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  • A – F
  • G – L
  • M – S
  • T – Z

The following sources have been helpful in developing this glossary:

  • Crump, A. (1998), The A to Z of World Development 1999, New Internationalist, London, (CDROM).
  • Miller Jr. G.T. (1999) Living in the Environment, 11th Edition, Wadsworth, Belmont.
  • Sachs, W. (ed) (1992) The Development Dictionary, Zed Books, London.
  • World Bank Glossary.

Air pollution
One or more chemicals in sufficient concentration in the air to harm humans, other animals, vegetation or materials. There are many natural pollutants as well as those produced by human industry. Natural sources can include smoke from forest fires, wind-blown dust and emissions from volcanic activity. Human activities such as industry and transport are the major contributors to air pollution. Many of the pollutants from human activities are very toxic and contribute to major and global environmental problems as well as causing problems for health in the local area. Excess heat or noise can also be considered forms of air pollution. See also greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and chloroflurocarbons.
Arable land
Land that can be cultivated to grow crops.
Ballast water
Ocean-going ships load up with water in bilge holds using the extra mass to keep them stable while they ply their way to their destination port. More ballast is used when ship are not fully loaded with cargo and this water is then pumped back into the sea when the ship takes on new cargo. Many problems can result if discharged ballast water contains pollutants or living organisms that can potentially have negative effects on local marine life at the destination port.
The simplest aromatic hydrocarbon, found in coal tar and used extensively as an industrial solvent and in laboratories. Also used in manufacture of styrene products, laquers, varnishes and paints. A highly inflammable, narcotic liquid that is also a carcinogen.
A life-threatening parasitic disease caused by a worm that lives in a host snail. Humans can become infected when they come in contact with water in ponds and rivers where the snail lives. Occurs most often in tropical regions. Also called schistosomiasis.
One billion equals 1,000,000,000 or one thousand million.
Biodiversity or Biological diversity
According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), biodiversity is “the variety of life in all forms, levels and combinations”. There are three types of biodiversity: ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity. It is thus measure of species richness and variability among living organisms from all sources, including land-based and aquatic ecosystems. Species diversity is vital to the proper functioning of ecosystems and is the basis of biological wealth and adaptability.
A major ecological community in a particular terrestrial region comprising certain types of life, especially vegetation. Examples are various types of desert, grasslands, and forests.
Birth rate
The number of births in a year per 1000 population.
The money or wealth needed to produce goods and services. See also human capital and physical capital.
Carbon dioxide
A minor constituent of the air, comprising about 0.4% of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is essential to living systems, released by respiration and removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis in green plants and by dissolving in sea water. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased since the burning of coal and oil began on a large scale and is a significant greenhouse gas.
Chemicals, ionizing radiation and viruses that cause or promote the development of cancer. Substances of this type are said to be ‘carcinogenic’.
Carrying capacity
Conventionally defined as the maximum population size of a given species that an area can support without reducing its ability to support the same species in the future. In the human context, it is sometimes defined as the maximum “load” (population x per capita impact) that can safely and persistently be imposed on the environment by people. See also ecological footprint.
Catalytic converter
A device that is fitted to the exhaust system of a motor vehicle (or larger versions can be fitted to the smoke stack of industrial plants) that is able to reduce the amount of harmful pollutants that are released into the air while the vehicle (or industrial plant) is operating.
Chipko Movement
A grassroots, community-led movement in India opposing indiscriminate deforestation. Originating among village women in the Himalayan foothills of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in 1974. ‘Chipko’ means ‘to embrace’ in Hindi. The movement took its name from women who embraced trees to prevent them from being felled. Over the years the Chipko campaign has gradually evolved into a fully-fledged conservation movement.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
Organic compounds made up of atoms of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine. CFCs are often used as a refrigerant in refrigerators and air-conditioners and in the manufacture of some plastics such as Styrofoam. They are a potent greenhouse gas and their use is currently being phased out. (See also ozone-depleting substances, Montreal Protocol, ozone layer, global warming).
Any of several diseases of man and domestic animals usually marked by severe gastrointestinal symptoms.
Civil war
A war between factions within a country that is contained as a domestic dispute. Civil wars have many causes including ethnic disputes, disputes over resources and a dissatisfaction with the current regime or form of governance. Like all wars there are tremendous social and environmental costs involved.
Conservation is the wise and careful use of natural resources that does not jeopardise the long-term viability of the resource base or inflict undue or excessive damage. It is different from ‘preservation’ which refers to maintaining a pristine state of nature as it is or might have been before the intervention of human activities.
The prevention of unwanted pregnancy, also referred to as birth control or family planning. Contraception is now an accepted means of preventing pregnancies in most developed countries and, increasingly, in developing countries.
