In 2007, the new edition of Oxford Junior Dictionary culled a number of words relating to the natural world, in exchange for new-age cultural notes. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words that took their place were a cold collection of meaningless nonsense including attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

Language and culture have always been intrinsically intertwined to reflect the values of society. Which is why it is so worrying, in the midst of our climate's demise, that some of the most sacred plants, trees, and animals indigenous to the very country this book of words is published in, would be replaced with such generic and child-unfriendly things. What values are we teaching children if we rob them of the language which allows them to identify what's left of the natural world in their parks, paths and gardens? 
rewilding, earth activist, climate activist, climate change, climate breakdown, climate activist, extinction rebellion, george monbiot, natural world, living world, environment, global warming, climate change, climate breakdown, conscious living, sustainable living, ethical living, how to save the planet, how to be an earth activist, how to rewild your language, climate emergencyThis past January, at Cambridge Conservation Forum's 2019 Symposium on Rewilding and its Effects On Nature and People, journalist and climate activist George Monbiot held a talk about the words that we use. As a writer, I took each suggestion he made to heart, immediately adjusting my language to remove the misfit words which have impeded our responsiveness to climate breakdown.

As he argued his piece, he explained that the language we use to describe the natural world shapes our worldview and reinforces it, encoding values that are subconsciously triggered when we speak, read or listen to our peers. This is why it is so difficult - despite the irrefutable evidence that 'climate change' is real - for deniers to become believers.

Once we've digested the meaning of a thing, it is hard for our brains to redefine. Because of this, the language we use for the climate breakdown we're trying to prevent, the global heating we're attempting to reverse, and the living planet we are trying to protect, needs a collection of words which clearly define the affects of our actions and inspire protection. Unfortunately, the words we're currently using were chosen by those who caused the problem, rather than those who work to remedy it, leaving room for nuance, misinterpretation, misinformation, denial, and greenwashing.
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In Robin Wall Kimmerer's beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she shares some of the impact the English language has on its speakers, and by proxy, the living world. A stark juxtaposition to the languages of animacy, which were built around reverence for the earth, all nearly lost to Colonialism and Christ's army:

"Our toddlers speak of plants and animals as if they were people, extending to them self and intention and compassion—until we teach them not to. We quickly retrain them and make them forget. When we tell them that the tree is not a who, but an it, we make that maple an object; we put a barrier between us, absolving ourselves of moral responsibility and opening the door to exploitation.”
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The English language is devolving to be individualistic, ungrateful, virtueless, and egotistical. A recent study showed that between 1960 and 2008 found that words and phrases of self aggrandisement are increasingly overshadowing communal words, like 'community'. In the same study, words associated with moral virtue have dropped by 74 per cent, words of courage have dropped by 66 per cent, words of gratitude have dropped by 49 per cent, words of humility have by 52 per cent, and words of compassion have dropped by 56 per cent. It is no wonder then, especially with the help of propaganda from those who benefit most from climate breakdown denial, that the words we use to describe what is happing to the living world are ineffective in saving it. 

SO HOW DO WE REWILD OUR LANGUAGE?

We need to take subordination, economics, and human supremacy out of our language, and 'call a spade, a spade', with the reverence it deserves. 

So, Instead of "climate change" let's call it climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis or ecological emergency to better indicate the effect of the catastrophic unwinding of the systems which support this planet.

Instead of "global warming", let's call it "global heating" to reflect the catastrophe an overpopulation of carbon in our atmosphere causes.

Instead of "natural capital" or "ecosystem services" or "biodiversity assets" which suggest nature only holds value if we can commodify it, let's call it "the living earth's endowments".

Instead of "protected areas", "sites of special scientific interest" or "nature reserves", which suggest we have ownership of it, let's call them "places of natural wonder".

Instead of "environment" let's use "living planet" or the "natural world" to paint a better picture of just what type of "environment" we're fighting for.

Instead of the word "extinction" let's adopt the late, great, Polly Higgins' project and movement of "ecocide".

Instead of referring to plants and animals as "resources" or "stocks", suggesting they belong to us and are here to serve us, let's refer to them as "earthly kin" or "wildlife".

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rewilding, earth activist, climate activist, climate change, climate breakdown, climate activist, extinction rebellion, george monbiot, natural world, living world, environment, global warming, climate change, climate breakdown, conscious living, sustainable living, ethical living, how to save the planet, how to be an earth activist, how to rewild your language, climate emergency, global warming, global heating, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis, ecological emergency

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rewilding, earth activist, climate activist, climate change, climate breakdown, climate activist, extinction rebellion, george monbiot, natural world, living world, environment, global warming, climate change, climate breakdown, conscious living, sustainable living, ethical living, how to save the planet, how to be an earth activist, how to rewild your language, climate emergency, global warming, global heating, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis, ecological emergency

** If you have any further suggestions for words and their replacements to add on to this list, please comment on the corresponding instagram post, my comments aren't working for some reason!

** Beyond the words shared above, you might also consider learning some of the Indigenous words for the flora and fauna on the land you live on, to speak to the living world in it's mother tongue, while simultaneously (and respectfully) supporting the resurgence of local Indigenous language.

COW IMAGE: Annie Spratt
SOURCES: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3NY Times, Washington PostBraiding SweetgrassT&F Online