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Social Justice Terms A-K|Service, Leadership & Community Engagement

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Need some help with definitions of hip social justice terms?

This glossary is intended to help keep you informed about terms related to social justice issues. To see the list of words L-Z click here.

- A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L-Z -

A - Back to Top ↑

Absolute/Extreme Poverty - The point at which you are unable to achieve the lowest level of resources necessary for survival including food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare. The World Bank defines this as $1 a day or less; 21% of the world population lives below this level.

Activism - Living or acting in accordance with a strongly held belief or cause in order to bring about change. For campus activism resources see

Activist - A person who works to bring about social change through action.

African Union (AU) - The AU is an intergovernmental organization of 52 African countries that work to represent member nations' interests on an international scale and tackle regional problems. Learn more at

Alternative Energy - Energy from largely renewable sources that is intended to avoid the negative effects of current fossil fuel use.

Amnesty - More than just forgiveness, amnesty makes past crimes disappear from all records restoring the accused to full innocence.

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Biodegradable - Things that will decompose naturally and won't stick around in a landfill or on the side of the road forever.

Biodiversity - The differences in the Earth's living things especially the number of different species. Highly diverse ecosystems are resistant to disturbance, more productive, and interconnected. For some of the world's most biologically diverse ecosystems see

Biofuel - Fuel that is made up of organic, biological matter. It is renewable, unlike fossil fuels, and can be made from plant biomass or treated waste.

Biomass - The total amount of living matter in a group (habitat, sample, population, etc.) or what biofuel is made out of. (See Biofuel.)

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Capitalism - An economic and social system in which capital (the means of production) is privately controlled (rather than by the government). Labor, goods, and capital are traded in markets and profits distributed to owners or invested in technologies and industries.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - A greenhouse gas which is produced through respiration, burning fossil fuels, decomposition, etc. CO2 is believed to be the main contributor to human-caused climate change.

Carbon Footprint - Your personal contribution to climate change as a result of the emissions produced in daily life (electricity use, transportation, etc.) Find out how much greenhouse gas you produce here:

Carbon Sequestration - Storing CO2 in places other than the atmosphere (most likely underground) in an effort to mitigate climate change. Large scale sequestration has yet to be attempted or achieved.

Charity - When people give money or resources to support others in need, while expecting nothing in return.

Civic Engagement - The desire and/or will to make a difference in society and the active pursuit of gaining the skills and knowledge to make that difference.

Civic Literacy - The knowledge and ability to meaningfully participate in community, politics, etc.

Communism - In modern usage, communism is often used to refer to the policies of the various communist states which had government ownership of all the means of production and centrally planned economies. Communist regimes have historically been authoritarian, repressive, and coercive governments concerned primarily with preserving their own power. Political theory describes communism as a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general.

Composting - Putting aside all your biodegradable waste to slowly decompose into rich, usable soil. You can add your waste to the pile at ACRES student farm at UW. Learn more here: UW ACRES Student Farm.

Conservation - A way of life that focuses on maintaining the health of the natural world. This can include materials conservation, energy conservation, and biodiversity conservation.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - When corporations self-regulate their business practices to uphold ethical, environmental, and legal standards. To see what businesses are up to visit:

Craftivism - Crafts & Activism; Crafting communities and/or individuals use their art to advocate change.

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Deforestation - The process of clearing natural forests through logging or burning caused by industries such as agribusiness, timber, biofuel, urban sprawl, and grazing operations. Worldwide deforestation leads to habitat loss and species extinction, desertification, destruction of indigenous communities, and is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more at

Democracy - A political government either carried out by the people (direct democracy), or the power to govern is granted to elected representatives (republicanism). These terms do not have direct correlations to the terms Democrat or Republican. The United States is considered a Democratic Republic, with every citizen having the ability to vote and play a part in the political system, but also with representatives for the people in Federal government (congress).

Democrat - A member of the Democratic Party, the center-left member of the two largest political parties in the United States. (See Republican.)

Depression/Recession - A period during which production, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, investment spending, household incomes, and business profits, fall. Depression last longer and are more severe than recessions.

Desertification - The rapid loss of moisture and soil productivity that results from the removal of vegetation. In this scenario, once fertile areas become deserts.

Developing Countries - The World Bank considers all low and middle income countries as "developing" countries.

Diplomacy - The art of negotiation and alliance between representatives of different communities.

Double Bottom-Line - Combining the traditional "bottom-line" (profit) with a goal of social responsibility.

DR-CAFTA - A free trade agreement passed in 2004 that eliminates barriers to trade and investment between the United States, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

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Eco-minded - Keeping in mind the full and long term environmental impacts of your daily life and seeking to lessen their effect.

Eco-refugee - People who are forced to leave their homeland because of an environmental crisis such as desertification, deforestation, or climate change including flooding.

Ecosystem - A group of living things that share the same habitat and are dependent on each other.

Emissions - The byproducts emitted from a process, such as pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Environmentalism - A philosophy and social movement focusing on how humans can improve the state of the environment and prevent degradation of species and ecosystems.

Ethanol - Ethanol just means pure alcohol. This alcohol, made from plants like corn, grain and switch grass can be used as a fuel to replace or supplement other liquid fuels like gasoline.

