by Colin McIntosh
The climate debate is one that has predictably generated a large amount of new vocabulary, some of it originally specialized scientific terminology that has been taken up by the media and is now common currency. Some of these terms are new additions to the Cambridge English Dictionary.
The two opposing sides in the climate change debate have given each other labels that encapsulate their very different outlooks. Tree hugger is the epithet applied to someone who is very interested in protecting the environment, usually used with a humorous intention by those who disagree with giving it special protection. And tree huggers can label their opponents climate change deniers, i.e. people who refuse to accept that the earth’s climate is warming, or, if they do, that this is due to human influence.
The Anthropocene is a term that has been applied to the time from the 18th century until now, in which it is possible to see the effect that people have had on the environment and climate. Climate change deniers would, of course, dispute this definition. The first part of the word comes from the Greek word for ‘human’, a root that can also be seen in anthropogenic, which is used to refer to the results of human activities, for example on the climate. Anthropogenic activities include burning fossil fuels, such as gas extracted from the ground by a process known as fracking.
Carbon, and its related lexical compounds, is one whose frequency has shot up. Carbon in this sense specifically refers to carbon dioxide and its effect on the earth’s climate. Its compounds include carbon-zero (and zero-carbon), carbon debt, carbon footprint, and CCS (carbon capture and storage), and many others. (You can find these by searching for carbon in the Cambridge Dictionaries Online search box and selecting from the dropdown.)
Ways of minimizing our anthropogenic impact and reducing our carbon footprint include the use of renewables (energy sources such as solar power and bioenergy), perhaps even living off-the-grid, and definitely working in a paperless office – this last one will make the tree huggers happy. We can drive more fuel-efficient cars and also upcycle things that people no longer need, turning other people’s detritus into beautiful objects for the home.