‘Non-word of the year’: Germany rejects the notion of ‘climate hysteria’

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

By Stephanie Nourse


‘Klimahysterie’, or ‘climate hysteria’, has been chosen as Germany’s ‘Unwort’’ (non-word) of the year. The choice targets criticism of the climate protection movement.


New words or expressions are often coined as new societal concerns arise. While in previous years the refugee crisis dominated submissions for the chosen ‘non-word’, this time the climate debate took centre stage.


The ‘Unwort’ has been decided annually since 1991, and is selected by a panel of linguists from the Technical University of Darmstadt.


Their aim is to promote language sensitivity in society, criticising terms which violate the principles of human dignity or democracy, or which are discriminatory or misleading.


Over 600 entries were submitted in 2019, and the expression ‘Klimahysterie’ was officially selected on the 14th of January this year.


2019 marked the year of the Fridays for Future movement, led by internationally recognised Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, which has resulted in mass demonstrations across Germany.


The expression was chosen, according to the selection committee, because it "sweepingly pathologises the increasing commitment to climate protection as a kind of collective psychosis”.


In support of this statement, the jury referenced a controversial remark by Alexander Gauland, co-founder of the far-right political party AfD (Alternative for Germany), “The AfD will not join in with the climate hysteria of other parties.”


The panel ascertained that the term discredits and implies a non-scientific nature of the important debates surrounding climate change and defames the plight of many environmental activists who are striving to protect our future.


According to recent studies by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, in 2050, Berlin’s climate could be comparable to current temperatures in the Australia’s capital, Canberra. The researchers also believe there will be significant temperature increases in other German cities, with Hamburg and Cologne estimated to reflect the current climate of San Marino in Italy, and Munich as comparable to current-day Milan.


Germany has experienced an average rise in temperature of 0.3 degrees in just the last five years, meaning that this upward trajectory is very easily imagined.


In response to such statements, Germany has pledged to transform its electricity supply system, promising to focus entirely on renewable energy. The SRU, the German Advisory Council on the Environment, has stated that the nation will switch to 100% renewable energy use by 2050. Germany is currently the sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide, accounting for around 2% of the world’s emissions.


However, new national policies are paving the way for a renewable revolution. The last nuclear power plants still standing in Germany will be closed by 2022, and its extensive public transportation networks encourage fossil fuel independence.


The comprehensive German approach to recycling is also highly efficient, as is the ‘Green Dot’ initiative, whereby products with excess packaging are charged at a higher price than products which are packaged in a more environmentally friendly way. This revolutionary idea has led to a reduction in one million tonnes of waste when compared with previous annual averages.


In its environmental efforts and its open rejection of the notion that worrying about climate change is ‘hysteria’ but is instead a fully justified response to a serious issue, Germany makes a strong statement: that we must take action to tackle the climate crisis.

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