2.2 Informal and formal conversations

The process of conversation is, of course, interactive. It requires listening (Figure 5) and feeding back. In human conversations the interactive process is largely enabled through a shared language. In conversing with nature the challenge is in formulating the right ‘language’, in terms of both ‘listening’ and ‘feeding back
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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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9 Unit questions

Unit Question A

Foxes eat rabbits and rabbits eat dandelions. Predict what will happen if rabbit numbers are severely reduced (e.g. by disease). How confident are you about your predictions?

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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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5.5 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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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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4.3 Dutch elm disease

Not all change is a direct result of human intervention. Sometimes changes can occur over which we have little control. One such example is the case of Dutch elm disease (so-called because most of the early studies of the disease were carried out in Holland, although the disease was first observed in France in 1918). The disease is caused by a fungus, Ceratocystis ulmi, that has the elm, Ulmus procera, as its only habitat and food source. Spores of the fungus are carried by the
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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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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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2.3 The Industrial Revolution and its environmental impacts

The environmental issues you have identified in your answer to the first exercise are likely to be complex and difficult to unravel, yet alone resolve. Rather than attempt that at this stage I'd like to start this section with another question. Where does our material prosperity come from? To which one short answer would be ‘The Industrial Revolution’. In the space of less than 100 years between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, first Britain, then several other count
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5.8 Review of criticisms of international rights

Activity 1

Review the four criticisms of rights at the international level discussed in the previous sections.

  1. Identify which of these criticisms are objections in principle to the discourse of
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Learning outcomes

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

  • understand the different interpretations of internationally recognised notions of rights and justice;

  • give examples of implementing justice in an international sphere;

  • investigate questions in international studies;

  • analyse the different agencies of change in the international system.


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2.4 Worlds in motion: the importance of flows

‘The sea had welled up suddenly through thousands of tiny holes in this atoll's bedrock of coral.’ Do you recall this passage in Lynas's (2003) account of his first days on Tuvalu in Reading 1A? For me, this gives an impression of the islands being quite literally porous, a solid ground that reveals itself, now and again, to be not so solid after all. Lynas offers this particularly striking example of the island's openness to the world around it as evidence of a growing vulnerability that
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1.2 Readings

In considering the environmental and social challenges that we are currently facing, we are clearly dealing with so-called ‘wicked’ problems: the ‘problems’ manifest themselves only as you try to engage and change society and the Author(s): The Open University

1.3.6 Diagrams for diagnosis

As the detail of the connectivity revealed through a diagram increases, many diagrams can be used for diagnosis by comparing a diagram of what should be happening with what is happening. This approach has been developed in detail by Bignell and Fortune (1984) to analyse systems failures. They argue that all satisfactory systems have functioning decision-making, operational and performance monitoring systems and that many failures can be explained by a failure in one of these aspects, even whe
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