Environmentalist No Go Phrases

Arid country, Brown’s Canyon National Monument

The severity of the environmental crises we face should not be downplayed with poor word choices. Here are my top three:

Tipping Point

The argument in favor of saving nature often goes something like this: “If we don’t start working to curb global warming (or habitat loss or what have you) we will reach a tipping point past which catastrophe will ensure. The time when this will happen is coming soon.” That statement might (maybe?) have been true in the 1970s, but we are long past the time of waiting for the tipping point to arrive. The disasters of crashing wildlife populations, ocean plastic contamination, CO2 emissions led us to pass the tipping point years ago. The Sixth Extinction and global air and ocean temperature rise is well under way. The best we can hope for now: mitigation lessening the long term damage.

New Normal

Permanent drought in arid regions and gigantic oceanic storms caused by human activities should not be normalized. Self-destruction is aberrant, not normal. The new abnormal?

Global Warming

This term glosses over the existential threat posed by human alteration of the climate. Throughout the Western U.S. the annual number of frost free days has significantly increased over the course of several decades. (I have seen this happen in Taos.) Summer nighttime lows are higher now than during the previous century.

Climate disruption. Climate crises. Global heating. All of these are more accurate statements of account describing our situation, although even these are not dire enough to fully capture the existential danger to the biosphere. We need a one to three word phrase that everyone can immediately recognize as encapsulating the growing threat to our survival. The phrase must be powerful enough to convey immediate recognition of the true magnitude of the disaster.

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