If you think sinks are where you put dirty dishes and bubbles are what you use to clean them, you may have difficulty understanding the debate about how to stop global warming. When representatives of the world's nations gather to discuss global warming, they conduct their debates in a language of acronyms and scientific terms that even veteran environmentalists have a hard time following.
The hallways and meeting rooms are filled with chatter about things like sinks and bubbles, but many of these words do not mean what they seem to at first. Even the names of the conferences look like an overturned Scrabble box. When 150 members of the United Nations met in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, guests were greeted with banners that read: “Welcome to UNFCC-COP3,” which stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties, Third Session. “It's a major, major problem,” said Constance Holmes, president of a group that represents leading American industries in deliberations about global warming. “We have to constantly remind ourselves that our vernacular is indecipherable gibberish.”
In most places, a forest is a forest. But to officials debating global warming, a forest is a “sink.” That term is used to describe something that absorbs carbon dioxide, and therefore helps to reduce global warning. Trees tend to absorb green house gasses, so a forest is a sink, A “bubble” has nothing to do with soap. The nations of the European Union prefer to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions together under one umbrella, or bubble, rather than as individual nations.
Government officials know that whatever action they take to fight global warming will require public support. So far, the odd lingo is a serious obstacle to public understanding of this issue. Environmentalists say that global warming must be stopped at any cost, whereas automakers, the mining industry, and ethers claim that tough rest- rictions on emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming will cost them billons of dollars.
You may find the jargon confusing, but the basic issue is clear. In the end, the debate about global warming is not about complicated technical terms. It is about the huge sums of money that may be gained or lost depending on how governments regulate global warming. And most importantly, it is about whether future generations will be able to survive on our planet.