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The ABCs of Climate Change

climate change graphic with solar and wind energy in green field compared to dead tree and barren land with factory on it

There is a lot of terminology pertaining to climate change. Here are a few definitions to help your discussions.

Climate Change Terms A - C

Adaptation – The adjustments or modifications in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected impacts of climate change, with the goal of reducing harm or building off natural ecological processes and wealth. 

Alternative Energy – Energy derived from clean energy sources (e.g. solar, hydroelectric, wind). 

Anthropogenic - Refers to human activities or influences that contribute to climate change. 

Big agriculture - Large-scale commercial agriculture known for large monoculture crops, bioengineered and patented seeds, the intensive use of synthetic fertilizer, petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides, water, and land. Groups like CropLife have majority control over the sector. They produce largely for the supply chain of animal feed and benefit from massive government subsidies. 

Contributors to climate change and ecosystem degradation within agriculture: 

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the release of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). These gasses are emitted through various agricultural activities such as land clearing, livestock production, and the use of synthetic fertilizers. Livestock farming, especially from ruminant animals like cattle, produces significant methane emissions, while the use of synthetic fertilizers and certain agricultural practices can lead to nitrous oxide emissions. 
  • Deforestation and Land Conversion: Expanding agricultural land often requires clearing forests, leading to deforestation. Deforestation releases CO2 stored in trees and reduces the Earth's capacity to absorb CO2. Additionally, the destruction of ecosystems and habitats through land conversion disrupts biodiversity and ecological balance. 
  • Soil Degradation: Unsustainable agricultural practices, such as intensive monoculture farming, excessive tillage, and overuse of chemical inputs, can degrade soil quality. Soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and compaction reduce soil fertility and its ability to retain water, leading to decreased agricultural productivity. Soil degradation also releases carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. 
  • Water Pollution and Depletion: Agriculture relies heavily on water for irrigation, which can lead to excessive water consumption and depletion of freshwater sources. Moreover, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides can contaminate water bodies through runoff, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems and human health.
  • Loss of Biodiversity: Agricultural intensification often involves simplified landscapes dominated by a few high-yielding crop varieties or livestock breeds. This reduces biodiversity and disrupts ecological interactions. Loss of pollinators, such as bees, can adversely affect crop production, while the absence of natural predators can lead to pest outbreaks, requiring increased use of pesticides.
  • Energy Consumption: Modern agriculture is energy-intensive, relying on fossil fuels for machinery operation, transportation, and the production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The combustion of fossil fuels releases CO2, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 

Biodiversity loss - The decline in the variety of life on earth, including species, habitats, and genetic diversity. Biodiversity loss is driven by a variety of factors, including human activities such as deforestation, overfishing, the loss of the wild, urbanization, and invasive species. It is seen as a major threat to the planet's ecosystems and the services they provide. 

Biomimicry - The design and engineering of products and systems that mimic structures, functions, and processes found in nature. Biomimicry seeks to create more sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies and products by learning from the natural systems that have evolved over millions of years to solve complex problems. Distinct from biopiracy, see below. 

Biopiracy - Refers to the exploitation and attempt to patent traditional knowledge, genetic resources, or other aspects of biodiversity by corporations, individuals, or organizations, typically for commercial gain. Biopiracy is often associated with the theft of indigenous knowledge and the exploitation of traditional plant and animal species, and is seen as a violation of the rights of local communities and a threat to biodiversity. See cases against Neem in India. 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – A naturally occurring gas, and also a by-product of burning fossil fuels and biomass, as well as land-use changes and other industrial processes. 

Carbon Footprint – the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, organization, or country, typically measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). 

Carbon Neutral – Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions, either through reducing emissions or offsetting them through investments in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere. While the goal of carbon neutrality is commendable, the term has been criticized as a form of "greenwashing" because it can give companies and individuals a false sense of sustainability, without addressing the root causes and effects of their emissions. Additionally, some carbon offset projects have been

criticized for being ineffective or having negative social and environmental impacts, undermining the legitimacy of carbon neutrality claims. 

Carbon Offset – Carbon offsetting is a mechanism that allows individuals and organizations to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere. While carbon offsetting can be seen as a way of mitigating one's own emissions, it has been criticized as a form of "greenwashing" because it can create a false sense of sustainability, as emissions are not actually being reduced, but merely shifted to another location or time period, and it can lock indigenous people and farmers into the polluter’s control. 

