Loading...

ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment

Unit 8: Alteration of Flows of Resources   Prior to the Industrial Revolution and fossil fuel-based transportation, the flow of key nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, metals, and other resources was slow and fairly local.  Oceanic trade routes transported precious metals such as silver and gold, but most other material flows were primarily governed by climatic and abiotic processes.  In the past 200 years, human activities (e.g., trade, transportation, and industrialization) have greatly increased the speed and area over which many resources are transported and used, often ending up in areas of very high concentration that damage environmental systems.  For example, the massive excess of nitrogen and phosphorus used as fertilizers in agricultural systems in the Midwestern United States wash off of these fields and into local waterways, eventually ending up in the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River.  These nutrients cause massive algal blooms, which sink to the bottom of the body of water and decompose when they die off.  The decaying biological matter creates a massive area of hypoxia (lack of oxygen), also called a “dead zone,” because the hypoxia prevents most other organisms from surviving in these waters.  Dead zones negatively impact fisheries and are a growing problem around the world, especially with negative impacts on local communities which depend upon ocean ecosystems for protein resources (e.g., fish, shellfish, etc.) but do not have the financial ability to ship in these foods from less damaged areas.  Many of these altered resource flows terminate in growing piles of discarded materials that are difficult to recycle or reuse.  For many resources, societies have converted cyclic flows to linear flows from the extraction of fossil fuels or virgin source to landfills or ocean pollution.

This unit will cover how these altered flows result from and affect activities discussed in previous units.  This unit will also address how these altered flows affect the resilience of societies.

Unit 8 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 14.75 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 8.1: 0.5 hours

☐    Subunit 8.2: 11.75 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 8.2.1: 2 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 8.2.2: 7 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 8.2.3: 1.75 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 8.2.4: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 8.3: 2.5 hours

Unit8 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Identify abiotic agricultural resources that are causing ecosystem disruptions due to increased flow cycles. - Identify other abiotic resources that are currently facing a peak in production (that is, a long term reduction is indicated) and the products and services that will decline as a result of their exhaustion. - Identify where the major sources of these abiotic resources exist and why social and economic relationships (positive or negative) can obstruct trade in these resources. - Identify and describe cascading shortages of goods and services that are likely as these abiotic resources become scarce. - Discuss the social and environmental causes and impacts of the increasing number and size of landfills. 

8.1 What Are Natural Resources?   - Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 4: Biosphere” Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 4: Biosphere” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read sections 4.1
(pages 117–119) and 4.2 (pages 119–126) for a discussion of what
ecosystems services are as well as how human activities have altered
the natural flows of carbon, water, and nitrogen on the planet.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 30
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

8.2 Basic Resources   8.2.1 Soil   - Reading: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute: Soil Quality Technical Note No. 5: “Managing Soil Organic Matter: The Key to Air and Water Quality” Link: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute: Soil Quality Technical Note No. 5: “Managing Soil Organic Matter: The Key to Air and Water Quality” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this short
report.  The report discusses the status of soil loss in the United
States and urges land managers to shift their focus on increasing
the amount of carbon stored in soil (instead of solely focusing on
soil loss).  As you learned in previous resources, soil is a major
sink for carbon, and several carbon mitigation policies emphasize
the use of techniques that sequester carbon in soils.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Web Media: Vimeo: University of Massachusetts Amherst: Richard Stein’s “Why Biochar?” Link: Vimeo: University of Massachusetts Amherst: Richard Stein’s “Why Biochar?” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this short video.  Richard Stein explains what biochar is as well as how it can be used to help mitigate climate change (through sequestering carbon in the soil) and improve soil fertility.

    Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Lecture: Vimeo: Geoff Moxham’s “Biochar Lecture” Link: Vimeo: Geoff Moxham’s “Biochar Lecture” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  Geoff Moxham gives a detailed lecture on the history of biochar discoveries, how it is produced, and how it can be used for energy and other needs.

    Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

8.2.2 Water   - Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: C. Kirchhoff and J. Bulkley’s “Transboundary Water Resources Management and the Potential for Integrated Water Resources Management” Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: C. Kirchhoff and J. Bulkley’s “Transboundary Water Resources Management and the Potential for Integrated Water Resources Management” (DOC)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and download these
materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the
“register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The
materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard
drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be
able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction
instructions).  This report gives a basic background to a new
approach to managing freshwater resources that cross international
boundaries; these boundaries can complicate the sustainable use of
these resources.  The authors provide a case study of the Rhine
River watershed that includes territory in nine different European
countries, the Mekong River watershed that includes six Asian
countries, and the Zambezi River watershed that includes eight
African countries.  Provided at the end of each section, discussion
questions will guide your learning.  Although answers are not
provided, these would be good questions to pursue in the Saylor
Foundation’s [discussion forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading these articles and taking notes should take approximately 2
hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “How the West Was Watered: A Case Study of the Colorado River” Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “How the West Was Watered: A Case Study of the Colorado River” (DOC)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  The report describes the very complex engineering system that now regulates water flow through the Colorado River Basin, and how the system no longer meets the water needs of all of the residents, industries, and ecosystems that depend upon it.  Provided in the “How Will the West Be Watered?” section, discussion questions will guide your learning.  Although answers are not provided, these would be good questions to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

    Reading these materials and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “Thirsty Metropolis: A Case Study of New York City’s Drinking Water” Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “Thirsty Metropolis: A Case Study of New York City’s Drinking Water” (DOC, PPT, and TXT)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  The files include a scenario exercise and a short PowerPoint presentation that gives a brief overview of the main points of the case study.  The presentation describes the history of the development of the water supply system for New York City, which relies upon watersheds quite far from the city itself (be sure to read not only the text on the slides themselves, but the notes provided below them).  The scenario asks you to take the position of one of the stakeholders in the case, and determine which option should be prioritized over the others.  Although a description in Part II of what really happened is provided, these scenarios and their accompanying discussion questions would be good topics to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.  This New York City example of “payment for ecosystem services” is often cited as an early success of the approach.

