Environmental problems their causes and sustainability
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Environmental Problems, Their Causes, and Sustainability. Chapter 1. Core Case Study: Living in an Exponential Age. Two kings and a game of chess. Another analogy: paper folding. Exponential growth – when a quantity increases by a fixed percentage. Impact of human exponential growth on

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Environmental Problems, Their Causes, and Sustainability

Chapter 1

Core Case Study: Living in an Exponential Age

  • Two kings and a game of chess.

  • Another analogy: paper folding.

  • Exponential growth – when a quantity increases by a fixed percentage.

  • Impact of human exponential growth on

    • Loss of animal and plant species

    • Loss of resources

Exponential Growth

1-1 What Is an Environmentally Sustainable Society?

Concept 1-1A Our lives and economies depend on energy from the sun (solar capital) and on natural resources and natural services (natural capital) provided by the earth.

Concept 1-1B Living sustainability means living off the earth’s natural income without depleting or degrading the natural capital that supplies it.

Environmental Science Is a Study of Connections in Nature (1)

  • Interdisciplinary science connecting information and ideas from

    • Natural sciences, with an emphasis on ecology

    • Social sciences

    • Humanities

Environmental Science Is a Study of Connections in Nature (2)

  • The goals of environmental science are to learn

    • How nature works

    • How the environment affects us

    • How we affect the environment

    • How to deal with environmental problems

    • How to live more sustainably

Figure 1.2Environmental science is an interdisciplinary study of connections between the earth’s life-support system and human activities.

Environmental Science Is a Study of Connections in Nature (3)

  • Some definitions:

    • Environment – living and non-living things with which we interact.

    • Environmental science – interdisciplinary study of how humans interact with the environment.

    • Ecology – study of how organism interact w. their environment and each other.

Environmental Science Is a Study of Connections in Nature (4)

  • Organism – living thing

  • Species – group of interbreeding organisms capable of producing fertile offspring.

  • Ecosystem – set of organisms interacting with one another and with their environment of nonliving matter and energy within a defined area or volume.

Sustainability Is the Central Theme of This Book (1)

Sustainability – the ability of the earth’s various natural systems and human cultural systems and economies to survive and adapt to changing environmental conditions indefinitely.

Sustainability Is the Central Theme of This Book (2)

  • There are five subthemes for that help pave a way toward sustainability.

    • Define natural capital.

    • Accept that many human activities result in the degradation of natural capital.

    • Environmental scientists search for solutions.

    • Proposed solution lead to conflicts require trade-offs (or compromises).

    • Individuals matter to search for solutions to environmental problems.

Figure 1.4Nutrient cycling: an important natural service that recycles chemicals needed by organisms from the environment (mostly from soil and water) through organisms and back to the environment.

Environmentally Sustainable SocietiesProtect Natural Capital and Live off Its Income (1)

  • Environmentally sustainable society – one that meets the current and future basic resource needs of its people in a just and equitable manner w/o compromising the ability of future generations to meet basic needs.

  • $1 million lottery analogy

    • Take home message: Protect your capital and live off the income it provides.

Environmentally Sustainable SocietiesProtect Natural Capital and Live off Its Income (2)

  • Living sustainably means living off natural income – renewable resources such as plant, animals and soil provided by natural capital.

  • 2005 Millennium Ecosystems Report

    • 4 year study involving 1360 experts

    • 62% of earth’s natural services are degraded or overused.

    • Report warned, “..human activity is putting such a stain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”

  • There is good news

1-2 How Can Environmentally Sustainable Societies Grow Economically?

Concept 1-2 Societies can become more environmentally sustainable through economic development dedicated to improving the quality of life for everyone without degrading the earth's life support systems.

There Is a Wide Economic Gap between Rich and Poor Countries (1)

Economic growth is the increase in a nation’s output of goods and services.

Gross domestic product (GDP) – the annual market value of all goods and services by all firms and organization foreign and domestic operating w/in a country.

per capita GDP – used to measure changes in a country’s economic growth.

There Is a Wide Economic Gap between Rich and Poor Countries (2)

Purchasing power parity

Per capita GDP PPP – a measure of the amount of goods and services that a country’s average citizen could buy.

Economic development – uses economic growth to improve living standards.

There Is a Wide Economic Gap between Rich and Poor Countries (3)

  • The UN classifies the world’s countries based on degree of industrialization and per captia GDP PPP.

    • Developed – 1.2 billion people, U.S., Can, Jap, New Zealand, and most of Europe.

