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Guide Explaining Human Actions and Environmental Changes

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Multilateral development agencies now undertake environmental assessments for transportation and other development projects. Popular accounts are now more sensitive to the varied causes and responses to Amazonian deforestation. Researchers have compiled data on overall losses from climatic disasters and have shown that economic damages are increasing dramatically, especially in the United States.

In the developing world, millions of people have been displaced by cyclones, flooding, and droughts, as population growth, migration, and poverty expose more people to climatic extremes. Studies have also identified a serious threat of changes in the patterns of diseases and pests associated with climate change and variability. Heavy rains in Milwaukee overwhelmed the sanitation system, creating a plume of farm waste and contaminated runoff in Lake Michigan that later entered the water supply, resulting in a large outbreak of Cryptosporidium , cases, with more than deaths.

In Queens, New York, an exceptionally hot, humid summer boosted local mosquito populations, leading to local transmission of malaria. In the southwestern United States, intense rains provided a sudden burst of food supplies for rodents, following a six-year drought that significantly reduced rodent predators owls, coyotes, and snakes.

In Southern Africa, prolonged drought, punctuated by heavy rains in , precipitated an upsurge of rodents, crippling agricultural yields in Zimbabwe and leading to plague in Mozambique and Malawi. In addition to severe human losses in the affected regions, measured economic. The impacts of extreme events and epidemics can ripple through economies, affecting agriculture, productivity, trade, and tourism, in addition to their direct effects on regional human health and well-being.

There is, of course, much uncertainty about the role of climatic change in causing ecological changes that have costly effects on humans. A major recent example that highlights the difficulty in assigning causation is the collapse of the commercially important northern cod populations off the coast of eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, in the late s and early s. This collapse led to a costly program to compensate the over 30, people who could no longer work as fishers or fish processors. Debates continue about the roles of the North Atlantic Oscillation and other, more specific, climatic and oceanographic changes relative to the role of overfishing.

Key scientific questions for research on the human dimensions of global change can be grouped into four broad interrelated interdisciplinary categories:. What are the major human causes of changes in the global environment and how do they vary over time, across space, and between economic sectors and social groups?

What are the human consequences of global environmental change for key life support systems, such as water, health, and agriculture, and for economies and political systems? How do we value and decide among the range of options? What are the underlying social processes or driving forces behind the human relationship to the global environment, such as human attitudes and behavior, population dynamics, and economic transformation?

How do they function to alter the global environment? Research on the human dimensions of global change has value both as basic science and for informing environmental decisions. It increases basic understanding of how past human activities have created present environmental conditions, how past environmental changes and variations have affected human wellbeing, and how people have responded to these variations and changes. By developing understanding of human-environment dynamics, human dimensions research improves the knowledge base for anticipating future environmental changes and for informing policies aimed at reshaping the environmental future.

Studies of the human consequences of and responses to global change help inform judgments about what kinds of responses would be most desirable e. Below we describe the major science issues, review progress that has been made in understanding them, and identify some lessons that have been learned from previous research. What has been learned in recent years about human causes of global environmental change? One major focus of research has been the explanation of changes in the composition of the Earth's atmosphere.

Looking at the atmosphere through human history, one finds that the concentrations of several gases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide changed only a little for more than a thousand years and then started to increase rapidly around The obvious hypothesis to explain these data is that prior to industrialization in the nineteenth century the related basic cycles of the Earth's environment were in approximate equilibrium and aggregate human activity was too small to be detectable in globally averaged data; then, increasingly since the Industrial Revolution, aggregate human activity has changed the composition of the atmosphere, in particular adding measurably to the concentrations of certain gases.

Similarly, looking at the history of land use and land cover, one finds significant changes occurring, although over longer time periods. The obvious hypothesis to explain these observations again is that human beings altered the land and used resources to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population and an expanding industrial economy. Research into the direct human causes of global change has thus focused on changes in land and.

