Majority of the chemicals that make up the living tissue contain carbon, thus, the carbon cycle is extremely vital for sustenance. Carbon enters the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide from combustion and respiration. This carbon dioxide is then absorbed by producers such as plants to make food or carbohydrates in a process known as photosynthesis. Animals then feed on these plants resulting in carbon compounds being passed along the food chain. Most of the carbon that animals and people consume is exhaled as carbon dioxide formed during respiration. When plants and animals eventually die, the dead organisms are consumed by decomposers and the carbon present in their bodies is returned to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. However, in certain situations, the process of decomposition is blocked. In such a case, the animal and plant material may then be available as fossil fuel for combustion in the future.
Marine animals in the seas and oceans may convert some of the carbon in the food they eat to calcium carbonate which is utilized to build their shells. With time the shells of the dead organisms collect on the seabed and form limestone. As a result of earth movements, this limestone may eventually be exposed to the air where it becomes weathered and the carbon present in the limestone is released back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Volcanic action is also another process that may also release carbon dioxide.
Conservation biology refers to the scientific study of how to restore and maintain habitats, as well as, the protection of wildlife. Conservation biology provides the necessary scientific information for sustainable water and land management. Conservation biologists perform a number of functions. For instance, they analyze current environmental degradation and their causes, propose methods of improving the health of the ecosystem, help restore ecosystems and analyze the needs of fauna and flora in the area. Conservation biologists also analyze current environmental situation, including distribution of animals and plants and population, create public awareness regarding threats to the health of ecosystems and consult with conservation agencies, governments and industries to develop water and land management plans.
PROS AND CONS OF ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT TOOLS
Ecological footprint tools have certain pros such as:
- They help in discerning the demand for natural capital and contrast it with the ecological capacity of the planet to regenerate following the exploitation of the natural capital.
- They help in evaluating the amount of biologically productive sea and land area that is necessary to supply the resources consumed by human population, as well as, how to mitigate the associated waste.
- They provide information regarding an individual’s environmental impact on earth and activities that the individual can do to reduce his or her environmental degradation.
The following are some of the cons of ecological footprint tools:
- Assessment of the ecological footprint for densely populated areas such as cities and towns with comparatively large population may result in the perception that these populations are parasitic due to their meager intrinsic biocapacity and reliance on hinterlands.
- Ecological footprint tools give a general assessment of the environmental impact of an individual’s lifestyle without taking into account features or characteristics that may be unique to that individual.
- Ecological footprint tools may equate the effects of certain sources of energy such as coal power and nuclear power while in the actual world the impacts of these two are radically discordant.
- In what ways do you think our water use, as described by Schnoor, is a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’?
Not a day goes by without encountering a blog or article talking about water scarcity. The scarcity of water means that the natural resource is gradually being assigned a higher value. Despite the fact that seventy-five percent of the earth is covered by water, fresh water is still a scarce commodity. Water cannot vanish from the earth if the laws of Physics were to be contemplated. However, due to a number of reasons, a commodity like water that is common to the greatest number is becoming scarce on a global capacity. Schnoor (2010) outlines some of the key drivers of water scarcity or forces affecting the timing, nature and availability of water such as climate change, global poverty, energy sources and land use and population growth. Based on this understanding, supplies of freshwater continue to tighten every day because people are depleting water sources and natural storage units faster than they can be recharged by rain.
While the challenge of water scarcity is more severe than ever, it evinces the growing dilemma people face as our appetite for water exceeds the supply. It is imperative to note that the regulation and management of water is often allocated to a group of local and regional water districts. This local management of water renders statewide or national management of water difficult because local water districts are reluctant to implement usage limits even in areas where water shortage is vividly visible. In many ways, this is a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. The problem of water shortage is perpetuated by the locals and the local water districts mandated to curb this shortage fail to impose viable water limits to conserve water (Hardin 1968)
- If water was strictly private good (in essence, by regulating the commons), with all rights owned by individuals or companies, would it be easier or harder to achieve water sustainability?
