Environment and Society Part II

Carbon Dioxide

  • Population and Scarcity:
  • The more people there are (especially people in developed countries), the more greenhouse gases are produced exacerbating the global warming problem. Developing countries also contribute, but it is a negligible amount compared to what is produced by countries like the United States.
  • Market Economy:
  • Cap and trade system allows companies to trade their carbon emissions for a profit if they can emit less than the set maximum per individual company. Those that cannot emit less buy the carbon credit from companies than can and so overall emissions remains below a set amount.
  • “The Commons”:
  • Large scale (and more complicated) prisoners’ dilemma with carbon dioxide where some companies can reduce carbon emissions, but other companies may not practice the same way. They might see it as a pass to emit however much carbon they want instead of the intention which was to have everyone lower their carbon emissions. Everyone can benefit by a healthy atmosphere, some can benefit at a cost external to themselves, or none can benefit and global temperatures continue to rise.
  • The air is definitely a “commons.” Air knows no political boundaries.
  • Environmental Ethics:
  • There is an ethical problem with uneven development. A similar problem would be in environmental injustice. The people who have the smallest ecological footprint are the ones bearing the brunt of the large footprints left by developed countries.
    Risks and Hazards:
  • Global warming isn’t just warming; it causes a whole slew of other environmental issues, which make it difficult to evaluate the damage done by greenhouse gases and the resulting climate change.
  • Some of these risks and hazards include severe weather, sea level rise, ocean acidification, dissolved oxygen depletion (from warming water body temperatures), etc.
  • Political Economy:
  • Uneven development provides an political problem in which the wealthy (countries like the U.S.) are the highest producers of greenhouse gases and have the most power to change the global market, and the poorer countries (like New Guinea) produce the least, have the least power to change the global market, yet are saddled with the effects of global warming caused by centuries of industrialization in developed countries.
  • Some countries are even pushing for compensation from richer countries for environmental damage (here is the link)
  • Social Construction:
  • Should we protect the globe for the globe’s sake? A lot of “green” decisions are based on economic benefits. Those that come at a cost to the individual are made because of the social construct that we shouldn’t impose humankind’s footprint on the earth any longer (or at least not such a large footprint)–similar to the idea of preserving wilderness for the sake of wilderness at the expense of other markets such as forestry.


  • Trees as a symbol (religion)
  • Wilderness, “otherness,” “wasteland” (Romanticized or not determines fate of the land at the hands of human use)
  • Climax vegetation/succession
  • Disturbance (good or bad)
  • No purpose to evolution. Climax communities appear as a result of available genetic diversity and become a mix of vegetation best suited to the environment at the time it evolves (not necessarily what it was before the disturbance)
  • No direct relationship between population growth and decline in forest cover, but there is a relationship and has in the past been negative. Recent studies have revealed forest cover in the United States overall is increasing, not decreasing. The global trend is still decreasing, however.
  • Trees are not the same as forests (plantations have trees, forests have biodiversity)
  • Shade grown coffee (monoculture vs polyculture) – less economical, more ecological
  • Reconciliation ecology
  • Forest transition theory
  • Political economy view of deforestation/reforestation (poorer countries “giving” forests to richer countries not really gaining or losing forested area)
  • “deforestation is a symptom of inevitable periodic crises in capitalist agriculture”
  • Ethical problem? Should trees have legal rights?


  • Close to humans (geographically and historically and even socially to a certain extent)
  • Trophic cascade of wolves in Yellowstone National Park
  • Wolves vs ranchers
  • “Wolves began to appear not as things that threatened the stability of nature, but instead as part of larger ecological processes and networks.”
  • Maintain the environment sustainably (by making sure it survives from one generation to the next–making sure we leave more than we take from the environment)
  • How should decisions like these be made? Anthropocentric philosophy? Ecocentric philosophy?
  • “what we have is the undoing of tens of millions of years of the planet’s biological heritage.”
  • Deep ecology: maintaining the environment democratically (the value of which cannot really be pinned down definitively)
  • Important to adjust social constructions for all involved for success of a sustainable practice (for example the reintroduction of a species like the Gray Wolf)


  • Ethical problem of blood tuna, bycatch, and dolphins (due to fishing methods)
  • Dolphin safe tuna (is it?)
  • Tuna is everywhere! Like a “commons” it is often taken for granted the work involved (and the cost to the environment) in catching this fish
  • Unregulated market…a problem
  • Two fish, one fish, yellow fish, blue fish: decline of tuna and switching to “alternative tuna”
  • Second contradiction of capitalism: in order to keep up with the competitive market, destroy environment/ecosystem (ocean/ETP dolphins) that supports the food we need (tuna)
  • Political boundaries and tuna – swimming circles around invisible borders
  • Fordism and Post-Fordism: globalization of tuna
  • Marine Stewardship Council: extension of green consumption to other kinds of fish/seafood
  • Ecological ethics – individuals in a species don’t matter, but the species as a whole does (killing is okay, extinction is not)
  • Social construction of charismatic animals (dolphins are the reason tuna were protected – people tend to care less about the well being of the tuna)

Bottled Water

  • Critical need is the mother of effective water use (ex. Tijuana, Mexico)
  • Bottled water consumption – U.S. vs Mexico
  • Water as a symbol of wealth (like fat used to be a symbol of beauty when food was scarce – meant you could feed yourself which was an accomplishment)
  • The many aliases of market water (spring, mineral, artesian, purified, fortified, etc.)
  • Paradox: with more environmental awareness, seems to be more bottled water usage (people want clean water, but what about plastic footprint?)
  • Water is everywhere, yet we’re feeling its scarcity (less than 1% potable)
  • We use water for lots of things that aren’t drinking (industry, agriculture, domestic, etc.) even with this scarcity
  • Desalinization possible, but not economically in most cases…yet
  • Risk: How bad is the water, really? Culturally risky or actually risky (cars and airplanes)? Depends on where you live
  • Commons: who owns the water? Where are lines drawn?
  • Political economy: privatization and the once common commodity – symptom of capitalism
  • Artificial expansion of market to increase demand with brands

French Fries

  • Potato and monoculture
  • Potato: Sustenance or unhealthy food? Both
  • With the arrival of fast food, french fries rapidly popularized and became an iconic American food right alongside the German-made-American hamburger
  • The making of a fry: labor, mechanization, energy, and chemicals. Oh, and the potato.
  • Just how bad is bad for you? American Heart Association law suit (here)
  • Obesity epidemic: do people learn with education or continue old habits? Success of “the [nutrition] box”
  • Documentaries and fast food (i.e. Supersize Me)
  • Globalization of McDonalds and other fast food chains: how are other cultures handling it?
  • Fast food competition in previously agricultural nations – who needs school?
  • Genealogical history of the potato: the Inca people and biodiversity restoration
  • Potato disease: necrosis – reason to preserve biodiversity
  • GMOs and “natural” pesticides – problem or solution?

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