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Related Words, Beliefs, Background for Choice #52

Worldview Theme #40: Environmental Economics           Worldview Theme #51B: Big Business Pushes Global Limits

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: ecosystem services, environmental impact analysis, carbon tax, carbon footprint, regulations--public health and economic growth  

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: fossil fuels,climate change, geoengineering / planetary engineering, geoengineering-- problems and risks, nuclear energy

appropriate (or soft) technology–technology selected, designed and implemented with the special environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community it is intended for in mind.  It typically has little or no significant environmental impact and is well suited to an area since it makes use of what is relatively abundant–for example, labor in places where people need jobs.     Typically it involves devices that are small, relatively simple, inexpensive, decentralized, and that can preserve meaningful experiences or work for people. In contrast high or hard technology typically has much greater environmental impact, tends to replace people with machines, and can involve more technological complexity, equipment capital outlay, etc. Example: using lots of workers with hand tools to control unwanted brush in a forest–so that young trees can get more sun for growth–would be an appropriate technology solution.  Using one person flying over a forest in a helicopter spraying a chemical herbicide to kill such growth would be a hard technology way of accomplishing the same thing

artificial intelligence–involves the development and utilization of computer systems for problem solving, emulating, mimicking, or simply exhibiting intelligent behavior or behavior associated with human beings

bads -- the opposite of “goods” as in the economic phrase “goods and services”. In contrast to purchasing goods, people generally seek to avoid or get rid of bads (such as garbage, air pollutants, toxic waste, etc)

biodiversity -- a term that refers to the biological diversity and genetic variation present in an ecosystem -- be it tiny biological community or the whole biosphere. It can be gauged by counting the number of species the ecosystem contains. Preserving biodiversity can be important to the stability of the ecosystem, and may have practical benefits in that little studied or unknown species can be sources of new drugs for medical treatments, food crops, inspiration for engineering design, etc.  Besides habitat destruction, and genetic manipulation, humans threaten biodiversity with intentional or unintentional introduction of species not native to an ecosystem (invasive species)-- increasingly a problem with growing tourism and globalization of recent decades.

biofuels–hydrocarbons derived from plants, or plants processed by animals.  They include ethanol from corn / sugarcane, methanol from wood wastes, methane from animal manure, diesel from vegetable oil, etc.  While such renewable energy comes in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms, and can be used for heating, cooking, electricity production, etc, many believe its greatest potential is in using liquid biofuels for transportation.  While burning biofuels produces carbon dioxide, living plants associated with biofuel production remove as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere when alive as they put back into it when burned.  Ethanol from corn is increasingly linked with rising food prices and seen as a net energy loser

brittle--liable to break, shatter, snap when under stress or pressure

cap and trade -- a scheme, often involving a legally binding agreement, by which a limit ( cap) is placed on the amount of some pollutant allowed to be released into the environment and those involved in generating or sequestering that pollutant are allowed to decide, using an otherwise free market approach (trade), how to allocate related economic activity.

capital -- an economics term referring to accumulated goods and resources (or their value) devoted to the production of other goods or set aside to produce income. Capital can take the form of money, raw materials, buildings, equipment, inventories, etc. While economists have long distinguished between “physical capital” and “human capital”, some have recently extended this scheme to include “natural capital”.

carbon capture and storage--carbon dioxide is captured in the smokestack before it can get into the atmosphere. It is collected and injected into underground caverns or other geologically suitable formations and hopefully safely stored. 

carbon capture and storage--a new technology that could keep the carbon dioxide generated by burning cheap and abundant coal from being released into the atmosphere and aggravating global warming--instead it would be captured and stored underground.  The technology, pushed by corporations and utilities invested in fossil fuel, is currently rather primitive and seemingly impractical given very high costs. Those might add 30 % to 60% to the cost of electricity from coal-fired power plants.

