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Unit 1:
Ch. 1
Ch. 2
Ch. 3
Interlude A
Unit 2:
Ch. 4
Ch. 5
Ch. 6
Ch. 7
Ch. 8
Ch. 9
Interlude B
Unit 3:
Ch. 10
Ch. 11
Ch. 12
Ch. 13
Ch. 14
Ch. 15
Interlude C
Unit 4:
Ch. 16
Ch. 17
Ch. 18
Ch. 19
Interlude D
Unit 5:
Ch. 20
Ch. 21
Ch. 22
Ch. 23
Ch. 24
Ch. 25
Ch. 26
Ch. 27
Ch. 28
Ch. 29
Ch. 30
Interlude E
Unit 6:
Ch. 31
Ch. 32
Interlude F
Unit 7:
Ch. 33
Ch. 34
Ch. 35
Ch. 36
Ch. 37
Ch. 38
Interlude G

» Getting Started » A Guide to the Reading » Tying it all together

Getting Started

Below are a few questions to consider prior to reading Interlude G. These questions will help guide your exploration and assist you in identifying some of the key concepts presented in this chapter.

  1. Under what circumstances will the use of a natural resource be sustainable?
  2. When is the production of oil expected to peak?
  3. What is happening to the Ogallala Aquifer?
  4. What percentage of forested lands still remains in Kenya?
  5. What percentage of the population of the United States has access to safe drinking water?
  6. What is a greenroof?
  7. How have satellites contributed to our understanding of environmental problems?
  8. What is the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare?
  9. What pollutant does the Kyoto Protocol seek to reduce?

A Guide to the Reading

When exploring the contents in Interlude G for the first time, the following concepts typically give students the most difficulty. For each concept, one or more references have been identified which may help you gain a better understanding of these potentially problematic areas.

The Current Human Impact Is Not Sustainable

Would you be surprised to learn that you may be living in what future historians might call one of the ”golden ages of mankind”? It is possible that the lifestyles you and your classmates enjoy may never be duplicated again. There may be too few natural resources remaining for future generations to live like you do. That’s because many aspects of your lifestyle are not sustainable. This Interlude discusses sustainability, an action or process that can be continued indefinitely. Using natural resources at rates that exceed the rate of renewal or actions like pollution, that disrupt important features of an ecosystem, are considered unsustainable. A good example of unsustainability is how we use groundwater. A significant proportion of the water used for drinking, agriculture, and industry is pumped from underground sources. The removal of groundwater in many regions now greatly exceeds the natural rate of replenishment. As a result, some aquifers, the underground reservoirs where groundwater is pumped from, have dried completely, while others have dropped so low that pumping water has become very costly. If present trends continue, it’s possible some communities and farmlands will have to be abandoned when their access to groundwater is no longer reliable. Deforestation represents another serious non-sustainable activity, particularly in the tropics, where forests are often converted to cropland and pasture. Some regions have lost 100 percent of the forests that were present just 1,000 years ago.

For more information on this concept, be sure to focus on:

  • In Interlude G, Declining water resources are a serious problem
  • Figure G.4, Declining Groundwater Levels
  • In Interlude G, Global deforestation continues at an alarming rate
  • Figure G.5, The Destruction of Old-Growth Forests

Sources of Hope for the Future

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the environment. The number of people who are committed to solving environmental problems continues to grow.  Much of the current growth is the outcome of education, which is helping many to reach a fuller awareness of the extent of these problems. Education also plays a role in how people form their attitudes about nature. Historically, natural systems were considered valuable only if they provided direct benefits to people. Alternative views emphasizing less direct benefits, like clean water, or esthetic values, are becoming more common.  Although concerned about nature, many feel unable to make any meaningful contributions to the efforts to solve environmental problems. Yet, individuals can make a difference. Few of us will have the impact of Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel peace prize for his environmental efforts with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. But, as consumers, each time you make a purchase you have the opportunity to support companies that recycle, minimize the amount of throwaway packaging, or produce energy-conserving devices. Such seemingly small actions can have enormous effects when a large enough group of people become involved. The application of modern technologies is allowing ecologists, for the first time, to observe world scale changes as they happen. Satellites, in particular, allow us to monitor the entire Earth in unprecedented detail. Unfortunately, most preliminary data is discouraging, documenting the damage that individual researchers had long described. However, because satellites can provide real-time data, those efforts that do work can be identified immediately and disseminated. Long-lasting improvements will never come about entirely through the efforts of concerned individuals and scientists. The participation of governments and business will also be critical. Governments have the power to mandate change through laws that regulate the actions of its citizens, and seek to protect its natural resources. For example, in the Unites States, provisions of the Clean Air Act have significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions and decreased acid rain. Governments also have the power to form treaties with other governments to address those issues that extend past national boundaries. International treaties have already been successful in reducing the emission of ozone-depleting CFCs. Finally, let’s consider the contributions of business in forming a sustainable society. Currently, corporations consume large quantities of resources and generate large quantities of waste. There is, therefore, tremendous potential for corporations to reduce the environmental impact of their activities. Perhaps more importantly, as societies seek to establish sustainable forms of development, corporations can respond much more quickly than government with the new technologies that will be required. Some of the largest energy firms have made sizable investments in alternative and renewable energy sources. Fuel cells, solar conversion, and wind power are among these newer technologies. Moreover, investing in these technologies can often improve a corporation’s profits.

For more information on this concept, be sure to focus on:

  • Interlude G, Sources of Hope for the Future

Tying it all together

Several concepts presented in this chapter build upon concepts presented in previous chapters and are also revisited and discussed in greater detail in subsequent chapters, including:

The Current Human Impact Is Not Sustainable

  • Chapter 31 – Biology in the News, “Dead Zone” Spreads in Gulf of Mexico
  • Chapter 33, Human Impact on the Biosphere
  • Chapter 34, The Tragedy of Easter Island

Sources of Hope for the Future

  • Interlude F, Feeding a Hungry Planet
  • Chapter 36 – Section 36.3, Recovery from Disturbance
  • Chapter 37, The Economic Value of Ecosystem Services

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