Environmental Science: A Global Concern 12th Edition
Never Been More Important
A serene tropical coastline, shown on the cover, invokes some of the profoundly important, diverse, and fascinating environmental systems that you can explore in environmental science. Though we live firmly on dry land, our lives are intricately tied to life offshore. Coastal coral reefs, salt marshes, estuaries, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds sustain three-quarters of all commercial fish and shellfish during some part of their life cycles. These species are the main protein sources for at least 1.5 billion people, one-fifth of all humanity, and are important nutritional sources for billions of others. Oceans, which store and distribute heat, strongly shape our climate and ecosystems on land.
These systems are also increasingly vulnerable to our actions. Overfishing and destructive harvesting techniques imperil marine ecosystems. Since 1989, 13 of the 17 major marine fisheries have declined dramatically or become commercially unsustainable. Commercial fisheries settle for smaller and smaller species, as more populations disappear. Pollutants, plastic debris, and nutrients washing off the land surface severely contaminate marine systems. Climate change and warming seas threaten valuable coral reefs, and ocean acidification, resulting from high carbon dioxide emissions, debilitates corals and shellfish. We don’t know when the ocean systems we depend on might reach a tipping point and spiral into instability.
What can we do with such challenges? Plenty. A first step is to understand the issues and systems better by studying environmental science, as you are now doing. As we begin to understand environmental systems, we have some hope of working to keep them stable and healthy. As you read this book, you may discover many ways to engage in the issues and ideas involved in environmental science. Whether you are a biologist, a geologist, a chemist, an economist, a political scientist, a writer, or an artist or poet who can capture our imagination, you can find fruitful and interesting ways to engage with the topics in this book.
Another step is to understand how our policies and economic decisions influence the systems on which we depend. We’ve spent far more money traveling to the moon than we have exploring the ecological treasures on earth and under the sea. We spend more effort debating climate change than it would cost to address it. We often follow shortsighted policies, degrading habitats and biodiversity or exploiting energy resources unsustainably.
At the same time, there is abundant evidence of the progress we can make. Human population growth is slowing almost everywhere, as education for women and economic stability allow for small, well-cared-for families. New energy technologies are proving to be reliable alternatives to fossil fuels in many places. Solar, wind, biomass, geothermal energy, and conservation could supply all the energy we need, if we chose to invest in them. We have also shown that we can dramatically improve water quality and air quality if we put our minds to it.
Governments around the world are acknowledging the costs of environmental degradation and are taking steps to reduce their environmental impacts. China has announced ambitious plans to restore forests, conserve water, reduce air and water pollution, and develop sustainable energy supplies. China has even agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, something it refused to consider when the Kyoto Protocol was signed a decade ago.
In the United States, there has been renewed respect for both science and the environment. Citizens and voters need to remain vigilant to protect the status of science in policy making, but experienced scientists have been appointed to government posts previously given to political appointees. President Obama has involved scientific evidence and analysis in guiding federal policy. He has taken many steps to safeguard our environment and its resources, and public support for these steps has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Grants and tax incentives are supporting more sustainable energy and millions of green jobs.
Businesses, too, now recognize the opportunities in conservation, recycling, producing nontoxic products, and reducing their ecological footprints. Many are hiring sustainability experts and beginning to recognize environmental impacts in accounting.
This is a good time to study environmental science. New jobs are being created in environmental fields. Public opinion supports environmental protection because the public sees the importance of environmental health for the economy, society, and quality of life. College and university students are finding new ways to organize, network, and take action to protect the environment they will inherit.
Ecologist Norman Meyers has said, “The present has a unique position in history. Now, as never before, we have technical, political, and economic resources to solve our global environmental crisis. And if we don’t do it now, it may be too late for future generations to do so.” We hope you’ll find ideas in this book to help you do something to make the world a better place.
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