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More Terms to Boost Your Climate Science IQ!

By Alfred Robert Hogan

Time for 10 more climate-related science terms to build and bolster your everyday conversations about the climate crisis! You can regularly practice with these and soon be easily using them with full confidence. Here are definitions to learn or re-learn, drawn from and adapted from various online sources:

Adaptation – Human actions that respond to the climate crisis to minimize its effects on ecosystems and on humans (for example, as the climate warms, we might wear light-weight and light-colored clothing more often to adapt to hotter weather).

Animal agriculture – Across the globe, animal agribusiness abuses, tortures, and kills an estimated 56 billion to 80 billion land animals (such as cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks) every year, along with another estimated 1 trillion to 3 trillion water animals (such as finfishes, shellfishes, sea turtles, and cetaceans), predominantly from intensive factory farming (euphemistically dubbed Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs) and trawler and driftnet fishing, with huge negative impacts on environment and climate. Veganism readily avoids those.

Climate – The pattern of weather over a multi-decade timespan (weather across about 30 years can describe the more enduring climate of a particular location).

Ecocide Term introduced in February 1970 at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington DC, by US plant biologist and bioethicist Arthur Galston, to describe intentional or reckless mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, with severe harm to nature that is widespread and/or long-term, and which constitutes a root cause of the climate and ecological emergency we now face—in other words, literally, murder of the environment (this could potentially be addressed by preventive national and international “ecocide laws”). Only 10 nations of the 193 UN member-states yet recognize ecocide or its equivalent in their statutes and/or constitutions: Vietnam (as of 1990), Uzbekistan (1994), Russian Federation (1996), Kazakhstan (1997), Tajikistan (1998), Belarus (1999), Georgia (1999), Ukraine (2001), Moldova (2002), Armenia (2003), and Ecuador (2008). In 1970, Galston drew attention to the devastating damage to humans and wildlife caused the US military mass air-dropping of defoliants (such as Agent Orange) during the US War on Indochina/Vietnam War. Building on more than 50 years of anti-ecocide advocacy by others with alas limited impact, the Stop Ecocide Foundation—to which FFF founder Greta Thunberg had donated 100,000 Euros from her inaugural Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity in July 2020-- submitted a formal definition for ecocide in June 2021 to the UN’s International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands. The proposed global legal standard would ban "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts."

Ecosystem – A natural community of plants, animals, and other organisms and the surrounding physical environment in which they live and interact and interrelate. The term was introduced by English botanists Arthur G. Tansley and Arthur Roy Clapham in 1935. One ecosystem includes many habitats.

Fossil Fuels – The concept was introduced by German scientist-poet Andreas Libavius in his 1597 book Alchemia, widely considered the first chemistry text, though the term "fossil fuel" debuted in the writings of German chemist Caspar Neumann in 1759. Non-renewable types of fuel created from ancient, decayed plant and animal material trapped between layers of rock, deep within the Earth’s crust. Over millions of years, heat and pressure transformed this material into fossil fuels: coal, oil, and “natural gas.” Exploration for, extraction of (e.g., via oil wells and coal strip mines and deep mines), transporting (e.g., via pipelines), refining, and using fossil fuels all exact heavy toils on our environment. Fossil fuels still accounted for some 85 percent of world energy use in 2018 (comprised of petroleum 34 percent, coal 27 percent, and “natural gas” 24 percent). Much coal began forming during the Carboniferous period, some 360 to 300 million years ago, when algae and vegetation debris from tropical swamp-forests settled deep under layers of mud, and was highly pressurized. As of 2018, the nations of China, the USA, and India topped both world production and consumption of coal. (Coal can be classified as anthracite, bituminous, sub-bituminous, and lignite, depending on its carbon content percentage.) Petroleum, often called crude oil, formed mostly during the Mesozoic period, some 252 and 66 million years ago, as plankton, algae, and other matter sank to ancient sea bottoms, where it was buried and compressed. Just three nations—the USA, “Saudi” Arabia, and Russia—account for 4/10 of world petroleum production. “Natural gas” also formed millions of years ago, and was accidentally discovered in ancient China. While commercial “natural gas” hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, dates to the late 1940s, the technique boomed in the early 21st century, notably in the USA, despite huge environmental negatives from the estimated 1 million fracking wells drilled. Humans burn all those fossil fuels to make energy. But when fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and other pollutants.

Habitat – The geographic place in the natural environment where a specific plant, animal, fungi, or other living organisms naturally live—their home, where individual members of a species live, eat, sleep, and may propagate, considering the admixture of such factors as landscape, soil, moisture, temperature range, light intensity, availability of food, slope, altitude, and the presence or absence of predator species .Here are some examples of habitats found on land: tundra, grasslands, riparian zones, mountain ranges, deserts, and forests. Aquatic habitats include saltwater marshes, intertidal zones, and the deep sea.

Mitigation – Actions to decrease the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (such as driving an electric car instead of a gas-powered car to cut the amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere).

Pollutants – A toxic substance that contaminates the air, water, or land and that can cause problems in ecosystems as well as for human health (common examples include factory farm animal feces, slaughterhouse wastes mercury, arsenic, mercury, persistent organic pollutants, ozone particulate matter, environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds, among others).

Weather --conditions of the lower atmosphere (mostly the troposphere) at a certain place and time. The localized current Weather characteristics include temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, wind, and atmospheric pressure. Weather conditions are temporary and often change. As famed and witty journalist-author Mark Twain once quipped, “If you don't like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes… In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.


Note Bene: The initial installment of “Climate Vocabulary” was earlier posted on Green TV (US)

Additional resources:

Earth Justice – Because the Earth Needs a Good Lawyer

Indigenous Peoples Network

International Union for Conservation of Nature

Minnesota Department of Health Minnesota Climate & Health Program Vocabulary Terms

Christina Nunez, “Fossil Fuels, Explained,” National Geographic Society, Tuesday 2 April 2019

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – “Animals Used for Food” fact sheet

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – Vegan Starter Kit

Stop Ecocide International

“A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change: Glossary,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, September 2013


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