Chris Martenson’s Crash Course

Economics, energy and environment are extremely interconnected and interdependent. Without energy to fuel industry, there is no economy. Without natural resource (environment) there is no energy. Environmental science and ecology focus heavily on the relationships between economics, energy and environment (1).  During the first week of classes, we discussed the relationships between energy, economics, and environment. The environment provides vital ecosystem services and natural resources that the world economy is dependent on.  Examples of resources that the earth provides humans are oil, wind, and water. All of these resources can be transformed into energy resources. Problems are arising with the depletion of natural resources as a result of exponential human population growth. Human population has doubled in the last 40 years (1). The growing amount of people on the planet has caused environmental degradation. This environmental degradation has affected available energy resources, which in turn has negatively impacted the global economy.

Chris Martenson is a trained scientist who has completely changed his life based on the notion that he believes that next 20 years will be extremely different than the past 20.  The series of videos we watched were called “Crash Course” and their purpose is to inform the general public about the predicaments we are currently in.  He holds a Ph.D. and a post-doctoral degree from Duke as well as MBA from Cornell, therefore he is very well educated and a creditable source.

The “Crash Course” videos found on YouTube are a condensed version of Martenson’s longer DVD set and book describing the current conflict between Energy, Economics and the Environment (the three Es).  In the videos, Martenson introduces the topic of exponential growth and how it affects human growth and consumption. The economic portion of Martenson’s videos is based on the idea that we live in world economy dependent on constant economic growth. The problem with this is the fact that economic growth is dependent on oil production. Oil production is the main source of energy on the planet. The problem with oil as our main source of energy is that the earth’s reserves are being severely depleted, at a rate that is not sustainable.  According to Martenson, we cannot afford or support the growth rate that we have become accustomed to; the earth cannot sustain the increasing population and consumption.

The graph above shows how consumption of key natural resources is being used and depleted at exponential rates. Martenson explains that if he graphed any resource and how consumption has changed in the last twenty years the graph would look the same.  This increse, according to Martenson, puts the next generations in danger of lacking key resources.

Similarly, this graph shows when “Oil Shocks” appeared in the past. Martenson believes another shock is not 20 or 30 years away, but looming. We have passed peak oil production and this has profound implications.

  1. Withgott, Jay, and Scott R. Brennan. Environment: The Science Behind the Stories. San Francisco, CA: Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, 2007. Print
  2. YouTube Video Series Chris Martenson Crash Course 1-6

Humans and Biodiversity

Biodiversity or biological diversity is the term used to describe the variety of life forms across all the different levels of biological organization, such as genetic composition, population and community diversity, and different species (1). Biodiversity is directly related to speciation, the procedure by which new species are generated.  Speciation can occur in a multitude of ways, but the majority of scientists agree that different populations separated by geographical barriers or allopatric speciation is the main method (1). Earth is defined by its biodiversity.  Earth’s ability to support life makes it unique and the wide variety of life forms found here make earth the ideal place to support life.

Humans have only been around for small portion of the history of the earth.  The question I will evaluate in this blog is how human existence has directly affected earth’s biodiversity.  It is clearly evident that human expanding habitats have depleted resources and changed the composition of ecosystems. Human population growth has reached a new high, with the human population at over seven billion people and continuing to growth exponentially.  This dramatic increase in the human population since the industrial revolution has drastically affected earth’s biodiversity.

Humans are a part of earth’s biodiversity, yet we choose to use grasslands to cultivate one crop, destroy forests in order to have single species tree farms, and favor fish farms to the ocean (2).  This movement away from biodiversity is unsustainable and has led to species extinction.  In fact since the industrial revolution (x amount) of species have gone extinct. This can be directly related to the impediment of humans on various species habitats. Extinction is irreversible, making it a severe environmental problem.  Excessive fishing, hunting, and harvesting are three main causes of extinction caused by humans.  Amphibians survived the K-T extinction, which wiped out 70% of the species on earth 65 million years ago (1).  Today, 40% of amphibian species are in decline and 30% are endangered. (1).   Extinction rates are much higher than new species are emerging, which is greatly threatening earth’s biodiversity.  This is partially due to deforestation in the rainforests. Cutting down rainforests destroys the habitats for millions of species, forcing them out of their homes and killing many in the process.  This deforestation and extinction of species is affecting absorption of carbon dioxide (2).  This lack of carbon dioxide absorption is affecting global climate change. Human’s affects on biodiversity are multi-dimensional.  Biodiversity is to the human race’s advantage, seeing as it provides natural processes such as carbon and nitrogen fixation.  These natural processes are vulnerable because of how humans are affecting biodiversity.

