Quantcast

'Climate Emergency' Named Oxford Word of the Year

Climate
Activists highlighted the climate emergency outside Scottish Government headquarters at St Andrew's House in Edinburgh on Oct. 13, 2017. Usage of the term "climate emergency" spiked in 2019, according to Oxford Dictionaries.

By Jessica Corbett

Climate advocates and experts celebrated Oxford Dictionaries' announcement Wednesday that "climate emergency" is the Oxford Word of the Year 2019.


Oxford defines climate emergency as "a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it."

The term beat out other climate-related language on Oxford's shortlist, including climate action, climate crisis, climate denial, eco-anxiety, ecocide, extinction, flight shame, global heating, net-zero and plant-based.

"When we were looking through the evidence, it was just clear that issues relating to the climate were running through all the different lexical items we were working with," Katherine Connor Martin, an editor at Oxford Dictionaries, told The New York Times about the decision. "It reflects it was a real preoccupation of the English-speaking world in 2019."

Usage of climate emergency has "increased steeply" throughout the year, and "by September it was more than 100 times as common as it had been the previous year," according to Oxford's data.

Oxford's official annoucement, published online, offers futher details about the explosive use of the term by scientists, journalists and the public:

One high profile example of this language development is the changes made by The Guardian in its reporting of environmental news in May. The newspaper stated that instead of climate change, its preferred terms are 'climate emergency, crisis, or breakdown' to describe the broader impact of climate change. The move prompted other media outlets to review and update their own policies and approaches to reporting on the climate.
The Guardian's editor-in-chief Katharine Viner, who outlined the terminology changes, said: 'We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. The phrase "climate change," for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.'
Language choice in scientific reporting on climate science has been influential in this shift during 2019. With the publication of careful scientific analyses presenting the various consequences for the world's communities should people fail to take action — see the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, for example — an increasing number of climate scientists have urged their peers to 'tell it like it is' when communicating their research.

Linking to the Times report on Oxford's announcement, meteorologist and science writer Eric Holthaus tweeted, "We are in a climate emergency."

Genevieve Guenther, founder and director of digital activist group End Climate Silence, also shared the Times report on Twitter. "Damn right," she wrote.

A local English chapter of the global Extinction Rebellion movement acknowledged a spike in the term's usage in April, when XR activists held a series of marches, demonstrations and peaceful civil disobedience around the world to promote the movement's three key demands — including that governments declare a climate and ecological emergency.

Some supporters of Oxford's decision noted that the announcement came two weeks after Collins Dictionary named "climate strike" its 2019 word of the year.

As the Collins website explains, climate strike is "a form of protest that took off just over one year ago with the actions of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and which has grown to become a worldwide movement."

The term "was first registered in November 2015 when the first event to be so named took place to coincide with the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, but it is over the last year that 'climate strikes' have spread and become a frequent reality in many of the world's largest cities," according to the website. "Collins' lexicographers observed a 100-fold increase in its usage in 2019."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Two tankers leaving the Tamborine Mountain after being held up for two hours by TM Extinction Rebellion on Dec. 6.

A school in Queensland, Australia sent a note home to parents asking them to send their children with extra water bottles since its water supply has run dry, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Read More Show Less
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a press statement on the European Green Deal at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Dec. 11, 2019. Xinhua / Zheng Huansong via Getty Images

The European Commission introduced a plan to overhaul the bloc's economy to more sustainable, climate-conscious policies and infrastructure, with the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, according to CNBC.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Young activists shout slogans on stage after Greta Thunberg (not in the picture) took part in the plenary session during the COP25 Climate Conference on Dec. 11 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Young activists took over and occupied the main stage at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain Wednesday and demanded world leaders commit to far more ambitious action to address the ecological emergency.

Read More Show Less
A NASA image showing the ozone hole at its maximum extent for 2015. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Montreal Protocol, a 1987 international treaty prohibiting the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to save the ozone layer, was the first successful multilateral agreement to successfully slow the rate of global warming, according to new research. Now, experts argue that similar measures may lend hope to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Example of starlings murmuration pictured in Scotland. Tanya Hart / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Police in Wales are in the midst of an unusual investigation: the sudden death of more than 200 starlings.

Read More Show Less