Environment Words


acid rain - the precipitation of dilute solutions of strong mineral acids, formed by the mixing in the atmosphere of various industrial pollutants -- primarily sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides -- with naturally occurring oxygen and water vapor.
aerosols - a suspension of small liquid or solid particles in gas.
air pollution - toxic or radioactive gases or particulate matter introduced into the atmosphere, usually as a result of human activity.
alternative energy - energy that is not popularly used and is usually environmentally sound, such as solar or wind energy (as opposed to fossil fuels).
alternative fibers - fibers produced from non-wood sources for use in paper making.
alternative fuels - transportation fuels other than gasoline or diesel. Includes natural gas, methanol, and electricity.
alternative transportation - modes of travel other than private cars, such as walking, bicycling, rollerblading, carpooling and transit.
ancient forest - a forest that is typically older than 200 years with large trees, dense canopies and an abundance of diverse wildlife.
aquifer - underground source of water.
ash - incombustible residue left over after incineration or other thermal processes.
atmosphere - the 500 km thick layer of air surrounding the earth which supports the existence of all flora and fauna.


beach closure - the closing of a beach to swimming, usually because of pollution.
biodegradable - waste material composed primarily of naturally-occurring constituent parts, able to be broken down and absorbed into the ecosystem. Wood, for example, is biodegradable, for example, while plastics are not.
biodiversity - a large number and wide range of species of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Ecologically, wide biodiversity is conducive to the development of all species.
biomass - (1) the amount of living matter in an area, including plants, large animals and insects; (2) plant materials and animal waste used as fuel.
biosphere - (1) the part of the earth and its atmosphere in which living organisms exist or that is capable of supporting life; (2) the living organisms and their environment composing the biosphere.
biotic - of or relating to life.
blood lead levels - the amount of lead in the blood. Human exposure to lead in blood can cause brain damage, especially in children.
bottled water - purchased water sold in bottles.
brownfields - abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.


carbon dioxide (CO2) - a naturally occurring greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, concentrations of which have increased (from 280 parts per million in preindustrial times to over 350 parts per million today) as a result of humans' burning of coal, oil, natural gas and organic matter (e.g., wood and crop wastes).
carpooling - sharing a car to a destination to reduce fuel use, pollution and travel costs.
CFC - see chlorofluorocarbons.
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - stable, artificially-created chemical compounds containing carbon, chlorine, fluorine and sometimes hydrogen. Chlorofluorocarbons, used primarily to facilitate cooling in refrigerators and air conditioners, have been found to damage the stratospheric ozone layer which protects the earth and its inhabitants from excessive ultraviolet radiation.
clean fuel - fuels which have lower emissions than conventional gasoline and diesel. Refers to alternative fuels as well as to reformulated gasoline and diesel.
cleanup - treatment, remediation, or destruction of contaminated material.
climate change - a regional change in temperature and weather patterns. Current science indicates a discernible link between climate change over the last century and human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels.
commercial extinction - the depletion of a population to the point where fisherman cannot catch enough to be economically worthwhile.
community right-to-know - public accessibility to information about toxic pollution.
compost - process whereby organic wastes, including food wastes, paper, and yard wastes, decompose naturally, resulting in a product rich in minerals and ideal for gardening and farming as a soil conditioners, mulch, resurfacing material, or landfill cover.
contamination - pollution.
creek - a watercourse smaller than, and often tributary to, a river.
crop dusting - the application of pesticides to plants by a low-flying plane.
cryptosporidium - a protozoan (single-celled organism) that can infect humans, usually as a result of exposure to contaminated drinking water.


diesel - a petroleum-based fuel which is burned in engines ignited by compression rather than spark; commonly used for heavy duty engines including buses and trucks.
diesel engine - an internal combustion engine that uses diesel as fuel, producing harmful fumes.
dioxin - a man-made chemical by-product formed during the manufacturing of other chemicals and during incineration. Studies show that dioxin is the most potent animal carcinogen ever tested, as well as the cause of severe weight loss, liver problems, kidney problems, birth defects, and death.
dump sites - waste disposal grounds.


ecologist - a scientist concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environment.
ecology - a branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environment.
ecosystem - an interconnected and symbiotic grouping of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms.
edge cities - cities bounded by water, usually with eroding or polluted waterfront areas.
efficiency - see energy efficiency.
electric vehicles - vehicles which use electricity (usually derived from batteries recharged from electrical outlets) as their power source.
emissions cap - a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that a company or country can legally emit.
endangered species - species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range.
energy conservation - using energy efficiently or prudently; saving energy.
energy efficiency - technologies and measures that reduce the amount of electricity and/or fuel required to do the same work, such as powering homes, offices and industries.
estuary - a bay or inlet, often at the mouth of a river, in which large quantities of freshwater and seawater mix together. These unique habitats are necessary nursery grounds for many marine fishes and shellfishes.
Everglades - large and biologically diverse wetland ecosystem in South Florida.


