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8 Summary

  • We are biologically predisposed to provide for our offspring and may try to ensure that this provision continues after our death. However, our interactions with other members of society are wide-ranging and many people leave legacies to benefit the wider community.

  • All species alter their environment to some extent because they do not live in isolation from one another. The study of the interactions between plants, animals and their environ
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7 Some philosophical issues

In this unit we have considered global issues that have implications for our health and the health of future generations. This places our own lives in a different context and also indicates the uncertainties that surround the future. Whilst some environmental changes have very direct health consequences, we should not forget the indirect benefits that accrue from a healthy planet. The principle that ‘we should hand on to the next generation an environment no less rich than the one we
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6 Population growth

Earlier it was stated that three factors check population growth. These are predation, disease and insufficient food supply. For much of our history, our ancestors’ numbers were indeed limited by wars, disease and famine. The world population remained relatively stable until around 300 years ago. Then at the beginning of the 19th century (100 years after population growth started its geometric increase), the demographer Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth would outstrip food pro
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5.4 The ozone hole

Another group of greenhouse gases, the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), are double villains because they are also implicated in the destruction of the ozone in the upper atmosphere. CFCs are synthetic gases used in aerosols, as solvents and as coolants in refrigerators. They are also used to make a light insulating material called Styrofoam, from which packaging for hot take-away food containers can be constructed. It has been relatively easy to get international cooperation to ban further product
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5.3 Global warming

Media attention has been such that it would be hard to have missed the fact that global warming is considered to be a ‘bad thing’. Why should this be so? What is so wrong with being a bit warmer? Anyway, is global warming really occurring and, if it is, what are the causal factors responsible for it?

Let us deal with this last question first. As we sit on a beach in summer, or in a sunny window seat in winter, we are aware of the Earth being warmed by the Sun. In fact the Earth is w
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5.1 Pollution and loss of biodiversity

Unfortunately, halting the disappearance of species cannot be achieved simply by measures such as putting fences around special habitats and asking people not to pick the flowers or disturb the breeding birds. Many species are vanishing because of pollution. You probably have a good understanding of the meaning of this term, but it is variously defined. The Open University has a course on environmental control and public health, in which pollution is defined as the introduction into th
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4.5 The Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank Appeal

Cover from the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank Appeal leaflet.
Figure 6 Cover from the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank Appeal leaflet

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4.1 Human predation and extinctions

There are a number of ways in which humans have altered ecosystems, that have led to the decline of particular species. We will leave to one side any major interference such as felling forests to provide land for agricultural and urban development, and instead begin by looking at examples where we have eroded or eradicated stocks of particular species. This has notably been a consequence of the over-exploitation of food species (prey items). Predators do not normally eliminate their prey (see
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6.4 Technology and environment

At the start of this unit I asked a simple question: am I damaging the environment by using my fridge? I warned that it wasn't my intention to give a simple answer that we should all stop using refrigerators or all carry on regardless. Instead, we have explored the issue more widely, calling on a range of ideas and background information in the Case Studies. It is time to review some of the concepts we have been using.


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5.4 Discussion

We seem to have travelled a long way from the Industrial Revolution in Europe, but many of the impacts on New Zealand's ecosystems described here can be traced, in part at least, to reverberations from these developments.

What lessons can be drawn from this example? Perhaps I should start by emphasising this is not meant to be a complete account of the environmental history of New Zealand. For example, I have not discussed any responses from the population once they realised that harm w
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5.3 Settlement, deforestation and endangered species

Box 4: Some indicators of New Zealand's environment*

The proportion of New Zealand converted to farmland is large by world standards (52 percent compared to the world's 37 percent in 1993). Although our human population density is comparatively low (13 people for each square kilometre (km2
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5.1 Food preservation and the development of refrigeration

Most societies have had traditional methods of preserving food: drying, baking, pickling, salting, smoking, the use of sugar, and in cold climates, freezing or chilling, with the use of ice houses in the summer. These techniques were usually carried out at a local level, which meant that most perishable food was consumed near to where it was produced, and any food processing was usually small-scale and localised. Cattle and livestock, for example, were moved ‘on the hoof’ from their pastu
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4.4 Discussion

In this second case study, I have described two different trends in energy use by cold appliances over the last few decades. On the one hand the efficiency with which appliances use electrical energy has improved but, in spite of this, their consumption of electricity has increased significantly in recent decades. Since 2000 consumption has started to decline, probably as a result of the introduction of minimum energy standards. The trend will only continue if we demand and use the most energ
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4.3 The UK experience: competing trends

But one striking example does not make an argument. To try to get a fuller and possibly fairer picture of energy use by domestic refrigerators I'd like also to look at the UK experience over the past few decades.

To start with it helps to have a feel for which parts of the UK economy use the most energy. The UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI, 1998), identifies four main economic sectors: domestic (households), industry, services and transport.

In 2003 the domestic sector (h
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4.1 Domestic appliances and fossil fuels

For this second case study I shall look specifically at the energy use of domestic ‘cold appliances’, that is freezers and refrigerators, and discuss whether efficiency measures can play a significant role in reducing their energy consumption. The reason for this is quite simple. For many years there has been well-documented evidence of the damage to the environment and cost to human life associated with the extraction, transport and consumption of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, from
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3.3 Greenfreeze: the Greens fight back

Some campaigners were not convinced by the arguments of refrigerator manufacturers and suppliers (who also happened to own some patents for HCFCs and HFCs) that the only solution, in the short to medium term, was to use the transitional compounds. They tried to demonstrate that there were practical alternatives. A group of scientists working with Greenpeace International designed a domestic refrigerator based on the use of hydrocarbons, using a mix of propane and isobutane for the refrigerant
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3.2 The agreement to protect the ozone layer

After a decade of controversy about the possible effects of CFCs, in 1985 British scientists discovered over the Antarctic a quite unexpected ‘hole’ in the ozone layer which was the size of the USA. This helped to galvanise the international community into action (though some who took part in the negotiations claim it played little part). By 1987 the first international agreement to control substances damaging to the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol, was established. Interestingl
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2.4 Changing environmental attitudes

So, from the start of the Industrial Revolution, people have been aware that the development of an industrial economy brings problems as well as benefits. But the benefits, in terms of productive capability, mobility, convenience, cheap consumer goods, and profits, were usually felt to outweigh the disadvantages, particularly by those in positions of power. Many of the accompanying negative factors, such as poverty and unemployment, or the creation of more destructive machines of war, if they
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Introduction

Global warming: are we responsible? Is our environmental impact damaging the planet? This unit examines the use of ozone depleting technology, the impact of fossil fuel use and explores how the development of technology can influence the direction of a society. From the Industrial Revolution to the present day find out how we have changed the planet.

This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Working with our environment: technology for a sustainable future (T172) whic
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Acknowledgements

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The material acknowledged below is contained in: Ordering the International: History, Change and Transformation (eds William B
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