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
Monday 19 September 2005
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...
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.
The process of reducing or eliminating pollution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not a term of abuse but an anti air pollution device that uses an alkaline solution to neutralise acidic gases.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
The exploitation of a developing nation's resources by a foreign government or company without their permission.
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.
If you are not sure of the long-term effects, don't do it. A cornerstone of environmental good practice.
The ideal that waste should be disposed of as close to where it was produced as possible.
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.
Disease that can pass between animals and humans. Expect to hear it bandied about a lot as speculation about bird flu continues.
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