Main content Core Case StudyLearning from the Earth Learning Objectives LO 1.1Define

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Core Case StudyLearning from the Earth
Learning Objectives
LO 1.1Define sustainability.
LO 1.2State the definition of the term biomimicry as coined by Janine Benyus.
Sustainability is the capacity of the earth’s natural systems that support life and human economic systems to survive or adapt to changing environmental conditions indefinitely. Sustainability is the big idea and the integrating theme of this book.
The earth is a remarkable example of a sustainable system. Life has existed on the earth for about 3.8 billion years. During this time, the planet has experienced several catastrophic environmental changes. They include gigantic meteorite impacts, ice ages lasting millions of years, long warming periods that melted land-based ice and raised sea levels by hundreds of feet, and five mass extinctions—each wiping out more than half of the world’s species. Despite these dramatic environmental changes, an astonishing variety of life has survived.
How has life survived such challenges? Long before humans arrived, organisms had developed abilities to use sunlight to make their food and to recycle all of the nutrients they needed for survival. Organisms also developed a variety of ways to find food and survive. Spiders create webs that are strong enough to capture fast-moving flying insects. Bats have a radar system for finding prey and avoiding collisions. These and many other abilities and materials were developed without the use of the high-temperature or high-pressure processes or the harmful chemicals that we employ in manufacturing.
This explains why many scientists urge us to focus on learning from the earth about how to live more sustainably. Biologist Janine Benyus is a pioneer in this area. In 1997, she coined the term biomimicry to describe the rapidly growing scientific effort to understand, mimic, and catalog the ingenious ways in which nature has sustained life on the earth for 3.8 billion years. She views the earth’s life-support system as the world’s longest and most successful research and development laboratory.
How do geckos (Figure 1.1, left) cling to and walk on windows, walls, and ceilings? Scientists have learned that these little lizards have many thousands of tiny hairs growing in ridges on the toes of their feet and that each hair is divided into a number of segments that they use to grasp the tiniest ridges and cracks on a surface (Figure 1.1, right). They release their iron grip by tipping their foot until the hairs let go.
Figure 1.1
The gecko (left) has an amazing ability to cling to surfaces because of projections from many thousands of tiny hairs on its toes (right).
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This discovery led to the development of a sticky, toxin-free “gecko tape” that could replace toxin-containing glues and tapes. It is an excellent example of biomimicry, or earth wisdom, and you will see many more of such examples throughout this book.
Nature is a vast and largely unread library that can teach us how to live more sustainably on the amazing planet that is our only home. As Benyus puts it, after billions of years of trial-and-error research and development: “Nature knows what works, what is appropriate, and what lasts here on Earth.”
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1.1Principles of Sustainability
LO 1.1AOutline the three scientific principles of sustainability.
LO 1.1BExplain how biomimicry can be used to learn from the earth about how to live more sustainably.
LO 1.1CExplain how our lives and economies depend on the sun and on natural capital.
LO 1.1DList five key components of sustainability.
LO 1.1EIdentify six principles of sustainability.
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1.1aEnvironmental Science Is a Study of Connections in Nature
The environment is everything around you. It includes all the living things (such as plants and animals) and the nonliving things (such as air, water, and sunlight) with which you interact. You are part of nature and live in the environment, as reflected in the title of this textbook. Despite humankind’s many scientific and technological advances, our lives depend on sunlight and the earth for clean air and water, food, shelter, energy, fertile soil, a livable climate, and other components of the planet’s life-support system.
Environmental science is a study of life systems and connections in the natural environment. It is an interdisciplinary study of
how the earth (nature) works and has survived and thrived,
how humans interact with the environment, and
how we can live more sustainably.
It strives to answer several questions: What environmental problems do we face? How serious are they? How do they interact? What are their causes? How has nature solved such problems? How can we solve such problems? To answer such questions, environmental science integrates information and ideas from fields such as biology, chemistry, geology, geography, economics, political science, and ethics.
A key component of environmental science is ecology, the branch of biology that focuses on how living organisms interact with the living and nonliving parts of their environment. Each of the earth’s organisms, or living things, belongs to a species, or a group of organisms having a unique set of characteristics that set it apart from other groups.
A major focus of ecology is the study of ecosystems. An ecosystem is a biological community of organisms within a defined area of land or volume of water that interact with one another and with their environment of nonliving matter and energy. For example, a forest ecosystem consists of trees and other plants, animals, and organisms that decompose organic materials. These organisms interact with one another, with solar energy, and with the chemicals in the forest’s air, water, and soil.
Environmental science and ecology should not be confused with environmentalism or environmental activism, which is a social movement dedicated to protecting the earth’s life and its resources. Environmentalism is practiced more in the realms of politics and ethics than in science. However, the findings of environmental scientists can provide evidence to back the claims and activities of environmentalists.
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1.1bLearning from the Earth: Three Scientific Principles of Sustainability
Modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years—less time than the blink of an eye, relative to the 3.8 billion years during which life has existed on the earth. During our short time on the earth, and especially since 1900, we have expanded into and dominated almost all of the earth’s ecosystems, especially during the last 100 years.
We have cleared forests and plowed grasslands to grow food on 40% of the earth’s land and built cities that are home for more than half of the world’s population. We use many of the world’s natural resources and add pollution and wastes to the environment. We control 75% of the world’s freshwater and most of the ocean waters that cover 71% of the earth’s surface. This large and growing human impact threatens the existence of many species and biological centers of life such as tropical rainforests and coral reefs. Human activities also add pollutants to the earth’s air, water, and soil. According to a 2017 study of more than 130 countries by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, pollution kills about 9 million people a year, mostly from air pollution—more than the combined annual death toll from hunger and war. Many environmental scientists warn that we are degrading the planet’s life-support system that sustains all life and human economies.
Scientific studies of how the earth works reveal that three science-based natural factors play key roles in the long-term sustainability of the planet’s life, as summarized below and in Figure 1.2. Understanding these three scientific principles of sustainability, or major lessons from nature, can help us move toward a more sustainable future.
Figure 1.2
Three scientific principles of sustainability based on how nature has sustained a huge variety of life on the earth for 3.8 billion years, despite drastic changes in environmental conditions.
Solar energy: The sun’s energy warms the planet and provides energy that plants use to produce nutrients, the chemicals that plants and animals need to survive.
Biodiversity: The variety of genes, species, ecosystems, and ecosystem processes are referred to as biodiversity (short for biological diversity). Interactions among species provide vital ecosystem services and keep any population from growing too large. Biodiversity also provides ways for species to adapt to changing environmental conditions and for new species to arise and replace those wiped out by catastrophic environmental changes.