In conclusion, humans are main factor when it comes to changing biodiversity.  The affects humans have on biodiversity have changed dramatically since the industrial revolution, which resulted in a boom in population.  This boom in population forced humans to expand their cities, farms, and factories, which in turn changed the habitats of many species.  This change in conjunction with the increase in need for food caused the depletion of many plant and animal species.  Humans are partially responsible for what appears to be the sixth mass extinction (3). In my opinion, unless the human race is able to cease destroying habitats and begin to preserve life the results of this could be disastrous to all living species.  Sustainable development is vital to protecting all species and ensuring the preservation of earth’s biodiversity.

The Golden Toad went extinct in 1989, from the Costa Rican rainforest due to various environmental changes, such as deforestation and global climate change (4).

 

References

1) Environment: The Science Behind the Stories, 4/E by Jay H.
Withgott & Scott R. Brennan, Prentice Hall (2010)

2)”Why Humans Need Biodiversity” retrieved on November 6th 2011 from http://www.utne.com/Environment/Why-Humans-Need-Biodiversity.aspx

3) “The Extinction of Plant and Animal Species” retrieved on November 5th 2011 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12965

4) “Golden Toad Picture” and information retrieved on November 7th 2011 from http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/recently-extinct-animals-list-470209

Environmental Justice

A Look Inside the Correlation Between Social Status and Environmental Stress

Environmental ethics, economics, and justice are ideas that have different meanings for different people. Each idea develops out of person’s specific worldview. These ideas are very different topics, but all intertwined. Environmental ethics deals with how humans interact with their environment and other living things and how one applies ethical principles to these interactions. Economics studies the interactions between consumers and producers of goods within a market.  The state of the world economy has a great affect on how the environment is treated. Justice is the foundation of ethics. Justice defines how a society functions. Without justice, there would not be any environmental ethics or any ethics in general.

In general, low-income areas in the United States are located near dumps or other areas of significant environmental pollution. This pollution is not limited to waste, but can also include noise, air and nuclear contamination.  Houses and schools built near these areas are less expense to build, because the land is contaminated and people who can afford to live in better areas do not want to purchase the land.  Similarly, government and low income housing is usually located in areas where no one else wants to live.  For example, in my town there is a factory that manufactures dye. The factory emits a significant amount of air pollution, water pollution and noise pollution. Therefore the area surrounding the factory is not considered prime real estate. Within the proximity of the factory, the housing is dilapidated and inhabited by people who cannot afford to live in better place. This entire situation seems very unfair.

Advocates of environmental justice are obviously concerned with situations that parallel the one in my town. Shelter is a basic human need and having safe housing should be accessible to everyone. Economics ties into this problem because contractors can build less expensive housing on cheaper land. As a result, people of lower socioeconomic status can only afford housing in areas using affected by some type of pollution.  In order to ensure that poorer people have access to the same safe housing areas as wealthier people, we must work together to prevent further pollution and clean up current pollution. This could be as simple as updating outdated equipment at in factories.

This problem has multiple solutions; solutions that vary based on one’s worldview. For example, if you asked preservationist what the best solution to the issue, they would advocate protecting the environment from further damage, by updating the factory and cleaning up current pollution.  In a similar manner, a conservationist would look to continue consumption, simply on a smaller scale. For example, a conservationist would look for a way to make the factory more efficient in order to create less pollution.  According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the definition of environmental justice is “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies [1].” Therefore if an environmental justice advocate looked at this situation would seek retribution for past violations of environmental justice in the area, such as financial compensation.  Furthermore, the advocate would also seek stricter laws and codes to be implemented in order to protect the people inhabiting the area and the environment it from continuing damage. Neoclassical economist would have a much different opinion on the entire situation. Economists have a history of looking out for what is best for making money, which does not usually include what is best for the environment. The neoclassical economist in this situation would only be concerned with maximizing the factory’s production rate, in order to meet demand. Much to the contrary, an ecological economist would look for ways to maximize a company’s production, in an environmentally friendly way. In this specific situation, the ecological economist would advocate finding technologically advanced machinery that would eliminate further pollution while helping improve a company’s production.

Each perspective described above approaches the situation from a different angle. In an ideal world, each expert would collaborate to form a plan that is both sustainable and environmentally friendly.  My personal opinion regarding the issue is that it is absolutely necessary to make changes to the current situation, by promoting cleaner production and cleaning up current pollution. I would also advocate promoting more efficient forms of production, in order to help promote a better economy and possibly improve the standard of living for those around the factory. The government, in general, should not build low-income housing in areas of high pollution to save money. My ethical standard are based on basic human rights and sustainability. If a solution is not sustainable, in the long run, it is not going to be effective.

