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Annual Editions: Environment 11/12
Unit 1: The Global Environment: An Emerging World View
1. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basics, Summary for Policymak-ers, Susan Solomon et al. (eds.) In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007
This article summarizes the results of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winning effort by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on our "under-standing of the human and natural drivers of climate change." Importantly, it presents estimates of how global warming will affect future climates. The degree of confidence of the assessments is indicated. Even the cautious consensus reached by this large group of scientists from around the world is troubling.
2. Global Warming Battlefields: How Climate Change Threatens Security, Michael T. Klare, Current History, Vol. 106, 2007
What are the societal effects of climate change identified by the IPCC report on "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability?" They are not limited to humanitarian disasters. It is likely that ethnic conflict, insurgencies, and civil violence due to dimin-ished supplies of vital resources will occur. Diminished rainfall and river flow, rising sea level, and more frequent and severe storms will affect the ability of underdeveloped societies to meet basic sustainability levels. Water scarcity, limited food availability, and coastal inundation are all effects that will be felt across the entire planet.
3. China Needs Help with Climate Change, Kelly Sims Gallagher, Current History, Vol. 106, 2007
Until recently, the United States was the ‘bad boy’ of climate change, emitting 25% of CO2 while having only 5% of the population. While the United States remains a high per capita emitter, overall, China has overtaken the United States as the biggest CO2 emitter. China’s growth rate is breathtaking, doubling every three and a half years. In this article, the author argues that the United States and China need to work together to develop technologies and strategies to lower CO2 emissions.
4. Where Oil and Water Do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and Future Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, Jason J. Morrissette and Douglas A. Borer, Parameters, Winter 2004–2005
Much of the past history of conflict in the North African/Southwest Asian culture realm has been based in religion, ideology, and territory. Future conflict in this area is more likely to be based in environmental scarcity—too little oil and not enough wa-ter—to support the population growth that is far outpacing economic growth.
5. A Safe Operating Space for Humanity, Johan Rockström et al., Nature, Vol. 461, September. 24, 2009
The authors have identified planetary boundaries that must not be crossed in order to avoid significant environmental degradation. Of the 10 factors considered, three of these, biodiversity loss, climate change, and agricultural pollution have already crossed the threshold for a sustainable planet.
Unit 2: Policy and Economy
6. Paying for Climate Change, Benjamin Jones, Michael Keen, and Jon Strand, Finance & Development,Vol. 45, No. 1, March 2008
How much should be spent on climate change remediation? To address this question, Jones et al. argue that economists are needed to assess the costs of the threat and the remedies. Individuals, firms, and governments do not have monetary incentives to limit carbon emissions, and any benefits from voluntary reductions benefit the entire community rather than those making the sacrifice. Assessing the cost-benefit analy-sis of taxing emissions, predicting R&D breakthroughs and the very long term effects baffle eco-nomic theory. And if that’s not enough, who sacrifices, who pays?
7. High-Tech Trash: Will Your Discarded TV or Computer End up in a Ditch in Ghana?, Chris Carroll, National Geographic, Vol. 213, January 2008
Over the next few years, 30 to 40 million PCs will become obsolete. How does one dispose of a PC, and what is its fate? More than 70% go to landfill, toxic com-ponents be damned. Of the 20% that is recycled, a large amount ends up in third-world countries, where valuable components, such as silver and gold, are extracted. Unfortunately, the environmental conditions of such recycling are appalling.
8. Down with Carbon: Scientists Work to Put the Greenhouse Gas in Its Place, Sid Perkins, Science News, May 10, 2008
If we can’t stop burning it, how about getting rid of it? Down with Carbon discusses possible carbon sequestration (or carbon storage) possibili-ties. Ideas such as fertilization of the oceans (to increase algal blooms), extracting CO2 directly from smoke stacks and pumping it back into the ground, and burying dead wood are all con-sidered. Each idea has pros and cons.
9. Clean, Green, Safe and Smart, Michael T. Klare, The Nation, August 2/9 11–15.
The recent Gulf Oil Spill highlights the ecological hazards of ever-riskier oil ex-ploration, and more Americans than ever believe that a new energy policy is needed. Significant re-ductions in fossil fuel use could be achieved by switching to more fuel-efficient cars and switching to alternative energies. Such a shift could be realized by shifting subsidies from fossil fuel extraction and nuclear energies toward clean renewables.