Ethical Consumerism - Making an effort to purchase and support products that make the world better rather than worse. (See Fair Trade.)

European Union (EU) - A political and economic community of 27 European nations established in 1993 and designed to work toward continual integration of the region and whose regional market generates 30% of Nominal Gross World Product.

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Fair Trade - A system of trade that includes fair prices, fair labor conditions, direct trade (little to no middlemen), and sets a standard for transparency. Fair trade is intended to support community and environmental development. If products meet certain qualifications in all these areas, they can be Fair Trade Certified by Transfair. (See Transfair.)

Federal Reserve (The Fed) - The Federal Reserve Bank is America's central bank that manipulates the money supply in pursuit of economic stability, employment, low inflation, and reasonable interest rates, and also monitors and oversees the practices of banks nationwide. More information about the Fed's history and purpose is available at:

First World - Rich, Western nations, originally distinguished from the Communist, Eastern Second World (now defunct), and the poorer majority nations of the "Global South." (See Global South, and Third World.)

Fossil Fuels - Energy sources derived from the organic remains of long dead creatures such as oil, coal, and natural gas that produce high amounts of pollution and greenhouse gasses when burned.

Free Trade - Sometimes confused with Fair Trade, free trade is a type of trade policy that allows traders to act and transact without interference from government (usually in the form of regulations, quotas, and tariffs). Neoliberal economic theory advocates this type of trade as the most economically efficient, but critics argue that some level of trade protectionism is necessary to prevent capitalism from exploiting people and natural resources for higher profits.

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G20 (Developing Nations) - An organization of 20 countries that represent the developing nations, which make up 60% of the world's population and have 70% of its farmers and are therefore advocates of agricultural justice and global human rights.

G20 (Largest Economies) - A group of the largest economies in the world. Known as the G20, they comprise 80% of world trade.

G4 - A bloc of the leading developing economies made up of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa that leads the G20 group of nations. Alternatively, G4 can also refer to the agreement between Brazil, Japan, Germany, and India to support each other's bid for permanent spots on the UN Security Council.

G8 - The G8 is an organization of eight countries that, at the time of its creation in 1975, were the most industrialized democracies in the world. It consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the US. The G8 meets annually to discuss issues of mutual and global concern, such as trade, health, security, and energy. Many believe, however, that these discussions are irrelevant without the participation of economic giants like China, India, and Brazil.

Gender - The socially constructed roles, behaviors, attitudes, and attributes of masculinity and femininity, distinct from biological sex.

Genocide - The UN defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Geothermal - Power from the heat stored in the Earth used throughout human existence for heat, cooking, and bathing, that can now be harnessed for energy production.

GLBTQ (also LGBTQ) - A term that encompasses the following: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and questioning. For a list of terms related to sexual orientation and gender go here:

Global Climate Change/Global Warming - A natural and human-caused process resulting from the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that trap the sun's warmth and alter the temperature and processes of climate on a global scale. Scientists predict that climate change will result in multiple extinctions, massive flooding, and other major changes to habitats and resources worldwide. This includes possible catastrophic human loss.

Global South - Term that draws attention to the fact that many of the poorest nations in the world are concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere.

Global Warming - (See Global Climate Change.)

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) - Living things who's DNA has been changed by scientists to achieve a particular result, like redder tomatoes or higher-yield grains/rice.

Government - An institution created by communities with the power to pass and enforce law. It is generally believed that government has an obligation to protect its citizens from many types of danger or want in return for this power.

Grassroots Organizing - The natural and often spontaneous uniting of people within a community to achieve a common goal.

Green Power - Power fueled by sustainable/renewable and typically natural sources, such as wind, sun, etc.

Greenhouse Effect - The process of warming the planet by means of trapping incoming solar radiation.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - The market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of a country in a year. It is often correlated with the standard of living, though this has come under increasing criticism and many countries are actively exploring alternative measures to GDP for that purpose.

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HIV/AIDS - A disease spread primarily through sexual contact which kills humans by eliminating their immune system, thus allowing a smaller illness to overcome them. HIV/AIDS is responsible for a large number of deaths in Third World countries due to a lack of sex education.

Human Rights - As presented by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Hydropower - Electricity created by the movement of water through turbines, such as in a dam.

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) - The International Monetary Fund oversees the global financial system and stabilizes trade and currency exchange worldwide in addition to offering loans to developing nations in return for concessions like privatization of markets and infrastructure development. (See Washington Consensus.)

Inflation - A rise in the general level of prices for goods and services in an economy over a period of time.

Internally Displaced Person (IDP) - People who have to leave their homes due to war, disaster, persecution, or human rights violations, but never leave their home nation. There are an estimated 24.5 million IDPs worldwide, though this number fluctuates daily. For a list of current figures and estimates on IDPs see:

International Law - The systems and agreements that bind sovereign states into a global community and govern their actions.

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Kyoto Protocol - A treaty that assigns mandatory limitations on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the signing nations. As of September 2011, 191 states have signed and ratified the protocol. The most notable non-member of the Kyoto Protocol is the United States, which is a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and was responsible for 36.1% of the 1990 emission levels. In December of 2011 Canada formally withdrew from the protocol.

L-Z - Back to Top ↑

For terms L-Z please click here.

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