Vocabulary for a Changing Climate

Vocabulary for a Changing Climate

  • adaptation – the process of adjusting the way we live in response to our changing climates; e.g., building better drainage and higher roadways in response to flooding from increased rainstorms.
  • agroforestry – agriculture (both farming and ranching) that incorporates the conservation of trees.
  • atmospheric river – long, narrow regions in the atmosphere that transport lots of water vapor (often resulting in sustained torrential rains in an area causing flooding).
  • ARkStorm – a megastorm that would normally occur infrequently (maybe once in a thousand years). It is expected to occur more frequently with climate change. AR stands for atmospheric river. k stands for 1000.
  • biofuel – plants burned to generate electricity, such as corn, algae, agricultural waste, cooking oil, old food, manure, grass clippings, etc.
  • blue carbon – carbon dioxide captured by the ocean and ocean ecosystems such as algae, sea grass, and mangrove trees.
  • bomb cyclone – high winds caused by a rapid drop in air pressure.
  • carbon capture – using technology to capture carbon dioxide at power plants, factories, oil drilling sites, etc., and keep it from going into the air.
  • carbon dioxide – a gas made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms; its chemical formula is CO2. It is made by burning anything that has carbon (all plants and animals; and fossil fuels, which were once plants and animals). It is also created by animals breathing out, and by decaying matter. Volcanoes, and movements of the earth release long buried carbon as carbon dioxide.
  • carbon emissions – carbon dioxide gas going into the air.
  • carbon farming – agricultural practices that work to keep the carbon in the soil, rather than releasing it as carbon dioxide into the air; e.g. burying left over plant matter in the ground rather than burning it or throwing it away.
  • carbon footprint – the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual (or family, or organization). To reduce your carbon footprint is to use less fossil fuel generated products (electricity, running a car, etc.), and reduce the number of products you buy.
  • carbon-neutral – the amount of carbon dioxide put into the air does not exceed the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the air.
  • carbon offset – an action to make up for another action that causes carbon dioxide to be put into the air; e.g., if you must drive a car to school, you might use your bike or walk to your friend’s house on the weekend; e.g., an airline that donates money to biofuel research to offset the carbon dioxide being spewed into the air by its planes.
  • carbon sequestration – the process of capturing carbon dioxide in the air, or at the source (e.g., at the stack of a power plant before it goes into the air), dissolving it in water so it’s now and liquid, and shooting it far underground where it is sequestered (held). Biological carbon sequestration refers to carbon dioxide being held in plants on land and in the ocean, as well as in soil and in ocean water.
  • carbon storage – carbon sequestration; capturing carbon dioxide and storing it (usually underground).
  • circular economy – recycling and reusing products as much as possible to reduce having to buy more. (When you outgrow your clothes, give them to someone else to wear.)
  • circular manufacturing – making a new product from recycled or reused products (Making a new can from metal that is melted down and reshaped after it had been a can or some other product previously).
  • clean energy – energy created without causing air pollution (example: making electricity for your house with solar panels on your roof, rather than buying your electricity from a power plant that makes the electricity by burning oil, gas or coal).
  • cli-fi – a genre of fiction that deals with climate change (usually set in the future; often dystopian; like science fiction with the characters dealing with a drastically changed climate).
  • climate – the average weather in an area over 10-30 years. Also used as a nickname for “climate change”.
  • climate action – taking steps to reduce air pollution (by recycling, using a car less often, buying fewer goods, buying electric products that use solar panels, etc.), which is causing climates around the world to change and become unbalanced.
  • climate activist – a person who actively campaigns to have issues of climate change recognized and addressed.
  • climate change – a change in the average weather of an area, caused by people polluting the air over the last ~200 years (since the Industrial Revolution). Climate change is caused by global warming.
  • climate champion – a person (or a company) that pushes for climate action to slow down climate change.
  • climate guilt – the feeling that you should be doing more to help the environment and save the planet.
  • climate scientist – a climatologist; a scientist who researches the long-term patterns of Earth’s changing climates to discover how they have changed and why, and what are the future implications.
  • climate smart agriculture or climate smart farming – using ranching/farming methods that reduce the amount of air pollution created and reduce the amount of water used.
  • climatologist – a scientist who researches the long-term patterns of Earth’s changing climates to discover how they have changed and why, and what are the future implications.
