The Environment and Society

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The Environment and Society

  • Chapter 1 Section 2

Tragedy of the Commons

  • (1968) Garrett Hardin’s essay addressed the conflict between the short-term interests of individuals and the long-term welfare of society


  • The commons were areas of land that belonged to a whole village
  • Anyone could graze cows or sheep on the commons

Problem with the Commons

  • Short-term interest: each individual wanted to graze as many animals as possible (“If I don’t use this resource, someone else will!”)
  • Long-term welfare: when too many animals were allowed to graze on the commons, the grass was destroyed and everyone suffered
  • (overgrazing = fewer animals)

Hardin’s Main Idea

  • If no one takes responsibility for maintaining a resource, it can become over used and depleted
  • Earth’s natural resources are our modern commons (everyone is using the resources, but few are concerned with conservation)

Economics and the Environment

  • Supply and Demand: The greater the demand for a limited supply of something, the more it is worth
  • Example: oil (as oil supplies decrease, prices go up)

Costs and Benefits

  • Balances the cost of an action against the benefits
  • Results often depend on WHO is doing the analysis
  • To an industry, the cost of pollution control may outweigh the benefits
  • To a nearby community, the benefits may be worth the high price

Risk Assessment

  • Used to create cost-effective ways to protect our health AND the environment
  • To reach an effective solution, the public must perceive the risk accurately

Developed and Developing Countries

  • Developed: higher average incomes, slower population growth, diverse industrial economies, stronger social support systems
  • Ex: U.S., Canada, Japan. Western Europe

Population and Consumption

  • Local Population Pressures
  • When populations grow rapidly, there may not be enough natural resources for everyone to live a healthy, productive life
  • Common problems: deforestation, depletion of topsoil, animal extinction, malnutrition, starvation, disease

Consumption Trends

  • Developed nations use more natural resources than developing nations
  • Ex: Use 75% of world’s resources, but only make up 20% of the world’s population!

Ecological Footprint

  • The productive area of Earth needed to support one person in a particular country
  • Includes land for crops and grazing, forest products, housing, ocean area for seafood, forest area needed to absorb air pollution from fossil fuels, etc.

Environmental Science in Context

  • Environmental problems are complex and require critical thinking skills
  • To complicate problems, the environment has become a battleground for political agendas
  • Listen to both sides of a problem and identify your own bias

Main Causes of Environmental Problems

  • 1. population crisis: human popn. Is growing too quickly for Earth to support
  • 2. consumption crisis: humans use up, waste, pollute, and destroy natural resources faster than they could be cleaned up or replaced

A Sustainable World

  • Sustainability: a condition in which human needs are met in such a way that a human popn could survive indefinitely
  • Requires everyone’s participation

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