Glossary of Climate Literature(s) and Climate Literacy Terms

The Glossary is our work-in-progress dictionary for terms, concepts, ideas, solutions, technologies, people, places, processes, and other language we use on this website. None of the definitions you find here are definitive, and we offer sources whenever possible. Many terms included here have multiple or conflicting definitions too. The Glossary does not include titles of books and other works discussed in the database. 

Click the menu below to quickly navigate to your desired letter.

A

Agroforestry (origin: collective and J. Russel Smith)

Agroforestry is “the intentional integration of forestry with agriculture” (regeneration.org). This means that trees and shrubs are integrated into croplands and farmlands. This strategy is a low-cost way to make agriculture more sustainable, promote biodiversity, and combat climate change. 

Agroforestry promotes soil health and can be a method of soil conservation and regeneration. The trees and shrubs also help to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, combating global warming. Agroforestry increases water quality and crop yields, therefore providing economic benefit to farmers as well. Agroforestry systems work through utilizing positive ecological interactions between crops, animals, and trees. This can include providing shade, reducing pests, water retention, and reducing species competition.

J. Russel Smith formally outlined the concept of agroforestry in 1929, but agroforestry is an Indigenous environmental practice used since ancient times. Billions of people around the world use this agricultural method. The study and promotion of agroforestry is becoming an important way to maintain cultural traditions and include Indigenous voices in the mitigation of climate change.

©2024 ClimateLit (Amanda Golat)

More Resources:

http://regeneration.org/nexus/agroforestry

https://www.usda.gov/topics/forestry/agroforestry

https://www.britannica.com/science/agroforestry

Animal Cruelty

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Anthropocene (origin: Paul Crutzen)

The Anthropocene is the most popular name proposed for the current geological epoch in which human activity has fundamentally and irreversibly altered Earth’s environmental and geological systems, pushing them from the range of natural variability into “no-analogue state” (134).

Coined in 2000 by Nobel-prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, the Anthropocene (or, the era of humans) was proposed as a new epoch after the Holocene, a period of stable climate conditions since the end of the last ice age.. Like previously named geological epochs, the Anthropocene meets criteria from the International Union of Geological Sciences to earn the designation: it is evidenced in stratigraphic materials like rock, glacier ice, or marine sediments; it is strongly correlated with specific terrestrial events; and it can be detected at numerous points across the globe. As a codified geological epoch, the Anthropocene insists that climate change be understood as a fundamental, human-caused transformation, irreducible to simple, peripheral shifts in weather patterns.

While geologists agree that humans have fundamentally altered the Earth’s strata, they continue to debate which era of human activity should constitute the Anthropocene’s beginning. Common dates include domestication of fire between 300k and 500k BCE, the first agricultural revolutions in roughly 8000 BCE) European colonization of the Americas beginning in the early 1600’s CE, the onset of intensified industrialism in 18th century Europe, and the “Great Acceleration” of post-World War Two consumerism in the West.

These debates reflect the ideological underpinnings of the climate crisis. Indigenous critiques of the term Anthropocene point out that the universal, general “anthropo” is a misnomer—the greatest responsibility for the crisis lies with the so-called Global North and West. Similarly, ecocentric scholars argue that “anthropo” naturalizes the crisis, as if the fault were with human nature rather than the exploitative and destructive social and economic systems. As of 2022, critics have put forth more nuanced terms such as EuroceneCapitaloceneUrbanoscene, and more.

The Anthropocene should be understood as both a geological fact and a conceptual apparatus. As the latter, it is still flexible enough and big enough to accommodate the myriad developments that have occurred within it while maintaining enough specificity to prevent it becoming a catch-all term for modernity. The “Anthropocene” is thus a term with teeth, indicating the myriad causes and conditions of our current crisis: the economic and political dominance of the Global North and West, widening socioeconomic inequality, rapid digitalization and automation of labor, alienation from the land and the non-human environment, colonialism, white supremacy, extractivist capitalist economies, and unprecedented urbanization.

©2022 ClimateLit (Nick Kleese)

See also: Earth Systems TheoryGaia TheoryAnthropocentrism

Anthropocentrism

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B

Biodiversity (origin: Thomas Lovejoy, Elliott Norse, and E.O. Wilson)

Biodiversity is an umbrella term, originated in conservation science of the 1980s, that refers to “the totality of all inherited variation in the life forms of Earth” (E.O. Wilson), from genes and microbial life, to species, biomes, and ecosystems.

The notion of biodiversity was introduced into mainstream conservation discourse in the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Since then, the CBD has sponsored periodic reports on biological diversity, which summarize the status of Earth’s biodiversity and actions taken to safeguard it. The most recent Global Biodiversity Outlook report (GBO5, released in 2020) found that the world has failed to reach even one of the major biodiversity conservation targets it had set for itself in 2010. In September 2020, this recognition led to 64 countries sign Leader’s Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The most recent WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022 reveals an average decline of 69% in species populations since 1970.

Some of the recent proposals to save the world’s biodiversity include E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth—a call to set aside half of the land and half of the ocean surface to preserve sufficient habitat to ensure the long-term health of the planet; The Wyss campaign for Nature which seeks to mobilize the world to protect 30% of the marine and terrestrial surface by 2030; and Doug Tellamy’s grassroots initiative Homegrown National Park, which encourages individuals to rewild all of the land they own. In the U.S., 76% of the land is in private hands, and 85.6% of the land east of the Mississippi is privately owned. 

