Perspectives

 

Harnessing the Language Industry to

Confront Climate Change

By Sultan Ghaznawi

G

iven the escalating urgency surrounding climate change, the release of the United States government’s fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA) report a few months ago offers a comprehensive examination of the environmental shifts affecting the nation. Notably, it delves into the social consequences of these changes, shedding light on the disproportionate impact experienced by various demographic communities.

The NCA emphasizes the pivotal role of social systems in both driving climate change and shaping individuals’ perceptions of it. It advocates for climate justice through equitable processes such as migration and energy transitions, and it highlights the urgent need to accelerate both adaptation and mitigation efforts. Additionally, it underscores the significance of locally grounded climate action for sustainable development and national security.

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Amidst this intricate tapestry of challenges, the language industry emerges as a formidable ally in raising awareness and facilitating targeted adaptation efforts. Comprising translation, localization, interpreting, and related services, our industry possesses a global reach, uniquely positioned to disseminate vital messages and instigate behavioral shifts.

Climate change, fundamentally rooted in human activities, manifests in diverse and localized ways across the globe. In remote parts of the world, communities grapple with the tangible impacts of  climate change on their lands, seas, and forests. These areas often bear the brunt of environmental shifts, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and disrupting traditional ways of life.

Remote communities reliant on agriculture or pastoralism face increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, leading to crop failures, soil degradation, and water scarcity. In regions like sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, prolonged droughts devastate crops, leading to food insecurity and economic hardship for local communities.  

Coastal communities, particularly in small island nations, confront rising sea levels and more frequent and severe storms. Erosion eats away at shorelines,  displacing populations and endangering vital infrastructure. In the Pacific Islands, for instance, communities are forced to relocate due to encroaching  seawater, threatening their cultural heritage and more.

Indigenous peoples living in remote forested areas confront deforestation driven by logging, agriculture, and climate-related factors like wildfires and insect infestations. In the Amazon rainforest, indigenous communities witness the loss of biodiversity and traditional resources, undermining their cultural identity and livelihoods.

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These examples underscore the urgent need for targeted climate action and support for remote communities to adapt and thrive in the face of environmental challenges. The language industry, with its capacity for communication and advocacy, can play a crucial role in amplifying their voices and facilitating meaningful change.

The potential impact of the language industry is vast. Language service providers (LSPs) can implement climate-related training programs for staff and freelancers, while also adopting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies to promote sustainable practices. Freelancers, constituting a significant portion of the industry, can uniquely drive change through behavioral adjustments and community education.

Of critical importance is the standardization of climate terminology across languages, which facilitates knowledge dissemination, especially in vulnerable communities lacking translation resources. Multinational organizations bear a dual responsibility to communicate their environmental commitments across linguistic and cultural boundaries and to support localization partners in addressing climate-related challenges.

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Moreover, as technology continues to shape the language sector, consideration of its environmental impact is paramount. While cloud-based AI solutions offer efficiency gains, they also contribute to energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. Striking a balance between technological advancement and environmental stewardship remains imperative for the industry.

The language industry occupies a central position in global communication and holds immense potential to drive transformative action in the fight against climate change. By leveraging its reach, expertise, and innovative capacity, the industry can make significant strides toward building a more sustainable future for all. 

Sultan Ghaznawi is president of Hybrid Lynx, a Canadian language and AI data services provider. He is also an ALC board member, and he is passionate about language, technology, climate change, education, and improving quality of life.

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