Class Session IX>
1. Twenty Question Quiz>
10 questions on notes from class session VII
10 questions on notes from class session VIII
2. Defining the Environment
Over time, the meaning of the term environment has changed. In order to understand the how the term environment has changed over time, let's look at how the word "environment" is defined in dictionaries from a number of time periods.
1882 The American Popular Dictionary, which was first published in 1882, over a hundred years ago, defined the term environment as "surroundings.
1940 In 1940, Webster's dictionary gave a couple of definitions for the term "environment". # 1. act of environing, state of being environed. # 2. that which environs; the surrounding conditions, influences or forces, which influence or modify. Webster's 1940 dictionary also refers to several different kinds of environments, a biological environment, a social environment, the physical or inorganic environment, a psychosocial environment, and the biosocial environment. Webster also defines the term "environmentalism" as emphasizing environment rather than heredity, as the important, factor in the development of the individual or race.
1956 An environmental science textbook published in 1956 titled "Our Environment - Its Relation to Us" includes a number of "environmental" topics such as air, fire, energy, water, rocks and soil. Interestingly, however, the term "pollution" does not appear in the text. What does this tell us? Did the book authors not know how to spell the word? Probably not, rather it indicates that pollution was not a concept that people were generally aware of in the 1950's. Societies were polluting the environment in the 1950's, in fact; we are still cleaning up pollution in many places around the world from 1950's and before. Yet during that time, we did not understand what pollution of the environment was.
1972 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defined the "environment" as the total of circumstances surrounding an organism or group of organisms, a definition similar to the one given 100 years previously in 1882 by the American Popular Dictionary. However, The American Heritage Dictionary includes a new term, the word "environmentalist". It defines an "environmentalist" as a person who seeks to protect the natural environment as from air and water pollution, wasteful use of resources, and excessive human encroachments.
3. Environmentalism Emerges
The definition of "environmentalist" includes a number of concepts which, previously, had not been part of the meaning of "environment". These include:
1. the need to protect;
2. the "natural" environment;
3. two kinds of pollution, air and water;
4. wasteful use of resources….natural resources like water, energy and minerals, and;
5. excessive human encroachments, which is another way of saying population.
Well something must have happened between 1956 and 1972 that led to the inclusion of these new concepts in our definition of environment and something did. Before we discuss what happened, let's first look at concept #2, the "natural" environment. What is the "natural" environment? One obvious answer is that the "natural" environment is nature and, in fact, these two terms have become synonymous. If a friend asks you "What are you doing this weekend?" and you reply "I'm going out to commune with nature" or "I'm going out to commune with the natural environment", these two responses mean the same. So, the natural environment and nature, at least in the way we use our language, are synonymous.
In fact, a quick check of the Cambridge Online Dictionary http://dictionary.cambridge.org/ reveals two choices for the word environment, surroundings and nature. Under nature, the definition of environment is given as the air, water and land in or on which people, animals and plants live.
4. The Nature of Things
Close your eyes for a second and
think of nature. What do you see? Probably trees, green grass, a mountain in
the background, a gentle deer beside a meandering stream, and the sky up above.
What don't you see? Probably, other humans. Why? For
the most part, when we think of nature, we don't think of humans or human stuff
like shopping malls, the Internet, cable television, or
5. Are Humans “Natural”?
Does this mean that humans aren't natural? For most of us, humans are "natural" beings. We are land dwelling, air breathing, omnivorous mammals. Yet, at the same time, when we think of "nature" we don't think of humans. Somehow, our language has evolved this way, to recognize that humans are "natural" but, at the same time, not part of nature. Did you ever hear anyway say after a big snowstorm or hurricane when everything (human!) is not moving….there are no cars on the road, no one goes to work, the stores are closed….."Isn't it nice for nature, or Mother Nature, to be in charge for a while?" If you have, think about what this means. This suggests that, for most of the time, something other than nature is "in charge" or "in control". Who? The answer, by the way we use our language, is humans. In fact, we have two interesting and opposite terms in our language, "nature" and "human nature". So, humans are "natural" beings yet, at the same time, not part of nature, at least in the way we use language.
Now, let's go back to the definition of "environmentalist”. An environmentalist is a person who seeks to protect "nature" or "the natural environment" from "human stuff" like pollution, wasteful use of resources and excessive human encroachments. This notion of protection is a critical component of environmental science.
6. And the Rest is History
Remember we said that something
must have happened between 1956, when a book on the environment didn’t have the
word “pollution” in it and 1972, when the term “environmentalist” appeared in
the English language. In the 60's, interest in environmentalism in the
Several other writers began writing about environmental topics during the mid to late 1960’s and public, and political, interest in environmental issues continued to grow. In the late 1960’s, a group of organizers got together and planned a national environmental “teach-in” for April 22, 1970. This one day celebration of the environment became the first “Earth Day” and some 20 million Americans participated.
Politicians were quick to note this new issue of concern to their constituents and, in 1970, passed the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA as it is known. NEPA gave the federal government the authority to set minimum standards for environmental protection, which the individual states then were required to enforce.
