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Unsustainable addiction to overconsumption and materialism exhibited in the lifestyles of affluent consumers in the United States and other developed countries.

agricultural revolution

Gradual shift from small, mobile hunting and gathering bands to settled agricultural communities in which people survived by learning how to breed and raise wild animals and to cultivate wild plants near where they lived. It began 10,000[[endash]]12,000 years ago. Compare environmental revolution, hunter[[endash]]gatherers, industrial[[endash]]medical revolution, information and globalization revolution.


Variety of different species (species diversity), genetic variability among individuals within each species (genetic diversity), variety of ecosystems (ecological diversity), and functions such as energy flow and matter cycling needed for the survival of species and biological communities (functional diversity).

common-property resource

Resource that people normally are free to use; each user can deplete or degrade the available supply. Most are renewable and owned by no one. Examples are clean air, fish in parts of the ocean not under the control of a coastal country, migratory birds, gases of the lower atmosphere, and the ozone content of the upper atmosphere (stratosphere). See tragedy of the commons.


Sensible and careful use of natural resources by humans. People with this view are called conservationists.


Person concerned with using natural areas and wildlife in ways that sustain them for current and future generations of humans and other forms of life. Compare conservation biologist, ecologist, environmentalist, environmental scientist, preservationist, restorationist.

developed country

Country that is highly industrialized and has a high per capita GNP. Compare developing country.

developing country

Country that has low to moderate industrialization and low to moderate per capita GNP. Most are located in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Compare developed country.

doubling time

The time it takes (usually in years) for the quantity of something growing exponentially to double. It can be calculated by dividing the annual percentage growth rate into 70.


Ability of earth's various systems, including human cultural systems and economies, to survive and adapt to changing environmental conditions indefinitely. This is another name for sustainability.

earth-centered environmental worldview

See environmental wisdom worldview.

ecological footprint

Amount of biologically productive land and water needed to supply each person or population with the renewable resources they use and to absorb or dispose of the wastes from such resource use. It measures the average environmental impact of individuals or populations in different countries and areas.


Biological scientist who studies relationships between living organisms and their environment. Compare conservation biologist, conservationist, environmentalist, environmental scientist.


Study of the interactions of living organisms with one another and with their nonliving environment of matter and energy; study of the structure and functions of nature.

economic development

Improvement of living standards by economic growth. Compare economic growth, environmentally sustainable economic development.

economic growth

Increase in the capacity to provide people with goods and services produced by an economy; an increase in gross domestic product (GDP). Compare economic development, environmentally sustainable economic development, sustainable economic development. See gross domestic product.


All external conditions and factors, living and nonliving (chemicals and energy), that affect an organism or other specified system during its lifetime.

environmental degradation

Depletion or destruction of a potentially renewable resource such as soil, grassland, forest, or wildlife that is used faster than it is naturally replenished. If such use continues, the resource becomes nonrenewable (on a human time scale) or nonexistent (extinct). See also sustainable yield.

environmental ethics

Human beliefs about what is right or wrong environmental behavior.

environmental movement

Efforts by citizens at the grassroots level to demand that political leaders enact laws and develop policies to curtail pollution, clean up polluted environments, and protect pristine areas and species from environmental degradation.

environmental revolution

Cultural change involving halting population growth and altering lifestyles, political and economic systems, and the way we treat the environment so that we can help sustain the earth for ourselves and other species. This involves working with the rest of nature by learning more about how nature sustains itself. See environmental wisdom worldview. Compare agricultural revolution, hunter-gatherers, industrial-medical hunter[[endash]]gatherers, industrial[[endash]]medical revolution, information and globalization revolution.

environmental science

an interdisciplinary study that uses information from the physical sciences and social sciences tolerant how the earth works, how we interact with the earth, and how to deal with environmental problems.

environmental scientist

Scientist who uses information from the physical sciences and social sciences to understand how the earth works, learn how humans interact with the earth, and develop solutions to environmental problems. Compare conservation biologist, conservationist, ecologist, preservationist, restorationist.

environmental wisdom worldview

Beliefs that (1) nature exists for all the earth's species and we are not in charge of the earth; (2) resources are limited, should not be wasted, and are not all for us; (3) we should encourage earth-sustaining forms of economic growth and discourage earth-degrading forms of economic growth; and (4) our success depends on learning how the earth sustains itself and integrating such lessons from nature into the ways we think and act. Compare frontier environmental worldview, planetary management worldview, spaceship-earth worldview, stewardship worldview.

environmental worldview

How people think the world works, what they think their role in the world should be, and what they believe is right and wrong environmental behavior (environmental ethics).