©2023 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

See also: Biodiversity loss, Half Earth, Gaia

Biodiversity Loss

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Birding

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Boardbook

The boardbook is a specific format of children’s literature typically made of thick, laminated cardboard that can withstand the chewing, tossing, and general abuse wrought by its very young readers (ages 0 to 3 or “Sprouts” ). Like similar formats—including pop-up, pull-tab, feelie, sound, panorama and other toy books, as well as the more archaic linen, cloth, and rag books that were among some of the first “indestructible” books for children— boardbooks are intended to be infants’ first introduction to book culture. They are useful in developing pre-literacy skills that include recognition of text and image, awareness of print conventions (text orientation, direction of page turns, etc), and the fundamentals of narrative.

As such, boardbook content is often very simple: a single image with accompanying text displayed against a monochromatic background, such as Sandra Boynton’s A to Z. Other boardbooks may include very sparse narratives that convey everyday routines, objects, animals, or concepts, like the iconic Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury. Still, boardbooks are not only introductions to print culture. They are also technologies of socialization. They are laden with values about what is considered “everyday,” “normal,” “good” etc. For this reason, boardbooks are instrumental in either reproducing or challenging prevailing cultural assumptions about human society and its relationship with the non-human world. 

Related terms: preliteracy 

More: Vicki Ash, “What makes a good board book?” The Horn Book Magazine, March 1, 2010

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

C

Carbon Accounting

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Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets or carbon credits are a neoliberal economic construct meant to utilize the marketplace to incentivize companies to reduce their carbon emissions. A single offset represents one ton of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and these credits are government certified, to be bought and sold between government and industry. These credits encourage companies to seek out lower emissions in the production or distribution of goods. As governments pass policies to penalize carbon emissions, companies can purchase carbon offsets to lessen the impact of their growth. The cost to sequester carbon combined with government regulation could incentivize industry to change how it operates. Carbon offsets, like carbon taxes and subsidies, are an attempt to construct carbon pricing, thus putting an environmental and economic price tag on industry’s growth.

The United Nations under the Kyoto Protocol created The Clean Development Mechanism, a system to manage the exchange of carbon offsets. As the carbon marketplace expands, offsets take form as voluntary or compliant. Voluntary offsets are purchased by individuals, non-profits, and companies that want to lessen their carbon footprint, whereas a compliant carbon offset is purchased because regulations require a company to lessen its carbon emission. The multibillion-dollar carbon marketplace is considered one of many important tools for combatting climate change. As climate change is a global issue, carbon offsets function on a global scale. Purchasing an offset could support projects around the world that are restoring habitats or building clean energy infrastructure.

©2024 ClimateLit (Jared Goodman)

Related Terms: carbon credits, carbon neutrality, net zero carbon emissions, carbon sequestration, carbon pricing.

Sources:

Climate Adaptation

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Carbon Budget

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California fires 2020

Climate Change (origin: collective or Gilbert Plass)

Climate change is a plural notion that refers to the consequences of complex feedback loops linking 1) anthropogenic global warming, 2) other human-driven processes—including biodiversity loss, pollution, desertification, deforestation, species extinction, soil erosion, ocean acidification, the expansion of human populations, resource depletion, etc.—and 3) all living systems of the planet: consequences that manifest in and as a long-term change in Earth’s weather patterns.

In many contexts climate change can be used interchangeably with global warming. However, climate change is a wider notion, “including global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect”. The open-endedness has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your needs.

The key advantage is that climate change is a “fuzzy set” term—one that encompasses a multiplicity of components with degrees of membership: some of them more central, others more removed or indirect, yet part of the larger whole nevertheless. Using “climate change” allows you to signal that while global warming is indeed “the mother of all issues” (An Inconvenient Truth), the cluster of processes and relations described under the umbrella of “climate change” are not limited to weather. They have equally serious social, political, and economic consequences for human societies, all non-human life, and the planet as a whole. This may be one reason why the United Nations body (IPCC) is called the panel on Climate Change rather than on global warming, environmental crisis, or the Anthropocene. For some, the term climate change is still too narrow. The Club of Rome, for example, prefers to use what they see as a wider and more accurate term of “Climate-Planetary Emergency.”

The disadvantage of climate change as a fuzzy term is that it can be manipulated by deniers and those who point out that climate has always been changing. Since NASA scientist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress, many scientists have preferred to use the more quantifiable term global warming. Global warming refers to a measurable rise in the global mean surface temperature of the earth caused by anthropogenic activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels. Because it’s quantifiable, “global warming” is often more useful than “climate change”—especially for the purposes of scientific reports, international agreements, and policy documents. Another objection against the term “climate change” has been that subsuming all processes under climate change is counterproductive, as many of those need to be addressed as distinct issues. This has especially been the case with biodiversity loss.

