Sunday, February 23, 2014

Week 6 Assignment

The idea that really interested me in terms of changes that can lead to a more successful and sustainable future environmentally is the idea of growing as an urban community in a more compact and a cooler layout by changing the way we design and place our cities. The whole concept of growing more compact is that regardless of what technological changes we make in order to make gasoline burn with less CO2, or to make cars burn fuel for efficiently, the goal of CO2 emissions that we must reach as a society in order to provide ourselves with a sustainable environment will still be unattainable. The only way that we can hope to reach this number, while still developing at a similar rate that humanity currently is, is to completely change the way our cities and living communities are laid out by increasing the amount of attached housing, building multi functioning urban centers, and by creating alternative transportation routes and paths. The benefits estimated to be realized by cities who move towards this design are two fold, as average daily CO2 emission for these communities is estimated to drop by at least a third, while obesity rates and the overall amount of driving as transportation will be slashed, as walking and biking become possible and more convenient forms of transportation.

In terms of Thomas Orr's article describing the difference between technological and ecological proposals striving to reach environmental sustainability, the idea of a more compact structural and living layout for humanity would definitely have to lean towards the side of ecological advancement. While mild technological changes would probably be made in order to more efficiently build housing and urban complexes, the act of consciously funding and allocating our resources towards and urban landscape that is more accessible by foot and places urban centers in more compact and diverse settings is would be a change in lifestyle for most Americans. Humans would have to make conscious changes in their lifestyle and work with our environmental limitations in order to continue advancing as humanity but ensuring that we have a life supporting system. Since America has been built with the assumption that most humans will rely on personal cars as the main form of transportation, humans have become accustomed to driving any time they have an errand to run or a place to be, primarily because these places have been designed to only be reached by motor vehicle. Convincing people, mostly in suburban environments, to almost abandon a motor vehicle unless absolutely essential would be a huge shift in lifestyle for a society that has spent over half a decade enjoying and never thinking twice about the convenience and speed offered by a personal motor vehicle. This doesn't even began to describe the unwillingness that people would have to move from driving as opposed to walking or biking strictly due to personal laziness. Additionally, the recreational luxury of huge houses on massive and unnecessary properties would have to be largely disregarded. Condominiums and townhouses centering around community and urban centers with multiple businesses would become the most common form of housing units, and detached houses would have to be seriously downscaled in order to increase density of residency. The changes that would have to be made in order for the country to achieve a more density rich society would have to be understood and accepted with open arms by a huge majority of American citizens.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Week 5 Assignment

The national sentiment of Americans post World War II was one that was controlled by fear and the compulsiveness and irrationality that this fear produced. After the public was exposed to the appalling images of the flattening of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the use of hydrogen bombs, the stunning revelation that this nuclear power could very possibly be used against the American people in the same way became to permeate the minds of the American citizens and government. The nuclear arms race was fast becoming tension filled and dangerous, as was evident to the nation, as rumors and facts alike spread through public circles, fanning the fear. Preventive and damage minimizing ideas were immediately researched by the federal government, which were then passed on to the public with little consideration about the future ramifications or the true effectiveness of these measures. One such proposal presented to the government in a couple different forms was the idea of decentralization. As a general idea, decentralization is the relocation of manufacturing and industrial cogs from condensed urban environments to surrounding suburbs. These satellite communities were designed specifically for the occurrence of a nuclear attack on the United States, with the layout design assuming that an attack would be aimed at the most densely populated areas of the country. The suburbs were given a buffer zone that landed them safely outside of the possible blast zone of a nuclear attack, and the industrial zones that had been fortified on the outskirts of the city would reside safely outside of the area covered by nuclear fallout. Charged by fear and the sense of urgency posed by a nuclear threat, the concept of decentralization was quickly put into rapid production, as interstate highways connecting the outlying towns to cities were paved, giving instantaneous exit routes to families believing that these satellite communities were their guaranteed escape from a nuclear attack. At the time of the nuclear arms race, assuming that a attack on America stood at a very high probability, the manufacturers of these suburbs did not design their home models to last for an extended period of time as had been the custom for houses to that point. These homes were not made to last due to the future that America was perceived to be sacrificing by participating in nuclear stockpiling. Later consequences were never considered because the idea that this model of America would persist into the future seemed so unlikely. However, with the stabilization of nuclear proliferation and the obvious maneuvering of the nuclear threat, the country was allowed to grow and develop under the decentralized model. With the interstate highway already in place and many of the most affluent and stable families and individuals immediately migrating to the satellite communities established, suburbs with greater safer conditions and lower population densities continued to be produced. Meanwhile cities were stripped of industrial output for the more efficient possibilities presented by suburbs and unemployment and abandonment spread throughout urban communities.