A collective noun for the symbolic and learned, non-biological aspects of human society, including language, custom and convention. The concept of culture is often used synonymously with ‘civilization’. However, it does have a range of meanings including understandings of culture as norms and values; culture as meaning; and culture as human activity.
A defined course of study – the content of knowledge it is deemed necessary to learn for a course of study. In formal education the curriculum is usually prescribed by a central body, such as a Department or Ministry of Education. See syllabus.
Dams are used to restrict or divert the normal flow of water in rivers and streams for a variety of purposes. These include: raising the water level for navigation; storing and providing water for irrigation and industry; and producing a high-pressure source of water to generate hydro-electricity. Dams are not without serious problems: habitats are lost and people are displaced from their homes and land; downstream ecosystems are disrupted; silt and valuable nutrients are trapped behind the dam; fisheries are also severely depleted; reduced silt deposits downstream means that soil fertility is severely reduced; and coastal erosion can also increase as a result of silt-load loss.
Death rate
The number of deaths in a year per 1000 population.
Removal of trees from a forested area without adequate replanting. Since trees root systems are essential for keeping top soil in place, deforestation can bring about soil erosion. In addition, loss of trees is said to contribute to global warming because trees reduce greenhouse gases and provide shade.
The statistical study of human populations, especially with reference to size and density, distribution and vital statistics.
The process of becoming desert (as from land management or climate change). Conversion of rangeland, rain-fed cropland, or irrigated cropland to desert-like land, with a drop of agricultural productivity of 10% or more. It is usually caused by a combination of overgrazing, soil erosion, prolonged drought and climate change.
Developing country
The low- and middle-income countries generally referred to as the ‘South’ in which most people have a standard of living with access to fewer goods and services lower than most people in high-income countries. There are currently about 125 developing countries with populations over 1 million; in 1995, their total population was more than 4.7 billion.
Diarrheal illness
A disease that affects the intestines. The victims of this disease, frequently children in low- and middle-income countries, may die from the resulting dehydration. Often associated with unsafe food and water contaminated with faecal coliforms.
The process of limiting the number of military personnel or the size of weaponry arsenals. It also describes the process of decommissioning weapons, ammunition, military facilities and hardware, and the de-mobilization of military personnel.
Condition in which an area does not get enough water because of lower than normal precipitation, higher than normal temperatures that increase evaporation, or both.
Ecological Footprint
The area of land (and water) that is required to support the human population of a particular city, region or country at a specified standard indefinitely.
Economic development
Improvements in the efficiency of resource use so the same or greater output of goods and services is produced with smaller throughputs of natural, manufactured and human capital.
Economic globalisation
The process/es of becoming more integrated in the global economy.
A community of plants and animals interacting with one another and with the chemical and physical factors (e.g. water, air, and other elements) that make up its non-living environment.
Waste discharge from a sewage tank, water treatment facility, or from an industrial plant or process.
Energy conservation
Taking care to be efficient in the use of energy (usually in the form of electricity) so that it is not wasted. Some forms of energy production have significant impact on the environment. By becoming more efficient in the use of energy, the demand for energy can be reduced so that new energy production facilities are not required.
The complex set of physical, geographic, biological, social, cultural and political conditions that surround an individual or organism and that ultimately determines its form and nature of its survival.
The process of soil and nutrient loss, which leads to a decline in biological productivity. See landslide.
Partially enclosed coastal area at the mouth of a river where its fresh water, carrying fertile silt and runoff from the land mixes with salty seawater.
Our beliefs about what is right and wrong behavior.
Extended family
A large family grouping comprising grandparents, their children and grandchildren, usually living in the one house or grouped set of houses. See nuclear family.
Faecal coliforms
Naturally occurring bacteria in the intestines of mammals (including humans) and birds. Their presence is an indicator of contamination by sewage waste in water quality monitoring and is the recommended bacterial indicator for assessing risk to human health. Although fecal coliforms are not pathogenic (a cause of disease), their presence is an indication that pathogenic bacteria and viruses may also be present.
Fair wage
The level of payment for work done, that recognises the true value of the work and is proportionate to the retail price received for the completed product.
Widespread malnutrition and starvation in a particular area because of shortage of food, usually caused by drought, war, flood, earthquake or other catastrophic event that disrupts food production and distribution. Famines due to natural causes continue to occur but famines often have more to do with human actions than nature. Over the centuries, warfare has been the most common cause.
Family planning
A health service that helps couples decide whether to have children, and if so, when and how many.
Fertility rate
The average number of children a woman will have during her lifetime. The total fertility rate in developing countries is between three and four; in industrial countries it is less than two.
