Human language

Language Used to Describe Climate Becomes More Urgent, Study Finds | Environment


When people spoke of a “climate refugee” in the 19th century, they would describe someone who had settled in a place with a healthier or more pleasant climate.

But in modern parlance, the meaning has changed to reflect current global crises – now climate refugees are those forced to relocate in response to extreme weather conditions or sea level rise.

This is one of many new findings from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) research into the origins of the words we use to talk about the climate crisis.

Although we may consider it a relatively contemporary phenomenon, lexicographers have discovered that climate change has been a part of the English language for over 150 years.

Indeed, the term “climate change” was first used in 1854 in an American magazine article which questioned whether human actions could change the climate.

The 1980s saw the appearance of the “greenhouse effect”, but it was quickly overtaken by “global warming”. And now “climate change” is all the rage again after a 40-year “strong and steady” boom, said Oxford Languages, which produced an OED update.

The latest update also includes an entry for ‘global warming’, which lexicographers say was used 15 times more in the first half of 2021 than in the equivalent period in 2018.

Another key finding from the research, conducted ahead of the Cop26 world climate summit, which begins later this month, is that the words we use to describe climate are becoming increasingly urgent – between 2018 and 2020, the use of “” climate crisis “has increased by almost 20 and” climate emergency “by 76 during the same period.

Trish Stewart, science editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, said it has been “fascinating, although at times somewhat alarming, to delve into the language we use, both now and in the past, to talk about. climate and sustainability “.

“The very real sense of urgency that is now upon us is reflected in our language. What happens next depends on so many factors, but one thing we can be sure of is that our language will continue to evolve and tell the story, ”she said.


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