Climate jargon: (in progress)

Here’s a list of technical terms related to the climate crisis! They might be of use when referring to Scott’s article on the IPCC report! Let us know if there are other terms you’d like to be defined!

Overton window –Here’s a quick video explaining the idea!

First developed in the mid-1990s, the Overton Window is a model for understanding how social norms change throughout time and affect politics and can be defined as “the range of ideas the public is willing to consider and accept”. [1] The concept is rooted in the idea that politicians are likely to only support policy ideas that are already commonly accepted in society.

Policies that aren’t publicly accepted lie outside the Overton window and politicians risk losing support for supporting these ideas. It’s essentially the idea that things that are normalised in society can be publicly supported by politicians without them risking losing public support, and so politicians are limited in the ideas they can publicly endorse. [2]

However, the range of the window shifts throughout time as it’s dependent on changes in social thought and norms. Due to risking losing electoral support, politicians are unlikely to champion ideas that lie outside this window, and as such, a key part of social reform movements is shifting or expanding the Overton window to make progress.

The idea also implies that politicians are, in fact, more influenced by the people than we think – it is up to us to determine what is ‘normalised’ and can therefore be politically endorsed. This is hopeful for social movements in a sense – to convince politicians to support a cause, it is perhaps more important that society at large supports the idea, rather than politicians themselves. [2]

Anthropogenic climate change – “Anthropogenic” means “of, relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature.” [3]

In the case of climate change, anthropogenic means climate change that is caused by humans, through our production of greenhouse gases. A commonly used argument against climate change is that the heating we’re experiencing now is a normal process and part of the Earth’s natural cycle.

The term anthropogenic distinguishes that the current heating we see is statistically influenced by human activities, particularly since the start of the industrial revolution in the mid-eighteenth century, and emissions associated with an increasingly industrialised world, as illustrated by the graph above.

The natural ups and downs are tiny in comparison to the huge increase at the end of the graph – this is caused by humans. [Learn more with these sources! 4, 5, 6]

Industrialised countries and colonial histories – these are relevant considerations in the discourse around the climate crisis as industrialisation contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Countries that emit the most CO2 tend to be developed or developing countries. [Learn more here: 7, 8]

Global south – Rather than a division along the equator, the term global south refers to the line dividing the richer and poorer countries, with poorer countries being part of the Global South. [9] The term is preferred over ‘developed’ vs ‘developing’ as it focuses more on “geopolitical relations of power” than development or cultural difference. [10] It is relevant in climate discourse as these countries are currently experiencing, and will experience worse effects of climate change, sooner.

Carbon budget – a carbon budget is the cumulative amount of CO2 emissions allowed over a period of time to keep within a certain temperature threshold. [11] Going over this threshold would mean going over the temperature threshold (that has been reached by scientific processes.) The UK government states the carbon budget “places a restriction on the total amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit over a 5 year period.” The UK’s carbon budget is legally binding. [12]

Tipping points – tipping points are feedback mechanisms within the climate, that if crossed, can trigger runaway climate change. For example, the melting of ice at the poles, as if these melt, they can no longer reflect heat away from the earth, and instead become dark water, which absorbs more heat and therefore triggers more heating. [13, 14] Imagine the point a ball will roll down a hill – that’s sort of like a tipping point – once it starts rolling, it’s very hard to stop.

















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