The definitions below aim to provide deeper understanding, context, and nuance around some of the terms featured on this website and in the book Climate Resilience. Please note that language changes quickly and some of these terms and definitions may be dated by the time that you’re reading this.
A term first coined by scholar Mark Dery, who defined Afrofuturism as speculative fiction that utilizes African diaspora themes and issues and then places them within technoculture worlds, blending elements of science fiction, fantasy, and African diaspora culture to re-envision alternate futures, presents, and pasts where African-descended people play a central role in the creation of that world. Today, Afrofuturism can be understood as a wide-ranging social, political, and artistic movement and a powerful tool to envision and create more just worlds.
A Hawaiian word that translates to “that which feeds,” referring to the land, the sea, and all that can be harvested from them to nourish and support life. The word is sometimes used interchangeably with “land” or “earth.” The term is often used to express a deep connection and respect for the land, and to emphasize an understanding that people and land exist in a reciprocal, familial, and interconnected relationship.
A term coined in the 1980s and popularized by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000 to describe the time during which humans have had a substantial impact on the planet’s physical, chemical, and biological systems, and particularly in driving an era of mass extinction. The term has been critiqued for pointing the finger at humanity rather than settler colonialism, white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, etc. more specifically, and for contributing to the false human/nature binary, but it can be a helpful framework for describing this unique moment in time.
The phenomenon of temperatures in the Arctic increasing about twice as fast as in the mid-latitudes. When sea ice melts, sunlight that was previously reflected by ice’s bright surface becomes absorbed by the dark ocean, therefore amplifying the warming process.
A moniker for the largest environmental organizations in the so-called United States, including Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and World Wildlife Fund. The groups have been critiqued for soaking up the vast majority of money directed towards environmental causes, regularly undercutting grassroots environmental movements, making deals with compromising politicians, partnering with problematic corporations, and more.
A term popularized by environmental activist Vandana Shiva in the 1990s as part of her advocacy work to highlight the injustices and exploitative practices associated with the appropriation of Indigenous knowledge and genetic resources by corporations and researchers. Biopiracy refers to the unethical appropriation and commercial exploitation of biological resources (or as Vandana Shiva would call it, “life”) and Indigenous knowledge without proper consent or benefit-sharing with local communities. It involves the unauthorized use and monopolization of genetic material or traditional knowledge to develop commercial products without fair compensation, often resulting in the exclusion of the communities who originally possessed the resources or knowledge from benefiting from their own heritage or being legally allowed to sustain ancestral practices.
A term used by many disability scholars to emphasize the interdependence and inseparability of the body and mind and to challenge mind-body dualism.
Broken windows policing
A model of policing first introduced in 1982 by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, who argued that disorder (i.e., loitering, public drinking, jaywalking, spitting, biking on the sidewalk, and fare evasion) leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which then allows more serious crime to occur. When Rudy Giuliani was elected New York City’s mayor in 1993, he put the theory into practice, leading to over-policing and criminalization of communities of color as well as excessive use of force to address relatively harmless situations.
A term used by the real estate industry to describe lots that are characterized by the potential presence of a hazardous contaminant. Brownfields are generally the by-product of past industrial, commercial, or agricultural uses involving toxic products. Due to a long history of discriminatory zoning policies, which allowed hazardous industries to operate in low-income communities of color, there’s a well-documented correlation between race, class, and brownfield sites.
A term that refers specifically to sources of energy that don’t emit greenhouse gases. It is not the same as renewable energy, as clean energy can include nuclear energy, natural gas with carbon capture and storage, and other nonrenewable sources of energy that don’t emit carbon dioxide.
Community supported agriculture (CSA)
A farming model designed to allow farmers to receive advance working capital to invest in their growing season, gain some financial security, earn better crop prices, and spread both the risks and benefits of the farm amongst community members. In a traditional CSA model, community members buy a share of the farm’s production before each growing season and receive periodic distributions of the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season.
Critical race theory (CRT)
A framework and movement first developed by legal scholars in the 1970s and 1980s who were calling for legal approaches that take into consideration race and racism as a nexus of American life, not an aberration that can be easily corrected by law. Law professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, widely credited for coining the term, describes CRT as more of a verb than a noun, explaining, “It is a way of seeing, attending, to, accounting for, tracing, and analyzing the ways that race is produced, the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.” Law professor Mari Matsuda, also an early developer of critical race theory, says, “For me, critical race theory is a method that takes the lived experience of racism seriously, using history and social reality to explain how racism operates in American law and culture, toward the end of eliminating the harmful effects of racism and bringing about a just and healthy world for all.”
A long-term strategy to gradually eliminate all carbon-emitting fuels from energy systems across sectors. The idea has been popularized by the Deep Decarbonization Pathways (DPP) initiative, a collaboration of leading research teams across the world who are working to propose realistic pathways to reach carbon neutral emissions by 2050. The initiative, led by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, has largely focused on informing science and policy at regional, national and international scales.