As of 2021, there is a widespread agreement that the evil twins of climate change and biodiversity loss are closely relatedcannot be tackled independently, and must be solved together or not at all

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: global warming, Anthropocene, IPCC, climate literacy, climate change denial, carbon emissions, fossil fuels

Sign that says There is No Planet B, Climate Literacy, Climate Lit

Climate Literacy (origin: NOAA)

Climate literacy—sometimes called “climate change literacy”—does not have a widely accepted definition yet. The notion of climate literacy was first used by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 2006 as a synonym for “climate science literacy,” i.e. “an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.” The concept of climate science literacy received more extensive treatment in NOAA’s 2009 brochure “Climate Literacy: the Essential Principles of Climate Science.” However, for scholars in the environmental humanities, climate science literacy—or, understanding the science behind climate change—is not exactly the same as climate literacy—or, understanding our entanglements with, responsibilities in, and agency in regard to climate change. Climate literacy, Hiser and Lynch argue, is a wider concept involving not just “various disciplinary lenses” but the kind of knowing that is “emotionally charged and intimately connected to one’s worldview and paradigms of time, space, and nature” (98). 

As proposed by Oziewicz, climate literacy refers to “an understanding of the climate emergency—its facts, drivers, impacts, and urgency—that centers on developing values, attitudes, and behavioral change aligned with how we should live to safeguard the Earth’s integrity in the present and for future generations” (p.34). This framing of climate literacy as an integrated and multidisciplinary competence centers two forms of knowledge: the awareness that the present moment offers us a narrow window for transformative action that can usher in an ecological civilization (see hope and rapture ideologies); and an understanding of how climate change today is driven by human activity in general and the ecocidal operations of neoliberal capitalism in particular (see Capitalocene). The direct relationship between neoliberalism and climate change—explored, among others, in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014), Klein’s The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019), and Michael Mann’s The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet (2021)—is a fundamental component of climate literacy.

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: climate change denialsystemic drivers [of climate change], climate activismecological civilizationecocideneoliberalism

Coal Mining

Coal is a sedimentary rock made from dead plants and animals that have built up over thousands of years under pressure and heat. Known primarily for its status as a fossil fuel, coal is mainly used as a source of heat and electricity. In contrast to renewable energy sources like sun, wind, and water, coal is a nonrenewable resource that could eventually be depleted.

Coal seams have been found on every continent, but the largest coal reserves are in the U.S., Russia, China, Australia, and India. According to Hilt’s Law, the farther underground the coal is, the more carbon it will contain. If the coal is less than 61 meters (~200 feet) deep, then it can be mined at the surface; otherwise, it is mined underground.

There are three common forms of surface mining: strip mining, open-pit mining, and mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. All forms involve tearing up the ground above the coal and then removing the coal seam below it. This is typically a quicker process compared to underground mining, making surface mining the cheaper option. However, surface mining can have severe impacts on the environment. It can destroy landscapes, cause landslides and subsidence, and allow harmful elements to seep into the air, aquifers, and water tables.

Underground mining methods include longwall mining, room-and-pillar mining, and retreat mining. This coal is more valuable, but its retrieval is more costly since it requires more digging and more machines. It is also much more dangerous. The mines can explode and leave behind toxic residue that can pollute local water supplies. Miners in underground mines also face the risks of suffocation, toxic gas exposure, and black lung disease (which is caused by excessive coal dust inhalation).

Although the use of coal as a heat source be traced all the way back to the first century, its full potential for energy generation was not realized until the Industrial Revolution. In 1769, James Watt invented the steam engine, which used coal to power machines that were used for mass production, generating energy, and fueling ships and trains. Coal is also used in the steel industry to help heat and purify steel so that it can be stronger and more flexible. As of February 2023, the U.S. relies on coal for 19.5% of its energy. Burning coal can have negative effects. The burning of coal releases carbon dioxide (which is the greenhouse gas most responsible for ocean acidification, climate change, and global warming), sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (which can lead to acid rain, smog, and respiratory illness), mercury (which is toxic when added to water), and fly ash (which can pollute the environment and lead to major health risks).

©2024 ClimateLit (Hannah Hein)

More Resources:

https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/Elem_Coal_Studyguide.pdf

https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/coal/

Coastal Erosion

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Collective Climate Action (origin: collective and Elinor Ostrom)

Collective action refers to action taken by a group of people to achieve a shared goal. In the case of collective climate action, the goal can be mitigation of the effects of climate change, adaptation of systems or infrastructure in anticipation of climate risk, or a deeper transformation of the conditions driving the climate crisis. Oftentimes, collective climate action is conceptualized as a grassroots social movement, composed of citizens working for change at the community scale. Examples of this sort of collective climate action include the School Strike for Climate demonstrations, community action days for tree planting, beach clean-ups, or teach-ins. The concept of collective action is often juxtaposed with individual action, which focuses on the individual choices, decisions, and actions people make in the name of environmentally responsible behavior.

Conventional collective action theory questions the efficacy of collective action, positing that individuals will not work toward the common good without the presence of externally imposed regulations (see: tragedy of the commons). Economist Elinor Ostrom challenged this perspective, contending that in the case of climate change, collective action can be achieved via a polycentric approach where individual families, communities, non-governmental organizations, and sub-national and national governments work to combat climate change within their own spheres of influence.