carbon footprint, annual --a measure of greenhouse gas pollution (carbon dioxide CO2 and methane CH4) released into the atmosphere per year due to one's purchases, resource consumption,  fossil fuel energy use, and other relevant environmental impacts.  It includes both direct (e.g. gasoline powered auto travel) and indirect (e.g. electricity use from coal-fired power plants).  Per capita carbon footprints in affluent countries (in metric tons CO2/ yr person) include: 20 for the USA, 17 for Canada,  around 9 for England, Germany, and Japan, and only 6 for France.  (Note one ton of carbon = 3.7 tons of CO2)

carbon tax -- refers to taxing individuals and corporations for the  greenhouse gas pollution  (carbon dioxide or methane) that their fossil fuel combustion dependent activities put into the atmosphere.  Such pollution taxes seek to incorporate environmental costs into the market system.  Because the word "tax" has such negative connotations, one USA variation of this scheme is referred to as a "fee and dividend" plan--the dividends referring fixed $/person rebates returned to everyone to offset higher utility costs. Since wealthier people tend to use lots more energy than poor people, it's believed the less affluent would benefit in such a scheme.  See also cap and trade

centralized vs. decentralized ways to govern, meet needs or provide services–to draw this contrast, consider energy installations.  Centralized energy installations are characterized by huge facilities for producing energy, require large capital investment, are owned by the government or large corporations, and depend on a complex distribution system to deliver energy to the point of end use.  Examples include large 1000 megawatt electric power plants and big oil refineries.  Contrast these with decentralized energy installations–characterized by small units for producing energy, owned by individuals, small businesses or communities, relatively little capital investment is required, and they are located where the demand for the energy is.  Examples include rooftop solar collectors, and basement natural gas powered cogeneration units for producing electricity, space heat and hot water.          

climate change--refers to regional / global changes in climate over the last few decades and, more importantly, in the future.  Generally the world is warming--a trend that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) increasingly feels with a very high degree of certainty has been caused by human activities: most notably the combustion of fossil fuels leading to an enhanced greenhouse effect.  Climate change is most evident in the arctic, where polar ice, glaciers, and permafrost are melting.  Computer model projections call for both steadily increasing temperatures and changes / greater variability in regional weather patterns.  While humans may be able to adapt to climate change, ecologists are particularly concerned about the ability of many living things to do so. They note that the time scales needed for evolutionary adaptations for larger life forms are typically much longer than the decades / centuries over which this climate change is predicted to over.  The result could be widespread ecosystem disruption, extinction of many species, and loss of biodiversity.

The scientific consensus best solutions to this staggering problem: a rapid transition from burning fossil fuel to using renewable energy, and using energy more efficiently in all sectors of the economy.  Some would include launching a massive effort to plant lots of carbon absorbing trees, others push for increased use of nuclear energy in list, a few would like carbon capture and storage (see that entry.)

climate model feedback loops—there are many conceivable ones, whether or not and the extent to which they actually operate is a challenge to figure out and source of uncertainty. Here are two: 1) Albedo Feedback: Albedo refers to the % incident sunshine that is reflected back from a surface.  As global warming increases temperatures, highly reflective polar sea ice melts--replaced by darker ocean water.  This lowering of the albedo results in more solar energy absorbed (darker surfaces are better absorbers), higher temperatures, more ice melting, etc.2) Water Vapor Feedback: Increasing temperatures lead to more evaporation, which—since water vapor is a greenhouse gas—traps more reradiated heat, leading to higher temperatures, more evaporation, etc

climate movement--There is widespread concern that current human actions (chiefly use of fossil fuel), unless changed, will lead to catastrophic climate change, While many see the resulting climate movement as a subset of the environmental movement, given its strength and focus many see it as a whole separate social movement.

colonizing space—some think of this as a “Plan B” / eventual solution to an overcrowded, heavily polluted, unlivable due to climate change Earth.  And accordingly dismiss the need for immediate climate action--despite climate scientists telling us that, unless business as usual changes, we have at most one century before Earth becomes overheated to the point of being a much more challenging place to live than it currently is.  In actuality the challenge of lots of people living on a much hotter future Earth would be nothing compared to their living on Mars: where there is no air to breath,  essentially all the time cold Antarctic type temperatures, no soil with organic material suitable to grow things, almost no atmosphere / magnetic field to protect against solar radiation /flares, etc.  And think of the cost / energy challenge of  moving even a tiny fraction of the world’s  population to Mars? We quantitatively illustrate this with a back of the envelope type calculation using rounded off numbers:   8 billion people with cumulative weight of (at 50 kg / person)  roughly 400 billion kilograms moved first into Earth orbit. While Space X has dropped the costs—roughly by a factor of 20 over USA Space Shuttle costs—they are still high at over $ 2500 per kilogram. In multiplying 400 billion kilograms x $ 2500 per kilogram and  dividing by 100 one calculates a cost of $10,000 billion or $10 trillion to move 1% of the human population into low Earth orbit. Not too bad…but then we have the real costs: transporting them to Mars and providing extensive infrastructure / life support for them live on its surface—they are astronomically more.  Example: in 2015 retired NASA engineers Glenn Smith and Paul Spudis estimated the cost of sending 9 crews (assume total of 50 people) to Mars  in the 2035 era at $1.5 trillion.  Dividing $1.5 trillion by 50 people gives $30 billion / person. Multiplying by 80 million (which is 1% of 8 billion) and dividing by a “learning how to do this more cheaply and negating the extra cost to bring them back to Earth ” generous (and probably overoptimistic?) factor of 10 yields a total cost —to transport 80 million people representing just 1% of the human population—of $240,000 trillion  This is roughly 3000 times greater than the total global GDP ($240, 000 trillion / $80 trillion.)