A social movement dedicated to protecting the earth's life support systems for us and other species.


Person who is concerned about the impact of people on environmental quality and believe that some human actions are degrading parts of the earth's life-support systems for humans and many other forms of life. Compare conservation biologist, conservationist, ecologist, environmental scientist, preservationist, restorationist.

environmentally sustainable economic development

Development that encourages forms of economic growth that meet the basic needs of the current generations of humans and other species without preventing future generations of humans and other species from meeting their basic needs and discourages environmentally harmful and unsustainable forms of economic growth. It is the economic component of an environmentally sustainable society. Compare economic development, economic growth.

environmentally sustainable society

Society that satisfies the basic needs of its people without depleting or degrading its natural resources and thereby preventing current and future generations of humans and other species from meeting their basic needs.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; responsible for managing federal efforts to control air and water pollution, radiation and pesticide hazards, environmental research, hazardous waste, and solid-solid waste disposal.

exhaustible resource

See nonrenewable resource.

exponential growth

Growth in which some quantity, such as population size or economic output, increases at a constant rate per unit of time. An example is the growth sequence 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and so on; when the increase in quantity over time is plotted, this type of growth yields a curve shaped like the letter J. Compare linear growth.

free-access resource

See common-property resource.

frontier environmental worldview

Viewing undeveloped land as a hostile wilderness to be conquered (cleared, planted) and exploited for its resources as quickly as possible. Compare environmental wisdom worldview, planetary management worldview, spaceship-earth worldview.


Broad process of global social, economic, and environmental change that leads to an increasingly integrated world. See information and globalization revolution.

gross domestic product (GDP)

Annual market value of all goods and services produced by all firms and organizations, foreign and domestic, operating within a country.

human-centered environmental worldviews

Humans are the planet's most important species and should become managers or stewards of the earth. See planetary management worldview, stewardship worldview.


People who get their food by gathering edible wild plants and other materials and by hunting wild animals and fish. Compare agricultural revolution, environmental revolution, industrial[[endash]]medical revolution, information and globalization revolution.

industrial[[endash]]medical revolution

Use of new sources of energy from fossil fuels and later from nuclear fuels, and use of new technologies, to grow food and manufacture products. Compare agricultural revolution, environmental revolution, hunter[[endash]]gatherers, information and globalization revolution.

information and globalization revolution

Use of new technologies such as the telephone, radio, television, computers, the Internet, automated databases, and remote sensing satellites to enable people to have increasingly rapid access to much more information on a global scale. Compare agricultural revolution, environmental revolution, hunter[[endash]]gatherers, industrial[[endash]]medical revolution.

input pollution control

See pollution prevention.


See developing country.

less developed country (LDC)

See developing country.

maximum sustainable yield

See sustainable yield.


See developed country.

more developed country (MDC)

See developed country.

multiple use

Use of an ecosystem such as a forest for a variety of purposes such as timber harvesting, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and recreation. Compare sustainable yield.

natural capital

See natural resources.

nonpoint source

Large or dispersed land areas such as crop fields, streets, and lawns that discharge pollutants into the environment over a large area. Compare point source.

nonrenewable resource

Resource that exists in a fixed amount (stock) in various places in the earth's crust and has the potential for renewal by geological, physical, and chemical processes taking place over hundreds of millions to billions of years. Examples are copper, aluminum, coal, and oil. We classify these resources as exhaustible because we are extracting and using them at a much faster rate than they were formed. Compare renewable resource.

output pollution control

See pollution cleanup.

per capita ecological footprint

Amount of biologically productive land and water needed to supply each person or population with the renewable resources they use and to absorb or dispose of the wastes from such resource use. It measures the average environmental impact of individuals or populations in different countries and areas. Compare ecological footprint.

per capita GDP

Annual gross domestic product (GDP) of a country divided by its total population at mid-year midyear. It gives the average slice of the economic pie per person. Used to be called per capita GNP. See gross domestic product.

perpetual resource

An essentially inexhaustible resource on a human time scale. Solar energy is an example. Compare nonrenewable resource, renewable resource.

planetary management worldview

Beliefs that (1) as the planet's most important species, we are in charge of the earth; (2) we will not run out of resources because of our ability to develop and find new ones; (3) the potential for economic growth is essentially unlimited; and (4) our success depends on how well we manage the earth's life-support systems mostly for our own benefit. See spaceship-earth worldview. Compare environmental wisdom worldview, stewardship worldview.

point source

Single identifiable source that discharges pollutants into the environment. Examples are the smokestack of a power plant or an industrial plant, drainpipe of a meatpacking plant, chimney of a house, or exhaust pipe of an automobile. Compare nonpoint source.