Chemical cycling: The circulation of chemicals or nutrients needed to sustain life from the environment (mostly from soil and water) through various organisms and back to the environment is called chemical cycling, or nutrient cycling. The earth receives a continuous supply of energy from the sun, but it receives no new supplies of life-supporting chemicals. Through billions of years of interactions with their living and nonliving environment, organisms have developed ways to recycle the chemicals they need to survive. This means that the wastes and decayed bodies of organisms become nutrients or raw materials for other organisms. In nature, .
Learning from Nature
The three principles of sustainability provide countless examples of learning from nature, including solar energy technologies, composting of organic waste for use as a natural fertilizer, and growing more than one crop on a plot of land to preserve and enrich topsoil. Can you match each of these examples with the appropriate principle of sustainability?
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1.1cKey Components of Sustainability
Sustainability, the integrating theme of this book, has several key components that we use as subthemes. One is natural capital—natural resources and ecosystem services that keep humans and other species alive and that support human economies (Figure 1.3).
Figure 1.3
Natural capital consists of natural resources (blue) and ecosystem services (orange) that support and sustain the earth’s life and human economies.
Natural resources are materials and energy provided by nature that are essential or useful to humans. They fall into three categories: inexhaustible resources, renewable resources, and nonrenewable (exhaustible) resources (Figure 1.4). Solar energy is an inexhaustible resource because it is expected to last for at least 5 billion years until the death of the star we call the sun.
Figure 1.4
We depend on a combination of inexhaustible, renewable, and exhaustible (nonrenewable) natural resources.
Left: Carole Castelli/ Center: Alexander Kalina/ Right: Karl Naundorf/
A renewable resource is a resource that can be used indefinitely because it is replenished through natural processes. It is available as long as it is not used faster than nature can renew it. Examples are forests, grasslands, fertile topsoil, fishes, clean air, and freshwater. The highest rate at which people can use a renewable resource indefinitely without reducing its available supply is called its maximum sustainable yield. However, according to ecologist Daniel Botkin, in the real world, it is difficult to establish meaningful maximum sustainable yields because there are too many factors and changes in environmental conditions that affect such estimates.
Nonrenewable or exhaustible resources are those that exist in a fixed amount, or stock, in the earth’s crust. Technically, these resources can be renewed through geological processes, but this takes millions of years. On the much shorter human time scale, we can use these resources faster than nature can replace them, which makes them nonrenewable (Figure 1.5). Examples of nonrenewable resources include fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal, metallic mineral resources such as copper and aluminum, and nonmetallic mineral resources such as salt and sand.
Figure 1.5
It would take more than a million years for natural processes to replace the coal that was removed from this strip mine within a couple of decades.
Ecosystem services are the natural services provided by healthy ecosystems that support life and human economies at no monetary cost to us (Figure 1.3). Key ecosystem services include purification of air and water, renewal of topsoil, pollination, and pest control. For example, forests help purify air and water, reduce soil erosion, regulate climate, and recycle nutrients. Thus, our lives and economies are sustained by energy from the sun and by natural resources and ecosystem services (natural capital) provided by the earth.
Learning from Nature
Agricultural scientists have studied organisms that protect themselves by emitting toxic chemicals when attacked by predators. They have thus learned to make pesticides derived from nature, for use against weeds and pest insects.
A vital ecosystem service is nutrient cycling, which is a scientific principle of sustainability. The earth gets no new supplies of chemicals but over billions of years, the planet’s life has developed ways to recycle the chemicals or nutrients that sustain us and all other forms of life. Without nutrient cycling in topsoil, there would be no land plants, no pollinators (another ecosystem service), and no humans or other land animals. This would also disrupt the ecosystem services that purify air and water.
A second component of sustainability—and another subtheme of this text—is that human activities can degrade natural capital. We do this by using renewable resources faster than nature can restore them and by overloading the earth’s normally renewable air, water, and soil with pollutants and wastes. For example, people in many parts of the world are replacing forests with crop plantations (Figure 1.6) that require large inputs of energy, water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Many human activities add pollutants to the air and chemicals and wastes into rivers, lakes, and oceans faster than they can be cleansed through natural processes. Many of the plastics and other synthetic materials people use poison wildlife and disrupt nutrient cycles because they cannot be broken down and used as nutrients by other organisms.
Figure 1.6
Deforestation: Tropical rainforest in Brazil was cleared to create this soybean field. More crop fields are shown in the upper portion of the photograph.
A third component of sustainability involves people finding solutions to the environmental problems we face. People can work together to protect the earth’s natural capital and to use it sustainably. For example, a solution to the loss of forests is to stop burning or cutting down mature forests faster than they can grow back. This requires that citizens become educated about the ecosystem services forests provide and work to see that forests are used sustainably.
Conflicts can arise when environmental protection has a harmful economic effect on groups of people or certain industries. Dealing with such conflicts often involves both sides making compromises or trade-offs—the fourth component of sustainability and subtheme of this book. For example, a timber company might be persuaded to plant and harvest trees in an area that it had already cleared or degraded instead of clearing an undisturbed forest area. In return, the government may subsidize (pay part of the cost) of planting new trees.
Each individual—including you—can play an important role in learning how to live more sustainably. Thus, individuals matter—the fifth component of sustainability and subtheme of this book.
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1.1dThree Additional Principles of Sustainability
Economics, politics, and ethics can provide us with three additional principles of sustainability (Figure 1.7):
Full-cost pricing (from economics): Some economists urge us to find ways to include the harmful environmental and health costs of producing and using goods and services in their market prices. This practice, called full-cost pricing, would give consumers information about the harmful environmental impacts of the goods and services they use.
Win-win solutions (from political science): Political scientists urge us to look for win-win solutions to environmental problems. This involves cooperation and compromise that will benefit the largest number of people as well as the environment.
Responsibility to future generations (from ethics): According to environmental ethicists, we have a responsibility to leave the planet’s life-support systems in a condition as good as or better than what we inherited for future generations and for other species.
Figure 1.7
Three principles of sustainability based on economics, political science, and ethics can help us make a transition to a more environmentally and economically sustainable future.
Left: Minerva Studio/ Center: mikeledray/ Right: Nine LLC
These six principles of sustainability (see inside back cover of book) can serve as guidelines to help us live more sustainably. This includes using biomimicry as a major tool for learning from the earth about how to live more sustainably (Core Case Study and Individuals Matter 1.1).
Individuals Matter 1.1
Janine Benyus: Using Nature to Inspire Sustainable Design and Living
Janine Benyus has a strong interest in learning how nature works and how to live more sustainably. She realized that 99% of the species that have lived on the earth became extinct because they could not adapt to changing environmental conditions. She views the surviving species as examples of natural genius that we can learn from.
Benyus says that when we need to solve a problem or design a product, we should ask: Has nature done this and how did it do it? We should also think about what nature does not do as a clue to what we should not do, she argues. For example, nature does not produce waste materials or chemicals that cannot be broken down and recycled.
