1-10 of 58 Results  for:

  • Environmental Issues and Problems x
Clear all

Article

The Environmental History of the Antarctic  

Sebastian Grevsmühl

The environmental history of the polar regions, and in particular of Antarctica, is a rather recent area of inquiry that is in many ways still in its infancy. As a truly multidisciplinary research field, environmental history draws much inspiration from a large diversity of fields of historical and social research, including economic history, diplomatic history, cultural history, the history of explorations, and science and technology studies. Although overarching book-length studies on the environmental history of Antarctica are still rare, historical scholars have already conducted many in-depth case studies related mostly to three major interrelated research topics: Antarctic governance, natural resource exploitation, and tourism. These recent historical efforts, carried out mostly by a new generation of historians, have thus far allowed the proposal of several powerful counternarratives, challenging the frequent yet erroneous assertion that environmental protection and conservation were completely absent from Antarctic affairs before the 1970s. In so doing, environmental historians started offering a much more complex and nuanced account of what is frequently referred to as the “greening” of Antarctica, going well beyond “declensionist” narratives and conservation success stories that commonly pervade not only environmental histories but also public discourse. Indeed, all recent historical studies agree that there is nothing inevitable about the “greening” of Antarctica, nor are conservation and environmental protection its natural destiny. Science, politics, imperialism, capitalism, and imaginaries all have played their part in this important history, a history that remains still largely to be written.

Article

Infiltration of Water Into Soil  

John Nimmo and Rose Shillito

The infiltration of water into soil has profound importance as a central component of the hydrologic cycle and as the means of replenishing soil water that sustains terrestrial life. Systematic quantitative study of infiltration began in the 19th century and has continued through to the present as a central topic of soils, soil physics, and hydrology. Two forces drive infiltration: gravity, and capillarity, which results from the interaction of air-water surface tension with the solid components of soil. There are also two primary ways water moves into and within the soil. One is diffuse flow, through the pores between individual soil grains, moving from one to the next and so on. The other is preferential flow, through elongated channels such as those left by worms and roots. Diffuse flow is slow and continues as long as there is a net driving force. Preferential flow is fast and occurs only when water is supplied at high intensity, as during irrigation, major rainstorms, or floods. Both types are important in infiltration. Especially considering that preferential flow does not yet have a fully accepted theory, this means that infiltration entails multiple processes, some of them poorly understood. The soil at a given location has a limit to how much water it can absorb—the infiltration capacity. The interplay between the mode and rate of water supply, infiltration capacity, and characteristics of the soil and surrounding terrain determines infiltration into the soil. Much effort has gone into developing means of measuring and predicting both infiltration capacity and the actual infiltration rate. Various methods are available, and research is needed to improve their accuracy and ease of use.

Article

Business Models for Sustainability  

Nancy Bocken

Human activity is increasingly impacting the environment negatively on all scales. There is an urgent need to transform human activity toward sustainable development. Business has a key role to play in this sustainability transition through technological, product and service, and process innovations, as well as innovative business models. Business models can enable new technologies, and vice versa. These models are therefore important in the transition to sustainability. Business models for sustainability, or synonymously, sustainable business models, take holistic views on how business is operated in relation to its stakeholders, including the society and the natural environment. They incorporate economic, environmental, and social aspects in an organization’s purpose and performance measures; consider the needs of all stakeholders rather than giving priority to owner and shareholder expectations; treat “nature” as a stakeholder; and take a system as well as a firm-level perspective on the way business is conducted. The research field of sustainable business models emerged from fields such as service business models, green and social business models, and concepts such as sharing and circular economy. Academics have argued that the most service-oriented business models can achieve a “factor 10” environmental impact improvement if designed the right way. Researchers have developed various conceptualizations, typologies, tools, and methods and reviews on sustainable business models. However, sustainable business models are not yet mainstream. Important research areas include the following: (a) tools, methods, and experimentation; (b) the assessment of sustainability impact and rebounds for different stakeholders; (c) sufficiency and degrowth; and (d) the twin revolution of sustainability and digital transition. First, a plethora of tools and approaches are available for inspiration and for creation of sustainable business model designs. Second, in the field of assessment, methods have been based on life cycle thinking considering the supply chain and how a product is (re)used and eventually disposed of. In the field of sufficiency, authors have recognized the importance of moderating consumption through innovative business models to reduce the total need for products, reducing the impact on the environment. Finally, researchers have started to investigate the important interplay between sustainability and digitalization. Because of the potential to achieve a factor 10 environmental impact improvement, sustainable business models are an important source of inspiration for further work, including the upscaling of sustainable business models in established businesses and in new ventures. Understanding how to design better business models and preempting their usage in practice are essential to achieve a desired positive impact. In the field of sufficiency, the macro-impacts of individual and business behavior would need to be better understood. In the area of digital innovation, environmental, societal, and economic values need scrutinization. Researchers and practitioners can leverage the popularity of this field by addressing these important areas to support the development and roll-out of sustainable business models with significantly improved economic, environmental, and societal impact.

