3.1 Greenland's snowfall

Greenland snowfall differs depending on whether it falls in summer (when snow is comparatively warm and moist) or winter (when snow is cold and dry). These differences mean that as the snow is turned to ice, annual layers are formed that are in many ways similar to tree rings: thick annual layers mean high snowfall and thin annual layers low snowfall. The accumulation of snowfall on the summit of Greenland – and most importantly what is trapped within the crystals as it turns to ice – can
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2 The atmospheric and ocean flows

We now know that PBDEs end up in the Arctic through their physical transport by the winds, the ocean and the rivers of the world. All three mechanisms are important, but the most rapid carrier is the wind. The basic principle of global atmospheric circulation is simple: warm air rises and cold air sinks. The warming effect of the Sun is much greater at the equator than at higher latitudes and so the air is much warmer and it rises. At high latitudes the air cools and it sinks. This drives a h
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1 A climate change icon

The polar bear has become an international climate change icon. But how much is known about this bear, its habitat and life? This unit will talk about the role of language, but by way of introduction how about the name of this bear? To me it is the polar bear; to a German it is an Eisbär (ice bear) and to a French person it is an ours blanc (white bear). In these three examples the bear is referred to as polar, white, or an ice bear – eminently sensible. The Latin name for th
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Learning outcomes

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

  • appreciate how chemical processes in the rest of the world affect the Arctic environment and the species inhabiting it;

  • recognise the physical processes that determine atmosphere and oceanic flows in the Arctic;

  • appreciate the scientific research process and the use of scientific evidence;

  • use quantitative scientific evidence to examine the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels a
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Introduction

The scientific theory of plate tectonics suggests that at least some of these Arctic lands were once tropical. Since then the continents have moved and ice has changed the landscape. This unit will concentrate on evidence from the last 800,000 years using information collected from ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, and will use this evidence to discuss current and possible future climate. The cores show that there have been nine periods in the recent past when large areas of the Earth
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Acknowledgements

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:

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6.4 The role of governments and business

Despite all the possibilities for individual and group action to lighten carbon footprints, there will still be people, groups and organisations who will not be doing much. Many individuals limit themselves to ‘every little bit helps’, with relatively minor effects on their carbon footprint, like reusing plastic bags or recycling paper. This avoids having to consider more significant changes in car and air travel, home energy use, diet or shopping. Others will simply carry on producing an
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6.3 The role of active citizens and communities

Few people agree that individuals should take the main responsibility for tackling environmental issues. For example, in a 2007 poll of over 2000 UK citizens, 70% agreed that the government should take a lead in combating climate change, even if it means using the law to change people's behaviour. However, over 60% disagreed that there was nothing they could do to avert climate change and over half agreed that they would do more if others did more too, although 40% thought that recycling was
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6.2 The role of individuals and households

You've been considering how to reduce your own carbon footprint to help tackle the worst effects of climate and other environmental changes. To that extent, ‘I’ as an individual consumer has a role to play.

But unless you live alone, you share your household with other people, a group that could be called ‘we’. Everyone in the household may have similar views on living lightly. But, even within a household, there may be different views and priorities about what, if anything, sho
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1.4.3 Framing reality from a critical perspective

The question arising from the previous two imperatives of systems thinking – dealing with holism and engaging with multiple perspectives – is how we might develop frameworks that deal responsibly with our inevitable limitations on being holistically comprehensive and epistemologically ‘multiverse’. Ulrich reminds us that a ‘systems approach’ to environmental responsibility is perhaps not quite the panacea that it so often mistakenly promises to be. Take, for example, the ‘ecosys
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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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2 2 Definitions: energy, sustainability and the future

What do we mean by energy and sustainability, and what is meant by future?

The term energy has a long history but the standard scientific definition today is that energy is the capacity to do work. The term power is related to energy and its definition is power is the rate of doing work. The two are linked together by the simple formula

energy = power x time

The term sustainability is not so simple to define but there is perhaps no better
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1 1 Why sustainable energy matters

One of the greatest challenges facing humanity during the twenty-first century must surely be that of giving everyone on the planet access to safe, clean and sustainable energy supplies.

Throughout history, the use of energy has been central to the functioning and development of human societies. But during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, humanity learned how to harness the highly-concentrated forms of energy contained within fossil fuels. These provided the power that drove the
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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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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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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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2.2 We are part of nature

Take a few minutes to look around at your surroundings before you read on. What do you see? Obviously this depends on where you are at the moment: at home, at work, or perhaps travelling in between, or maybe you have the misfortune to be laid up in hospital. Possibly like me you are at home. I am fortunate to have a study where I do much of my writing and you won't be surprised to hear that I'm looking at a computer screen at the moment. What else can I see? Books and bookshelves, furniture o
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