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Module 3: The Science of Sustainability

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The Science of Sustainability

Lesson Summary

Limits to Growth

Limits to Growth theorizes that unlimited economic growth is impossible as the world’s population would at some point consume too many natural resources for human society to exist.

No Limits To Growth has the idea that resource scarcity can be addressed by economic laws of supply and demand.

Neoliberalism is a view that the private sector should determine economic and policy priorities.

Consumerism is the belief that our economic systems should favor consumption. This can put tremendous demand on natural resource systems.

The tragedy of the commons describes a situation where different parties exploit a shared resource to the extent that the resource is depleted or destroyed.

History of Earth

The current geological era we live in is the Cenozoic. The Holocene period is the present interglacial period and features the rise of modern human civilization and the current climate and earth system.

Ecology is the study of life forms and the environment, and their interactions. Ecosystems are large networks of living organisms in a specific area.

Extinction involves severe and permanent loss of animal species. Causes of past mass extinction have included changes in climate, atmospheric changes, changes in sea level, changes in oxygen levels in the sea and changes in land structure.

For the last 10,000 years the Holocene extinction has been occurring. Estimates say that 140,000 species are lost every year. The Holocene extinction is said to be caused by habitat loss, overpredation, and climate changed caused by humans.

Earth’s Resources

Renewable energy is generated from sources that will not be depleted if used in a sustainable way. Solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydroelectric are all renewable energy sources.

Non-renewable energy sources will be depleted at some point in the future. They include coal, nuclear, natural gas, and oil.

Nuclear energy involves hazardous, radioactive materials that can cause cancer and death with exposure.

Biodiversity is an indicator of the health of an ecosystem by the variation of life that exists in it. The greatest threat to biodiversity is the loss of ecosystems through extinction.

Water is important for drinking, agriculture, sanitation, transportation, energy generation, food processing and power generation. One in six people currently lack safe drinking water.

Soil consists of layers of minerals. It is a primary nutrient base for plants and important for agriculture.


History of Earth

The current geological era we live in is the Cenozoic. The Holocene period is the present interglacial period and features the rise of modern human civilization and the current climate and earth system.

Ecology is the study of life forms and the environment, and their interactions. Ecosystems are large networks of living organisms in a specific area.

Extinction involves severe and permanent loss of animal species. Causes of past mass extinction have included changes in climate, atmospheric changes, changes in sea level, changes in oxygen levels in the sea and changes in land structure.

For the last 10,000 years the Holocene extinction has been occurring. Estimates say that 140,000 species are lost every year. The Holocene extinction is said to be caused by habitat loss, overpredation, and climate changed caused by humans.


Earth’s Resources

Renewable energy is generated from sources that will not be depleted if used in a sustainable way. Solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydroelectric are all renewable energy sources.

Non-renewable energy sources will be depleted at some point in the future. They include coal, nuclear, natural gas, and oil.

Nuclear energy involves hazardous, radioactive materials that can cause cancer and death with exposure.

Biodiversity is an indicator of the health of an ecosystem by the variation of life that exists in it. The greatest threat to biodiversity is the loss of ecosystems through extinction.

Water is important for drinking, agriculture, sanitation, transportation, energy generation, food processing and power generation. One in six people currently lack safe drinking water.

Soil consists of layers of minerals. It is a primary nutrient base for plants and important for agriculture.


Human Activity Impacts on Ecosystems

Ecosystem threats include climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, overexploitation, and introduction of invasive species.

Climate Change

Climate change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases caused by human activities include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.

Temperature

Temperature increases can affect the planet through rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, changing of the range of distribution of plants and animals, lengthening of growing seasons, changing of weather patterns, and human health effects.

Pollution

Pollution is the contamination, harm, or disruption of the natural environment through the emissions of harmful substances. Air pollution is the contamination of the atmosphere by airborne pollutants.

Municipal Solid Waste

Municipal solid waste is a waste product that becomes a form of pollution if not properly managed e.g. garbage.

Deforestation and Desertification

Two examples of habitat destruction are deforestation and desertification. Deforestation occurs when a forest is removed, converting the land to a non-forest use. Desertification is the degradation of land quality where deserts are formed through natural processes and human activity.

Overexpoitation

Overexploitation is the consumption of a natural resource at a greater rate than the resource can maintain itself.

Invasive Species

Invasive species are brought either intentionally or accidentally from other areas of the world. They may outcompete native species in an ecosystem leading to decline and extinction, become overpopulated, and be a major cost.

IPAT Relationship

IPAT (I=P x A x T) is an equation that says that environmental impact (I) is the product of three factors: Population (P), Affluence (A) and Technology (T).

The IPAT equation demonstrates that there are multiple ways of reducing undesirable effects of human activity on ecosystems.

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