But there is also a growing body of work on the fundamental social processes that drive human use of the environment. Interest in the causes of local and regional land use changes is long standing in the social sciences. These studies are of interest to a wide range of social and environmental scientists because land is a key factor in social relationships and resource use. But these studies also provide specific contributions to scientific understanding of biogeochemical cycles especially the carbon cycle , regional climate modification, and alterations in natural ecosystems and are a critical basis for policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, conserve biodiversity, and reduce land degradation.

The global change research community has made considerable progress in recent years on several important questions, such as the social causes of deforestation in regions like the Amazon River basin and Southeast Asia; the role of social, political, and economic institutions in land use decisions; and the relationships between population and land use and land cover change.

Additionally, human dimensions research has highlighted the important distinction between land use and land cover. Whereas land cover refers to the land's physical attributes e. Land use links land cover to the human activities that transform the land. The emerging field of environmental history has provided important data on the trajectories and causes of land use changes in the past.

For example, historical studies of the U. Great Plains have shown how changes in the use and management of grazing and croplands relate to government policy and economics and in turn influence the cycling of carbon and nutrients. Historical studies of land use have altered scientific thinking on the past and the present in a variety of ways.

For instance, many observers have presumed that much of the humid tropical forests is pristine or that human impacts on the. However, research has shown that many forests were cleared in the distant past or have been managed for centuries and that their current rich biodiversity may be a product of past human manipulation, resulting in higher frequencies of species with economic, medicinal, and other human uses than might be expected to result from natural processes of secondary succession.

Although human population growth is commonly seen as the major cause of land cover change and destruction of habitats for biota, particularly because of land clearing to grow food, the role of population is in fact far more complex. Research on land management practices has demonstrated that overexploitation of common-pool natural resources—the so-called tragedy of the commons 30 —is not an inevitable consequence of human nature and the spatial distribution of resources but is contingent on the structure of human communities and the condition of social institutions that effectively govern access to a resource, monitor its condition, and establish sanctions for overexploitation.

The emergence of integrated and interdisciplinary approaches to understanding land use and environmental issues has resulted in a series of studies that show how political and economic structures constrain individual choices about management of land and resources. Social scientists have begun to make greater use of orbital Earth-observing satellites in recent years.

The interest in understanding the social dimensions of land use change has challenged some of the inferences about land use drawn by natural scientists by showing, for example, the importance of secondary growth and the likely miscalculations of biomass and carbon pools resulting from overly aggregated analyses that fail to quantify the differences between mature and year-old regrowth vegetation. Social scientists have also made important contributions to explaining satellite observations of vegetation dynamics in Africa and to understanding land use change in areas undergoing urbanization.

Field studies of land use have provided information of great relevance to global and regional atmosphere-biosphere modeling. For example, coarse-resolution satellite data tend to represent the predominant soil type or vegetation in each grid cell, even if a minor soil or vegetation type is of major economic or ecological significance.

Such a representation of the data can seriously misrepresent land use and productivity potential as well as biogeochemical cycles. Another important development is the focus on explaining trends and patterns in land use intensification, in which crop yields are increased through the use of agricultural chemicals and irrigation, resulting in alterations in regional and global biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems. Recent important U. In summary, there has been considerable progress in understanding the human causes of land use change, including the following insights:.

Some regions that now appear pristine have been subject to human management since prehistoric times. There is no simple relationship between population and deforestation or between common property rights and resource degradation. The analysis of institutions—in their broadest sense, including political, legal, economic, and traditional institutions—and their interactions with individual decision making is critical in explaining land use. Satellite images can provide important insights for social science, and social science can help guide satellite programs to useful applications.

The age and gender structure of landholding households affects how much forest is cut for farming. Tax incentives affect Amazonian deforestation. Secure land tenure is important to long-term resource conservation. Road construction in forests leads to increased deforestation not only by farmers claiming land but also by logging companies. How to develop land management institutions that both respond to local needs and mitigate global environmental change. How to aggregate in-depth studies of land cover and land use to provide global projections of use in large-scale modeling and international management of global change.

Global change research encompasses the study of changes in coastal and marine ecosystems insofar as they are affected by physical and socioeconomic processes that are global in scale and effect. Social and applied scientists have investigated the importance of coastal and marine ecosystems for many communities, regions, and nations. They have also addressed the ways in which resource use and pollution have altered the condition and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems in many regions of the world, including the destruction of protective and productive mangrove ecosystems, the degradation of coastal lagoons and estuaries and species that live or reproduce in them, and the minor contamination of even the deep and remote oceans.

