ISEE Glossary – E

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Ecological anthropology

The study of how human culture mediates human-environment interactions. Not only does culture influence the character of human contact with and affect upon the environment (land, climate, species), but the environment shapes culture (beliefs, traditions, organizations). The principle subdisciplines of contemporary ecological anthropology include cultural ecology, historical ecology, political ecology, spiritual ecology, and environmental anthropology.


In contrast to an anthropocentrism, an emphasis on the ecological point of view, frequently crediting ecological units of nature (rivers, species, communities, populations, ecosystems) with rights. Through metaphors like the “web of life,” the ecocentric approach tends to view ecological interactions holistically.


Primarily an inflammatory criticism of ecocentrism asserting that granting rights to ecological units of nature leads to the inappropriate sacrifice of the rights of the individual. As the term is an insult, the connection between ecocentrism and fascist societies—Nazi Germany in particular—is rarely explored. Rather, because supporters of German fascism exalted nature and the “Land” and the Nazi party tapped into this, or because Hitler was allegedly a vegetarian, animal lover, and supported organic farming, any environmental cause or ecocentric approach is bound to be fascist.

Ecological footprint

A spatial metaphor to communicate the total amount of resources required to produce and dispose of the goods and services of a particular lifestyle. An ecological footprint’s size is determined by calculating the amount of land needed for food production, housing, transportation, consumer goods, services, and so forth.


The doctrine or belief in the equality of humankind—morally, politically, economically, and socially. Biocentric egalitarianism extends this notion to confer intrinsic value on all living entities, human and nonhuman, sentient and non-sentient.

Embodied knowledge

Knowledge derived from the subjective experience of one’s own body as opposed to knowledge derived from objective, scientific understanding.

Emissions trading

A market-based response to pollution, emissions trading allows polluters to select cost-effective solutions to achieve specific emissions goals. The open-market trading system allows a polluter to earn emission rights by reducing its emissions to levels below an established standard. In a cap-and-trade system, the government determines an acceptable level of pollution (the “cap”) and then issues permits to pollute. Companies producing fewer emissions than allowed can sell or trade their excess capacity to others who might otherwise exceed the cap and incur a penalty.

Endangered species

Any species at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range if existing pressures persist. Such pressures include pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, and unsustainable exploitation. A related term, “threatened species,” refers to any species liable to become endangered in the near future.


Also known as the “Age of Reason,” an European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that emphasized the use of reason to critically inspect longstanding doctrines, traditions, and authorities of previous generations.

Environmental determinism

The largely discredited view that the physical environment, as opposed to social circumstances, wholly determines cultural characteristics. Environmental determinism has been associated with outdated racist theories that identify persons from tropical climates as inferior—tropical climates purportedly cause laziness and promiscuity—to those from northern climates: variability of weather in northern latitudes purportedly determines a strong work ethic.

Environmental literature

A diffuse, quickly evolving literary genre that includes nature writing, oral storytelling, and ecological fiction, drama, and poetry. It is not necessarily concerned with conservationist causes nor is it simply trying to solve environmental problems. Rather, environmental literature is about fundamental human attitudes about the nonhuman natural world and our experience of it. While such explorations may be critical, they may also be celebratory, inquisitive, or downright humorous.

Environmental racism

Deliberate or unintentional racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, enforcement of environmental regulations, the targeting of communities for the disposal of toxic wastes and siting of polluting industries, and the distribution of environmental amenities (parks, vistas, open spaces). Environmental justice is the movement to end environmental racism.


See local extinction.


The study of the relationship between people and plants including plant lore, agricultural customs, and the use of plants in medicines and artifacts (houses, storage, modes of transportation).


The conscious or unconscious practice of emphasizing the viewpoint of one’s ethnic group and interests over the viewpoint of other cultures. Such bias can lead to the evaluation of other cultures in terms of one’s own and perhaps even the belief that one’s culture is superior to others.


The process of nutrient enrichment (nitrogen and phosphorus), increased production of organic matter, and succeeding ecosystem degradation in a water body. In the United States nutrient enrichment is often the result of excess synthetic fertilizers on commercial farmland that gets into riverine systems and eventually into the ocean.


A broad philosophical movement emphasizing subjective choice over objective description, lived experience over abstract reasoning, individuality over mass culture, freedom over determinism, and authenticity over inauthenticity. Insofar as humans create value and meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe, existentialism may also stress one’s emotional reaction to such a realization: sadness, dread, or feelings of absurdity about life.

Extinct in the wild

A species whose only living members are in captivity or live as a naturalized population outside of their traditional range. Examples of species extinct in the wild include the Barbary Lion, Spix’s Macaw, the Hawaiian Crow, and the Wyoming Toad.

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