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Topic 8 – Environment and Society. A – Environmental Perception and Concern B – Environmental Impacts of Human Activities. A. Environmental Perception and Concern. 1. Historical Changes 2. Environmental Movements (1960s and 1970s) 3. Environmental Retreat (1980s)

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Topic 8 – Environment and Society

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Topic 8 – Environment and Society

A – Environmental Perception and Concern

B – Environmental Impacts of Human Activities

A. Environmental Perception and Concern

  • 1. Historical Changes

  • 2. Environmental Movements (1960s and 1970s)

  • 3. Environmental Retreat (1980s)

  • 4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • 5. Current Perspective: Reality Check

1. Historical Changes

  • Western perspective

    • Nature as adversary, something that had to be overcome.

    • Pronounced man/nature dichotomy.

    • Attitudes towards unrestrained exploitation of natural resources.

    • No sense of limits in terms of capacity.

    • Often supported by religious beliefs, particularly Christianity.

  • Non-Western societies

    • Lower technology levels and different attitudes prevailed.

    • Man / nature symbiolism.

    • Modernization changed the relationship.



Technological Changes and Environment Relationships

Climate Change and the Collapse of Civilizations

1. Historical Changes

  • Preservation vs. conservation dichotomy

    • Preservation:

      • Focused on the maintenance of wilderness.

      • Any use of the resources contained therein would negate the continued existence of the wilderness itself.

      • Low impact tourism often permitted.

    • Conservation:

      • Favors resource management.

      • Preventing rampant exploitation but allowing some development to occur.

      • Difficult to assess the right level of resource exploitation (non-renewable resources).



1. Historical Changes

  • Early conservation movements

    • In Europe, early conservation movements were the preserve of the elite.

    • Mainly hunting grounds in large private estates.

    • Helped to preserve many species in Europe that would otherwise have disappeared.

  • National parks

    • First was Yosemite (1864).

    • Protection of one or several ecosystems from human exploitation or alteration.

    • Protected by the highest authority in the country.

    • Visitors must respect a set of rules and regulations.

2. Environmental Movements (1960s and 1970s)

2. Environmental Movements (1960s and 1970s)

  • Legislations

    • Regulatory laws were passed in the USA and elsewhere.

    • Enforcement agencies were created:

      • EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the USA was created in the early 1970s.

      • Most states created their own environmental protection agencies.

    • Legislation was passed to help correct environmental hazards already created.

    • Prevent additional problems from arising.

    • Air quality improved in many areas; cleaner water reappeared.

2. Environmental Movements (1960s and 1970s)

  • Environmentalism and the global crisis

    • Carried the roots of environmentalism beyond local and national scales to the global scale.

    • Transnational dimensions of many environmental problems:

      • Many environmental problems do not recognize boundaries.

      • Acid rain in Western Europe (Sweden) and North America.

    • First UN Conference on the Human Environment:

      • Stockholm, 1972.

      • Creation of the UN Environmental Programme.

    • Rise of the neo-Malthusian perspective:

      • Rising concern over population growth.

      • Formation of the Club of Rome (1968).

      • Publication of the Limits to Growth (1972); First Oil Shock (1973).

      • Emergence of ZPG approach.

      • All those concerns turned out to be unfounded.

3. Environmental Retreat (1980s)

  • Retreat

    • Retreat for the environmental movement in the USA.

    • The Oil Shocks (1973, 1979) helped weaken public support for environmental programs.

    • Conservative agenda of de-regulation.

    • Shift to a conservation approach:

      • National Forests.

      • Clearcutting regulations were weakened.

      • Easier exploitation by timber companies, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

      • Expand drilling into several protected areas.

3. Environmental Retreat (1980s)

  • Creation of a sustainable development ideology

    • Carbon Dioxide was found to cause global warming (1983).

    • A hole in the ozone layer was found over the Antarctic (1985).

    • Brundtland Report “Our Common Future”:

      • Sustainable is used for the first time.

      • Maintenance of life support systems.

      • Working to reduce the threats to those systems represented by erosion, pollution, deforestation, etc.

      • Preservation of genetic diversity.

      • Providing us with insurance for the future by guarding against the ravages of crop diseases.

      • Investment for future crop-breeding or pharmaceutical development.

      • Sustainable development of species and ecosystems

3. Environmental Retreat (1980s)

  • Environmental ethics

    • “We have not inherited the earth from our parents; we have borrowed it from our children.”

    • Development is often viewed in materialistic terms.

    • Focusing on resource utility through conservation.

    • Environmentalism as an elitist attitude intended to prevent development in the South.

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • UN World Conference on Environment and Development

    • Rio de Janeiro (1992):

      • Largest such gathering ever (100 heads of state).

      • Placed the environmental agenda at the center of the world stage.

      • Development made possible by the end of the Cold War.

      • Establish “Agenda 21”, a blueprint for action.

    • Europe and Japan:

      • World leaders in environmental affairs.

    • USA:

      • Role of obstructionist.