Steady increases in demand, technological capacity, and effort have led to a long-term trend of increasing fish catches, which is believed to have leveled off during the s, indicating limits to sustainable harvests. People have responded to problems in coastal marine systems primarily by intensifying, diversifying, and expanding the areal extent of their uses of those systems, tending to extend such problems to the global level.

Globalized systems of production and marketing, combined with increases in population and consumer demand and patterns of subsidization, increase competition between countries and communities for scarce marine resources. Rules of free and open access, combined with the weaknesses of international management regimes, make it difficult to control harvesting in deep ocean and other multinational fisheries.

Restricting access is a necessary but not sufficient approach to reducing incentives to overharvest and pollute marine ecosystems. The technical and institutional tools of marine resource management have not adequately incorporated the effects of coastal development, wetlands drainage, dams, and pollution of rivers and oceans in diminishing breeding habitat and degrading marine resources. The success of fisheries and coastal management depends on functional interdependence between local institutions and regional, national, and international institutions.

Provide complete geographic coverage of the status of human use of marine and coastal resources. Analyze and model changes in the abundance of fish and marine mammal populations as a function of multiple social and environmental stresses, including interannual, decadal, and longer-term climatic change. Evaluate the full range of institutions, including traditional systems, to understand how they increase or reduce human impacts on coasts and oceans. Fossil fuel use is the most prominent human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere. Since the s, a burst of human dimensions research seeking to understand the consumption of fossil fuels has been proceeding simultaneously at several levels.

The methods developed for studying energy use have more recently been applied to human transformations of the global. The results are useful as inputs to climate models, for anticipating future rates of environmental change, and for identifying effective ways to mobilize social and economic forces to alter trajectories of environmental change. First, fossil fuel use has been disaggregated by fuel type, geographic region, mediating technology, and social purpose lighting, water heating, transportation, steel making, etc.

It has been shown that patterns and environmental impacts vary greatly by country and that national-level consumption varies with technology, population, and other factors, such as industrialization and degree of central planning of economies. Second, progress has been made in understanding patterns and changes in energy and materials use across countries and over time. Countries beyond a certain level of affluence experience declines in per capita environmental impact, although considerable dispute remains about where the turning point lies. Third, patterns of energy and materials use have been studied in relation to particular variables that may account for changes and variations in use, and some of these variables can be affected by public policy.

At the household level, for example, energy use is affected by income and fuel prices, household structure and social group membership, and by individual knowledge, beliefs, and habits, as well as by the energy-using technologies that households possess. There is significant potential to improve residential energy efficiency with appropriately designed interventions.

The research strongly suggests that the most effective interventions are specific to consumers' situations and that they use combinations of information, incentives, and social influence. Participation of affected consumers in program design can greatly increase effectiveness. Research has focused on identifying how the energy consumption patterns of firms and individuals change as a function of changes in information, incentives, technology, and social organization, thus illuminating the potential for reducing society's reliance on fossil fuels by promoting the adoption of new technologies or changing behaviors and preferences.

Specific areas of extensive research include technology-focused research on energy consumption, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and nuclear power; research on price elasticities and response to incentives; and research on behavioral and informational factors affecting change in consumer choice. Research on energy conservation has blended behavioral and technological analyses to compare the technical potential for reducing the energy use required to provide an energy service, such as indoor climate control, with actual reductions in energy consumption.

It has examined ways to achieve more of this potential reduction by identifying and removing barriers to energy conservation, such as subsidies and other market distortions, principal-agent problems, incomplete consumer knowledge and misinformation, and problems related to the early stages of the introduction of new technology. This research provides a basis for selecting promising policy options to achieve national commitments to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. Materials balance analysis provides the basis of an accounting system that tracks the stocks and flows of certain materials, particularly the chemical elements, through the human economy.

Analysis of material flows in this fashion has been called industrial metabolism and industrial ecology.

