'Climate emergency' is Oxford Dictionaries' 2019 word of the year

Usage of the term is up 10,789 percent over the previous year, according to the dictionary’s data.
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A firefighter sprays water as embers threaten a residence as the Hillside fire burns through San Bernardino, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2019. The blaze, which ignited during red flag fire danger warnings, destroyed multiple residences.Noah Berger / AP file

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By Denise Chow

It’s official — the 2019 word of the year is “climate emergency,” according to Oxford Dictionaries.

In an indication of the phrase’s cultural impact, the organization said “climate emergency” was once relatively obscure, but after a huge spike in its usage this year, it has become one of the most prominent expressions among English speakers.

Oxford defines climate emergency as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”

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The organization said Thursdayit has monitored a steep increase in discussions about climate change, as well as an escalation in the sense of urgency about the situation.

Usage of the term “climate emergency” is up 10,789 percent over the previous year, according to the dictionary’s data.

Related expressions such as “climate crisis” and “climate action” also made Oxford’s Word of the Year 2019 shortlist.

The trend seems to reflect a shift in the language surrounding climate change, with an emphasis on the seriousness of the current situation and a greater sense of immediacy in addressing it.

In September 2018, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres declared that climate change is “the defining issue of our time,” adding that humanity faces “a direct existential threat.”

Earlier this month, a new study backed by more than 11,000 scientists around the world warned that Earth is facing a climate emergency. The study said scientists have “a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat.”

Since 2004, Oxford has selected a word of the year from a word or phrase that has seen an upsurge of interest over the past 12 months. The institution chooses a winner based on data of its usage and other indicators of the word’s cultural impact.

Previous words of the year include “toxic” in 2018, “youthquake” in 2017 and “post-truth” in 2016.