The 2019 Oxford Dictionary word of the year is “climate emergency.” The word of the year is both retrospective, chosen because of dramatically increased use in both published and social media, but also prospective, for calling attention to the word of the year tends to increase its use.
“Climate emergency is defined as ‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.
“This year, heightened public awareness of climate science and the myriad implications for communities around the world has generated enormous discussion of what the UN Secretary-General has called ‘the defining issue of our time’….
“Usage of the phrase climate emergency increased steeply over the course of 2019, and by September it was more than 100 times as common as it had been the previous year…. This data is significant because it indicates a growing shift in people’s language choice in 2019, a conscious intensification that challenges accepted language use to reframe discussion of ‘the defining issue of our time’ with a new gravity and greater immediacy.” (https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2019)
Blue Marble Evaluation Implications
Two Blue Marble Evaluation principles are especially germane to the climate emergency framing, one overarching and one operating principle:
- Anthropocene as Context Principle: Know and face the realities of the Anthropocene — and act accordingly. The climate emergency is a manifestation of the dire consequences for humanity of the Anthropocene.
- Time being of the essence principle: Act with a sense of urgency in the present, support adaptive sustainability long-term, grounding both in understanding the past. Emergencies are, by definition, urgent.
“In 2018, climate did not feature in the top words typically used to modify emergency, instead the top types of emergencies people wrote about were health, hospital, and family emergencies. These suggest acute situations of danger at a very personal level, often relating to the health of an individual. Emergency also frequently occurs, as in the phrase state of emergency to indicate a legal declaration of an acute situation at a jurisdictional level. But with climate emergency, we see something new, an extension of emergency to the global level, transcending these more typical uses.
“In 2019, climate emergency surpassed all of those other types of emergency to become the most written about emergency by a huge margin, with over three times the usage frequency of health, the second-ranking word.”
The Big Picture Narrative: Linking 4 years of words of the year
What I find particularly interesting and illuminating are the connections among the words of the year for the last four years.
The post-truth era was ushered in by Donald Trump’s election and his stance denying climate change. That contributed to the growing awareness among youth that political leaders were not acting on climate change thereby creating a strong sense that their future was being put in jeopardy. The youthquake emerged and has been building momentum since. The youthquake has unfolded in a toxic environment that includes multiple dimensions of toxicity: toxic political polarization, toxic relationships between police and minorities, toxic political rhetoric, toxic white nationalism, and, of course, toxic pollution of the air, land and water in many forms.
So, dealing with the climate emergency means reversing toxicity while the mobilization of youth, the “youthquake,” is dramatically and urgently taking on the post-truth denial of the climate crisis. Beyond climate deniers, and perhaps even more concerning to youth, are the politicians who are climate change believers but despite their stated beliefs and knowledge, are failing to act. The yothquake is aimed at dramatic and urgent action to reverse the climate emergency, for without such action, the future of humanity is threatened.
Ever more data on the depth and breadth of the climate emergency
In the week following the Oxford Dictionary word of the year two new climate change reports appeared, both of which paint an ever more dire picture of the global crisis.
- The United Nations Emissions Gap report, United Nations Environment Program (released November 26, 2019) – Humanity is headed toward climate catastrophe according to the report with the two biggest polluters, China and the United States, having expanded their carbon footprints last year.
“The summary findings are bleak,” the report says. The world’s 20 richest countries are responsible for more than three-fourths of emissions. Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 1.5 percent every year over the last decade, according to the report. The effects of climate change are more intense droughts, stronger storms and widespread food insecurity. To stay within relatively safe limits, emissions must decline sharply, by 7.6 percent every year, between 2020 and 2030, the report warned.”
- World Meteorological Organization Global Atmosphere Watch (released Nov 25) – The emissions of three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — have all swelled in the atmosphere since the mid-18th century.
“The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was very close to that observed from 2016 to 2017, and practically equal to the average yearly increase over the last decade. For CH4, the increase from 2017 to 2018 was higher than both that observed from 2016 to 2017 and the average over the last decade. For N2O, the increase from 2017 to 2018 was also higher than that observed from 2016 to 2017 and the average growth rate over the past 10 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) shows that from 1990 to 2018 radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs) increased by 43%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase.”
Addressing sustainability in all evaluations at every level in every intervention everywhere
The climate emergency makes it imperative that contributions to sustainability become a universal evaluation criterion as advocated in the Declaration of the International Development Evaluation Association adopted October 4, 2019, in Prague. In a future blog I’ll discuss in more depth the implications of that Declaration. For now, it suffices to alert evaluators, given the climate emergency, to engage in Blue Marble Evaluation thinking and action in all evaluations so that evaluation becomes part of the solution and not part of the problem.
We are the first generation to know we are destroying the earth and the last that can do anything about it. (Tanya Steele, CEO, World Wildlife Fund, 2018)
That expresses the essence of the climate emergency!