The predominant role of fertilizer production in human-induced changes to the global nitrogen cycle was only recently recognized. Our understanding of energy use is far more sophisticated than it was two decades ago. It has led to the broader concept of environmentally significant consumption and to the idea of applying analyses like those used for energy to various nonelemental materials of environmental importance, such as wood, steel, cement, glass, and plastics. An important part of research on energy use is scenario making, which seeks to extrapolate current energy use patterns into the future.

Two important goals of scenario making are transparency explicit reviewable assumptions and self-consistency. For global change studies, most scenarios are built on the basis of models of the evolution of national economies, often assuming a similar evolution for large groups of countries at a similar stage of economic development and structure.

Typically, population growth is exogenous to the models, and per capita energy consumption is the subject of investigation. The most significant uncertainties relate to the determinants of the rate of introduction of new technologies. Scenario making is a conservative activity in that it assumes only slow changes from established trends; it is not well suited to exploring the significance of surprises and catastrophes.

Nonetheless, over the past two decades, scenario making to elucidate energy consumption has become a highly developed art, featuring dialogues among modelers to ensure quality control and intercomparisons and to highlight debatable assumptions. Scenario building has been an essential basis for IPCC assessment models of future climate and analyses of mitigation options, the latter employing models used for scenario building in policy analysis of greenhouse gas emission control strategies. Estimates of future emissions of greenhouse gases are highly sensitive to assumptions about future economic, technological, and social changes, particularly about the autonomous rates of decarbonization and improvement in the energy efficiency of technology, about the likelihood of further large-scale economic transformations, and about the stability of preferences.

Energy and materials uses are determined by multiple factors: they are not simple functions of population or economic activity but depend on complex interactions of these factors and others. Future emissions of greenhouse gases will be driven by pressures from increasing affluence and population, with countervailing trends that reduce the amount of energy and materials used per unit of economic activity and the rate of emissions per unit of energy and materials used.

Current knowledge is inadequate to accomplish some tasks critical to understanding consumption trends, their potential environmental consequences, and the possibilities for altering them.

Human social system

These tasks include:. Specifying the ways in which population, technology, affluence, preferences, policies, and other forces interact to change the rates of environmentally significant consumption in high-consuming developed economies and particularly in developing economies, where large increases in consumption are anticipated. Identifying and quantifying important sources of variation in the adoption of environmentally beneficial technology among firms within industries.

Human dimensions research has made important progress in understanding the consequences of global change for people and ecosystems. Drawing on earlier research in applied climatology and natural hazards, the past 10 years have seen a major effort to understand the potential impacts of climate change on human activity, as well as studies of the impacts of past and present climate variability, the impacts of ozone depletion on human health, and the effects of land degradation and biodiversity loss on society.

Credible climate impact assessments are a basis for developing policy responses to global climate change and for successful application of information on current climate variability to resource management. The first studies of potential global warming impacts analyzed how crop yields and water resources would change in developed countries in response to climate scenarios of monthly changes in temperature and precipitation, based on coarse and uncertain output from climate models simulating the equilibrium response to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

It appears that many U. A major conceptual advance occurred in moving from impact assessments based on climate model scenarios to analyses based on an understanding of vulnerability. For example, rapid increases in water demand have increased drought vulnerability, and the spread of urban settlements into coastal and flood-prone regions has increased vulnerability to sea level rise and severe storms. Another innovation is the development of multisectoral regional assessments of the consequences of climate change. The MINK study examined what would happen if the drought conditions of the s were imposed on the economy and resources of the MINK region of the future.

Taking into account adaptation, the study showed that, on the whole, agriculture would be able to cope with climate change better than forests or water resources and that impacts on the regional economy would be minor.

Global Environmental Change

The study found significant effects on northern ecosystems and hydrology. These new approaches to climate impact assessment have relevance far beyond the study of global warming. The new approaches can also be used in analyzing the impacts of decadal shifts in atmospheric circulation and climate variability. For example, statistical crop models were used 69 to correlate ENSO with maize yields in Zimbabwe, and several early warning systems for famine also drive crop models with climate information to manage food security.