Field teaching
Taking students to a field location and delivering a mini-lecture from which students are expected to take notes. Sometimes involves students in the careful observation and description of an environment and in suggesting possible explanations based on previously acquired information.
Field research
Field research involves observation, description and explanation but adopts a problem solving focus, using techniques similar to those used in scientific explanation. This is the inductive approach to fieldwork.
Food additives
Natural and synthetic chemicals added to foods. Food additives can be used to make food more nutritious or more flavoursome. They can also be used to colour food, preserve the food item extending its storage life, and stabilise the oil in processed food so that oil does not separate out from the rest of the ingredients.
Food security
The ability of a country to produce or import enough food for normal health and physical activity of its people.
Formative assessment
Formative assessment refers to the ongoing forms of assessment that are closely linked to the learning process. It is characteristically informal and is intended to help students identify strengths and weaknesses in order to learn from the assessment experience. See summative assessment.
Wood used to provide heat for cooking and warmth. Many people who live mainly in poor rural communities rely on wood for their primary source of energy; most of them do not have access to secure supplies. This fuelwood crisis is caused by an increasing population coupled with the degradation of woodlands by commercial forestry operations and the clearing of forests for plantations and cattle ranching. Despite its widespread use, fuelwood is also a major health hazard as the smoke from woods fires is attributed to many respiratory diseases.
Global economy
The emerging international economy characterised by free trade in goods and services, unrestricted capital flows and weakened powers to control domestic economies.
Global warming
Global warming results from a build-up of carbon dioxide (CO₂) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; it has been identified by scientists as a major threat to the global environment.
A relatively new word that is commonly used to describe the ongoing, multidimensional process of worldwide change. It describes the idea that the world is becoming a single global market. It describes the idea that time and space have been shrunk as a result of modern telecommunications technologies which allow almost instantaneous communication between people almost any where on the planet. It describes the idea that cultures are blending and mixing and where cultural icons and values from dominant Northern cultures are being adopted in the South, while at the same time unique ethnic differences are being strengthened and local identities are being exerted. It describes that idea that the planet as a whole, rather than individual continents or landscapes, is considered as ‘our home’ and that some human activities can have a negative effect on people and environments far from their source or have an negative effect on the planet as a whole. See economic globalisation, and global economy.
GNP (Gross National Product)
The value of a country’s final output of goods and services in a year. The value of GNP can be calculated by adding up the amount of money spent on a country’s final output of goods and services, or by totaling the income of all citizens of a country including the income from abroad. The total market value in current dollars of all goods and services produced by an economy for final use during a year. Usually measured in U.S. dollars for international comparisons.
GNP per capita
The dollar value of a country’s final output of goods and services in a year (its GNP), divided by its population. It reflects the average income of a country’s citizens. Knowing a country’s GNP per capita is a good first step toward understanding the country’s economic strengths and needs.
GNP per capita growth rate
The change in GNP per capita over a period, expressed as a percentage of GNP per capita at the start of the period.
Goods and services
Things that are produced by a country’s economy. Examples of goods include food, clothing, machines, and new roads. Examples of services include those of doctors, teachers, merchants, tourist agents, construction workers, and government officials.
The lowest level of political activity or action – the voters or citizens themselves; the people who are most directly effected by public policy decisions.
Greenhouse effect
A natural effect that traps heat in the atmosphere (troposphere) near the Earth’s surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from Earth’s surface is absorbed by water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the lower atmosphere and then radiated back towards the Earth’s surface. If atmospheric concentrations of these gases rise and are not removed by other natural processes, the average temperature of the lower atmosphere will gradually increase. This natural effect is enhanced by emissions from human activities and is considered a major and pressing global environmental concern. See greenhouse gases, global warming, and chlorofluorocarbons.
Greenhouse gases
Gases in Earth’s lower atmosphere (troposphere) that cause the greenhouse effect. Examples are carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, ozone, methane, water vapour, and nitrous oxide.
Water that sinks into the soil and is stored in slowing flowing and slowly renewed underground reservoirs called aquifers. Groundwater is extensively used in many parts of the world but global supplies are being depleted and polluted at alarming rates. The decline in quantity and quality of groundwater is linked to deforestation, over-exploitation of groundwater supplies, improper use of agricultural chemicals, and leachate from landfill dumping.
Growth rate
The change (increase, decrease, or no change) in an indicator over a period of time, expressed as a percentage of the indicator at the start of the period. Growth rates contain several sets of information. The first is whether there is any change at all; the second is what direction the change is going in (increasing or decreasing); and the third is how rapidly that change is occurring.
