The Green Glossary

Net zero? Agroecology? What about nature-based solutions? There's a whole new language for green terms but understanding a few key ones will help you sift through the greenwash and help visualise and articulate a better world.

Net zero 

Buzzword of the year award goes to ‘net zero’, as policymakers fall over themselves pledging to reach it. But what does it mean? Net zero is when the amount of greenhouse gases we emit is equalled by the amount we remove. This is done by reducing emissions, and then offsetting the remainder – but it’s also ripe for greenwash, thanks to ‘offsetting’ being such a dubious concept. The most important question should always be: how are companies and countries doing all they can to reduce emissions and shift towards a permanently low-carbon way of living? 

Carbon

Agroecology

While organic refers to the certified system of farming with no artificial chemicals, agroecology is more nuanced. It is farming in harmony with ecology, to the benefit of nature – but crucially, it places equal measure on equality, fair trade, and ethical business. As such, it is one of the more progressive visions for the future; one where the climate and nature crises are tackled in a way that puts people, and not corporations, at the centre.

Broccoli

Climate justice

Similar to the above, the movement for climate justice is about a fair transition to a greener world. At the heart of this on the geopolitical stage is the need for climate finance: helping countries in the global south to adapt to much more severe climate threats which they themselves had little role in causing.

Carrot

Nature-based solutions

Restoring nature (like peat bogs, forests, kelp, and seagrass meadows) to store carbon, as well as for biodiversity, water and other benefits. 

Is there a term you think needs an explanation? Submit a comment on our Your Questions Answered article and we will add it to the list. 

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  1. Quoting from Merlin Sheldrake’s ‘Entangled Life. How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures’ pp160-62:

    ‘Disrupt the rich ecology of microbes that live in the soil – the guts of the planet- and the health of plants too will suffer….

    …. found ‘remarkable differences’ between organic and conventionally managed fields. Not only was the abundance of mycorrhizal fungi higher in organically managed fields, but the fungal communities were also far more complex: twenty-seven species of fungi were identified as highly connected, or ‘keystone species’, compared with none in the conventionally managed fields. Many studies report similar findings. Intensive farming practices – through a combination of ploughing and application of chemical fertilisers or fungicides – reduce the abundance of mycorrhizal fungi and alter the structure of their communities. More sustainable farming practices, organic or otherwise tend to result in more diverse mycorrhizal communities and a greater abundance of fungal mycelium in the soil….

    Mycorrhizal fungi do more than feed plants. The researchers at Agroscope describe them as keystone organisms, but some prefer the term ‘ecosystem engineers’. Mycorrhizal mycelium is a sticky living seam that holds soil together; remove the fungi, and the ground washes away. Mycorrhizal fungi increase the volume of water that the soil can absorb, reducing the quantity of nutrients leached out of the soil by rainfall by as much as 50 per cent. Of the carbon that is found in soils – which remarkably, amounts to twice the amount of carbon found in plants and the atmosphere combined – a substantial proportion is bound up in tough organic compounds produced by mycorrhizal fungi. The carbon that floods into the soil through mycorrhizal channels supports intricate food webs. Besides the hundreds or thousands of metres of fungal mycelium in a teaspoon of healthy soil, there are more bacteria, protists, insects and arthropods than the number of humans who have ever lived on Earth.

    Mycorrhizal fungi can increase the quality of a harvest……’

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    1. Hi Molly,

      Mycorrhizal fungi is the gift that keeps on giving! I first learnt about this, in the Agricultural Testament by Albert Howard. I think you’d find it interesting. It was first published in 1940 by Howard, who was the Imperial Economic Botanist to the Government of India. He went out to advise the Indian government on how to farm with industrial practices, but through working and learning with Indian farmers, he became a staunch advocate of their practices. He is one of the founding fathers of the organic movements, he is always keen to point out that he has merely just documented these methods from the Indian farmers.

      I always think it is mad to think that even in 1940, we knew the perils of modern industrial farming and had the tools at hand to combat this.

      This quote by Howard feels very prescient; ‘the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible’.

      Jack

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  2. Yes, Jack, how we ignore proper knowledge and wisdom when it suits our purposes.

    In the book I quoted from, Merlin Sheldrake refers to Albert Howard and he remarks ‘eighty years on his questions cut deep’.

    You yourself are obviously very aware but if others are like me and quite fresh to the subject of fungi then I can definitely recommend Sheldrake’s ‘Entangled Life’. He writes in such an easy way without jargon and with simple explanations, despite there being 40 pages of references. His enthusiasm is electric and he’s a Ph.D. biologist who it seems has gone about conferring with everyone who knows anything. My family is getting it for Christmas! Like with other things going on at the moment, we all need to wake up!

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    1. ‘how we ignore proper knowledge and wisdom when it suits our purposes.’

      This is so true. Or suit the purposes of advancing profits.
      It’s interesting now that we are discovering that our gut health (also linked to our mental health among many things) is linked to the health of the soil!
      Olivia Oldham recently wrote about it for WL – so interesting, and makes a lot of sense. I think you’ll enjoy it.
      https://wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk/features/soil-biodiversity-health/gut-health-soil

      If you’re enjoying this area of subject, I strongly recommend the Oxford Real Farming Conference at the start of January. So many fascinating people, at the vanguard of sustainable farming talking throughout the 3 days. Merlin did a talk last year. In person tickets are sold out but you can still attend online.

      https://orfc.org.uk

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