Definitions - b

Background Extinction Rate

The natural rate of extinction for a species. Contrasts sharply with Mass Extinction.

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Background Level

The average amount of a substance present in the environment. Originally referring to naturally occurring phenomena. Used in toxic substance monitoring.

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A pesticide used to control or destroy bacteria, typically in the home, schools, or hospitals.

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This is one of nature’s most sustainable resources, grown without pesticides or chemicals, 100% biodegradable and naturally regenerative. Bamboo is actually a tropical grass with an extensive root system that sends out an average of four to six new shoots per year, naturally replenishing itself and growing to heights of 60 feet or more. Some bamboo species grow up to four feet per day and can be harvested every three to four years. There are over 1,000 documented uses of bamboo, from furniture to ply boards that match the properties of conventional wood to a replacement for disposable plates and utensils.

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Barra System

The Barra system is a passive solar building technology developed by Horazio Barra in Italy. It uses a collector wall to capture solar radiation in the form of heat. It also uses the thermosiphon effect to distribute the warmed air through channels incorporated into the reinforced concrete floors, warming the floors and hence the building. Alternatively, in hot weather, cool nighttime air can be drawn through the floors to chill them in a form of air conditioning.

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Base Load

The average amount of electric power that a utility must supply in any period.

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Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is an international agreement governing the handling of hazardous and other wastes.

Signed by 172 nations, the Convention has been in force since 1992 and makes it illegal to ship hazardous or landfill waste from one country for in another. It does not cover waste designated for recycling, which can be exported for processing abroad.

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Baseline Emissions

The emissions that would occur without policy intervention (in a business-as-usual scenario). Baseline estimates are needed to determine the effectiveness of emissions reduction programs (often called mitigation strategies).

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Benefical Organism

In agriculture and gardening, a beneficial organism is any organism that benefits the growing process, including insects, arachnids, other animals, plants, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes. Benefits include pest control, pollination, and maintenance of soil health. The opposite of beneficial organisms are pests, which are organisms deemed detrimental to the growing process.

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A toxic, six-carbon aromatic component of gasoline. A known carcinogen.

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A metal hazardous to human health when inhaled as an airborne pollutant. It is discharged by machine shops, ceramic and propellant plants, and foundries.

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Betz Coefficient

59.3 percent - the theoretical maximum efficiency at which a wind generator can operate, by slowing the wind down. If the wind generator slows the wind down too much, air piles up in front of the blades and is not used for extracting energy.

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Substances that increase in concentration in living organisms as they take in contaminated air, water, or food because the substances are very slowly metabolized or excreted.

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A study of a living organism to measure the effect of a substance, factor, or condition.

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Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. The resulting charcoal-like material can be used as a soil improver to create terra preta, and is a form of carbon capture and storage. Charcoal is a stable solid and rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil. Biochar is of increasing interest because of concerns about mitigation of global warming being caused by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Wikipedia Entry

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The accumulation of a chemical in tissues of an organism to levels greater than in the environment in which the organism lives.

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Using natural means like predators to control pests, like growing ginger to repel snails and slugs and nasturtiums to ward off aphids, which are also food for ladybugs and lacewing moths. Goldfish placed in water storage containers eat incoming mosquitoes.

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Material that can be broken down into simpler substances (elements and compounds) by bacteria or other decomposers. Paper and most organic wastes such as animal manure are biodegradable.

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Biodegradable Pollutants

Pollutants that are capable of decomposing under natural conditions.

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Biodiesel is an alternative fuel produced from renewable resources such as plant oils, animal fats, used cooking oil, and new sources such as algae. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but can be combined in any quantity with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. Biodiesel blends can be used in most "compression-ignition" (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics (the "diesel" odor). (Biodiesel is not raw vegetable oil.)

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In an ecosystem, variability among living organisms from all sources, sometimes measured by the total number of species or other taxonomic groupings, and their relative abundances.

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Biodynamic Argiculture

A type of organic farming founded by Rudolf Steiner. It advocates treating a farm or garden as a unified ecological system, the use of mixtures of fermented herbs and minerals as soil additives, and following an astronomical calendar for planting and sowing.