      • Objected to any negative references concerning consumption patterns in the developed countries.

      • Had the most to lose.

Average Temperature at the Earth's Surface and World Carbon Emissions From Fossil Fuel Burning, 1880-2002

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • Factors of global change

    • Changes in the earth’s orbit:

      • Ice ages linked with orbital changes and the earth’s tilt.

    • Changes in the sun’s intensity:

      • Slight fluctuations.

    • Volcanic eruptions:

      • Carbon Dioxide and aerosols into the atmosphere.

    • Changes in greenhouse gas concentrations.

    • Changes in ocean currents.

Estimated Climate Factors Change, 1850-2000 (in watts/m2)

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • The Rio Declaration (1992)

    • “development must occur on a sustainable basis to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

    • Lack of detail and no operational aspects are considered.

    • Have relatively little meaning.

  • Global Warming Treaty

    • “Stabilization of the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level which would prevent dangerous interference with climate systems.”

    • Lacks a specific timetable for decreasing emissions.

    • No mandatory maximum levels for emissions.

    • Most countries endorsed guidelines to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • Biodiversity Convention (1992)

    • Guarantees the protection and conservation of plant and animal species threatened with extinction.

    • Declares who has the right to develop and market products based on such species.

    • The USA opposed this treaty (biotechnology sector).

Countries Having Ratified the Biodiversity Convention, 2004

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • Agenda 21(Blueprint for Action)

    • Commitment to sustainable development through a set of four program areas.

    • 1) Promoting sustainable development through trade.

    • 2) Making trade and environment mutually supportive.

    • 3) Providing adequate financial resources to developing countries:

      • Committed to 0.7% of GNP.

      • Currently stands at around 0.5% of GNP for most European countries, Canada, and Japan.

      • Just 0.25% for the USA.

    • 4) Encouraging economic policies conducive to sustainable development

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • Kyoto Protocol (1997)

    • The Global Warming Treaty was not working.

    • 2000 goals would not achieved.

    • High profile meeting in Kyoto in 1997.

    • 160 nations formally adopted the protocol:

      • Legally committing industrial countries do reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions.

      • Reduce climate-altering gases by 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

    • Developing countries, mainly China and India, objected:

      • Meeting the target would cripple their economies leaning on coal.

      • Developing countries were thus exempted.

      • Seriously undermines the potential effectiveness of the protocol.

Countries Having Ratified the Kyoto Protocol, 2004

Characteristics of the Kyoto Protocol

Total Carbon Emissions, 1900-1999 (in millions of tons)

Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions, 1995

4. Environmental Globalism (1990s)

  • Major environmental treaties

    • 1959 Washington: Antarctic Treaty

    • 1963 Moscow: Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

    • 1971 Ramsar: Wetlands of International Importance

    • 1972 London: Ocean Dumping & Biological Weapons

    • 1973 Washington: Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

    • 1978 London: Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

    • 1979 Bonn: Migratory Species

    • 1982 Montego Bay: Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

    • 1985 Vienna: Ozone Layer

    • 1987 Montreal: Ozone Layer

    • 1989 Basel: Transboundary Hazardous Waste

    • 1992 Rio: Climate Change & Biodiversity

    • 1997 Kyoto: Climate Change

5. Current Perspective: Reality Check

  • Perspective

    • Low or over valuation of the environment:

      • Consumers and environmental radicals.

    • Maximization of wealth and risk taking.

    • No limits to growth and problems can be overcome by technology.

    • Short term perspective.

    • Ostrich's approach?

  • Environmental divide

    • Between developing and developed countries.

    • Between Europe and the United States.

    • Economic growth becomes the dominant paradigm.

    • Clashes: Seattle (1999).

5. Current Perspective: Reality Check

  • Dependency

    • Societies are caught in the requirements they have created:

      • Economic growth.

      • Standard of living.

      • Mobility.

  • Shift of emphasis

    • Adaptation, more than prevention.

    • Cope with the consequences of GW instead of dealing with the sources.

Environmental Perception: Who Cares?

Very Important


Global Warming

Some Importance


Little Importance

No Importance

Air pollution


Hazardous materials





Next Generation

5. Current Perspective: Reality Check

  • Environmentalism = Fascism?

    • Irrationalism and fear mongering:

      • Self-righteousness and hatred of different ideas.

      • Moral decay: use of violence, deception and bio-terrorism to achieve goals.

    • Science is less part of the agenda:

      • Replaced by ideology and dogmatism.

    • Environmentalism vs rights and freedom:

      • Takes away private property rights and freedom.

      • The goal is socialism / communism and control of the population.

      • They know best and you should be coerced to adopt their strategies.

5. Current Perspective: Reality Check

  • Biocentrism:

    • Assume an intrinsic value to nature.

    • Human beings are less important (no or less intrinsic value) than nature.

    • Humans as evil and vermin (cancer) that implicitly should be exterminated (for the sake of significant reduction in numbers).

