DexDX

Earth's Greatest Environmental Issues

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Hello everyone,

As a 28 year old elementary school teacher, I am currently in the works of an extensive school program that educates children not only in academics, but in global environmental issues and moral values as well. As it stands, if all information proves to be true, I believe that our planet is on a path to certain doom if certain environmental issues are not addressed and seriously handled. In hopes that we are not doomed by then, I plan on helping educate the younger generation of serious environmental issues that surrounds our planet in hopes that the next generation of human beings can help find a way to save our planet. I have done research from various articles found across the web, but am interested in any other resources or issues that need to be addressed. Here is a list of some of the issues I am including:

  • Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution
  • Plastic Waste
  • Garbage and Waste Disposal
  • Overpopulation
  • Natural Resource Depletion
  • Global Warming
  • Deforestation

If you have any other ideas or topics that you think the students should know about, please feel free to post your thoughts. If you have any other resources about the severity of the issue, please post them here. I greatly appreciate and value the feedback from the members of the environmental science community and want to make sure that I am doing the students justice. Thank you!

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There is a lot of overlap between many of the problems listed. I tend to focus on climate change as the most pressing issue, because it is cumulative, effectively irreversible and within our reach (technologically) to take effective action. Our single most abundant waste product is CO2 - I did a rough calculation for Australia and got 6 times more CO2 than all other kinds of waste combined (of about 20 tons of waste per Australian per year, 17 tons are CO2). Of course climate change relates to population, however I think that education and improved prosperity tends to lead to greater use of birth control and reduced population growth - although I do wonder if this is in part an unexpected consequence of modern consumer society's embracing of selfishness. Why have lots of kids when you will have more to spend on yourself if you don't?

I'm sorry that I can't provide anything substantial to help you develop a suitable study program. I'll be interested to see what responses your request gets.

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15 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

There is a lot of overlap between many of the problems listed. I tend to focus on climate change as the most pressing issue, because it is cumulative, effectively irreversible and within our reach (technologically) to take effective action.

This statement and the information provided in your response is already incredibly useful. As I am not a climatologist or do not specialize in the environmental sciences, I highly value your opinion on where the the priorities lie for the benefit of our environment. 

I completely agree with you in the sense that many of these issues I listed above are interconnected and some correlate with others. The data you have provided has given me great perspective into the issue and will be referenced within the program. Thanks for your response!

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Frankly, I think your list is quite exhaustive in a high-level view. Though as mentioned, there often not separate issues and the impact may vary. Especially for elementary school I would suggest to zone in on specific issues to keep things more tangible.

Rather than natural resource depletion, for example, you could talk about loss of potable water, which also can be connected to habitat loss. Or perhaps also focus a bit on what we can do, e.g. taking a careful look at sustainability (unfortunately there is a lot of fluff there).

I do agree with Ken that within the next few generations climate change could be one of the biggest challenges for humans. With regards to populations it is also important to note that not only the number themselves are relevant, but also the resource distribution and consumption. You could find some positive trends from Rosling's talks and also take a look at https://www.gapminder.org/ for some powerful images. At the same time one should keep in mind that every person in Australia, Canada and USA produces almost double the amount of CO2 of a person on Germany or Japan, who in turn produce more than developing nations.

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I would avoid claiming the Earth as the victim here. The planet isn't doomed by the things you mention.

Rather it's life on Earth, and the environments that host that life, that are in danger. I think it's an important distinction to make if we want to approach the problem with the best solutions, and if we don't find some, Earth will get along just fine without most of its living species.

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18 minutes ago, Phi for All said:

I would avoid claiming the Earth as the victim here. The planet isn't doomed by the things you mention.

Rather it's life on Earth, and the environments that host that life, that are in danger. I think it's an important distinction to make if we want to approach the problem with the best solutions, and if we don't find some, Earth will get along just fine without most of its living species.

