PE Ledger

The latest dictionary update demonstrates how the changing climate affects everything, including language

As COP26 comes to a close, reading the new terms added to the OED is fascinating, disheartening, and somehow hopeful.

Everything changes as a result of climate change, including language.

New words and word compounds have been created at the same time that existing words have had new meanings or senses added to them. The Oxford English Dictionary has produced an update on the language of climate change and environmental sustainability in order to keep up with the times.

It’s fascinating, disheartening, and weirdly encouraging to read it as the world leaves Glasgow following the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).

Chemical formulas aren’t usually included in the OED, but it has made an essential exception for CO2 because it has become “so ingrained” in our everyday language, according to the dictionary.

If its definition is correct – “Carbon dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas created by the combustion of organic molecules and fossil fuels, by respiration and decomposition processes, and by volcanic activity, and absorbed by plants during photosynthesis” – then its inclusion is vital. CO2 levels in the atmosphere peaked at 419.13 parts per million in May 2021, the highest since 1958.

There’s nothing pleasant about heating the world.

Global warming is also a recent addition to the list. Although the term “global warming” is still more commonly used, “global heating” is being used more frequently because it “more strongly expresses the seriousness of climate change caused by human activity and the urgent need to address it.” After all, the word “global warming” connotes a sense of cosiness, despite the fact that a warming world is anything but cosy.

Because climate can be a modifier, the climate entry has been expanded to include climate action, climate disaster, climate crisis, climate denial, climate denialism, climate denier, climate emergency, climate justice, climate refugee, climate sceptic, and climate strike, in alphabetical order.

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