Environment and Society

October 29, 2015

I’m sorry it’s a late post, but here is my view on the textbook that we just read. As a textbook point of view, it was easier to read than others, but a lot of the information in the book was something I already knew. I know water bottles have become popular and create more waste than just refilling one bottle. The wolf population was a decrease, but the population has risen recently. Lawn service is also a major aspect of today. People spend a lot of money to keep their lawns tidy and green. A greener lawn means a better looking house or property. I also found some interesting points throughout the book.

  • Good lawns mean good people. Neighborhoods are considered nicer based on how the properties are taken care of. The people that have money put a lot more effort in their yard. With these nice yards, it gives the neighborhood credibility and makes it a social good.
  • water bottle consumption is a perception that other water supplies are less safe. This can be related to Smart water bottles coming out, and that they have the best water out there, which in fact all bottles are the same.
  • I thought french fries were somewhat popular before the fast food business, but the 1950s on was a boom for french fry production. The increase of fast foods used fries as a common side order.
  • The value of trees have changed and that is because of a result of deforestation. The decline of trees have been important to society from an ecological standpoint to a economic standpoint.

Overall, it was a interesting book. The book has great graphs and images to help back up information. It’s good for entry level students, but I liked the book the lot because it was easy to read.

Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction

October 28, 2015

Chapter 1 Introduction

  • Rewilding: reintroduction (or restoration) of large predators to ecosystems.
    • While some animals are facing extinction, like the Aurochs, is a human-bred substitute ecologically acceptable? How should we play a role in this process?
  • Political ecology: nature and society are produced together in a political economy that include humans and non-humans.
  • Reconciliation ecology: the science of imagining, creating, and sustaining habitats, productive environments, and biodiversity in places used, traveled and inhabited by people.

Chapter 2 Population and Scarcity

  • A crowded city in the desert discussed that a large population introduced in Phoenix, Arizona would cause a negative side effects on the environment there. Population grow would bring more water usage, garbage, and greenhouse gases to the local area which would influence the land, water and air quality of the region.
  • Carrying capacity: the theoretical limit of population (animal, human, or otherwise) that a system can sustain.
  • Ecological footprint: the theoretical spatial extent of the earth’s surface required to sustain an individual, group, system, or organization — an index of environmental impact.
  • If we calculate carrying capacity based on an assumption that all people lived like people do in the United States, the Earth could sustain only two billion people, or less than one-third of the world’s current population. If this is taken seriously, we might have to ask how we can possibly decide who should be allowed to live at what standard of living.
  • In contrast to the negative views on population, some think that population growth is actually the root of innovation and civilization. Their argument asserts that as resources diminish, humans would be able to search for alternatives and new ways of “making more from less”.
  • Factors that influences population:  1)death rate and birth rate 2) changes in economic development 3) amount of resources 4) fertility rates –women who have a higher education tend to have less children
  • Chinese one-child policy

Chapter 3 Markets and Commodities

  • This chapter talks about economic ways of thinking about the environment through the the power of markets.
  • Market-based solutions to environmental problems:
  1. Green taxes – households dispose their waste in special trash bags that purchased by themselves
  2. Cap and trade – a total limit is placed on all emission, and individual could possess transferable shares of that total to maintain and reduce pollution levels overall. e.g. greenhouse gas.
  3. Green consumption – organic food consumption with green certification (programs to certify commodities for the purposes of assuring their ecological credentials). Criticisms: how does a consumer know if their payment is used properly with specific environmental impact?

Chapter 4 Institutions and “The Commons”

  • This chapter discusses the environmental problems from the product of “common property”, such as carbon, that are central to rule-making, incentives, and self regulation.
  • Can rules and norms of global behavior be shaped to encourage shared costs and collective benefits?
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma:  an allegorical description of a game-theoretical situation in which multiple individuals making decisions in pursuit of their own interests tend to create collective outcomes that are non-optimal for everyone.
  • Tragedy of the commons happens when there is a failure of cooperation – while the advantages for any individual or family of reproducing freely are immediate, their costs are diffused across the planet, increasing incrementally the burden of humanity upon the Earth.
  • Successful commons management include: boundaries, proportionality, collective choice, monitoring, sanctions, conflict resolution, and autonomy.
  • Ingenious flowing commons: irrigation; wildlife commons: collective management through hunting; global commons: global climate.

