Environmental issues


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Environmental issues

  1. 1. Name: Surname: Level: Date: Mark: Environmental IssuesHere’s a riddle for you: What is bigger than the United States and Mexico combined; is covered with morethan two kilometers of ice; is a unique habitat for many animals; and is a source of oil, coal, and iron? Theanswer is Antarctica. Some people think of Antarctica as a useless, icy wasteland. But there are uniquewildlife habitats in Antarctica. There are also valuable minerals beneath its thick ice.Now the question is, What is the best use of Antarctica? Many people want access to its rich deposits ofminerals and oil. Others worry that mining will harm its delicate ecosystems. Some people propose buildinghotels, parks, and ski resorts. But others feel that Antarctica should remain undeveloped. It is not even clearwho should decide Antarctica’s fate.In 1998, 26 nations agreed to ban mining and oil exploration in Antarctica for at least 50 years. As resourcesbecome more scarce elsewhere in the world, the debate will surely continue. Types of Environmental IssuesThe debate about Antarctica’s future is just one environmental issue that people face today. Environmentalissues fall into three general categories: resource use, population growth, and pollution . Because thesethree types of issues are interconnected, they are very difficult to study and solve.Resource Use Anything in the environment that is used by people is called a natural resource. Some naturalresources are renewable. Renewable resources are either always available or are naturally replaced in arelatively short time. Renewable resources include sunlight, wind, fresh water, and trees. Some people thinkthat renewable resources can never be used up.This is not true for some renewable resources. For example, if people cut down trees faster than they cangrow back, the supply of this resource will decrease and could possibly run out.Natural resources that are not replaced in a useful time frame are called nonrenewable resources. Asnonrenewable resources such as coal or oil are used, the supply decreases.Population Growth Figure 1 shows how the humanpopulation has changed in the last 3,000 years. You can seethat the population grew very slowly until about A.D. 1650.Around that time, improvements in medicine, agriculture, andwaste disposal began to enable people to live longer. Thehuman population has been growing faster and faster sincethen. However, scientists do not expect the population to growas rapidly in the future.When a population grows, the demand for resources alsogrows. Has your town ever experienced a water shortage? Ifso, you might have noticed that people have been asked torestrict their water use. This sometimes happens in areas withfastgrowing populations. The water supplies in such areaswere designed to serve fewer people than they now do, soshortages sometimes occur during unusually warm or dryweather.Pollution The contamination of Earth’s land, water, or air is called pollution. Pollution can be caused by avariety of factors, including chemicals, wastes, noise, heat, and light. Pollution can destroy wildlife andcause human health problems.Pollution can be related to resource use. As you probably know, the burning of gasoline releases pollutantsinto the air. With more cars on the road, more gasoline is used, so more pollutants are released into the air.Pollution can also be related to population growth. For example, as populations grow, and more people needto be fed, more fertilizers and other chemicals may be used to produce that food. As these chemicals run offthe land, they can pollute bodies of water.IES Clara Campoamor Departament de Tecnologia Programa Plurilingüe 1
  2. 2. Making Environmental DecisionsDealing with environmental issues means making decisions. These decisions can be made at personal, local,national, or global levels. Your decision to walk to your friend’s house rather than ride in a car is made at apersonal level. A town’s decision about how to dispose of its trash is made at a local level. A decision aboutwhether Spain should allow oil drilling in a wildlife refuge is a decision made on a national level. Decisionsabout how to protect Earth’s atmosphere aremade on a global level.Every decision has some impact on the environment. Your personal decisions of what to eat or how to travelhave a small impact. But when the personal decisions of millions of people are combined, they have a hugeimpact on the environment.Balancing Different Needs Lawmakers work with many groups to make environmental decisions. One suchgroup is environmental scientists. Environmental science is the study of natural processes in the environmentand how humans can affect them. But the data provided by environmental scientists are only part of thedecision-making process.Environmental decision making requires a delicate balance between the needs of the environment and theneeds of people. To help balance the different opinions on an environmental issue,decision makers weigh the costs and benefits of a proposal.Types of Costs and Benefits Costs and benefits are often economic. Will a proposal provide jobs? Will itcost too much money? But costs and benefits are not only measured in terms of money. For example,suppose a state must decide whether to allow logging in a park. Removing trees changes the ecosystem,which is an ecological cost. However, by providing jobs and needed wood, logging has an economic benefit.It is also important to consider the short-term and longterm costs and benefits of an environmental decision.A plan’s short-term costs might be outweighed by its long-term benefits.Weighing Costs and Benefits Once you have identified the potential costs and benefits of a decision, youmust analyze them. Consider the costs and benefits of drilling for oil in Antarctica. There would be manycosts. It would be very expensive to set up a drilling operation in such a cold and distant place.Transporting the oil would also be difficult and costly. An oil spill in the seas around Antarctica could harmthe fish, penguins, and seals there.On the other hand, there would be benefits to drilling for oil in Antarctica. Oil drilling would provide a newsupply of oil for heat, electricity, and transportation. If the worldwide supply of oil were larger, the pricemight drop, making oil available to more people. The plan would also create many new jobs.Would the benefits of drilling for oil in Antarctica outweigh the costs? This is the kind of question lawmakersmust ask before they make environmental decisions.Read the text and answer the following questions: 1. What are the three main types of environmental issues? 2. Write down the definition of renewable resources. 3. Why is population growth an environmental issue? 4. What are five factors that can cause pollution?. 5. What are two types of costs and benefits?IES Clara Campoamor Departament de Tecnologia Programa Plurilingüe 2