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‘Step on the gas,’ ‘well-oiled machine,’ and other fossil-fuel phrases that pervade our language » Yale Climate Connections

Fossil fuels can be hard to quit. They’re woven into our society and are endemic in energy sources, plastics, and countless other products. They’ve even infiltrated our language.

The other day while teaching skiing, I was describing the performance benefit of putting one’s weight on the downhill ski. “It’s like stepping on the gas pedal,” I said. I caught myself — I don’t even have a gas pedal in my car anymore. But still, the metaphor rolls reflexively off the tongue.

Society is accelerating efforts to decarbonize transportation, electricity, heat, industry, and food systems. Why not clean up our language while we clean up the atmosphere?

So Yale Climate Connections reached out to readers, friends, and family for examples of fossil-fueled language and cleaner alternatives. Read on for some lighthearted ideas to root dirty language out of your conversations.

Does your team operate like a well-oiled machine?

Equipment that’s tuned up and optimized is a good thing, no doubt. But even at its best, a well-oiled engine is terribly inefficient, wasting far more energy than it puts out while spewing a steady stream of pollutants. Even a mediocre manager wouldn’t wish that on their team.

Read: Electric vehicles use half the energy of gas-powered vehicles

Instead, maybe teams should strive to function like a well-connected grid. They can shift their resources around quickly and flexibly. Those with abundant energy can lend a hand to others when they need a boost. And everyone can operate cleanly and economically. That’s more like it! Now, we’re cooking with gas … er, wait.

Now we’re cooking with gas is an advertising slogan written by the American Gas Association in the 1930s. The phrase was intended to make gas stoves sound more appealing than electric ranges. The phrase might just outlast the stoves.

Readers suggested cleaner replacements that even have a note of optimism. 

Now we’re driving on sunlight!

Now we’re plugged in!

We’re zipping like an electron now!

Rolling coal means to waste diesel and generate pollution in an attempt to express displeasure.

So rolling electrons could mean to flick the EV into sport mode and instantaneously distance oneself from the cloud of soot coming from the truck in the next lane.

The engine room: The notion of the reliable, hardworking core of an effort can forthwith be known as the utility-scale solar farm with co-located battery storage.

I’m firing on all cylinders! Cruising along at full power can be re-imagined as:

I’m fully charged!

I’m tilting my panels to the sun!

I’ve got the wind at my back — and in my turbines!

Step on the gas! Oh, the excitement of barging headlong into an endeavor. All the more rewarding to do it cleanly:

Release the electrons!

Give it full juice!

Step up the amps!

Sport mode, baby!

Burning the midnight oil. Instead of generating pollution — whether it’s from burning whale oil, lard, or kerosene — working late into the night, how about:

Spinning up the reserves

Churning away on hydropower

Switching over to batteries

I’m gassed. Running out of energy is a concept that will forever be relevant. Some modern translations:

I’m unplugged.

I’ve lost my charge.

I need some regeneration!

I’m fired up!

It’s a great feeling to be brimming with purposeful energy. Don’t ruin the vibe with pollution.

I’m recharged and ready to go!

My batteries are at 100%!

Watch out — I’m high voltage!

Adding fuel to the fire means to pile on more of what’s not needed. Just like:

Adding carbon to the atmosphere

Blowing a fuse

Fans the flames, or making flames even flamier. We can do better.

Excites the electrons

Spins the turbines

Lights up the panels

That really grinds my gears. Ugh, what a buzzkill. How about:

Crosses my wires

Overloads my circuits

Chills my batteries

Hopefully, this list of suggestions will help you clear the air, amp up your conversations, and spark new ideas.

Tom Toro is a cartoonist and writer who has published over 200 cartoons in The New Yorker since 2010.

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