Why Environmental Science Needs the Humanities

by Emily Segal

In the past, those working to combat environmental problems were generally thought of as natural scientists utilizing technology, economics, and policy to come up with solutions for reducing and preventing climate change. The truth is that humanist thinkers were an integral part of the first phase of the environmental revolution. They were early journalists, philosophers and historians writing and thinking about the environment and its relation to human beings. It seems that over time, these humanities scholars were pushed aside and took a back seat to natural scientists and economists who were at the front of the environmentalist movement. Continue reading

The Complications of Climate Engineering and International Law

by Emily Segal

As anthropogenic climate change continues to become an increasingly discussed social, political and environmental issue, some people are turning to climate engineering as a way to supplement the pre-existing strategies of mitigation and adaptation. In the paper reviewed here, Winter (2011) explores its relationship to international law. Geoengineering, or geological engineering, refers to the application of geoscience to shape our interaction with the earth. Some forms of geoengineering that have been around for a while are detrimental to the health of our planet. Examples include deforestation, the method of clearing forested land to create arable land for monocultures, and burning fossil fuels, a process that releases toxic substances into the atmosphere, which contribute to the greenhouse effect and speed up global warming. New forms of geoengineering, however, are different from these older forms because they do not encourage side-effects that are harmful to the environment. Instead, they have intended consequences that will help reduce climate change. Carbon capture and storage (CCS), a way of capturing CO2 after it is emitted and storing it in land, is an example of a more recent form of geoengineering that would aid in decelerating climate change. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) is another form of geoengineering intended to reduce climate change. SRM increases surface and cloud albedo, a kind of weather manipulation that could be effective if used on a large scale. Continue reading

Changes in Measuring Air Quality in California

by Emily Segal

Particulate Matter (PM) is an air pollutant that when large enough can be seen as soot or smoke, and when small enough, can only be observed using an electron microscope. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are especially dangerous because they can be inhaled into the respiratory system and can lodge in the lungs. Scientists have been studying the quantity of particulate matter in the air for a while, but between 1988 and 2013, the system for monitoring this air pollutant underwent many changes. Essentially, the old way of measuring PM2.5, through traditional filter sampling, was replaced by the more effective method of using Beta Attenuation Monitors (BAM). It is important to have a monitoring network that operates frequently and in many areas because this data can then be compared to data from various hospitals in order to draw conclusions about the connections between PM2.5 concentrations and health consequences. Additionally, the real-time nature of BAM can help make short-term forecasts for air qualities in different regions. This was not possible previously because traditional filter sampling had many delays caused by transporting, conditioning, and weighting filters before any conclusions about the actual PM2.5 measurement could be made. Continue reading

The Psychology Behind Climate-Related Inaction

by Emily Segal

Though many people agree that climate change is a pressing issue in today’s world, very few of those people actually change their behavior to remedy this. In some cases there are structural factors limiting their ability to make decisions that would reduce their ecological footprint. For example, people on a low-income budget might not have the extra money to install solar panels. However, for those who are not restricted by structural factors, adaptation to a more sustainable lifestyle is not currently accepted on the scale it must be if those same people are serious about reducing climate change. Psychologist Robert Gifford suggests that there are three main reasons behind this inaction. Ignorance first will hinder people from altering their behavior because they are not aware of the problem at all. Secondly, once one becomes aware of the problem, various psychological processes may prohibit action. Lastly, after some action is taken, the person may think their action establishes they have done their part to reduce climate change when in reality they have not done enough, or they have done something that is counterproductive. To better understand this disconnect between awareness and lack of action, Gifford further divided the three main reasons behind inaction into seven psychological barriers preventing people from doing what they should in order to truly reduce climate change. Continue reading