Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future Summary
by Richard T. Wright

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Chapter 1 Summary: Introduction: Toward a Sustainable Future

Sustainability of the world's natural resources must occur to prevent repetitions of what happened on Easter Island, where population eventually exceeded its limited resources. The population's inability to adapt resulted in the loss of natural goods and services, which further resulted in the demise of the Easter Island culture and civilization. At one time, Easter Island was home to ten to twenty thousand people. Today, Easter Islanders number just a few thousand.

All over the world, population increases result in an enlarged ecological footprint. Sustenance of the population requires more and more natural resources and services, which increases pressure on both natural and human-managed ecosystems. Our current world may have reached the ecological limit on some resources, and most of the ways we currently use resources are unsustainable.

Fossil fuels are being used at a rate that is not sustainable, and the quantity of residual chemical emissions from fossil fuel use is accelerating climate change, leading to the loss of biodiversity and even human habitats, as can be seen in places such as Fuji Island and Venice, Italy. Ecological and economic summits demonstrate that relief from hunger and poverty through the assistance of developed countries is essential to devising sustainable living practices for the well-being of impoverished people and the planet.

Stewardship of resources by the world's populations, as opposed to consumption by the world's populations, is the requisite ethic for sustainability. Globalization can bring benefits from developed countries to underdeveloped ones through shared science and technology, such as the Internet. But globalization can also do harm when corporations press developing countries to exploit their natural resources, thus escalating environmental concerns.

Sound science permits accurately represented descriptions of the world's ecosystems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment continues to describe the status and trends of global ecosystems and how human systems affect them. As increasing populations expand ecological footprints, we continue to draw down our ecosystem capital. Sound science must guide us toward sound ecological management and government policy decisions related to our ecosystem capital, which is the goods and services (fuel, food, shelter, recreation, etc.) provided by our natural resources.

Chapter 2 Summary: Ecosystems: What They Are

An ecosystem is a biotic (organic) community joined with the abiotic (inorganic) conditions it lives in. Abiotic factors determine the kind of biotic community that will be found in a given area because the biotic community is both supported by and limited by the abiotic factors.

Ecosystems are important because they are the functional units of sustainable life on Earth, making them models of the cycles that produce sustainability. Primary producers, which capture energy from the Sun or from chemical reactions to convert CO2 to organic matter, initiate the cycle that sustains all life in an ecosystem. Primary producers are mostly green plants, which release oxygen into the atmosphere as a by-product of CO2 conversion to sugar glucose.

The function of producers sustains nutrient cycling in trophic levels. Trophic relationships between feeders and food accomplish sustainability of nutrient cycling by providing nutrients needed in trophic levels. Humans fill a role as trophic consumers who utilize organic matter provided by producers and other consumers (e.g., vegetables and beef).

Stewardship is the human ethic of active concern and care of natural lands needed by the human community to accomplish the environmental revolution of sustainability. Stewardship is the moral and ethical framework that must inform processes resulting in decisions for public (policy) and private (personal) actions.

Sound science, whereby ecologists build worldwide knowledge about ecosystems and their current status, must inform the ethic of stewardship that informs decisions and actions resulting in...

(The entire section is 8,125 words.)