Benyus has set up the nonprofit Biomimicry Institute that has developed a curriculum for K–12 and university students and has a 2-year program to train biomimicry professionals. She has also established a network called Biomimicry 3.8, named for the 3.8 billion years during which organisms have developed their genius for surviving. It is a network of scientists, engineers, architects, and designers who share examples of successful biomimicry through an online database called
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1.1eCountries Differ in Their Economic Development and Resource Use
The United Nations (UN) classifies the world’s countries as economically more developed or less developed, based primarily on their average income per person. More-developed countries are industrialized nations with high average incomes per person. They include the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and most other European countries. These countries, with 17% of the world’s population, use about 70% of the earth’s natural resources. The United States, with only 4.3% of the world’s population, uses about 30% of the world’s resources.
All other nations are classified as less-developed countries, most of them in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Some are middle-income, moderately developed countries such as China, India, Brazil, Thailand, and Mexico. Others are low-income, least-developed countries such as Nigeria, Bangladesh, Congo, and Haiti. The less-developed countries, with 83% of the world’s population, use about 30% of the world’s natural resources.
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1.2Human Impacts on the Earth
LO 1.2AExplain the tragedy of the commons in terms of open-access and shared resources.
LO 1.2BDefine ecological footprint and per capita ecological footprint.
LO 1.2CExplain how a country’s ecological deficit is related to its biocapacity.
LO 1.2DList the three major cultural changes that have influenced the human ecological footprint.
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1.2aGood News: Many People Have a Better Quality of Life
Humans have an awesome power to degrade or sustain the planet’s life-support system. For example, humans decide whether forests are preserved or cut down. Human activities affect the temperature of the atmosphere, the temperature and acidity of ocean waters, and which species survive or become extinct. At the same time, creative thinking, scientific research, political pressure by citizens, and regulatory laws have improved the quality of life for many of the earth’s people, especially in the more-developed countries.
Humans have developed an amazing array of useful materials and products. We have learned how to use wood, fossil fuels, the sun, wind, flowing water, the nuclei of certain atoms, and the earth’s heat (geothermal energy) to supply us with enormous amounts of energy. Most people live and work in artificial environments within buildings and cities. We have invented computers to extend our brainpower, robots to perform repetitive tasks with great precision, and electronic networks to enable instantaneous global communication.
Globally, life spans are increasing, infant mortality is decreasing, education is on the rise, some diseases are being conquered, and the world’s population growth rate has slowed. While one out of nine people live in extreme poverty, on $2 per day or less, we have brought about the greatest reduction in poverty in human history. The food supply is generally more abundant and safer, air and water are getting cleaner in many parts of the world, and exposure to toxic chemicals is more avoidable. People have protected some endangered species and ecosystems, restored some grasslands and wetlands, and forests are growing back in some areas that we cleared.
Scientific research and technological advances financed by affluence helped achieve these improvements in life and environmental quality. Education also spurred many citizens to insist that businesses and governments work toward improving environmental quality. We are a globally connected species with growing access to information that could help us shift to a more sustainable path.
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1.2bBad News: We Are Living Unsustainably
According to a large body of scientific evidence, we are living unsustainably. People waste, deplete, and degrade much of the earth’s life-sustaining natural capital—a process known as environmental degradation, or natural capital degradation (Figure 1.8).
Figure 1.8
Natural Capital Degradation: Degradation of normally renewable natural resources and natural services (Figure 1.3), mostly from population growth and increased resource use per person.
According to research, by the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network, human activities directly affect about 83% of the earth’s land surface (excluding Antarctica) (Figure 1.9). This land is used for urban development, growing crops, energy production, pasture for livestock, mining, timber cutting, and other purposes that support the world’s people and their economies.
Figure 1.9
Natural Capital Use and Degradation: Human activities have an impact on about 83% of the earth’s total land surface. Colors represent the percentage of each area influenced by human activities.
(Compiled by the authors using National Geographic Earth Pulse; Data from Mark Levy at Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information, Wildlife Conservation Society, National Footprints Accounts, and Research Gate)
Percentage of the earth’s land area affected by human activities
In parts of the world, renewable forests are shrinking (Figure 1.6), deserts are expanding, topsoil is eroding, and a third of the earth’s land is severely degraded. The lower atmosphere is warming, floating ice and many glaciers are melting at unexpected rates, sea levels are rising, and ocean acidity is increasing. There are more intense floods, droughts, heat waves, and forest fires in many areas. In a number of regions, rivers are running dry and 20% of the world’s species-rich coral reefs are gone and others are threatened. Species are becoming extinct at least 100 times faster than in prehuman times and extinction rates are projected to increase sharply during this century. Since 1970, the number of wild animals on the planet has been cut in half.
Water is also being withdrawn from some rivers and underground aquifers faster than nature replenishes them. Many fish species are being harvested faster than they can be renewed. The land and oceans are being overloaded with wastes faster than they can be recycled by the earth’s natural chemical cycles. In addition, human activities pollute the atmosphere, soil, aquifers, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
In 2005, the UN released its Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a 4-year study by 1,360 experts from 95 countries. According to this study, human activities have overused about 60% of the ecosystem services provided by nature (see orange boxes in Figure 1.3), mostly since 1950. According to these researchers, “human activity is putting such a strain 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.” They also concluded that there are scientific, economic, and political solutions to these problems that could be implemented within a few decades. Since this 2005 study, the harmful impact of human activities on the planet’s life-sustaining natural capital has increased.
There is much talk about saving the earth, but the earth does not need saving. It has been around for 4.5 billion years, has sustained life for 3.8 billion years, and has survived massive changes in environmental conditions (Core Case Study). The human species has been around for only an eye blink of the 3.8 million years of life on the earth. Human activities are degrading the earth’s life-support system but over millions of years, it will recover as it has in the past. What needs saving are our civilizations and perhaps the existence of our species and most of the earth’s other species if we continue to degrade the earth’s life-support system that sustains us and our economies. Earth will survive but we may not.
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1.2cDegrading Commonly Shared Renewable Resources: The Tragedy of the Commons
Some renewable resources, called open-access resources, are not owned by anyone and can be used by almost anyone. Examples are the atmosphere and the open ocean and its fish. Other examples of less open, but often shared resources, are grasslands, forests, streams, and underground bodies of water (aquifers). Many of these renewable resources have been environmentally degraded. In 1968, biologist Garrett Hardin (1915–2003) called such degradation the tragedy of the commons.
Degradation of such shared or open-access renewable resources occurs because each user reasons, “The little bit that I use or pollute is not enough to matter, and anyway, it’s a renewable resource.” When the level of use is small, this logic works. Eventually, however, the cumulative effect of large numbers of people trying to exploit a widely available or shared renewable resource can degrade it, eventually exhausting or ruining it. Then no one benefits and everyone loses. That is the tragedy.
One way to deal with this difficult problem is to use a shared or open-access renewable resource at a lower rate. This is done by mutually agreeing to use less of the resource, regulating access to the resource, or doing both.
Another way is to convert shared renewable resources to private ownership. The reasoning is that if you own something, you are more likely to protect your investment. However, history shows that this does not necessarily happen. In addition, this approach is not possible for open-access resources such as the atmosphere and the open ocean, which cannot be divided up and sold as private property.
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1.2dOur Growing Ecological Footprints
The effects of environmental degradation by human activities can be described as an ecological footprint—a rough measure of the total environmental impacts of individuals, cities, and countries on the earth’s natural resources, natural capital, and life-support system. A per capita ecological footprint is the average ecological footprint of an individual in a given population or defined area. Figure 1.9 shows that the human ecological footprint has impacted 83% of the earth’s land surface. Figure 1.10 shows per capita ecological footprints for various countries in 2018.
Figure 1.10
Per capita ecological footprints for various countries in 2018, in global hectares.
Compiled by the authors from the Global Footprint Network
An important measure of sustainability is biocapacity, or biological capacity—the ability of an area’s ecosystems to regenerate the renewable resources used by a population, city, region, country, or the world, and to absorb the resulting wastes and pollution. The largest component of our ecological footprint is the air pollution, climate change, and ocean acidification caused by the burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, and natural gas—to provide about 85% of the commercial energy used in the world and in the United States. If the total ecological footprint is larger than its biocapacity, the area is said to have an ecological deficit. Such a deficit occurs when people are living unsustainably by depleting natural capital instead of living off the renewable resources and ecosystem services provided by such capital. Figure 1.11 is a map of ecological debtor and creditor countries.
Figure 1.11
Ecological debtors and creditors. The ecological footprints of some countries exceed their biocapacity, while other countries have ecological reserves.
Critical Thinking:
Why do you think that the United States is an ecological debtor country?
Compiled by the authors using data from the Global Footprint Network and WWF: Living Planet Reports
Number of planet Earths needed to sustain the global rate of renewable resource use per person indefinitely
Ecological footprint data and models have been in use since the 1990s. Though imperfect, they provide useful rough estimates of individual, national, and global environmental impacts. In 2018, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Global Footprint Network estimated that humanity is using the world’s potentially renewable resources 1.7 times faster than the world’s ecosystems can replenish them. In other words, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 planet Earths to sustain the world’s average rate of renewable resource use per person far into the future. They estimated that by 2050, we would need the equivalent of 3 planet Earths to sustain the world’s projected rate of renewable resource use per person indefinitely. The current and projected future overdraft of the earth’s renewable resources and the resulting environmental degradation will be passed on to future generations.
Estimated number of Earths needed to sustain the global rate of renewable resource use per person indefinitely by 2050
Throughout this book, we discuss ways to use existing and emerging technologies and economic tools to reduce our harmful ecological footprints and to increase our beneficial environmental impacts by working with, rather than against, the earth. For example, we can cut energy waste and reduce our inputs of wastes and pollutants into the air, water, and soil. We can replant forests on degraded land, restore degraded wetlands and grasslands, and protect some species from becoming extinct.
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1.2eIPAT Is Another Environmental Impact Model
The IPAT model was developed in the early 1970s by scientists Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren. According to this model, the environmental impact (I) of human activities is the product of three factors: population size (P), affluence (A) or resource consumption per person, and the beneficial and harmful environmental effects of technologies (T). The following equation summarizes this IPAT model:
While the ecological footprint model emphasizes the use of renewable resources, the IPAT model includes the environmental impact of using both renewable and nonrenewable resources.
Between 1950 and 2018, the world’s population (P) almost tripled from 2.6 billion to 7.6 billion and could reach 9.9 billion by 2050. The rate of growth of the world’s population has slowed somewhat, but there were 91 million more of us in 2018—an average of 249,000 more people every day. Between 1950 and 2018, the global economy expanded tenfold which led to a tenfold increase in the consumption of natural resources. This has greatly increased affluence or resource use per person (the A factor), especially in more developed countries.
The T factor can be harmful or beneficial. Some forms of technology such as polluting factories, gas-guzzling motor vehicles, and coal-burning power plants increase our harmful environmental impact by raising the T factor. Other technologies reduce our harmful environmental impact by decreasing the T factor. Examples are pollution control and prevention technologies, fuel-efficient cars, and wind turbines and solar cells that generate electricity with a low environmental impact. By developing technologies that mimic natural processes (Core Case Study), scientists and engineers are finding ways to have positive environmental impacts, and we introduce such developments in biomimicry throughout this book.
In a moderately developed country such as India, population size is a more important factor than affluence based on high resource use per person, in determining the country’s environmental impact. In a highly developed country such as the United States with a much smaller population, resource use per person and the ability to develop environmentally beneficial technologies play key roles in the country’s environmental impact.
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1.2fCultural Changes Can Increase or Shrink Our Ecological Footprints
Until about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, we were mostly hunter–gatherers who obtained food by hunting wild animals or scavenging their remains and gathering wild plants. Our hunter–gatherer ancestors lived in small groups, consumed few resources, had few possessions, and moved as needed to find enough food to survive.
Since then, three major cultural changes have occurred. First was the agricultural revolution, which began around 10,000 years ago when humans learned how to grow and breed plants and animals for food, clothing, and other purposes and began living in villages instead of frequently moving to find food. They had a more reliable source of food, lived longer, and produced more children who survived to adulthood.
Second was the industrial–medical revolution, beginning about 300 years ago when people invented machines for the large-scale production of goods in factories. Many people move from rural villages to cities to work in the factories. This shift involved learning how to get energy from fossil fuels (such as coal and oil) and how to grow large quantities of food. It also included medical advances that allowed a growing number of people to have longer and healthier lives.
Third, about 50 years ago the information–globalization revolution began when we developed new technologies for gaining rapid access to all kinds of information and resources on a global scale.
Each of these three cultural changes gave us more energy and new technologies with which to alter and control more of the planet’s resources to meet our basic needs and increasing wants. They also allowed expansion of the human population, mostly because of larger food supplies and longer life spans. In addition, these cultural changes resulted in greater resource use, pollution, and environmental degradation and allowed us to dominate the planet and expand our ecological footprints (Figures 1.9) and per capita ecological footprints (Figure 1.10).
On the other hand, some technological leaps have enabled us to shrink our ecological footprints by reducing our use of energy and matter resources and our production of wastes and pollution. For example, the use of the energy-efficient LED light bulbs and energy-efficient cars and buildings, recycling, sustainable farming, and solar energy and wind energy to produce electricity are on the rise.