In conclusion, environmental justice is not simply justice for the environment, but for all those who use the environment.  People living in poverty all over the world are forced to deal with pollution caused by people of upper classes. This is completely unfair. The main solution to this problem is to stop the issue at the source; by stopping pollution.  This includes finding ways to recycle waste, so it does not end up polluting water and land sources for people in developing countries.  In my town, the most logical solution is to take measures to prevent further environmental damage and clean up current pollution, in order to make the area more habitable for the people living there. The earth is home to everyone  and it is up to the human race to share the burden of waste and pollution, not only those who have no choice.

With these three words and practicality, we can change the current state of the world. It will take the upper class’s influence to spark a change and make living condition for the poor better. This would start the change from the source and promise a better future for the next generation.

 

References

  1. “Environmental Justice Advocates” retrieved on October 23, 2011 from http://law.lclark.edu/student_groups/environmental_justice_advocates/what_is_ej/
  2. Picture “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” retrieved on October 24, 2011 from http://zedomax.com/blog/2010/03/22/top-10-fun-ways-on-howto-recycle-boxes/

Ecological Footprint

The earth provides us with a home and everything we need to survive as humans. Problems arise when people begin abusing the earth’s ability to support the way we live. A person’s ecological footprint is one’s environmental impact in terms of land and water area required to produce what a person consumes and the amount of land used to dispose of waste and recycle that a person produces. In the table below, some ecological footprints are shown in comparison to the world average and GDP of the particular country. Currently, we are overshooting earth’s carrying capacity.  Overshooting means that we are using more earth than is currently available and sustainable. The carrying capacity of earth is the maximum amount of people the earth can support sustainably. Both of these are direct environmental problems, which need immediate attention.

Table

Country

EF (hectares per person)

Proportion relative to worldwide average

Proportion relative to world area available

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per Capita

2010 estimate

in US Dollars

Columbia

1.9

.61

0.73

(1.9/1.7.8)

$9,800

China

1.84

1.68

1.03

$7,600

Bangladesh

0.6

.19

.03

$1,700

United Arab Emirates

15.99

5.16

2.90

$49.600

Uruguay

4.91

1.58

.89

$13,700

Burundi

0.75

.24

.42

$300

Australia

8.49

2.74

1.54

$41,000

Nepal

1.01

.33

.19

$1,200

Ireland

9.43

3.04

1.71

$37,300

World Average

3.1

1.0

(3.1/3.1)

1.74

(3.1/1.78)

Empty

USA

12.22

3.94

2.21

$47,200

Japan

5.94

1.91

1.07

$34,000

France

7.27

2.35

1.32

$33,100

Zambia

1.21

2.56

1.44

$1,500

Honduras

1.43

.46

.26

$4,200

My personal footprint

12.6

4.06

2.28

Empty

Average Ecological Footprints

In comparison to many other countries, Bangladesh has an extremely small ecological footprint.  This is directly related to the standard of living and per capita GDP in this country.  The trends suggest that the smaller per capita GDP, the smaller the ecological footprint. Bangladesh is a relatively poor country, with a small per capita GDP of $1,700 US dollars, therefore the people there do not have the luxuries that people in Australia and the United Arab Emirates have, thus causing their footprint to be smaller.  Australia and the UAE have large ecological footprints because they are both arid countries with large, rich populations.  The climate of a particular place greatly affects ecological footprint, because it changes what the country is able to produce on its own and what must be imported. Wealthier countries tend to have more industrialization and urbanization, both of which require land and water area to sustain and produce, therefore increasing the size of a country’s average ecological footprint.  According to the graph provided by the Global Footprint Network, the US is on upward trend, increasing each year the size of its ecological footprint. This increase is way above sustainable levels.

My ecological footprint

We would need 7.08 earths if everyone lived like me. This is a problem because advocates for poverty and hunger are always attempting to improve the way less fortunate people live. This is obviously something that needs to happen, but at the expense of how other people live. This is required in order for the earth to support the human race sustainably.  My ecological footprint is about equal to the American average.  In comparison to Bangladesh (0.6), my ecological footprint of 12.6 hectares is extremely high.  Yet, in comparison to the UAE, which has an average ecological footprint of 15.99, my footprint is low.  This has to do with the difference of climate and urbanization of the areas.  The per capita GDP of the United States is $42,700. In the United Arab Emirates it is $49, 600. This data confirms the assumption that a higher per capita GDP means a larger ecological footprint.  A small, poor country such as Burundi has a significantly smaller GDP and footprint in comparisons to the USA and the UAE. The per capita GDP in Burundi is $300 US dollars.  Citizens of countries with small GDP’s and ecological footprints live at or below the poverty line.

