Planet Earth/8c. Solutions for the Future.

IntroductionEdit

 
Earth from a low orbiting satellite (Suomi NPP) in 2012.

Earth does not face any danger, but its inhabitants do. Throughout this book you have been exposed to the realities of science, which is based on the keen observations you can witness from our position in the universe, spinning on this singular planet you were born and live upon. As our only home, solving issues that threaten our long-term ability to continue to occupy this singular place in the universe is of supreme importance. The Earth is changing, its atmosphere becoming enriched in carbon dioxide, the climate growing warmer, the land surface converted to concrete and pavement, and forests cleared for crops with fields of fertilized rows of plants for consumption. Species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate as habitat is lost, but the Earth will continue its rotation, spinning around the sun, whether we are here or not. The changes facing the Earth today are not unique, the Earth’s surface has been subjected to far worst in its 4.5-billion-year history, and will eventually be engulfed in the sun in the far-off future. Humans pose no risk to it. For the Earth, the end is far away, but for the life and inhabitants of the planet, for your continued survival, change is everywhere. Once humans, like yourself are vanquished, you will all leave behind a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere, the plants will flourish, but many other species, including your own, likely will perish. Oceans will be transformed, hard hit by the changing water chemistry and acidification, but they will not boil away. Cities will be either swallowed by great dunes of blowing sand, or torn down by the growth of rooted trees and encrusting vegetation, slowing eroding the manmade landscape you will leave behind. The distribution of refuse left by the exuberant human occupation will eventually become buried and turned to stone. In the short span of 100 million years, nothing but fossilized skeletons and shelled artifacts buried in rock will remain of your once grand occupation of the planet. The Earth will continue to spin around the sun, if life still exists, it will evolve, adapt and change as it always has. The true paradox that we face today, is how to make the Earth a good place for yourself, a place that humans can flourish upon far into Earth’s future.

This is where you came in. By learning more about the Earth and reading this textbook, and by taking this class, you can apply this knowledge to help preserve Earth’s unique place in the universe as our home.

Better GovernanceEdit

 
Earth Day protest in New York City 2017.
 
Protesters march for science in Kampala Uganda in 2015.

Large campaigns have been launched since the 1960s to rally people to learn of the importance of protecting Earth’s resources for future generations. The establishment of Earth Day in 1970, was one of those efforts. Its roots stemmed from a major ecological disaster in 1969, a massive oil spill that covered the beaches in Santa Barbara California in oil slick extending from Ventura to Santa Barbara north of Los Angles California. The oil had ruptured through an offshore oil rig, and was unable to be capped or stopped, and continued to leak into the ocean for days. The ocean shore and beaches filled with the toxic oil, killing fish and wildlife across California. Outrage over the disaster compelled two United States Senators to proposed a new initiative to raise public awareness of the environment, and help push for regulations. This effort was initiated by Senator Gaylord Nelson (a Democrat) and Senator Pete McCloskey (a Republican). The effort was to teach people of the importance of Earth and protecting the environment, led by dedicating one day a year to the teaching and educating the public on the topic, and by organizing local groups at many college campuses and universities across the nation. The day of learning extended to high-schools and elementary schools, all focused on learning about the Earth. The Earth Day initiative was led by a young activist and avid backpacker Denis Hayes to lead the project. The Earth Day idea sparked a new national movement to protect the environment, which spread internationally. These initiatives lead to protests and a call to action for citizens to participate in the passage of laws and regulations that guaranteed the safety of the environment and protection of natural regions within the United States. In an amazing flurry of new legislature some of the country’s most important laws that we have today were passed, including the establishment of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The Environmental Protection Agency was the first governmental organization to work to protect the Earth’s natural resources, including safeguarding the air you breath and water you drink. The organization was backed by two of the United States most important laws, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. These two acts focused on the protection of the air and water that you need to live a healthy life. The passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the outlawing of toxic and dangerous insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides helped to restore confidence in safeguarding human health. One of the most important laws was the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. This act protects the United States endangered plants and animals, helping to ensure that all species have the required habitat to ensure their survival.