Privatization of water comes with immense problems of control and supply as evident in many countries where water is treated as a private commodity. This is because the priority in terms of water supply will not be to the commons; instead, the priority will be based on private and lucrative deals. It is common for most environmental studies, academic papers, reports and other recommendations to shun the excessive use of water by water-reliant natural resource industries such as manufacturing, oil and gas, electricity generation, agriculture, mining and pulp and paper. The reason for shunning this excessive use is because there are large corporations with interests invested in accessing cheap water that are ready to take on people opposing privatization of water. In most nations, water is a public commodity and it is the responsibility of the national government to supply water through local water districts. This kind of arrangement or mechanism is what ensures there is water sustainability. However, if water supply is privatized, the commons are bound to be affected by water scarcity.
The water scarcity situation in the state of California is a good example that has been documented in detail in various reports and documentaries. Due to a deal signed during the construction of water catchment areas in an effort to ensure water sustainability, water is largely a private commodity in the state. The large corporations with water rights own massive agricultural lands that benefit from sufficient water supply at the expense of the locals. Most residents face the harsh reality of lack of water while vast lands of pine trees permeate the state and enjoy regular irrigation. The irony is that when the treaty was signed, the objective was to ensure water sustainability. However, the treatment of water as a private commodity has resulted in the commons or local residents having dry taps and relying on relief water while large corporations reap huge profits from agriculture, electricity generation and manufacturing.
I have learned that water sustainability is an extremely vital discourse due to the constant reports of water scarcity. Equally important is the fact that water scarcity is majorly caused by human actions. Some of the drivers of water scarcity outlined by Schnoor include climate change, global poverty, energy sources and land use and population growth (Schnoor 2010). From the discussions it is evident that water scarcity is largely a tragedy of the commons. Most of the students were in agreement that while water scarcity may be perpetuated by the actions of large corporations, the people who are affected by the shortage are the locals. Thus, as a result of change in land use, agriculture, manufacturing, pulp and paper and oil and gas mining, both the commons and large corporations are contributing to water scarcity. As if the destruction of water catchment areas, depletion of natural water sources and contamination of water are not enough, water has now become a private commodity in certain states. While the supply of water may not be private per se, the deals made on the benchmark of water sustainability plans often involve bigwigs who end up controlling where the majority of the water goes in a large way. Based on this understanding, water is diverted to commercial needs such as massive agriculture, manufacturing and mining, while the commons are left to deal with water scarcity. Water sustainability may be hindered by such arrangements, but it is the effort of the locals that will eventually ensure that water sustainability is attained.
Hardin G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. [accessed 2017 Aug 30]. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/162/3859/1243.full
Schnoor J. 2010. Water sustainability in a changing world. The 2010 Clarke Prize Lecture. [accessed 2017 Aug 28]. http://www.nwri-usa.org/pdfs/2010ClarkePrizeLecture.pdf.
- What are the measurements for O3and PM5 for your community on the map webpage? Over what time period are these levels calculated?
The area I chose to explore in terms of air quality and air pollution is British Columbia. In 2015, the ground-level ozone (O3) concentrations ranged from 41 to 68 ppb. The highest levels of ozone concentrations were registered in the eastern Fraser Valley especially in Agassiz with 68 ppb and Hope with 67 ppb. The national measurement of ozone (O3) which is 63 ppb is based on three-year average, that is, 2013-2014 and only Agassiz exceeded this level with a measurement of 64 ppb.
Due to a switch from Tapered Element Oscillating Micro-balance (TEOM) instruments to the novel United States EPA-approved Federal Equivalent Method (FEM), Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) can now be measured more accurately. As such, the annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 ranged from 2.9 µg/m3 recorded in Powell River to 9.7 µg/m3 recorded in Golden and Houston. Out of the monitored communities monitored in British Columbia, fifteen communities surpassed the provincial annual mean target of 8 µg/m3. The periodic spikes of PM2.5 were brought about by wood combustion emissions combined with periods of stagnant and cold weather conditions during winter and falls (BC LUNG ASSOCIATION 2016)
- Is there any noticeable trend for either pollutant over the time period that data is graphed? How does your community compare with the national average for each pollutant?