An environmental philosophy and social movement rooted in the belief that humans must recognize the inherent value of nature rather than valuing nature narrowly for its utility to humans. The phrase was introduced by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess and American environmentalist George Sessions in 1972.
Electricity that is generated at or near where it will be used. Distributed energy generation systems are generally relatively small-scale and modular, such as rooftop solar units, small wind turbines, emergency backup power generators, or biomass combustion, and can either serve a single structure or be part of a microgrid. Distributed energy can help to ensure that important community buildings, like resilience hubs and hospitals, maintain electricity even when centralized power fails.
The percentage of household income that goes towards energy costs, including electricity, heating, and transportation. According to the US Census, the average energy burden for low-income households is three times higher than for non-low-income households, a statistic that is further exacerbated by race and geography.
Geographic areas that have few or no convenient options for securing affordable and nutritious foods. Researchers typically identify food deserts by the number of grocery markets in a given area, the distance people have to travel to the nearest full-service store, average household income, availability of public transportation or vehicle availability, etc. It’s an incomplete framework, as it doesn’t accurately reflect the numerous and complex reasons why culturally appropriate and nutritious food may be out of reach, but it can help to flag areas where food access is particularly limited.
Frontline and fenceline communitie
Communities that experience the first and worst consequences of climate change are often referred to as frontline communities. Neighborhoods that are situated next to industrial or military operations and are exposed to inordinate levels of hazardous materials, emissions, and environmental degradation, along with heightened risk of chemical explosions, are often referred to as fenceline communities. These communities often overlap.
Global North and South
The terms “Global South” and “Global North” are used as politico-economic meta categories. The Global South generally encompasses the regions of Latin America, Africa, Oceania, and parts of Asia, while the Global North generally refers to North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and certain parts of Asia. While the North/South binary is a tremendous oversimplification of a deeply complex and nuanced world system, it can be helpful shorthand when discussing power dynamics and broad trends.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch
A massive area in the North Pacific Ocean where spinning debris is drawn in and trapped by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. A tremendous amount of debris (mostly tiny bits of plastic) has accumulated over time, and has since become emblematic of the world’s litter, microplastic, and waste production crises.
The practice of organizations exaggerating or lying to persuade the public that their products, practices, or policies are environmentally friendly. Rather than taking action to make meaningful changes, organizations often focus on marketing spin to appease public concern.
A term and movement first coined by the Atlanta, Georgia–based Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective in 2007. It refers to the reclamation of ancestral healing practices and the development of new, more inclusive practices in order to holistically address widespread generational trauma from systemic violence and oppression.
Highest and best use
A concept developed by early economists that remains a fundamental principle of real estate appraisal. The Appraisal Institute defines highest and best use as “the reasonably probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property that is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible, and that results in the highest value. The four criteria the highest and best use must meet are legal permissibility, physical possibility, financial feasibility, and maximum productivity.” For instance, a highest and best use analysis of a contaminated lot may find that it is legally permissible and physically possible to develop apartment buildings on the lot, but it would cost so much to remediate the land that its value as currently used is deemed higher.
Highway of Tear
An infamous, remote 450-mile stretch of Highway 16 where many Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirits have been reported missing or murdered in the last several decades. The highway bisects several First Nations communities, and the region lacks adequate public transit, so many people are forced to hitchhike to get around. The Highway of Tears has become symbolic of the larger Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) movement.
A term coined by law professor and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 paper to help explain the bias and violence uniquely experienced by Black women. She intended for the term to be a lens through which to assess where and how power collides, interlocks, and intersects.
The concept was introduced by labor unions and environmental justice groups who recognized both the urgency of phasing out harmful and extractive industries and the importance of providing a fair pathway for workers to transition to other good jobs. According to the Just Transition Alliance, “‘Just Transition’ is a principle, a process, and a practice. The principle of just transition is that a healthy economy and a clean environment can and should co-exist. The process for achieving this vision should be a fair one that should not cost workers or community residents their health, environment, jobs, or economic assets.” The Climate Justice Alliance elaborates, “Just Transition describes both where we are going and how we get there.”
A social, political, and religious movement and praxis that seeks to understand Christianity through the lived experience of oppressed people and apply Christianity in service to the liberation of oppressed communities. Liberation theology formally emerged in Latin America and Black churches in the so-called United States in the 1960s. James Cone’s 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, illuminated and popularized a vision for liberation theology that centered the humanity and liberation of Black people and challenged theological paradigms rooted in white supremacy.
Limited equity cooperative housing
A housing model in which residents purchase a development share, rather than an individual unit, and commit to resell their share at a predetermined price, therefore preserving housing affordability and limiting what residents can gain when they sell their shares.
Low road contractors
Contractors who repeatedly violate wage, safety, and discrimination laws. Low road contracting tends to proliferate in the rebuilding period following disasters, particularly as potential contractors compete to have the lowest bid for government-funded projects, and undocumented workers are particularly impacted by wage theft and unsafe and inhumane working conditions during this time.