One of the most significant emerging areas of research is the effects of climate change and variability on human health. Several studies have shown that climate change may result in changes in the incidence and prevalence of such diseases as cholera and malaria, which debilitate human populations, 70 as well as changes in the geography of crop and livestock pests and diseases. Extreme events such as high temperatures have been linked to increased mortality, especially of older people and the infirm, in major cities. Important developments and insights in this general area of research include the following:.

The consequences of environmental change depend as much on the social systems that produce vulnerability as on the biophysical systems that cause environmental change. The consequences of environmental change are strongly dependent on the ability of people and social systems to adapt; consequently, access to economic resources is a key mediator between environmental changes and their impacts. Climate models can be linked to crop models to provide early warnings of famine.

Knowledge is not yet adequate to achieve several goals critical to anticipating the likely consequences of future environmental changes, such as:. Developing indicators of vulnerability that are sensitive to regional and social variations. Linking mesoscale outputs of climate models to regional impacts, taking into account vulnerability and the ability of vulnerable individuals and social systems to adapt.

The most noticeable and perhaps most serious effects of long-term climate change may not be slow changes in average temperature or precipitation but rather such extreme events as storms, droughts, heat waves, floods, and wildfires; in some climate change scenarios, epidemics may be the most serious of all the dangers.

Because of the importance of such episodes to society, environmental scientists are increasingly attempting to predict changes in the frequency of extreme weather events and to identify the boundary conditions for the spread of disease. Social scientists have explored the impacts of climate variability in historical and archeological studies and in research on the human impacts of climatic natural disasters. These studies have highlighted the importance of understanding vulnerability and adaptation.

Several recent studies suggest links between drought and the collapse of civilizations in Asia and Latin America. As scientists gain new insights into paleoclimatic variability, rapid climate change, and shifts in decadal circulation patterns, social.

Andrew P. Vayda: Explaining Human Actions and Environmental Changes

Insights from natural hazards research also have great relevance to understanding the consequences of climate variability. Anticipatory responses, however, are more uneven, even under normal regimes of climate variability. For example, many vulnerable households and businesses fail to insure adequately against floods, even when warned of an increased near-term likelihood of flooding, and vulnerable communities often resist planning and zoning changes that would render them less vulnerable.

If global climate change increases the frequency of so-called year floods and other natural disasters or brings about disasters outside the range of previous experience, weaknesses in anticipatory responses will become more costly. Researchers have begun to think about hazard response in terms of systems, recognizing that societies have always had systems for responding to the range of climatic variations, including extreme weather events, that they normally experience. For example, seasonal migration in drought-prone areas, crop diversification, hazard insurance systems, social norms of helping, flood control, fire management policies, zoning regulations, river monitoring, and other social and technological systems can alter the frequency, severity, extent, and distribution of economic losses associated with hazards.

Such social systems can make as much difference in human outcomes as the distribution of weather events themselves, largely because of the effects of these systems on vulnerability. Global environmental change challenges human hazard management systems with potential major environmental surprises resulting from the nonlinear behavior of global environmental systems.

Societies may be faced with rapid climate change events, ecological collapse, or epidemics that may be different in kind, faster in rate of onset, or greater in severity than the changes for which existing hazard management systems are prepared. We do not know how societies may alter their hazard management systems to face the prospect of such environmental surprises. For example, the correlations between crop yields and. Important insights and findings from this area of research thus include the following: the vulnerability of a society and of its hazard management systems is often more important than the magnitude of a climatic event in determining impacts on people, and past climatic variations may have been associated with large-scale abandonment of human settlements and major migrations.

More information is needed about the following issues: the consequences of newly identified rapid climate changes of the past and the ability of hazard and resource management institutions to respond to surprising shifts in climate and to seasonal forecasts. The main reason for widespread concern about low Antarctic ozone levels, and an important stimulus for policies to eliminate ozone-depleting chemicals, has been the concern that declines in stratospheric ozone could affect human health by increasing skin cancer, causing eye problems, and stressing immune systems.

