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Module 3: The Science of Sustainability

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Earth's Resources

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The Science of Sustainability

Earth's Resources

Sustainability and Earth’s Resources
A basic understanding of the key resources that support the earth is essential for businesses that are concerned with sustainability. These resources support a healthy planet with rich and diverse plant and animal life. Sustainable businesses consider the impacts of their actions on these key resources.

Energy
The earth system has three primary sources that affect the flow of energy on Earth. They are solar, geothermal, and tidal. The sun (solar) is a powerful source of energy on Earth and life on Earth could not exist without it. Geothermal is the energy from within the earth and includes volcanoes and earthquakes. Tidal movement of the oceans is caused by the orbiting of the moon around the earth.

Definition
Energy is defined as the ability to do work. Work is defined as the application of a force over a distance. Energy can be divided into two broad categories: potential and kinetic. Potential energy is stored energy that has the potential to do work, such as the energy stored in a battery or fuel, while kinetic energy is energy in motion, such as waves crashing against a beach. Energy can be transferred from one form to another. Within the broad categories of potential and kinetic energy, energy can come in many different forms, including chemical, nuclear, mechanical, thermal, electrical, solar, and others.

Renewable Energy Sources
The earth’s resources, which man uses to power modern society, are classified as either renewable or nonrenewable. Renewable energy refers to energy, including electricity, generated from sources that will not be depleted if used in a sustainable manner.

Solar Energy
Electricity or thermal energy generated from the energy of the sun.



Hydroelectric Energy
Energy generated from the gravitational force of water flowing. This is the most prevalent form of renewable energy in the world.

Biomass Energy
Energy generated from the combustion of biological sources, such as wood, landfill gas, or biomass fuels (e.g., ethanol).

Geothermal Energy
Energy generated from thermal energy stored within the earth.

Wind Energy
Energy generated from wind turning the blades of a wind turbine.

Non-renewable Energy Resources
Renewable energy resources provide an alternative to more prevalent means of electrical power generation, including coal, nuclear, natural gas, and oil. These sources of energy are nonrenewable and will be depleted at some point in the future.

Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is an energy source that has tremendous potential for increased global power generation as its fuel source is not fossil fuel based and does not involve combustion. This serves to provide a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices and has the benefit of no air pollution emissions from power generation (including greenhouse gas emissions). It also is a technology that is capable of generating large amounts of energy. This has led some to claim that nuclear power is a viable clean energy technology for the future. However, this power source is not without issues.

Nuclear Energy Issues
Nuclear power involves hazardous, radioactive materials that can cause cancer and death with exposure. A history of infrequent, but damaging, power plant accidents has historically hampered investment in this technology in the United States.

Fukushima
In 2011, a tidal wave damaged the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant resulting in the full meltdown of three nuclear reactors. All of these accidents have come with high economic costs for the damage and subsequent environmental remediation.

Three Mile Island
A nuclear meltdown occurred in 1979 at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania, which resulted in the release of radioactive gases.


Chernobyl
In 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine released large quantities of nuclear contamination into the atmosphere.

Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Biodiversity is an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. Higher degrees of biodiversity imply greater ecosystem health. Biodiversity not only strengthens the overall health of the planet but also provides vital benefits to humans.
Biodiversity is important in agriculture as it provides different varieties of plants and animals for human consumption. Biodiversity helps protect other natural resources, including water and soil. A significant portion of medicine is derived directly or indirectly from organic sources. Industry relies on biological inputs, such as timber, paper, and fiber. Biodiversity also provides leisure, cultural, and aesthetic value.

The Science of Sustainability

Earth's Resources

Sustainability and Earth’s Resources
A basic understanding of the key resources that support the earth is essential for businesses that are concerned with sustainability. These resources support a healthy planet with rich and diverse plant and animal life. Sustainable businesses consider the impacts of their actions on these key resources.

Energy
The earth system has three primary sources that affect the flow of energy on Earth. They are solar, geothermal, and tidal. The sun (solar) is a powerful source of energy on Earth and life on Earth could not exist without it. Geothermal is the energy from within the earth and includes volcanoes and earthquakes. Tidal movement of the oceans is caused by the orbiting of the moon around the earth.

Definition
Energy is defined as the ability to do work. Work is defined as the application of a force over a distance. Energy can be divided into two broad categories: potential and kinetic. Potential energy is stored energy that has the potential to do work, such as the energy stored in a battery or fuel, while kinetic energy is energy in motion, such as waves crashing against a beach. Energy can be transferred from one form to another. Within the broad categories of potential and kinetic energy, energy can come in many different forms, including chemical, nuclear, mechanical, thermal, electrical, solar, and others.

Renewable Energy Sources
The earth’s resources, which man uses to power modern society, are classified as either renewable or nonrenewable. Renewable energy refers to energy, including electricity, generated from sources that will not be depleted if used in a sustainable manner.

Solar Energy
Electricity or thermal energy generated from the energy of the sun.



Hydroelectric Energy
Energy generated from the gravitational force of water flowing. This is the most prevalent form of renewable energy in the world.

Biomass Energy
Energy generated from the combustion of biological sources, such as wood, landfill gas, or biomass fuels (e.g., ethanol).