fauna - the total animal population that inhabits an area.
federal land - land owned and administered by the federal government, including national parks and national forests.
flora - the total vegetation assemblage that inhabits an area.
forests - lands on which trees are the principal plant life, usually conducive to wide biodiversity.
fossil fuel - a fuel, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, produced by the decomposition of ancient (fossilized) plants and animals; compare to alternative energy.


gas - natural gas, used as fuel.
gasoline - petroleum fuel, used to power cars, trucks, lawn mowers, etc.
global warming - increase in the average temperature of the earth's surface.
Golden Carrot - an incentive program that is designed to transform the market to produce much greater energy efficiency. The term is a trademark of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency.
green design - a design, usually architectural, conforming to environmentally sound principles of building, material and energy use. A green building, for example, might make use of solar panels, skylights, and recycled building materials.
greenhouse - a building made with translucent (light transparent, usually glass or fiberglass) walls conducive to plant growth.
greenhouse effect - the process that raises the temperature of air in the lower atmosphere due to heat trapped by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and ozone.
greenhouse gas - a gas involved in the greenhouse effect.
growth overfishing - the process of catching fish before they are fully grown resulting in a decrease in the average size of the fish population.


habitat - (1) the natural home of an animal or plant; (2) the sum of the environmental conditions that determine the existence of a community in a specific place.
highly migratory fish - fish that travel over great areas.
household hazards - dangerous substances or conditions in human dwellings.
hydroelectric - relating to electric energy produced by moving water.
hydrofluorocarbons - used as solvents and cleaners in the semiconductor industry, among others; experts say that they possess global warming potentials that are thousands of times greater than CO2.
hydropower - energy or power produced by moving water.


incinerators - disposal systems that burn solid waste or other materials and reduce volume of waste. Air pollution and toxic ash are problems associated with incineration.
insecticides - substances used to kill insects and prevent infestation.
International Conference on Population and Development - a conference sponsored by the United Nations to discuss global dimensions of population growth and change in Cairo, Egypt in September 1994. The conference is generally considered to mark the achievement of a new consensus on effective ways to slow population growth and improve quality of life by addressing root causes of unwanted fertility.




lakes - substantial inland bodies of standing water.
landfill - disposal area where garbage is piled up and eventually covered with dirt and topsoil.
land use - the way in which land is used, especially in farming and city planning.
lead - a naturally-occurring heavy, soft metallic element; human exposure can cause brain and nervous system damage, especially in children.
lead poisoning - damaging the body (specifically the brain) by absorbing lead through the skin or by swallowing.
light pollution - environmental pollution consisting of harmful or annoying light.
litter - waste material which is discarded on the ground or otherwise disposed of improperly or thoughtlessly.
low-emission vehicles - vehicles which emit little air pollution compared to conventional internal combustion engines.
low-impact camping - camping that does not damage or change the land, where campers leave no sign that they were on the land.
lumber - wood or wood products used for construction.


mammal - an animal that feeds its young with milk secreted from mammary glands and has hair on its skin.
managed growth - growth or expansion that is controlled so as not to be harmful.
marine mammal - a mammal that lives in the ocean, such as a whale.
marsh - wetland, swamp, or bog.
mass transit - see public transportation.
megalopolis - a large city expanding so fast that city government cannot adjust to provide services (such as garbage disposal).
mining - the removal of minerals (like coal , gold, or silver) from the ground.
mulch - leaves, straw or compost used to cover growing plants to protect them from the wind or cold.


nitrogen oxides - harmful gases (which contribute to acid rain and global warming) emitted as a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion.
noise pollution - environmental pollution made up of harmful or annoying noise.


oceanography - the study of the ocean and ocean life.
oil - a black, sticky substance used to produce fuel (petroleum) and materials (plastics).
oil spills - the harmful release of oil into the environment, usually in the water, sometimes killing area flora and fauna. Oil spills are very difficult to clean up.
over-development - expansion or development of land to the point of damage.
over-fishing - fishing beyond the capacity of a population to replace itself through natural reproduction.
over-grazing - grazing livestock to the point of damage to the land.
ozone - a naturally occurring, highly reactive gas comprising triatomic oxygen formed by recombination of oxygen in the presence of ultraviolet radiation. This naturally occurring gas builds up in the lower atmosphere as smog pollution, while in the upper atmosphere it forms a protective layer which shields the earth and its inhabitants from excessive exposure to damaging ultraviolet radiation.
ozone depletion - the reduction of the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere by chemical pollution.
ozone hole - a hole or gap in the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere.


paper products - materials such as paper and cardboard, produced from trees.
particulate pollution - pollution made up of small liquid or solid particles suspended in the atmosphere or water supply.
passive solar - using or capturing solar energy (usually to heat water) without any external power.
pesticides - chemical agents used to destroy pests.
plastics - durable and flexible synthetic-based products, some of which are difficult to recycle and pose problems with toxic properties, especially PVC plastic.
poison runoff - see polluted runoff.
poison - a chemical that adversely affects health by causing injury, illness, or death.
polluted runoff - precipitation that captures pollution from agricultural lands, urban streets, parking lots and suburban lawns, and transports it to rivers, lakes or oceans.
pollution prevention - techniques that eliminate waste prior to treatment, such as by changing ingredients in a chemical reaction.
population - (1) the whole number of inhabitants in a country, region or area; (2) a set of individuals having a quality or characteristic in common.
post consumer waste - waste collected after the consumer has used and disposed of it (e.g., the wrapper from an eaten candy bar).
power plants - facilities (plants) that produce energy.
public health - the health or physical well-being of a whole community.
public transportation - various forms of shared-ride services, including buses, vans, trolleys, and subways, which are intended for conveying the public.