A particular chemical or form of energy that can adversely affect the health, survival, or activities of humans or other living organisms. See pollution.


An undesirable change in the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of air, water, soil, or food that can adversely affect the health, survival, or activities of humans or other living organisms.

pollution cleanup

Device or process that removes or reduces the level of a pollutant after it has been produced or has entered the environment. Examples are automobile emission control devices and sewage treatment plants. Compare pollution prevention.

pollution prevention

Device or process that prevents a potential pollutant from forming or entering the environment or sharply reduces the amount entering the environment. Compare pollution cleanup.


Inability to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.


Collecting and reprocessing a resource so that it can be made into new products. An example is collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products. Compare reuse.

renewable resource

Resource that can be replenished rapidly (hours to several decades) through natural processes. Examples are trees in forests, grasses in grasslands, wild animals, fresh surface water in lakes and streams, most groundwater, fresh air, and fertile soil. If such a resource is used faster than it is replenished, it can be depleted and converted into a nonrenewable resource. Compare nonrenewable resource and perpetual resource. See also environmental degradation.


Anything obtained from the living and nonliving environment to meet human needs and wants. It can also be applied to other species.


Using a product over and over again in the same form. An example is collecting, washing, and refilling glass beverage bottles. Compare recycling.

rule of 70

Doubling time (in years) = 70/(percentage growth rate). See doubling time, exponential growth.

social capital

Positive force created when people with different views and values find common ground and work together to build understanding, trust, and informed shared visions of what their communities, states, nations, and the world could and should be. Compare natural capital.

solar capital

Solar energy from the sun reaching the earth. Compare natural resources.

sound science

Scientific data, models, theories, and laws that are widely accepted by scientists considered experts in the area of study. These results of science are very reliable. Compare frontier science, junk science.

stewardship worldview

Beliefs that (1) we are the planet's most important species but we have an ethical responsibility to care for the rest of nature; (2) we will probably not run out of resources but they should not be wasted; (3) we should encourage environmentally beneficial forms of economic growth and discourage environmentally harmful forms of economic growth; and (4) our success depends on how well we can manage the earth's life-support systems for our benefit and for the rest of nature. Compare environmental wisdom worldview, planetary management worldview, spaceship earth worldview.


Ability of a system to survive for some specified (finite) time.

sustainable development

See environmentally sustainable economic development.

sustainable living

Taking no more potentially renewable resources from the natural world than can be replenished naturally and not overloading the capacity of the environment to cleanse and renew itself by natural processes.

sustainable yield (sustained yield)

Highest rate at which a potentially renewable resource can be used without reducing its available supply throughout the world or in a particular area. See also environmental degradation.

tragedy of the commons

Depletion or degradation of a potentially renewable resource to which people have free and unmanaged access. An example is the depletion of commercially desirable fish species in the open ocean beyond areas controlled by coastal countries. See common-property resource.


See acidic solution.

acid solution

Any water solution that has more hydrogen ions (H+) than hydroxide ions (OH[[minus]]); any water solution with a pH less than 7. Compare basic solution, neutral solution.

acidic solution

Any water solution that has more hydrogen ions (H+) than hydroxide ions (OH-); any water solution with a pH less than 7. Compare basic solution, neutral solution.

alpha particle

Positively charged matter, consisting of two neutrons and two protons, that is emitted as a form of radioactivity from the nuclei of some radioisotopes. See also beta particle, gamma rays.


Minute unit made of subatomic particles that is the basic building block of all chemical elements and thus all matter; the smallest unit of an element that can exist and still have the unique characteristics of that element. Compare ion, molecule.

atomic number

Number of protons in the nucleus of an atom. Compare mass number.

basic solution

Water solution with more hydroxide ions (OH[[minus]]) than hydrogen ions (H+); water solution with a pH greater than 7. Compare acid solution, neutral solution.

beta particle

Swiftly moving electron emitted by the nucleus of a radioactive isotope. See also alpha particle, gamma rays.


Capable of being broken down by decomposers.

biodegradable pollutant

Material that can be broken down into simpler substances (elements and compounds) by bacteria or other decomposers. Paper and most organic wastes such as animal manure are biodegradable but can take decades to biodegrade in modern landfills. Compare degradable pollutant, nondegradable pollutant, slowly degradable pollutant.

chain reaction

Multiple nuclear fissions, taking place within a certain mass of a fissionable isotope, that release an enormous amount of energy in a short time.