This progress did not come easily to the United States. Lobbyists representing industrial and international corporations have fought bitterly to repeal these laws and to a return to the unregulated dumping of pollution into the water and air as before, without the guaranty of the safety and health of the natural resources that are necessary for human health and happiness. The protection of species has been challenged, as governmental officials continue to be offered brides, and the rules and laws softened to those companies that offer incentives and deals in backroom negotiations. Good governance is essential for the protection and preservation of the natural resources on Earth to continue to support its growing population of humans. But how do you accomplish this?

The governance of a nation must be scientific in its approach. Unbiased by the wild whims of public opinion, superstition and propaganda, and grounded in the collection and support of actual data, and further testing everyone’s assumptions and everyone’s beliefs no matter how frightening or definitive they are to you or your background knowledge. Good governance comes from the acknowledgment of reality that each individual faces as you, your family, your friends, and your loved ones move forward into this unknown future. You get a little voice to say what you want the future of Earth to be like, you should use that tiny voice wisely.

Importance of the Preservation of LandsEdit

 
Preservation of lands keeps Earth beautiful for current and future generations.

Of upmost importance is the preservation of Earth’s surface, and the establishment of agencies for the protection of vast regions on Earth in order to preserve its biodiversity, forests and the natural world that you rely upon for clean air and water, as well as provide beneficial resources for recreation. Only about 3.5% of the United States is protected under an any government order to limit or ban the corporate extraction of resources from the land. The remaining 96.5% of the United States is open to the exploitation of the resources from the land. In fact, this includes about 28% or 2.27 billion acres of land within the United States held in public trust by the United States Government. Most of this land is leased for profit by the federal government in oil and gas extraction that pollutes the air and water. Most of this land is open to mining minerals and coal, as well as the cutting of trees for timber and agriculture. A simple act of Congress could protect 28% of the United States lands in perpetuity for the long-term survival of the country, preservation of the air and water and would be a major benefit to the overall health of the country. Such an act is not impossible, and as the country depletes those resources, the economic incentives to protect these lands increases, as oil and gas fields become uneconomical in the extraction of these resources and only speculative destruction. Individual states manage 9% of the land within the borders of the United States, so together 37% of the United States land can be protected if every state within the union participates – more than a third of the land within the country, but only if governmental officials and lawmakers push to protect these lands by restricting or eliminating leasing programs and subsidies. Such a simple act of congress would limit the production of hydrocarbon producing pollutants into the air by an equal amount.

Other countries also need to follow similar plans to help protect the plants, animals and land within their borders using an international and growing network of national parks and protected lands, with strong enforcement and penalty for the illegal extraction of natural resources. There is great fear that such initiatives will lead to reduce growth, but such endeavors have a long-term benefit that are needed for the long-term survival of the human species.

Rewilding and Biodiversity ProtectionEdit

 
The El Cielo Biosphere Reserve

The lush tropical cloud forest in the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican State of Tamaulipas is a protected area today, but in the late 1940s Paul Martin clambered through the wet air and vermillion vegetation that over hung moss covered rocks and glass like pools of blue green water. The landscape is a forgotten place, a prehistoric world. To Paul Martin this place was magical, filled with a wealth of colorful flowers, birds, lizards and snakes. With diligent delight he studied the animals, noting their habitat and niches, and how they utilized the natural resources of the landscape in such wondrous ways. These observations he wrote about, documenting the biodiversity of the region, which ultimately helped lead to the landscape’s preservation today. Joining the faculty of the University of Arizona in 1957, Paul Martin begin to study the broader topic of extinction, particularly the recent mass extinction of the late Pleistocene, about 11,000 years ago, when the American continents lost their great megafauna of giant camels, mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, glyptodonts, and toxodonts, as well as the loss of the American lions, cheetahs and saber-toothed cats, and dire wolves. The prehistoric world that lay just in the desert sands and dirt filled arroyos of the American Southwest. This project became his life’s work, to document the exact ages of the last appearance of these iconic extinct animals of the American continents and determine how they went extinct. Using radiocarbon dating, Paul Martin’s work revealed something profound – the extinction of these large mammals was parallel to the arrival of humans. The theory he proposed became known as the Overkill Hypothesis. The Overkill Hypothesis theorizes that over hunting and the human exploitation of these large iconic animals of the recent past, lead to their ultimate extinction. Further dating and refinement of the studies have continued to show strong support for the idea, particularly when small mammals, such as rodents show no such extinction during the recent past (last 25,000 years ago). This idea that humans drive extinction of large mammals, particularly of prey animals which are a food source and hence important to early human hunters on the Americans continents, such over hunting and over harvesting of natural resources has deep roots in human history. Paul Martin’s work pushed the enormous responsibility for the preservation of today’s existing animals and plants onto better restrictions and limits on hunting and harvesting, eliminating the threats posed by overkilling and over harvesting plants and animals that naturally exist on the landscape. Today’s elephants, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeest, bison, moose, and elk all can be easily overexploited to extinction. When Paul Martin looked out across the vast American landscape he saw the ghosts of the animals that once called this place their home. In 2005, shortly before his death, Paul Martin wrote about his brave and ambiguous idea of a great rewilding of America. He proposed establishing great reserves and protected parks across the United States of America were animals and plants could grow and prosper, with the introduction of large iconic animals, and wild parks to support these herds. Paul Martin saw a future and glorious country that could support these great creatures in healthy landscapes with a return to a wilderness state of existence for a portion of the Earth’s surface.