©2024 ClimateLit (Neela Nandyal)

Related terms: individual action, mitigation, tragedy of the commons, transformation

Looking for more? Check these resources:

Ostrom, Elinor. “Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change.” Global Environmental Change, vol. 20, no. 4, 2010, pp. 550–57, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.07.004.

Tosun, Jale, and Jonas J. Schoenefeld. “Collective climate action and networked climate governance.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 8.1 (2017): e440.

Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)

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D

Deep Time (origin: John McPhee)

Deep time is the measurement of Earth’s chronology on the scale of geologic events and epochs. Based on Earth’s 4.54-billion-year history, deep time is almost unimaginably vast – far more so than conceptualizations of time based on the human lifetime. This means that, much like “deep space,” deep time can be a difficult idea to fully grasp.

The term itself was introduced by American author John McPhee in reference to the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton, who is often considered the “Father of Modern Geology.” During his study of the landscape in the Scottish Lowlands, Hutton theorized that geological formations endured continuing transformations over long periods of time. This work, along with that of other early geologists, suggested that the earth was far older than previously thought, leading Hutton to tell the Royal Society of Edinburgh in a 1785 lecture that “with respect to human observation, this world has neither a beginning nor an end.”

In context of climate literacy, the concept of deep time can be used to understand the profound impact that humans have had on the planet in the short amount of time we have existed (see the Anthropocene). While most alterations to Earth’s climate have been made gradually over millions of years, human-induced climate change is currently occurring at a rapid rate, meaning that many ecosystems are unable to adapt quickly enough. Using deep time thinking can help us comprehend the magnitude of our actions and the long-term consequences they entail.

©2024 ClimateLit (Brandon Storlie)

Related terms: Anthropocene, Slow Violence

Sources:

Denby, D. (2004, October 3). Northern Lights: How modern life emerged from eighteenth-century Edinburgh. New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/10/11/northern-lights-3.

McPhee, J. A. (1983). Annals of the Former World. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

man pointing, Deflection, Climate Lit

Deflection (origin: Michael Mann)

As described in Michael Mann’s The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet (2021), deflection refers to a set of strategies adopted since the early 2000s by Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Banks, and other petronormative institutions whose operations constitute the systemic drivers of climate change (see ecocide) to project the blame for the destruction on individual consumers (see producerism). At a time when it becomes increasingly harder to deny the reality and severity of climate change, deflection is becoming the new climate denial. In all its forms, deflection is aimed to blame individual consumers rather than corporate actors, emphasize individual responsibility over corporate culpability, personal change over systemic change, individual action over collective action, personal choice over government regulations. “Those who mount deflection campaigns,” Mann writes, “are not truly interested in solving problems … Instead, their intent is to sabotage systemic solutions that might be disadvantageous to moneyed interests” (61). Thus, “the focus on the individual’s role in solving climate change” has been “carefully nurtured by industry” (63). 

Mann’s argument is supported by a long line of research on corporate-sponsored climate denial and doubtism by Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes (see climate change denial and Merchants of Doubt). For example, the notion of a personal carbon footprint was introduced by none other than BP in the mid-2000s as a way to divide climate advocates by generating conflict, behavior-shaming, and deflecting the conversation away from systemic change. As part of this deflection, BP also launched one of the first personal carbon footprint calculators, claiming that attention to personal carbon footprint makes it “the environmentally conscious oil company” (Mann 64). 

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: systemic drivers [of climate change], climate change denial, climate doubt, petronormativity, neoliberalism

See also: 

Emma Pattee, “The Fallacy of Our Carbon Footprint,” YES! Magazine, May 10, 2021.

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes. “Rhetoric and frame analysis of ExxonMobil’s climate change communications.” One Earth 4, 696–719, May 21, 2021.

Deforestation

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Drawdown Framework for Climate Solutions
Image from drawdown.org.
Emission Sources and Natural Sinks
Image from drawdown.org.

Drawdown (origin: Paul Hawken)

Drawdown describes the goal of reversing global warming and “the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. This is the point when we begin the process of stopping further climate change and averting potentially catastrophic warming. It is a critical turning point for life on Earth” (Drawdown framework). Defined as a future goal, Drawdown began in 2001 when American environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author Paul Hawken began asking experts the same question: what do we need to do to arrest and reverse global warming? Collecting responses from multiple fields, in 2013 Hawken launched an interdisciplinary Project Drawdown. Its goal was to “identify, measure, and model one hundred substantive solutions to determine how much we could accomplish within three decades toward that end” (Drawdown x). 2017 saw the first edition of Drawdown: the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin Books), edited by Hawken. Since then, solutions have been added, their importance reevaluated, and the project has been updated based on most recent research. For example, in 2017 the #1 problem whose solving would reduce the greatest amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (89.74 Gigatons) was the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigerants (Drawdown 164). By 2021, the #1 challenge is reducing global food waste (equivalent to eliminating 87.45 Gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere). Refrigerant management is now the 4th key challenge (at 57.75 Gigatons), preceded by the need for girls’ education and family planning (at 85.42 Gigatons) and a transition to plant-rich diets (65.01 Gigatons). For Project Drawdown’s latest analysis and insights, check The Drawdown Review

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: global warming, climate literacy, climate justice, solutions

E

Eco-anxiety

As defined by the American Psychological Association, eco-anxiety is the “chronic fear of environmental doom.” In 2011, Glenn Albrecht was the first one to report mental health issues driven by pollution, biodiversity loss, and other ecological disasters. Eco-anxiety was one of the psychoterratic syndromes mentioned by the author. According to a recent review, this fear for the future triggers a series of health implications such as depression, hopelessness, stress, insomnia, functional impairment, and reluctance to have children.

