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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.


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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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2.2.3 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 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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1.3 The influence of environmental ethics: value and care

Religious ethics can play a significant role in shaping appropriate narratives that provide for a lived ethic – that is, the obligations and entitlements associated with human relationships with Nature that embody what’s good and what’s right. But how might other ethical traditions help towards developing a lived ethic? To what extent has the emergence of environmental ethics since the 1970s influenced a lived ethic commensurate with developing care for the environment?

Andrew Lig
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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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1.2 Connecting human and non-human nature

Environmental responsibility – caring and generating accountability – requires interaction between human and non-human nature. For example, from a caring perspective what matters in climate change might constitute, say, the continued existence and protection of an arctic wilderness (Figure 3). But this necessarily involves a conne
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Learning outcomes

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

  • appreciate different connotations and traditions of the terms ‘nature’ and ‘environment’ in the context of environmental responsibility;

  • use conversation as a core metaphor for describing ‘what matters’ in environmental responsibility;

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


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7.4 Closing thoughts

Of course, doing anything about this needs scientific evidence and understanding, but it also requires social, economic and technological changes, which can only be achieved through political will. If you want to explore some of the broader context, a good place to start would be the New Internationalist issue 357, ‘The Big Switch: Climate Change Solutions’ at New Internationalist.

Faced with the sort of predictions climatologists are making, is it sufficient for science teac
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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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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
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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?

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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.

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Glossary

Glossary itemDefinition
atomthe smallest amount of a chemical element that still retains the properties of that element.
biodiversitya contraction of ‘biological diversity’, in general it describes the variety of life on Earth and specifically the total sum of the genes, species, ha
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6.4.1 The dual nature of technology

Exercise 5

List the main advantages to you of using a refrigerator in your home, then list some of the potential environmental hazards that using a fridge might entail.

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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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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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2.1 Environment and technology

A central concern of environmental studies is the relationship between technology and our environment: how people use technology to transform materials into forms which can meet our needs and wants. In the process of doing this we inevitably change the environment which provides these materials but which also supports all life.

A few moments ago I went to my fridge and took some milk out to add to a cup of coffee. I used this common example of a modern domestic appliance without a secon
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1 Introductory advice

There are two ways to approach this Introduction. The first is the more natural one: to read it straight through to get a general feel for its style and content, and to see whether you are going to find the unit and the issues it raises interesting; in short, to get an overview. There is nothing wrong with this at all.

You will find as you read through it, though, that the Introduction covers a wide range of topics. In part this is because the unit authors takes a broad vi
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