debt for nature swap -- foreign debt held by an organization is exchanged for a typically larger amount of domestic debt , which is then put toward financing preserving naturally beautiful areas or resources under pressure to be exploited in Third World debtor countries

deforestation--cutting trees and clearing forests, activities having both local and global negative environmental effects.  Locally wildlife habit and biodiversity is reduced; globally, since trees absorb carbon dioxide, both the absence of these trees and their burning (as in slash and burn clearing of land for farming operations) leads to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide which aggravates the global warming / climate change problem.

discounting the future -- doing or having (consuming) something now, rather than waiting , or rather than investing the money you would have spent and getting a high return on the investment.  Those who adopt a "Pay as you go approach" are doing the opposite of discounting the future: they are valuing it. They do this in two ways: 1) by not saddling themselves (or their children) with freedom robbing debt, 2) by cleaning up (or avoiding the creation of to begin with) environmental pollution messes that will detract from future quality of life. The discounting the future vs. valuing the future tradeoff can be seen in the bumper sticker: "I'm spending my children's inheritance." 

Earth's natural cycles--study of that very complex system, the roughly 8000 miles in diameter spherical planet Earth, is facilitated by considering its numerous subsystems--some of which are naturally conceptualized as cycles of matter moving within and between the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.  Driven by input of solar energy, especially critical to life is the closed system cycling of six chemicals--providing individual oxygen, water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles. The key to understanding the appearance of the Earth's surface landforms--and operating over a much longer time frame--is the rock cycle.   

ecological debt -- refers to irreplaceable resources being consumed or natural cycles disrupted in an impossible or difficult to fix manner by human activities. While people today benefit from the consumption or the activity, the consequences of ecological debt incurred today will be left to future generations to deal with. Examples: hundreds or thousands of years from now people 1) might have to deal with highly radioactive nuclear waste that escapes repositories, a legacy of today’s nuclear generated electricity, 2) will no longer burn fossil fuels to power automobiles, the fossil fuel era will be over, the vast quantity of this huge resource, that it took nature millions of years to produce, having been consumed by human beings in a brief few hundred year period; 3) will suffer through uncomfortably hot summers, contend with incredibly strong hurricanes in coastal areas, and have memories of parts of the world long ago flooded by rising sea levels -- all resulting from the global warming , a legacy of long ago massive burning of fossil fuels and associated release of its carbon dioxide gas / greenhouse effect enhancing byproduct;  4) will live in a much less biologically diverse world--the result of human activity having caused the extinctions of millions of species!

economic growth, basis for–in terms of increasing production output, economic growth can be fostered by increasing production input and/or increasing productivity.  At the national level, ways to achieve this include 1) increasing population growth rate (leads to labor force growth),  2) investment in economic infrastructure (land, new industrial plants, equipment),  3) investment in human capital, 4) making technological changes, and 5) improving the political, and socioeconomic climate.  With respect to investment,  if a nation maintains essentially full employment and keeps inflation in check, its rate of economic growth should be directly related to the % of its gross domestic product reinvested back in the ways noted above. 

economic growth, measuring–the rate of a nation's growth of real gross domestic product per capita is typically used (as a first approximation) to gauge how fast economies are growing and standard of living is increasing.  Economic growth per capita is considered high if in the 5% to 10% / year range, 3% to 4% / year is considered moderate / healthy, while 1% to 2% is thought to be rather slow / anemic growth.  An economy growing at a per capita rate of 5% / year means that the economic output per person will roughly double in 14 years

ecosystem services--a term used in environmental economics / green accounting to quantitatively value the services and products that nature provides (natural capital,  natural processes, etc.)  that conventional economics ignores.  For example, marshlands / wetlands provide a natural water regulation service whose flood control value (along with other values) humans conceivably could recognize in land use planning.  See natural capital.