The level of ozone (O3) concentrations are affected or influenced by different factors such as year to year variations in weather or meteorology, as well as, the alterations in the emissions of precursor pollutants like hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. In this regard, the trends in eight-hour ozone concentrations are not apparent albeit studies show that mean background concentrations of O3 are increasing.
The shift from Tapered Element Oscillating Micro-balance (TEOM) instruments to Federal Equivalent Method (FEM) instruments of measurement over the past few years has resulted in an upwards trend in the concentrations of PM2.5 recorded. Significant upward trends in the concentrations of PM2.5 have been observed in Chillwack and Burnaby in 2013, as well as, Kelowna in 2015. Moreover, there were also higher levels of PM2.5 in 2015 at the Kelowna, Chillwack and Burnaby sites (BC LUNG ASSOCIATION 2016)
- Applying your knowledge of local activity and prevailing winds, what do you think are the largest emission sources?
The sources of emissions are smoke from wood combustions. The smoke from wood combustion is a leading contributor of air pollutants in British Columbia. When people burn wood for fuel, the smoke from the wood contributes to the ozone and fine particulate matter concentrations in British Columbia, which is mostly trapped in the valleys. Another source of harmful emissions is traffic and transportation. The exhaust fumes from vehicles that are not electric pollute the air and contribute to the concentrations of O3 and PM2.5 in British Columbia (BC LUNG ASSOCIATION 2016)
- CESI tracks O3and PM5. Using your knowledge of your area, do you think these are the two most significant atmospheric pollutants in or near your town or city from the point of view of human health? If not, what other pollutants are significant?
These are not the only atmospheric pollutants in British Columbia. The frequent summer wildfires, transport and wood combustion in the area result in other harmful emissions into the atmosphere such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide is pungent smelling reddish-brown gas that emanates from high-temperature combustion sources located in industry and transportation. Sulphur dioxide is a pungent smelling colorless gas which mainly originates from the upstream gas and oil sector (BC LUNG ASSOCIATION 2016)
- How is air quality affected by the geography of your community?
British Columbia is lowland with a few valleys. As such, the low ground-level and valleys retain most of the emissions from wood combustions and wildfires, as well as, those from the transportation and oil and gas sectors. With such a low altitude, with meager forests to absorb greenhouse gases, ozone, fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide exist in significant quantities.
Summary of what I learned
More than often I assumed that the leading causes of air pollution are the manufacturing industry and transportation industry. However, having studied the sources of air pollutants in British Columbia, I realized that wood combustion and wildfires are leading sources of air pollutants in British Columbia. I also learned that topography influences the concentration or level of air pollutants in an area. For instance, in British Columbia due to the numerous buildings and occurrences of valleys, the harmful emissions are trapped in the mountains and buildings. The weather or meteorology of the area also influences the concentrations of harmful gases or air pollutants such as O3, PM2.5, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. For instance, in the falls and winter, the concentrations of PM2.5 and O3 tend to be higher than in other seasons. Another important consideration when looking at how topography influences the concentration of air pollutants is the area’s proximity to mountains. Due to an area’s closeness to mountains, winds are not able to penetrate easily. Thus, most of the harmful gases produced through wood combustion, summer wildfires, vehicles and factories are retained in the atmosphere. Despite the concentration of air pollutants in British Columbia, from the discussions on the topic of air pollution and air quality, British Columbia and Canada as a whole has a lower level of air pollutants compared to the level in many nations.
BC LUNG ASSOCIATION. 2016. State of the air 2016. [accessed 2017 Aug 30]. https://bc.lung.ca/sites/default/files/media/State%20of%20the%20Air%202016%20-%20merged_1.pdf
- Which renewable energy source would be the most suitable for development in your region? Why?
