Unit 1: Environmental Philsophy
Issue: Is "Sustainability" Still Possible?
Yes: Kim Stanley Robinson, from "Is It Too Late?" State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? (2013)
No: Robin Kundis Craig and Melinda Harm Benson, from "Replacing Sustainability," Akron Law Review (2013)
Kim Stanley Robinson argues that it is not yet too late to achieve a sustainable society. We know a great deal of what must be done in order to do so. But we must begin that work—as humanity’s great project for the future—immediately if we wish to see a stable population of 7–9 billion people “living cleanly and well on a healthy biosphere, sharing Earth with the rest of the creatures who rely on it.” Robin Kundis Craig and Melinda Harm Benson argue that though the ideas of sustainability and sustainable development have been around for decades, they have so far proved incapable of dealing with the threats posed by environmental damage, notably including global warming. We need a new paradigm such as resilience thinking to help us identify, manage, and adapt to the drastic changes we can expect to face.
Issue: Are There Limits to Growth?
Yes: Graham M. Turner, from "On The Cusp of Global Collapse?: Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data," GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society (2012)
No: Ronald Bailey, from "The Limits of The Limits to Growth," Reason (2012)
Graham M. Turner argues that the computer-modelled projections of the 1972 The Limits to Growth study’s “standard run” or “business as usual” scenario, which forecast a 21st-century collapse in living standards and population due to resource constraints, continue to be matched very well by actual data. We have now reached the point where we can expect global collapse to begin in the current decade (it may have started already). In addition, it may now be too late to avoid the crisis; planning should focus on coping with it. Ronald Bailey argues that the projections of The Limits to Growth study have not come to pass. The world is wealthier and better fed, projected supplies of nonrenewable resources are greater, and even if we do face problems in the 21st century, the world will have the technology and wealth to cope.
Issue: Should We Be Pricing Ecosystem Services?
Yes: David C. Holzman, from "Accounting for Nature's Benefits: The Dollar Value of Ecosystem Services," Environmental Health Perspectives (2012)
No: R. David Simpson, from "Putting a Price on Ecosystem Services," Issues in Science and Technology (2016)
David C. Holzman argues that ecosystems provide valuable services without which humanity would perish. Efforts to assess the value of these services are difficult but necessary to help policymakers and resource managers make rational decisions that factor important environmental and human health outcomes into the bottom line. R. David Simpson argues that though putting prices on ecosystem services makes the value of those services tangible and thus convincing to decision-makers, the benefits of pricing are often overstated. In addition, attempts to set values on ecosystem services are deeply flawed and may actually endanger conservation efforts.
Unit 2: Principles versus Politics
Issue: Does Designating "Wild Lands" Harm Rural Economies?
Yes: Mike McKee, from Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee Hearing on "The Impact of the Administration's Wild Lands Order on Jobs and Economic Growth," Illinois State Government Administration Committee (2011)
No: Robert Abbey, from Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee Hearing on "The Impact of the Administration's Wild Lands Order on Jobs and Economic Growth," Illinois State Government Administration Committee (2011)
Mike McKee, Uintah County Commissioner, argues that the government’s new “Wild Lands” policy is illegal, contradicts previously approved land use plans for public lands, and will have dire effects on rural economies based on extractive industries. It should be repealed. Robert Abbey, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, argues that the government’s new “Wild Lands” policy is legal, restores balance and clarity to multiple-use public land management, and will be implemented in collaboration with the public. Destruction of local extractive economies is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Issue: Does Excessive Endangered Species Act Litigation Threaten Species Recovery, Job Creation, and Economic Growth?
Yes: Brandon M. Middleton, from Testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing on "The Endangered Species Act: How Litigation Is Costing Jobs and Impeding True Recovery Efforts," U.S. House of Representatives (2011)
No: James J. Tutchton, from Testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing on "The Endangered Species Act: How Litigation Is Costing Jobs and Impeding True Recovery Efforts," U.S. House of Representatives (2011)
Brandon M. Middleton argues that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) elevates species protection above human well-being, punishes landowners, fails to bring species back from the brink of extinction, frustrates local conservation efforts, and unfairly favors environmental groups in the courtroom. As written, the ESA encourages litigation. A more balanced approach is needed. James J. Tutchton of WildEarth Guardians argues that litigation is a tool to enforce the law. It is not true that litigation costs jobs or impedes true recovery efforts, and there is no need to make litigation more difficult.