In conclusion, ecological footprint size and per capita GDP are directly related. This is logical because people with more money tend to expend more resources than people who live at or below the poverty level.  The problem lies in the fact that the countries and people who live above the sustainable level, inhibit others from bettering their living standards, simply because the earth cannot handle it.  There needs to be a change in the way all people live, in order for the earth to support all humans, in a manner that is both humane and sustainable.

Citations

1. Introduction
Textbook
Environment: The Science Behind the Stories, 4/E by Jay H.
Withgott & Scott R. Brennan, Prentice Hall (2010)
2. Table 1
http://www.cia.gov The World Factbook
http://www.myfootprint.org
3. Average Ecological Footprint and My Ecological Footprint
http://www.cia.gov The World Factbook
http://www.myfootprint.org
http://www.nationmaster.com

All About Me

Hey Everyone!

I’m Sarah and I am freshman International Business Major at Northeastern University. Currently though, I am studying abroad in Greece at the American College of Thessaloniki.

This blog is for my ecology class, in order to share my thoughts and ideas on topics which we are discussing in class.  The topic I am most interested in studying this semester is water pollution and sustainabilty. The global human impact on  the earth and the environmental damage this causes is another topic I am interested in studying.

One the biggest environmental issues that I have heard about this year were the earthquake in Japan and the consequential environmental damage. The damage was not just to the topography of the country but also the nuclear power plant’s physical damage and the chance that radiation was released into the atmosphere.  The pros and cons of nucelar power has always fascinated me.

Well I’ve only lived three places (Philadelphia, Boston, and Westerly) in my life and the geography of my area is pretty simple. Basically, I have spent the vast majority of my life in Westerly, Rhode Island. I live about 7 minutes (not including summer traffic) from the beach. The beaches closest to me, Watch Hill and Misquamicut, are two of the most beautiful beaches in Rhode Island. I spend most of my summer on the beach. The ocean there is the Atlantic, so the water is usually cold until the end of July/beginning of August.  Rhode Island is a relatively flat state, but we do have some forests and rivers. The Blackstone River flows from Massachusetts to Rhode Island and the Pawcatuck River seperates Rhode Island from Connecticut. RI is pretty simple, but its beautiful.

Two of the major environmental concerns in Rhode Island are the pollution of Narragansett Bay and the erosion of dunes around the beaches (RI has a lot of coastline, even though we are not really an island).  Narragansett Bay used to be open for swimming, but because of water pollution from factory and residential waste. The SAVE THE BAY project is the main movement toward the restoration of the bay.

Northeastern’s Seal-(Photo Cred-http://www.lawschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/NortheasternSeal.jpg

The harbor in Watch Hill the day after Hurricane Irene, I thought the sky looked kinda cool  (I took this one!)

This is my first ecology related post. In chapter one of the textbook, the concept of the tragedy of th commons is introduced. Garrett Hardin called “The Tragedy of the Commons” introduced the ideas behind the tragedy of the commons in a 1968 essay.  In said essay, Hardin outlines the issues with communal or public grazing area for cattle. The issue behind this is that everyone utilizing the land will always want more and no one will want to actually take care of it. As a result, the land will become over used and eventually worthless.  In a small section below the overview of this topic is a hypothetical scenario involving fishery depletion. Overuse of natural resources is a huge issue and for the conflict presented here, there is no easy fix. In my opinion, the best way for the fishermen to survive and protect the environment would be find a way to supplement their income by doing something other than fishing, in order for the fish to become more plentiful. In order for this to be most successful, the government would have to take an active role in assisting the fishermen. Without financial help from the government, the fisherman would most likely not be able to survive. These subsidies would be more effective than large corporation subsidies because they would be directly helping a needy population. In order for the fishermen to even consider finding other work the government would need to provide some type of financial assistance or incentive for the fishermen. In order for the fish to replenish themselves, they will probably need more than fishing season. The subsidies or incentives could be set up on a rotating schedule, so that certain fishermen would fish for a season, while others sought employment elsewhere.  As a result, the populations of fish would increase and the fishermen would be able to regain their financial stability, while either learning a new trade or continuing their way of life.