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

Anthropocene

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

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.

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—and The Wyss campaign for Nature which seeks to mobilize the world to protect 30% of the marine and terrestrial surface by 2030.

See also: Biodiversity loss, Half Earth, Gaia

Biodiversity Loss (origin: )

Biodiversity loss is…

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

C

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 related, cannot 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, 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 (link TBA), climate literacy refers to “a lived, emotionally charged, radical hope-driven, and action-oriented embrace of our responsibility to stand up for our biospheric inheritance—for all of Earth’s living systems that sustain us all and are currently reeling under multi-pronged assault from anthropogenic climate change” (page TBA). 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 denial, systemic drivers [of climate change], climate activism,ecological civilization,ecocide, neoliberalism

D

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)

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.

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

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

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, agroecology, climate justice, the commons, Rights of Nature, regenerative economy, transnational corporations, universal basic income, just transition

More:

What Does an Ecological Civilization Look Like? Jeremy Lent, YES! Magazine, February 2021.

For a vision and principles of a Just Transition from extractive to regenerative economies, check the Climate Justice Alliance website.

Ecofiction

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F

Fracking

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G

Gaia

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Global warming

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H

Human supremacy

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I

Indigenous environmental practices

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J

Jevons paradox

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K

Kiribati

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L

Limits to Growth

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M

Marine conservation

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N

Nakate, Vanessa

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O

One percent

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P

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).

Related terms: consumerism, degrowth(ism) 

More:

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

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

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 (Link TBA). 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 (link TBA): 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)

Q

Quantum entanglement

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien. Interdum consectetur libero id faucibus nisl tincidunt eget nullam. Tortor at risus viverra adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat. Odio morbi quis commodo odio aenean sed adipiscing diam. Egestas integer eget aliquet nibh praesent tristique magna sit. Vitae congue eu consequat ac felis donec.

Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

R

Resilience

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

S

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.

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)

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

T

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

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

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz) 

U

 Urban environments

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

V

Vegetarianism

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

W

Wilderness

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

Y

 Youth climate activism

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.

Z

Zero waste

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Aenean et tortor at risus viverra adipiscing. Metus dictum at tempor commodo ullamcorper. Malesuada fames ac turpis egestas maecenas. Pharetra et ultrices neque ornare aenean euismod. Massa tincidunt dui ut ornare lectus sit.