Issue: Should Environmental Regulations Be Able to Limit Property Rights?
Yes: Noah Matson, from Testimony before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Oceans, and Insular Affairs the House Natural Resources Committee (2014)
No: Dan Naatz, from Testimony before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Oceans, and Insular Affairs the House Natural Resources Committee (2014)
Noah Matson of Defenders of Wildlife argues that current U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations governing the extraction of oil and gas on wildlife refuges are entirely inadequate. Oil and brine spills cause widespread damage and oil and gas development conflict with refuge use and management. Despite state regulations, site cleanup and restoration are often neglected. New regulations are desperately needed. Dan Naatz of the Independent Petroleum Association of America argues that mineral owners have the legal right to explore for and extract the oil and gas they own. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no data indicating a need for additional regulations on oil and gas development in wildlife refuges and lacks the authority to impose such additional regulations. Existing state and federal regulations are adequate to the need.
Issue: Can "Green" Marketing Claims Be Believed?
Yes: Jessica Tsai, from "Marketing the New Green," Customer Relationship Management (2010)
No: Richard Dahl, from "Green Washing: Do You Know What You’re Buying?" Environmental Health Perspectives (2010)
Jessica Tsai argues that even though marketing is all about gaining attention in a very noisy environment, it is possible to improve brand image by being environmentally responsible without being guilty of greenwashing. Richard Dahl argues that consumers are reluctant to believe corporate claims of environmental responsibility because in the past such claims have been so overblown as to amount to “greenwashing.”
Unit 3: Energy Issues
Issue: Can We Reduce Carbon Emissions Enough to Limit Global Warming?
Yes: Andrew Steer, from Testimony on the Hearing before The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology: “The Paris Climate Promise: A Good Deal for America," held by the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (2016)
No: Stephen D. Eule, from Testimony before the hearing on “The Paris Climate Change Agreement” held by the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (2016)
Andrew Steele argues that the COP21 Paris Climate Change Agreement to limit carbon emissions will spur investment in clean energy technologies. Success is achievable, and the U.S. business community is already considering climate change impacts in its energy and corporate strategies. The benefits include business opportunities, jobs, and disaster prevention. Stephen D. Eule argues that the COP21 agreement is unlikely to succeed. In the United States, promised emissions reductions will be inadequate, they will probably not be achieved, and if they were they would threaten the competitive position of American businesses. It would also threaten the economic development model that has reigned ever since the Industrial Revolution.
Issue: Do We Need Research Guidelines for Geoengineering?
Yes: M. Granger Morgan, Robert R. Nordhaus, and Paul Gottlieb, from "Needed: Research Guidelines for Solar Radiation Management," Issues in Science and Technology (2013)
No: Jane C. S. Long and Dane Scott, from "Vested Interests and Geoengineering Research," Issues in Science and Technology (2013)
M. Granger Morgan, Robert R. Nordhaus, and Paul Gottlieb argue that before we can embark on geoengineering a great deal of research will be needed. First, however, we need a plan to guide research by developing standards and ensuring open access to research results. Jane C. S. Long and Dane Scott argue that though we need to do much research into geoengineering, not all issues are technical. Vested interests (whose fortunes may be threatened by change, who may fear consequences, who may be driven by the craving for fame, or whose thinking may be dominated by ideology rather than facts), mismanagement, and human weakness must be addressed before engaging in geoengineering.
Issue: Should We Continue to Rely on Fossil Fuels?
Yes: Mark J. Perry, from Testimony at Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on "Administration Energy Policies," U.S. House of Representatives (2012)
No: John Bellamy Foster, from "The Fossil Fuels War," Monthly Review (2013)
Mark J. Perry argues that the Obama Administration’s “All-of-the-Above” energy policy shows unwarranted favoritism toward alternative energy sources. Fossil fuel production is up and supplies are ample. Oil is not at all the “energy of the past,” for fossil fuels will continue to power the American economy for generations to come. John Bellamy Foster argues that we are facing a crisis. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we run the risk of destroying civilization and even humanity. What is needed is an ecological and human revolution that restores humanity’s “metabolism” with nature.
