CHE 300

Environmental Science

Dr. J. A. Schneider
Dept. of Chemistry
SUNY Oswego
Oswego, NY 13126

Rm: 237 Snygg Hall
Tel: 315.312.2124
Environmental Investigations: What Goes Around, Comes Around by Jeffery A. Schneider, Ph.D.

Issues and Background

In effect, the global economy as now structured is outgrowing the Earth's ecosystem. And the relationship between the economy and the Earth's ecosystem is an increasingly stressed one... So the challenge that we face is how to restructure the economy so that we can stabilize that relationship and so that economic progress can continue.
Restructuring the Global Economy by Lester Brown

Hopefully by now, you've realized that we humans have been doing a pretty good job of not taking care of the planet we live on. Like the little kid whose parents do everything for her, we make a mess in our own house and then leave it, hoping that somehow some benevolent entity will mysteriously pick up after us. We grow grain and soybeans in this country (enough to feed 1.3 billion people), feed it to livestock and then wonder why 38,000 children die of starvation every day throughout the world. We import 6.8 million barrels of oil every day to be used mostly for transportation and energy generation and then wonder why our air is filled with nitrogen and sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide among other things, causing billions of dollars in excess health care costs. We use nuclear power casually all around the world, closing our eyes to the fact that it has the potential to cause tremendous damage to our health and well being and then act surprised when an accident does occur. As consumers we demand more food, more chemical-based products, more everything, which all requires the use of more pesticides, more solvents, more hazardous materials, but then cry foul when those same pesticides and chemicals find their way into our air, water and food. The list goes on and on. I would like to believe that we as a species could figure it out, but it just doesn't seem to be going that way. For every step forward we seem to go two steps back. Of course there is always hope for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, tomorrow may be too late; we need to do something today. But that means we need to change our ways of thinking. We need to consider the consequences of all of our actions. We need to think "us first" instead of "me first". We really need to think sustainably; for example, in what manner can resource x be used so that it can be used indefinitely? The word "indefinitely" is the key. Remember we define carrying capacity as the population that can be sustained indefinitely so that it should make sense that our actions and our existence are connected by this simple idea. Some of us have come to the realization that sustainability is the answer. For example, improving soil and water resources moves us toward sustainable agriculture and helps us feed everybody. Lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear energy (energies that will run out) and increasing our dependence on solar and wind technologies moves us toward never running out of energy. And finally, lessening our dependence on pesticides moves us toward the time when we no longer have to worry about the air we breathe, water we drink or the food we eat. There is so much we could do to help ourselves, but we have to want to do it.

Without a doubt, the single best thing we could do for ourselves, as a species would be to live sustainably. Will we get to the point where we can do this? I don't know. But I do know this; the earth will be just fine whether or not we're still here to enjoy it.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Lots of ideas go into the concept of sustainability; is there enough food? Is there enough clean water? Is there enough energy to power the economy?

  1. How has your community changed environmentally? Has the air quality gotten better or worse? Has the water quality gotten better or worse?
  2. How has your community changed economically? Is there more or less poverty? Is there more or less homelessness?
  3. What kinds of indicators would you use to measure the sustainably of a community? Of a region? Of the planet? Do the indicators change depending on the size of the area you're looking at?
  4. Do you live sustainably? What can you do to improve this?
Different Perspectives in the Debate

  • Sustainability Institute - Dana Meadows Archive
    Dana Meadows was the founder of the Sustainability Institute and an adjunct faculty at Dartmouth College. She wrote numerous articles pertaining to the idea of sustainability and under the Global Citizen section you can find links to well over 200 articles of hers.
  • Ecosustainable Hub - Ecology Environment Sustainability
    This is a clearinghouse of sorts with almost 1000 links to topics concerned with sustainability; a very well done site.
  • Attaining Population Sustainability - World Population Awareness
    This is a site that outlines some of the problems of nonsustainable population growth and gives some solutions to those problems.
  • Energetic Limits to Growth
    This article by Jay Hanson, owner of, first appeared in "ENERGY Magazine" in the spring of 1999. It discusses limits to world population growth from the viewpoint of energy production and consumption. His site also contains many other articles related to limits to growth.
  • Sustainability Now
    This is an excellent article about energy use and production and how it is connected to sustainability.
  • The Alliance for Sustainability
    From the website: "The Alliance for Sustainability was founded in 1983 as the International Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture by leaders and groups from around the world. It brought together a diverse group of farmers, consumers, business leaders, environmentalists, development workers, educators and scientists who shared a common vision: The worldwide realization of sustainability with a focus on sustainable agriculture--food and agricultural systems that are ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane".
  • Water Sustainability
    This article is an editorial on the website of Sustainable DC (a public/private partnership) and gives some background on the importance of water.
  • Towards Sustainable Herbal Medicine
    This is a very good article about sustainably using plants for medicinal purposes. It is in PDF format, so be sure your web browser can handle these types of files before going there.
  • USC Sustainable Cities Program
    From the website: "The Center for Sustainable Cities has conducted a series of key studies of southern California metropolitan growth and the challenges of 'urban sprawl,' designed to provide such understanding and guidance on this critical sustainability issue."
  • Grace Factory Farm Project: Fish Farming
    From the website: "GRACE is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1996. The GRACE Factory Farm Project was established to eliminate factory farming in favor of a sustainable, economically viable and environmentally sound agricultural sector".

All material (except for some code and external links) © Jeffery A. Schneider, 2003