Considerable research has been directed to better understanding the links between ozone depletion and human health, as well as possible impacts on ecosystems. Most of the research to date consists of epidemiological and medical studies on the effects of increased ultraviolet UV radiation. Considerable progress has been made in understanding the links between UV exposure and skin cancer, and investigating the still-controversial link of UV exposure to cataracts. Another set of studies has examined the ways in which global change may lead to conflict, mass migration, or threats to national security.

This research tends to build on studies of deforestation and climate impacts that suggest that environmental change may cause competition over resources, refugee migration, or political unrest. For example, it has been suggested that environmental degradation in developing countries has resulted and may again result in violent conflicts. This research focus has achieved one important end: highlighting the plausibility of several types of potential impacts of global environmental change on.

More research is needed to accomplish a related goal: providing careful empirical analysis of the relative roles of environmental change and other factors affecting conflict and migration. It is difficult to separate conceptually the causes and impacts of global change from responses to it because in many cases responses to environmental change immediately modify the causes and the impacts.

For example, the adaptive responses of farmers to drought have shown how hazard warning systems moderate disaster losses. Studies have examined human responses to global change at the individual, community, national, and international levels. This section reviews progress in several pertinent areas of research, including international environmental policy, local and regional institutions, decision making and risk analysis, and valuation.

These studies draw on work on the theory of international regimes, bargaining, and the structural and institutional conditions supporting international cooperation. More specifically, these studies have focused on regime formation, the modes of influence of international environmental institutions, the use of financial transfers for international environmental protection, long-term comparative national and international policy development, the implementation of international environmental agreements, the analogy between international environmental protection and local management of common-property resources, and the systems for monitoring and enforcing compliance.

A significant body of research on policy instruments at the national and subnational levels is highly relevant to implementing international environmental agreements. This research has led to improved understanding of the strengths and limitations of strategies such as regulation, various classes of financial incentives and penalties, liability law, provision of information, inducements for technological development, disaster prevention and preparedness, and alterations in the structure of markets for mitigating and responding to global change.

Several systematic difficulties exist in changing the behavior of specific targeted nation states, even when policies are backed up with financial resources. Policy is often strongly path dependent in that early decisions may constrain or determine later ones, thus making discussion of alternative policies extremely difficult at later stages. Transnational networks of scientists can play a strong role in early definition and framing of an issue, although they have only limited ability to motivate international agreement or to influence the interpretation of scientific knowledge by political decision makers.

Assessment of risks and response options tends to follow, rather than lead, political target setting, and the range of options tends to contract over time. Coercive sanctions have limited effectiveness in enforcing compliance, compared with carefully designed, linked systems involving rule design, information provision, granting of capacity and legal authority to selected actors, and transparent processes of implementation distributed among multiple formal and informal institutions. The red arrows indicate thenegative effect on both the environment and humans if the waste is not properly managed.

Technologies have transformed transport, industry, communications and our lives at home and work. For instance, gadgets such as mobile phones, computers, televisions, microwave ovens and refrigerators have improved living standards for those people who can afford them. Technology can also improve the quality of our environment.

For example, energy can be generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar power, which reduces our reliance on non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels, and also helps to reduce the release of polluting gases to the atmosphere. Another example of the benefits from technology is the highly advanced eco-friendly wastewater treatment plant at the St. George Brewery in Addis Ababa.

This plant recovers nutrients and waste water from the brewery that would otherwise be released into the environment. This type of technology can help to alleviate the problem of water shortage, prevent surface water pollution and protect the environment. Although technology has many positive impacts on people and the environment, it also has negative impacts, including the production of toxic waste from technological processes and electronic gadgets that are thrown away when they reach the end of their useful lives, as illustrated in Case Study 1.

When electronic equipment or gadgets get old or stop working they are often thrown away. This type of electronic waste is referred to as e-waste. E-wastes pose a huge challenge to the environment because they contain toxic substances such as cadmium and lead from batteries, which leach out and pollute rivers and groundwater.

Leaching means the substances seep out or are washed out by rain into the soil below. Toxic substances may get into the soil, making it unfit for agriculture. Copper from wiring is valuable for recycling, but if wiring is burned, it produces very hazardous air pollution. E-waste is becoming a major problem in many African countries, including Ethiopia, where the use of electrical equipment has increased sharply with the rising number of people on higher incomes.