A place that I seriously value and find worthwhile to argue for is my hometown of Barrington, a northwest Chicago suburb. As the economic blows felt by urban environments as a result of suburban development has already been acknowledged, I feel that the nurturing environment offered from satellite cities and suburbs with low population density to the youth of America should be a point of outstanding optimism for the nation. The emphasis on education and individual attention that children receive while maturing in a suburban environment is almost always extremely beneficial and encouraging to their thoughtfulness, autonomy, and self motivation. From a young age children are introduced to problem solving, social interaction, and self perseverance, among other traits that are instrumental to the future continued attribution to American delegacy, as well as in technological and domestic innovation. While it is obvious that social and economic crises in urban populations are growing more and more drastic and must continually be investigated for a solution, the benefits that are offered to the development of children in suburban environments can by no means be discounted. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Week Four Post

Vaclav Smil's fairly pessimistic article about mankind's ability to transition from fossil fuels to a more efficient and environmentally friendly source of energy seems to fall more strongly into the ideological category of ecological sustainability. Smil argues that the humans have likely reached their capacity for technological innovation and thus are burning and consuming the most energy rich resources at the most efficient rate possible. Through his five main considerations of switching an energy source, Smil emphasizes mostly the lack of both space and alternative energy source that would be renewable and sustainable for both humans and the environment. All the possible options for alternative energy fall short of the power and energy density that is generated by the consumption of fossil fuels, as well as commanding far more space than society currently has available, let alone will have available in the future with an ever expanding population. While there are plenty of supplemental energy sources that are safe and renewable currently being used simultaneously with fossil fuels, a complete transition to these sources as our primary energy consumption is simply unrealistic due to the scale of the energy demand. Ecological sustainablity and it's importance is eluded to in the concluding paragraph of Smil's essay, in which he describes a non fossil fuel world as requiring "great determination, cost, and patience." By highlighting these as the main costs of alternative fuel sources, Smil is describing the average person as more than likely unwilling to sacrifice many of the luxuries they currently hold due to fossil fuels. He places much of the responsibility needed in order to achieve a fossil fuel absent world on the public and their use of energy, and while a final answer has not yet been discovered, there are sources of energy that will slow fossil fuel consumption, the public just needs to be willing to accept them.

When I tried to picture two future scenarios of humanity regarding whether or not we meet our energy needs, I had a very hard time determining a pessimistic view that did not involve some form of human chaos or destruction. If we do feel fail to meet our energy demands, the reserves and the resources that we have deemed absolutely essential to our existence will inevitably run out, leaving us with no alternative to power our society. When I consider not being able to meet our energy demands, I see a world in which we were unable to advance our technological efficiency, and thus when our energy requirement runs out, we will essentially be out of options to power ourselves. Before the resources are completely drained from the Earth, shortages will be recognized and predictions about future dissipation will be made, which will result in hoarding or available resources and unavoidable warfare and conflict over available resources and energy. Population will most likely drastically drop due to conflict as well as natural causes due to lack of nourishment and energy production. When envisioning a world where energy demands are not met, it is impossible for me to picture a scenario in which humanities population is not naturally reduced once earths carrying capacity is reached. On a positive side, if humans do find a way to meet their energy demand, I feel that it would have to be achieved with a substantial governmental regulation and technological advancement. Massive change and legislation would have to be enforced by authority figures and systems in order to slow consumption and redistribute resources in a sustainable way, as well as possible population regulation. However, according to Smil's argument, the current alternative fuel sources and changes could only take us so far in order to support the ever expanding human population due to lack of space and efficiency. New fuel sources would need to be discovered and developed in order to more effectively use the limited space available on the planet or elsewhere in order to reach the required level of energy output.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Week Three Assignment

The consumption pattern of humans on the Earth, mainly Americans, is having such a massive negative effect on the environment that the world is currently being consumed at a far greater rate than it can replenish itself every year. Americans consume and impact the Earth an equivalent of four times the amount of resources and change it has the capacity to handle. Through farming, urban expansion, fossil fuel burning, and wide scale deforestation, the reserve and ample amount of resources that the Earth was equipped with for a majority of it's existence is being eaten up at a harmful and potentially catastrophic rate. Due to the enormity of Earth, and the rare instances of scarcity among vital resources, at least in developed societies, humans have never had to face the fact of the speed at which they are destroying the Earth. Once a forest has been completely flattened or an oil vein becomes depleted, humans have always had the ability to simply move onto the next natural store of resources, never realizing the huge shift that they were putting into effect sure to be felt in the seemingly distant future. Since instant gratification of humans and immediate well being was never seriously threatened, it seemed like the consequences to this behavior were irrelevant because there was constant replenishment of consumption in other areas, you would only have to search. According to Orr, the burning of fossil fuels and accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere occurring today will not impact the environment for thirty years, meaning that based on the rate of increased consumption over recent history and the enormous amount we consume currently, the changes and the negative ramifications that we are feeling today in terms of severe weather and noticeable temperature increase are minor compared to the future effects of our ecological footprint. This delayed reaction explains the way in which humans can continuously burn through environmental resources and not realize that they are using more than the earth can afford. The expansion of the human race in numbers and consumption that comes along with this constant use of resource makes the reversal of these negative effects increasingly difficult as time progresses. Without addressing the harm that we are inflicting on our planet, the accumulated and future effects will continue to grow until they are beyond the realm of human control. Deforestation, although witnessing a decrease, is quickly wiping out much of the worlds carbon stores and ability to combat the negative causes of fossil fuel burning. While the efforts to conserve and build upon the worlds forest regions has been encouraged, we are still consuming an unsustainable amount of valuable resource to our climate that will only grow more and more difficult to replace, which will obviously compound the negative effects of fossil fuel burning. With the constantly rising population, a dial back in CO2 emission and essentially production of goods would mean a more drastic shift in behavior the later the change is made, which would likely be far more disputed, fought, and ultimately achieved as the accustomed way of life and margins of businesses would be disrupted.