Environmental Science PHS100A-CSB1-MA
Warner Pacific College
August 26, 2011
Scientists and economists alike have been working for years to determine how to assess the natural resources we use and how to manage them. There have been several ways of thinking when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong regarding our natural resources. The first one being that our natural resources are finite, not infinite like many people think. There are some people who see our environment from a strictly anthropocentrism perspective, who look at only the human animal and its impact or needs, the biocentrism type who sees only the non-human life and how it relates to our environment, and the ecocentrism perspective who judge actions in terms of the benefit or harm to the integrity of the ecology as a whole. Beyond these ways of thinking are the environmental ethics involved. Some believe the best way to approach environmentalism is through preservation ethic. This ethic believes that we the humans in this world should keep the natural environment pristine and untouched. For many years the pioneer in this theory, John Muir believed in this. His protégé’ Gifford Pinchot who went on to become the founder of what we know today as the US Forest Service originally believed in this tact, but after some time believed the conservation ethic to be the better way to handle the environmental issues that were beginning to form. In the conservation ethic one believes that people should hold natural resources in a higher standard and use them but have the responsibility to manage them wisely. Our Native American ancestors were firm believers in this ethic and we can credit them as being some of the first environmentalists in my opinion. They used the resources, but only for what they needed using the entire plant or animal then gave back what they had the ability to give.
Many people think the natural resources in our world like water, oxygen, plants and animals that sustain us are always going to be there, or there is some type of substitute that could replace the resource should it become depleted. Western culture has for hundreds of years taken what they need without considering the environmental impact and what would happen if we take too much fossil fuel from below the surface, or deplete the water supply, or damage the soil or oceans to the point that no animal or living organism is able to continue to live there forcing them either to move to another place or become extinct.
The sad truth is that our society, based on economic growth has done little over the past century to preserve these resources. The good news is our knowledge about this subject has grown much over the past 40-50 years causing both the average person and those in the political and environmental sciences to take notice and have started the conversations and actions on how to be better stewards of this planet of ours. People in western culture have enjoyed many years of technological advances making goods and services easier and easier to obtain without consequences however, news of environmental woes along with national and state wide initiatives and laws have forced many to adapt new habits. Over the last 15-20 years have we actually been conscious of the impact some of our purchases have on the overall environment. There has been more and more government action if not nationally, at the state and county level taking action to curb the use of our resources. Oregon for example was the first state in the country to institute the ‘bottle bill’ which charged .05 cents additional for bottled and canned beverages allowing the consumer to get their .05 per bottle/can back if they brought the containers to a recycling center located at the grocery store. This worked so well, other states adopted the same strategy. Now the bottle bill has added water bottles to the mix which helps the local landfills not clog with plastics. The use of the recycled paper, plastic and bottles have added to a wide variety of new products made from these recycled materials. We are seeing plastics in everything from new fencing to recycled bottles for our beverages and everything in between.
Our state government started recycling early on. I can remember getting my first ‘additional can’ for the recycled items aside from the garbage. ‘Recycling has become the norm here in Oregon and in other states across the nation, however having lived in a non recycling state for a year or so (Utah) the habits that had formed for me in my early adulthood were hard pressed to stop. I still divided my waste and had a very hard time putting beverage cans and bottles in the garbage can!
The Environmental Protection agency has helped reduce and stop industrial ‘dumping’ although it is common knowledge that some illegal dumping still exists due to monetary constraints. The EPA put constraints on greenhouse gases coming from our vehicles, and what types and how much of industrial wastes are allowed to be dumped in our rivers and oceans.
In our state of Oregon, we have many environmental laws in effect that have over time changed the way we live. The bottle bill, recycling (which the waste companies have made much easier by color coding different receptacles to divide glass, plastics, paper products, yard waste and garbage.) There are laws and regulations on what waste products and how much of them are allowed into our air, water and soil/land. We have ‘burn days’ when we can burn yard debris in the fall, but only on those days so as not to impact the air quality. Paying for our beverage containers and getting money back, white boxes in the workplace to separate paper products that can be recycled from the garbage. These have all impacted the way we live.
Some of the laws are determined by the state, others from the Environmental Protection Agency that for the past 40 years has been making policy for this country on the subject of environmental science. The mission statement on their website states, “EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment”. This says it all to me. We are all bound to this earth; it is our responsibility to keep our resources from being depleted. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a conservationist.
Environmental Protection Agency Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/index.html
Jay Withcott and Scott Brennen (2011) Environmental Systems and Ecosystem Ecology, Chapter 5, and Environmental Ethics and Economics; Values and Choices, Chapter 6 in Environment, The Science Behind the Stories pp (108-163) Location: Pearson