Habitat loss
The process of conversion of a natural ecosystem to degraded system incapable of supporting native wildlife. Habitat loss is largely caused by human activities.
Hazardous chemical
Chemical that can cause harm because it is flammable or explosive, or that can irritate or damage the skin or lungs (such as strong acidic or alkaline substances) or cause allergic reactions of the immune system. See hazardous waste.
Hazardous waste/Toxic waste
Any waste that has the potential to inflict damage on either human health or the natural environment. The substances that make up most hazardous waste are acidic resins, arsenic residues, compounds of lead and mercury, organic solvents, pesticides and radioactive materials. Several ways of disposing of hazardous waste, each with varying degrees of safety and expense, have been developed. These include landfill, incineration, underground injection and the detoxification of wastes by bio-engineered organisms. But the preferred method of disposal has been to dump where it is cheapest, either at sea or in the Third World. Hazardous wastes pose a significant long-term danger. Persistent chemicals in landfill sites can cause surface and groundwater pollution, contamination of land and mass exposure of whole communities to highly-toxic chemicals. If properly treated, most wastes can be rendered harmless. But the long-term solution lies in reducing waste rather than safe disposal. See hazardous chemical.
High-income country
A country having an annual gross national product (GNP) per capita equivalent to $9,386 or greater in 1995. Most high-income countries have an industrial economy. There are currently about 26 high-income countries in the world with populations of one million people or more. Their combined population is about 0.9 billion, or less than one-sixth of the world’s population. These countries are usually members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and are commonly referred to as the ‘North’.
Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) is essentially a sexually transmitted infection but can be passed in other ways: through contaminated blood or blood products, contaminated hypodermic needles, and from mother to baby during childbirth. Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) results from infection by the HIV. It is an incurable disease.
The idea that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts in an ordered grouping. When applied to environmental thinking it means that all factors – biophysical, social, political, geological, and spiritual – should be considered when making a decision.
There are two common definitions of the homeless: a person who has no shelter and is forced to sleep outdoors; or those people whose shelter is inadequate, lacking in water, power and sanitary facilities. The right to shelter has been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet more than a billion people are without adequate shelter or housing. Of these, 100 million have no shelter whatsoever. This problem is global, but most acute in the developing world.
Human capital
People and their ability to be economically productive. Education, training, and health care can help increase human capital. See also capital and physical capital.
Human rights
Privileges claimed or enjoyed by every human being by virtue of being human. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. It stated that people have the right to life, liberty and education; to freedom of movement, religion, association and information; to a nationality and to equality before the law.
Practices, such as frequent hand washing, that help ensure cleanliness and good health.
High blood pressure which stresses the heart and may lead to heart attack and/or other medical complications.
A person who is illiterate is not able to, with understanding, read or write a simple statement about their everyday life nor do simple mathematical calculations. See literacy, literacy rate.
A statistical measure used to illustrate progress of a country in meeting a range of economic, social, and environmental goals. Since indicators represent data that have been collected by a variety of agencies using different collection methods, there may be inconsistencies among them.
Indigenous knowledge
Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society. Other names for it include: ‘local knowledge’, ‘folk knowledge’, ‘people’s knowledge’, ‘traditional wisdom’ or ‘traditional science’. This knowledge is passed from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals, and has been the basis for agriculture, food preparation, health care, education, conservation and the wide range of other activities that sustain societies in many parts of the world.
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples (also called ‘First Nation’, ‘traditional’, ‘native’ or ‘tribal’ people) are found on every continent and in most countries. All indigenous peoples have ancient ties to the land, water and wildlife of their ancestral domain. Traditionally, their sustainable lifestyles cast them as guardians and stewards of their natural environment. Most indigenous peoples now live under conditions where their human rights are abused and under the constant threat of extinction. By means of force or indoctrination, indigenous people are being absorbed into the cultural mainstream everywhere.
Industrial country
A country in which historically the greatest part of output has been accounted for by industry. However, the term is widely used to signify the high-income countries of the North.
Infant mortality rate
The number of infants, out of every 1000 babies born in a given year, who die before reaching age 1. The lower the rate, the fewer the infant deaths, and generally the greater the level of health care available in a country.
A steady rise in prices which results in a steady fall in the value of money. Inflation can occur when demand for goods exceeds supply (demand-pull inflation); or when costs of production increase independent of the state of demand (cost-push); or when governments expand the money supply by printing more money (monetary inflation). Deflation is the opposite process and causes a reduction in both output and employment. Unchecked inflation is a threat to the entire monetary system. Remedies vary but can include wage and price controls, reduced government spending and a tightly-controlled money supply.
Informal economy
The exchange of goods and services operating outside the officially-recognised sector of a nation’s economy and not accurately recorded in government figures and accounting. The informal economy commonly includes goods and services including day care, tutoring, or black market exchanges.