Solar Power and the end of Hydrocarbon UseEdit

 
Solar power is an essential tool in weaning the globe off of fossil fuels.

The greatest threat to human existence today is the rapidly changing atmosphere of Earth. Not only does the rise in carbon dioxide gas result in an increasingly and rapidly warming Earth, it also effects ocean chemistry and the breathability of the air necessary for animals to survive on the planet. The rapid rise of human hydrocarbon energy use within the last century has also led to a profound change to the Earth’s surface by the vast network of roads, highways, parking lots and pavement that has increasingly covered more of the Earth’s terrestrial surface. These gray zones of urban landscapes can be seen from outer-space, as gray blotches emanating from city centers into long tangled threads of highways and roads.

Acknowledging the problem has led to a wealth of novel solutions, particularly in the realm of technology applied toward electric motors, batteries, energy storage and energy sourced from the sun. Solar energy is a more readily available resource for energy, because it is renewable, and consistent during the day, enough to be harness for energy needs. The challenges facing this end to hydrocarbon usage comes from the challenge of both capturing this energy, but also storing the energy for long term usage. There will be energy loss in the transfer of energy from one state to another, but using the flow of electrons from excited photoelectric cells, and storing that energy in chemical form, still has great potential at reducing, and maybe even eliminating hydrocarbon usage in the near future. As hydrocarbon fuels become more expensive, there will be a trend away from their use as an energy source, particularly in combustion engines. A simple carbon tax has been proposed, that would push greater adoption toward electronic motors, and renewable energy. The United States Energy Information Administration estimates that only 12% of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, with 8% from nuclear power, leaving 80% from hydrocarbon combustion, including the burning of petroleum liquids, coal solids, and methane and other hydrocarbon gases. Transportation and industrial energy usage in the United States accounts for 72% end usage, where as residential usage is only 16% of the energy consumption within the country.

The replacement of combustion engines with electric engines running on batteries for transportation would dramatically decrease the usage of hydrocarbon fuels, if the energy source for these electric engines are from renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Nuclear energy also holds great promise because it does not emit carbon dioxide pollution in the generation of electricity. Batteries that are also reusable, through deep cycling of electron transfer and the recycling of battery components also eliminate the necessary large-scale consumption of natural resources necessary for hydrocarbon usage that requires the burning of material to derive energy from it, that cannot be reused once the energy is released. A decrease, and eventual elimination of the usage and reliance on hydrocarbons like petroleum and coal would have a positive effect on the habitability of Earth.

Recycling and Waste ReductionEdit

 
Metal recycling reduces the need to mine new materials.