efficiency--generally speaking, a measure of the extent to which time and resources are well-used for a particular task. Efficiency increases with competence, and with minimizing waste. For a quantitative measure in an engineering context see the next entry.  

energy efficiency -- the amount of energy that goes to perform a useful service divided by the total amount of energy input into the task. For example, for every 100 units of electrical energy that goes into powering an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, only four of those units show up as useful light energy given off. The efficiency of this energy conversion is thus 4%. What happens to the rest of the energy ? The remaining 96% of the total energy input is wasted (here as waste heat energy) In contrast, compact fluorescent light bulbs are around 20% efficient -- so more of the electrical energy input goes for producing light, less is wasted. Improving the miles per gallon of vehicles is the increasing energy efficiency measure that globally would save the most energy. 

engineering design–the process by which scientific principles, engineering analysis, mathematics, computers, words and pictures are used to produce a plan or design, which, when carried out, will satisfy previously identified and well defined human needs.         

environmental impact analysis -- a procedure for 1) collecting information about the proposed development, project or land use and its goals / objectives, 2) identifying possible impacts of its implementation in various areas (mainly environmental, but depending upon the scale of the project also perhaps cultural, economic, social, political, etc), 3) assessing impacts and identifying tradeoffs, 4) formulating, then examining other alternatives to the proposed development, with quantitative models and forecasts, 5) making recommendations including designating a preferred alternative that best meets goals / objectives while minimizing impacts / other concerns , and 6) making plans for monitoring performance. Legislation may require that this be done before certain projects can be carried out on government land.

environmental racism--a majority uses it power to make policies that disproportionately subject minorities to pollution / environmental hazards.

feedback–information modifies the state of a system, changing it so that future system behavior changes. Learning provides a simple example, where the system involved can be, not just our knowledge but, our entire worldview. Here the most important lessons learned change our behavior the most. Voting in an election is another simple example of a feedback process at work. Feedback also has a place in technical devices: where  information about the state of a hardware system (output) is fed back to the system input to adjust, regulate, or modify its behavior.   Positive feedback reinforces input and can lead to exploding (or imploding) output.  Negative feedback opposes input and can lead to stable behavior.  Both can be present in complex systems.  Technology-based  examples include thermostats in heating / cooling systems, and elevator position / speed controls. Biology based feedback examples include blood sugar regulation in the body, populations of prey / predators in ecosystem, etc.

financial market participants' roles / strategies–consider four of them: 1) investors / investing–buying financial instruments (stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, real estate, etc.) and holding them (often for long-term) for income and a stake in what-ever is invested in, 2) speculators / speculating–buying financial instruments to profit from (often short-term) fluctuations in price, 3) hedgers / hedging–a strategy to minimize financial risk by planning for contingencies and still profiting, and 4) arbitrageurs / arbitrage–taking advantage of price differences in different markets to make a risk-free profit.  

fossil fuels--the hydrocarbons (derived from ancient plants) stored in coal, oil, and natural gas which can be burned to release energy.  Over 85% of society's energy needs are met in this way. While reserves of oil and natural gas are dwindling--some argue that global oil production has peaked and will begin to decline --enough coal exists to power civilization for hundreds more years.  Environmentalists hope that most of that coal will remain in the ground: burning all of it--and releasing the greenhouse effect enhancing carbon dioxide gas associated with fossil fuel combustion--will produce unbearable global warming / climate change they argue. 

free lunch, there is no such thing as a--refers to the belief that neither a person nor a society can truly get something for nothing: even if something appears to be free there are always hidden costs. The costs may have to be paid in the future, someplace far away, by someone else, be distributed over many people, or they may show up in another form (such as an opportunity cost, environmental cost, increased disorder, etc.)  The physical basis for this belief--which becomes a principle for ecologists and others studying closed systems--can be found in the laws of thermodynamics.  Economists link it to opportunity costs being incurred when choices are made. (If something is free, no opportunities are forfeited!) 

fusion, nuclear—this happens 93 million miles away inside the Sun where temperatures of around 15 million degrees and extraordinarily high pressure allow nuclear fusion reactions in which  (light) hydrogen nuclei fuse together to make helium. Despite six decades of work, the goal of creating earth-based fusion power plants that produce abundant clean energy remains a distant dream. Enthusiasts argue that soon fusion reactors will finally produce more energy output than the energy put into them (to create the needed high temperatures, pressure, confinement of reactants, etc.) – and after that progress toward the long sought goal will be swift.

