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I want to ask a question about the use of the words "medioambiental" and "ambiental".

The only difference between the words is the use of "medio" ahead of "ambiental" but they are used in different contexts as shown below:

Por tanto, es necesario encontrar una alternativa de proteína de alta calidad económicamente viable y con un impacto medioambiental menor.

followed by

Los mejores candidatos son los insectos ... su producción genera menos contaminantes ambientales.

From what I can infer, both are adjectives that translate to "environmental" but I can't seem to work out why they are used differently here in these two situations.

My thoughts were that "medioambiental" referred to environment as an entity of nature and "ambiental" was related to the ecological structure of the environment, but I was still unsure.

What are the different functions for "medioambiental" and "ambiental"?

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The word "medioambiental" refers to the environment as an entity of nature. It comes from "medio ambiente", which literally would be "the medium that surrounds us".

The word "ambiental" has a broader meaning, and can refer to other types of environments. For example, "música ambiental" is soft music that is used to create an atmosphere.

When referring to the environment in nature, both "ambiental" and "medioambiental" can be used. "Medioambiental" is more precise, but an article about the environment will need more than one different word to avoid too much repetition. In your two sentences, any of the two words would be fine. But you could not say música medioambiental.

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Ambiente is a very general word, as Wimi stated, and can be used for a room, an atmosphere, or even climate, as in "ambiente político" or "ambiente económico". So used alone, it leaves a serious ambiguity, but in the context of medio ambiente it can be used without the specifier. "Medio ambiente", although it is also a rather general term, refers almost exclusively to the "environment" (and it is not a bad translation!), conjuring images of virgin Patagonia or Amazonian rainforest, maybe even of the Great Outback or Antarctica.

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