What is Net Zero and why is everyone on a journey to it?

Jargon busting some of the common terms around climate change

February 2, 2021

In the months since CoP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, the media has been awash with words such as Net Zero, greenwashing, eco-anxiety and we are now being told to reduce our carbon footprint, but what does it all mean?

In the following blog post, we attempt to jargon bust some of the more commonly used words around climate change.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is finally big news. In the decades since scientists first began to suggest that there was a negative anthropogenic impact on the earth there has been relatively very little in mainstream media over what is now considered the greatest threat to humankind existence. Now 'climate' has its own tab on the BBC news website and programs such as David Attenborough’s 'Climate Change - The Facts', the BBC’s 'Shop Well for Your Planet', and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s 'War on Waste/Plastic' are shown on prime time tv slots.

The term climate change, which is often used interchangeably with 'global warming' is of course a natural phenomenon. The true definition of climate change is 'a change in the average conditions — such as temperature and rainfall — in a region over a long period of time'. Global warming refers to the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily burning fossil fuel and refers to both human and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet.

But in the last few years the dialogue has shifted from conversations around climate change/global warming to a full on climate emergency.

What is the Climate Emergency?

Climate Emergency is a much more emotive term that has been around for over a decade and is being used more readily as it better reflects the situation we are now in. It was declared 'word of the year' in 2019 by the Oxford Dictionary as its use had gone up 100 fold.

Measuring Your Carbon Footprint

Carbon footprint, first coined in 1999, became word of the year in 2007. Yet it’s a term that many people are still confused by. Put simply, it’s the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere and is largely the result of our reliance on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. In scientific terms it’s the total amount of a number of gases (known as greenhouse gases), but as carbon accounts for two thirds we just call it a carbon footprint.

To measure it you used to have to be a wizz with data. But, like most things nowadays. there’s an app (or 2) that will give you a rough calculation of your own impact and where you can take steps to reduce it.

The Problem with Greenwashing

Greenwashing is another word that often provokes a flicker of confusion. Greenwashing is when a company or brand makes people believe that they are doing more than they are to protect the environment. It’s all around us and when attempting to be an environmentally conscious consumer it can often be difficult to see the wood for the trees (excuse the pun).

It will come as no surprise to hear that the fossil fuel industry is guilty of this. Shell started labelling their Helix brand of car oil carbon neutral because they claimed to have bought sufficient carbon offsets to account for the carbon emissions of their hydrocarbons. Many other sectors are just as guilty.

The Rise of Eco-Anxiety

Lastly, I have to mention eco-anxiety. Literal in its meaning - anxiety over the environmental and ecological crisis - it’s on the rise, especially in young people, coming out of a pandemic and with the future uncertain, it is absolutely no wonder.

But we live in hope, and 'action is hope' (Ray Bradbury), so what action will you take today?