    • Developing – 5.5 billion people, most in Africa, Asia, Latin America.

    • Some are middle-income, moderately developed, China, Mex, India, Brazil, Turkey, and Thailand.

Figure 1.5Global outlook: comparison of developed and developing countries, 2008. (Data from the United Nations and the World Bank)

Figure 1-6Extreme poverty: boy searching for items to sell in an open dump in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many Children of poor families who live in makeshift shanty-towns in or near such dumps often scavenge all day for food and other items to help families survive.

  • Despite a 40-fold increase in economic growth since 1900, more than half of the world live in extreme poverty. One in six are desperately poor.

  • Continued conventional economic growth or environmentally sustainable economic development?

1-3 How Are Our Ecological Footprints Affecting the Earth?

Concept 1-3 As our ecological footprints grow, we are depleting and degrading more of the earth’s natural capital.

Some Sources Are Renewable (1)

  • Resource – from a human standpoint, anything obtained from the environment to meet our needs and wants.

    • Directly available for use

    • Not directly available for use

  • Conservation – management of natural resources with the goal of minimizing resource waste and sustaining resource supplies for current and future generations.

Some Sources Are Renewable (2)

  • Perpetual resource

    • Solar energy

  • Renewable resource – on a human timescale can be replenished fairly quickly (hours to hundreds of years) through natural processes as long as it is not used up faster than it is renewed.

    • e.g., forests, grasslands, fresh air, fertile soil

  • Sustainable yield – highest rate at which a renewable resources can be used indefinitely without reducing its available supply.

  • Environmental degradation results when SY is exceeded.

Overexploiting Shared Renewable Resources: Tragedy of the Commons (1)

  • Three types of property or resource rights

    • Private property – individuals or firms own the rights to land, minerals, or other resources.

    • Common property – rights to certain resources are held by large groups of individuals.

    • Open access renewable resources – owned by no one and available for use by anyone at little or no charge.

Overexploiting Shared Renewable Resources: Tragedy of the Commons (2)

  • Many common property and open access renewable resources have been degraded.

    • In 1968, Biologist Garrett Hardin called such degradation Tragedy of the Commons.

    • Threatens our ability to ensure the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of open-access resources such as clean air or open ocean fisheries.

Overexploiting Shared Renewable Resources: Tragedy of the Commons (3)

  • Solutions

    • Reduce use and/or regulate access

    • Private ownership.

Some Resources Are Not Renewable

  • Nonrenewable resources

    • Energy resources (e.g., coal and oil)

    • Metallic mineral resources (e.g., ores of Cu and Al)

    • Nonmetallic mineral resources (e.g., salt and sand)

  • Reuse

  • Recycle

Figure 1-8 Reuse: This child and his family in Katmandu, Nepal, collect beer bottles and sell them for cash.

Our Ecological Footprints Are Growing (1)

Figure 1-9 Consumption of natural resources: On the left, subsistence farmers in the Himalaya Mountains between China and India. Their use of resources is devoted to mostly to meeting their basic needs. On the right, a Pearland Texas family, typical of affluent nations. Their use of resources is way beyond their basic needs.

Our Ecological Footprints Are Growing (2)

  • Ecological footprint concept – amount of biologically productive land and water needed to supply the people of a country or area w/ resources and to absorb and recycle wastes and pollution produced by such resource use.

    • Biological capacity – the ability of an area to replenish its resources and absorb the resulting waste products and pollution.

    • Ecological deficit – when ecological footprint is larger than biological capacity.

    • Relative ecological footprints

Figure 1-10Natural capital use and degradation: total and per capita ecological footprints of selected countries (top). In 2003, humanity’s total or global ecological footprint was about 25% higher than the earth’s ecological capacity (bottom) and is projected to be twice the planet’s ecological capacity by 2050.

Case Study: China’s New Affluent Consumers (1)

  • Leading consumer of various foods and goods

    • Wheat, rice, and meat

    • Coal, fertilizers, steel, and cement

  • Second largest consumer of oil

  • Two-thirds of the most polluted cities are in China

  • Projections, by 2020

    • Largest consumer and producer of cars

    • World’s leading economy in terms of GDP PPP

Case Study: China’s New Affluent Consumers (2)

  • Projection for China under by 2033 under current trends.

    • Population reaches 1.5 billion

    • Require 2/3 of world’s current grain harvest

    • 2x current world’s paper consumption

    • Consume more that the current global production of oil.

