AP Style Update: Climate and Environment

AP Stylebook

[Editor’s Note: One of the most popular articles on prnewsonline.com is a review and summary of AP style. We took that as a sign and decided to deliver a series of AP style updates for newsworthy topics. Previous editions examined terms for writing about elections, cryptocurrency, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and finance. In addition, there was a popular grammar review.]

In this installment, we honor Earth Month and Earth Day with a collection of terms discussing climate and the environment.

Below is a sample of weather-, climate- and environmental-related terms in the AP Stylebook. The AP offers a thorough section on climate change, due to the increasing importance and frequency of weather events. However, the AP notes: “The climate story goes beyond extreme weather events and science. It also is about politics, human rights, inequality, international law, biodiversity, society and culture and many other issues. Successful climate and environment stories show how climate change is affecting many areas of life.”

carbon footprint:

An amount of greenhouse gasses (mostly carbon dioxide, but others as well) put into the atmosphere. Many greenhouse gasses come from the consumption of fossil fuels.   

A carbon footprint can be measured by looking into a company’s operations departments, which can compare emissions statements from previous years. 


The city replaced its bus fleet with new electric models, reducing its carbon footprint by almost 80%. 


climate change: 

Use the term when referring to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, and the science explaining or describing those shifts. These shifts have resulted in both slow-onset and extreme weather events, which can include increasing temperatures, loss of biodiversity, land and forest degradation, desertification, sea level rise, glacial retreat, heat waves, droughts, floods and more.


Over the past 10 years, rising sea levels along the Massachusetts coast from climate change has accounted for the erosion of many beaches. 


fossil fuels:

Carbon-based fuels from fossil hydrocarbon deposits, including coal, oil, and natural gas.


Burning fossil fuels accounts for 65% of the country’s air pollution.


global warming:

Use the term global warming in referring to the increase of average temperature around the world. It is one aspect of climate change. Do not use this term as a synonym for climate change.


Global warming has increased the speed at which glaciers melt. Global warming is a result of climate change. 



Advertising or claims by companies, countries or other organizations that aim to deceive the public to believe a certain product, policy or organization is environmentally friendly. The term can be used independently or in direct quotations if one organization is accusing another of greenwashing. Explain the term when used.   


The airline claimed its recycling efforts contributed to a green turnaround for the company, but it's just greenwashing, especially when you look at its gigantic carbon footprint due to use of fossil fuels.


net zero:

The term is used by countries and companies and refers to balancing greenhouse gas emissions to the point that the amount taken out of the atmosphere is equal to the amount emitted. 


By 2030 several American tech companies are aiming to make their operations net zero by innovations in manufacturing and distribution.



A person who strives to eat locally produced foods. Also, locavorism: a movement that embraces food grown nearby, offering the promise of better nutrition and being less burdensome to the environment.


Melissa purchased all of her bread, meat and produce for the week at the farmer’s market, making her a proud locavore. 


weather event:

When possible, avoid this term and instead be specific if the reference is to a specific flood, landslide, mudslide, hurricane, etc.

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal