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Environmental science offers important insights into our world and how we influence it. Humans alter natural systems.
Environmental scientists monitor natural systems for signs of stress.
1. What happened in the Neuse River, and how did it affect the local population & economy?
2. What is the importance of studying systems in environmental science? Why can’t we just study isolated events or isolated individuals?
3. Environmental Science is interdisciplinary, in that it includes life sciences, natural sciences, and social sciences to study the interactions of living, nonliving and uniquely human systems to understand the world.
How does this blending present both challenges and opportunities to environmental scientists?
4. Tool use and social cooperation have allowed humans to alter their environment enormously. What advantages do these traits give humans in outcompeting other species?
5. So far in history, technological development has led to both increased human well-being and increased environmental disruption. Why has this been the case?
6. List what you think are the 3 BIGGEST ways in which humanity has transformed nature, and evaluate what you think their benefits to us and their impacts on the environment have been.
Benefits of Activity
7. What advantages do ecosystems with higher species diversity have over those with lower species diversity?
8. There are at least 2 million species on Earth, and species have been naturally evolving and going extinct for billions of years (in fact, over 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct!). Given these facts, why do we care if human activity is driving other species extinct as we grow?
9. Although total world grain production is increasing, per capita production remains flat. What factors have contributed to this situation?
10. What do you think is a higher priority: maximizing total food production, or maximizing equality of access to food for all people?
11. What two major human activities have had the greatest impact on the increase of greenhouse gases, and why?
12. Do you think it is ethical for countries to forcefully restrict their population’s growth by limiting the ability of people to have as many children as they want? Explain.
13. What is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources?
14. How does resource use vary between developed countries and developing ones?
Reading Questions 1B
Human well-being depends on sustainable practices.
Science is a process.
1. What happened on Easter Island, and why is it significant?
2. What does sustainable development involve? How can we determine if an individual or society is living sustainably?
3. How can we define what humans’ basic needs truly are? Do they differ from one person to another?
4. What does an ecological footprint measure?
5. It has been estimated that the city of London has an ecological footprint 200x the size of its physical footprint. What does this mean?
6. Humanity’s ecological footprint is already overburdening the Earth, but, approximately 1/3 of the world population lives on less than $2 per day. What are some possible solutions to providing sufficient resources for everyone without causing ecological collapse?
7. Why is the scientific method necessary in order to advance human understanding of the world?
8. Complete the following chart regarding the purpose of each step in the scientific method: Step
Collect Data/Conduct Experiment
9. What is the purpose of a control group in an experiment?
10. Why is peer review of research so important in establishing scientific theories?
11. Why might the results of a controlled experiment differ from the results of a natural experiment when trying to answer a given question?
12. Why are both natural AND controlled experiments necessary to increasing scientific understanding, and how do their roles in the scientific process differ?
13. What factors make research in environmental science particularly difficult?
14. What are the goals of the environmental justice movement, and why are they relevant to sustainability? Reading Questions 20A
Opening Story: Assembly Plants, Free Trade and Sustainable Systems Sustainability is the ultimate goal of sound environmental science and policy. Economics studies how scarce resources are allocated.
Economic health depends on the availability of natural capital and basic human welfare. Ecosystems provide valuable services (p77-80).
1. Do you think the expansion of maquiladoras has been more of a benefit or a harm to Mexico? Why?
2. Why would environmental scientists be interested in social and economic issues that arise from the maquiladoras, as well as the environmental effects?
3. In a market economy, how are scarce resources distributed to satisfy unlimited wants?
4. What are externalities, and how do they typically affect the price of a good or service?
5. How are the wealth and productivity of a nation usually measured, and what other factors must be considered when evaluating the well-being of a nation’s people?
6. In reference to the Kuznets Curve, why does the environmental degradation caused by a society typically increase as the country develops and then decrease as it becomes wealthy?
7. What is the difference between natural capital, human capital, and manufactured capital? Which one(s) do you think are most important to economic growth?
8. Why is valuation important in measuring and monitoring natural capital and ecological services? 9. How can ecological economics help us determine what major characteristics a sustainable economic system must have? How does our current system compare?
10. How can a “cradle-to-cradle” model of economic production help society achieve sustainability?
11. Free markets have enabled incredible economic growth for much of the world over the past few centuries. However, there are many critiques saying that they do not actually produce the best outcomes for everyone. Explain these critiques and to what extent you agree with them.
12. Complete the following chart regarding ecosystem services:
Definition of these Ecoservices
Why are they important?
Reading Questions 20B
Agencies, laws and regulations are designed to protect our natural and human capital. There are several approaches to measuring and achieving sustainability. Two major challenges of our time are reducing poverty and stewarding the environment. Working Toward Sustainability: Reuse-A-Sneaker
1. What are the 3 major environmental worldviews, and what does each prioritize? 1.
2. Complete the following chart regarding major world and national organizations:
Priorities of this organization?
3. What is the precautionary principle? Do you think it is a good idea to follow, or do you agree with critics that say it is an unnecessary barrier to the improvement of living conditions?
4. There are many global and national organizations that work to protect and improve Earth’s natural and human resources, but resources are scarce and funding is limited. Which organization would you vote to give $5 Billion in additional funding to accomplish their mission, and why?
5. What is the difference between command-and-control approach and the incentive-based approach to regulation? Which one do you think is more effective?
6. What is meant by finding solutions that meet the “triple bottom line”?
7. Throughout our study of the interactions of humans and natural systems, we will consider many possible changes to address various environmental challenges. However, there are strong constraints placed on these solutions by economics and social structures. Why must sustainable solutions to humanity’s challenges meet the Triple Bottom Line?
8. What do you think are the main keys to economically developing a nation? What advice would you give a poor nation looking to develop sustainably?
9. What are the Millennium Development Goals, and why are they significant?
10. Two major challenges for our time are reducing poverty and protecting the environment. Can they both be accomplished? Or must progress towards one goal always go along with setbacks in the other?
11. What changes did Nike make to its shoe manufacturing process, and how does the Reuse-A-Shoe program exemplify corporate efforts to improve their environmental record?
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