2.5.1 Physical and weather-related indicators

The indicators collected in Table 4 have been observed to change over large regions of the Earth during the 20th century. According to the TAR, there is now a good level of confidence that what is being recorded is the result of long-term change rather than short-term natural fluctuations. As we noted earlier (Section 2.2.2), the most recent period of warming has been almost global in extent, but particularly marked at high latitudes. So are the changes in Table 4 consistent with rising tempe
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

References

Capra, F. (1996) The Web of Life. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., and, in the UK, reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Capra, F. (2002) The Hidden Connections: Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimension of Life into a Science of Sustainability. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., and, in the UK, reprin
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

1.2.8 In praise of cheap offshore labour? continued

There are two points which are central to this line of thinking. One, according to Wolf (2004), is that the whole process, as odd as it may sound, is about mutual exploitation. Outside firms do indeed exploit the poor by taking advantage of the profitable opportunities that a pool of cheap labour represents. But Indonesian or Chinese workers, for instance, could be said to exploit the incoming firms by extracting higher pay from them and taking advantage of opportunities that previousl
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

1.1.1 Introduction

Many of the smaller branded goods on sale to consumers in Europe and North America – the latest in clothing and footwear or the smart toys and electronic gadgets on offer – are made in factory ‘sweatshops’. Found in the backstreets of modern, Western cities, but more often than not a feature of the poorer parts of the world, factory sweatshops are an integral part of today's global economy. Increasingly, as you can see from Author(s): The Open University

6.6.2 The World Energy Council scenarios

What are the possibilities for radical changes in our energy systems when viewed from a world perspective? There have been numerous studies of the various future options for the world's energy systems. One of the most recent and most comprehensive was produced in 1998 by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the World Energy Council (WEC), a version of which was published in 2000 as part of the United Nations’ World Energy Assessment (United Nations Dev
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

6.6.1 The Royal Commission on environmental pollution scenarios

The UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution produced (RCEP) its 22nd report Energy: the Changing Climate in June 2000. The Commission examined what changes would be needed in Britain's energy systems if, as suggested by the various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2001), it should prove necessary to reduce the country's emissions of greenhouse gases by about 60 per cent by 2050.

The Commission investigated the various possibilities very tho
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

6.3 (b) Switching to renewable energy sources

The use of renewable energy usually involves environmental impacts of some kind, but these are normally lower than those of fossil or nuclear sources.

Approaches (a) and (b) are essentially ‘supply-side’ measures – applied at the supply end of the long chain that leads from primary energy production to useful energy consumption.


Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

4.4.2 Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is another renewable source that is not derived from solar radiation. As the name implies, its source is the earth's internal heat, which originates mainly from the decay of long-lived radioactive elements. The most useful geothermal resources occur where underground bodies of water called aquifers can collect this heat, especially in those areas where volcanic or tectonic activity brings the heat close to the surface. The resulting hot water, or in some cases steam, is used
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

4.4.1 Tidal Energy

The energy that causes the slow but regular rise and fall of the tides around our coastlines is not the same as that which creates waves. It is caused principally by the gravitational pull of the moon on the world's oceans. The sun also plays a minor role, not through its radiant energy but in the form of its gravitational pull, which exerts a small additional effect on tidal rhythms.

The principal technology for harnessing tidal energy essentially involves building a low dam, or barrag
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

4.3.2 Wave power

When winds blow over the world's oceans, they cause waves. The power in such waves, as they gradually build up over very long distances, can be very great – as anyone watching or feeling that power eventually being dissipated on a beach will know.

Various technologies for harnessing the power of waves have been developed over the past few decades, of which the ‘oscillating water column’ (OWC) is perhaps the most widely used. In an OWC, the rise and fall of the waves inside an encl
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

4.3.1 Wind energy

When solar radiation enters the earth's atmosphere, because of the curvature of the earth it warms different regions of the atmosphere to differing extents – most at the equator and least at the poles. Since air tends to flow from warmer to cooler regions, this causes what we call winds, and it is these air flows that are harnessed in windmills and wind turbines to produce power.

Wind power, in the form of traditional windmills used for grinding corn or pumping water, has been in use
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

4.2 Solar energy

Solar energy, it should firstly be stressed, makes an enormous but largely unrecorded contribution to our energy needs. It is the sun's radiant energy, as noted in Box 2, that maintains the Earth's surface at a temperature warm enough to support human life. But despite this enormous input of energy to our ci
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

3.6 Summary

This section has described how fossil fuels provide the majority of the world's energy requirements, with bioenergy, nuclear energy and hydropower also making major contributions. The other ‘renewable’ energy sources currently supply only a small fraction of world demand, although the contribution of these ‘renewables’ seems likely to grow rapidly in coming decades, as we shall see in the following section.


Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

3.5 Hydroelectricity

Another energy source that has been harnessed by humanity for many centuries is the power of flowing water, which has been used for milling corn, pumping and driving machinery. During the twentieth century, its main use has been in the generation of hydroelectricity, and hydropower has grown to become one of the world's principal electricity sources. It currently provides some 2.3 per cent of world primary energy. However, the relative contribution of hydroelectric power (and of other electri
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

3.1 Introduction

So what are the principal energy systems used by humanity at present, and how sustainable are they?

Until quite recently, human energy requirements were modest and our supplies came either from harnessing natural processes such as the growth of plants, which provided wood for heating and food to energise human or animal muscles, or from the power of water and wind, used to drive simple machinery.


Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

1.1.1 Where do we get our energy from?

The world’s current energy systems have been built around the many advantages of fossil fuels, and we now depend overwhelmingly upon them. Concerns that supplies will ‘run out’ in the short-to-medium term have probably been exaggerated, thanks to the continued discovery of new reserves and the application of increasingly advanced exploration technologies. Nevertheless it remains the case that fossil fuel reserves are ultimately finite. In the long term they will eventually become deplet
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

2.2 Economic valuation: towards ecological economics

The blue whale could have supplied indefinitely a sustainable yield of 6000 individuals a year.

This is one of the earliest references to sustainability in the literature, taken from the 1971 edition of the science journal Nature (cited in Senge et al., 2006, p. 45). Here, the blue whale is given instrumental value – a means of measuring not the survival of the blue whale for its intrinsic v
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

5.6 Land and water pollution

In this section we will just take a couple of examples that show how easy it is to expose ourselves to long-term damage inadvertently. Pesticides, developed to control insects and other vermin, can increase agricultural productivity. Although pesticides were originally hailed as one of the wonders of modern technology, it was quite quickly discovered that there was a downside to their widespread use. One problem was that of bioaccumulation. Pesticides tended to be stable chemicals and
Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

2 Altering the environment

Later in this unit we will be considering a number of ways in which humans alter their environment.

Question 3

In what ways do you think we are altering the environment?

Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share

Acknowledgements

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions). This content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Licence

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this text.

Author(s): The Open University

License information
Related content

Except for third party materials and/or otherwise stated (see terms and conditions) the content in OpenLearn is released for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share