Many environmental scientists and other analysts see such developments as evidence of an emerging fourth major cultural change: a sustainability revolution, in which we could learn to live more sustainably during this century and thereafter. This would involve avoiding degradation and depletion of the natural capital that supports all life and our economies and restoring natural capital that we have degraded (Figure 1.3). Making this shift involves learning how nature has sustained life for over 3.8 billion years and using these lessons from nature to shrink our ecological footprints and increase our beneficial environmental impacts.
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1.3Causes of Environmental Problems
LO 1.3ADescribe exponential growth in terms of human population growth.
LO 1.3BExplain how affluence can cause environmental problems.
LO 1.3CGive three examples of hidden harmful environmental and health costs.
LO 1.3DList three effects of the nature deficit disorder.
LO 1.3EList the three major categories of environmental worldviews.
LO 1.3FList six biomimicry principles identified by people working in the field of biomimicry.
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1.3aMajor Environmental Problems
Here are six major environmental problems that we face:
Climate change
Loss of species and habitats (biodiversity loss)
Ocean acidification
Diminishing access to freshwater
Resource waste
Hazardous pollutants.
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1.3bBasic Causes of Environmental Problems
To deal with the environmental problems we face we must understand their causes. According to a significant number of environmental and social scientists, the major causes of today’s environmental problems are:
population growth
wasteful and unsustainable resource use
omission of the harmful environmental and health costs of goods and services in market prices
increasing isolation from nature
competing environmental worldviews.
We discuss each of these causes in detail in later chapters. Let us begin with a brief overview of them.
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1.3cHuman Population Growth
Exponential growth occurs when a quantity increases at a fixed percentage per unit of time, such as 0.5% or 2% per year. Exponential growth starts slowly, but after a few doublings it grows to enormous numbers because each doubling is twice the total of all earlier growth. When we plot the data for an exponentially growing quantity, we get a curve that looks like the letter J.
For an example of the awesome power of exponential growth, consider a simple form of bacterial reproduction in which one bacterium splits into two every 20 minutes. Starting with one bacterium, after 20 minutes, there would be 2; after an hour, there would be 8; ten hours later, there would be more than 1,000; and after just 36 hours (assuming that nothing interfered with their reproduction), there would be enough bacteria to form a layer 0.3 meters (1 foot) deep over the entire earth’s surface.
The human population has grown exponentially (Figure 1.12). In 2018, the global population of 7.6 billion people was growing at a rate of 1.2%, which added 91 million people to the earth’s population. By 2050, the population could reach 9.9 billion—an addition of 2.3 billion people within your lifetime.
Figure 1.12
Exponential growth: The J-shaped curve represents past exponential world population growth, with projections to 2100 showing possible population stabilization as the J-shaped curve of growth changes to an S-shaped curve. The top 10 countries (left) had 58% of the world’s total population in 2018.
Data Analysis:
By what percentage did the world’s population increase between 1960 and 2018? (This figure is not to scale.)
Compiled by the authors using data from the World Bank, United Nations, and Population Reference Bureau. Photo: NASA.
Exponential Growth and Doubling Time: The Rule of 70
The doubling time of the human population or of any exponentially growing quantity can be calculated by using the rule of 70: . The world’s population is growing at about 1.20% per year. At this rate how long will it take to double its size?
No one knows how many people the earth can support indefinitely and how much average resource consumption per person will increase. However, humanity’s large and expanding ecological footprints and the resulting natural capital degradation are disturbing warning signs.
Some analysts call for us to reduce environmental degradation by slowing population growth with the goal of leveling it off at around 8 billion by 2050 instead of the projected 9.9 billion. We examine the possible ways to do this in Chapter 6. Other analysts call for us to shift from environmentally harmful to environmentally beneficial forms of economic growth, which we discuss in Chapter 23.
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1.3dAffluence and Unsustainable Resource Use
The lifestyles of the world’s expanding population of consumers are built on growing affluence, or resource consumption per person, as more people earn higher incomes. As total resource consumption and average resource consumption per person increase, so do environmental degradation, resource waste, and pollution, unless we can live more sustainably.
The effects of affluence can be dramatic. The WWF and the Global Footprint Network estimate that the United States, with only 4.3% of the world’s population, is responsible for about 23% of the global ecological footprint. The average American consumes about 30 times the amount of resources that the average Indian consumes and 100 times the amount consumed by the average person in the world’s poorest countries. The WWF has projected that we would need the equivalent of 5 planet Earths to sustain the world’s current population indefinitely if everyone used renewable resources at the same rate as the average American did in 2014.
Number of Earths needed to sustain the world’s population indefinitely if everyone used renewable resources at the same rate as the average American
On the other hand, affluence can allow for widespread and better education, which can lead people to become more concerned about environmental quality and sustainability. Affluence also makes more money available for developing technologies to reduce pollution, environmental degradation, and resource waste. In addition, it can provide ways for humans to increase their beneficial environmental impacts.
Critical Thinking
Some see the rapid population growth in less-developed countries as the primary cause of our environmental problems. Others say that the high rate of resource use per person in more-developed countries is a more important factor. Which factor do you think is more important? Why?
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1.3eExclusion of Harmful Environmental and Health Costs
Another basic cause of environmental problems has to do with how the marketplace prices goods and services. Companies using resources to provide goods for consumers generally are not required to pay for most of the harmful environmental and health costs of supplying such goods. For example, timber companies pay the cost of clear-cutting forests but do not pay for the resulting environmental degradation and loss of wildlife habitat.
The primary goal of a company is to maximize profits for its owners or stockholders, so it is not inclined to add these costs to its prices voluntarily. Because the prices of goods and services do not include most of their harmful environmental and health costs, consumers have no effective way to know the harm caused by what they buy.
For example, producing and using gasoline results in air pollution and other problems that damage the environment and people’s health. Scientists and economists have estimated that the price of gasoline to U.S. consumers would rise by $3.18 per liter ($12 per gallon) if the estimated short- and long-term harmful environmental and health costs, or hidden costs, were included in its pump price. Thus, when gas costs $2 per gallon, the actual cost is about $14 per gallon. Consumers pay these hidden costs, but not at the gas pump.
Critical Thinking
Would you oppose increasing the tax on gasoline to include its harmful environmental and health costs? Why or why not? Suppose the price of gasoline included its harmful environmental and health effects and was therefore $14 a gallon. How would this affect your decision on what type of car to buy or whether to go without a car and instead make greater use of walking, bicycling, and mass transit?
Another problem can arise when governments give companies subsidies such as tax breaks and payments to assist them with using resources to run their businesses. This helps create jobs and stimulate economies, but environmentally harmful subsidies encourage the depletion and degradation of natural capital, and they are another form of hidden costs to taxpayers.
According to environmental economists, people could live more sustainably and increase our beneficial environmental impact if the harmful environmental and health costs of the goods and services were included in market prices of what they buy. This would place a monetary value on the natural capital that supports all economies. Such full-cost pricing is a powerful economic tool and is one of the six principles of sustainability.
Economists propose two ways to implement full-cost pricing over the next few decades. One is to shift from environmentally harmful government subsidies to environmentally beneficial subsidies that sustain or enhance natural capital. Examples of environmentally beneficial subsidies are those that reward sustainable forest management, replanting degraded forests and grasslands, sustainable agriculture, and increased use of wind and solar power to produce electricity. A second way to implement full-cost pricing is to increase taxes on pollution and wastes and reduce taxes on income and wealth. We discuss such subsidy shifts and tax shifts in Chapter 23.
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1.3fIsolation from Nature
Today, more than half of the world’s people and three out of four people in more-developed countries live in urban areas, and this shift from rural to urban living is continuing at a rapid pace. Urban environments and the increasing use of cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices are isolating people, especially children, from the natural world. Most people have lost their connectedness to the land and the rest of their natural life support system. As a result, they don’t understand that the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, everything they use, and every chemical element in their body comes from the earth. When we harm or degrade the earth’s life support system we harm ourselves.
Some argue that this has led to a phenomenon called nature deficit disorder. People with this disorder may suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, and other problems. Research indicates that experiencing nature can reduce stress, improve mental abilities, activate one’s imagination and creativity, and lead to better health. The research also shows that when people are isolated from nature, they are less likely to act in ways that will lessen their harmful environmental impacts, because they are not aware of their impacts and their utter dependence on the earth.
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1.3gDiffering Environmental Views
Another reason why environmental problems persist is that people differ over the nature and seriousness of the world’s environmental problems and their possible solutions. These disagreements arise mostly because of differing environmental worldviews. Your environmental worldview is your set of assumptions and values concerning how the natural world works and how you think you should interact with the environment. Environmental worldviews influence how people interact with their environment and how they respond to environmental problems.
Your environmental worldview is determined partly by your environmental ethics—what you believe about what is right and what is wrong in your behavior toward the environment. Here are some important ethical questions relating to the environment:
Why should we care about the environment?
Are humans the most important species on the planet or are they just another one of the earth’s millions of life forms?
Do people have an obligation to see that their activities do not cause the extinction of other species? If so, should people try to protect all species or only some? How do we decide which to protect?
Does the current generation have an ethical obligation to pass the natural world on to future generations in a condition that is as good as or better than what they inherited?
Should every person be entitled to equal protection from environmental hazards regardless of race, gender, age, national origin, income, social class, or any other factor? (This is the central ethical and political issue for what is known as the environmental justice movement; see Chapter 24 for more on this topic.)
Should we seek to live more sustainably, and if so, how?
Critical Thinking
How would you answer each of the questions above? Compare your answers with those of your classmates. Record your answers and, at the end of this course, return to these questions to see if your answers have changed.
People with different environmental worldviews can take the same data, be logically consistent with it, and arrive at quite different answers to such questions. This happens because they start with different assumptions and moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. Environmental worldviews are discussed in detail in Chapter 25, but here is a brief introduction.
There are three major categories of environmental worldviews: human-centered, life-centered, and earth-centered. A human-centered environmental worldview sees the natural world primarily as a support system for human life. Two variations in this worldview are the planetary management worldview and the stewardship worldview. Both worldviews hold that humans are separate from and in charge of nature and that we should manage the earth for benefit of humans. They also contend that if we degrade or deplete a natural resource or ecosystem service, we can use our technological ingenuity to find substitutes. According to the stewardship worldview, we have a responsibility to be caring and responsible managers, or stewards, of the planet for current and future human generations.
According to the life-centered environmental worldview, all species have value in fulfilling their ecological roles, regardless of their potential or actual use to society. Eventually, all species become extinct. However, most people with a life-centered worldview believe that we ought to avoid hastening the extinction of species through human activities because each species is a unique part of the biosphere that sustains all life.
According to the earth-centered environmental worldview, we are part of and live within nature, as the title of this textbook Living in the Environment indicates. This view also holds that we are dependent on nature, and that the earth’s natural capital exists for all species, not just for humans. When we harm the earth’s life support system, we harm ourselves because everything in nature is connected. According to this worldview, our economic success and the long-term survival of our cultures, our species, and many other species depend on learning how life on the earth has sustained itself for billions of years (Figure 1.2) and integrating such lessons from nature (Core Case Study and Science Focus 1.1) into the ways we think and act.
Science Focus 1.1
Some Biomimicry Principles
According to Janine Benyus (Individuals Matter 1.1): “The study of biomimicry reveals that life creates conditions conducive to life.” She calls for us to evaluate each of the goods and services we produce and use by asking: Is it something nature would do? Does it help sustain life? Will it last?
Benyus recognizes three levels of biomimicry. The first involves mimicking the characteristics of species such as bumps on a whale’s fins or the wing and feather designs of birds that are believed to have enhanced the long-term survival of such species. The second and deeper level involves mimicking the processes that species use to make shells, feathers, and other parts that benefit their long-term survival without using or producing toxins and without using the high-temperature or high-pressure processes we use in manufacturing. The third and deepest level involves mimicking the long-term survival strategies and beneficial environmental effects of natural ecosystems such as forests and coral reefs. Benyus is working with others to use this third level of biomimicry to design more sustainable cities.
Since 1997, scientists, engineers, and others working in the field of biomimicry have identified several principles that have sustained life on the earth for billions of years. They have found that life:
Runs on sunlight, not fossil fuels
Adapts to changing environmental conditions
Depends on biodiversity for population control and adaptation
Creates no waste because the matter outputs of one organism are resources for other organisms
Does not pollute its own environment
Does not produce chemicals that cannot be recycled by the earth’s chemical cycles.
By learning from nature and using such principles, innovative scientists, engineers, and business people are leading a biomimicry revolution by creating life-friendly goods and services and profitable businesses that could enrich and sustain life far into the future.
Critical Thinking
Which, if any, of the proposed principles of biomimicry do you follow in your life? How might your lifestyle change if you followed all of these principles? Would you resist or embrace doing this? Why or why not?
Learning from Nature
Some applications of nature’s lessons are so common they easy to overlook. For example, engineers developed water filters by studying how nature filters water through rock and soil. Can you think of another obvious examples?