    • Undermines human rights, freedom and dignity.

  • Issues:

    • Should we follow the policies of those whom at start have an implicit hatred of human beings and technology?

    • The environmental movement as the philosophic enemy of the human race?

B. Environmental Impacts of Human Activities

  • 1. Driving Forces

  • 2. The Vicious Circle

  • 3. The Ecological Footprint

1. Driving Forces

  • Context

    • Demographic growth.

    • Growing size (scale) of societies and communities.

    • Urbanization.

    • Technological development.

    • Development failures.

    • Larger levels of personal consumption.

    • Higher generation of wastes:

      • Several are difficult to be absorbed.

  • Growing impacts on the environment

1. Driving Forces

  • Population change

    • A world of 6.3 billion “consumers”.

    • Each addition of consumers generate more pressures on:

      • Food.

      • Water.

      • Energy.

      • Raw materials.

      • Space.

    • Comparable negative impact on the environment.

    • What will be the impacts of about 9 billion consumers by 2050?

1. Driving Forces

  • Promotion of economic growth

    • Market economies are based on economic expansion:

      • Growth of production (supply).

      • Growth of consumption (demand).

    • Issue reinforced by globalization.

    • Governments try to reinforce economic growth:

      • Elected for such a purpose.

      • Reversed if they “mismanage” the economy.

    • Consequences:

      • Depletion of nonrenewable resources.

      • Overuse of renewable resources.

      • Between 1995 and 1998 the world’s economic output exceeded the output from the beginning of history to 1900.

1. Driving Forces

  • Culture and belief systems

    • Consumerism incarnates materialistic values in human behavior.

    • Fulfillment derived from the accumulation of goods.

    • Becoming the dominant global social paradigm.

    • Positive outcomes:

      • Expands the demand side of the market economy.

      • Forces constant innovations by entrepreneurs to satisfy the market.

      • Improve standards of living (luxuries becoming staples).

    • Negative outcomes:

      • Cultural vacuum.

      • Wants become needs (“keeping up with the Joneses”).

      • Misallocation of capital.

Fulfillment Curve

Other means







1. Driving Forces

  • Technology

    • Population growth, economic growth and consumerism existed, to various degrees, before the industrial revolution.

    • Multiplying effects:

      • Technological growth often the result of resource depletion.

      • More efficient technologies also a factor of accelerated resource depletion.

      • So far, technology as been more a factor of resource depletion and environmental destruction than of conservation.

2. The Vicious Circle

  • Era of superdisasters

    • Climate change.

    • Deforestation.

    • Poverty.

    • Crowding.

  • Collision to create larger hazards

    • 1 billion people are living in shantytowns.

    • Several of the largest cities are at risk by earthquakes.

    • 50% of the global population lives along the coastline.

    • 10 million are at high risk of being flooded.

    • 96% of all causalities from natural disasters are in the Third World.

2. The Vicious Circle





2. The Vicious Circle

3. The Ecological Footprint

  • System processing inputs to produce outputs

    • Inputs:

      • Energy and raw materials.

    • Processes:

      • Energy and raw materials with labor and infrastructure.

    • Outputs:

      • Products, services and wastes.

    • Offers conditions (opportunities) to support its working conditions and insure its growth.

    • Fast growth can be seen as a disease (cancer).

    • Sustainability achieved through the reduction of inputs and outputs.


Raw materials







Material Flow Cycle

Resource supply

Production and manufacturing


Waste or losses

Post-consumer discards


Recycled flow

Landfills, impoundments,

Deep wells and ocean


Releases to air, land and



Renewable and

Nonrenewable resources

3. The Ecological Footprint

  • Environmental sink

    • The environment is a sink.

    • Rate at which it can accumulate (and often transform) wastes.

    • Each component of the environmental system has a different capacity and rate of accumulation.

    • Consideration of physical measures of environmental damage.






3. The Ecological Footprint

  • Impacts

    • Possible to measure the general impacts of human activities on the environment.

    • Requires two basic measures:

      • Biocapacity (supply).

      • Ecological footprint (demand).

    • Becomes a matter of balance between biocapacity and ecological footprint.

    • The ecological footprint must be lower than the biocapacity of the world.







Ecological Footprint

3. The Ecological Footprint

  • Calculating biocapacity and ecological footprint

    • Biocapacity:

      • Inventory of the biologically productive land and its yield.

      • More intensive management can boost yields, but if additional resources are used this also increases the footprint.

    • Footprint:

      • Keep track of most of the resources consumed and the wastes generated.

      • Consumption from cropland, grassland and pasture, fishing and forest.

      • Area required to absorb the CO2 released.

      • Converted to a biologically productive area necessary to provide these functions.

    • The footprint is not a continuous:

      • Due to international trade, the land and water areas used by most global citizens are scattered all over the planet.

      • Deficit areas can import from surplus areas.

World’s Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity, 1961-2003

Ecological Balance, 1993

Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity for Selected Countries, 2003 (in ha/person)

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