  • CO2 – carbon dioxide, a gas made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms; CO2 is made by burning anything that has carbon (all plants and animals; and fossil fuels, which were once plants and animals). It is also created by animals breathing out, and by decaying matter. Volcanoes, and movements of the earth release long buried carbon as carbon dioxide.
  • comprehensive climate plan – a detailed and strategic plan for measuring, planning, and taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as draw down the greenhouse gases that are already in the air, while also planning to make a city/country more resilient to the effects of climate change that are inevitable.
  • conservation – prevention of the wasteful use of natural resources; protection of the natural environment.
  • de-carbonize – create less carbon dioxide gas by switching to cleaner fuels, e.g., use solar power or wind power instead of burning fossil fuels for electricity.
  • deforestation – cutting down a large number of trees in a forest to use the wood for lumber, or to clear the land for farming or building.
  • desalination plant – a factory that removes the salt from water to make fresh water for drinking, watering plants, etc.
  • direct air capture – using technology to capture carbon dioxide and remove it from the air.
  • drought – an extended period of time with abnormally low rainfall leading to a shortage of water.
  • eco-anxiety – worry about what may happen to our environment in the future.
  • ecofiction – fictional writing where concerns for the environment play a strong part in the plot.
  • eco-friendly – not harmful to the environment (picking weeds out of your garden rather than spraying poison into the soil to kill the weeds).
  • ecolodge – a tourist accommodation designed to have the least possible impact on the natural environment in which it is situated.
  • ecology – the study of organisms and their relationship to one another and their physical surroundings.
  • ecotourism – tourism directed toward natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.
  • eco-warrior – a person who actively works to prevent damage to the environment.
  • electrifying – moving toward using electricity (rather than gas, oil, coal, or wood); e.g., replacing your gas-powered stove, oven, and heater with those that are electric.
  • emissions – the production and release of something, such as the carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur, etc., released into the air when burning gas, coal, or oil.
  • energy – power from another source (e.g., wind, sun, ocean waves, decomposing plant matter) to provide light, heat, or to work machines.
  • energy access – households having reliable and affordable electricity, as well electricity or gas to cook food.
  • environment – the natural world (not built by people).
  • environmental justice – a social movement to help those who have been exposed to extra environmental pollutants (such as air pollution coming from living near factories, or methane gas coming from oil drilling wells); as well as those who live in poor countries that are being hit harder by climate change impacts (such as flooding or drought) than wealthier countries.
  • environmentally literate – a person who makes informed decisions concerning the environment to help protect it.
  • E-STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math that focuses on environmental education and solving real world problems related to the environment.
  • EV – electric vehicle; a vehicle that gets its power to run from electricity rather than gasoline or diesel.
  • feedback loop – something that speeds up or slows down global warming and climate change. A positive feedback loop is not good – it means an action has increased a reaction to global warming or climate change; e.g., there is a positive feedback between melting ice at the Poles and global warming – the more ice melts, the more Earth absorbs the sun’s heat, increasing global warming.
  • fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas. Fossil fuels are decomposed algae, plants, and bacteria that lived over 300 million years ago. Over millions of years they turned into coal, oil and natural gas.
  • geothermal plant – a factory that drills down to the heated water underground, and uses the steam created by the hot water to generate electricity and send it along electric lines to houses and businesses.
  • geothermal power – electricity made by steam turning a rotor. The steam is made by water and heat underground. The heat is created by friction as the earth moves.
  • glacial retreat – when a glacier is melting faster than it is generating new ice, so it is getting smaller (probably due to global warming).
  • global warming – the gradual warming of Earth’s atmosphere overall due to the excessive build up of gases in the atmosphere caused by human-created air pollution. Global warming is causing climate change.
  • green – good for the environment.
  • green carbon – the carbon that is stored in the biosphere; the carbon dioxide taken out of the air by plants and used for photosynthesis.
  • green energy – energy (such as electricity) that is generated from natural resources, such as solar panels, wind turbines, or water power.
  • greenhouse effect – the trapping of an excess amount of the sun’s heat near Earth, due to a build up of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
  • greenhouse gas – any gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation (the sun’s energy re-emitted from Earth), such as carbon dioxide and methane