Case Study: China’s New Affluent Consumers (3)

  • According to environmental policy expert Lester Brown

    • The western model the fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy is not going to work for China. Nor will it work for India, which by 2033 is projected to have a population even larger than China’s, or for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream.”

Cultural Changes Have Increased Our Ecological Footprints (1)

  • Culture – the whole of society’s knowledge, beliefs, technology, and practices.

    • Cultural changes have had profound effects on the earth.

    • Present form of our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, has walked the earth for 95-195 thousand years, a mere blink in the 3.6 billion year planetary life history.

  • 12,000 years ago: hunters and gatherers

Cultural Changes Have Increased Our Ecological Footprints (2)

  • Three major cultural events

    • Agricultural revolution (10 to 12 tya)

    • Industrial-medical revolution (275 ya)

    • Information-globalization revolution (50 ya)

  • These changes were associated with greater energy use, greater resource use, more pollution and environmental degradation.

  • Environmental scientist call for an environmental, or sustainability, revolution

1-4 What Is Pollution and What Can We Do about It?

Concept 1-4 Preventing pollution is more effective and less costly than cleaning up pollution.

Figure 1-11Point-source air pollution from a pulp mill in New York, USA

Pollution Comes from a Number of Sources (1)

  • Pollution – anything in the environment that is harmful to the health, survival, or activities of humans or other organisms.

    • Can enter naturally or through human activities.

  • Sources of pollution

    • Point (e.g., smokestack)

    • Nonpoint (e.g., pesticides blown into the air)

  • Two main types

    • Biodegradable (e.g., human sewage and paper)

    • Nondegradable (e.g., Pb, Hg, and As)

Pollution Comes from a Number of Sources (2)

  • Three types of unwanted effects of pollution

    • Disrupt or degrade life-support systems

    • Damage wildlife, human health, and property

    • Create nuisances: noise, unpleasant smell, taste and sight.

We Can Clean Up Pollution or Prevent It

  • Two ways to deal with pollution

    • Pollution cleanup (output pollution control)

      • Cleaning up or diluting

      • Problems with this option:

        • Temporary bandage for exponentially increasing consumption

        • Removes pollution in one area only to put it elsewhere

        • Once dispersed in the environment, costs too much or impossible to reduce to safer levels.

    • Pollution prevention (input pollution control)

      • Eliminates or reduces

1-5 Why Do We Have Environmental Problems?

Concept 1-5A Major causes of environmental problems are population growth, wasteful and unsustainable resource use, poverty, exclusion of environmental costs of resource use from the market prices of goods and services, and attempts to manage nature with insufficient knowledge.

Concept 1-5B People with different environmental worldviews often disagree about the seriousness of environmental problems and what we should do about them

Experts Have Identified Five Basic Causes of Environmental Problems

  • What are some major environmental problems cause by pushing resources through the global economies?

  • Five basic causes for environmental problems:

    • Population growth

    • Wasteful and unsustainable resource use

    • Poverty

    • Failure to include the harmful environmental costs of goods and services in their market prices

    • Insufficient knowledge of how nature works

Figure 1.12Environmental and social scientists have identified five basic causes of the environmental problems we face (Concept 1-5A). Question: What are three ways in which your lifestyle contributes to these causes?

Poverty Has Harmful Environmental and Health Effects (1)

  • Poverty – when people are unable to meet their basic needs for adequate food, water, shelter, health, and education.

    • ½ world’s population are desperate for short-term survival depleting and degrading forests, soil, grasslands, fisheries, and wildlife at an increasing rate.

    • Difficult to worry about long-term environmental quality and sustainability.

Poverty Has Harmful Environmental and Health Effects (2)

  • Population growth affected

    • More children for security  higher growth rate

    • Poverty increase degradation of environment, likewise, environmental degradation can increase poverty. (positive feedback)

  • Malnutrition – lack of protein and other nutrients needed for good health.

  • Premature death

  • Limited access to adequate sanitation facilities and clean water (2.6 billion people and 1 billion get water from sources contaminated by human and animal feces)

Poverty Has Harmful Environmental and Health Effects (3)

  • WHO estimates 7 million premature deaths each year.

    • 2/3 are children younger than age 5.

Figure 1.13

Some harmful results of poverty.

Figure 1-14 Global Outlook: in developing countries, one in every three children under the age of 5, such as this child from Lunda, Angola, suffers from severe malnutrition. WHO estimates that each day at least 13,700 children under age 5 die prematurely from malnutrition and infectious diseases, most from drinking contaminated water and being weakened by malnutrition.

