Week 2 Reading: Where do we stand with the Earth?
Something that is in front of us, placed or thrown in our path to solve. This is in theory,
solvable if we can create a solution.
Problem that involves the solver, and begins to implicate the solver. To solve a mystery
one must solve oneself. Mysteries lie beyond our understanding
EX. Sex is a problem, love is a mystery
Distinction between the two:
Evolution of the modern environmental movement characterized by problems (such as
industrial pollution, mining, and chemical waste). We can now pin point the source of the
problem and provide a solution. But when the source of the problem is us, the human
race, then this problem moves into the realm of mystery
What is ontology?
Branch of metaphysics, study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality.
The destruction of species.
Reading: Monarch Butterflies
Describe the Monarch butterflies migration path and behavior during this travel
From the north end of Toronto, monarch butterflies get a taste of nectar and head south to
a mountain range in Mexico.
According to the article, what environmental problems do Monarch butterflies face?
Week 3 Reading: Gaia and the Earth System
Make a synthesis of the Gaia hypothesis main ideas and its author.
The Gaia hypothesis sates that the earth itself is a selfregulating, complex system where
the organisms interact with the inorganic surroundings to maintain life on it.
Week 4 Reading: Why societies collapse?
Synthesis of the environmental history and collapse of the Easter Island
Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; its most famous features are the vast,
staring sculptures of elongated heads that dot the island. Approximately 900 of these
statues remain; some half finished – giving evidence of a culture that suddenly
abandoned its projects.
The island was covered in dense palm forests when the first settlers, early Polynesian
tribes, arrived in roughly the 56 century. They travelled in doublehulled canoes and rafts. Grew sweet potatoes and produced a substantial surplus – creation of a complex
social structure. Statues formed the center of ceremonies and rituals by tying the
community together – they were also astrological markers. Deforestation occurred due to
the agriculture purposes and other activities such as canoe making, shelter building etc.
Also, they cremated the dead, using up even more wood. By the 19 century, remaining
population was forced into slavery. Only 100 Easter Islanders left.
Islanders were reduced to eating herbs, grass and eventually each other. There were no
trees above ten feet. The loss of wood resources strangled the population.
Vulnerabilities: Island is volcanic. While soils were reasonable; drainage was poor.
Limited rainfall – 50 inches a year and only intermittent streams. Very few plants, six bird
species, and only one or two lizards. Sea creatures visited island.
Social conditions: society was organized according to social ranks and family ties.
Island was subdivided into 12 territories ruled by different family clans. Each had
ancestral chiefs who were worshipped. Since statues of these chiefs were all over the
island, there must have been a whole island agreement as well.
Environmental Conditions: Because of climate no coral reefs or lagoons, so few fishing
grounds. Deforestation – people were forced to live in caves because wood houses
couldn’t be repaired; no fishing because of lack of canoes; elimination of trees let to
washing away of topsoil from precious agricultural land
Synthesis of the environmental history and collapse of the Mayan empire
Mayans created massive monuments that spoke of a powerful hierarchical culture, and a
substantial surplus of food to feed its substantial populations. Population of 13 million.
Mayans had series of sophisticated irrigation and raised field farming systems throughout
the extent of their empire – relied on cord as their main crop
Vulnerabilities: Severe population pressure on a limited agricultural base
Social Conditions: Increased signs of warfare and conflict between different cities and
regions. Evidence of outmigration’s, people abandoned the area and moved away
Environmental Conditions: Only receives strong rainfall between June and September,
serious dry season from January to may (area also subject to hurricanes and tropical
storms) South got more rain during rainy season, north was more secure because able to
dig wells down for fresh water. Droughts occurred, exhausting the wells of fresh water.
Deforestation, attempts to farm on hillsides and vulnerable areas throughout the region.
The capacity of a system to bounce back from a stress
Ability of a system to provide continuous resources or tasks without failure
5 Reasons why societies collapse:
1. The environmental damage that people inflict
2. Changes in the overall environmental conditions, of which climate change is
3. Hostile neighbors in the social environment 4. Decreased support