futurist--a person who works with data and mathematical models and makes predictions about future behavior of some system or conditions of interest based on current trends, expected constraints, understanding of system dynamics, etc. 

genetic engineering–involves the direct manipulation of genes to achieve a desired outcome.  While humans have been indirectly doing this for thousands of years in guiding natural processes with selective breeding of plants and animals, in recent decades they have begun using their new understanding of how living things work at the level of genes / DNA and new techniques to directly modify that DNA.  This technology has great potential–especially to increase agricultural productivity and improve human health.  Critics worry that genetically modified organisms pose environmental risks and argue that, given bioethical concerns, society will outlaw certain human genetic engineering procedures such as cloning


geoengineering / planetary engineering–humans use technology to massively alter the global environment of Earth or another planet.  To combat Earth's manmade enhanced greenhouse effect induced global warming, here are four geoengineering proposals: 1) using space-based mirrors to reflect unwanted solar radiation back into space, 2) adding iron to the oceans to feed plankton and increase carbon dioxide absorption, and 3) adding sulfates to the atmosphere by carrying sulfur into the stratosphere on balloons, using artillery guns to release it.  The reflective particles could remain for up to two years  to create haze blocking solar radiation.  4) simply painting roofs white to reflect visible sunlight  At a 2007 USA conference meeting in Cambridge, MA.,  David Keith, conference organizer and University of Calgary researcher, expressed his opinion that  200 years from now the earth will be "an artifact," a product of human design. In the distant future, one can imagine similar (more massive) efforts to transform planets like Mars and Venus to make them habitable

geoengineering related problems and risksthere are at least three areas of concern: 1) given all the uncertainties in our understanding of how the natural world works—even the physics and chemistry aspects of climate models have many areas of uncertainty—there is a real possibility that our attempt to intervene may not work as we assumed it would.  And, since we only have one Earth,  the unintended result of “our climate engineering experiment” could be irreversible disaster we can not escape from!;   2) if a large part of the population believes there is a “Plan B” geoengineering alternative to limiting fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions, this could create a moral hazard è leading to their throwing caution aside and even more massively engaging in greenhouse gas producing behavior; 3) seems all the Earth’s people would need to be in agreement before anyone (single nation, large multinational corporation, single very very wealthy individual, etc) subjected the planet to massive climate engineering experimentation.  Even if prospects for success—say stabilizing average Earth temperatures back at pre-industrial levels—were great, certain people might object. For example, although the time scale over which their ecosystems are changing is incredibly short by natural standards and threatens ecological collapse, one can argue that from a human-centered viewpoint cold / frozen parts of the world like Siberia, Greenland, and northern Canada, northern Scandinavia, etc  will benefit from a warmer future.

Green / Environmental Movement--a movement that blossomed in the 1960s with growing concerns about environmental pollution and manmade destruction of natural beauty, which, by the start of the 21st century had developed a political dimension with the formation of green parties in many countries. The chief goal of this movement is the development and maintenance of a sustainable society. It hopes to bring this about democratically by applying ecological wisdom and economic thinking that no longer ignores, but rather heavily factors in the environment.  Minimizing pollution, promoting efficient use of natural resources, recycling, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy, protecting biodiversity, and helping affluent western societies transition from wasteful, destructive multinational profit-minded corporate driven consumerism / globalization to more environmentally sound, ethical, socially just, sustainable economies are important goals of this movement.

green national product -- a proposed index of sustainable economic welfare obtained by making certain adjustments to gross national product -- most notably ones that factor in depletion of natural resources and any long-term environmental damage associated with economic activities.

gross national product -- the annual market value of a country’s total domestic and foreign economic output -- including all end goods and services purchased. It is often used to gauge economic well being.

human capital -- investment made in people, including improving their productive capabilities and health due to investments in job training, education or medical care.

hydroelectric--electricity generated when falling water turns a generator.  Employing well known technology, it is renewable and inexpensive. Its prospects for growth are not as great as other renewable sources such as solar or wind, since (especially in the developed world) most rivers with large hydropower potential have already been dammed.

jobs and renewable energy—Driven by environmental concerns and falling costs, use of clean renewable energy has accelerated. With its growth —by 2019 two-thirds of all electricity generating capacity installed worldwide was renewable—has come millions of new jobs. Globally all renewable industries employ roughly eight million workers, with solar photovoltaic and wind energy leading the way. With many countries pledging to be 100% renewable energy powered by 2050 or so—up from a global 2020 average of at most 25%--job prospects are expected to grow accordingly.  In the USA, solar and wind jobs approach one million while the number of coal  miners has fallen to around 50,000.