According to a United Nations University report, there are about tonnes of non-functioning computers, televisions, mobile phones and refrigerators in Ethiopia, mostly in the ten largest cities Manhart et al. As there is no proper e-waste management system in Ethiopia, some e-wastes are disposed of together with other household wastes or dumped in an uncontrolled way that may cause huge environmental problems.

All types of waste, including hazardous waste like heavy metals, are discarded here without any treatment, so toxins can seep into the soil and groundwater. Hazardous waste is any waste that contains material that is potentially harmful, for example, toxic, infectious, corrosive, explosive or flammable materials.

The DMF collects e-waste from governmental offices, dismantles them manually and sorts the different components to recover valuable metals Figure 1. However, agriculture also has significant negative impacts on our environment, including loss of biodiversity, pollution, climate change, soil erosion and the use of large amounts of water for irrigation. This reduces the amount of water available for other human purposes such as drinking and washing, and for sustaining wildlife and maintaining the levels of rivers and lakes.

Agricultural activities are also major sources of water pollution.


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Pesticides and fertilisers applied to crops may wash into rivers and leach into soil and groundwater. These effects are discussed in Study Session 8. Poor farming practices, especially on steeply sloping land, are a significant cause of soil erosion in Ethiopia because rainfall washes away the soil particles downhill. Each year more than 1.

This lost soil is not only a problem for agriculture, it silts up rivers and lakes. Soil erosion and loss of soil biodiversity causes a decline in soil fertility and this in turn reduces agricultural productivity. Good agricultural practices, such as the use of terraces and diversion ditches, can help stop soil being lost from hillsides Figure 1. Agriculture also plays a role in causing climate change through the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

For example, fertilisers added to the soil release nitrous oxide and livestock production releases methane from the digestion process in cattle and the decomposition of manure. The use of fossil fuels to power agricultural machines and burning trees to clear agricultural land both release carbon dioxide.

In Study Session 9 you will learn more about climate change and the role of greenhouse gases in changing our climate. We end this study session with a positive message. Humans not only affect the environment negatively — we can also contribute positively to sustaining it. When we install wastewater treatment plants, protect endangered species and replant forests, we have a positive impact on our environment. Since , huge efforts have been made in Ethiopia to increase the forest coverage through government and NGO reforestation programmes. More than million trees were planted in alone AFP, In some parts of the country where the reforestation programme has been implemented effectively, the community has already started to benefit from environmental improvements, through effects such as creating more spring water, a higher water table, and less soil erosion and flooding Rinaudo, Now that you have completed this study session, you can assess how well you have achieved its Learning Outcomes by answering these questions.

Human-Environmental Interactions

The Glossary Game: Write down each of the key words printed in bold in this study session. Cut the paper into strips with one word on each strip; fold them and put them into a bowl. Take a strip, read the word and write a definition in your notebook. Then check your definitions with those in the study session. This game is intended to familiarise you with the terms you will meet again in subsequent study sessions.

To find the right answer, you can check the definition written in your own words with that in the study session. B is false. Agricultural activity can have significant negative impacts on our environment, including loss of biodiversity, water contamination, climate change, soil erosion and pollution.

E is also false. Some human activity can prevent damage or repair past damage, for example recovery of hazardous materials from waste and reforestation programmes where many trees are planted. It is important to work towards creating a better environment in order to protect our health, and because environmental improvements such as tree-planting can have many beneficial effects, such as creating more spring water, a higher water table, and less soil erosion and flooding. Explain why biomass resources are classified as renewable. Give two examples of biomass resources that can be over-used despite being renewable.

What are the consequences of their over-exploitation? Biomass resources are derived from living organisms. They are renewable because they are replaced by the continuing processes of growth and reproduction. However, they are vulnerable to over-exploitation if they are used more quickly than they can naturally reproduce and regenerate. Overfishing and deforestation are examples of the over-use of biomass resources.

The consequences include loss of biodiversity and loss of income for the people who depend on these resources for their livelihood. Imagine you have a colleague who always blames technology for environmental problems. What would you say to your colleague to demonstrate that technology affects the environment in both a positive and a negative manner?