One of the millions of different elements and compounds found naturally and synthesized by humans. See compound, element.

chemical change

Interaction between chemicals in which there is a change in the chemical composition of the elements or compounds involved. Compare nuclear change, physical change.

chemical formula

Shorthand way to show the number of atoms (or ions) in the basic structural unit of a compound. Examples are H2O, NaCl, and C6H12O6.

chemical reaction

See chemical change.

chlorinated hydrocarbon

Organic compound made up of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine. Examples are DDT and PCBs.


A grouping of various genes and associated proteins in plant and animal cells that carry certain types of genetic information. See genes.

complex carbohydrates

Two or more monomers of simple sugars (such as glucose) linked together.


Combination of atoms, or oppositely charged ions, of two or more different elements held together by attractive forces called chemical bonds. Compare element.


Amount of a chemical in a particular volume or weight of air, water, soil, or other medium.

consensus science

See sound science.

corrective feedback loop

See negative feedback loop.

critical mass

Amount of fissionable nuclei needed to sustain a nuclear fission chain reaction.

deductive reasoning

Using logic to arrive at a specific conclusion based on a generalization or premise. It goes from the general to the specific. Compare inductive reasoning.

degradable pollutant

Potentially polluting chemical that is broken down completely or reduced to acceptable levels by natural physical, chemical, and biological processes. Compare biodegradable pollutant, nondegradable pollutant, slowly degradable pollutant.

deuterium (D; hydrogen-2)

Isotope of the element hydrogen, with a nucleus containing one proton and one neutron and a mass number of 2.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)

Large molecules in the cells of organisms that carry genetic information in living organisms.

electromagnetic radiation

Forms of kinetic energy traveling as electromagnetic waves. Examples are radio waves, TV waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X rays, and gamma rays. Compare ionizing radiation, nonionizing radiation.

electron (e)

Tiny particle moving around outside the nucleus of an atom. Each electron has one unit of negative charge and almost no mass. Compare neutron, proton.


Chemical, such as hydrogen (H), iron (Fe), sodium (Na), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), or oxygen (O), whose distinctly different atoms serve as the basic building blocks of all matter. Two or more elements combine to form compounds that make up most of the world's matter. Compare compound.


Capacity to do work by performing mechanical, physical, chemical, or electrical tasks or to cause a heat transfer between two objects at different temperatures.

energy efficiency

Percentage of the total energy input that does useful work and is not converted into low-quality, usually useless heat in an energy conversion system or process. See energy quality, net energy. Compare material efficiency.

energy productivity

See energy efficiency.

energy quality

Ability of a form of energy to do useful work. High-temperature heat and the chemical energy in fossil fuels and nuclear fuels are concentrated high-quality energy. Low-quality energy such as low-temperature heat is dispersed or diluted and cannot do much useful work. See high-quality energy, low-quality energy.

eukaryotic cell

Cell containing a nucleus, a region of genetic material surrounded by a membrane. Membranes also enclose several of the other internal parts found in a eukaryotic cell. Compare prokaryotic cell.

eukaryotic organism

Classification of cell structure in which the cell is surrounded by a membrane and has a distinct nucleus and several other internal parts. Most organisms consist of eukaryotic cells. Compare prokaryotic organism.


Procedure a scientist uses to study some phenomenon under known conditions. Scientists conduct some experiments in the laboratory and others in nature. The resulting scientific data or facts must be verified or confirmed by repeated observations and measurements, ideally by several different investigators.

feedback loop

Circuit of sensing, evaluating, and reacting to changes in environmental conditions as a result of information fed back into a system; it occurs when one change leads to some other change, which eventually reinforces or slows the original change. See negative feedback loop, positive feedback loop.

first law of thermodynamics

In any physical or chemical change, no detectable amount of energy is created or destroyed, but in these processes energy can be changed from one form to another; you cannot get more energy out of something than you put in; in terms of energy quantity, you cannot get something for nothing (there is no free lunch). This law does not apply to nuclear changes, in which energy can be produced from small amounts of matter. See second law of thermodynamics.


See throughputs.

frontier science

Preliminary scientific data, hypotheses, and models that have not been widely tested and accepted. Compare junk science, sound science.

gamma rays

A form of ionizing electromagnetic radiation with a high energy content emitted by some radioisotopes. They readily penetrate body tissues. See also alpha particle, beta particle.