kilowatt-hour (kwh)--the unit of electrical energy that power companies use in billing consumers (for total kwh usage at some price per kwh, say $.10 per kwh).  A 100 watt light bulb left on for 10 hours would use 100 watts x 10 hours = 1000 watt hours = 1 kilowatt-hour of electrical energy.  

market economy -- a private, free-enterprise system based on independent consumer agents, a price system, and economic forces of supply and demand

mitigate--to make less intense, severe or disruptive, to moderate some problem or disrupting situation . For example, many communities--especially those in low-lying coastal areas or where drought or wild land fire are a problem--are taking steps to mitigate future climate change impacts. 

moral hazard–results when a person,  institution, or large group of people is partly shielded from risk (due to insurance, prospects of government bailout, safety features, etc.) and acts differently (is less careful creating a hazard.)  Examples: 1) drivers with airbags drive more recklessly, confident that if they crash the airbags will protect them; 2) a person wearing a face mask mingles more closely and more often with people during a pandemic like corona virus than he or she would without the face mask; 3) an investor buys non-investment grade (junk) corporate bonds because of the perception that the company is “too big to fail” and the government will come to the rescue, if need be, to prevent that from happening

moribund--a person, place, institution, system, etc in a state of dying or near death

nation state, argument for its existence–both national governments and huge multinational corporations are necessary, Heilbroner and Thurow argue, because "they seem to be the only ways in which we can organize mankind to perform the arduous and sustained labor without which humanity itself would rapidly perish."     

natural capital -- is to be distinguished from manmade capital and human capital. Natural capital includes natural resources (air, water, soil, forests, minerals, fossil fuels, fish, etc) and the biodiversity of natural living ecosystems (grasslands, wetlands, ocean coral reefs, etc.)

non-economic variables -- things important in the human world but difficult to quantify or put a monetary value on -- including environmental, educational, health, cultural, aesthetic, sociological, political factors.

nonrenewable resources--irreplaceable natural resources whose amount--for all practical purposes--is limited. Examples include fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas, etc), iron ore, copper, etc.  For the fossil fuel most important to the global economy--oil--speculation abounds as to whether world oil production has already peaked and is about to decline (as pessimists claim), or won't peak for another two decades or so (as optimists believe.)  Unless replacements / alternatives can be readily phased in, economic disruption spurred by higher prices for dwindling resources could accompany decline in production of such non-renewable resources.

nuclear energy--can be traced to the energy with which the tightly bound constituents of nuclei (the central massive parts of atoms) are held together.  Certain processes (called nuclear reactions) can liberate this energy in an amount E equal to the "missing mass" m involved, times a constant (which equals the speed of light) c squared--that is, Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.  In comparison to chemical reactions--such as burning of fossil fuels --nuclear reactions unleash about one million times more energy per amount of mass involved.  So the nuclear fission reactions associated with splitting apart the (heavy) nuclei in one gram of uranium unleash as much energy as the combustion of a ton of coal!  Such fission reactions are the basis for nuclear power plants which produce around 10% of the electricity used worldwide.  Since such power plants do not produce greenhouse gases they are touted by some as a way to combat global warming. Others object to them for three reasons: 1) they produce long-lived radioactive waste which must be stored for thousands of years until it decays to safe levels, 2) concerns about the potential for associated radioactive mischief, perhaps involving terrorists, and 3) high costs of constructing them, given public safety concerns. (See also fusion--nuclear.

opportunity cost--an economics concept that puts the cost of resources used in a certain way at the value of what these resources could have brought in or produced if they had instead been used in some alternative way (deemed to be the best). It represents the most highly valued opportunity forfeited when a choice is made.

overshoot and collapse -- a phenomenon often seen by ecologists in studying ecosystems. It occurs when the numbers of a certain species dramatically rise, exceed the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, and then fall suddenly. Their numbers can recover eventually, provided the demands on the environment were not such that the carrying capacity is permanently degraded.

patriarchy /  patriarchal society—social system dominated by men in positions of power, decision-making, leadership and moral authority. In some cases it can extend to include the domination, exploitation and oppression of women. Some use traditional male / female attributes to include environmental destruction as part of a negative critique of a patriarchal society; some lament male domination of human society has led to “the rape of the Earth. ”

pay as you go,  energy and environmental connection–instead of borrowing in the form of basing an economy on energy from fossil fuels (nonrenewable resources), an economy could be based on renewable energy that is continually being replenished as Earth intercepts solar energy.   So no "energy debts" are incurred.  Similarly, basing an economy on sustainable, environmentally sound activities would mean that no "ecological debts" are incurred.    

