Environment & the World

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Word of the Year: Carbon Neutral

Filed under: Books, Climate Change — amirj @ 2:08 pm

Okay, so actually it’s two words that together signify one concept, but don’t take issue with me over it. Oxford University Press announced carbon neutral as the word of the year.

“Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power.

Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary 2e, said “The increasing use of the word carbon neutral reflects not just the greening of our culture, but the greening of our language. When you see first graders trying to make their classrooms carbon neutral, you know the word has become mainstream.”

This mainstreaming of a somewhat wonky environmental concept offers an opportunity to reflect upon other ways in which concepts from the environmental movement have crept into pop culture. As beleaguered as much of the environmental movement may have fancied itself so far this decade, due to an unfavorable political climate in the U.S., some progress has still been made. Some celebrities have started to ditch SUV-limos in favor of hybrids to arrive at red carpet events. Al Gore made a big splash with An Inconvenient Truth, forcing many in the U.S. to confront the reality of climate change at a time when public discourse on the issue still called it into question. We’ve also seen leadership on the city and state levelballoon into something of a grassroots groundswell to reduce our emissions. Even corporations like Wal-Mart and Google have announced major initiatives to curb their emissions, and take the first steps towards sustainability.

While Bush certainly has not been the right president to elect to champion environmental protection, I never saw his election as a reason to give up hope. A good president can certainly give a cause a megaboost, but even Bush’s rather apathetic stance on climate change couldn’t stop us–there was just too to accomplish. So far this decade climate action didn’t come from the federal level, top down, in one ceremonious presidential signing ceremony. So what? Even in the 2006, during the reign of President Bush, “carbon neutral” became the word of the year. Yep, on his watch.  

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1 Comment »

  1. Amir, thanks for the positive message! Your post reminded me of a comment made by one of my environmental science professors. He told me he was optimistic about climate change and the future of the environmental movement because, unlike other liberal causes, the problems would definitely have to be dealt with soon. I think a number of events in 2006 have finally pushed the climate issue into the mainstream – certainly so in Europe, but possibly in the United States as well. As you note, there has been a ton of action at the local and state level, notably California’s ambitious greenhouse gas
    reduction targets (and, as CA is the world’s 5th largest economy, this is nothing to sneeze at). There have been times (like the hot summer of 1988), when it was thought that the climate issue had taken hold, only for it to fade from public consciousness in a few months. But now we are definitely at the point where the consequences of our past actions are all too obvious. It sounds really odd for me to say that in a positive context, but I really am optimistic now that we will continue to see an increasing push from the grassroots level on this
    issue.

    Comment by ckunkel — Thursday, November 16, 2006 @ 1:26 pm


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