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‘Climate Emergency’ Is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2019

November 21, 2019, 10:19 AM UTC

It’s safe to say that people are talking about the environment.

This week Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘climate emergency’ the Word of the Year, noting usage of the phrase surged 100-fold in 2019, rising from “relative obscurity to becoming one of the most prominent—and prominently debated—terms of 2019.”

Earlier this month, rival Collins Dictionary chose “climate strike” as its word of the year, as the phrase has also seen a hundred-fold increase in use.

However, it’s not the first time the environment has crept into first place on Oxford’s Word of the Year. In 2007, the publishing house selected “carbon footprint” as the U.K.’s winner, while “carbon-neutral” was Word of the Year in the U.S. for 2006. What makes this time special, Oxford says, is the use of the word ‘emergency.’

Previously, emergency was more often prefaced with words like health, hospital or family while climate virtually never made a pairing. This year, climate + emergency was three times more common than other formulae and, in case you’re wondering, the definition is given as:

A situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”

So, what urgent action is taking place? We’ve already seen a lot change this year, including a spike in ESG funding, the booming popularity of alternative meats, and the diversification of energy supplies accelerated by the diminishing costs of renewables. Not incidentally, a number of those themes came up during the Fortune Global Forum in Paris this past week (links below.)

But frequently I hear that change is not happening fast enough. Yesterday the UN Environment Programme reported that the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement will likely be missed, thanks in large part to continued government support of fossil fuel extraction.

So maybe next year’s word can be “climate action.”

Eamon Barrett
eamon.barrett@fortune.com

Carbon Copy

(Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Remember the bees?

Some 40% of the world’s insect population is at risk of extinction in the next “few decades” with dire consequences for all of us. Insect population worldwide has declined be an estimated 50% since the 1970s, an extinction largely linked to the increased use of pesticides but also the loss of wild lands to farming and housing. This is actually an old story, reported on again this week. But since the issue still isn’t resolved, let the reporting continue. The Guardian

Banking on it

ESG funds are rising in popularity, but eight out of ten of the biggest sustainable funds in the U.S. are still investing in oil and gas. That might not necessarily be all bad, if the investments are used to boost efficiency in extracting resources, or to fund R&D in alternatives for the time when fossil fuels run out. The browbeaten Aramco IPO was supposed to raise money to help Saudi Arabia transition away from oil, so is it a positive or a negative that the Kingdom has had to pare back the offering so much? Wall Street Journal

Plastic from the sea

A University of Sussex student won the $41,000 James Dyson award, which recognizes innovative design, for creating a plastic substitute synthesized from scraps of fish salvaged from food production sites. The pliable, transparent fish-based material—dubbed MarinaTex—biodegrades in a few weeks, while conventional plastic only breaks down into microplastics.  “Why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available?” the creator, Lucy Hughes, said. Reuters

In Case You Missed It

Banks Set to Cash in on the Saudi Aramco IPO Want You to Know They’re Still Serious About Climate Change by Adrian Croft

‘The World Is Moving Forward:’ Global Energy Trends Are Defying Trump’s Climate Agenda by Vivienne Walt

Nestlé CEO Wants Americans to Eat Less Meat by Beth Kowitt

Flight Shame Is ‘Our Biggest Challenge,’ Air France CEO Says by Katherine Dunn

Companies Can Help Fight Inequality. It Starts with More ‘Remote Workers’ by David Z. Morris

As Governments Bicker, CEOs Could Be Our Best Hope for Fighting Climate Change and Income Inequality by Bernhard Warner

The ‘Surround Sound Effect’: How Businesses Are Again Pulling Governments Forward On Climate Change by Eamon Barrett

Scrapbook

Last week Dell Technologies announced its Progress Made Real policy, which sets out the companies sustainability goals for 2030. The plan is a mix of benchmark targets and “moonshot yet viable” goals across four categories of sustainability, including “diversity and inclusion.” Dell wants 40% of global leadership positions to go to women by 2030 with total gender parity across the rest of the workforce. On the environmental front, Dell’s moonshot goal is to have 100% of packaging and over half of product content made from recyclable material.

Closing Number

60%

Going vegan for two-thirds of meals can cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 60%, according to models run by academics from John Hopkins University, while going full vegan reduces emissions by 85%. The study took into account that humans needs to eat more veg, by mass, in order to get the same nutrition from a lower volume of meat. But 100g of vegetables has a carbon footprint 20 times lower than 50g of meat and requires 100 times less land use.

This edition of The Loop was edited by Eamon Barrett. Find previous editions here, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters here.

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