Article

Politics of Local Community Engagement in Transboundary Water Negotiations  

Isabela Espindola and Pilar Villar

The sharing of transboundary water resources, whether surface or groundwater, is a significant challenge, both in theory and practice. Countries in situations of sharing these natural resources are predisposed to interact with each other. These interactions, here called transboundary water interactions, are characterized by the coexistence of cooperation and conflict, which can arise at different governance levels. However, negotiations around transboundary water resources primarily occur between diplomats and high government members from riparian countries and river basin organization (RBO) managers. Transboundary water negotiations are usually considered high-level political discussions, given the complexity and scale of the water challenges. Consequently, decision-making processes incorporate only a limited number of participants, who make decisions capable of impacting the entire population that depend on the shared waters. Over the last 20 years, there has been a need for greater transparency and a participatory process in transboundary water negotiations, especially for local community engagement and collaboration in these processes. Many of the negotiation processes around transboundary water resources need the participation of municipalities and local populations, concomitant with the involvement of RBOs, to carry out decisions to manage transboundary waters in an integrated manner. There are several reasons for this demand, including negotiation effectiveness, contestation prevention, data sharing, ensuring continuing participation and collaboration, and promoting public awareness related to water resources. Discussing social participation, particularly in the management of transboundary water resources, requires attention to the historical context and its constraints. Considering the enormous challenge, the experiences of local community engagement in transboundary water negotiations in South America, especially from the Guarani Aquifer and the La Plata Basin, are good examples for improving this discussion around transboundary water interactions and local community engagement. The La Plata Basin is the second-largest transboundary basin in the continent, shared by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay, while the Guarani Aquifer is one of the largest reservoirs of freshwater worldwide, shared by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Even with both having cooperation agreements in place between the riparian states, there are still great difficulties with regard to the participation of local communities in transboundary water negotiations.

Article

Environmental and Cultural Flows in Aotearoa and Australia  

Erin O'Donnell and Elizabeth Macpherson

In settler colonial states like Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, water for the environment and the water rights of Indigenous Peoples often share the common experience of being too little and too late. Water pathways have been constrained and defined by settler colonialism, and as a result, settler state water law has both a legitimacy problem, in failing to acknowledge or implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and a sustainability problem, as the health of water systems continues to decline. In both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, the focus of water law has historically been to facilitate use of the water resource to support economic development, excluding the rights of Indigenous Peoples and poorly protecting water ecosystems. However, in the early 21st century, both countries made significant advances in recognizing the needs of the environment and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) provides an important bicultural and bijural framework that is beginning to influence water management. In 2017, as part of a Treaty dispute settlement, Aotearoa New Zealand passed legislation to recognize Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River) as a legal person and created a new collaborative governance regime for the river, embedding the interests and values of Māori at the heart of river management. In Australia, water recovery processes to increase environmental flows have been under way since the 1990s, using a combination of water buybacks and water savings through increased efficiency. There has been growing awareness of Indigenous water rights in Australia, although progress to formally return water rights to Indigenous Peoples remains glacially slow. Like Aotearoa New Zealand, in 2017, Australia also passed its first legislation that recognized a river (the Birrarung/Yarra River) as a living entity and, in doing so, formally recognized the responsibilities of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people as Traditional Owners of the river. This trend toward more holistic river management under a relational paradigm, in which the relationships between peoples and places are centered and celebrated, creates a genuine opportunity for water governance in settler states that begins to address both the legitimacy and sustainability flaws in settler state water law. However, these symbolic shifts must be underpinned by relationships of genuine trust between Indigenous Peoples and the state, and they require significant investment from the state in their implementation.