Case Study
The Rise of Environmental Conservation and Protection in the United States
When European colonists arrived in North America in the early 1600s, they viewed it as a land with inexhaustible resources and as a wilderness to be conquered and managed for human use. It offered the newcomers abundant land and fresh water, rich soils, diverse forests, vast grasslands, abundant renewable fish and furs, and a great diversity of minerals. As settlers spread across the continent, they cleared forests to build settlements, plowed up grasslands to plant crops, and mined for gold, lead, and other minerals.
In 1864, George Perkins Marsh, a scientist and member of the U.S. Congress from Vermont, questioned the idea that America’s resources were inexhaustible. He used scientific studies and case studies to show how the rise and fall of past civilizations were linked to the use and misuse of their soils, water supplies, and other resources. Marsh was one of the founders of the U.S. conservation movement.
Early in the 20th century, this movement split into two factions that differed over how to use U.S. public lands owned jointly by all American citizens. The preservationist view, led by naturalist John Muir (Figure 1.13), wanted wilderness areas on some public lands to be left untouched so they could be preserved indefinitely. The conservationist view was promoted by President Teddy Roosevelt (Figure 1.14) and Gifford Pinchot. Roosevelt was president of the United States and Pinchot was the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. They believed that all public lands should be managed wisely and scientifically, primarily to provide resources for people.
Figure 1.13
As leader of the preservationist movement, John Muir (1838–1914) called for setting aside some of the country’s public lands as protected wilderness, an idea that was not enacted into law until 1964. Muir was also largely responsible for establishing Yosemite National Park in 1890. In 1892, he founded the Sierra Club, which is, to this day, a political force working on behalf of the environment.
Figure 1.14
Effective protection of forests and wildlife on federal lands did not begin until Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858–1919) became president. His term of office, 1901–1909, has been called the country’s Golden Age of Conservation. He established 36 national wildlife reserves, 5 national parks, and more than tripled the size of the national forest reserves.
Aldo Leopold (Figure 1.15)—wildlife manager, professor, writer, and conservationist—was trained in the conservation view but shifted toward the preservation view. In 1935, he helped found the U.S. Wilderness Society. Through his writings, especially his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac, he laid the groundwork for the field of environmental ethics. He argued that the role of the human species should be to protect nature, not conquer it.
Figure 1.15
Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) became a leading conservationist and his book, A Sand County Almanac, is considered an environmental classic that helped to inspire the modern conservation and environmental movements.
Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation,
Later in the 20th century, the concept of resource conservation was broadened to include preservation of the quality of the planet’s air, water, soil, and wildlife. A prominent pioneer in that effort was biologist Rachel Carson (Figure 1.16). In 1962, she published Silent Spring, which documented the pollution of air, water, and wildlife from the widespread use of pesticides such as DDT. This influential book heightened public awareness of pollution problems and led to the regulation of several dangerous pesticides.
Figure 1.16
Rachel Carson (1907–1964) alerted us to the harmful effects of the widespread use of pesticides. Many environmental historians mark Carson’s wake-up call as the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the United States during the late 1960s and the 1970s.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Between 1940 and 1970, the United States underwent rapid economic growth and industrialization. The by-products of industrialization were increased air and water pollution and large quantities of solid and hazardous wastes. Air pollution was so bad in many cities that drivers had to use their car headlights during the daytime. Thousands died each year from the harmful effects of air pollution. A stretch of the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland, Ohio, was so polluted with oil and other flammable pollutants that it caught fire several times. A devastating oil spill off the California coast occurred in 1969. Well-known wildlife species such as the American bald eagle, the grizzly bear, the whooping crane, and the peregrine falcon became endangered.
Growing publicity over these problems led the American public to demand government action. When the first Earth Day was held on April 20, 1970, some 20 million people in more than 2,000 U.S. communities and college and university campuses attended rallies to demand improvements in environmental quality. The first Earth Day and the resulting bottom-up political pressure it created led the U.S. government to establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and to pass most of the U.S. environmental laws now in place during the 1970s, which became known as the decade of the environment.
Since 1970, many grassroots environmental organizations have sprung up to help deal with environmental threats. Interest in environmental issues has grown on many college and university campuses, resulting in the expansion of environmental science and environmental studies courses and programs. In addition, awareness of critical, complex, and largely invisible environmental issues has increased. They include threats to species and ecosystems where they live, depletion of underground water supplies (aquifers), ocean warming, ocean acidification, and climate change.
Since 1980, there has been a backlash against U.S. environmental laws and regulations led by some corporate leaders, some members of Congress, landowners, and state and local government officials who resented having to implement environmental laws and regulations with little or no federal funding. They contended that environmental laws hinder economic growth and threaten private property rights and jobs. Since 1980, they have pushed to weaken or eliminate many environmental laws passed during the 1970s and to eliminate the EPA. These efforts continue today. Since the 1980s, environmental leaders and their supporters have had to spend much of their time and financial resources fighting efforts to weaken or repeal key environmental laws.
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1.4Environmentally Sustainable Societies
LO 1.4AExplain why an environmentally sustainable society protects natural capital.
LO 1.4BList six requirements for living more sustainably.
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1.4aProtecting Natural Capital and Living on Its Income
Living sustainably means living in a way that does not reduce the environment’s ability to support the earth’s current and future life. An environmentally sustainable society protects natural capital and lives on its income. Such a society would meet the current and future basic resource needs of its people in a just and equitable manner without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their basic resource needs. This is in keeping with the ethical principle of sustainability.
Imagine that you win $1 million in a lottery. Suppose you invest this money (your capital) and earn 10% interest per year. If you live on just the interest income made by your capital, you will have a sustainable annual income of $100,000. You can spend $100,000 each year indefinitely and not deplete your capital. However, if you consistently spend more than your income, you will deplete your capital. Even if you spend just $10,000 more per year while still allowing the interest to accumulate, your money will be gone within 18 years.
This lesson here is an old one: Protect your capital and live on the income it provides. Deplete or waste your capital and you will move from a sustainable to an unsustainable lifestyle.
The same lesson applies to using the earth’s natural capital (Figure 1.3). This natural capital is a global trust fund of natural resources and ecosystem services that are available to people now and in the future and to all of the earth’s other species. Living sustainably means living on natural income, which is the renewable resources such as plants, animals, soil, clean air, and clean water, provided by the earth’s natural capital. By preserving and replenishing the earth’s natural capital that supplies this income, people can reduce their ecological footprints and expand their beneficial environmental impact. For example, the earth’s elephants are in trouble and some people are working to help protect them (Individuals Matter 1.2).
Individuals Matter 1.2
Tuy Sereivathana: Elephant Protector
© Allison Shelley/Wild Earth Allies
Since 1970, Cambodia’s forest cover has declined from 70% of the country’s land area to 30%, primarily because of population growth, rapid development, illegal logging, and civil war. This severe forest loss forced elephants to search for food and water on farmlands and led to conflict between elephants and people, who sometimes killed elephants to protect their food supply.
