Once we’ve digested the meaning of a thing, it is hard for our brains to redefine. Because of this, the language we use for the climate breakdown we’re trying to prevent, the global heating we’re attempting to reverse, and the living planet we are trying to protect, needs a collection of words which clearly define the affects of our actions and inspire protection. Unfortunately, the words we’re currently using were chosen by those who caused the problem, rather than those who work to remedy it, leaving room for nuance, misinterpretation, misinformation, denial, and greenwashing.
In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she shares some of the impact the English language has on its speakers, and by proxy, the living world. A stark juxtaposition to the languages of animacy, which were built around reverence for the earth, all nearly lost to Colonialism and Christ’s army:
The English language is devolving to be individualistic, ungrateful, virtueless, and egotistical. A recent study showed that between 1960 and 2008 found that words and phrases of self aggrandisement are increasingly overshadowing communal words, like ‘community’. In the same study, words associated with moral virtue have dropped by 74 per cent, words of courage have dropped by 66 per cent, words of gratitude have dropped by 49 per cent, words of humility have by 52 per cent, and words of compassion have dropped by 56 per cent. It is no wonder then, especially with the help of propaganda from those who benefit most from climate breakdown denial, that the words we use to describe what is happing to the living world are ineffective in saving it.
Instead of “global warming”, let’s call it “global heating” to reflect the catastrophe an overpopulation of carbon in our atmosphere causes.
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** Beyond the words shared above, you might also consider learning some of the Indigenous words for the flora and fauna on the land you live on, to speak to the living world in it’s mother tongue, while simultaneously (and respectfully) supporting the resurgence of local Indigenous language.