Indigenous people who live in the far north of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. Traditionally, Inuit fished and hunted seals, whales, walruses and caribou. Clothing was made from animal skins and the main social units were small family bands. Native people to the south called them ‘Eskimos’, a Cree word meaning ‘eaters of raw meat’. In 1975, Inuit in Canada called for the creation of an autonomous state which was granted them in 1992, when the Government announced the creation of the territory of ‘Nunavut’, meaning ‘Our Land’ in the Inuit language.
Land degradation
An umbrella term for decline in soil quality which can occur in a number of ways, including erosion, salinisation, water logging, heavy metal and other chemical pollution, and desertification.
An acute form of erosion which occurs when a steep slope or river bank becomes unstable and a large section of the soil falls away, smothering anything its path. Landslides are common in areas that have been deforested and which consequently experience heavy periods of rain. With little vegetation covering the slopes, there are fewer roots to bind the soil to the sides of the hill or river. See deforestation.
A substance that has percolated or seeped through the soil. In the context of environmental issues this term is usually used to describe a toxic or hazardous substance, possibly soluble, that has been improperly disposed of in, or spilt over, soil. See hazardous chemical, hazardous waste.
Life expectancy at birth
The average number of years newborn babies can be expected to live based on current health conditions. This indicator reflects environmental conditions in a country, the health of its people, the quality of care they receive when they are sick, and their living conditions.
Rubbish that is scattered about either by people carelessly discarding it or by the wind which scatters it from rubbish heaps. A large percentage of litter is comprised of the packaging from food and other consumable items. Litter is aesthetically displeasing as well as creating health problems. Many types of litter are not, or only marginally, biodegradable and hence persist in the environment for a long time. Some litter can cause other ecological problems. For example: litter can be mistaken as food by some animal species causing choking and other problems; or it can snare and entangle animals thus restricting their movement, often preventing them from feeding, making them more vulnerable to attack from predators, or by causing physical injuries which themselves can be fatal or may lead to death after infection.
The ability to read and write a simple statement about one’s everyday life and do simple mathematical calculations. See illiteracy, literacy rate.
Literacy rate
The percentage of people who can read and white. According to UNESCO, some 25% of the world’s adult population is illiterate. Average rates of literacy vary from 50-70% in the Third World to nearly 99% in industrialised countries. Over the past four decades, literacy rates for people of 15 years and over have improved everywhere, most notably among women. But women still account for two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adult, concentrated mainly in developing countries.
Local government
The level of government that is responsible for the day to day running of a ward, district, province or city. Local government responsibilities often include the provision of public transport and public recreational facilities as well as the monitoring and enforcing of many environmental regulations.
A condition caused by an imbalance between what an individual eats and what is required to maintain health. The word literally means ‘bad feeding’ and can result from eating too little, but may also imply dietary excesses or an incorrect balance of basic foodstuffs such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates. A deficiency (or excess) of one or more minerals, vitamins or other essential ingredients in the diet may arise from the inability to digest food properly as well as from actually consuming an unbalanced or inadequate diet. Malnourished people are more vulnerable to infection, disease and general ill health. Poverty is the most immediate indirect cause of malnutrition in both the developed and developing worlds.
Salt-tolerant trees and shrubs which form dense thickets and low forests on coastal mudflats, salt marshes and estuaries throughout the tropics. Mangroves fringe over half of all tropical shores and are typically associated with river mouths where the water is shallow and the sediment levels high. They form one of the most diverse of all ecosystems and provide a unique habitat for fish, invertebrates and plants. Mangroves also play an important role in desalinating sea water and are one of the major factors in stabilizing shorelines. Throughout the tropics mangroves are under threat from clear-cutting, charcoal production, sand and shale mining, land reclamation for agriculture or aquaculture and coastal pollution.
Marginal land
Land that is of poor quality and largely unsuitable for cultivation due to its nutrient deficiencies, dryness or susceptibility to erosion. Marginal land is particularly prone to further degradation and even desertification if used for agricultural purposes. However, in many parts of the world people are forced into using these less productive and fragile areas because they may have been displaced by development projects, wars or simply because the needs of the population in an area have exceeded the productivity and availability of arable land.
Middle-income country
A country having an annual gross national product (GNP) per capita equivalent to more than $765 but less than $9,386 in 1995. The standard of living is higher than in low-income countries, and people have access to more goods and services, but many people still cannot meet their basic needs. There are currently about 67 middle-income countries with populations of one million or more. Their combined population is more than 1.5 billion.
The process of establishing and maintaining a large military establishment and arsenal.