Over the last few years, with the media increasingly covering global warming, eco-anxiety evolved into climate anxiety. Since 2017, google searches for both eco-anxiety and climate anxiety have boomed. In particular, according to a recent YouGov poll, young (16 to 24-year-olds) Brits are more likely to be “very worried” about climate change, as compared to the respondents over 50. On the bright side, 86% of the survey participants reported that going outdoors and being among nature was an effective coping strategy. In addition, having a shared space to explore eco-emotions and engage in storytelling, as demonstrated by a school-based pilot project, reduces young peoples’ eco-anxiety while promoting hope.

©2024 ClimateLit (Antonio Salituro)

Related terms: Climate anxiety, climate grief, solastalgia

Ecocentrism

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Ecocide

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Ecofiction

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Ecological Civilization (origin: collective or John B. Cobb, Jr.)

An ecological civilization is an umbrella term for the vision of a transformed civilization based on the core principles that sustain living systems in natural ecologies. An ecological civilization would be built on life-affirming values rather than wealth accumulation (see ecocidal civilization, petronormativity, ecocide) and structured to create the conditions for all humans to flourish as part of a thriving, living Earth (see sustainability, Just Transition). A fundamental precept would be the recognition of fractal flourishing: that the well-being of each person is fractally related to the health of the larger world. Some of the core principles of an ecological civilization would include fairness, justice, individual dignity, diversity, integration, balance, and symbiosis between humans and nonhuman nature. Human activity would be organized not merely to avoid harm to the living Earth but to actively regenerate and sustain its health (see Rights of Nature). In practice, an ecological civilization would likely entail 1) strict restrictions on the power of transnational corporations (see triple bottom line for corporations, regenerative economy), 2) a renewal of the commons, 3) a universal basic income (see social justice, climate justice), 4) a shift from industrial monocrop agriculture to regenerative agriculture (see agroecology), and 5) a devolution of power to local and regional levels where their effects are felt most (see subsidiarity).

Many of the underlying principles and values for an ecological civilization may be found in the traditions of Indigenous communities throughout the world. In China, the concept of “ecological civilization” has been used as a platform by the Chinese Communist Party, but so far has not fully materialized in major policy priorities. In modern Western society, the idea of an ecological civilization has been developed among a select group of visionary thinkers since the 1970s and is gaining increased traction. The Institute for Ecological Civilization, based in California, works to disseminate these ideas. 

©2021 ClimateLit (Jeremy Lent)

Related terms: sustainability, regenerative agriculture, agroecology, climate justice, the commons, Rights of Nature, regenerative economy, transnational corporations, universal basic income, just transition

More:

Ecological Overshoot

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Ecosystem Services

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Environmental Justice

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Extinction

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Extractivism

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F

Food Webs

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Foraging

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Fracking

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G

Gaia (origin: collective and James E. Lovelock & Lynn Margulis)

Gaia, also known as the Gaia Hypothesis, was named after the Greek Goddess of Earth. The Gaia Hypothesis states that Earth is a self-regulating entity which keeps the planet functioning to serve all life that resides on it. Some examples of the Earth as self-regulating are changes in temperature, shifting plates, or even aquatic organisms creating elements that land needs.

While the Western understanding of Gaia was generated by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the 1970’s–making it a relatively new theory of how the planet functions–Gaia as a concept has been around for centuries. The name Gaia derives from Greek mythology, but many Indigenous cultures and religions across the globe view the Earth as sacred and a living being and give her other names such as Pachamama (Indigenous people of the Andes) and Bhumi (Hindu). In 20th century popular culture, Mother Earth became a popular characterization of this concept of a caring personification of the planet.

Seeing that human behavior has caused so much interference and harm to Mother Earth, some scientists believe we have messed with the self-regulatory flow (see Anthropocene) which has led to a new theory of “Gaia 2.0,” according to Osborne at Newsweek. This is where we as humans become aware that we have the power to manipulate and manage these self-regulating systems. However, some scientists question how much power humans have over the Earth’s flow since, if humans were to go extinct, Earth would still be here, self-regulating its new systems.

©2024 ClimateLit (Amalia Oien)

Related Terms: Anthropocene, Climate Change, Animism, Vitalism, Pachamama, Earth’s Aliveness, Mother Earth

Want to learn more? Check out the following:

Boston, P.J. “Gaia Hypothesis.Science Direct, 2008,

Osborne, Hannah. “Humans Have Altered Earth’s Self-Regulation System.Newsweek, Newsweek, 18 Sept. 2018

Global Warming

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Goldilocks Planet

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Greenhouse Gases

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H

Host Plant Specialization

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I

Individual Action

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Interconnectedness (origin: collective)

Interconnectedness is a worldview that emphasizes the deep interdependence of everything on Earth. From animals to water to rocks to bacteria, our fates are inextricably intertwined. Interconnectedness understands the world as a set of systems in delicate balance with one another. It is the opposite of the belief that humans are separate from or above nature.