I would assume that especially in elementary school the assumption is human life.  Realistically, even in worst case scenarios something is likely to survive. It just won't be us (and most likely it's microorganisms).

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Posted (edited)
On 3.10.2018 at 9:43 PM, DexDX said:
  • Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution
  • Plastic Waste
  • Garbage and Waste Disposal
  • Overpopulation
  • Natural Resource Depletion
  • Global Warming
  • Deforestation

The all things you mentioned in this list, are correlated. The more people is living on the Earth, the more they want to have, then the more resources are needed to be mined, and the more air pollution is caused by factories processing these resources.. the more people, the more garbage and waste, they produce.. and so on, so on.. The all these things are interconnected in very complex way..

The easiest to address is probably deforestation. People are cutting trees to have new lands for houses and farms. But they can (should) build skyscrapers, and "agricultural skyscrapers", to save land space. The more people are using computers, and electronics, the less they require the real paper. The more people are using concrete, the less they need wood for houses (they're also less vulnerable for insects, and last longer).

 

I would add couple items to your list:

  • Increase of water level (worldwide flooding, caused by melting of Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland).
  • Shortage of drinkable fresh water.
  • Extinction of natural flora and fauna. e.g. change of temperature of water can kill krill and plankton, breaking food chain, and causing massive starvation of upper level organisms.
  • Change of natural oceanic water currents (which can change climate on the land).
Edited by Sensei

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I thought the following article would not be out of place here......

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/01/cities-sink-sea-first-earth-submerge-coastline

Which cities will sink into the sea first? Maybe not the ones you expect

 

The Earth isn’t solid – which makes it hard to predict how the submerging of our coastlines will unfold

Mon 1 Oct 2018 15.00 AESTLast modified on Wed 3 Oct 2018 19.18 AEST

 

Two Adelie penguins stand atop a block of melting ice on a rocky shoreline at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in East Antarctica

 Cape Denison, east Antarctica. ‘If the Antarctic ice melts before the Greenland ice sheet, the whole of North America’s eastern coast will go under water first.’ Photograph: Pauline Askin/Reuters

Better scientific understanding of global warming makes the discussion about its geopolitical consequences increasingly urgent. Put simply, there are going to be winners and losers: hotter places and colder places; wetter places and drier places; and, yes, places that disappear under the sea. But the reality is a bit more complicated. In particular, are sea levels going up or down? The answer seems clear when you consider that Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tonnes of ice in the last 25 years.

Yet to understand what is going on we first have to recognise that the Earth isn’t solid. It started life as a ball of hot liquid about 4.5bn years ago and our planet has been cooling ever since. Right at the centre of the Earth is a solid core of metal made of iron and nickel at a temperature of approximately 5,000C. But this core is surrounded by an approximately 2,000km-thick ocean of molten metal, again mostly iron and nickel. Surrounding this is a layer of rock called the mantle that is between 500C to 900C, and at these red-hot temperatures the rock behaves like a solid over short periods of time (seconds, hours, and days) but like a liquid over longer time periods (months to years) – so the rock flows, even though it is not molten. On top of the fluid mantle floats the crust, which is like the skin of the Earth. It is a relatively thin layer of cool rock that is between 30 to 100km thick and contains all the mountains, forests, rivers, seas, continents – our world.

Since the crust is floating on the fluid mantle, if you increase its weight by, for instance, building up kilometres of ice on top of it, then it sinks further into the mantle. This is what has happened to the landmasses of Antarcticaand Greenland, which are both covered in 2km to 3km of thick ice. If global warming were to cause all that ice to melt, then the sea level of the oceans would rise by more than 50 metres, submerging all the coastal cities of the world and making hundreds of millions of people homeless. This seems obvious. What is less obvious is how it might unfold.