It may sound odd, but landfills might become new mining opportunities for resource extraction as they contain higher levels of resources that are becoming scarce in the natural world, but this requires the separation of hazardous materials, and the grouping of disposable waste into categories for recycling and proper disposal. Reusing material, including metals, glass, and plastics has the potential to become more and more economically important as traditional raw sources of metals, glass (silica) and plastics become more prohibitive and expensive. The reusability of waste must be encouraged. Packaging taxes and regulations can help reduce both cost and the production of useless waste. Oversight on packaging of products can eliminate much of the cardboard and plastic waste that comes from the everyday products that we purchase. This does not mean that packaging is completely eliminated with food and drink products, but these waste producing materials must be justified and overseen by better governance and regulated, with specific ways to reduce and reuse the packaging of products produced by companies. Recycling cardboard packaging would go a very long way in reducing deforestation, and providing sustainable forests. Currently it is estimated that about 1 billion trees are needed to supply the annual usage of cardboard in the United States, which is equal to 7 trees per American per year. Reduction of cardboard packaging, and recycling is essential, as this all adds up in the unnecessary waste of valuable natural resources, particularly the Earth’s forests and trees. The advent of shipping products and materials of internet purchases places great demand of cardboard, much of which is never recycled, and ends up in landfills or dumped in the ocean. According to a 2017 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/paper-and-paperboard-material-specific-data), the amount of recycling of cardboard rose from 17% to 67% between the years of 1969 to 2017, yet the total needed annual raw sourced cardboard from the cutting of trees was still nearly 22.7 million U.S. tons of cardboard that comes from forests. As more forests are protected, sources of cardboard and paper products will need to come from recycled materials, or materials that can be reused more efficiently. Reusable shipping boxes should become the norm, as more products are shipped between cities and towns.

Sources of phosphate, nitrogen (ammonia), and potassium used in fertilizer today often is sourced from raw ore or sediments rich in these elements, however many of these sources will soon be depleted or restricted for open pit mining or strip mining at current consumption levels, resulting in more expensive fertilizers and diminishing returns on crops. One of the key changes that will be necessary is for the growth in the manufacturing of fertilizer from human waste and sewage. Raw sewage is rich in these elements, which can be captured and recycled, cleansed of bacteria and viruses and used as a fertilizer on crops. Capturing these nutrients is also important in the preservation of freshwater, and prevention of eutrophication in freshwater lakes and rivers. Every city will need to put together the infrastructure to be able to process the waste and reuse the extracted phosphate, nitrogen and potassium for agriculture use.

Energy EfficiencyEdit

 
Energy efficient bulbs such as this can cause real improvements in efficiency compared to older designs.

Energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways to reduce the consumption of energy sources, like hydrocarbon fuels. Regulation on the miles per gallon of motorized vehicles leads to greater savings on consumers and users of automobiles, but also dramatically decreases the costs to operate vehicles used in transportation. Energy efficiency can also draw down the cost of heating and cooling buildings, as well as electric appliances and machinery. Energy efficiency often is rapidly enhanced in products when the refueling costs dramatically increase, such as after the peak oil years of the early 1970s, that saw more fuel-efficient vehicles dominate the market. From an economic laissez faire capitalism view energy efficiency requires little oversight by governance, rather it can organically come about as resources become depleted or too costly for the operation of the equipment. The cost of a car today is less than the cost of the fuel that is required to run the machine throughout its life, as new electric or hybrid engines become increasing standard, these re-fueling costs could make transportation much more affordable, while also reducing air pollution in urban centers, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel emission standards are important because they can help in the transition to new technology and innovative products.

SummaryEdit

In order to make Earth habitable and a place for the future success of humans, major transformations in the interaction between humans and the Earth’s resources need to happen. First through better governance and the elimination of corrupt elected officials and appointed agents of the government. Second the end to appropriations and leasing of publicly owned natural resources to private companies for profit and exploitation, and the preservation of lands with strict limits or elimination of these exploits. By protecting a third of the land on Earth, forests can be filled with trees and plants that will help to capture and reduce carbon dioxide, bring back the wilderness, reduce extinction, and slow the process of climate change. Third protecting wildlife, and introducing native plants and animals, a portion of the Earth can return to a more wild and natural state that would benefit human survival on the planet. Forth is the push to reduce and eventually eliminating hydrocarbon fuels and replace them with renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and nuclear. Use of electric motors, or hybrid energy efficient motors, rather than antiquated combustion engines will help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, and restore the atmosphere of the planet. Technology now exists to make this more standard. Fifth, the reuse and recycling of paper products and other waste to make up for the raw resources as they become depleted and as public lands become areas set aside for the preservation of the landscape. Sources for these materials will have to come from the reuse and recycling of these materials. With only five simple actions, the Earth can be transformed into a more sustainable place for human habitation.