Issue: Do the Benefits of Biofuels Exceed Their Costs?
Yes: Keith Kline et al., from "In Defense of Biofuels, Done Right," Issues in Science and Technology (2009)
No: Madison Ellas, from "The Impact of Biofuels on Global Food Security," Undercurrent (2014)
Keith Kline et al. argue that the impact of biofuels production on food prices is much less than alarmists claim. If biofuels development focused on converting biowastes and fast-growing trees and grasses into fuels, the overall impact would be even better, with a host of benefits in reduced fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, increased employment, enhanced wildlife habitat, improved soil and water quality, and more stable land use. Madison Ellas argues that although biofuels may indeed contribute to the need for renewable energy, their benefits fail to exceed the costs they impose on food security and the global poor. The next generation of biofuels technology may be more beneficial.
Unit 4: Food and Population
Issue: Do We Have a Population Problem?
Yes: David Attenborough, from "This Heaving Planet," New Statesman (2011)
No: Sean Lanahan, from "Debunking the Over-Population Myth," Countryside & Small Stock Journal (2013)
Sir David Attenborough argues that the environmental problems faced by the world are exacerbated by human numbers. Without population reduction, the problems will become ever more difficult—and ultimately impossible—to solve. Sean Lanahan argues that the world’s agricultural system currently produces enough food for at least double the current world population. The “over-population” myth of “unsustainability” is a scare tactic designed to control the lives of individuals and justify dehumanizing acts such as abortion and euthanasia.
Issue: Does Commercial Fishing Have a Future?
Yes: Carl Safina, from "A Future for U.S. Fisheries," Issues in Science and Technology (2009)
No: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, from "World Review of Fisheries and Aquaculture," The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (2010)
Carl Safina argues that despite an abundance of bad news about the state of the oceans and commercial fisheries, there are some signs that conservation and even restoration of fish stocks to a sustainable state are possible. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations argues that the proportion of marine fish stocks that are overexploited has increased tremendously since the 1970s. Despite some progress, there remains “cause for concern.” The continuing need for fish as food means there will be continued growth in aquaculture.
Issue: Does the World Need High-Tech Agriculture?
Yes: N. V. Fedoroff et al., from "Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century," Science (2010)
No: Satish B. Aher, Bhaveshananda Swami, and B. Sengupta, from "Organic Agriculture: Way towards Sustainable Development," International Journal of Environmental Sciences (2012)
N. V. Fedoroff et al. argue that given the growing human population and demand for food, we need to pursue every available technological means—notably including genetic modification of crops—to increase crop production. Satish B. Aher, Bhaveshananda Swami, and B. Sengupta argue that organic agriculture (which does not include genetic modification of crops) is good for the soil, can help fight global warming, and has the potential to feed the growing world population, and to do so in a sustainable way.
Issue: Do Genetically Modified Crops Cause Farmer Suicides?
Yes: Vandana Shiva, from "Seed Monopolies, GMOs, and Farmers' Suicides in India," The Navdanya Diary (2013)
No: Keith Kloor, from "The GMO-Suicide Myth," Issues in Science and Technology (2014)
Vandana Shiva argues that because of the corporate (chiefly Monsanto) monopoly on genetically modified seed, continuing failures of the seed to live up to claims for increased productivity and increased farm income, and high seed prices, farmers in India are being driven to suicide in such huge numbers that the term “genocide” is appropriate. Keith Kloor argues that although Indian farmers do indeed commit suicide, the charge that genetically modified seed is to blame is pure myth, driven by uncritical acceptance of repeated accusations by media and celebrities. GM crops are much more successful than Shiva is willing to admit. The real culprit is a banking system that drives many farmers to borrow money for seed (etc.) from private lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates. In Indian states where the banks are more willing to deal with farmers, the suicide rate is much lower.
Unit 5: Hazardous Releases
Issue: Should Society Limit Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Power Plants?
Yes: Jeremy Richardson, from Testimony before The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Field Hearing on “Regional Impacts of EPA Carbon Regulations: The Case of West Virginia," U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (2015)
No: Stephen Moore, from Testimony before The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on S.2911, Super Pollutants Act of 2014," U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (2014)
Jeremy Richardson argues that the growing risk of catastrophic climate change demands strong efforts to control emissions of carbon dioxide, such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. At the same time, those efforts threaten the well-being of families and communities involved in providing fossil fuels, such as West Virginia coal miners. There is a need for accompanying efforts in the areas of public health, job creation, and economic development. Stephen Moore argues that the economic value of the fossil fuels industry—both to the nation and to the poor, who benefit from falling energy prices—is so great that government regulations that target carbon dioxide must not be permitted to impede the industry’s growth.