Since 1995, Tuy Sereivathana (Vathana), with a master’s degree in forestry, has been working to accomplish two goals. One is to double the population of Cambodia’s endangered Asian elephants by 2030. The other is to develop effective mitigation strategies with farmers that reduce conflicts with elephants while improving food security for local people.
Vathana has helped farmers set up nighttime lookouts and shared strategies that scare away elephants using foghorns, fireworks, and fences. He has also encouraged farmers to plant crops that elephants find unpalatable such as eggplant and chili to protect traditional crops that elephants love, like watermelons and bananas.
Thanks to Vathana’s efforts, human-elephant conflict has declined significantly in Cambodia. In 2010 Sereivathana was one of the six recipients of the Goldman Environmental prize (often dubbed the “Nobel prize for the environment”). In 2011 he was named a National Geographic Explorer.
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1.4bWe Can Live More Sustainably
Living more sustainability means learning to live within limits imposed by the earth. Doing this requires:
Learning from nature (Core Case Study and Science Focus 1.1)
Protecting natural capital
Not wasting resources (there is no waste in nature)
Recycling and reusing nonrenewable resources
Using renewable resources no faster than nature can replenish them
Including the harmful health and environmental costs of producing and using goods and services in their market prices
Preventing future ecological damage and repairing past damage
Cooperating with one another to find win-win solutions to the environmental problems we face
Accepting the ethical responsibility to pass the earth’s life-support system on to future generations in a condition as good as or better than what we inherited.
One of our goals in writing this book has been to provide a realistic vision of how we can live more sustainably. We base this vision not on immobilizing fear, gloom, and doom, but on education about how the earth sustains life and human economies and on energizing and realistic hope.
Big Ideas
We can ensure a more sustainable future by relying more on energy from the sun and other renewable energy sources, protecting biodiversity through the preservation of natural capital, and not disrupting the earth’s vital chemical cycles.
A major goal for achieving a more sustainable future is full-cost pricing—the inclusion of harmful environmental and health costs in the market prices of goods and services.
We will benefit ourselves and future generations if we commit ourselves to finding win–win solutions to environmental problems and to leaving the planet’s life-support system in a condition as good as or better than what we inherited.
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Tying It All TogetherLearning from the Earth and Sustainability
Vaclav Volrab/
We opened this chapter with a Core Case Study about learning from nature by understanding how the earth—the only truly sustainable system—has sustained an incredible diversity of life for 3.8 billion years despite drastic and long-lasting changes in the planet’s environmental conditions. Part of the answer involves learning how to apply the six principles of sustainability (Figures 1.2 and 1.7 and inside back cover of this book) to the design and management of our economic and social systems, and to our individual lifestyles.
We can use such strategies to slow the rapidly expanding losses of biodiversity, to sharply reduce our production of wastes and pollution, to switch to more sustainable sources of energy, to promote more sustainable forms of agriculture and other uses of land and water, and to slow climate change. We can also use these principles to sharply reduce poverty and slow human population growth.
You are a member of the 21st century’s transition generation, which will play a major role in deciding whether humanity creates a more sustainable future or continues on an unsustainable path toward further environmental degradation and disruption. It is an incredibly exciting and challenging time to be alive as we struggle to develop a more sustainable relationship with the earth that keeps us alive and supports our economies.
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Chapter Review
Critical Thinking
Why is biomimicry so important? Find an example of something in nature that you think could be mimicked for some beneficial purpose. Explain that purpose and how biomimicry could apply.
What do you think are the three most environmentally unsustainable components of your lifestyle? List two ways in which you could apply each of the six principles of sustainability (Figures 1.2 and 1.7 and inside back cover of book) to making your lifestyle more environmentally sustainable.
For each of the following actions, state one or more of the three scientific principles of sustainability that are involved:
recycling aluminum cans;
using a rake instead of a leaf blower;
walking or bicycling to class instead of driving;
taking your own reusable bags to a store to carry your purchases home; and
volunteering to help restore a prairie or other degraded ecosystem.
Explain why you agree or disagree with the following propositions:
Stabilizing the human population is not desirable because, without more consumers, economic growth would slow.
The world will never run out of resources because we can use technology to find substitutes and to help us reduce resource waste.
We can shrink our ecological footprints while creating beneficial environmental impacts.
Should nations with large ecological footprints (such as the United States and China) reduce their footprints to decrease their harmful environmental impact and leave more resources for nations with smaller footprints and for future generations? Why or why not?
When you read that at least 19,000 children age 5 and younger die each day (13 per minute) from preventable malnutrition and infectious disease, what is your response? How would you address this problem?
Explain why you agree or disagree with each of the following statements:
humans are superior to other forms of life;
humans are in charge of the earth;
the value of other forms of life depends only on whether they are useful to humans;
all forms of life have a right to exist;
all economic growth is good;
nature has an almost unlimited storehouse of resources for human use;
technology can solve our environmental problems;
I don’t have any obligation to future generations; and
I don’t have any obligation to other forms of life.
What are the basic beliefs of your environmental worldview? Record your answer. At the end of this course, return to your answer to see if your environmental worldview has changed. Are the beliefs included in your environmental worldview consistent with the answers you gave to Question 7 above? Are your actions that affect the environment consistent with your environmental worldview? Explain.
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Chapter Review
Doing Environmental Science
Estimate your own ecological footprint by using one of the many estimator tools available on the Internet. Is your ecological footprint larger or smaller than you thought it would be, according to this estimate? Why do you think this is so? List three ways in which you could reduce your ecological footprint. Try one of them for a week, and write a report on this change. List three ways you could increase your beneficial environmental impact.
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Chapter Review
Ecological Footprint Analysis
If the ecological footprint per person of a country or the world is larger than its biocapacity per person to replenish its renewable resources and absorb the resulting waste products and pollution, the country or the world is said to have an ecological deficit. If the reverse is true, the country or the world has an ecological credit or reserve. See Figure 1.11 for a map of the world’s ecological debtor and creditor countries. Use the data in the accompanying table to calculate the ecological deficit or credit for the countries listed. (As an example, this value has been calculated and filled in for World.)
Which three countries have the largest ecological deficits? For each of these countries, why do you think it has a deficit?
Rank the countries with ecological credits in order from highest to lowest credit. For each country, why do you think it has an ecological credit?
Rank all of the countries in order from the largest to the smallest per capita ecological footprint.
Per Capita Ecological Footprint (hectares per person)
Per Capita Biocapacity (hectares per person)
Ecological Credit (+) or Deficit (−) (hectares per person)
United States
South Africa
United Arab Emirates
Russian Federation
United Kingdom
Compiled by the authors using data from World Wide Fund for Nature: Living Planet Report 2017, and the Global Footprint Network 2018.
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