At the end of each year, dictionaries (and other linguistically-minded groups) release their Word of the Year. The metrics used to rate these words vary by organisation, and the methods (if described) are always a bit vague. But the rating usually involves how often the word was searched for on the dictionary’s site, or how often the word was used in popular online media.
Unlike other ‘of the year’ or ‘best’ ratings, Words of the Year are rarely ‘happy place’ words. They’re a measure of contemporary cultural usage, a sign of the times, not a rigorous measure of meaningfulness or popularity.
We often discuss Word of the Year retrospectively – why did it matter so much last year? But, if you don’t like repeating the same mistakes, it also matters for this year and beyond.
My top picks are:
Kudos to Collins for the only Word of the Year directly related to environment. “…unchecked proliferation [of single-use items] are blamed for damaging the environment and affecting the food chain..”
Single-use plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental problems on Earth. Bulk single-use plastics were reported floating in the Atlantic Ocean of North America in 1974; in the 1980s, increasing distribution of plastic grocery bags raised environmental concerns and customer ire; today, almost everyone has heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And it’s not just their contribution to the ever-growing piles of garbage; life-cycle assessments of single-use plastics often show higher water use and more carbon emissions than reusable products.
Collins’ definition, “adj. made to be used only once”, isn’t just relevant for disposable plastics. Fast fashion, fast furniture, food waste, planned obsolescence… We have a long way to go before we make a dint in the towering piles of rubbish on this planet. Tackling this problem requires massive cultural and institutional shifts, not just the choices of individuals.
Stories to watch:
- Woolworths and Coles ban single-use plastic bags in Australian supermarkets.
- Bali and Tamil Nadu ban all single-use plastics.
- New York City bans single-use Styrofoam products in stores and restaurants.
- France’s new food waste laws require grocery stores to give edible food to charity instead of throwing it out
- Denmark’s comprehensive ‘plastic without waste’ strategy
Let’s hope 2019 is the year for justice delivered where it’s needed: environmental justice; justice for minorities and oppressed; justice for communities and democratic institutions; justice in the workplace.
Maintaining justice depends on fact and reason, on standing up for what is morally right and good for humanity. This includes our natural environment. To sustain humanity, we need to sustain the ecosystems and ecological processes that support human well-being (natural capital and ecosystem services).
Stories to watch:
- Legal rights for rivers
- Climate change litigation, e.g. Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Association vs. big oil companies
- New Jersey’s Attorney General fights for environmental justice in low-income neighbourhoods
- The role of indigenous communities in conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services
Conspiracy theories, bad science, fake news, post-truth. Misinformation is the nemesis of justice.
And if you’re an expert hesitant about speaking out against misinformation, let this be the year you take it on. Find the media platform/s you feel most comfortable to share your knowledge. Times change. We need more experts, from all walks of science, engaging beyond their bubble of peers to correct misinformation and temper unreason.
Here’s to a better year in 2019!
© Manu Saunders 2019