The concept of interconnectedness can be found in Indigenous and scientific discourses. It is an ancient concept and is fundamental to the Four R’s of Indigenous cultural values, first articulated by LaDonna Harris and Jacqueline Wasilewski through their inter-tribal work with Americans for Indian Opportunity in the 1980s and 1990s. These common values are based on the kinship of all Earthlings and our obligations to one another.

In Western science, interconnection can be seen within the feedback loops of ecosystems such as nutrient cycles, food webs, and microbiomes. The interdisciplinary field of systems sciences explores the complexity of systems in various settings, including nature, society, and the human body.

Although sometimes referred to by different terms (interdependence, dependence on nature), the concept of interconnectedness is seen by many climate justice and sustainability activists as the cornerstone of an ecological civilization. It is emphasized in the principles of the just transition collective, Climate Justice Alliance. It was promoted by Thich Nhat Hang, Vietnamese Buddhist leader and peace activist, in his book, Love Letter to the Earth. And it is an essential mindset shift Kate Raworth advocates for in Doughnut Economics

©2024 ClimateLit (Nicki May)

Related Terms: Doughnut Economics, ecological civilization, fractal flourishing, human supremacy (antonym), ecocentrism, ecopsychology, industrial ecology, web of life, food webs, ecosystem services

J

Jevons Paradox

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K

Keeling Curve

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Kiribati

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L

Land Ethic

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Leopold, Aldo

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Limits to Growth

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Local Food

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M

Marine Conservation

Marine conservation is the concern for and protection of species and ecosystems of the oceans and seas. Oceans and seas, as habitats rich in resources that have significant economic value, are vulnerable to human overexploitation, especially in the name of fishing. Marine conservation calls for the protection of these resource rich areas to protect vital resources from irreversible damage, impacting climate on a global scale.

Marine conservation is grounded in the planned management of resources to protect marine ecosystems. These management techniques limit and restrict human overuse and overharvesting of fish and other marine life. Many countries around the world have implemented laws and treaties to protect against overfishing by limiting quantities of catches. There are also technologies that work to target intended species while fishing and expel unintended marine species from catches. Restriction and educational measurements have also been implemented in tourist industries to move toward sustainable tourism.

Marine conservation is one of the world’s most imperative areas of climate change concern. When these ecosystems are threatened and potentially irreversibly changed, the impact on the Earth’s ecological health is detrimental. It is an ethical responsibility on both an individual and collective scale to protect the oceans and seas.

©2024 ClimateLit (Kaylin Burton)

Resources:

Mitigation

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N

Nakate, Vanessa

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Nearby Nature

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Neoliberalism

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O

One Percent

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P

Earth-dawn, Planetarianism, Climate Lit

Planetarianism (origin: Marek Oziewicz)

Planetarianism is an epistemological orientation proposed by Marek Oziewicz as an alternative to the dominant neoliberal discourse that renders Earth as expendable and unsavable. A two-level phenomenon, planetarianism refers to a biocentric commitment to stand up for the planet and our common biospheric legacy in everything we do: how we work, eat, travel, and live. In the realm of language, planetarianism operates as applied hope articulated through stories—a form of hope-as-resistance and a conceptual tool for ushering in the future we want (instead of the future we fear).

Informing the notion of planetarianism is the assumption that Earth’s future will largely be shaped by the stories we choose tell in the present: that the challenge of addressing climate change is primarily the challenge to our imaginations and story systems. Planetarianism recognizes that to successfully navigate the Anthropocene we need to develop a new awareness of how to use stories and specifically to challenge ourselves to imagine a biocentric future and an ecological civilization. Planetarianism is a name for the process of unleashing our anticipatory imagination and channeling it into designing alternatives to the ecocidal present. So conceived, planetarianism can be examined as a distinct component of narrative fiction.

Planetarianist fiction envision the planet as a living entity, imagines a non-ecocidal socioeconomic system, depicts disanthropocentrized relations among humanity and other life forms, and gestures at a biocentric multispecies future that is worth living for. Such fiction prefigures attitudes and relations. It mobilizes hope for the planet by engaging anticipatory imagination as a tool for disrupting ecocide, creating space for healing, and enabling meaningful change. Planetarianist fiction largely overlaps with what Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone have called stories of the Great Turning: stories “committed to the healing and recovery of the world” in which “the central plot is finding and offering our gift of Active Hope” (p. 5). The cultural work of planetarianist literature(s) builds on two aspirations. One, to nourish a sense of hope for the planet even in the absence of specific solutions—a task especially crucial in children’s literature and media. Two, to explore the meanings of hope as a form of collective action rooted in anticipatory imagination. Planetarianist literature(s) showcase hope for the planet as an emergent quality arising from collective dreaming. They assert that stories are the best tools we have to rewire our affective and cognitive modes of being in relation to the planet toward creating an ecological civilization.