You could start by saying that technology plays an important role in improving the quality of our lives and our environment. For example, we use renewable energy such as wind and solar power to reduce the release of greenhouse gases, and we use high-tech waste treatment plants to protect water sources from pollution. But you would agree that technology can also damage the environment. For example, e-wastes contain many toxic substances that can pollute groundwater, soil and air. So your conclusion is that technology can have both positive and negative environmental impacts.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 1 When you have studied this session, you should be able to: 1. SAQs 1. The links between human activity and the environment are complex and varied, but can be grouped into two main types of activity: use of natural resources such as land, food, water, soils, minerals, plants and animals production of wastes from a range of activities including agriculture, industry and mining, as well as wastes from our own bodies.

These are described in the following sections. Box 1. SERI et al. Are fish a renewable or non-renewable resource? MoFED, a. The direct use of water by people falls into three main categories: domestic uses, including drinking, washing and cooking agricultural uses, principally irrigation industrial uses, in manufacturing processes and for energy generation.

The concept of sustainability is about the capacity of the environment to continue to support our lives and the lives of other living creatures into the future:. The concept of scale is about the way that geographical phenomena and problems can be examined at different spatial levels:. The concept of change is about explaining geographical phenomena by investigating how they have developed over time:.

Geographical inquiry is a process by which students learn about and deepen their holistic understanding of their world. It involves individual or group investigations that start with geographical questions and proceed through the collection, evaluation, analysis and interpretation of information to the development of conclusions and proposals for actions.

Inquiries may vary in scale and geographical context. Geographical skills are the techniques that geographers use in their investigations, both in fieldwork and in the classroom. Students learn to think critically about the methods used to obtain, represent, analyse and interpret information and communicate findings. Key skills developed through Geography in the Australian Curriculum include formulating a question and research plan, recording and data representation skills, using a variety of spatial technologies and communicating using appropriate geographical vocabulary and texts.

Geographical skills are described in the curriculum under five subheadings representing the stages of a complete investigation. Over each two-year stage, students should learn the methods and skills specified for that stage, but it is not intended that they should always be learnt in the context of a complete inquiry. Teachers could, for example, provide students with data to represent or analyse rather than have them collect the information themselves. Inquiry does not always require the collection and processing of information: the starting point could be a concept or an ethical or aesthetic issue that can be explored orally.

Many inquiries should start from the observations, questions and curiosity of students. Inquiry will progressively move from more teacher-centred to more student-centred as students develop cognitive abilities and gain experience with the process and methods across the years of schooling. Observing, questioning and planning : Identifying an issue or problem and developing geographical questions to investigate the issue or find an answer to the problem. Interpreting analysing and concluding : Making sense of information gathered by identifying order, diversity, patterns, distributions, trends, anomalies, generalisations and cause-and-effect relationships, using quantitative and qualitative methods appropriate to the type of inquiry and developing conclusions.

It also involves interpreting the results of this analysis and developing conclusions. Communicating : Communicating the results of investigations using combinations of methods written, oral, audio, physical, graphical, visual and mapping appropriate to the subject matter, purpose and audience. Reflecting and responding : Evaluating findings of an investigation to reflect on what has been learnt and the process and effectiveness of the inquiry; to propose actions that consider environmental, economic and social factors; and to reflect on implications of proposed or realised actions.

Human Impacts on the Environment

The two strands are integrated in the development of a teaching and learning program. The geographical knowledge and understanding strand is developed year by year and provides the contexts through which particular skills are developed. The geographical inquiry and skills strand has common content descriptions for each two-year band of schooling, but with elaborations specific to each year to support the changing content of the geographical knowledge and understanding strand.

Structure The Australian Curriculum: Geography is organised in two related strands: geographical knowledge and understanding, and geographical inquiry and skills. Geographical knowledge and understanding strand Geographical knowledge refers to the facts, generalisations, principles, theories and models developed in Geography.

Concepts for developing geographical understanding The Australian Curriculum: Geography identifies the concepts of place, space, environment, interconnection, sustainability, scale and change, as integral to the development of geographical understanding.