Chapter 5 Environmental Ethics

  • Chapter 5 examines “ethics-based” approaches to the environment.
  • Environmental justice: principle stressing the need for equitable distribution of environmental goods between people.
  • Western people once hold the idea that humans are separate from and superior to nature, and that nature is only as valuable as it is useful to humans.
  • Ancient Asian philosophy holds the idea that nature is sacred and if not superior, at least is in equality with humans.
  • Anthropocentrism:  an ethical standpoint that views humans as the central factor in considerations of right and wrong action in and toward nature.
  • Ecocentrism: an environmental ethical stance that argues that ecological concerns should be central to decisions about right and wrong action.
  • Animal liberation: a social movement that aims to free all animals form use by humans, whether those uses are for food, medical testing, industry, etc.

Chapter 6 Risks and Hazards

  • Chapter 6 talks about the environment as a problem of risk and hazard through formal processes that help to make the best choices possible, given that the environment has problems of high uncertainty and variability.
  • Hazard and Risks: a hazardis an object, condition, or process that threatens individuals and society in terms of production or reproduction, while a risk is the known probability that a hazard-related decision will have a negative consequence.
  • Some risks and hazards: flood, sea level rise, ocean acidification, algae bloom that causes dissolved oxygen depletion.
  • Risk Perception: people’s perception and estimation of risk is not fully rational and is influenced by emotion or affect.
  • What sorts of things can influence or cause our biases? (Race, gender, culture, etc.)

Chapter 7 Political Economy

  • Political economy claims that environmental problems are already build into the economy that causes them.
  • Modern capitalism: people’s labor is sold on a market, which allows for the accumulation of capital by a small number of individuals, this creates contradictions since capital becomes over-concentrated, which leads to disruptive financial and ecological crises. In other words, in political economy, environmental problems are already built into the economy.
  • Production of nature:  The environment is now a product of human industry, which leads to the commodificationof nature. Should we be able to make nature a commodity?
  • Would problems be solved through increasing globalization and export production and waste elsewhere?

Chapter 8 Social Construct of Nature

  • This chapter discusses environment-society issues that stress social construction – the tendency for people to understand and interpret environmental issues and process through language, stories, and images that are inherited through systems of media, government, education, and industry.
  • Constructivist: emphasizing the significance of concepts, ideologies, and social practices to our understanding and making of (literally constructing) the world.

Chapter 9 Carbon Dioxide

  • Cap and trade policy allows companies to trade their carbon emissions for a profit if they can emit less than the set maximum per individual company. Those that do not emit such amount (usually developing country) would sell their carbon emission credit to those needed (usually developed country) to make a profit, and by doing so both countries would benefit from emitting the allowed amount, and make their maximum amount of profit possible.

Chapter 10 Trees

  • Human activities in recent centuries has a significant overall decline in forest cover.
  • Political economy approaches to deforestation explain tree-cover decline as a result of the flow of value from forests, especially through commodity production.
  • Extension of legal rights to natural ovjects to address rampant destruction of forests and trees. Ethical problem? Should trees have legal rights?

Chapter 11 Wolves

  • Extermination and reintroduction of wolves of the Yellowstone National Park: survival of the top predators bring benefits to the whole ecosystem
  • Opinions against wolves: rancher vs ecologist
  • How should decisions like these be made? Anthropocentric or ecocentric philosophy?
  • Deep ecology: maintaining the environment democratically (the value of which cannot really be pinned down definitively)

Chapter 12 Uranium

  • Nuclear power plants produce about 16 percent of the world’s electricity.
  • Producing nuclear fuel is a cumbersome process, with risks, pollution, and toxic-waste products produced at every step in the chain.
  • Nuclear fuels emit fewer tons of greenhouse gases than do fossil fuels.
  • Problems with nuclear waste products: we have no clear long-term disposal solution

Chapter 13 Tuna

  • Consumption of tuna through the development of new fishing technologies
  • Geopolitical decisions for tuna, as they follow no political boundaries.
  • Economic profit vs ecological considerations.
  • Do they have animal rights?

Chapter 14 Lawns

  • Lawns as viewed by cultural artifact, requirement of chemical inputs.
  • Social view of lawn: beauty, good citizenship and neighborliness.
  • Does turfgrasses considered nature?