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Pollution

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pile of trash, Planetarianism, Climate Lit

Producerism (origin: Rupert Read)

Producerism is a notion proposed by ecological philosopher Rupert Read to describe the core operational principle of capitalism: its fixation of producing more and more stuff for monetary profit (i.e. growth), its need to sell this stuff to consumers (see consumerism), and its foundational lie that consumers—not producers (marketers and distributors)—are the driving force and beneficiaries of the entire process. According to mainstream economics, capitalism is a consumerist system: it merely supplies stuff to satisfy existing demand. In this view, exploitation of people and the devastation of the planet wreaked by capitalism is really driven by consumers’ demands. According to Read, however, capitalism is a producerist system: it produces stuff and manufactures the need for that stuff. The ultimate product of capitalism, says Read, is to produce individuals who identify as consumers and are willing participants in a system that exploits them and the planet. While consumerism is a real phenomenon, in Read’s account we live in a producerist, not a consumerist society. Producerism is ruining the planet but the burden of guilt and blame is projected on consumerism, especially individual consumers. As Read says in This Civilization is Finished: Conversations on the End of Empire—and What Lies Beyond, co-authored with Samuel Alexander, (Melbourne: Simplicity Institute, 2019), “So long as we think of ourselves as ‘consumers’ we are blaming the victim” (67).

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: consumerism, degrowth(ism) 

More:

Rupert Read, “Are we a consumerist society — or a ‘producerist’ society?” Sep 12, 2011. 

Q

Quantum Entanglement

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R

Recycling

Recycling is the process of collecting, sorting, and processing waste materials and turning them into new products. Recycling is a key component of Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), an approach that aims to promote the sustainable and efficient use of materials throughout their entire lifecycle while minimizing their environmental impact. Recycling helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and promotes sustainability by conserving natural resources, but it is not without controversy. Some environmentalists question the effectiveness of recycling, as it can require significant amounts of energy and resources to transport, sort, and process materials. Additionally, only a small fraction of plastics can be effectively recycled, and the emissions associated with recycling certain materials may outweigh the environmental benefits (Greenpeace, 2022). Despite these challenges, recycling remains an important practice in the effort to promote sustainability and protect the environment (Waxman, 2016).

The concept of recycling has been around for centuries, but modern-day recycling practices can be traced back to the 19th century when people recognized the benefits of reusing materials due to the rapid industrialization and urbanization that led to an increase in waste and pollution. One of the earliest examples of recycling in the 19th century involved people collecting rags, bones, and other materials to use in papermaking and fertilizer production (Waxman, 2016). Recycling continues to evolve, with new technologies and innovations allowing for more efficient and effective recycling practices.

©2024 ClimateLit (Hyokyung Kwak)

Related terms: Waste management, circular economy, sustainability, zero waste, upcycling, composting, electronic waste recycling

References:

Regrowth

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Resilience

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S

Sea Level Rise

 

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Short-termism

 

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industrial smoke tower, Slow Violence, Climate Lit

Slow Violence (origin: Rob Nixon)

Slow violence is a term coined by Rob Nixon in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism and of the Poor (Harvard University Press, 2011) to describe the attritional wake of environmental devastation or pollution: its “invisible” and/or “side-effect” forms. In Nixon’s definition, slow violence is “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (2). Slow violence refers to domino-effect consequences of environmental devastation, when one element in the ecosystem is damaged or disrupted, leading to long-lasting disruption in other elements or ecosystems. The connections between the “main” event and its dispersed consequences are not always direct or easily traceable. The perpetrators may not be obvious, but the victims are. 

Examples of slow violence include birth defects and other conditions related to toxins released into water and soil after the 1984 failure of Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India; or the unprecedented levels of cancer and respiratory diseases experienced by poor Black residents of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”; or the legacy of pollution and demolished environments left to local communities after industry exploits the site and relocates elsewhere, as, say, in the aftermath of the fracking boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: structural violence, environmental racism, pollution

Looking for more? Check these resources: 

Thom Davies, “Slow violence and toxic geographies: ‘Out of sight’ to whom?” (Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. April 2019. doi:10.1177/2399654419841063)

Solastalgia

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Species Richness

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Speciesism

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Sustainability

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T

Thunberg, Greta (b. 2003, Swedish climate activist)

Greta Thunberg became known to the world in August 2018 when she started the “school strike for climate” [skolstrejk för klimatet]. At first, her strike was directed towards the Swedish government and the upcoming election, but it soon became a form of activism among young people all around the world, most clearly expressed through the youth-led movement #FridaysForFuture. Thunberg has become an icon for young people’s environmental awareness and activism and has encouraged, supported, and participated in collective initiatives, demonstrations, and protests.

After her school strike, Thunberg was invited to give speeches at several climate action summits organized by the UN. Her speeches were short, to the point, and emotionally charged. She addressed politicians and responsible adults and claimed that their inaction had stolen her childhood and was ruining young people’s future. She rhetorically asked “how dare you,” and pointed out that economic growth keeps overshadowing sustainable solutions. The speeches, most of them published in No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (2019), became both acclaimed and disputed. In particular, Donald Trump’s mocking reaction to Thunberg’s speech is an example of both ageism and gender discrimination.

However, many adults want to collaborate with Thunberg. The volume The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions (2022), edited by Thunberg, is a striking example of her collaboration with adults in which experts and activists across fields and geographies present their knowledge about, and how to fight against, the current climate crisis.