radioactive waste - the byproduct of nuclear reactions that gives off (usually harmful) radiation.
radon - a cancer-causing radioactive gas found in many communities' ground water.
rainforest - a large, dense forest in a hot, humid region (tropical or subtropical). Rainforests have an abundance of diverse plant and animal life, much of which is still uncatalogued by the scientific community.
recycling - system of collecting, sorting, and reprocessing old material into usable raw materials. (Many large cities in the United States aim to recycle 50% of their municipal solid waste by the year 2000.)
reduce - act of purchasing or consuming less to begin with, so as not to have to reuse or recycle later.
refrigerants - cooling substances, many of which contain CFCs and are harmful to the earth's ozone layer.
renewable energy - energy resources such as windpower or solar energy that can keep producing indefinitely without being depleted.
reuse - cleaning and/or refurbishing an old product to be used again.
risk assessment - methods used to quantify risks to human health and the environment.
run-off - precipitation that the ground does not absorb and that ultimately reaches rivers, lakes or oceans.


sick building syndrome - a human health condition where infections linger, caused by exposure to contaminants within a building as a result of poor ventilation.
SIP (State Implementation Plan) - mandate for achieving health-based air quality standards.
smog - a dense, discolored radiation fog containing large quanities of soot, ash, and gaseous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, responsible for human respiratory ailments. Most industrialized nations have implemented legislation to promote the use of smokeless fuel and reduce emission of toxic gases into the atmosphere.
solar energy - energy derived from sunlight.
solid waste - non-liquid, non gaseous category of waste from non-toxic household and commercial sources.
soot - a fine, sticky powder, comprised mostly of carbon, formed by the burning of fossil fuels.
spotted owl - reclusive bird, found in the American West, requiring old growth forest habitat to survive.
state parks - parks and recreation areas owned and administered by the state in which they are located.
stratosphere - the upper portion of the atmosphere (approximately 11 km to 50 km above the surface of the earth).
sulfur dioxide (SO2) - a heavy, smelly gas which can be condensed into a clear liquid; used to make sulfuric acid, bleaching agents, preservatives and refrigerants; a major source of air pollution in industrial areas.
surface water - water located above ground (e.g., rivers, lakes).


tap water - drinking water monitored (and often filtered) for protection against contamination and available for public consumption from sources within the home.
threatened species - species of flora or fauna likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
timber - logged wood sold as a commodity.
toxic - poisonous.
toxic emissions - poisonous chemicals discharged to air, water, or land.
toxic sites - land contaminated with toxic pollution, usually unsuitable for human habitation.
toxic waste - garbage or waste that can injure, poison, or harm living things, and is sometimes life-threatening.
toxification - poisoning.
traffic calming - designing streets to reduce automobile speed and to enhance walking and bicycling.
transit - see public transportation.
transportation - any means of conveying goods and people.
transportation planning - systems to improve the efficiency of the transportation system in order to enhance human access to goods and services.
trash - waste material that cannot be recycled and reused (synonymous with garbage).
trip reduction - reducing the total numbers of vehicle trips, by sharing rides or consolidating trips with diverse goals into fewer trips.


urban parks - parks in cities and areas of high population concentration.
utilities - companies (usually power distributors) permitted by a government agency to provide important public services (such as energy or water) to a region; as utilities are provided with a local monopoly, their prices are regulated by the permitting government agency.


virgin forest - a forest never logged.


waste - garbage, trash.
waste site - dumping ground.
waste stream - overall waste disposal cycle for a given population.
waterborne contaminants - unhealthy chemicals, microorganisms (like bacteria) or radiation, found in tap water.
water filters - substances (such as charcoal) or fine membrane structures used to remove impurities from water.
water quality - the level of purity of water; the safety or purity of drinking water.
water quality testing - monitoring water for various contaminants to make sure it is safe for fish protection, drinking, and swimming.
wetland - land (marshes or swamps) saturated with water constantly or recurrently; conducive to wide biodiversity.
wilderness - land remaining in basically wild (i.e., undisturbed) condition, with few if any traces of human activities.
wilderness area - a wild area that Congress has preserved by including it in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
wildlife - animals living in the wilderness without human intervention.
wildlife refuges - land set aside to protect certain species of fish or wildlife (administered at the federal level in the U.S. by the Fish and Wildlife Service).
windpower - power or energy derived from the wind (via windmills, sails, etc.).




zero emission vehicles - vehicles (usually powered by electricity) with no direct emissions from tailpipes or fuel evaporation.ash - incombustible residue left over after incineration or other thermal processes