To clear the air of air pollution, Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and to stem the time of water pollution, the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. The United States Environmental Protection Agency was established to administer these new regulations. To control the flow of pollution on land, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was passed in 1976.
Since the early 1970’s many
pieces of environmental legislation have been enacted in the
1973 Endangered Species Act
1974 Safe Drinking Water Act
1974 Shoreline Erosion Control Demonstration Act
1975 Hazardous Materials Transportation Act
1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
1976 Toxic Substances Control Act
1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act
1978 Uranium Mill-Tailings Radiation Control Act
1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act
1986 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act
1988 Indoor Radon Abatement Act
1988 Lead Contamination Control Act
1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act
1988 Ocean Dumping Ban Act
1988 Shore Protection Act
1990 National Environmental Education Act
1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments
7. Science and the Environment
Not surprisingly, societal concern with protection of the environment led to the development of environmental science. Environmental science is the discipline that is concerned with identifying and diagnosing environmental impacts. Environmental scientists first try to understand the patterns or impact or change in the natural environment caused by various human activities. Once, they understand what is occurring, environmental scientists then search for the specific cause or causes. Often, they can also get involved in seeking solutions as well.
8. Solutions to Environmental Problems
While environmental science is critical to understanding the impact of human activities on the natural environmental, societies often turn to environmental policy, environmental education, and environmental technology for implementing solutions. Both environmental policy and education are concerned with changing human behavior. Environmental policy does so in a more direct, or controlling, manner. The Clean Air Act, for example, specifies the allowable levels of certain kinds of gases which can be released by industrial facilities. Environmental education, on the other hand, seeks to change human behavior in more subtle ways. Educating the average consumer about the effects of air pollution from automobiles, for example, may lead some individuals to change their behavior and using less polluting forms of transportation such as walking, bicycle, or public transportation.
Lastly, environmental technology refers to solving environmental problems by using or substituting tools, techniques, or processes that have less environmental impact. For example, probably the most well known type of environmental technology is the catalytic converter, which is attached to the exhaust system and neutralizes the gases that are emitted by the engine when gasoline is burned or combusted. To solve a specific environmental problem, societies often turn to environmental policy, education or technology, or a combination of any or all of the three.
9. Environmental Science is Conservative
Since we’ve been looking at terms and language, let’s look at another term that can have several meanings. The term is conservative. The word "conserve" comes from the Latin "conservare", which means to preserve or protect the status quo. Folks who are “liberals” or “radicals” are usually intent on changing the way things are.
These terms, “conservative”, “liberal”, and “radical” are usually applied in the context of politics or economics. If a person is a political conservative that usually means that they are opposed to changing the structure or the existing political system. An economic conservative is one who supports what has become the dominant economic system in the world, capitalism.
Both political and economic “conservatives” typically view environmentalists as “liberal” or “radical”. They often view protection of the environment as a cost or threat to the existing dominant political and economic systems. But let’s dig a little deeper. As we said, the word conservative comes from the Latin “conservare”. The word conservare in Latin is derived from another Latin word, servare, which means to preserve, save, keep, or guard. Conservare, root of the word “conservative”, means the same as servare but only stronger, sort of like turbo driven, if you will.
The word conservative or conserve
is also used in an environmental context. Land “conservation” efforts date back
well over 100 years in the
So, a case can be made that environmental protection, and environmentalists, are also conservative. What they seek to preserve or protect is not the existing political or economic system, but a much older, and more complex, system. That system we call earth.
10. Environmental Science is Urban
Environmental science is
primarily urban based. About ten percent of the world's population lived in
urban areas in 1900. By mid-century, that figure had risen to
29 percent. At present, 45% of the world’s population
live in urban areas. By the year 2020, it is thought that about 60% of
the people on planet earth will live in urban areas. In addition, there was
only one city in the world in 1950 with a population greater than 10 million,
Though environmentalism is firmly rooted in pristine natural areas, most of the environmental “loadings” as well as impacts on human health from environmental issues occur in cities. So, solutions to environmental problems must come from the cities as well. By the way, environmental “loadings” refers to the total release of pollutants of from all sources, air, water and land, as well as all kinds, biological, chemical, and physical.
11. Environmental Science is Global
As we work through the course material, we’ll see that environmental science truly has a global focus. While many of the interactions between the sociosphere and the earth’s other systems occur at a local level, for example, emissions from your car in traffic on the Beltway, the cumulative effect of these emissions is felt at the local, regional, and global level. Learning about environmental science, because of its global nature, requires that we learn about other cultures.
In order to assess human cultures, it is important to try and be as objective as possible. Another way to say this is to try and look at cultures without assessing and valuing cultural activities in an ethnocentric way. To be ethnocentric means to view and judge other cultures and societies according to the assumptions of one’s own society. A non-ethnocentric approach, for example, would seek to identify differences between groups of people without judging one group as any better or worse than another, only different.
12. Environment Change & Pollution
There are different levels and types of environmental impact, many of which will be covered over the course of the semester. There are, however, two major categories of environmental impact, environmental change and pollution.
