Climate change alters the English language

Remember when “at a glacial pace” described something extremely slow? Remember when the phrase “money doesn’t grow on trees” rang true (unless of course you owned an orchard or a plantation)?

Well, as our climate changes these phrases look set to join so many of our species as they pick up their one-way tickets to extinction.

As the world warms and ice melts faster than fresh snow can fall to replace it, the historically long, slow advance of most of the world’s glaciers has recently been replaced with a rapid retreat.

The lethargic, benign glacial pace of the past has been replaced by its opposite, a more risky rate of change that brings with it the threat of sudden floods and future water shortages.

At the same time, we are slowly learning that money does indeed grow on trees. Forests are like banks into which a wise species would deposit as much of our dirty carbon as possible and collect as interest the many goods and services that these ecosystems provide.

For such gifts — from medicines and materials, to clean water and a more stable climate — have an immense economic value that far outstrips the price of protecting natural forests.

I imagine that these are not the only phrases that, having stood the test of time for generations, will rapidly lose their relevance in our warming world. What other well-established turns of phrase are changing with our climate — in English or in any other language?

3 thoughts on “Climate change alters the English language

  1. I guess there must be similar phrases in other languages that seem to be even more pertinent or ridiculous in the present times. For that matter even poetry seems to have come under the influence. Reminds me of Robert Frost’s “Birches” and Shelley’s ode “To the West Wind”. The imagery may have seemed exaggerated earlier, but not now, especially the part where he talks about the wild spirit of the wind (read climate change) which is moving around causing destruction.

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