E for extinction? A new lexicon of the climate crisis

A satellite image shows Hurricane Hilary (right) off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
A satellite image shows Hurricane Hilary (right) off Mexico’s Pacific coast.


Extreme weather events—from wildfires and heat waves to extreme rainfall and desertification—are taking a devastating toll across the world.

With extreme weather events taking a devastating toll across the world—from wildfires and heat waves to extreme rainfall and desertification—the conversation around climate change is getting peppered with new words and phrases. Here’s a handful to mull over:


The psychological impact that climate events can have on communities living in trauma and others worried about their future and that of future generations. The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as “an overwhelming sense of fear, sadness, and dread in the face of a warming planet". The mental health effects of climate crisis may involve post-traumatic stress disorder, suicides due to economic fallouts (say, a drought), heat induced aggression, or nagging stress about an uncertain future. A more benign instance is ‘range-anxiety’—fear of being stranded if the battery of your electric vehicle runs out.

Tipping point

A temperature threshold, beyond which irreversible changes are likely to occur in the physical world. Some examples are the collapse of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, melting of Arctic permafrost and the withering away of the Amazon forests. Citing new research, a 2022 OECD report warns that important tipping points are already possible at current levels of warming and may become likely within the range of 1.5-2°C rise in temperature. Breaching tipping points can lead to cascading socio-economic and ecological impact within a short span of time, challenging the ability and capacity of humankind to respond.

Climate doom-ism

The belief that humanity has lost the battle against climate change and that mankind is on its way to extinction. Experts say there is little or no scientific truth to such views which have gained popularity in tandem with frequent climate events. Be warned: climate doomers can potentially cause as much damage as climate deniers, by pushing humanity into inaction.

Direct capture

Direct air capture, or DAC, is a nascent technology to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. After extraction, the greenhouse gas can either be stored or used to develop synthetic fuels. The US plans to spend $1.2 billion on building two commercial-scale plants. The technology is controversial: some scientists claim it can help fight climate change, but others say it benefits the fossil fuel industry (if you can suck in carbon from the air, big oil can continue to pollute). One problem is direct capture is currently expensive, because CO2 in the air is very diluted.

Wet-bulb temperature

When it’s too hot, the human body cools itself by way of sweating. That process is interrupted when the air is very humid, leading to higher heat stress. The wet bulb temperature combines both air temperature and humidity to measure how unbearable it really is. This is done by wrapping a wet cloth around the bulb of a thermometer and recording the temperature. A wet bulb temperature of 35°C is the threshold for humans—reflecting an air temperature of 40°C with 75% relative humidity. Organs can start to fail beyond this point.

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