Oxford Dictionaries has declared “climate emergency” the word of the year for 2019, following a hundred-fold increase in usage that it says demonstrated a “greater immediacy” in the way we talk about the climate.
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”, Oxford said the words soared from “relative obscurity” to “one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.”
According to the dictionary’s data, usage of “climate emergency” soared 10,796%.
Oxford said the choice was reflective, not just of the rise in climate awareness, but the focus specifically on the language we use to discuss it. The rise of “climate emergency” reflected a conscious push towards language of immediacy and urgency, the dictionary said.
In 2019, “climate” became the most common word associated with “emergency”, three times more than “health emergency” in second.
In May, the Guardian updated its style guide to clarify that “climate emergency” or “global heating” would be favoured over “climate change” or “global warming” – to better reflect the scientific consensus that this was “a catastrophe for humanity”.
"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,” the selection panel said. "But with climate emergency, we see something new, an extension of emergency to the global level.”