British Columbia boasts of some of the best low impact renewable energy opportunities in the entire world. A renewable energy source that I think will be most suitable for development in the region of British Columbia is run-of-river hydro energy. The run-of-river hydro projects operate by diverting water from a river using a generator with the objective of producing electricity. The process does not require a reservoir or dam to generate electricity and the water that is diverted does not compromise the river in terms of quantity. Despite the fact that run-of-river hydro does not generate and provide power on demand like hydro power generation projects, due to the fact that they do not operate on reservoirs and dams, they still generate sufficient energy. The estimates given by the local government of British Columbia is that the area has an additional hydro potential of over nine thousand GWh per year. Close to five percent of this hydro potential is located in northern British Columbia (PEMBINA 2006). A good example of a successful run-of-river hydro project is the operated by the Hucapasath First Nation in British Columbia.
- What criteria are you using to select your energy type and also the proposed site location?
After looking at the statistics and topography of British Columbia, I came to the conclusion that run-of-river hydro energy is a suitable energy source for the area. The statistics given by the local government of British Columbia state that as a renewable energy source, run-of-river hydro can generate an additional nine thousand GWh per year. This energy is capable of supplying electricity to approximately nine hundred thousand homes in British Columbia and its environment (PEMBINA 2006). Albeit British Columbia does not have many rivers to divert and use for the generation of electricity since run-of-river hydro does not operate in dams and reservoirs, northern British Columbia is an ideal location site for this type of renewable energy source. Most rivers have the highest water flows in the northern region of British Columbia. As such, this is the most suitable location site for the run-of-river hydro projects in British Columbia.
- What are some of the economic, environmental, and social costs and benefits to consider?
Unlike other large hydro projects that require dams and reservoirs to operate and generate electricity effectively, run-of-river hydro projects do not require a lot of water to generate electricity from the rivers. Thus, they do not affect the quantity of water as dams and reservoirs do. This conserves the environment and not only ensures there is no water scarcity brought about by electricity generation but also prevents water pollution. Run-of-river hydro projects also protect air quality since there are no emissions of air pollutants as evident in the case of traditional energy. Another benefit of run-of-river hydro renewable energy source is the creation of novel employment opportunities through operation and construction. Moreover, run-of-river hydro projects generate revenues from British Columbia Hydro for electricity sales, sale of greenhouse gas, royalty deals with independent power producers or sale of renewable energy credits.
Run-of-river hydro projects face the challenge of high capital costs. The cost of developing and maintaining run-of-river hydro projects is dominated by capital costs. However, despite the high start-up costs, markets for renewable energy sources are growing as a result of the emphasis on clean and renewable energy in an effort to conserve the environment. Another significant challenge is lack of access to the transmission grid. However, the problem of lack of access to the transmission grid can be solved by clustering projects so as to spread the costs across multiple facilities such as seen in the four meager hydro projects in the north of Harrison Lake Show under the territory of Douglas First Nation.
Most important criteria
The three best criteria to contemplate when determining whether a renewable energy source would be appropriate for a region are environmental impact, cost-benefit analysis and topography. The topography is extremely vital as it determines whether the renewable source of energy is viable in the area. For instance, wind as a renewable source of energy cannot be used to generate electricity effectively in an area that is covered with buildings, trees and other tall vegetation. Moreover, run-of-river hydro projects cannot be situated in an area that has no rivers or in an area where the rivers are extremely shallow. Thus, topography of an area is a vital criterion for determining whether a renewable energy source would be appropriate for a region. Once it is determined that a renewable energy source is viable, the next criterion that determines whether the renewable energy source is suitable is its environmental impact. If operating the renewable energy source produces emissions that are harmful to the environment then it is not suitable for the area. On the other hand, a renewable energy source that has no adverse environmental impact is considered suitable for an area. The cost-benefit analysis is a criterion for determining the suitability of a renewable energy source that has a direct economic impact on its outcome. This is because the cost of operating and maintaining the renewable source of energy should not exceed the benefits. A suitable renewable energy source for a region is one whose benefits outweigh the costs. With these three criteria in mind, the local government of British Columbia can determine the most suitable renewable source of energy to operate in the region based on its ability to meet the prerequisites of the criteria.
PEMBINA. 2006. Renewable and Alternative Energy Options for British Columbia. [accessed 2017 Aug 31]. https://www.pembina.org/reports/BC_oilgas08.pdf