Environmental change refers to the unintended consequences of human activity that result in a change or alteration of the natural environment. We know that humans have changed the environment for a long time. Some of these changes are deliberate and intended. Clearing grassland to plant crops is a deliberate alteration of the environment and if the decision is whether to have food to eat or starve, or alter the natural environment, this is a pretty easy decision for most, if not all, humans to make. However, at the same time, there may be unintended environmental impacts with clearing fields. Depending of the slope of the ground, valuable topsoil may runoff into nearby waterways, thereby over time making the field less productive for food and possibly choking waterways with sediment... If the same crops are planted in that field year after year, that plot of ground will lose many of its nutrients. This loss of nutrients is considered to be unintended change. If techniques are not used to control soil erosion, valuable topsoil may runoff the field, another unintended environmental change.
Nature, however, operates in such a way so that natural systems can be used and will replenish themselves as long as they are not over-utilized. If that same field is left fallow, or unused, for a period of time, the nutrients may be restored. Leaving the field unused for a longer period of time, may help to replenish some of the topsoil lost. Irreversible environmental changes can result, however, if the land is continuously over-utilized, by human activity, thereby leaving the field worthless to humans to produce food as well as permanently altering the chemical or structural composition of the soil. The difficult part is finding the right balance to use the field in such a way without permanently altering its' natural components as well as providing a long term food. This type of approach is known as a "sustainable" approach.
Over-utilization of natural systems, that is to say, not using them in a sustainable way, is not the only manner in which humans can impact the natural environment. The other way in which humans impact the environment is pollution. Pollution refers to unwanted solid, liquid, or gaseous chemicals produced as by-products or wastes when a resource is extracted, processed, made into products or used. Pollutants don't always have to be chemical in nature. Pollution can also take the form of excessive heat, noise, light, or radiation.
Pollutants can enter the environment naturally. Volcanic ash, for example, can be viewed as a "natural" pollutant. Most natural pollution, however, is dispersed over a large area and if often diluted or broken down to harmless levels by natural processes. In contract, human generated or anthropogenic pollution tends to occur where there lots of humans, such as in or near industrial areas where large volumes of pollutants are concentrated in small volumes of air, water, and soil. Some pollutants contaminate the areas where they are produced. Others are carried by wind or flowing water far away from their original sources.
13. Sources of Pollution
Some environmental pollutants come from single, identifiable sources, such as a smokestack or sewer pipe. These are referred to as point sources of pollution, because they come from a single point or location.
Other pollutants enter the air, water, or soil from dispersed sources called non-point sources. Examples of non point sources include automobile exhaust, runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farms, and the flow of various sorts of chemicals and oil from urban streets and parking lots into nearby rivers and streams.
14. Effects of Pollution
Pollution can have a number of unwanted effects. These include:
1. Nuisance and aesthetic insult, such as unpleasant odors and reduced atmospheric visibility;
2. Property damage, such as the corrosion of metals, and the weathering building and monument materials;
3. Damage to plant and animals life, for example decreased tree & crop production or harmful effects on animals;
4. Damage to human health, such as the spread of infectious diseases, respiratory system irritation and diseases, genetic and reproductive harm, and cancers, and;
5. Disruption of natural life support systems at local, regional, and global levels which would include climate change and decreased natural recycling of chemicals as well as other undesirable effects such as increased levels of ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface due to deterioration of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons and halons.
15. Severity of Pollution
Three factors determine how severe the effects of a pollutant will be. They include:
1. Chemical nature of the pollutant - how active and toxic it is to humans, plants and animals;
2. Concentration - the amount of the chemical per unit volume of air, water, soil, and;
3. Persistence or longevity - how long the pollutant remains in the environment in its harmful form.
Three Things That Happen to Pollution
There are three ways in which humans deal with pollution. Remember we stated, that pollution is the unwanted solid, liquid, or gaseous chemicals produced as by-products or wastes, though pollution can also refer to excessive heat, noise, light, or radiation.
The first way humans deal with pollution is to create pollution, release it into the environment, and then, at some point, decide to clean it up. This is known as pollution remediation. Remediation of pollution can be extremely costly because materials or chemicals are initially paid for and wasted and because removing pollution from natural systems can be very expensive.
The second way in which deal with pollution is to create it, and then capture or change it’s' form, before releasing the remaining liquid, material or chemicals into the environment. This is known as pollution control. Pollution control technologies include the catalytic converter on your car and the carbon activated water filter on your sink.
The third and final way in which humans have learned to deal with pollution is pollution prevention. Pollution prevention refers to providing the desired service or material good without creating the pollution in the first place. An example of pollution prevention would be switching to an organic, citrus based cleaner for your kitchen sink or bathroom instead of using a caustic chemical. Of the three ways in which humans deal with pollution -- remediation, control and prevention, pollution prevention has emerged as the most preferred as well as often the least expensive.
Review - Formula for Environmental Impact
The formula for environmental impact can be expressed as follows:
EI = Population X Consumption X Technology
Env. Impact (Number of People) (Amount of Resources Consumed) (Tools or Techniques Used)
While this formula is simplistic, it is nonetheless a valuable tool for understanding the relationship human activity and environmental impact.