Chapter 15 Bottled Water

  • The perception that other water supplies are less safe or less healthy.
  • Risk assessment shows no significant advantages of bottled over tap water, raising questions about human biases in risk perception.
  • Commoditization of nature
  • Can and should municipal water be made available to the world’s poor through social provisioning instead of markets?

Chapter 16 French Fries

  • Fast food industries
  • Risks, negative consequences caused to human body.

Chapter 17 E-waste

  • Anthropogenic hazard with the increased consumption of goods like television, PCs, and cell phones.
  • Ways to change e-waste from an externality to a commodity.

Reflection “Environment and Society”

October 28, 2015

This book was very different than all the others, not necessarily in a good or bad way.  Reading a text book definitely had its pros, such as concise and clear facts and ideas.  The cons were that we had to read a text book… It is more enjoyable to read a book from the authors perspective. Getting to know an author through reading their ideas has gives a personal connection almost, that a text book could never do.  The structure was very easy to read, my favorite thing about the book was all of the keywords at the beginning of the chapters.  It was also cool to see some things I’ve learned from other classes to connect with the book such as Coase theorem and the Kuznets curve.

Again this book brings the ideas of Nature and Wilderness, having its own definition that is yet similar to many of the other texts we have read.  Nature is apart from all human interactions and activity, while wilderness is land unaffected by humans.

Population is another interesting topic that is talked about. “A Crowded Desert City” made me think about Ed Abbeys book and his thoughts on placing a city where there should be no city.  Logically, why would anyone start a city in the desert where there is no water.  Phoenix is growing exponentially and the water scarce land won’t be able to provide for all the inhabitants.

Markets and Commodities was interesting… I am pro Cap and Trade, it has shown success in decreasing pollution without radically altering business.  But this is turning pollution into a commodity and giving firms the “right” to pollute.  It was also intriguing to apply the Coase Theorem to environmental issues, it is all about bargaining and making contracts.  But it only applies when property rights are assigned, no one has property rights on the air.  Also when there are more than two parties involved it becomes difficult to negotiate, so there are limitations on the theorem.

Environmental ethics brought up a lot of information and points that reminded me of Eating Animals.  Could environmental ethics be used to protect animals from being manufactured and slaughtered in factory farms?

E-waste was also a cool topic, turning an externality into a commodity by recycling electronics could be a huge change for waste problems and resource scarcity problems.  Precious metals are becoming more and more expensive to mine, recycling metals from used electronics just makes sense.

Project Update

October 28, 2015

Ecotourism in Tennessee and ecotourism fall break where we went camping, driving, hiking, and to the NPS fish hatchery designated for Rainbow Trout. This trip helped to further discover and looking into the different aspects involved with my project that I am applying to Delaware, Ohio.

I am currently developing an information packet, questionnaire, brochure and plan on sending it to potential sites, follow up phone calls and follow up letters, follow up visit to collect data manually if need be. Contact list and letters will be sent out by the end of next week. I also plan on enlisting a group assuming three or four people to help me collect data.

Cabin in the Woods

October 28, 2015

My Adventures in the Charahala National Park

Over fall break a couple of weeks ago, I was able to go to Tennessee and stay in the park in my friend’s cabin with her for the week. There was no cell service, Internet etc. We were way up in the mountains, high altitude in the Smokey Mountains. Everyday we went out exploring and taking her four-wheeler on some of the rough terrain vehicular trails. We saw the North Carolina border, and the sunset over the Smokey’s from a meadow, which is bald due to how high up we were trees are unable to grow, it was open space great for views overlooking the river. We were able to see bats, water snakes, wild turkeys, and even a boar. The river runs through their property so it was a great space to catch up on some reading, and taking naps.

Going to this relatively isolated location was great for practicing the retrieval of data collection for my project based in the Delaware area. Especially through such activities that fit these categories: ecolodging, ecotreking, and community development and other ones as well. The fish hatchery was good to show how the park is able to control of the Rainbow Trout population that is fished most seasons in the park in multiple areas. They were being protected and replenished, in clean, well-maintained constantly filtered boxes. They are also covered with metal fencing to keep people from easily stealing the fish, and some of the park rangers live in the hatchery so they are constantly being protected. Of the many stories heard about fish hatcheries and the cruel, cramped conditions they subjected to. I could find no evidence that such treatment was being utilized at this particular hatchery.