  • greening – taking care of the environment.greening – taking care of the environment.
  • green washing – when a company pretends it is doing good things for the environment, but it is really doing more harm than good.
  • hydroelectric power – electricity generated by water (rather than fossil fuels). It usually refers to rivers as the source of water. As the river water flows, it turns the turbines that are connected to generators, which generate electricity.
  • hydrogen – a gas that does not create air pollution when burned. It can be used to generate electricity and power vehicles.
  • Industrial Revolution – the period of time, generally 1750-1850, when many countries began building the first factories and cars. The first power plant was built in 1882.
  • infrastructure – the basic physical and organizational structures needed to operate a society, along with needed facilities such as buildings, roads, and power supplies.
  • investment – money and/or time devoted to a project or idea in order to gain something from it.
  • IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the part of the United Nations that’s responsible for advancing knowledge on human-induced climate change.
  • IPCC Reports – reports created by hundreds of scientists from different countries as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; a compilation of what is known to date from peer-reviewed published scientific articles about climate change; reports published every 6-7 years.
  • landscape restoration – returning an area to nature that includes healthy biodiversity (plants and animals that can sustain themselves in this area).
  • legacy pollutants – contaminants left in the environment by sources no longer creating them. (Carbon dioxide from a factory stays in the air long after the factory shuts down and goes out of business.)
  • methane – a powerful greenhouse gas, stronger but shorter lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide; made from one carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atom. Released into the atmosphere at gas drilling sites, when burning gas, when living things decompose (including food waste). When animals burp and release gas.
  • mitigate – reduce, make less severe (slowing down climate change)
  • nature positive – an area where the ecosystem is being restored, and steps are being taken to help plants and animals thrive.
  • nature positive tourism – tourism which provides vacationers the opportunity to assist in protecting habitats and wildlife, often helping re-wild an area.
  • net zero – a target of negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by people so the amount produced is equal to the amount absorbed by the Earth (and captured through technology).
  • organism – any living thing: plant, animal (including person), or single-celled life form.
  • Paris Agreement – led by the United Nations in 2015, the Paris Agreement, or Paris Accord, is a legally binding international treaty on climate change signed by 196 countries. Its goal is to keep Earth from warming less that 2 degrees Celsius above per-industrial levels.
  • petroleum – a fossil fuel found in the ground, under the ocean, that was created by decomposing marine organisms, such as plants, algae, and bacteria, that lived millions of years ago. Petroleum (also known as crude oil) is refined in a factory and turned into gasoline, oil, and diesel.
  • Pineapple Express – heavy rains along the west coasts of the United States and Canada caused by huge amounts of moisture in the air, gathered as it moved from the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. An atmospheric river originating from the area around Hawaii.
  • polar vortex – a large area of low pressure and cold air that is always blowing around the north pole and south pole.
  • ppm – parts per million. It is used to tell how many parts of carbon dioxide there are in one million parts of air. If there are 420 ppm carbon dioxide, that means there are 420 carbon dioxide particles in one million particles of air.
  • preindustrial – the time before industry; the years before factories were created; generally meaning the time before 1750.
  • prototype – a first model of something new (e.g., electric plane), from which other forms are developed.
  • race to zero – the move to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide into the air, and to create systems to draw carbon dioxide out of the air and sequester it, so that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air does not keep increasing.
  • rain bomb – massive wind and rain event usually causing flooding
  • recycle – convert waste materials into new materials; e.g., when you recycle a plastic bottle the recycling plant melts the plastic and makes a new bottle, or shreds the plastic and makes other plastic objects.
  • reduce – use less; when you use less or buy less you are using fewer products, reducing your carbon footprint.
  • reforestation – planting new trees where a forest of trees has been cut down.
  • renewable energy – energy that can be “renewed;” it doesn’t run out. Harnessing the sun’s heat with solar panels, or wind with wind turbines, are examples of renewable sources of energy. Using fossil fuels is not because when they are used up they are gone; it takes millions of years for fossils to decompose into fossil fuel.
  • retrofit – adding a component to something that did not have it when it was manufactured (e.g., a gas-powered lawn mower needs to be retrofitted with a new motor to become an electric mower).
