Climate Change Glossary

1.5 Degrees Celsius (2.7 Degrees Fahrenheit): Due to a host of natural factors, some areas – like the poles – are warming much faster than others. So, when we talk about preventing 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, we’re talking about preventing a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in the Earth’s average temperature. Some places have already crossed that line. (Climate Reality Project)

Carbon Footprint: Total amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by a person, family, building, organization, or company. A person’s carbon footprint includes greenhouse gas emissions from fuel that an individual burns directly, such as by heating a home or riding in a car. It also includes greenhouse gases that come from producing the goods or services that the individual uses, including emissions from power plants that make electricity, factories that make products, and landfills where trash gets sent. (EPA)

Carbon Sink: Any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The biggest carbon sinks are the world’s oceans and forests, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. (EPA)

Climate: Average of weather patterns over a long period of time (usually 30 or more years). (Climate Reality Project)

Climate Change: Any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time, including major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns that occur over several decades or longer. (EPA)

Climate Justice: Acknowledgment that climate change can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations. Advocates for climate justice strive to have these inequities addressed through long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies. (Yale Univ.)

Conservation: System of natural resource management. Conservation advocates “efficiency” and “wise use” of natural resources to avoid degradation and supply scarcity. (USIP)

Coral Bleaching: Process in which a coral colony under environmental stress expels the microscopic algae that live in symbiosis with their host organisms. The affected coral colony appears whitened. (EPA)

Ecoanxiety: A chronic fear of environmental doom. (APA)

Ecological Marginalization: When unequal resource access combines with population growth to cause migrations to regions that are ecologically fragile, such as steep upland slopes, areas at risk of desertification, tropical rain forests, and peri-urban squatter settlements. (USIP)

Emissions: The release of a substance (usually a gas when referring to the subject of climate change) into the atmosphere. (EPA)

Energy Efficiency: Using less energy to provide the same service. (EPA)

Environmental Defender: Individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna. (HRW)

Environmental Degradation: Diminishing of the environment’s resources and the deterioration of their quality through air and water pollution, land erosion, the destruction of ecosystems, animal extinction, and desertification, for example. (USIP)

Environmental Justice: Fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, incomes and educational levels with respect to the development and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. (Teaching Tolerance)

Environmental Racism: Disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. (Teaching Tolerance)

Frontline Communities: Communities that experience “first and worst” the consequences of climate change. These are communities of color and low-income, whose neighborhoods often lack basic infrastructure to support them and who will be increasingly vulnerable as our climate deteriorates. These are Native communities, whose resources have been exploited, and laborers whose daily work or living environments are polluted or toxic (Ecotrust)

Food Insecurity: A household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food (USDA)

Fossil Fuels: A general term for organic materials that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth’s crust over millions of years. (EPA)

Global Warming: An increase in the Earth’s average surface temperature from human-made greenhouse gas emissions. (Climate Reality Project)

Greenhouse Effect: Trapping and build-up of heat in the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the atmosphere and then reradiated back toward the Earth’s surface. (EPA)

Greenhouse Gas: A chemical compound found in the Earth’s atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and other human-made gases. (Climate Reality Project)

Indirect Emissions: Emissions of greenhouse gases that occur as a result of the generation of electricity used in a building. These emissions are called “indirect” because the actual emissions occur at the power plant which generates the electricity, not at the building using the electricity. (EPA)

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Established in 1988. The purpose of the IPCC is to assess information in the scientific and technical literature related to all significant components of the issue of climate change. With its capacity for reporting on climate change, its consequences, and the viability of adaptation and mitigation measures, the IPCC is looked to as the official advisory body to the world’s governments on the state of the science of the climate change issue. (EPA)

Just Transition: While there is no single definition, in the context of climate justice, a “just transition” is a guiding principle and rallying cry among those in the environmental and climate justice movement representing a desire to ensure that the move from the current economy to a renewable and sustainability-based economy includes the interests of everyday workers (including fossil fuel workers) and marginalized communities (CSIS).

Natural Resources: Materials that occur in nature and are essential or useful to humans, such as water, air, land, forests, fish and wildlife, topsoil, and minerals. They may be renewable—such as cropland, forests, and water that replenish over time by natural processes if used prudently. Or they may be nonrenewable—such as oil and minerals that have a finite quality to them and usually serve as a commodity for export in developing countries. (USIP)

Paris Agreement: A legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. (UNFCCC)

Pre-Industrial Levels of Carbon Dioxide: Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Scientists estimate these pre-industrial levels were about 280 PPM, well below where we are today. (Climate Reality Project)

Renewable Energy: Naturally replenishing resources such as biomass, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, ocean thermal, wave action, and tidal action. (EPA)

Sustainability: Harnessing natural resources without depleting them. It can also mean searching for alternative resources and technologies as replacements, for example, ethanol and wind. (USIP)

Weather: Atmospheric condition at any given time or place. It is measured in terms of such things as wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation. In most places, weather can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate is what you expect (e.g. cold winters) and weather is what you get (e.g. a blizzard). (EPA)

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