 

If the whole ice sheet covering Antarctica melts, the release of its weight will destress the rocks below, which, because they float on the mantle, will bob up. This is called post-glacial rebound. The position with Greenland is similar: the crust below it is being weighed down by the 3 million trillion litres of water held in the ice sheet, and if that ice sheet all melts then parts of the North American tectonic landmass will rise up. If the resulting increase in the height of the continent is bigger than the sea level rise, then major flooding may be avoided. Working out which scenario is more likely is vitally important for future generations, because one of these results will start to play out if global warming intensifies.

What we know is this: the global mean sea level has risen 20cm since the beginning of the 20th century. Some of this has been owing to the water thermally expanding as the oceans have got hotter – since hotter liquids take up more volume (this is how liquid thermometers work). Some of the rise in sea level has been due to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting, and some due to other glaciers melting. The rising sea levels are global: they affect everyone with a coastline, from tiny Pacific islands that would be entirely submerged to a huge country such as Bangladesh, for which a one-metre rise in sea levels would result in nearly a fifth of the country being submerged and 30 million people being displaced. But while rising sea levels affect everyone, the post-glacial rebound affects only the coasts connected to parts of the Earth’s crust weighed down by the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

 

t is hard to overestimate the importance of this issue, and we badly need more data and scientific understanding of these liquid processes. A limited number of specialised satellites, such as CryoSat, GRACE and ICESat-2 – just launched by Nasa – are being used to monitor ice thickness and to develop models of post-glacial rebound. What the science predicts is that if the ice melts first in the northern hemisphere, then Greenland may bounce up higher than the average sea level, as will parts of North America, and so sea levels there may initially go down. If the opposite happens, and the Antarctic ice melts before the Greenland ice sheet, then it is the southern tectonic plates that will bounce up first and the whole of North America’s eastern coast will go under water first. The big unknowns are how quick the ice will go in each location, and how fast the post-glacial rebound will be.

We need to get a better understanding of these processes fast, because if we don’t it may be too late to avert catastrophe. These issues don’t dominate news agendas but they should. Recently the French environment minister resigned, citing the president’s lack of progress and urgency on climate change issues. In doing so, he voiced the concern of the whole scientific community about world leaders – we need a step change in governmental action. But there’s the rub: not all governments feel urgent about it. And why? Perhaps it’s because, as the issue of post-glacial rebound shows, there will be winners and losers from global warming. For instance, countries such as Russia will be less affected by sea level rises, and may benefit from a more temperate climate. In contrast, the US may not only suffer from new drought zones, but its low-lying eastern coast is threatened by the accelerating loss of Antarctic ice. As the 21st century continues and the ice continues to melt, it will become clearer which countries have a greater incentive to mitigate climate change, and the resulting geopolitics has the potential to drive division and conflict.

• Mark Miodownik is the author of Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives, which is short-listed for the Royal Society Book prize

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On 04/10/2018 at 5:43 AM, DexDX said:

I plan on helping educate the younger generation of serious environmental issues that surrounds our planet

 

DexDX, Perhaps it is in the evaluation of their relative significance that valuable lessons could be developed and looked at by students. Which problems have the greatest potential impacts? How do you weigh between problems that will revert to their earlier state when you stop doing "x" and those that leave enduring changes when you stop? Which problems depend on and interact most strongly with other ones and which tend to stand alone? I keep thinking of those Venn diagrams, showing which overlap and which don't.

I don't know what age or skill abilities and these are questions that push experts working in teams to their limits, but I do think an attempt to give an overview could be worthwhile.

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Desertification as well as but distinct from deforestation. 

Recently watched an excellent Ted X talk on the subject that turned a lot of current thinking on its head, using examples of migratory herds effect in sustaining grasslands as opposed to reducing stock loads.

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On 10/5/2018 at 11:05 AM, CharonY said:

Frankly, I think your list is quite exhaustive in a high-level view. Though as mentioned, there often not separate issues and the impact may vary. Especially for elementary school I would suggest to zone in on specific issues to keep things more tangible.