A seasonal, large-scale reversal of winds in the tropics, chiefly occurring as a result of differential heating of the oceans. It exerts greatest effect in India, China and Southeast Asia. The term is derived from the Arabic word ‘mawsim’ and is commonly used to describe the intense rainfall that generally accompanies the wind reversal. Monsoons bring rain during the summer as they blow inland from the sea. The rest of the year is dry with the winds blowing in the opposite direction.
Montreal Protocol
An 1987 agreement reached in Canada to review the role of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases in the destruction of the ozone layer. The Protocol was signed by 30 governments, together with the European Community (EC), although some CFC-producing Third World countries, notably China and India, withheld their agreement until assurances on compensation or technology-transfer for production of alternatives were agreed. The agreement aimed to freeze CFC production at 1986 levels. It also called for consumption to be reduced gradually to 50% of 1986 levels by 1999. Two other key ozone-depleting chemicals, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform, were added to the Protocol during subsequent meetings. See also, greenhouse gases, ozone layer, global warming.
Moral code
The set of rules, values, conventions a person chooses to live by, particularly with respect to their relationships with other humans they know as well as the rest of the human population. A moral code can be extended to include the way one determines to relate to non-human species.
Native vegetation
Plant species that are indigenous to an area or biome, not exotic (e.g. species that have been introduced to an area by humans).
Natural resources
Materials that occur in nature and are essential or useful to humans, such as water, air, land, forests, fish and wildlife, topsoil, and minerals.
Natural resource accounting
The process of adjusting national accounts such as GNP to reflect the environmental costs of economic production. Although methods are still being developed, natural resource accounting strives to determine the costs of depleting natural resources and damaging the environment.
Nuclear family
A family unit comprising just parents and their children unlike an extended family.
Food. The essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates essential for a healthy body.
Oil spill
An intentional or accidental dispersal of oil (often unprocessed or crude oil, but could be oil at any stage of processes) into a terrestrial or marine habitat. Oil spills create significant environmental problems often killing many birds, fish, marine mammals and other aquatic species and it can persist in natural environments for a long period of time.
Ozone-depleting substances
See greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, ozone layer, global warming, Montreal Protocol.
Ozone layer
Layer of gaseous ozone (O3) in the stratosphere that protects life on Earth by filtering out harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In the last couple of decades a thinning of this layer has been observed, with this being most severe at areas near both the north and south poles. This thinning has been linked to air pollution and more particularly the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities. The greater amount of ultraviolet radiation that reach the surface of the planet as a result of the depletion of atmospheric ozone is associated with increased incidence of certain skin cancers, the depletion of some types of micro-organisms in the sea, and is potentially associated with other environmental and agricultural problems.
Particulate matter
Small particles found in emissions from motor vehicles and industrial processes. These very small particles can be harmful to the respiratory system.
Patriarchal inheritance customs
Where land ownership, wealth and material possessions is passed down the family lineage always from father to son or grandson.
The way of organising the curriculum and choice of teaching strategies in order to ensure that a particular set of long term educational aims.
A friendship that is established and grown through letter correspondence. Many people around the world have made this a hobby and have been rewarded with deep and lasting friendships with people despite often being separated by long distances and postal service irregularities.
Chemicals used to kill insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or human health. Many pesticides are toxic to humans, livestock and wildlife as well as to the target pest. Ecosystems have no natural mechanism for breaking down most human-made chemicals with the result that they usually persist in the environment. Despite 40 years of extensive pesticide use, world-wide crop losses from insects have almost doubled. The FAO reports that more than 1600 insect species have developed pesticide resistance. Pesticides kill harmful insects but they also kill beneficial ones like bees.
Physical capital
Things, such as machinery, tools, equipment, furniture, parts, and buildings, that are needed to produce goods and services. See also capital and human capital.
Physical education
Part of the formal school curriculum that aims to develop physical fitness and coordination in students, through participation in team and individual sporting pursuits, calisthenics and other physical exercises. Often also involves some form of health and lifestyle education to complement the physical activities.
Population growth
The increase in a country’s population, divided by the population. It reflects the number of births and deaths and the number of people moving to and from a country. Usually expressed as an annual average rate.
Population momentum
The tendency for population growth to continue beyond the time that replacement-level fertility has been achieved because of a relatively high concentration of people in the childbearing years. For example, the absolute numbers of people in developing countries will continue to increase over the next several decades even as the rates of population growth will decline. This phenomenon is due to past high fertility rates which results in a large number of young people. As these youth grow older and move through reproductive ages, the greater number of births will exceed the number of deaths in the older populations.
Population projections
Demographers make predictions about future population based on trends in fertility, mortality, and migration.