Issue: Is the Fracking Industry Adequately Regulated for Public Safety?
Yes: Arthur Herman, from "The Liberal War on American Energy Independence," Commentary (2015)
No: Paul Solotaroff, from "What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?" Rolling Stone (2015)
Arthur Herman argues that there is no proof that the fracking industry is causing environmental and health problems. Anyone who says there is, is attacking American prosperity and the well-being of the working class. Paul Solotaroff argues that we cannot trust local and state health and environmental officials to do anything about obvious health issues. There is too much money involved.
Issue: Do We Need New Regulations for Synthetic Biology?
Yes: Steve Suppan, from "From GMO to SMO: How Synthetic Biology Evades Regulation," Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (2014)
No: Karolyn White and Subramanyam Vemulpad, from "Synthetic Biology and the Responsible Conduct of Research," Macquarie Law Journal (2015)
Steve Suppan argues that because current regulations cover only natural genetic sequences, perhaps modified, but not wholly new or synthetic genetic sequences, new regulations are essential to protect public health and the environment. Karolyn White and Subramanyam Vemulpad argue that while regulation is of course necessary, risks can be managed and mitigated by current regulatory frameworks. However, ongoing assessments will be essential in order to detect and deal with changes in the technology and its risks.
Issue: Should Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Be Released into the Environment to Fight Disease?
Yes: Hadyn Parry, from Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on "Science of Zika: The DNA of an Epidemic," The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (2016)
No: Eric Hoffman, from "Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes in the U.S.," Friends of Earth (2012)
Hadyn Parry argues that genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes hold the potential to reduce mosquito populations and control the spread of diseases such as Zika and dengue. Eric Hoffman, a biotechnology campaigner with Friends of the Earth, argues that a great deal of research remains to be done to prove the safety to both the environment and public health of releasing GE mosquitoes. In addition, medical ethics require that participants in a medical trial must be able to opt out at any time, which means that a single resident of a release area must be able to call a halt to the release program.
Issue: Do Current TSCA Reform Efforts Adequately Address the Need to Protect Public Health from Industrial Chemicals?
Yes: Connie L. Deford, from Statement for the Record, Subcommittee on Environment & Economy, Committee on Energy & Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives Hearing on The Discussion Draft, Chemicals in Commerce Act," The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee (2014)
No: Philip J. Landrigan, from Testimony before The Subcommittee on Environment & Economy, Committee on Energy & Commerce, of the U.S. House of Representatives on the Chemicals in Commerce Act," The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee (2014)
Connie L. Deford argues that the draft version of the House’s Chemicals in Commerce Act (later the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015) represents a significant step forward for our federal chemical management system. It improves risk assessment and the use of scientific evidence, and it protects confidential business information. Some features could be improved but as it stands the Act represents great improvements over TSCA. Philip J. Landrigan argues that the draft version of the House’s Chemicals in Commerce Act fails to protect the health of America’s children or the environment. Indeed, it fails to correct the mistakes of the past. More safety testing of both old and new chemicals is required, with emphasis on those that are found in human milk, infant blood, and tissue, that have been shown to be toxic, and that persist in the environment and accumulate in tissue over time.
Issue: Is the Process for Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors Sound?
Yes: Marvin S. Fertel, from Testimony before the United State Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works Hearing on "Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning: Stakeholder Views," U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (2014)
No: Geoffrey H. Fettus, from Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. on Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning: Stakeholder Views Before the Committee on Environment & Public Works United States Senate," U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (2014)
Marvin S. Fertel argues that existing procedures for decommissioning nuclear power plants are proven, appropriate, and adequate for protecting public health and the environment. Geoffrey H. Fettus argues that decommissioning nuclear power plants is a long-term process that requires long-term monitoring and regulation, currently not provided for in decommissioning procedures. In addition, current funding approaches leave a “plausible risk” that taxpayers could be left to bear large portions of the costs involved.