Your Planet: Gift of the green gab

Black water, caustic scrubbing, peak oil... If you want to join the debate, you need to know the jargon. Adrian Turpin offers a crash-course in eco talk

A A A

BLUE REVOLUTION
Fashionable term for the need to provide water to those who lack it, particularly in the developing world. The United Nations has estimated that 2.7 billion people will face a severe shortage of drinkable water by 2025, which may lead to...

WATER WARS
Many ecologists believe the 21st century will see water join oil as a cause of conflict as global warming dries out the world. Predicted battlegrounds include the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and even the Danube basin.

ABATEMENT
The process of reducing or eliminating pollution.

GREENHOUSE GASES
Almost everyone (outside the White House) knows that these raise the temperature of the atmosphere and cause global warming. But how many of them can you name apart from carbon dioxide? Try methane, from landfill sites and flatulent cattle; nitrous oxide (N20), from vehicle exhaust fumes; perfluorocarbons (PFCS), produced in the making of semi-conductors; hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used for refrigeration; and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), a by-product of aluminium manufacturing and the electronics industry.

KYOTO PROTOCOL
This agreement, which came into force in February this year, commits signatories collectively to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 per cent by 2012. While 141 countries ratified the deal, the world's biggest polluter, the United States, was not among them.

EMISSIONS TRADING
A free-market response to the problem of pollution. A business or country is given a limit for the amount of pollutants it can produce. Should it exceed its quota it must purchase someone else's unused allowance or pay a fine. This idea has gained acceptance. This year the EU introduced a Europe-wide market in carbon dioxide emissions for steel, energy, cement, brick, paper and cardboard companies, while the Kyoto protocol binds its signatories to a similar system. Critics jeeringly call this "paying to pollute" and argue that it does little to reduce overall emissions.

BLACK WATER
Water that contains animal, human or food waste. Not to be confused with Coca-Cola's Dasani, which just contained unacceptable levels of cancer-causing bromates.

CARBON OFFSETTING
Flying from London to New York and back in economy class creates 2,230kg of carbon dioxide emissions. To have someone plant enough trees to offset your "carbon footprint" for the trip will cost you $41 at www.sustainabletravel.com

C&C
Contraction and convergence ­ a method whereby nations would be required not only to contract but also to converge their levels of carbon emission, so that the pain of reducing emissions would be shared equally throughout the planet. Simple, fair and popular with environmentalists; less favoured by governments, which tend to insist that their own country has special needs.

CRADLE TO GRAVE
A term for measuring the burden a product places on the environment throughout its lifespan. Typical costs include consumption of raw materials, energy used in manufacture and transport, and the effect of disposal.

BIODEGRADATION
Capable of being broken down by micro-organisms. For all the homely familiarity of the term, what is biodegradable and what is not is a subject of fierce dispute. Easier, perhaps, to think of it as a matter of degree: a piece of orange peel biodegrades in around six months; a plastic six-pack holder ring takes about 450 years.

TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE ACCOUNTING
In his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks, John Elkington argued that balance sheets alone were not sufficient to judge a company's performance ­ social justice and environmental responsibility must be quantified, too. The idea has become surprisingly mainstream, although it all too easily turns into...

GREENWASHING
Window-dressing by governments or businesses intended to make them look environmentally friendly.

POLLUTER PAYS PRINCIPLE
Sounds like a great idea? Common sense, surely? Well, don't come squealing when the days of budget flights end.

HALF-LIFE
The time it takes for a pollutant to lose half its effect on the environment. The biochemical half-life of the pesticide DDT is 1,580 years.

CELEBRITY CARBON OFFSETTING
At www.futureforests.com, £13 buys a contribution to Leonardo diCaprio's forest in Chiapas, Mexico ­ as well as special certificate created by the Titanic star himself. For a tenner you can dedicate a tree in the Dido Forest in Mozambique. "Trees are the lungs of the world and it's our responsibility to put back what we've taken away," the singer says.

HYBRID CAR
Part gas, part electric, high-mileage, low emissions and very, very fashionable in Hollywood. Apparently, Robin Williams drives one, but don't let that put you off.

HYPOXIA
Oxygen depletion in water caused by an excess of chemical waste and other human "nutrients" that stimulate the growth of algae. The bottom line is that fish "drown". The destruction of wetland habitats, which help to filter ground water, has made this an increasingly common problem.

OZONE HOLE
The bad news is that the hole photographed last month over Antarctica is the size of Europe. The good news is that, if current trends continue, the ozone layer (which absorbs harmful ultraviolet light from the sun) should have repaired itself by 2050.

CAUSTIC SCRUBBER
Not a term of abuse but an anti air pollution device that uses an alkaline solution to neutralise acidic gases.

GLOBAL DISTILLATION
The process that has made the Arctic one of the most polluted places on earth. Pesticides, heavy metals and other chemicals evaporate from fields and rubbish tips in southern latitudes. Carried northwards for thousands of miles by the wind, they condense when they meet cold air. Canadian Inuit mothers have seven times more polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS) ­ which cause cancer and birth defects ­ in their milk than women in the country's big cities, while some Inuit are reported to ingest more than 100 times the permitted weekly dose of PCBs by eating seal.

VIRGIN
Euphemistic way to describe a product containing no recycled materials. One instance where being whiter than white won't wash.

CRADLE TO CRADLE
Shorthand for the ideal of total recyclability. The re-usable milk bottle is perhaps the best example of a cradle-to-cradle process.

MONTREAL PROTOCOL
Since 1989, more than 180 nations have so far signed up to eradicate ozone-depleting emissions by 2030. A triumph of multilateralism, described by the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as " perhaps the most successful international agreement to date".

BIOMASS POWER
Burning organic material ­ wood chippings, tree prunings, even chicken litter ­ is a good source of sustainable energy. The beauty of the process is that it's "carbon neutral": plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, and release it when they burn. That contrasts with fossil fuels which release new carbon dioxide into the air. One problem has always been finding a biomass fuel that's economically viable, but if scientists at a conference in Dublin this month are right, that may have been solved. Miscanthus giganteus is a sturdy, 4m-high elephant grass that needs little tending. If grown on ten per cent of the suitable land in Europe, it is claimed, it could provide nine per cent of the continent's energy.

PEAK OIL
The moment when the extraction of oil from the earth reaches its highest point and starts to diminish. Has it already happened? Is it about to? Nobody seems able to agree, but the most pessimistic forecasts suggest that the disappearing reserves could deliver an apocalyptic blow to western society. Rather frighteningly, the US reached its own point of peak oil in 1971.

BIO-PIRACY
The exploitation of a developing nation's resources by a foreign government or company without their permission.

T

ERMINATOR SEED
A seed genetically modified so that the plants produced from it are sterile ­ thus rendering developing world farmers dependent on the multinational agribusinesses. Developed and patented in the late Nineties by the United States Department of Agriculture, the "suicide seed" (as it is also known) created international outrage. There has been a moratorium on its use ever since.

PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE
If you are not sure of the long-term effects, don't do it. A cornerstone of environmental good practice.

PROXIMITY PRINCIPLE
The ideal that waste should be disposed of as close to where it was produced as possible.

MEGALOPOLIS
A city growing so fast that the authorities are unable to provide essential services such as waste-disposal. Nairobi is one of Africa's biggest.

ZOONOSE
Disease that can pass between animals and humans. Expect to hear it bandied about a lot as speculation about bird flu continues.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style