Unit 3: Energy: Present and Future Problems
10. Wind Power: Obstacles and Opportunities, Martin J. Pasqualetti, Environment, Vol. 46, No. 7, September 2004
Wind power is one of the oldest energy sources, used to power mills and water pumps for thousands of years. It is now one of the most promising of the alternative energy strategies. But in spite of its environmental attributes, wind power meets with considerable local resistance because of aesthetics, noise, and potential damage to bird populations. The proper strategy is to develop wind power in sites where it meets the least resis-tance.
11. A Solar Grand Plan, Ken Zweibel, James Mason, and Vasilis Fthenakis, Scientific American, January 2008
"By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions." Sound too good to be true? This article gives an overview of the state of the art and future possibilities in relation to how a significant portion of our electricity could be generated by this clean, renewable resource.
12. Cold Comfort, Michael Behar, OnEarth Magazine, Vol. 32
The air conditioner has changed the demographics of the United States. Taken for granted by most of us, air conditioning accounts for 16% of household energy consumption. But the efficiency and technology of air conditioners is nearly unchanged in the last 50 years. With only minor innovation, we can reduce our energy consumption, as explained by Michael Be-har.
13. A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030, Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, Scientific American, November 2009.
There is much discussion about what fraction of our energy consumption should come from renewable energies. The authors make the surprising case that we can achieve 100% of our energy needs from clean technology and do it in just a few dec-ades.
14. The Biofuel Future: Scientists Seek Ways to Make Green Energy Pay Off, Rachel Ehrenberg, Science News, Vol. 176, 2009
Both fossil fuels and biofuels can be burned to generate electric-ity. The difference is that biofuel burning is carbon neutral; the CO2 generated from biofuel burning was only recently drawn out of the atmosphere during plant photo-synthesis. But biofuels can only work if they produce more energy than it takes to make them. And they cannot displace large amounts of valuable agricultural land that is needed for our food supply. Ehrenberg discusses the pros and cons of our biofuel future, describing the hurdles and prom-ise.
Unit 4: Biosphere: Endangered Species
15. Forest Invades Tundra . . . and the New Tenants Could Aggravate Global Warming, Janet Raloff, Science News, July 2008
Temperatures in the arctic are climbing at a rate of twice the global average. Scientists are now finding that the boundary between northern forests and the arctic tundra is slowly creeping northward as temperatures rise. The snow covered tundra typically reflects light, keeping temperatures low. As trees invade the tundra, they absorb sunlight, raising temperatures. Drought and fire have hurt both the tundra and forests. Throw in advancing shrubs, active microbes, and you have a seriously disturbed ecosystem.
16. America’s Coral Reefs: Awash with Problems, Tundi Agardy, Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2004
America’s coral reefs—the rain forests of the oceans—are in trou-ble. This delicate ecosystem has declined by 80% over the last three decades. Overfishing, fertilizers, sediment input, and ocean warming all contribute to the dramtic decline in this invaluable resource, both a thing of intrinsic beauty and economic value. The public is generally unaware of the destruction going on beneath the waves, but as author Jeffrey McNeely explains, there is hope. Public and private efforts can ultimately reverse the fate of these na-tional treasures.
17. Seabird Signals, Doreen Cubie, National Wildlife, Au-gust/September 2008
Cassin’s auklets are the ‘canary in the coalmine’ of the ocean. On a remote island, the nesting pairs have decreased by a factor of five. The ecosystem is changing, the food web is un-raveling and the auklets’ population is plunging. Possible explanations include warming ocean temperature or changing ocean circulation patterns.
18. Taming the Blue Frontier, Sarah Simpson, Conservation Magazine, April/June 2009
Fish farms or aquaculture reduce overharvesting of the ocean’s wild stocks. But large fish farms also generate huge amounts of fish waste and spread disease. Author Sarah Simpson discusses cutting-edge technologies that drastically reduce the envi-ronmental damage and create sustainable aquaculture practices. Some remarkable ideas are being tested.
19. What’s the Catch?, Bruce Barcott, OnEarth Magazine, May 27, 2010
"In 50 years we’ve taken (eaten) more than 90% of the big fish in the sea." Unfor-tunately, huge amounts of fish caught in nets are bycatch, unwanted animal life. Observers are now sailing with fishing vessels to determine the amount of bycatch, so that appropriate regulations can be made to protect the ocean’s biodiversity and fish popula-tions.
