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Introduction to Environmental Systems

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Meaghan O'Hara

on 4 September 2014

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Transcript of Introduction to Environmental Systems

Introduction to Environmental Systems
Our Island, Our Earth
We Rely on Natural Resources
The Way out
The meaning of the term environment
The field and interdisciplinary nature of environmental science
The importance of natural resources and ecosystem services
Some pressures on the global environment
Concepts of sustainability and sustainable development

This lecture will help you understand:

Earth may seem enormous
-But it and its systems are finite and limited
-We can change the Earth and damage its systems
Environment: all the living and non-living things around us
-Animals, plants, forests, farms, etc.
-Continents, oceans, clouds, ice caps
-Structures, urban centers, living spaces
-Social relationships and institutions

Our Island: Earth

Humans depend on a healthy, functioning planet
The fundamental insight of environmental science:
-We are part of the natural world, but we can also change it
-Our interactions with its other parts matter a great deal
We depend completely on the environment for survival
-Increased health, longer lives, wealth, mobility, leisure
-But natural systems have been degraded by pollution, soil erosion, species extinction, etc.
-Environmental changes threaten long-term health and survival

Humans are part of nature

Environmental science is the study of: How the natural world works and how the environment affects humans and vice versa
We need to understand our interactions with the environment
-To creatively solve environmental problems
Global conditions are rapidly changing
-We are also rapidly gaining knowledge
-The opportunity to solve problems is still available

Environmental science

Natural resources = substances and energy sources needed for survival
Renewable natural resources: can be replenished
-Perpetually renewed: sunlight, wind, wave energy
-Renew themselves over short periods: timber, water, soil
-These can be destroyed
Nonrenewable natural resources: unavailable after depletion
-Oil, coal, minerals

We rely on natural resources

Natural resources are “goods” produced by nature
-Earth’s natural resources provide “services” to us
Ecosystem services: arise from the normal functioning of natural services
-Purify air and water, cycle nutrients, regulate climate
-Pollinate plants, receive and recycle wastes
We degrade ecosystem services
-By depleting resources, destroying habitat, generating pollution
-Increased human affluence has intensified degradation

We rely on ecosystem services

There are over 6.9 billion humans
Agricultural revolution
-Crops, livestock
-Stable food supplies
Industrial revolution
-Urbanized society powered by fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal)
-Sanitation and medicines
-Pesticides and fertilizers

Human population growth amplifies impacts

If everyone consumed the amount of resources the U.S. does, we would need 4.5 Earths!

Affluence increases consumption
Ecological footprint: the environmental impact of a person or population
-The area of biologically productive land + water
-To supply raw resources and dispose/recycle waste
People in rich nations have much larger ecological footprints

Our “ecological footprint”

Not everyone benefits equally from rising affluence
The ecological footprints of countries vary greatly
-The U.S. footprint is much greater than the world’s average
In the U.S. the richest 1%
-Have 25% of all income

Ecological footprints are not all equal

Sustainability: we must live within our planet’s means
-So the Earth and its resources can sustain us and all life for the future
Sustainability involves conserving resources
-Developing long-term solutions
-Keeping fully functioning ecosystems
Natural capital: Earth’s total wealth of resources
-We are withdrawing it faster that it’s being replenished
-We must live off Earth’s natural interest (replenishable resources), not its natural capital

Sustainability and the future of our world

We Rely on Natural Resources
Population growth amplifies all human impacts
-The growth rate has slowed, but we still add more than 200,000 people to the planet each day
Resource consumption has risen faster than population
-Life has become more pleasant
-Rising consumption also amplifies our demands on the environment
The 20 wealthiest nations have 55 times the income of the 20 poorest nations
-Three times the gap that existed 40 years ago

Population & Consumption

Whether an environmental condition is seen as a problem
-Depends on the individual and situation
Ex.: the pesticide DDT
-In malaria-infested Africa: welcome because it kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes
-In America: not welcome, due to health risks

What is an “environmental problem”?

People also differ in their awareness of problems, depending on who they are, where they live, what they do

Environmental science
-Pursues knowledge about the environment and our interactions with it
-Scientists try to remain objective and free from bias
-A social movement
-Tries to protect the natural world from human-caused changes

Environmental science is not environmentalism

Technology expanded food production
-Leading to increased population and consumption
It’s one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but it comes at an enormous environmental cost
-Nearly half of the land surface is used for agriculture
-Chemical fertilizers and pesticides poison and change natural systems
-Erosion, climate change and poor management destroy millions of acres each year

We face challenges in agriculture

Agriculture, urban sprawl, and other land uses have substantially affected most of the landscape of all nations

Humans have changed the Earth’s landscape

Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by 39%, to the highest level in 800,000 years

Waste products and artificial chemicals
-Are used in farms, industries, and households
-Contaminate land, water and air
-Kill millions of people
Humans are affecting the Earth’s climate
-Melting glaciers
-Rising sea levels
-Impacted wildlife, forests, health and crops
-Changed rainfall and increased storms

We face challenges in pollution

Biodiversity loss may be our biggest problem; once a species is extinct, it is gone forever

Biodiversity: the cumulative number and diversity of living things
Human actions have driven many species extinct
-Biodiversity is declining dramatically
-We are setting in motion a mass extinction event

We face challenges in biodiversity

The lives we live today are due to fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are a one-time bonanza
-Supplies will certainly decline
-We have used up ½ of the world’s oil supplies; how will we handle this imminent fossil fuel shortage?

Our energy choices will affect our future

We must develop solutions that protect both our quality of life and the environment

We must develop solutions that protect both our quality of life and the environment
-Renewable energy and efficiency
-Organic agriculture
-Legislation and technology to reduce pollution
-Protect species and their habitat
-Recycling, decreasing waste
-Decrease greenhouse gas emissions

Sustainable solutions abound

We must make an ethical commitment to current and future generations

The triple bottom line: sustainable solutions that meet
-Environmental protection
-Economic goals
-Social equity
Humans must apply knowledge from the sciences to
-Limit environmental impacts
-Maintain functioning environmental systems

Will we develop in a sustainable way?

Environmental science helps us understand our relationship with the environment
-It informs our attempts to solve and prevent problems
Identifying a problem is the first step in solving it
Solving environmental problems can move us towards health, longevity, peace and prosperity
Environmental science can help us find balanced solutions to environmental challenges

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