Speako Eco? Don't Know Your Carbon Sequestration from Your Post-Glacial Rebound? Brush Up on the Essential Terminology before Attending the Summit

By Elmhirst, Sophie | New Statesman (1996), October 26, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Speako Eco? Don't Know Your Carbon Sequestration from Your Post-Glacial Rebound? Brush Up on the Essential Terminology before Attending the Summit


Elmhirst, Sophie, New Statesman (1996)


Anthropogenic climate change

In the ever-expanding slippery lexicon of climate-change terminology, there is one thing you can't fail to miss: the tendency to provide a very long word where some short ones would be fine.

And so we have anthropogenic climate change which--essentially means climate change that is all our fault (ie, from emissions as a result of human activities), as opposed to climate change--which might just happen anyway.

Baseline emissions

No, this is not a musical outpouring. It is, in fact, the emissions that would occur without policy intervention. Estimates of these emissions are needed in order to work out how effective mitigation strategies are.

Carbon sequestration

I can't help thinking that this sounds oddly horsey, some kind of strange equestrian event. But it is, in fact, about the natural storage of carbon. Trees and plants, for example, absorb carbon dioxide, release the oxygen and store the carbon. And so we have carbon sequestration, not dressage.

Copenhagen

Yes, it is the capital of Denmark. Yes, it is a very glamorous and absurdly expensive city to go to on a city break. But it is also the setting for the vital, on-what-it-all-hinges, United Nations 2009 Summit on Climate Change taking place from 7 December. Those present will be trying to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The rest of us will watch and wait, really hoping they get their collective act together.

Carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2])

I wonder, when [CO.sub.2] started out, whether it knew what havoc it would cause. But back to the facts. [CO.sub.2] is a colourless, odourless, non-poisonous gas. Sounds ineffectual, but it contributes the most to human-induced global warming. Fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation have increased the concentration of [CO.sub.2] in the atmosphere by approximately 30 per cent since the industrial revolution.

Deforestation

Hardly needs explaining, but it is so catastrophic in its effects that it has to make the cut. As forests are destroyed, the burning wood releases carbon dioxide. In addition, trees are good at removing [CO.sub.2] from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. There really is no Pro-deforestation argument.

Diurnal temperature range

This is the difference between the maximum and minimum temperature during a day--not quite as world-changingly important as Copenhagen, but no one said this glossary was going to forget about the little guy.

Emissions trading

This does what is says on the tin. Emissions trading is a scheme that allows companies and governments either to reduce emissions or pay for the right to pollute (with the money paid being used to reduce emissions elsewhere). It's pretty clever, although, like most things that seem clever, a lot of people are very sceptical about whether it has helped.

Fossil fuels

We all learnt about these at school, back when Al Gore films about climate change and Live Earth concerts were just twinkles in our youthful eyes. Fossil fuels are fuels of biological (plant and animal) origin and largely comprised of carbon and hydrogen. Gas and oil are all excellent examples of fossil fuels, as well as things we're running out of fast.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Halocarbons

Watch out for this one.

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