Climate Change: Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among others, that occur over several decades or longer. 

Climate Education: The process of educating individuals and communities about the causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change. It aims to raise awareness and understanding about the complex and interrelated issues surrounding climate change and to provide the knowledge and skills needed to address this global and imminent challenge. 

Climate Justice: the idea that those who are responsible for causing climate change should bear the costs of mitigation and adaptation efforts, and that the impacts of climate change should be fairly distributed and not unfairly burden marginalized communities. 

Coal: a black or brownish-black sedimentary rock that is primarily composed of carbon, along with various other elements and impurities. It is the most abundant and widely used fossil fuel. Coal is burned in power plants to generate electricity and also used in industrial processes such as steel production.

Climate Change Terms D - F

Ecology: the scientific study of the interactions between living organisms and their environment. It is a multidisciplinary field that encompasses various aspects of biology, environmental science, and other related disciplines. Ecology seeks to understand how organisms interact with one another and with their physical surroundings, and how these interactions shape the distribution, abundance, and diversity of life on Earth. 

Ecological Footprint: The total of resources required to be provided and how much impact the sourcing of those resources had on the environment. Provides a measurement of human impact on the environment and helps to identify areas where sustainable changes can be made. Eating locally grown food or supporting local production is a way to reduce ecological footprint. 

Ecosystem: a biological community of living and nonliving things that interact with each other in a specific environment. It includes the interactions between organisms, such as plants and animals, and their physical surroundings, including soil, water, and air. 

The planetary ecosystem - also known as the biosphere - is a complex and interconnected system composed of various components. These components interact and influence one another, creating a dynamic equilibrium. The composite of the planetary ecosystem includes the following elements: 

  • Atmosphere: The atmosphere is the layer of gasses surrounding the Earth. It consists mainly of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), and traces of other gasses like carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. The atmosphere plays a crucial role in regulating temperature, weather patterns, and the exchange of gasses between the Earth's surface and space. 
  • Hydrosphere: The hydrosphere encompasses all the Earth's water, including oceans, rivers, lakes, groundwater, and atmospheric water vapor. Water is essential for sustaining life, regulating climate, and supporting various ecosystems. It is involved in processes such as precipitation, evaporation, condensation, and runoff. 
  • Lithosphere: The lithosphere refers to the Earth's solid outer shell, which includes the crust and uppermost part of the mantle. It provides a substrate for life and is the source of minerals, rocks, and soils. The lithosphere interacts with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere through processes like weathering, erosion, and volcanic activity. 
  • Biosphere: The biosphere encompasses all living organisms on Earth and includes various ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, deserts, oceans, and freshwater systems. It comprises plants, animals, microorganisms, and their interactions with one another and their environment. The biosphere plays a crucial role in nutrient cycling, energy flow, and maintaining overall ecological balance. 
  • Cryosphere: The cryosphere refers to the portions of the Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including ice caps, glaciers, snow, and permafrost. It interacts with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, affecting climate patterns, sea levels, and habitat availability for certain species. 

These components are interconnected through various feedback loops and processes, such as the carbon cycle, water cycle, and nutrient cycles. Changes in one component can have cascading effects on others, highlighting the importance of understanding and managing the planetary ecosystem as a whole. 

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

Energy Efficiency: Using less energy for the same activities, individually and at large. 

Environmental Justice: an equitable and sustainable future for all, ensuring that the benefits of preserving and restoring wild spaces and ecosystems are shared fairly across different communities. This can involve taking steps to address historic injustices, such as the displacement of indigenous communities from their ancestral lands, and ensuring that communities that have been historically marginalized and disadvantaged have a voice in decisions about the use of natural resources and the protection of the environment with dignity and no discrimination. 

No group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies. 

Extreme Weather Event – An extreme weather event is an event that is rare within its statistical reference distribution at a particular place. Definitions of “rare” vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile. By definition, the characteristics of what is called extreme weather may vary from place to place. An extreme climate event is an average of a number of weather events over a certain period of time, an average which is itself extreme (e.g., rainfall over a season). 

Fossil Fuels: non-renewable energy sources that are derived from the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. They are formed from the decomposition of organic matter, such as dead plants and microscopic organisms, which were buried under layers of sediment and subjected to high pressure and heat over long periods of time. The three main types of fossil fuels are coal, oil (petroleum), and natural gas. 

