The List: 10 Oft-Confused Environmental Terms

The List: 10 Oft-Confused Environmental Terms

Here’s a little help for understanding the difference between similar terms.

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10 Oft-Confused Environmental Terms

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 9:40am

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Eco-related words are entering common usage at a dizzying pace — am I the only one who has trouble keeping track of what they all mean? And then there are the terms that seem like they mean the same thing… but do they?

I researched some of the more confusing term pairs to see if they really can be used interchangeably, or if they actually mean completely different things. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you navigate the lingo.

  1. Climate Change vs. Global Warming: These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they don’t exactly mean the same thing. According to the EPAglobal warming refers to the increase in average temperature near the earth’s surface. It’s part of climate change, which refers to significant changes, over a span of years, in climate, including temperature, wind patterns, and precipitation. Both are caused in part by the increase in greenhouse gasesNASA’s comparison of these terms and explains that, because it’s a broader term, “climate change” better describes the changes in temperature and weather patterns that many believe are caused by pollution.
  1. Biodegradable vs. Compostable: Something that is biodegradable can be broken down by microorganisms into more basic natural elements. Keep in mind that most biodegradable items need oxygen to break down, and in many landfills, the conditions aren’t right because trash is packed so tightly. Compostable also refers to an item that microorganisms can break down, specifically in a compost pile (residential or commercial) within a few months. Everything compostable is biodegradable, but not everything biodegradable is compostable. According to FTCguidelines, manufacturers can claim their products are biodegradable if that product will completely break down and return to nature within a year. A compostable item should be able to be safely turned into usable compost in a home compost pile.

Keep reading for more environmental terms that are often confused.