Rather than natural resource depletion, for example, you could talk about loss of potable water, which also can be connected to habitat loss. Or perhaps also focus a bit on what we can do, e.g. taking a careful look at sustainability (unfortunately there is a lot of fluff there).

Thank you very much for your feedback! As for the program I am creating, there are several major parts, including a narrative that extends throughout the whole year that incorporates important ideas about the environment and ethics.

I'm hoping that since I have an entire year with them, I can introduce them to the broad ideas I have listed AND more focused ideas like the idea you mentioned of loss of potable water. I'm hoping to show them how they are interconnected and all of these issues are related and are vital to our survival here on this planet.

On 10/5/2018 at 2:28 PM, Phi for All said:

I would avoid claiming the Earth as the victim here. The planet isn't doomed by the things you mention.

Rather it's life on Earth, and the environments that host that life, that are in danger. I think it's an important distinction to make if we want to approach the problem with the best solutions, and if we don't find some, Earth will get along just fine without most of its living species.

I actually did not think of it from this perspective. It is true, overtime, it will be life on Earth that suffers from this the most. I should have worded it differently in my OP. Although the Earth isn't necessarily "doomed", do you not think the Earth is still being harmed with deforestation and the pollution of the air that surrounds Earth's atmosphere? 

On 10/5/2018 at 7:05 PM, Ken Fabian said:

DexDX, Perhaps it is in the evaluation of their relative significance that valuable lessons could be developed and looked at by students. Which problems have the greatest potential impacts? How do you weigh between problems that will revert to their earlier state when you stop doing "x" and those that leave enduring changes when you stop? Which problems depend on and interact most strongly with other ones and which tend to stand alone? I keep thinking of those Venn diagrams, showing which overlap and which don't.

I don't know what age or skill abilities and these are questions that push experts working in teams to their limits, but I do think an attempt to give an overview could be worthwhile.

The Venn Diagram idea sounds wonderful as a comprehensive overview after covering multiple topics. I will integrate this within my classroom as well. Although the kids I plan to work with are 9-10 years old, I'm wanting them to see the complexities of each of these problems as I scaffold the ideas through narrative and from a more understandable perspective for the kids. The reason being, I want them to understand the severity of these issues and instill it within them while they are young and hope that they care more about these issues into adulthood.

On 10/5/2018 at 9:10 PM, naitche said:

Desertification as well as but distinct from deforestation. 

Recently watched an excellent Ted X talk on the subject that turned a lot of current thinking on its head, using examples of migratory herds effect in sustaining grasslands as opposed to reducing stock loads.

Another great topic I will look into and add to the list! Thank you!

On 10/5/2018 at 9:25 PM, rangerx said:

And another great topic! I will also look into this and add it to the list! Thank you!

On 10/5/2018 at 4:12 PM, beecee said:

I thought the following article would not be out of place here......

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/01/cities-sink-sea-first-earth-submerge-coastline

This is a HUGE help! I can very well integrate this within the narrative and based on the article, it is incredibly frightening and eye-opening at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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33 minutes ago, DexDX said:

Although the Earth isn't necessarily "doomed", do you not think the Earth is still being harmed with deforestation and the pollution of the air that surrounds Earth's atmosphere? 

Not even a little bit, from the point of view of a planet. Earth's atmosphere has been vastly different in the past. Trees haven't always been around. There were many very early organisms that died off when oxygen levels rose as the new photosynthetic organisms flourished, their habitats polluted with excessive levels of O2. 

Again, I think the focus of environmental issues should be on present day habitats, and the life within them. I think it's an important distinction because it puts the responsibility for our environment squarely on our shoulders. Many AGW proponents argue that the Earth's climate is cyclical and nothing we do can affect those cycles, so arguing that the Earth is doomed plays right into their hands.

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I would frame the list in a different way:-

{Over population X  Over consumption per individual X irresponsible generation & disposal of wastes} 

 

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