Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction

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.
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