Watching the sunset on the  top of  the Bald Hill, overlooking the Smokey Mountains.

Watching the sunset on the top of the Bald Hill, overlooking the Smokey Mountains.

Some large Rhododendron bushes were among some of the plants I could identify.

Some large Rhododendron bushes were among some of the plants I could identify.

Reading for Environment and Society

October 28, 2015

Although a little on the dense side, the book Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction was enjoyable to read. My first impression before reading the text was it would read like a textbook, that however, was not the case. As described in the introduction this text is designed “to explain these varied interpretive tools and perspectives and show them in operation” (4). The book is supposed to show the reader what are thinking is on the environment/society relationship and then what we use to make changes or application on the environment.

Throughout the text I found many terms or concepts that were discussed in the other texts we read previously. For example, “anthropocene” was used in Eating Animals as well as other texts. I have also seen a correlation in the concepts from the book and in stuff I learned in my different classes. From taking some Environmental Studies courses to Cultural Anthropology and Urban Society. Terms like “carrying capacity” and “ecological footprint”, I had learned previously in class and it showed up again in this text.

The set up of the text was also really great, because after reading a long section there was an outline of the specifics mentioned in that particular section. Occasionally, I would forget a specific detail that was easily retrievable from the outline. Another great feature was the blue blurbs that had the definitions strategically located to catch your eyes on the side margins. The diagrams charts were helpful to explain the concept or theory being discussed in that section. For example the matrix for Voluntary/Involuntary-Common/Catastrophic, in the section that discussed risks and hazards (88). I thought the term “greenwashing” is closely linked to the idea of brainwashing in that a false perceived image of environmentally friendly is relayed on a product.

The section about shade grown coffee was interesting, I did not know that the more traditional way of growing coffee was in the forests among many other species of flora and fauna. Although this would mean a lower crop yield and production this would allow for the forests to continue to thrive and diversity to increase among the land. In order to work people would have to respect that they would have to pay more for more environmentally friendly produced coffee. This is an excellent example of reconciliation ecology (171). It is bizarre that we have been growing coffee in large deforested land that has lost fertile soil and in direct sunlight, when this was not at all the way it had been done in prior generations.

Current method of producing coffee, this plantation is located in Brazil.

The traditional method of growing coffee within the existent forest and among many species of flora, referred to as “Shade Grown”. This one is located in Nicaragua.

Overall, the book’s organization, section division, and interesting topics of discussion made it enjoyable and want to further research certain concepts and gain a better understanding of what is going on in the world and the human thoughts involved and invested.

Environment and Society Response

October 28, 2015

Right away the book lost credibility with me.  It started on page 14 saying that 4 million people lived in Phoenix, AZ, and not even half a page down it said that only 1.5 million people lived there.  The fact that it read like a textbook didn’t help it keep my interest for long either.  The questions that it asked about an areas ability to hold people were the same as I have had for a while now.  I feel that there are areas in the world that humans are not meant to live in, especially not in the numbers that are there.  Phoenix, AZ is one such example, as well as just about every other desert region out there and tundras.  Essentially, very harsh landscapes that don’t supply enough of the right things needed to live comfortably.  Where the author talks about geometric growth and impact also convey the same type of thing.  That more people=higher demand, which leads to a depletion of those sources faster than they can be replenished.  I do agree that the harsh conditions in such areas can, and have, led to greater innovation, but I feel that the negatives outweigh the positives in such regions.  The mention of the Prisoner’s Dilemma made me realize how true it is, that people will work harder for immediate small gains rather than collaborate for a greater gain down the road.  Such as what some markets do, in that they will quickly expunge the entirety of their natural resources rather than work with someone to keep those sources around for a much longer time span.  A fair amount of ethics topics came up too, but most if not all of them we have brought up in class by now.  Politics and economics merging throughout history was a valid point, because it’s true.  If there is an economically valuable resource, than the government will likely take action to protect it.  The topic of women’s education and women’s rights seemed to be forced into the book.  I agree that a majority of the environmentalist leaders ten to be women, but I also know that men are a sizable portion as well.  Heck, I’m a man and an advocate for environmentalism.  So the mentioning of that seemed unneeded.  Aside from all that, Part 1 made some good points, it’s just that most of it I was already aware of.

