach and an acknowledgement of complexity (UCLA Sustainability Committee).
A land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean (NOAA).
The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health (Zero Waste International Alliance).