    Reading these materials and taking notes should take approximately 3 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed above.

8.2.3 Nitrogen   - Reading: Ecological Society of America: Issues in Ecology: Peter Vitousek et al.’s “Human Alteration of the Global Nitrogen Cycle: Causes and Consequences” Link: Ecological Society of America: Issues in Ecology: Peter Vitousek et al.’s “Human Alteration of the Global Nitrogen Cycle: Causes and Consequences” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link scroll down to find
the Issue 1 (Spring 1997) report.  Click on the image for the Issue
1, Spring 1997, and read the report.  This report briefly describes
the nitrogen cycle and its components and then describes the ways in
which human activities have altered these flows and how these
alterations impact ecosystems.  In general, these impacts are
negative, particularly to filtration and productivity functions, and
in that way cause negative consequences to human societies,
particularly in the long term.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: PLoS ONE: Yang Gao et al.’s “Groundwater Nitrogen Pollution and Assessment of Its Health Risks: A Case Study of a Typical Village in Rural-Urban Continuum, China” Link: PLoS ONE: Yang Gao et al.’s “Groundwater Nitrogen Pollution and Assessment of Its Health Risks: A Case Study of a Typical Village in Rural-Urban Continuum, China” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this article.  You may find a PDF version of the paper in the list of links on the right side of the webpage.  The authors discuss the sources of nitrogen in the groundwater supply of a village in China and the health risks that the polluted water poses to the local community.

    Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Vimeo: Ross Institute: Billy Schutt’s “Nitrogen Pollution: A Danger to Long Island Water” Link: Vimeo: Ross Institute: Billy Schutt’s “Nitrogen Pollution: A Danger to Long Island Water” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  Mr. Schutt presents an interesting case study of the ecological impacts to the Hewlett Bay, such as primarily eutrophication, due to nitrogen runoff from sewage treatment plants.

    Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

8.2.4 Phosphorus   - Reading: Cornell University Cooperative Extension: Agronomy Fact Sheet Series: Charles Hyland et al.’s “Phosphorus Basics – The Phosphorus Cycle” Link: Cornell University Cooperative Extension: Agronomy Fact Sheet Series: Charles Hyland et al.’s “Phosphorus Basics – The Phosphorus Cycle” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, scroll down to
“Agronomy Fact Sheet \#12,” and click on the Adobe Reader icon on
the right to download the text.  Study this brief fact sheet, which
describes the phosphorus cycle, its importance to agriculture, and
how it is lost (usually to the ocean).  

 Studying this fact sheet and taking notes should take approximately
15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Society of Chemical Industry: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: Tina-Simone Neset and Dana Cordell’s “Global Phosphorus Scarcity: Identifying Synergies for a Sustainable Future” Link: Society of Chemical Industry: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: Tina-Simone Neset and Dana Cordell’s “Global Phosphorus Scarcity: Identifying Synergies for a Sustainable Future” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link, scroll down to find the article, click on the link (either “Full Article (HTML)” or “PDF”), and read the article.  The authors discuss why phosphorus is so critical for agriculture and how the increasing scarcity of readily-available phosphorus (or peak phosphorus) will impact agricultural production.  The authors also suggest several potential solutions to conserving previous phosphorus reserves.

    Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Vimeo: TEDxBG Talks: Ian Sanders’ “Phosphate Cycle” Link: Vimeo: TEDxBG Talks: Ian Sanders’ “Phosphate Cycle” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  Ian Sanders explains why phosphate (a salt molecule that is mined for the phosphorus within it) is so important to everything we consume, and all human societies.

    Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

8.3 Industrial Resources   8.3.1 Precious Metals   - Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 5: Physical Resources: Water, Pollution, and Minerals” Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 5: Physical Resources: Water, Pollution, and Minerals” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read sections 5.6
(pages 212–227) and 5.7 (pages 227–231) for a description of the
many different kinds of metals that modern societies use as well as
the environmental damage that often occurs when we mine these
metals.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

8.3.2 Plastic   - Lecture: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “Our Plastic Footprint” Link: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “Our Plastic Footprint” (MP4)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.
 Greg Möller defines what the general word “plastic” means.  He also
discusses why its general properties make them so useful to modern
human societies and why they are so difficult to give up even in the
face of widespread plastics pollution.  

 Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 45
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Lecture: TED Talks: Captain Charles Moore’s “The Seas of Plastic” Link: TED Talks: Captain Charles Moore’s “The Seas of Plastic” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch Captain Charles Moore’s TED Talk.  In this lecture, he describes the fate of plastic products after they are disposed of and the impact of plastic trash on the environment.

    Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Lecture: Vimeo: PopTech: Chris Jordan’s “Polluting Plastics” Link: Vimeo: PopTech: Chris Jordan’s “Polluting Plastics” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  Chris Jordan is a photographer that uses his work to demonstrate the magnitude of our waste stream.  In this lecture, he focuses on plastics and their impacts on the environment.

    Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.