In Part 2, I also was aware of the various impacts of carbon dioxide emissions, the fluctuation in the number of trees and their role in global warming, and of the wolf topics.  Many of these have been brought up either in this class, other classes, or I have seen on the news or other source.  The Uranium discussion had several things I already knew from doing a report on it over the summer, but also one thing I didn’t already know, which was that nuclear weapons were constructed before any nuclear power plant was.  The issues with tuna fishing didn’t really keep me interested for long, because I don’t like the taste of fish.  I was unfamiliar with all of the environmentally related subject matter in the lawn care section.  So much so that I felt overwhelmed by it.  This was not the case with the bottled water section, as I felt that I knew enough about the subject matter to get through it.  The biggest point it made in my opinion, even though I already knew it, was that it is often no safer than drinking tap water.  I found the entire french fry section to be comical, mainly because if the subject matter and the mention of the Russet Burbank being “the perfect fry potato”.  E-waste I agree is a difficult matter to deal with.  The materials do not degrade easily or quickly, and so are difficult to dispose of.  Overall this section contained a large amount of information that I was already aware of, and so I was able to quickly get through it despite being like a textbook.

You can’t just bottle up your problems: UV’s ban the bottle campaign backfires

October 28, 2015

The University of Vermont actually enacted a ban on selling single use plastic water bottles that is similar to the one we have been working on.  The ban was put in place in 2012 and reports have come out now about the stats regarding the usage since then.  Unfortunately the results aren’t so good.  In fact students at UV actually began using more single use bottles and instead of drinking water they were just drinking other unhealthy drinks.

I found the full story here at NPR.  It’s definitely worth a listen/read  especially because we are trying to do something that is so similar.

Environment and Society: A Critical Response

October 28, 2015

Unlike all the other books we have read thus far, this was set up more like a text-book so I thought it was going to be more generalized and drier material.  However the book gave many new ideas about topics that we have already broached either in class or in other readings.  This mainly includes the idea of nature which this book describes well by defining it and then going on to talk about the problems with how nature is being defined and also how nature is consumed both literally and figuratively.  Robbins uses the definition that nature is “the natural world everything that exists that is not a product of human activity.”  More importantly he goes on to say how this definition is problematic because it is difficult, if not impossible to categorize and separate the entire world into discrete natural and human components.   Another important remark that Robbins has about “nature” is that nature has become something that has much of its value riding on the fact that it is useful to humans. Nature has become an object to us, especially a one with monetary value. This is seen in various ways across the spectrum: objects actually being sold to us like bird feeders, remote-controlled toys that are animals, butterfly nets, I think even something like hiking boots would fall into this category of using nature and its contents and rigors to make a profit.  Even something as having nature in the name also has proved profitable for the Discovery Channel which as made a killing by selling petrified woods, books on penguins and other things to people looking to “go green.”


There are even first person shooter/action video games that commodify nature for profit.

The book then goes on to discuss objects of concern which include: CO2 emissions, trees, wolves, tuna, bottled water and fries.  Each of these things are examined in quite explicit detail and given accordance for their environmental impact.  The way in which this is done is the most striking thing to me because most of these things are fairly common or at least everyone knows about them but it is unusual for them to be examined under a scope that takes into account how they interact with other aspects of the environment for better or worse. Another aspect of these 6 things is how some are actually related.  The trees, carbon and tuna are all similar in the fact that people have gotten so efficient at catching, using, and cutting these things that the world can no longer keep up.  Pre-industrial revolution there were carbon emissions but not on the scale that occurs now.  The book points out that now fishermen are out catching as big of catches as possible which doesn’t allow the fish populations to recover.  Trees are suffering from massive deforestation that wipe out entire old growth forests. Overall I think this really stayed away from the traditional style of text books that drones on while rattling off facts.

How Fast is Greenland is Melting Away?

October 28, 2015

As I’m sure we all have heard, Greenland is melting due to this idea of global warming.  The complete melting of its ice sheet could raise sea levels by up to 20 feet.  Some scientists have embarked to take measurements of a rivers flow rate to get an idea of just how fast the sheet is melting.  Their data has not yet been published, but with it they hope to make more accurate diagrams of global sea level rise.  The article can be found here.