6.1 Introduction

So far, we have briefly introduced three key approaches to improving the sustainability of human energy use in the future. These are:

  • (a) ‘cleaning-up’ fossil and nuclear technologies;

  • (b) switching to renewable energy sources;

  • (c) using energy more efficiently.


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4.5 Sustainability of renewable energy sources

Renewable energy sources are generally sustainable in the sense that they cannot ‘run out’ – although, as noted above, both biomass and geothermal energy need wise management if they are to be used sustainably. For all of the other renewables, almost any realistic rate of exploitation by humans would be unlikely to approach their rate of replenishment by nature, though of course the use of all renewables is subject to various practical constraints.

Renewable energies are also rela
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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
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2.3.1 Public participation and perspectives on sustainability

When it comes to issues around the environment, ‘experts’ – whether ecologists, economists or other types of social scientist – are clearly not infallible. Environmental crises have led to a questioning of traditional expert support as a guarantor of environmental planning. This has had two consequences. Firstly, there have been some interesting and useful explorations amongst environmentalists in seeking guarantors through the domain of spiritualism. In particular, traditional worldv
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2.3.1 The risk society

The shift from an anthropocentric concern around issues of human poverty in industrial society towards a more ecocentric concern around environmental issues in the ‘risk society’ has been expressed by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck. His 1992 book Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity suggests a shift from the safety state of industrialised society, where conflicts were manifest in struggles amongst socio-economic groups, to a society where conflicts arise from issues of uncerta
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2.2.3 Ecological economics

Ecological economics, which formally came to prominence in the mid-1980s, represents a departure from reliance on the use of mainstream economic modelling. Instead, it branches out to actively engage with and incorporate the ethical, social and behavioural dimensions of environmental issues. In short, ecological economics attempts to provide an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues, whereas environmental economics maintains the primacy of economic modelling.

Mark Sag
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2.2.2 Environmental economics and green consumerism

In economic terms, green consumerism is typically expressed using measures based on the willingness to pay (WTP) principle. As mentioned above, this takes two main forms: eco-taxation, in which environmental costs are estimated and added to the price of commodities (e.g. vehicles with high carbon emissions); and eco-labelling, in which products are labelled with relevant environmental information, such as is now required by the food industry and governments in many industrialised count
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2.2.1 Environmental economics

Environmental economics emerged as a sub-discipline in the 1960s, following a tradition that began in the early twentieth century with ‘agricultural’ economics and continued in the 1950s with ‘resource’ economics. In each case, natural resources are treated as environmental assets in the same way as other resource inputs, using the classical mainstream supply and demand economic models. David Pearce, who at one stage was at the forefront of environmental economics and was an ac
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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
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1.4 Caring for the consequences

The Light reading is an extract from the first part of a longer paper in which he goes on to argue for a more pragmatic approach from environmental ethicists to complement their important work on theorising over intrinsic value. Here you need register only the concern expressed by Light that ethicists should focus more on the immediate consequences of their endeavours in terms of being able to shape policy and action.

In thinking about such effects, Light might be regarded as following
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1.2 The influence of narratives and spiritual traditions

In his 1974 publication Man’s Responsibility for Nature, John Passmore – an Australian philosopher who pioneered a concern for developing a change of attitude towards the environment – argues from an explicitly anthropocentric perspective. He suggests that the special ties between parents and children provide the basis for continual development of obligations amongst humans, which can then translate into a more responsible engagement with the environment.

People normally ca
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Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • describe environmental matters regarding obligation and entitlements from a ‘caring’ perspective;

  • appreciate the significance of environmental consequentialist ethics in conversations around developing care;

  • identify and compare formal and less formal expressions of environmental responsibility;

  • understand ‘accountability’ in the context of environmental issues;

  • ide
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Introduction

Nature Matters considers environmental responsibility and what may matter from a caring perspective and an accountability perspective. A reading by Andrew Light reflects on four key debates in environmental ethics regarding the way in which nature is valued, and prompts the question on how such debates might inform environmental responsibility.

Section 2 examines the formal processes involved in developing accountability in the context of sustainable development. The persuasiveness of t
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7.3 Running the models forward

What happens when the models are run forward? It depends upon the models used and the scenarios they are asked to run. It seems almost certain, however, that there will be increases in the global mean surface temperature, to the order of +1.5 to +4.5 °C (– possibly more, according to some models and scenarios.

These changes are predicted to be associated with increases in sea level, changes to weather conditions (e.g. more regular and violent winter storms in the UK) and changes to t
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7.1 Climate models

To understand climate change it is necessary to construct climate models, to explore and predict interactions between different factors. Models are tested for accuracy against known sets of data, before being run forward to predict future changes.


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6 Further reading

The models being used in research take such simple energy flows and increase the ‘granularity’ of the components used, to build complex time sequences.

You may like to see Information Sheet 8 at the website of the Climatic Research Unit for a summary of how these have developed.

Click on 'View document' to see charts mentioned in the activity below

4 Further reading

For information on changes to flora, click on Science magazine.

For changes to fauna, and economic effects, go to Information Sheet 4, or for the paper quoted at the top of the screen, Information Sheet 1, both at Climatic Research Unit.

Click on 'View document' to open the data-smoothing information

Acknowledgements

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions) and is used under licence.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to use material:

Unit Image

Ollie O'Brien

All other materials included in this unit are d
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References

Colburn, T., Dumanoski, D. and Myers, J. P. (1996) Our Stolen Future, Little, Brown and Co.

Kishi, M., Hirschorn, N., Djajadisastra, M., Saterlee, L. N., Strowman, S. and Dilts, R. (1995) Relationship of pesticide spraying to signs and symptoms in Indonesian farmers, Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health, 21 (2), pp. 124– 33.

Wilson, E. O. (1992) The Diversity of Life, The Bellknap Press of the Harvard University Press, Cambridge, USA.


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5.5 Indoor pollutants

Before leaving air pollution you might reflect that many of us spend most of our time indoors where the air quality can differ from that outside the building.

Question 30

In what ways will the air be different inside a building?


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