Climate Change Glossary: From Alternative Energy to Zero Waste

March 29, 2022

Thinking about climate change may make you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders — quite literally. That’s why this Earth Month, we’re encouraging you to be Planet Positive: to commit to making those small, meaningful changes that add up over time, especially when everyone gets involved. 

One of the best ways to join the fight against climate change is by educating yourself about the products, practices, and processes that aim to reverse it. We’ve assembled a glossary of important environmental terms you need to know, whether it’s so you can better understand the label on your regeneratively grown groceries or so you can join a phone bank in support of initiatives that help protect our planet. Every little bit helps, and once you get the lingo down, it becomes a whole lot easier to speak up. 

Climate Change Glossary 

Biodiversity 

An abundance of ecosystems, genes, and species (such as plants and animals) in a given area

In a sentence: “Ethically sourced from Sri Lanka, Thrive Market’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil is grown using regenerative farming practices such as intercropping and mulching, which help promote biodiversity and enrich the soil.” (Thrive Market)


Carbon Dioxide (CO2) 

A naturally occurring gas that is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels and other industrial processes; as it relates to climate change, CO2 is the main greenhouse gas that affects the radiative balance of the planet

In a sentence: “Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing Earth’s temperature to rise.” (Climate.gov)


Carbon Footprint

The amount of carbon a person, place, or thing emits into the atmosphere, therefore contributing to climate change

In a sentence: “Soft film packaging, like the kind our nut butters come in, reduces our carbon footprint by up to 40% compared to glass jars and plastic bottles.” (Thrive Market)

Read more: 7 Easy Ways to Help Shrink Your Carbon Footprint 


Carbon Offset

Taking steps to offset a company’s own carbon creation by planting trees, investing in solar power, or making monetary contributions to other alternative energy sources

In a sentence: “We’ve achieved carbon neutrality thanks in part to our investment in carbon offset credits.” (Thrive Market)

Read more: Thrive Market Is Proud to Be Carbon Neutral: Learn About Our Carbon Offset Programs


Carbon Neutral / Carbon Negative

Balancing out an entity’s carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets and making cutbacks to reduce carbon emissions where possible; similarly, becoming “carbon negative” happens when an entity is able to cut back and offset more carbon emissions than they put out

In a sentence: “We’re carbon neutral thanks to carbon offsets, the purchase of renewable energy certificates for all of our facilities’ electricity use, and only shipping by ground.” (Thrive Market) 

Read more: What It Means to Be Carbon Neutral 


Climate Change 

Climate change is a significant change in the Earth’s climate as a direct, measurable result of human activity, directly altering the global atmosphere

In a sentence: “The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.” (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)


Deforestation

When a forest becomes a non-forest due to the purposeful clearing of its trees by humans (mainly for things like agriculture, mining, and urbanization)

In a sentence: “Scientists estimate that activities such as deforestation, harvesting peat, and managing grasslands contribute to a third of human greenhouse gas emissions, including more than 40% of methane.” (Thrive Market)


Emissions 

As it relates to climate change, emissions are the release of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and other pollutants into the atmosphere

In a sentence: “Thanks to HQ employees working from home, commuter emissions dropped by 90% to just 5.5% of our total.” (Thrive Market)


Extreme Weather 

Extreme weather events are weather disasters that are significantly rare or severe, such as heat waves, blizzards, or tornadoes, that often cause devastating harm to land and communities 

In a sentence: “One of the most visible consequences of a warming world is an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events.” (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions)


Food Insecurity 

A phenomenon that occurs when people in an area lack access to nutritious food; climate change increases the likelihood of food insecurity in many ways, especially in farming communities

In a sentence: “Thrive Market member donations made at checkout to our Food Equality Fund will benefit the food insecure and help us reach our goal of raising $10M by 2025.” (Thrive Market)


Fossil Fuels 

Carbon-based fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil

In a sentence: “In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels, particularly for the power and transportation sectors, accounts for about three-quarters of our carbon emissions.” (Natural Resources Defense Council)


Greenhouse Gas

The gasses that make up the Earth’s atmosphere (both natural and as a result of human pollution) that absorb and emit infrared radiation at all angles, including downward toward the Earth’s surface (the “greenhouse effect”); natural greenhouse gasses include water vapor and carbon dioxide, while human-made greenhouse gasses include hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons 

In a sentence: “Since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s, people have added a substantial amount of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and conducting other activities.” (Environmental Protection Agency)


Ozone Layer

A layer of the Earth’s atmosphere containing the most ozone, or the triatomic form of oxygen; as a result of human pollution, the ozone layer is being depleted in a hole over the Antarctic region 

In a sentence: “[The] ozone layer forms an invisible protective shield over the planet, absorbing damaging UV radiation from the sun. Without it, life on Earth would not be possible.” (BBC)


Plastic Neutral 

When a person, company, or entity offsets the plastic they use by recycling and investing in plastic recycling programs; plastic neutrality often also involves major cutbacks in plastic use overall  

In a sentence: “We’re launching a plastic recycling program for members in 2021 and committing to be a plastic neutral company in 2023.” (Thrive Market)


Regenerative Agriculture 

A type of organic agriculture that employs ancient farming practices to promote biodiversity, help improve soil health and air quality, decrease water consumption, and eliminate the use of pesticides and other chemicals in farming 

In a sentence: “Our Organic Cacao Powder is made from a single ingredient: hand-harvested cacao beans sourced directly from regenerative farmers in Colombia.” (Thrive Market)

Read more: Can Regenerative Agriculture Help Heal the Planet?


Renewable Energy 

Energy that is generated without depleting natural resources or harming the environment, especially without the use of fossil fuels; specifically, energy created from wind, geothermal, solar, and other alternative sources

In a sentence: “The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record […] with profound implications in the fight against climate change.” (The New York Times)


Zero Waste 

Achieving a state where all the waste you create is either reused, recycled, composted, or somehow offset

In a sentence: Zero waste entails shifting consumption patterns, more carefully managing purchases, and maximizing the reuse of materials at the end of their useful life.” (Environmental Protection Agency)  

Read more: Journey to Zero Waste: Thrive Market’s On a Mission to Reduce Our Environmental Impact


Definitions source: www.fs.fed.us/climatechange/documents/glossary.pdf

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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