20. Tuna’s End, Paul Greenberg, New York Times Magazine, June 22, 2010
Bluefin tuna are a sushi prize. Reaching 10 feet long and more than a thousand pounds, a single prize tuna can command well over $100,000. And so this gold of the sea is fished re-lentlessly. Unfortunately, at the present rate of capture, these magnificent creatures will soon go ex-tinct.
Unit 5: Resources: Land and Water
21. Tracking U.S. Groundwater: Reserves for the Future?, William M. Alley, Environment, Vol. 48, No. 3, April 2006
The term groundwater reserves implies that the supply of groundwater, like other limited natural resources, can be depleted. Current rates of extraction for irri-gation and other uses far exceed the rates of natural replacement, placing this precious water resource in jeopardy. The depletion of groundwater reserves has gone from being a local problem to a national, and probably even global, one.
22. How Much Is Clean Water Worth?, Jim Morrison, National Wild-life, February/March 2005
When the value of a clean water resource is calculated in monetary terms, it be-comes increasingly clear that conservation methods make both economic and ecolo-gic sense. The tricky part is manipulating the economic system that drives our behavior so that it makes sense to invest in and protect natural assets—like clean wa-ter.
23. Searching for Sustainability: Forest Policies, Smallholders, and the Trans-Amazon Highway, Eirivelthon Lima et al., Environment, January/February 2006
Commercial logging in the Amazon has tradi-tionally been an ecologically-destructive process, as cleared areas were occupied by farmers who ex-tended the clearing process. The development of the major economic corridor of the Trans-Amazon Highway illustrates how logging can be converted from a destructive force to one that promotes sustainable development.
24. Diet, Energy, and Global Warming, Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin, Earth Interactions, Vol. 10, No. 9, December 2006
Want to save the planet? Forget driving a Prius. Become a vegetarian instead! Using a thorough set of facts, statistics, and calculations, the au-thors conclude that your carbon footprint can be drastically reduced if you change your diet to a less energy-intensive one. Animal-based foods require far more energy for their produc-tion, compared with vegetarian foods, and there appear to be no negative health effects associated with a balanced vegetarian diet.
25. Landfill-on-Sea, Daisy Dumas, The Ecologist, February 7, 2008
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in an area covering twice the size of France, there is a non-degradable plastic garbage dump. Hundred million tons of plastic are used each year, and discarded plastic entering the Pacific Ocean will ultimately end up in the Central Pacific Gyre, contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And the garbage patch is growing. The toxic side-effects of the non-biodegradable plastic are very hazardous to animals at all trophic levels.
Unit 6: The Politics of Climate Change
26. The Truth about Denial, Sharon Begley, Newsweek, August 13, 2007
In this remarkable exposé, Sharon Begley describes the sophisticated ef-forts by the oil industry and lobby to dispel the science behind global warming. Much as the tobacco industry did a generation ago, big oil is working hard to sow doubt about global warming, and to even question whether it is such a bad thing in the first place. Although the over-whelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is a serious threat to humanity, Begley explains how the powerful oil-funded ‘denial machine’ is succeeding at spreading confusion, and thereby preventing any action to combat this global threat.
27. The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus, Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, and John Fleck, American Meteorological Society, Septem-ber 2008
One of the most common arguments used by climate change skeptics is that sci-entists don’t really know what’s going on. One has to only look back to the 1970s, when they thought the world was cooling, not warming. Or so the argument goes. Peterson et al. explore this common perception and find that the myth is not true. The overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed articles from the time predicted that temperatures would rise, not fall. The global cool-ing argument used so commonly by climate skeptics is simply not supported by the facts.
28. How to Stop Climate Change: The Easy Way, Mark Lynas, New Statesman, November 8, 2007
We become further convinced that climate change is real and that something must be done. Are we doing anything? Mark Lynas suggests three straightforward ways to reduce our car-bon consumption: 1) Stop debating, start doing; 2) Focus on big wins; and 3) Use technology. By looking at the overwhelming problems in pieces, it becomes clear that we can move forward with en-vironmental protection.
29. Environmental Justice for All, Leyla Kokmen, Utne Reader, March/April 2008
Low-income communities suffer from urban pollu-tion to a far greater extent than other groups. The reasons are obvious: property values are low, the financial resources of a low-income community to fight the incursion of a polluting factory are limited, as is the ability to litigate against health hazards. A new factory located in a depressed area brings not only pollution risks, but jobs. And so a delicate balancing act must be performed. The trick is to fight poverty (bring in the jobs) and pollution at the same time.
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