Article

Environmental Humanities and Italy  

Enrico Cesaretti, Roberta Biasillo, and Damiano Benvegnú

Does something like “Italian environmental humanities” exist? If so, what makes an Italian approach to this multifaceted field of inquiry so different from the more consolidated Anglo-American tradition? At least until the early 21st century, Italian academic institutions have maintained established disciplinary boundaries and have continued to produce siloed forms of knowledge. New and more flexible forms of scholarly collaboration have also not been traditionally supported at the national level, as political decisions regarding curricular updates and funding opportunities have been unable to foster interdisciplinarity and innovative approaches to knowledge production. However, an underlying current of environmental awareness and action has a strong and long-standing presence in Italy. After all, Italy is where St. Francis wrote The Canticle of Creatures, with its non-hierarchical vision of the world, which then inspired the papal encyclical Laudato si (2015). Italy is also where Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco The Allegory and the Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country (1337–1339) already “pre-ecologically” reflected on the relationship between nature and culture, on the effect of political decisions on our surroundings, and on the impact of local environments on the well-being (as well as the malaise) of their inhabitants. Additionally, Italy is among the few countries in the world whose constitution lists specific laws aimed at protecting its landscapes, biodiversity, and ecosystems in addition to its cultural heritage, as stated in a recent addendum to articles 9 and 41. However, Italy also experienced an abrupt, violent process of development, modernization, and industrialization that radically transformed its urban, rural, and coastal territories after World War II. Many of its landscapes, once iconic and picturesque, have become polluted, toxic, or the outcome of contested, violent histories. And the effects of globalization are materially affecting its ecologies, meaning that Italy is also exposed to constant risks (earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions) and presents geo-morphological features that situate it at the very center of planetary climate change (both atmospheric and sociopolitical) and migration patterns. Considering this, thinking about Italy from an environmental humanities (EH) perspective and, in turn, about the EH in the context of Italy, highlights the interconnections between the local and the global and, in the process, enriches the EH debate.

Article

Ecotechnology  

Astrid Schwarz

Ecotechnology is both broad and widespread, yet it has never been given a universally shared definition; this remains the case even in the early 21st century. Given that it is used in the natural, engineering, and social sciences, as well as in design studies, in the philosophy and history of technology and in science policy, perhaps this is not surprising. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to come up with an unambiguous definition for ecotechnology: It should be understood rather as an umbrella term that facilitates connections among different scientific fields and science policy and, in so doing, offers a robust trading zone of ideas and concepts. The term is part of a cultural and sociopolitical framework and, as such, wields explanatory power. Ecotechnology approaches argue for the design of ensembles that embed human action within an ecologically functional environment and mediating this relationship by technological means. Related terms, such as ecotechnics, ecotechniques, ecotechnologies, and eco-technology, are used similarly. In the 1970s, “ecotechnology,” along with other terms, gave a voice to an unease and a concern with sociotechnical transformations. This eventually gave rise to the first global environmental movement expressing a comprehensive eco-cultural critique of society-environment relations. Ecotechnology was part of the language used by activists, as well as by social theorists and natural scientists working in the transdisciplinary field of applied ecology. The concept of ecotechnology helped to both establish and “smooth over” environmental matters of concern in the worlds of economics, science, and policymaking. The process of deliberation about a green modernity is still ongoing and characterizes the search for a constructive intermediation between artificial and natural systems following environmentally benign design principles. During the 1980s, disciplinary endeavors flourished in the global academic world, lending ecotechnology more and more visibility. Some of these endeavors, such as restoration ecology and ecological engineering, were rooted in the engineering sciences, but mobilized quite different traditions, namely population biology and systems biology. To date, ecotechnology has been replaced by and large by other terms in applied ecology. Another strand of work resulted in the discipline of social ecology, which developed different focal points, most notably critical political economy and a concern with nature-culture issues in the context of cultural ecology. Finally, more recently, ecotechnology has been discussed in several branches of philosophy that offer different narratives about the epistemic and ontological transformations triggered by an “ecologization” of societies and a theoretical turn toward relationality.

Article

Ecotourism  

Giles Jackson

Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that educates and inspires through interpretation—increasingly paired with practical action—that helps conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people. Ecotourism is the fastest-growing segment of the travel and tourism industry, and its economic value is projected to exceed USD$100 billion by 2027. Ecotourism emerged in the 1960s as a response to the destructive effects of mass tourism and has been embraced by an increasing number of governments, especially in the developing world, as a vehicle for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As an emerging, interdisciplinary field of study, ecotourism has reached a critical inflection point, as scholars reflect on the achievements and shortcomings of several decades of research and set out the research agenda for decades to come. The field has yet to achieve consensus on the most basic questions, such as how ecotourism is, or should be, defined; what makes it different from nature-based and related forms of tourism; and what factors ultimately determine the success or failure of ecotourism as a vehicle for sustainable development. This lack of consensus stems in part from the different perspectives and agendas within and between the academic, policy, and industry communities. Because it is based on measured and observed phenomena, empirical research has a critical role to play in advancing the theory and practice of ecotourism. However, scholars also recognize that to fulfill this role, methodologies must evolve to become more longitudinal, scalable, inclusive, integrative, and actionable.