Coded units of information about specific traits that are passed on from parents to offspring during reproduction. They consist of segments of DNA molecules found in chromosomes.


Time needed for one-half of the nuclei in a radioisotope to emit its radiation. Each radioisotope has a characteristic half-life, which may range from a few millionths of a second to several billion years. See radioisotope.


Total kinetic energy of all the randomly moving atoms, ions, or molecules within a given substance, excluding the overall motion of the whole object. Heat always flows spontaneously from a hot sample of matter to a colder sample of matter. This is one way to state the second law of thermodynamics. Compare temperature.

high-quality energy

Energy that is concentrated and has great ability to perform useful work. Examples are high-temperature heat and the energy in electricity, coal, oil, gasoline, sunlight, and nuclei of uranium-235. Compare low-quality energy.

high-quality matter

Matter that is concentrated and contains a high concentration of a useful resource. Compare low-quality matter.

high-throughput economy

The situation in most advanced industrialized countries, in which ever-increasing economic growth is sustained by maximizing the rate at which matter and energy resources are used, with little emphasis on pollution prevention, recycling, reuse, reduction of unnecessary waste, and other forms of resource conservation. Compare low-throughput economy, matter-recycling economy.

high-waste economy

See high-throughput economy.


Organic compound of hydrogen and carbon atoms. The simplest hydrocarbon is methane (CH4), the major component of natural gas.

inductive reasoning

Using observations and facts to arrive at generalizations or hypotheses. It goes from the specific to the general and is widely used in science. Compare deductive reasoning.

inorganic compounds

All compounds not classified as organic compounds. See organic compounds.


Matter, energy, or information entering a system. Compare output, throughput.


Atom or group of atoms with one or more positive (+) or negative ([[minus]]) electrical charges. Compare atom, molecule.

ionizing radiation

Fast-moving alpha or beta particles or high-energy radiation (gamma rays) emitted by radioisotopes. They have enough energy to dislodge one or more electrons from atoms they hit, forming charged ions in tissue that can react with and damage living tissue. Compare nonionizing radiation.


Two or more forms of a chemical element that have the same number of protons but different mass numbers because they have different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei.

junk science

Scientific results or hypotheses presented as sound science but not having undergone the rigors of the peer review process. Compare frontier science, sound science.

kinetic energy

Energy that matter has because of its mass and speed or velocity. Compare potential energy.

law of conservation of energy

See first law of thermodynamics.

law of conservation of matter

In any physical or chemical change, matter is neither created nor destroyed but merely changed from one form to another; in physical and chemical changes, existing atoms are rearranged into different spatial patterns (physical changes) or different combinations (chemical changes).


Chemically diverse group of large organic compounds that do not dissolve in water. Examples are fats and oils for storing energy, waxes for structure, and steroids for producing hormones.

low-quality energy

Energy that is dispersed and has little ability to do useful work. An example is low-temperature heat. Compare high-quality energy.

low-quality matter

Matter that is dilute or dispersed or contains a low concentration of a useful resource. Compare high-quality matter.

low-throughput economy

Economy based on working with nature by recycling and reusing discarded matter, preventing pollution, conserving matter and energy resources by reducing unnecessary waste and use, not degrading renewable resources, building things that are easy to recycle, reuse, and repair, not allowing population size to exceed the carrying capacity of the environment, and preserving biodiversity and ecological integrity. See environmental worldview. Compare high-throughput economy, matter-recycling economy.

low-waste economy

See low-throughput economy.


The amount of material in an object.

mass number

Sum of the number of neutrons (n) and the number of protons (p) in the nucleus of an atom. It gives the approximate mass of that atom. Compare atomic number.

material efficiency

Total amount of material needed to produce each unit of goods or services. Also called resource productivity. Compare energy efficiency.


Anything that has mass (the amount of material in an object) and takes up space. On the earth, where gravity is present, we weigh an object to determine its mass.

matter quality

Measure of how useful a matter resource is, based on its availability and concentration. See high-quality matter, low-quality matter.

matter-recycling economy

Economy that emphasizes recycling the maximum amount of all resources that can be recycled. The goal is to allow economic growth to continue without depleting matter resources and without producing excessive pollution and environmental degradation. Compare high-throughput economy, low-throughput economy.


Combination of one or more elements and compounds.


An approximate representation or simulation of a system being studied.


Combination of two or more atoms of the same chemical element (such as O2) or different chemical elements (such as H2O) held together by chemical bonds. Compare atom, ion.

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