Primary goods or products
Goods – for example, iron ore, diamonds, wheat, copper, oil, or coffee-that are used or sold as they are found in nature. They are also called commodities.
Primary health care
Health services, including family planning, clean water supply, sanitation, immunisation, and nutrition education, that are designed to be affordable for both the poor people who receive the services and the governments that provide them; the emphasis is on preventing disease as well as curing it.
Potable water
Water that is safe to drink. See water quality.
Public transport
For example bus, tram and train services.
Pulp mill
A highly mechanised industrial plant which processes wood into woodfibre (pulp) which is used to make paper and paper products. This chemical process is very water and energy intensive. Papers produced by either mechanical or chemical processes require bleaching where traditionally chlorine-based products are used (after pressure from environmental campaigns and consumers some pulp mills use an oxygen-based bleaching process). The pollutants produced in chlorine-based bleaching processes include some of the most potent poisons known.
Quality of life
The standard of life that an individual enjoys. Quality of life goes beyond simply meaning the material things that make parts of our everyday lives more pleasant or less onerous. It includes such things as environmental health, the satisfaction of relationships with others, dignifying work.
A category for describing forests with high levels of annual rainfall. Described as being among the most biologically rich habitats on the planet, rainforests are densely wooded with large varieties of plants and animals occupying every possible space throughout and within the forest.
The reclamation of potentially useful material from household, agricultural and industrial waste. The goal is to reduce pollution and save energy and costs while slowing down the rate at which non-renewable resources are depleted. As concern for the environment spreads, especially in the industrialised countries, the value of recycling has become more accepted. Recycling is not only good for the environment, it also creates jobs.
People who flee their own country (or region) for political or economic reasons, or to avoid war and oppression. In 1995 the number of refugees around the world was estimated at 27.4 million. About 40% of these were in Africa and 35% in Asia. Over the past few decades refugees have also been fleeing environmental damage. In fact, the degradation of agricultural land is currently displacing more people than any other factor. A projected rise in sea level caused by global warming could produce many more refugees by the middle of the next century.
A set of personal and social beliefs which have two main characteristics: a deep concern with the ultimate meaning of human existence; and an identification with a supernatural power beyond the limits of the human and natural worlds.
Able to be replaced or replenished, either by the Earth’s natural processes or by human action. Air, water, and forests are often considered to be examples of renewable resources. However, due to local geographic conditions and costs involved, strong arguments can be made that water may not be a completely renewable resource in some parts of the world, especially in developing countries or in areas with limited groundwater supplies. Minerals and fossil fuels are examples of non-renewable resources.
Replacement level
The fertility level at which couples have the number of children required to replace themselves, this is about two children. When the replacement level is reached, population growth will stabilise in time. See population momentum.
The machines, workers, money, land, raw materials, and other things that a country can use to produce goods and services and to make its economy grow. Resources may be renewable or nonrenewable. Countries must use their resources wisely to ensure long term prosperity.
Risk management
Risk management is the identification, assessment and reduction of risks associated with the activities with which we are involved. As risk is an integral part of taking groups into an outdoor setting, risk management is an important way of ensuring greater safety and enjoyment in the outdoors by focusing on the planning stages before actually doing the activity.
Role play
A learning exercise where students take part in a small drama of a hypothetical situation (e.g. a conflict between factory owners and local residents who have observed pollution in the local waterway).
Rubbish dump
Land set aside for the disposal of household and other waste.
Maintaining clean, hygienic conditions that help prevent disease through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal. ‘Access to sanitation’ is a development indicator that refers to the percentage of the population with at least adequate excreta disposal facilities that can effectively prevent human, animal, and insect contact with excreta. Suitable facilities range from simple but protected pit latrines to flush toilets with sewerage. To be effective, all facilities must be correctly constructed and maintained.
Sex industry
The business of prostitution, including the establishment and promotion of bars, brothels and places where people can pay others for sex. See trafficking in women/children.
See role play.
Social justice
The concept that all people should have equal access to services and goods produced in a community. It includes ideas of environmental health; gender, religious, sexual, racial, and ethnic equality.
Social services
Services generally provided by the government that help improve people’s standard of living; examples are public hospitals and clinics, good roads, clean water supply, garbage collection, electricity, and telecommunications.
The concept of adopting a caretaker role to the environment.
Stormwater drain
Urban infrastructure of roadside gutters connected to a system of underground pipes that collect run off from roads, parks and people’s lawns and roofs and deposits it into a local waterway. This water is not usually treated hence it is important for people to be responsible with toxic chemicals, including paint, they use around their homes so as to prevent these substances from being washed into stormwater drains and ending up polluting the local waterway. See water quality.
