Climate and environment glossary – F–G

A–B | C–D | E | F–G | I–M | N–P | R–S | T–Z


fast fashion: the relentless and quick production of poorly made clothing by high street mass retailers in order to offer ‘catwalk’-style clothes cheaply to consumers. It is often associated with slave labour or poor treatment of workers, pollution, waste and a throwaway mentality. See slow fashion.

feedback loops: processes that can either amplify or reduce the speed of change, such as climate change. An example of a positive (amplifying) climate feedback loop is the release of methane, which contributes to warming, from Arctic ice as it melts.

fish populations vs fish stocks: ‘fish populations’ refers to the number of fish in our oceans, whereas ‘fish stocks’ refers to fish as a source of food for human consumption. The latter term is being phased out by most organisations, with fish populations considered the more accurate term to describe the status of fisheries.

forest bathing: the act of spending time in nature to increase our wellbeing, find more peace and calm, and be reminded of our inherent connection to the environment. According to the National Trust, the term is the English translation of the Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku.


fossil fuel: a source of combustible fuel associated with oil and its derivatives, such as natural gas, petrol/diesel, coal and coal products. Fossil fuels form through the decomposition of organic materials in the ground under pressure and heat, taking place over millennia.

fracking: a common abbreviation of ‘hydraulic fracturing’, which is the process of extracting difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas (shale gas) from rock formations. This is achieved by drilling into the earth and injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock at high pressure, forcing the gas out of the rocks. Fracking is associated with pollution of underground aquifers, through the release of chemicals, and pollution of above-ground soils and watercourses, as well as noise associated with the vehicles travelling to/from fracking sites.



geoengineering (geo-engineering): also known as climate engineering, this refers to human intervention in the Earth’s climate systems to reduce and reverse environmental harm. Examples include efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through carbon sequestration and carbon dioxide capture and storage.

global dimming: the reduction in the amount of light from the sun received at the Earth’s surface due to increased particulates in the atmosphere, such as pollution and dust resulting from human activity as well as from volcanic ash. These particulates absorb and reflect back light from the sun. They also become nuclei for water droplets to form around, leading to increased cloud cover, which in turn reflects light back into space before it can reach the Earth’s surface.

global heating vs global warming: some editorial house styles now prefer the term ‘global heating’ over ‘global warming’ to emphasise the urgency of the climate crisis. See 1.5 degrees.

global warming potential (GWP): a measure of the amount of heat absorbed by the various greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent GHG in the atmosphere and is given the GWP value of 1. When measuring global warming, the other greenhouse gases are measured in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, making it a useful way to understand the relative impact of different GHGs. For instance, the next most abundant GHG is methane (CH4), which has a GWP value of 25, making it 25 times more potent in terms of global warming potential than CO2.

greenhouse effect: the natural phenomenon whereby the sun’s energy warms the Earth and the Earth radiates the heat back out into the atmosphere, where some of that radiated energy is absorbed in the stratosphere (see ozone and ozone layer) such that not all of the heat is lost. This ‘greenhouse effect’ has enabled the Earth to support biodiversity, but if the greenhouse effect becomes too strong (i.e. the Earth and its atmosphere become too warm) weather patterns change, with potentially devastating consequences. The increase in greenhouse gas emissions is tipping the balance of the greenhouse effect, creating more warming of the Earth and disrupting its natural systems.

greenhouse gas emissions: greenhouse gases (GHGs) are constantly released (emitted) into the atmosphere as a result of natural processes (eg respiration, growth and excretion by plants and animals, rotting vegetation, earthquakes). Many are also absorbed/taken up from the atmosphere. In the context of climate change, GHG emissions refers to those emissions that are a direct result of human activities (farming, forestry, industrial activities and so on).

greenhouse gases (GHGs): gases in the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. The main GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) (see methane), nitrous oxide (N2O) and the fluorinated gases (hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs; perfluorocarbons, PFCs; sulfur hexafluoride, SF6; nitrogen trifluoride, NF3). See also sulfur.

greenwashing: making a statement about the environmental benefits of a product, process or business/organisation that does not stand up to rigorous (scientific) scrutiny.