Environmental Vocabulary for English Learners

Water vapor accounts for most of the greenhouse effect
Greenhouse effect. Martin Deja, Getty Images

For English-language learners, vocabulary related to environmental issues can be challenging. Tables sectioned according to types of environmental issues can help. These tables provide the word or phrase in the left column and an example of how to use the term(s) in the righthand column to provide context.

Important Issues

From acid rain to pollution and radioactive waste, there are many environmental issues around which discussion and debate have evolved.

Students will likely hear many of these terms on the news or read about them on the internet and in newspapers. The general list of issues should prove helpful.

Term or Phrase

Example Sentence

acid rain

The acid rain ruined the soil for the next three generations.

aerosol

Aerosol can be extremely toxic and must be used with care when sprayed in the air. 

animal welfare

We must consider animal welfare as we strive to create a balance between man and nature. 

carbon monoxide

It's important to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home for safety.

climate

The climate of an area can change over long periods of time. 

conservation

Conservation focuses on making sure we protect the nature we haven't already lost. 

endangered species

There are many endangered species all over the planet that need our help. 

energy

Humans are using an ever increasing amount of energy. 

nuclear energy

Nuclear energy has passed out of fashion after a number of serious environmental disasters. 

solar energy

Many hope that solar energy can wean us off our need for fossil fuels. 

exhaust fumes

The exhaust fumes from cars standing in traffic can make you cough. 

fertilizers

Fertilizers used by huge farms can pollute drinking water for miles around. 

forest fires

Forest fires can burn out of control and create hazy weather conditions. 

global warming

Some doubt that global warming is real.

greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect is said to heat up the earth.

(non)renewable resources

As we move forward, we need to become more dependent on renewable energy resources. 

nuclear

The exploration of nuclear science has created great boons, as well as horrific dangers for humanity. 

nuclear fallout

The nuclear fallout from a bomb would be devastating to the local population. 

nuclear reactor

The nuclear reactor was taken offline because of technical problems.

Oil slick

The oil slick caused by the sinking vessel could be seen for tens of miles. 

ozone layer

Industrial additives have been threatening the ozone layer for many years. 

pesticide

While it's true that pesticides help kill off unwanted insects, there are serious problems to be considered. 

pollution

 Water and air pollution situations have improved over the last few decades in many countries. 

protected animal

It's a protected animal in this country. You can't hunt it!

rainforest

The rain forest is lush and green, bursting with life from all sides. 

unleaded petrol

Unleaded petrol is certainly cleaner than leaded petrol. 

waste

The amount of plastic waste in the ocean is shocking. 

nuclear waste

Nuclear waste can remain active for many thousands of years. 

radioactive waste

They stored the radioactive waste at the site in Hanford. 

wildlife

We must take the wildlife into account before we develop the site. 

Natural Disasters

From drought to volcanic eruptions, natural disasters are a big part of the environmental discussion, as this table shows.

Term or Phrase

Example Sentence

drought

The drought has gone on for sixteen straight months. No water to be seen!

earthquake

The earthquake devastated the little village in the Rhine River. 

flood

The flood forced more than 100 families from their homes. 

tidal wave

A tidal wave hit the island. Luckily, no one was lost. 

typhoon

The typhoon hit and dropped more than ten inches of rain in one hour!

volcanic eruption

Volcanic eruptions are spectacular, but they don't occur very often. 

Politics and Action

Discussion generally leads to the formation of environmental groups and actions, some positive and some negative, as this final listing demonstrates. Environmental groups are followed by a listing of verbs (or actions) related to the environment and environmental issues.

Term or Phrase

Example Sentence

environmental group

The environmental group presented their case to the community. 

green issues

Green issues have become one of the most important themes of this election cycle. 

pressure group

The pressure group forced the company to stop building on that site. 

cut down

We need to cut down on pollution drastically.

destroy

Human greed destroys millions of acres each year. 

dispose (of)

The government must dispose of the waste properly. 

dump

You can dump recyclable garbage in this container. 

protect

It's our responsibility to protect the natural habit of this beautiful planet before it's too late. 

pollute

If you pollute in your own backyard, you'll eventually notice it.

recycle

Make sure to recycle all paper and plastics. 

save

We save bottles and newspapers to take to recycle at the end of each month. 

throw away

Never just throw away a plastic bottle. Recycle it!

use up

Hopefully, we'll not use up all our resources before we start solving this problem together.