The temporary housing facilities situated by resource extraction projects for predominantly male workers. There is a well-documented, significant link between these sites and a rise in gendered violence, and in particular, the phenomenon of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirits (MMIWG2S).
A phrase coined by ecologist and philosopher David Abram in 1996 to refer to earthly nature in a way that both challenges human-centered worldviews and emphasizes that humans are part of, not separate from, nature.
The hypothetical moment at which global production of oil is the highest it has ever been or will ever be. Peak oil theory was proposed in 1956 by geophysicist Marion King Hubbert, a researcher for the Shell Oil Company, who stated that oil production would follow a bell-shaped curve, declining as the finite resource became depleted. Over the last several decades, peak oil advocates have warned that rapidly diminishing oil supplies could spike prices and threaten political and economic stability. However, with oil production innovations like hydraulic fracturing, enhanced oil recovery, and horizontal drilling, energy analysts are now generally more concerned with oil demand than physical limits on production.
Ground below the Earth’s surface that has been continuously frozen for several years- typically hundreds or thousands of years. When frozen, it’s harder than concrete. When permafrost melts, infrastructure (like roads, homes, and pipelines) collapses, communities become unstable, landfills begin leaking waste and toxic materials into nearby waterways, greenhouse gases are released, ancient bacteria and viruses thaw, etc. The melting of permafrost presents a host of grave issues for the immediate community and the world at large.
A for-the-people, by-the-people approach to education grounded in political and class struggle and social transformation. The concept emerged from Latin America in the early 1900s.
An acronym that stands for Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The term developed to highlight and center the specific needs and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color within the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
A term and movement first coined by a group of Black women in Chicago in June of 1994 who agreed that the women’s rights movement was not adequately defending the needs of women of color and other marginalized women, nonbinary, intersex, and trans people. The reproductive justice movement was founded as an intersectional, access-focused alternative to reproductive rights advocacy, which narrowly focused on abortion choice and centered cisgender, white women. A few years later, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective was formed to create a national and multi-ethnic reproductive justice movement. Reproductive justice, as defined by SisterSong, refers to “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
So-called United States
When “so-called” is used to precede place names like the United States, the intention is to emphasize that they are first and foremost Native lands, and that the borders and names imposed upon them by settler colonizers are not universally recognized.
The living matrix of soil and underground organisms, such as plants, fungi, bacteria, worms, and insects, that together form a porous, well-aggregated, and sponge-like system that can retain its structural integrity when wet, thereby better capturing, storing, and filtering water, holding landscapes in place, and providing nutrients for the local food chain. The idea was introduced by Australian microbiologist and climatologist Walter Jehne in his 2017 paper for Health Soils Australia, “Regenerate Earth,” who connected the concepts of soil carbon with a restored water cycle. Didi Pershouse has popularized the term as a way to move away from narrow narratives around soil carbon to discuss soil systems more holistically and unify action around soil health.
A post-capitalist framework, movement, and broad set of practices that emerged from social movements in Latin America and Europe in the 1990s. The solidarity economy is distinguished by its prioritization of people and the planet over endless profit and growth, and solidarity economy practices are grounded in principles such as participatory democracy, cooperative or public ownership, equity, pluralism (i.e., there’s no one-size-fits-all approach), and respect for the earth. A solidarity economy ecosystem might include community land trusts, cooperative housing, time banks, community fridges, barter networks, non-extractive lending, credit unions, worker-owned media, and so much more.
A concept first formally developed by MIT professor Jay Forrester in 1956 in response to traditional forms of scientific analysis in western academia, which tended to focus on isolated, individual pieces of a system. Forrester, understanding that no pieces of a system are truly ever isolated, encouraged folks to work to look at the whole picture and work to understand relationships between system components. Donella Meadows expanded upon the systems thinking framework in her book Thinking in Systems and other scholarship. Donella’s work focused on helping folks get to the root of complex environmental and social problems rather than attempting (and failing) to address the symptoms.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)
A body of knowledge, practices, and beliefs relating to local ecosystems, weather patterns, plant and animal behavior, sustainable resource management, and more, developed by Indigenous peoples over generations through close and sustained interactions with the environment, and passed down through storytelling, observation, and direct experience. TEK is deeply holistic and grounded in an understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence between all human and more-than-human kin. It is widely recognized as foundational to the preservation of biodiversity, climate change mitigation, adaptation, and justice, and the restoration of harmonious relationships within the natural world.
An organizing framework that has been popularized by organizations like Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Movement Generation defines translocal organizing as “autonomous and place-based organizing that is tied together across communities with a unifying vision, shared values, aligned strategies, and common frames. Through Translocal Organizing, we seek to build to scale not by creating larger and larger organizations with greater and greater concentrated power, but by aggregating to scale by uniting across places.” Translocal movements are leader-full, decentralized, and held together through dynamic webs of relationship.
A name often used by some Indigenous peoples to refer to the body of land now commonly known as North and Central America. The name comes from Indigenous oral histories that tell the story of a turtle that holds the world on its back.