What is Environmental Law?

Humanity has been aware of its environment far longer than there have been laws to protect environments. Environmental law, or sometimes known as environmental and natural resources law, is a term used to explain regulations, statutes, local, national and international legislation, and treaties designed to protect the environment from damage and to explain the legal consequences of such damage towards governments or private entities or individuals . As we will explain in the next section, it covers many areas, all with the same purpose already described here. However, the term “environmental law” does not just cover government legislation. It can also describe a desire by businesses and other organizations, and their regulators to work towards improving ethical principles by setting regulation and industry standards for operating licenses. These are not “laws” per se but act as such within a regulatory framework. It can also apply a method of land management on a kind of understanding of acting responsibly and ethically.

Useful Environmental Law Terms

Abatement: The process of reducing the quantity, intensity, or saturation of a pollutant or other harmful substance by way of treatment.

Acidification: Reducing the pH rating of a substance making it more acidic in nature, for example, increased carbon emissions lead to the oceans absorbing more of it, increasing acidification and damaging ecology such as coral bleaching.

Active ingredient: Also used in medicine, the “active ingredient” in a chemical compound is the one that has the intended effect. In medicinal use, it’s the substance that attacks the bacteria/virus/tumor. In pesticide use, it’s the substance that kills or repels pests.

Air emissions: Any gas emitted into the atmosphere from industrial or commercial activity. Typically used in conjunction with “greenhouse gas” but some emissions are not GHGs.

Biodegradable: Used to describe substances and the ability of microorganisms (bacteria, algae) to break it down.

Biodiversity: The range of species in an ecology, examining population numbers of each species, number of species, the balance between predator and prey, and the food chain.

Biomass: The sum total of vegetation in a given ecological area.

Brownfields site: Land that has been developed in the past but is now underused or disused (3). In some cases, they are risky due to potential contamination that may require investigation and treatment before construction or to simply protect the local environment.

Catalyst: A chemical compound that alters another to render it inert, less harmful, or less intense without removing some of its parts – usually adding to it.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): A group of inert chemical used in many industrial and everyday processes such as our refrigerators that are not broken down at lower atmospheric levels and rise to the upper levels, destroying ozone.

Climate change: The process by which the climate changes due to “forcings”. These can be natural events or, as is the case at present, the result of industrial age actions in increasing greenhouse gases and reducing carbon sinks.

Commercial Waste: Any waste material produced as a byproduct of commercial or industrial activity.

Conservation: The preservation or restoration of a natural environment for the social, ecological, or even economical benefit. For example, a program of river conservation will increase biodiversity while making the surrounding environment and people who live there healthier.

Decontamination: The removal of toxic or other harmful substances from an environment. The substance may be harmful to wildlife, people, biodiversity or the overall ecology.

Drainage: The process of removing excess moisture from land – typically wetlands or saturated agricultural land.

Dredging: The removal of silt, mud, or other sold material from the bed of a body of water. Too much of this material can cause flooding.

Emission: Any pollutant discharged into the atmosphere that will contribute to overall chemical change as it will not be broken down or otherwise removed.

Endangered species: Any species whose numbers and diversity is so low that they are at danger of becoming extinct.

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