pesticides–substances used to kill or control pests: organisms which interfere with human well being or activities (agricultural, in particular). They are classified according to the type of pest they are used on (e.g. insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc).  While such use of naturally occurring substances goes back thousands of years, the first manmade pesticide to be widely used was the insecticide DDT, developed in 1939.  Like DDT, many pesticides can poison humans and damage the environment.  By the 1960s, with the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, it was recognized that DDT interferes with bird reproduction.  It is now banned in many countries.  A new generation of pesticides–some of which are biological agents, instead of manmade chemicals– promise less environmental impact.    

protein production, inefficient--the amount of grain (in pounds) that must be fed to animals to produce a given amount of meat / protein (say one pound) varies from an inefficient factor of seven or more for feedlot beef to a more respectable just over two for poultry, to just under two for certain species of (fish farm produced) fish.  Given that the modern farming practices behind grain production are highly energy and water intensive (typically 1/2 ton of water is needed to produce one pound of grain), and that around 38% of grain worldwide is fed to animals to produce meat for human consumption, there is a direct link between increases in meat consumption and increases in water, energy--and thus increases in greenhouse gas pollutants (from the fossil fuel energy inputs).  According to the UN's  Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions.  And University of Chicago researchers have found that the typical American (heavily meat based) diet is responsible for an additional 1.5 extra tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse emissions per person per year beyond those associated with a no meat diet. To put this number in perspective, it exceeds the amount of greenhouse pollutants saved by switching from a standard sedan to an energy efficient hybrid vehicle.  

power elite, the–refers to the class of people in positions of power in the corporate state. The term was first used in the 1950s as the title of a leftist assessment of who runs America (a book by C. Wright Mills).    

recycling--instead of throwing out / trashing certain materials (newsprint, cardboard, office paper, aluminum cans, plastics, glass, metals, etc.) they are instead taken to a recycling center where they are sold / returned to manufacturers for reuse.  The practice saves both non-renewable resources and energy, and can reduce pollution and problems associated with landfills / dumps.  Food scraps, leaves, tree trimmings and other biodegradable waste can be recycled--in this case, returned to the ground to enrich the soil--through composting or anaerobic digestion processes involving micro-organisms.  

regulations-- public health and economic growthMany pushing economic growth cite “red tape” /  unnecessary regulations—especially those for workplace safety, public health, and environmental  protection—as burdensome.  In the USA, in 2017 the Trump administration claimed over-regulation cut GDP growth by 0.8% / year. Critics charge that such thinking ignores the high toll that such things as increased air and water pollution, etc. would take on the American public if regulations were relaxed.  Globally, even with many affluent countries working hard to minimize its effects, outdoor air pollution annually causes 4.2 million premature deaths according to the WHO, and costs a staggering $5 trillion / year in health costs and lost productivity according to the World Bank.

renewable resources -- natural resources which are continually being replaced or replenished by natural processes ultimately driven by solar energy. Examples include wind energy, biofuels, hydropower, forest cover, etc.

resilient--able to recover from trauma and setbacks without breaking down 

scarcity--a condition that exists when peoples' "wants" exceed the limited resources available to satisfy them.  The related need to decide how limited resources are allocated leads to rationing and a means for doing so.  Price is one such rationing device. People compete  for what is scarce, and in making choices incur opportunity costs. 

science vs. technology, distinguishing between them–whereas science involves understanding nature, technology involves controlling it.  Whereas technology initially developed in trial and error fashion, by the 20th century most significant technological advances were founded on scientific understanding (applied science).     