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A biofuel produced by the fermentation of plants rich in sugar/starch (e.g. sugar cane, corn).

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Population of various microrganisms, trapped in a layer of slime and excretion products, attached to a surface.

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Gas or liquid fuel made from plant material (biomass). Includes wood, wood waste, wood liquors, peat, railroad ties, wood sludge, spent sulfite liquors, agricultural waste, straw, tires, fish oils, tall oil, sludge waste, waste alcohol, municipal solid waste, landfill gases, other waste, and ethanol blended into motor gasoline.

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A gas fuel sourced from the decomposition of waste, converting what would be waste and potent greenhouse gases into an energy source.

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Biogeochemical Cycle

Global warming is the name given to the theory that there is increase in the average temperature of the Earth surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century and its projected continuation.

The exact mechanism of warming is not precisely understood, although it is strongly suspected that Greenhouse gases are to blame, as increasing concentrations of such gases help trap heat in the atmosphere and so raise mean temperatures.

Wikipedia Entry

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Biological Oxygen Demand

Amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic decomposers to break down the organic materials in a given volume of water at a certain temperature over a specified time period.

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Biological Pest Control

a method of controlling pests (including insects, mites, weeds and plant diseases) that relies on predation, parasitism, herbivory, or other natural mechanisms.

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Biological Treatment

Technology that uses bacteria to consume waste/ organic materials.

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The cumulative increase in the concentrations of a persistent substance in successively higher levels of the food chain.

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Total dry weight of all living organisms that can be supported at each tropic level in a food chain.

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Biomass Energy

Energy produced by combusting biomass materials such as wood. The carbon dioxide emitted from burning biomass will not increase total atmospheric carbon dioxide if this consumption is done on a sustainable basis (i.e., if in a given period of time, regrowth of biomass takes up as much carbon dioxide as is released from biomass combustion). Biomass energy is often suggested as a replacement for fossil fuel combustion.

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Entire community of living organisms in a single major ecological area.

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The action of light on a biological system that results in the dissociation of a substrate, usually water, to produce hydrogen.

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The living and non-living components and processes of the ecosphere. Biophysical measurements of nature quantify the ecosphere in physical units such as cubic metres, kilograms or joules.

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The business practice of patenting seeds and other indigenously grown agricultural products.

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An area comprising a natural ecological community and bounded by natural borders.

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A process using organisms to remove or neutralise contaminants (e.g. petrol), mostly in soil or water.

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Nutrient-rich organic materials derived from waste water solids (sewage sludge) that have been stabilised through processing.

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In essence the Biosphere is all the ecosystems that exist in a planet. Including how they interact, evolve and change over time.

Wikipedia Entry

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Bioswales are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. They consist of a swaled drainage course with gently sloped sides (less than six percent) and filled with vegetation, compost and/or riprap. The water's flow path, along with the wide and shallow ditch, is designed to maximize the time water spends in the swale, which aids the trapping of pollutants and silt. Depending upon the geometry of land available, a bioswale may have a meandering or almost straight channel alignment. Biological factors also contribute to the breakdown of certain pollutants.

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The plant and animal life of a region or area.

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Technology that use living organisms to produce products such as medicines, to improve plants or animals, or to produce microorganisms for bioremediation.

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Conversion of a substance into other compounds by organisms; including biodegradation.

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Bisphenol-a (BPA) is an industrial chemical best known for making polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Found in hard plastic water bottles and baby bottles, in coatings inside metal food and drink cans, and in paints, adhesives, dental sealants, computers, and other products. BPA is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that, in tests on animals, has been shown to interfere with the reproductive system.

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Black Body

In theory, a body that absorbs and emits 100% of the electromagnetic radiation that strikes it and therefore appears black. Graphite comes close, with all but 3% absorption.

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Wastewater generated by toilets.

