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Challenges to the Global Environment Textbook notes from chapter 20 that detail environmental challenges and sociological approaches to the environment.

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Bishop's University
SOC 101
Barry Mc Clinchey

Challenges to the Global Environment April-09-11 5:12 PM  Environmental sociology: the study of the interaction between human society and the physical environment  Emerged after 1970 Earth Day, inspired social consciousness about the environment  Ecology: the study of how living organisms interact with the environment  Ecosystem: a community of organisms living, feeding, reproducing and interacting in the same area o All organisms are interdependent  Environmental sociologists apply biological insights to enhance their understanding of the relationship between human society and the physical environment  Emphasis on how social factors affect the environment and the way society tries and fails to solve the problem of environmental degradation  Relationship between humans and their environment o Physical environment viewed as a warehouse of raw materials to be exploited; nature has no intrinsic value - consistent with scientific or economic approach to the environment o Physical environment has sacred or spiritual value, humans have an obligation to act as protectors - consistent with mystical approach and deep ecology o Physical environment and humans act exist in harmonious relationship wherein human needs can be achieved without damaging physical environment; pursuit of material wealth does not require domination of the physical environment - consistent with sustainable development or utopian thinking  Anthropocentrism: the view that human beings are separate from and above the rest of nature o Enforced by scientific and technological advances that gave people the impression that they were superior to all living things o Early sociologists shared the view that the exceptional characteristics of our species excludes humans from the forces of nature Human exceptionalism paradigm: the view that humans are exceptional but not exempt from the  natural world  Catton and Dunlap's 'human exceptionalism paradigm' based on the following: o Humans are unique because they possess culture o Culture is variable and able to change more quickly than biological traits o Human differences not innately biological; result from social variation and are therefore able to change o Cultural accumulation over time suggests that progress is unlimited and therefore all social problems are solvable  Also known as 'new environmental paradigm' or 'new ecological paradigm'  New environmental paradigm: the view that human social actions occur within an ecosystem that has its own processes and limits o Recognises that human societies and nature interact and that human actions affect nature  New ecological paradigm: emphasises that modern industrial society is beginning to exceed the limits of the environment o Intended to present as less anthropocentric and more ecocentric: the opposite of anthropocentrism; view that humans are only one part of the global ecosystem  Environmental sociology thought of as a conscious endeavour to overcome anthropocentrism of our past Environmental Challenges April-09-11 6:02 PM Climate Change  More common phrase is 'global warming'  Earth's temperature regulated by greenhouse effect: the process by which the Earth's temperature is maintained (Earth absorbs and retains heat like a greenhouse)  Shortwave radiation from the sun is passed through Earth's atmosphere where it is absorbed by land and water and warms the planet. Part of the absorbed energy is reradiated in to the atmosphere in the form of long wave infrared radiation.  Little radiation escapes into space because it is trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; greenhouse gases: gases that trap long wave infrared radiation and are responsible for rising global temperatures and climate change. Ex. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour  Estimated that Earth's average temperature without greenhouse gases would be -18C instead of current average 15C  Gases are necessary for life on the planet, but human activities contribute to an accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The gases take centuries to break down  Since the industrial revolution, concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased by 30%, methane by 145% and nitrous oxide by 15%. Levels are higher today than they have been in the past 800 000 years  Latest increase result of population growth and industrialisation - burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity, fuel cars etc  Urbanisation and agricultural development result in deforestation of vast amounts of land which decreases Earth's ability to absorb and store greenhouse gases and naturally regulate the atmosphere  Carbon sink: natural matter that absorbs more carbon than it emits  Carbon source: natural matter that emits more carbon than it absorbs  Humans have altered global weather patterns by increasing amount of greenhouse gases o Higher temperatures threaten boreal forests, increase risk of fires, decrease availability of fresh water, increase frequency of severe weather systems, and enable tropical diseases to move northward  In Canada: o Climate change will affect foods and crops and higher temperatures and droughts will become more common o Higher temperatures will remove vegetative ground cover and melt permafrost: ground that has been frozen for more than two successive years o Estimated that 90% of northern permafrost gone by 2100 o 33 million Canadians use more energy than all 760 million people in Africa o Each Canadian burns equivalent of 7700 litres of oil annually, 50 times more than average person living in Bangladesh o Canada's carbon dioxide emissions second only to the US, rising faster than all other countries except China o Natural resources fall under authority of the provinces, but international agreements handled by federal government o No provincial standards on greenhouse gas emissions Biodiversity  Warmer climates promote species diversity  Risk of extinction is increasing  Paul Crutzen; Anthropocene: a new geological era resulting from the consequences of human activities on Earth  Three different levels of biodiversity: ecosystem diversity, species diversity, genetic diversity  Ecosystem diversity: the number and variety of habitats for organisms within a geographic area  Species diversity: the number of species that exist in an ecosystem  Genetic diversity: the amount of genetic information within a single population species  Three central impacts of climate change on biodiversity: individual species may become extinct; ecosystems may be destroyed; species will be forced to move from one area to another  Human activities have increased pace of change for animal adaptation o Climate change already influencing virtually all plant and animal species  Rate of extinction is 1000 times higher than the natural rate  Deforestation of tropical rainforests argued to be the single greatest cause of mass extinction o Believed to be between 10 and 30 million species on Earth, 50-90% of them located in tropical rainforests o 17 million hectares of tropical rainforest cleared every year; 5-10% of tropical forest species
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