by David N. Pellow

About David N. Pellow

David N. Pellow is Dehlsen Chair of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project at the University of California-Santa Barbara. His teaching and research focus on environmental and ecological justice in the United States and globally. He has served on the Boards of Directors for the Center for Urban Transformation, Greenpeace USA, and International Rivers.


The term “eco-terrorism” invites and courts confusion, misinterpretation, and misuse. It is a fine example of doublespeak, and is probably best thought of broadly as a terrain of power or, in a narrower vein, as one scholar writes, “nothing less than one vast attempt at control” (Gibbs 1989, 339). The term is believed to have been coined by anti-environmental activist Ron Arnold (Arnold 1983, 1997 [2010]), whose writings caught the attention of conservative media and political leaders who injected it into national and international discourses to exert greater control over a critical public policy issue, leading to hearings in the U.S. Congress and the passage of laws targeting eco-terrorism in most U.S. states and increasingly in other nations. Arnold famously defined “eco-terrorism” as a “crime committed to save nature” and is just one of many public voices that generally characterize “eco-terrorism” as any violent act against property or persons in the defense of a pro-environmental or animal-rights ideology. Many activists and scholars who are critical of this use of the term counter that rather than affixing this label to nonviolent activist movements seeking ecological sustainability and animal liberation, states and corporations that routinely harm ecosystems and nonhuman animals should be branded “eco-terrorists.” As animal liberation activist-scholar Steven Best (2004, 309) puts it, “It speaks volumes about capitalist society and its dominionist mindset that actions to ‘save nature’ are classified as criminal actions while those that destroy nature are sanctified by God and Flag.” Adding to the confusion, many scholars use the term “environmental terrorism” to describe unlawful actions taken by groups (presumably nonstate and noncorporate actors) to deliberately target and harm an ecological resource base needed to sustain a human population—a discourse with clear global applicability and implications (Chalecki 2002; Miller, Rivera, and Yelin 2008, 113).

About this Site

Keywords for Environmental Studies analyzes the central terms and debates currently structuring the most exciting research in and across environmental studies, including the environmental humanities, environmental social sciences, sustainability sciences, and the sciences of nature.


A book of this scope, exploring topics this complex and urgent, requires the time and effort of a great number of good-willed people if it is to be done well. All the contributors who accepted our invitations to write, and many other experts in their disciplinary fields who, for various reasons, could not accept our invitations, were generously willing to talk at length with us about the project. Each played a significant role in shaping the book by helping us construct an initial list of over 180 possible terms and then identify names of people qualified to write the essays. Later, they helped us decide how to narrow our list to sixty. We thank each of them for their time, expertise, and influence on our thinking, although all decisions on the final list of keywords were ours alone.


This volume creates a new “state of the field” inventory and analysis of the central terms and debates currently structuring the most exciting research in and across environmental studies, including the environmental humanities, environmental social science, sustainability sciences, and the sciences of nature. Inspired in part by Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s Keywords for American Cultural Studies, and linked to that volume through Vermonja Alston’s essay, “Environment,” which she revisits and expands here for Keywords for Environmental Studies, we, and each of our contributors, aim to show how, in its broadest sense, the term “environment” enables “a questioning of the relations of power, agency, and responsibility to human and nonhuman environments” (Alston 2007, 103).

Note on Classroom Use

Like the other volumes in the series, Keywords for Environmental Studies is designed for use in a broad range of teaching environments, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary. It can also be adapted for use at a variety of levels, from introductory undergraduate courses to graduate seminars. While every essay in the volume has been prepared by a field expert, they are all also written in clear prose crafted to be understood by non-experts.

Sample Discussion Questions

In our Note on Classroom Use, we outline a variety of ways you might use Keywords for Environmental Studies in the classroom, particularly in developing syllabi and formulating student activities and assignments. In what follows, we provide a broad range of sample discussion questions that you can use to stimulate student conversation and hopefully encourage action.