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Definitions and Lay Terms

Adapted from Instructor's Guide for No Impact Man

  • Acid Rain: precipitation (rain, snow, sleet) containing relatively high concentrations of acid-forming chemicals, as the pollutants from coal smoke, chemical manufacturing, and smelting, that have been released into the atmosphere and combined with water vapor: harmful to the environment.
  • Air Pollution: the addition of harmful chemicals to the atmosphere. The most serious air pollution results from the burning of fossil fuels, especially in internal-combustion engines.
  • Asceticism: the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like.
  • Biodiesel: a fuel made primarily from oily plants (such as the soybean or palm oil), it has found more acceptance in Europe and is used in diesel engines and usually blended with petroleum diesel fuel in various percentages.
  • Biofuel: a source of renewable energy. Fuel produced from renewable resources, especially plant biomass, vegetable oils, and treated municipal and industrial wastes. Biofuels are considered neutral with respect to the emission of carbon dioxide because the carbon dioxide given off by burning them is balanced by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants that are grown to produce them.
  • Carbon: a nonmetallic element occurring in many inorganic and in all organic compounds.
  • Carbon Dioxide: a colorless and odorless gas formed during respiration, combustion, organic decomposition, and the burning of fossil fuels. The gas is absorbed by green plants which convert it into oxygen.
  • Carbon Emissions: carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide produced by motor vehicles and industrial processes and forming pollutants in the atmosphere.
  • Carbon Footprint: a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a person, organization, or location at a given time.
  • Carbon Monoxide: a colorless, odorless, and highly poisonous gas formed when carbon burns with insufficient air, thus causing incomplete combustion. For example, in automobile exhaust.
  • Carbon Offset: a way to mitigate the amount of greenhouse gas emitted from manufacture or personal activity where energy is used.
  • Clean Coal Technology: development of technologies aiming to reduce the impact of coal energy generation.
  • Climate Change: any long-term significant change in the weather patterns of an area; also used figuratively. Can be natural or caused by changes people have made to the land or atmosphere.
  • Coal: extracted from the Earth by mining. Used to generate electricity. Produces large amounts of carbon dioxide.
  • Ecology: the study of the detrimental effects of modern civilization on the environment, with a view toward prevention or reversal through conservation.
  • Ecosystem: a collection of living things and the environment in which they live. For example, a prairie ecosystem includes coyotes, the rabbits on which they feed, and the grasses that feed the rabbits.
  • Ethanol: an alcohol obtained from the fermentation of sugars and starches or by chemical synthesis. It is the intoxicating ingredient of alcoholic beverages, and is also used as a solvent, in explosives, and as an additive to or replacement for petroleum-based fuels.
  • Fossil Fuels: fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) that were formed from the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. When burned, they produce carbon dioxide and thus cause air pollution.
  • Geothermal Power: heat stored in the Earth is a sustainable and environmentally friendly source of power.
  • Global Warming: an increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere, especially a sustained increase sufficient enough to cause climate change. A subject of scientific debate. May result from the greenhouse effect.
  • Greenhouse Gas: any of the gases whose absorption of solar radiation is responsible for the greenhouse effect, including carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and the fluorocarbons.
  • Greenhouse Effect: a term used to describe the heating of the atmosphere owing to the presence of carbon dioxide and other gases. Without the presence of these gases, heat from the sun would return to space in the form of infrared radiation. Carbon dioxide and other gases absorb some of this radiation and prevent its release, thereby warming the Earth. This is an effect analogous to what happens in a greenhouse, where glass traps the infrared radiation and warms the air.
  • Halocarbon: any of a class of compounds containing carbon, one or more halogens, and sometimes hydrogen. Contribute to an increase in greenhouse effect.
  • Halogen: any of a group of five chemically related nonmetallic elements including fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine.
  • Hydrogen: a colorless, odorless, flammable gas that combines chemically with oxygen to form water. Used in petroleum refining.
  • Hydroelectric Power: a source of renewable energy.
  • Muslin Cloth: a finely woven cotton fabric.
  • Organic: grown with fertilizers or pesticides of animal or vegetable origin, as distinguished from manufactured chemicals.
  • Ozone: a form of oxygen that is formed naturally in the atmosphere by a photochemical reaction and is a major air pollutant in the lower atmosphere but a beneficial component of the upper atmosphere.
  • Ozone Layer: the layer of the upper atmosphere where most atmospheric ozone is concentrated.
  • Preservation: to maintain and reserve wildlife for continued survival.
  • Red Tide: seawater discolored by the presence of large numbers of dinoflagellates which produce a toxin poisonous especially to many forms of marine vertebrate life and to humans who consume contaminated shellfish.
  • Renewable Energy: any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power, that is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.
  • Solar Power: a source of renewable energy. energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy.
  • Sustainable / Sustainability: capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.
  • Wind Power: a source of renewable energy (does not require the use of fossil fuels). Turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical or electrical energy that can be used for power. Historically, wind power in the form of windmills has been used for centuries for such tasks as grinding grain and pumping water. Modern commercial wind turbines produce electricity by using rotational energy to drive a generator.
  • Xeriscaping: environmental design of residential and park land using various methods for minimizing the need for water use.

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