Subsistence farming
A level of farming or agriculture that provides a family group, tribe or village with only enough food for everyday survival. There may be some surplus for storing for when the harvest is poor and to use in trade for other essential items not produced by the people themselves in the local area, but there is generally no surplus to sell in exchange for cash. Subsistence farming forms the basis of the livelihood of shifting cultivators, pastoralists and nomads, and other groups of people.
Summative assessment
This form of assessment usually occurs towards the end of learning in order to describe the standard reached by the learner. Often this takes place in order for appropriate decisions about future learning or job suitability to be made. Judgements derived from summative assessment are usually for the benefit of people other than the learner. See formative assessment.
Events or circumstances above the agency of the forces of nature. Often has spiritual connotations.
Sustainable agriculture
Method of growing crops and raising livestock based on organic fertilisers, soil conservation, biological control of pests, and minimal use of nonrenewable fossil-fuel energy. This type of agriculture does not destroy soil quality so the land remains fertile and arable.
Sustainable development
Development that meets the needs of the people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To be sustainable, any use of resources needs to take account of the stock of resources and the impacts of its utilisation on the social, economic and political context of people today and in the future.
Sustainable farming practices
The animal husbandry, crop growing and harvesting techniques used in sustainable agriculture.
Concise statement of the main objectives, content, learning experiences, resources and assessment strategies to be used in teaching a specific subject or field of knowledge. See curriculum.
The operation of tours and businesses that attract visitors from outside the country or region. Tourism has become one of the world’s leading industries, employing 1 in every 16 workers worldwide. Money generated by tourism should soon exceed earnings from sales of oil.
Trafficking of women/children
The business of buying and selling women and children for employment in the sex industry and their movement from their homes to areas where sex workers are in high demand. People are often sold into prostitution against their will.
Refers to the demographic change that occurs as countries move to lower rates of fertility and mortality. Many factors contribute to transition including: improved health services, greater access to education and improved social and economic conditions. Several developing countries in Asia are now in the later stages of transition, while many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are in the early stages of transition. The demographic transition is complete when fertility has reached replacement level, which is the case in most industrial countries.
A popular recreational activity that involves walking through natural areas, often staying over night (or many nights) in tents or guest houses along the way. Opportunities for trekking attracts many tourists to countries such as Nepal and parts of South America.
Tuberculosis (TB)
An infectious disease of body tissue. The pathogen is easily inhaled and a primary site of infection is quickly formed. The body’s natural immune system may heal it at this stage and when this happens a lasting immunity develops. Other people may become infected but show no signs of illness. They act as carriers of the disease, transmitting the pathogen by coughing and sneezing. TB is curable with antibiotics, and a vaccine gives protection to those who have not already developed immunity to the disease.
The process by which a country’s population changes from primarily rural to urban. It is caused by the migration of people from the countryside to the city in search of better jobs and living conditions.
Water pollution
One or more chemicals in high enough concentration in water to harm humans, other animals, vegetation or materials.
Water quality
The condition of water, especially in relation to its suitability for drinking. Water is safe or unsafe depending on the amount of bacteria in it. An adequate amount of water is enough to satisfy metabolic, hygienic, and domestic requirements, usually about 20 litres (about 4 gallons) per person per day. ‘Access to safe water’ is a development indicator that refers to the number of people who have a reasonable means of getting and adequate amount of clean water, expressed as a percentage of the total population. In urban areas ‘reasonable’ access means there is a public fountain or water spigot located within 200m of the household. In rural areas, it implies that members of the household do not have to spend excessive time each day fetching water.
Waste management
An umbrella term that is applied to the processes of determining where and how to dispose of industrial or household waste.
Water that has been used and is no longer clean. See wastewater treatment.
Wastewater treatment
The process of removing pollutants from water that has been used. There are different stages of treatment. Primary sewage treatment involves screening the water to remove the largest solids from wastewater and then letting the water sit in settling tanks so that the smaller solids and particles sink to the bottom. Secondary treatment involves another stage in which microbes added to the wastewater to eat the biological pollutants, or the wastewater is put through another filter. Then the treated water is disinfected and released back into nature. The more steps included in the treatment, the more expensive the process.
Watershed/Water catchment area
The specific land area that drains water into a river system or other body of water.
Wetlands such as marshes, swamps, bogs and fens are amongst the most fertile and productive ecosystems in the world. Wetlands cover 6% of the Earth’s land surface and are found in all countries and in all climates. They are important breeding grounds for fish and other wildlife. They also help maintain the global water cycle and act as a filtering system to clean up polluted water, encouraging plant growth and improving water quality. Wetlands are the only ecosystem which is protected by a specific international convention – the RAMSAR Convention.