Geothermal Energy
Energy generated from thermal energy stored within the earth.

Wind Energy
Energy generated from wind turning the blades of a wind turbine.

Non-renewable Energy Resources
Renewable energy resources provide an alternative to more prevalent means of electrical power generation, including coal, nuclear, natural gas, and oil. These sources of energy are nonrenewable and will be depleted at some point in the future.

Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is an energy source that has tremendous potential for increased global power generation as its fuel source is not fossil fuel based and does not involve combustion. This serves to provide a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices and has the benefit of no air pollution emissions from power generation (including greenhouse gas emissions). It also is a technology that is capable of generating large amounts of energy. This has led some to claim that nuclear power is a viable clean energy technology for the future. However, this power source is not without issues.

Nuclear Energy Issues
Nuclear power involves hazardous, radioactive materials that can cause cancer and death with exposure. A history of infrequent, but damaging, power plant accidents has historically hampered investment in this technology in the United States.

Fukushima
In 2011, a tidal wave damaged the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant resulting in the full meltdown of three nuclear reactors. All of these accidents have come with high economic costs for the damage and subsequent environmental remediation.

Three Mile Island
A nuclear meltdown occurred in 1979 at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania, which resulted in the release of radioactive gases.


Chernobyl
In 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine released large quantities of nuclear contamination into the atmosphere.

Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Biodiversity is an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. Higher degrees of biodiversity imply greater ecosystem health. Biodiversity not only strengthens the overall health of the planet but also provides vital benefits to humans.
Biodiversity is important in agriculture as it provides different varieties of plants and animals for human consumption. Biodiversity helps protect other natural resources, including water and soil. A significant portion of medicine is derived directly or indirectly from organic sources. Industry relies on biological inputs, such as timber, paper, and fiber. Biodiversity also provides leisure, cultural, and aesthetic value.

Why is Biodiversity Important?
At least 40 percent of the world’s economy and 80 percent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.[1]

Ecosystems with High Biodiversity
List of goods/services provided by ecosystems with high biodiversity:

1 Food fuel and fiber
2 Shelter and building materials
3 Purification of air and water
4 Detoxification and decomposition of wastes
5 Stabilization and moderation of earth's climate
6 Moderation of floods, droughts, temperature extremes and the forces of wind
7 Generation and renewal of soil fertility, including nutrient cycling
8 Pollination of plants, including many crops
9 Control of pests and diseases
10 Maintenance of genetic resources as key inputs to crop varieties and livestock breeds, medicines, and other products
11 Cultural and aesthetic benefits

Risk of Extinction
Plant and animal species have been disappearing at a rate at least fifty times greater than the natural rate, and this rate is predicted to rise as human activities continue to put demands on ecosystems. Based on current trends, an estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species face extinction. Agriculture biodiversity is under extreme pressure due to modern commercial agriculture, which has focused on a few specific species of plant and many farm animal breeds are at risk of extinction.
While the loss of individual species is of great concern, of even greater concern is the continued degradation and loss of some of the world’s richest ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and coral reefs. These ecosystems are host to some of the greatest biodiversity on Earth and the loss of these ecosystems is the greatest threat to biodiversity.

Water
Water covers more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface and is vital to all forms of life. Oceans hold 97 percent of surface waters, glaciers and the ice caps hold 2.4 percent, with lakes, rivers, and other land surface waters making up the remaining 0.6 percent. Water is a vital resource to humans as it is required as drinking water; it is an essential input for agriculture; and it provides for sanitation, transportation, energy generation, food processing, and power generation (through hydroelectric plants or dams). Increases in population and current water use practices are expected to increase water consumption in food production by up to 90 percent.[2]

Clean Water
Currently, one in six people in the world lack safe drinking water, and water-related illness is the leading cause of human sickness and death. In 1989, there were 9,000 cubic meters of freshwater per capita available for human use. By 2000, this had dropped to 7,800 cubic meters, and it is expected to continue to decrease as human population increases. [3] Global per capita figures on water availability are somewhat misleading as the world’s available freshwater supply is not distributed evenly geographically, seasonally, or annually.
Water distribution is dependent on Earth’s hydrological cycle. The movement of water is part of a natural cycle of evaporation into the atmosphere, precipitation, and then runoff across the land and into streams, rivers, and lakes. This cycle is powered by the sun, which serves to move clean water about the planet.

Soil
Soil consists of layers of minerals that vary in characteristics across different geographic regions and ecosystems. Soil consists of both organic and inorganic components. Soil is a primary nutrient base for plants and therefore is important to humans for agriculture. Without soil, the earth would not support a rich base of plant and animal life, and it is an essential resource to consider in human interactions with the environment.


Earth’s Resources

Bibliography
[1] “The DAC Guidelines: Integrating the Rio Conventions into Development Co-Operation,” OECD, Annex 2, 2002.
[2] “Agriculture at a Cross Roads: International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development Global Report,” UNEP, http://www.agassessment.org/reports/IAASTD/EN/Agriculture%20at%20a%20Crossroads_Global%20Report%20(English).pdf.
[3] United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “The Makings of a Water Crisis: Can Supply Keep Up with Demand?” UNESCO Sources, no. 84 (1996): 12-13.