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Bladder Tank

A bladder tank is basically a 'bag' made from reinforced PVC tarpaulin to hold water. These are often used under houses or buildings in the sub floor space to store rain water for use with irrigation or general water supply (such as for flushing toilets or washing clothes). Sizes vary from as little as 2000 litres up to 5000 litres

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Bleached Board

A wood product used for printed and graphically enhanced card stock, books, and packaging such as food cartons, microwave trays, beverages, candy, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and consumer electronic items. Pollutants, such as dioxins and furans, can result from processes that use chlorine in the manufacture of bleached board.

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Bliss Point

In the formulation of food products, the bliss point is the amount of an ingredient such as salt, sugar, or fat which optimizes palatability. 

Pioneering work on the bliss point was carried out by American market researcher and psycho-physicist Howard Moskowitz, known for his successful work in product creation and optimization for foods ranging from spaghetti sauce to soft drinks. Moskowitz describes the bliss point as "that sensory profile where you like food the most".

The bliss point is now extensively used by the food manufacturing business to maximize the tendency for certain foods to be habit forming or 'addictive' in their appeal.

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Blown In Insulation

There are numerous ways to add a layer of insulation between your interior living spaces and the outside world. Blown-in insulation (also called blown-in batt) is composed of loose insulating fibers such as fiberglass, foam, or cellulose. While rolled or batt insulation might leave voids through which air can pass, blown-in types tend to fill all crevices, making it a more energy-efficient choice.

Blown-in insulation is generally installed by a professional.

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Body Burden

The amount of a chemical stored in the body at a given time, especially a potential toxin in the body as the result of exposure.

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Northern; cold temperate Northern Hemisphere forests that grow where there is a mean annual temperature < 0°C.

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Any exploratory hole drilled into the Earth or ice to gather geophysical data.

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The chemical element commonly used as the dopant in a solar photovoltaic device or cell material.

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Bottle Bank

Containers meant to receive beverage bottles which people drop off to be recycled.

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Box Schemes

Boxes of locally grown or organic food and produce, delivered to people's houses.

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Brackish Water

Mixed fresh and salt water.

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Brakedrum Windmill

A home-built wind generator design by Hugh Piggott of Scotland.

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Breakpoint Chlorination

Addition of chlorine to water until there is enough chlorine present for disinfection of water.

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Bright Green

Term coined by World-changing writer Alex Steffen to refer to those who believe the way to achieve sustainability is through technological innovation. As opposed to dark greens and light greens.

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Brominated Flame Retardants

Chemicals added to plastics, textiles, furniture foam and padding, and other products to prevent them from catching fire. BFRs, as they are known, are long-lived poisons that build up in fat. In animal studies, they have been linked to hormonal and neurological disorders.

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Brown Goods

Obsolete electronic products, such as radios and televisions.

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Brown Search

A brown search refers to the act of looking for information on recycling and sustainability on the internet. Most 'green' search engines are also able to perform this function as they will index such sites (as the EcoWho search engine does).

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A plant cultivated for its triangular grains, which are protected by a hull. This crop is generally grown without herbicides and pesticides.

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Building Envelope

The entire perimeter of a building enclosed by its roof, walls and foundation. Properly designed, the envelope can minimize temperature gain or loss and moisture infiltration.

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Building Orientation

Building Orientation refers to positioning of a property or building with respect to the Sun, usually done to maximize solar gain at the appropriate time of year when required. This is to reduce heating costs and improve quality of living in the property concerned.

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Building Paper

Also called building felt or housewrap; used in the construction of frame houses to block drafts and moisture. Building paper is applied in layers over a house’s walls and sheathing, with the top courses overlapping the bottom courses so that water drains off the wall.

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Building-Related Illness

Serious and diagnosable health conditions, usually of the respiratory system, that can be attributed to specific air quality problems within a building.

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The accidental harvest of one organism instead of another, such as crustaceans caught in shrimp trawls and dolphins trapped instead of tuna.

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Click on a letter to see all the terms and definitions that begin with that letter.

A free Android app containing all these definitions is now available, called the Green Dictionary. Click here to see the entry on the Android market; or click here if on an Android phone.