shareholders vs. stakeholders-- shareholders are those who own shares in a publicly traded company;  stakeholders are all those with some stake in the company, whether it be as investor, worker, manager, member of surrounding community where company operates, consumer of products or services the company provides—and all others significantly affected by the corporate operations

small is beautiful -- a philosophy popularized by E.F. Schumacher in the early 1970s, who himself was inspired by Gandhi. . It is a philosophy of enoughness, appreciating both human needs and limitations, and appropriate use of technology. It grew out of Schumacher’s study of village based economics and economic thinking that he later termed “Buddhist Economics”. In this regard he faults conventional economic thinking for failing to consider the most appropriate scale for an activity, and blasts notions that “growth is good”, and that “bigger is better”. He similarly questions the appropriateness of using mass production in developing countries, promoting instead “production by the masses”. He was one of the first economists to question the appropriateness of using GNP to measure human well being, and pointed out that “the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption”

solar photovoltaic electricity—a direct sunlight to electrical energy conversion accomplished by solar energy knocking loose electrons in either silicon or other materials that serve as the basis for collector modules. Typical collectors achieve nearly 20% efficiency. A clean, renewable technology with no moving parts. In recent decades costs of panels have dropped from $15 per watt in 1980 dollars to 20 or 30 cents per watt in 2020 dollars to the point where in many sunny locations it is cheaper than coal-derived electricity. By the end of 2019 solar electricity was meeting about 3% of the world’s total electrical energy demand.

subsidy–a government payment to producers or distributors in an industry that policy makers deem needs help.  The subsidy can have the effect of the industry increasing prices, hiring more labor, exporting more products, expanding, etc.                                        

sustainable development -- a type of development that hopefully allows future generations’ standard of living and quality of life to be at least as good as the present generation. Such  development is renewable resource based so that natural capital is not depleted. See natural capital. 

top down vs. bottom up–contrasting approaches to bringing change, solving problems,  structuring interaction (compare centrally planned economies, market based ones), etc. The former typically involves a very small number of people (sometimes even just one person) at the top setting policy that works its way down through various levels of organization to ordinary people at the bottom. The latter approach typically involves ordinary people at the bottom finding that something works, a groundswell of enthusiasm develops--or in a more modern context something goes viral on the internet--and eventually word of this development reaches all the way to the top. Here is another summary: top down: within a government or organizational power structure...assemble the experts and smartest people  to understand a particular problem have them study the situation, produce a report, and legislate or implement it! bottom up: within a community of dissatisfied individuals...identify each other, share visions, organize, set goals, have meetings make this grassroots people power work to bring change at state, national level

tragedy of the commons--a term popularized by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article, refers to users of a common resource--like air, the oceans, grazing land, etc.--selfishly polluting or overusing it, and thus degrading its capability to serve the common good.  Hardin felt the problem was that since no one privately owned the common resource, no one felt a corresponding responsibility to protect it, and that even if nearly everyone could be persuaded to restrain themselves, a small number of exploiters could ruin the commons for everyone else. 

tree planting to combat climate change--Most trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2 ) using a rather inefficient process, but a select few use an evolutionary more advanced (C4 carbon fixation) one.  Whereas most trees absorb just 1.1 to 9.5 metric tons of CO2 per acre per year, a efficient ones (like Empress Splendor trees) pull in over 100!  Planting one acre of such trees can capture nearly 1000 tons of CO2 in 10 years—offsetting 50 years of an average American’s greenhouse gas missions —since such folks, at 20 tons per year, would need 50 years to put 1000 tons into the atmosphere.  Critics charge tree planting on a global scale would take too long to work—but Empress Splendor trees are fast growing and reach maturity in ten years.

vulnerability--the extent to which something (person, place, institution, system, etc.) is susceptible to being hurt, wounded, or damaged by external disturbances 

wage and wealth inequality --a gap in pay between the sexes or those of different ethnic groups exists in many parts of the world  For example, in the U.S., despite passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, which makes it illegal for employers to pay men more than women doing the same work, by the start of the 21st century, women made only 76% as much money as men.  The inequality is even worse when white and black income and wealth are considered. In 2020, USA black males on average earned only 51% of what white males were paid for the same work. And USA white family net wealth exceed that of  black families by 41 times!   

wind energy–ultimately derived from uneven solar heating of the atmosphere and resulting circulation patterns, the mechanical energy stored in the wind can be used to drive electrical generators. This is accomplished by attaching propeller blades to the shaft of the generator and mounting it on a tall tower in a windy location,  providing  a clean, renewable resource to generate electricity. Its use has dramatically increased since 2000 to where, by 2020, it supplied over 5% of all electricity generated worldwide.  Costs have dropped by a factor of ten or more in recent decades to the point where in many locations it is cheaper than coal-derived electricity. Given its intermittent nature, one particularly promising possible use of wind derived electricity is to charge electric car batteries.  

zero sum game–a game (which can represent a social or economic interaction or conflict) in which someone wins and someone loses, to be contrasted with a game in which someone can win without someone else losing.  



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