Two types of action that Thunberg takes which may motivate other people is her use of non-fossil fuel transport when joining big events like summits and demonstration, and her selfless support of other young people’s climate activism, like various Sami people’s fight against governmental-capitalist exploitation or destruction of natural resources. The independent Greta Thunberg Foundation also “works to support sustainability from a holistic perspective, promoting ecological, climatic and social sustainability.”

©2023 ClimateLit (Nina Goga)

Related terms: Environmental Justice, Youth Climate Activism, School Strike for Climate

Interviews and articles Books by Greta Thunberg
  •  No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference. Penguin Books, 2019.
  • Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis. Penguin Books, 2020.
  • The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions. Penguin Press, 2022.

Children’s books featuring Greta Thunberg
  • Camerini, V. & Carratello, V. Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went On Strike To Save The Planet. Aladdin, 2019.
  • Doeden, M. Greta Thunberg: Climate Crisis Activist. Lerner Publications, 2020.
  • Leonard, J. & Gutierrez, M. Who Is Greta Thunberg? Who HQ Now. Penguin, 2020.
  • Sánchez Vegara, M. I. & Weckmann, A. Greta Thunberg. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020.
  • Tucker, Z. Greta and the Giants: Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Stand the Save the World. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2019.

Scholarly discussions of Greta Thunberg-books

Tipping Points

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Treaty People Gathering, Climate Lit

Treaty People Gathering (origin: collective)

The Treaty People Gathering was as a coalition-led direct nonviolent action event on June 5-8, 2021 at White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota to protest the construction of Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Attended by over 2000 water protectors from across the country and supported by dozens of organizations, the event was the biggest action yet against Enbridge LN3. Special guests included Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Rosanna Arquette, Taylor Schilling, and Bill McKibben. Over 500 water protesters shut down the Two Inlets pump station for over 29 hours. At least 200 were arrested. In the course of the protest, about 1500 people marched to the spot where the Line 3 pipeline is scheduled to drill under the Mississippi headwaters and launched an ongoing treaty encampment in the path of the pipeline, with 200 people camping overnight. While the Treaty People Gathering was scheduled to wrap-up on June 8th, the ongoing encampment and lockdowns demonstrate water protectors’ commitment to stop the pipeline. 

The Treaty People Gathering offers an inspiring example of direct nonviolent action which succeeds through building broad coalitions among Native and non-Native peoples to resist Big Oil. Water protectors and their allies are calling on President Biden to stop line 3. Its construction threatens northern Minnesota’s waters and violates Anishinaabe treaty rights. If the pipeline leaks, which is statistically highly probably, it would irreparably destroy one of the most pristine water ecosystems on the planet. But even if the pipeline never leaks, it would facilitate exploitation of the Canadian tar sands, contributing enough oil to heat up the Earth’s atmosphere by .4 Celcius: a suicidal amount of extra heat for the already warming planet.

The best picturebook to date to frame classroom discussions of the Treaty People Gathering and other Indigenous-led climate action is We Are Water Protectors. You’ll find more info about the history of LN3 protests at Stop the Line 3 Pipeline and Honor the Earth. We also highly recommend watching the 2020 documentary LN3: Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe in Resistance (dir. Suez Taylor), which comes with a study guide

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz

Related terms: Indigenous-led climate action, slow violence, environmental racism, pollution, Big Oil, pipelines

Related books: The End of the Wild, We Are Water Protectors

More:

Joshua Portlow, “Pipeline protesters seize Minnesota construction site in bid to stop $4 billion projectThe Washington Post, Jun 8, 2021.

Hiroko Tabuchi, Matt Furber and Coral Davenport, “Police Make Mass Arrests at Protest Against Oil Pipeline” The New York Times, Jun 7, 2021. 

MSNBC, “Activists Jane Fonda, Tara Houska battle Line 3 pipeline that could harm tribal lands, environment” Jun 7, 2021

U

Upcycling (origin: Reiner Pilz)

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials, components, and products into new products of equal or better quality, environmental value, or aesthetic value (Sung, 2017). Unlike recycling, which breaks down existing products to raw materials that are then used to create new products, upcycling involves using waste materials in their current state to make new products. The concept of upcycling aligns with the principles of the circular economy, which promotes the use of resources in a more sustainable and efficient way.

The term “upcycling” was first introduced by Reiner Pilz, German engineer, in 1994. Pilz proposed a novel approach to waste management in the context of architecture, where waste materials are transformed into new and valuable products, rather than being just recycled. He aimed to add value to discarded materials, which gave rise to the concept of “upcycling.” In 2002, the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart brought further attention to the term and its purpose.

Upcycling has gained popularity in recent years as a way to reduce waste and environmental impact while also creating unique and innovative products and adding more value. Examples of upcycling include turning old clothing into new garments, repurposing used shipping containers into homes or offices, and transforming discarded materials into art installations.

©2024 ClimateLit (Hyokyung Kwak)

References:

Sung, K. (2017, May 1). Sustainable production and consumption by upcycling. IRep. https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/31125/

 Urban Environments

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V

Vegetarianism

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W

Wilderness

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Y

 Youth Climate Activism

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Z

Zero Waste

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