Fossil Fuel Industrial Complex: The interlocking system of fossil fuel companies, government agencies, and political interests that has developed over the past several centuries, producing large quantities of fossil fuels, products derived from fossil fuels such as plastics, chemicals, fuel, medicine, pharmaceuticals, clothing materials, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and industries which run on fossil fuel based machinery. 

Climate Change Terms G - N

Global Warming: The recent and ongoing global average increase in temperature near the Earth’s surface. 

Global Warming Potential: a measure of how much a particular greenhouse gas contributes to global warming over a specific time frame compared to carbon dioxide (CO2). Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas with a higher GWP than CO2. Here's an explanation of the global warming potential of nitrous oxide: Global Warming Potential (GWP): GWP is a relative measure that compares the warming potential of a greenhouse gas to that of CO2, which is assigned a GWP of 1.

The GWP values are calculated based on the gas's ability to absorb and retain heat in the atmosphere over a specified period, typically 100 years. For example, if a gas has a

GWP of 100, it is estimated to have 100 times the warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year period. 

  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas primarily released from agricultural and industrial activities. It is produced through microbial processes in soils, particularly from the use of synthetic and organic nitrogen fertilizers, livestock manure management, and the combustion of fossil fuels. N2O also naturally occurs in small amounts from natural processes like microbial activity in oceans and soils. 
  • Global Warming Potential of Nitrous Oxide: Nitrous oxide has a significantly higher global warming potential than CO2. Its GWP over a 100-year timeframe is approximately 298 times that of CO2. This means that, on average, one ton of N2O released into the atmosphere would have about 298 times the warming effect of one ton of CO2 over a 100-year period. However, it's important to note that the actual warming impact can vary depending on the specific time horizon considered, as the GWP values change over different timeframes. 
  • Contributing Factors: Nitrous oxide's high global warming potential is primarily due to its long atmospheric lifetime and its ability to absorb infrared radiation. It remains in the atmosphere for approximately 114 years, allowing it to exert its warming effect over an extended period. Additionally, N2O absorbs and traps heat radiation effectively, contributing to its strong warming potential. 

Greenhouse Gas: gasses in the atmosphere that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere, and clouds. Such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). They trap heat and cause global warming, affecting ice caps and poles, and planetary nature. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have led to an increase in the concentrations of these gasses in the atmosphere. 

Greenwashing: the deceptive marketing of products or services as environmentally friendly or sustainable, when in reality continuing to have a negative impact on the environment. Greenwashing is often used to mislead consumers into thinking they are making a more environmentally responsible choice, when in fact they are not. 

Mitigation: Efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gasses, with the goal of reducing the magnitude and rate of climate change. 

Natural Gas: Underground deposits of gasses consisting of 50 to 90 percent methane (CH4) and small amounts of heavier gaseous hydrocarbon compounds such as propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10).

Climate Change Terms O - Z

Oil (Petroleum): a thick, dark liquid composed of hydrocarbons. It is found in underground reservoirs and extracted through drilling. Oil is refined to produce various fuels such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and heating oil. It is widely used in transportation, heating, and manufacturing. 

Regenerative Agriculture: an approach to farming and land management that aims to restore and enhance ecosystem health, improve soil fertility, and promote biodiversity while also providing sustainable food production. It is a holistic and systems-based approach that focuses on regenerating rather than depleting natural resources. Regenerative agriculture recognizes the interconnectedness of ecological, social, and economic systems and aims to create resilient and sustainable food production systems. By promoting soil health, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration, it offers potential solutions to address climate change, ecosystem degradation, and food security challenges. 

Renewable Energy: Energy resources that are replenished naturally such as biomass, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, ocean thermal, wave action, and tidal action which emit little or no greenhouse gasses and have a lower impact on the environment than fossil fuels. 

SDG: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets adopted by the United Nations in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. While the SDGs are a positive step towards addressing global sustainability issues, they have been criticized for being too vague and for lacking concrete actions, making it easier for companies to make false claims about their sustainability efforts. 

Stewardship: the responsible management and protection of natural resources and ecosystems for future generations. Stewardship encompasses a wide range of activities, from the protection of biodiversity and habitats, to the responsible use of resources and the reduction of waste, and is seen as an essential component of sustainable development. 

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.