Affluence Has Harmful and Beneficial Environmental Effects

  • Harmful environmental impact due to

    • High levels of consumption

    • Unnecessary waste of resources

    • Can obtain resources from anywhere in the world w/o seeing the harmful environmental impacts.

  • Positive influence

    • Air cleaner, water safer, rivers and lakes cleaner, food supply more abundant and safer, life-threatening infectious diseases greatly reduced, lifespans longer, and some endangered species being rescued from extinction.

    • Affluence can provide funding for

      • Developing technologies to reduce

        • Pollution

        • Environmental degradation

        • Resource waste

Prices Do Not Include the Value of Natural Capital

  • Companies do not pay the environmental cost of resource use (unless required to by laws and regulations).

  • Goods and services do not include the harmful environmental costs.

  • Companies receive tax breaks and subsidies.

    • Helps create jobs and stimulate the economy.

    • Economy may be stimulated but there may be a degradation of natural capital.

People Have Different Views about Environmental Problems and Their Solutions (1)

  • Views depend on environmental worldview  a set of assumptions and values reflecting how one thinks the world works and what you think your role in the world should be.

  • Involves environmental ethics beliefs about what is right and wrong with how we treat the environment.

    • See examples of relevant ethical questions, p. 20.

Environmental Worldviews

Environmental Wisdom


Planetary Management

■ We have an ethical responsibility to be caring managers, or stewards, of the earth.

■ We are a part of and totally dependent on nature, and nature exists for all species.

■ We are apart from the rest of nature and can manage nature to meet our increasing needs and wants.

■ We will probably not run out of resources, but they should not be wasted.

■ Resources are limited and should not be wasted.

■ Because of our ingenuity and technology, we will not run out of resources.

■ We should encourage earth- sustaining forms of economic growth and discourage earth-degrading forms.

■ We should encourage environmentally beneficial forms of economic growth and discourage environmentally harmful forms.

■ The potential for economic growth is essentially unlimited.

■ Our success depends on learning how nature sustains itself and integrating such lessons from nature into the ways we think and act.

■ Our success depends on how well we manage the earth's life- support systems mostly for our benefit.

■ Our success depends on how well we manage the earth's life- support systems for our benefit and for the rest of nature.

People Have Different Views about Environmental Problems and Their Solutions (2)

We Can Learn to Make Informed Environmental Decisions

  • Scientific research

  • Identify problem and multiple solutions

  • Consider human values

Figure 1-15 Steps involved in making environmental decisions.

We Can Work Together to Solve Environmental Problems

  • Most helpful to build social capital – involves getting people with different views and values to talk and listen to one another, find common ground, and work together to solve environmental and other problems.

    • Encourages

      • Openness and communication

      • Cooperation

      • Hope

    • Discourages

      • Close-mindedness

      • Polarization

      • Confrontation and fear

Case Study: The Environmental Transformation of Chattanooga, TN (1)

  • Environmental success story: example of building their social capital

  • 1960: most polluted city in the U.S.

    • People and industry fled downtown, high unemployment and crime.

  • 1984: Vision 2000

    • 1700 citizens built a consensus after identifying problems, setting goals and brainstorming for ideas and solutions.

  • 1995: most goals met:

    • including zero-emission industries and electric buses, a recycling program, and since 1989, air pollutant lower than federal standards.

Case Study: The Environmental Transformation of Chattanooga, TN (2)

  • Zero-emission industries and electric buses, a recycling program, and since 1989, air pollutant lower than federal standards.

  • Renovate low-income houses and built low-income rentals

  • An aquarium and a riverfront park along Tennessee River banks

  • 1993: Revision 2000

    • Most revision goals have been met

      • Transform S. Chattanooga into mixed community of residences, retail stores, and zero-emission industries where employees can live near workplaces.

  • Chattanooga, TN

    Individuals Matter: Aldo Leopold

    • 5–10% of the population can bring about major social change

    • Anthropologist Margaret Mead

      • “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    • Aldo Leopold: environmental ethics

      • A leader of the conservation and environmental movements of the 20th century

        • Land ethic

      • Wrote: A Sand County Almanac

    1-6 What Are Four Scientific Principles of Sustainability?

    Concept 1- 6 Nature has sustained itself for billions of years by using solar energy, biodiversity, population control, and nutrient cycling—lessons from nature that we can apply to our lifestyles and economies.

    Figure 1-17 Four scientific principles of sustainability

    Solutions For Environmental or Sustainability Revolution

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