Article

Containing Carbon Through Cap-and-Trade or a Per-Unit Tax  

John A. Sorrentino

Carbon has been part of the Earth since its beginning, and the carbon cycle is well understood. However, its abundance in the atmosphere has become a problem. Those who propose solutions in decentralized market economies often prefer economic incentives to direct government regulation. Carbon cap-and-trade programs and carbon tax programs are the prime candidates to rein in emissions by altering the economic conditions under which producers and consumers make decisions. Under ideal conditions with full information, they can seamlessly remove the distortion caused by the negative externality and increase a society’s welfare. This distortion is caused by overproduction and underpricing of carbon-related goods and services. The ideal level of emissions would be set under cap-and-trade, or be the outcome of an ideally set carbon tax. The ideal price of carbon permits would result from demand generated by government decree meeting an ideal fixed supply set by the government. The economic benefit of using the ideal carbon tax or the ideal permit price occurs because heterogeneous decision-makers will conceptually reduce emissions to the level that equates their marginal (incremental) emissions-reduction cost to the tax or permit price. When applying the theory to the real world, ideal conditions with full information do not exist. The economically efficient levels of emissions, the carbon tax, and the permit price cannot be categorically determined. The targeted level of emissions is often proposed by non-economists. The spatial extent and time span of the emissions target need to be considered. The carbon tax is bound to be somewhat speculative, which does not bode well for private-sector decision-makers who have to adjust their behavior, and for the achievement of a particular emissions target. The permit price depends on how permits are initially distributed and how well the permit market is designed. The effectiveness of either program is tied to monitoring and enforcement. Social justice considerations in the operation of tax programs often include the condition that they be revenue-neutral. This is more complicated in the permit scheme as much activity after the initial phase is among the emitters themselves. Based on global measurement of greenhouse gases, several models have been created that attempt to explain how emissions transform into concentrations, how concentrations imply radiative forcing and global warming potential, how the latter cause ecological and economic impacts, and how mitigation and/or adaptation can influence these impacts. Scenarios of the uncertain future continue to be generated under myriad assumptions in the quest for the most reliable. Several institutions have worked to engender sustained cooperation among the parties of the “global commons.” The balance of theory and empirical observation is intended to generate normative and positive policy recommendations. Cap-and-trade and carbon tax programs have been designed and/or implemented by various countries and subnational jurisdictions with the hope of reducing carbon-related emissions. Many analysts have declared that the global human society will reach a “tipping point” in the 21st century, with irreversible trends that will alter life on Earth in significant ways.

Article

Economics of the Biodiversity Convention  

Joanne C. Burgess

Biological diversity refers to the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms and interactions. Biological diversity, or biodiversity for short, is being lost at an unprecedented rate. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species estimates that 25% of mammals, 41% of amphibians, 33% of reef building corals, and 13% of birds are threatened with extinction. These biodiversity benefits are being lost due to conversion of natural habitat, overharvesting, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. The loss of biodiversity is important because it provides many critical resources, services, and ecosystem functions, such as foods, medicines, clean air, and storm protection. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse pose a major risk to human societies and economic welfare. The CBD was established in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio “Earth Summit”) and enacted in 1993. The international treaty aims to conserve biodiversity and ensure the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. The CBD has near universal global participation with 196 parties signatory to the treaty. The non-legally binding commitments established in 2010 by the CBD are known as the Aichi Targets. They include the goal of conserving at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water habitats and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Biodiversity continues to decline at an unprecedented rate and the world faces “biological annihilation” and a sixth mass extinction event. There are several underlying causes of the continuing loss of biodiversity that need to be addressed. First, the CBD Aichi Targets are not ambitious enough and should be extended to protect as much as 50% of the terrestrial realm for biodiversity. Second, it is difficult to place an economic value on the range of direct, indirect, and nonuse values of biodiversity. The failure to take into account the full economic value of biodiversity in prices, projects, and policy decisions means that biodiversity is often misused and overused. Third, biodiversity is a global public good and displays nonrival and nonexcludable characteristics. Because of this, it is difficult to raise sufficient funds for conservation and to channel these funds to cover local conservation costs. In particular, much of the world’s biodiversity is located in (mainly tropical) developing countries, and they do not have the incentive or the funds to spend the money to “save” enough biodiversity on behalf of the rest of the world. The funding for global biodiversity conservation is $4–$10 billion annually, whereas around $100 billion a year is needed to protect the Earth’s broad range of animal and plant species. This funding gap undermines CBD’s conservation efforts. Governments and international organizations have been unable to raise the investments needed to reverse the decline in biological populations and habitats on land and in oceans. There is an important role for private-sector involvement in the CBD to endorse efforts for more sustainable use of biodiversity and to contribute funds to finance conservation and habitat protection efforts.