  • reuse – to use again; a reusable water bottle is made of metal, or thick plastic, so the bottle can be used many times rather than thrown away after just one use.
  • rewilding – restoring an area to its natural state, often by protecting land, planting native plants, and/or returning wild animals, that had previously been driven out, to the area.
  • scaling up – increasing in size, amount, or production, to have a greater effect. If a student recycles, that’s great. If a student scales up this recycling initiative to get the class recycling, that’s better. If the class scales up this recycling initiative to get the whole school recycling that’s even better.
  • SDG – Sustainable Development Goals created by the United Nations. Also known as Global Goals. 17 goals for all countries to work towards: protecting the planet, ending poverty, and ensuring world peace and the opportunity to work toward having a successful nation.
  • SDG 13 – United Nations Sustainable Development Goal that calls for climate action to ensure a livable planet for the next generation.
  • single-use – designed to be used just once and then thrown out; e.g., a water bottle or a bag that you use just one time.
  • sleeping dragons – fires that appear to go out with the arrival of rain or snow, but actually slowly burn close to the ground through winter and flare up again in spring (zombie fires).
  • solar farm – many solar panels (often thousands) set up in an area to convert the sun’s energy into electricity.
  • solar panel – crystalline silicone panel that converts the sun’s light (photo) into electricity (voltaic); a photovoltaic panel. The brighter the light, the longer the day, the more electricity it makes.
  • solar power – the capture of the sun’s radiation with photovoltaic panels (solar panels) and turning it into electricity.
  • solastalgia – mental distress caused by seeing the negative changes to our environment.
  • stranded assets – resources that can’t be used or sold; coal, oil, and gas in the ground that can’t be used (because of government regulation, and/or because the cost of removing them from the ground and processing them is more expensive than using alternative energy such as wind and sun).
  • subsidies – money given by the government to companies to keep the price of production low, keeping them more competitive. (e.g., To encourage people to buy electric vehicles, the government can subsidize the electric car manufacturers so the price of the cars will be low enough for many people to be able to afford to buy them.)
  • sunny day flooding – flooding in low-lying areas (such as in Florida) when there is high tide (and no rain).
  • sustainable – using Earth’s resources (such as trees) at a rate that won’t use them all up before there are replacements (new trees planted and have a chance to grow).
  • sustainable agriculture – plant and animal production (farming and ranching) that is productive without harming the environment for future farmers and ranchers.
  • sustainable development – the building of roads, power stations, factories, and other buildings using only resources (such as trees for wood, and minerals for cement, and metals for steel) that do not use them up and compromise the needs of the next generation.
  • Sustainable Development Goals – 17 goals for all countries to work towards: protecting the planet, ending poverty, and ensuring world peace and the opportunity to work toward having a successful nation.
  • tidal energy – electricity created by the rise and fall of ocean tides. The moving water turns a turbine connected to a generator that creates electricity.
  • tipping point – the point at which a series of small changes create a much larger change without the ability to reverse course; e.g., If too much ice melts from the Poles, it will create a tipping point for rapidly increasing global warming and climate change.
  • transition – move from one way of doing things to another way; e.g., many cities are transitioning from diesel powered buses to electric buses.
  • turbine – a rotor with vanes which spins around a post, pushed by wind, water, or steam (kinetic energy -> electrical energy).
  • upcycling – create a new product from old no longer needed product; e.g., use the material from old clothes to make a carry bag.
  • waste products – items no longer needed or wanted.
  • wave energy – electricity created by the push and pull of waves in the ocean. The moving water turns a turbine connected to a generator that creates electricity.
  • weather – temperature, wind, and precipitation in a particular area at a particular time.
  • wind farm – many wind turbines in an area, spaced to maximize the amount of wind that can be used to turn their blades.
  • wind turbine – turning blades that change the kinetic energy of wind into electrical energy. The moving blades are connected to a generator that creates electricity.
  • zombie fires – fires that appear to go out with the arrival of rain or snow, but actually slowly burn close to the ground through winter and flare up again in spring (sleeping dragons).

3 Responses to Vocabulary for a Changing Climate

  1. Anonymous says:

    We must stop global warming!


  2. Anonymous says:

    why is this a thing


    • Climates around the world are changing due to the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People are working to find ways to communicate effectively with each other about this scientific phenomenon and its societal implications.


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