6 Words That Could Go Extinct Because of Climate Change
Rising global temperatures could render the meanings of these words obsolete
Receive $50 off an eligible $100 purchase at the Outside Shop, where you’ll find a selection of brand-name products curated by our gear editors, when you sign up for Outside+ today.
A warming planet has meant that every year since 2001 was the hottest year on record. Climate change will eventually force many populations to migrate and put a quarter of all species at risk of vanishing. But not all of the doomsday scenarios will unfold before our eyes. The subtleties of climate catastrophe are already affecting language around the world. Wherever you call home, the very words coming out of your mouth are in danger of becoming obsolete. Take these six, for example.
Noun: A compartmental structure on the hind legs of certain bees used to harvest and transport pollen.
Yes, losing polar bears will be sad. But pollinators, especially bees, are responsible for the growth of nearly 75 percent of global food crops. Shorter winters, earlier springs, and shrinking habitats have contributed to a decline in bee populations—so much so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently added the rusty patched bumblebee to the endangered species list. Donald Trump delayed putting the protections in effect, but if the bee does end up on the list, it will be the first continental U.S. bee species on the list, an insect that used to be found in 31 states and Canadian provinces but is now seen in only 13.
Noun: The queue of skiers and snowboarders waiting to board a chairlift for a ride up the mountain at a winter resort.
This winter, ski resorts have seen record-breaking storms and crowds. So climate threats must be a Cascadian hoax, right? No. Though colder and warmer winters are determined mainly by fickle jet streams, global warming has contributed to an increased number of “End of Days” storms over the past half-century. The average global temperature has risen 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880: warmer weather means more moisture in the air, which means more intense precipitation events. At lower elevations, another two-degree temperature increase has the potential to turn all that fresh powder into floods and landslides. And you may have noticed this winter that the season is getting shorter. While there might be a few epic days in the middle of winter, there’s less time on either end of winter.
Noun: The series of rare-earth elements used in the production of myriad green and high-tech devices.
Hooray for hybrid cars and renewable energy, right? Yes, but those car batteries, solar cells, and wind turbines (along with iPhones, MRI scans, and 4K TVs) require the expensive extraction of neodymium, dysprosium, and more than a dozen other elements that can unleash radioactive by-products and contaminate the air and water. Companies are looking at substitutes for the very elements we currently rely on for many of the “green” products that ease our carbon-footprint guilt. With rising demand for renewable and high-tech elements, the vast majority of them coming from China, more companies are putting research and development into abundant-metal substitutes for lanthanides.
Noun: An unmoving ribbon of sea ice that attaches to the coast or edge of a glacier.
Because water absorbs sunlight and ice reflects it, less ice in the sea is an inherent recipe for warmer air, warmer water, more melting sea ice, and ultimately, disappearing coastal cities and towns. Arctic sea ice is already declining at a rate of 13 percent each decade, but when the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland melt completely (estimates time it to 2100), sea level will rise 220 feet, displacing one out of every five people on Earth.
Noun: A rake/cage/net thingamabob that’s dragged along the bottom of the ocean to collect scallops for consumption.
Seafood is the primary protein for more than 3 billion people. The fisheries industry employs 260 million workers worldwide. Those among the first to get their pink slips? Shellfishermen. A warming ocean bodes ill for the sensitive scallop and other shellfish with limited mobility, and the extra billions of tons of CO2 that have been added to the water are making ocean water so corrosive that it’s eating away at adult shells and preventing growth of scallop larvae.
Noun: A large cask, a unit of measure for a large volume of liquid, usually beer or wine.
From the regions of Europe that produce champagne and lambic to the Agave tequilana landscapes of Mexico to the vast fields of big-beer barley in the United States, prolonged drought, extreme heat, and the northern migration of climate zones have started to threaten the bottom line for many in the booze business. Shorter growing seasons, higher temps, more pests, and less water have altered the chemistry, quality, and yield of crops, forcing vintners and brewers to move or halt production. Brewers especially are already getting creative and responding to these challenges, leading us to hope that when the apocalypse comes, at least there may be some booze.