The most recent AP Stylebook includes several new and revised guidance for environmental and climate terminology. This is important for those of us who use AP Style in our work, of course. But it's also an indicator of how much these topics are being covered by the media. (One Yale study estimates that there are more than 2.5 million scientific articles published each year. And when you factor in reporting that's about climate or environmental science for general audiences, that number's likely a lot more.)

Encouraging more precise language around climate and the environment is a smart move. When terms are misunderstood, confusing or politically charged, the more specific the better. Using examples and explanations in our communication on these topics improves clarity, reduces confusion and builds trust. We can't move people if we don't reach them where they are and give them a reason to place their confidence in us.

NB: The online AP Stylebook is updated now. The print edition will be out next year.

Updated climate and environment terminology

Here are some of the entries:

  • blue carbon: carbon dioxide captured by living organisms in coastal or marine ecosystems. "Explain the term if used."
  • climate change: this entry includes a lot of exposition on top of the guidance, which seems like a signal that we're still turning the dials on what "climate change" really means. "use the term climate change when generally referring to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, and the science explaining those shifts." AP says that "climate crisis/emergency" is OK to use in the context of a quote or paraphrase only. And we should only use ""Explain the term if used."" when referencing the increase in worldwide temperatures and not as a synonym for "climate change".
  • climate change deniers/skeptics/doubters: the advice here is clear: "do not use". Instead, AP suggests being explicit about the belief, like "people who do not believe that human activity is responsible for the bulk of climate change". Wordier? Yes. More precise? Definitely.
  • climate goals: "specify the goal or goals to which you're referring". Again, specificity is vital.
  • desertification: the process by which land becomes increasingly dry. "Explain the term if you use it or quote someone using it."
  • greenhouse gases: naturally-occuring and human-made. "Do not use the abbreviation GHG."
  • greenwashing: Claims used to deceive the public about environmental friendliness. "Explain the term when used."

Related Content

Click here for slides!