Around the world, people are coming to terms with the introduction of a new normal. Rising temperatures have messed with the timing of expected seasonal changes; heatwaves and wildfires have grown more rampant; and trees are flowering earlier in some parts of the world. It’s now common knowledge that air travel contributes to climate change considerably, and climate activism has peaked in its newsworthiness as of late. As the paradigm shifts, so too does the language we use to describe it. Environmental changes don’t just affect our physical world. They’ve also led to the creation of a whole new set of climate change vocabulary and buzzwords in various languages. Conversely, they’ve also quite literally accelerated language loss.
These changes are taking place all over the world, and as such, a variety of languages have acclimated, in their own way, around the climate crisis. Here’s what that looks like in a handful of them.
A Brave New Climate Change Vocabulary
Flygskam — Refers to the feeling of being ashamed or embarrassed to take a plane because of its negative impact on the environment.
Tågskryt — If flygskam was created to shame people about their flight habits, tågskryt is a neologism used to brag about the more eco-friendly travel choice of taking the train.
Smygflyga — Literally “stealthy flying.” This refers to when you travel by plane, but don’t post about it on social media.
Heißzeit — Translates to the “hot age” or “hot time” and is used to describe the very hot and dry summer that Germany had in 2008. It also refers to climate change in general. The sound of the word is very similar to the sound of Eiszeit, which is the scientific word for “ice age” — it just means the exact opposite.
Greta-Effekt — This term describes the change in consumption, voting participation and travel habits of people who have been influenced by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays-For-Future demonstrations.
Klimanotstand — This word roughly translates to “climate emergency” and means that there’s an acute and present threat to climate and human life caused by climate change, which requires immediate action.
Día del sobregiro de la Tierra — In English, this translates to “Earth Overdraft Day” and serves as a nod to the unsustainable rate at which we’re depleting the Earth’s resources. In 2019, Earth Overdraft Day fell on July 29, which meant we used up our annual budget of natural resources a little more than halfway through the year.
Protección a la salud — Translates to “health protection.” This concept is being used more and more to refer to the actions taken against pollution in various cities.
Migración climática — Describes the relocation of people due to climate change (lit. “climate migration”).
Cli-fi — Short for “climate fiction.” Refers to all of the recent books and films related to world-destroying disasters brought about by climate change. Notable examples include The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and Interstellar.
Solastalgia — Psychological distress caused by climate change. It’s a combination of the Latin sōlācium (comfort) and the Greek root -algia (pain). It’s also a play on “nostalgia” — a combination of the Homeric word νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming,” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache.”
Morbique — The morbid desire to travel to places to experience them before they are irreparably damaged by climate change or other manmade changes. The morbidity is usually exacerbated by the fact that the mode of transportation needed to reach this place burns fossil fuels and probably contributes to its further destruction.
Justiça climática — Literally “climate justice.” This word refers to the fact that countries in the Global North have contributed more to climate change, but countries in the Global South are going to have to face the harshest consequences because of it.
Refugiado climático — Similar to in Spanish, this term describes people who have to flee their homes due to extreme changes in climate.
Note: These words are primarily recognized in Portugal.
Gretini — Refers to the thousands of teenagers who have taken part in demonstrations for climate change recently. The suffix -ino is used for the diminutive form in Italian, and the word can be translated as “Greta’s followers.” However, due to the similarity and assonance with the word cretini (meaning “the idiots; the stupid people”), the word has been used (especially by deniers of climate change in the press and in politics) to condescend to protesters.
Prodotti a chilometro zero — This expression (literally “products at zero kilometers”) refers to products that are directly consumed or sold in the area or region where they have been produced, so as to minimize the environmental impact of their production and transport (think “buy local”).
Catastrofismo climatico — Literally “climatic catastrophism,” which is the general tendency to associate climate change with a state of irreversible panic and catastrophe. Very present in the media, the expression is often used by deniers of climate change to minimize extreme weather phenomena. In a more accurate sense, the word is used by scientists to condemn extreme reactions in the debate on climate change in order to prevent generalization, pessimism and scientific inaccuracy.
Vliegschaamte — The shame of flying on an airplane (similar to the Swedish flygskam).
Treintrots — Literally “train pride,” this concept is related to vliegschaamte, or fly-shaming. Treintrots has to do with taking pride in taking the train instead of a plane.
Laadpaalklever — Indirectly linked to climate change. A laadpaalklever is someone who leaves his electric car parked a bit too long in the recharging spot for electric cars, thereby using it as a free parking spot. Laadpaal means “charging pole” and klever means “someone that sticks.”