The Environment: Science, Issues, and Solutions
The study of our natural environment in institutions of higher learning, even in secondary schools, has finally found a foothold. Unlike traditional academic disciplines, however, the introductory courses in environment are taught by instructors who are trained in fields ranging from biology, chemistry, geography, and geology to ethics, philosophy, and political science. Thus, a dichotomy between environmental science and environmental studies that began in the 1970s has also taken hold. The net result has been that introductory courses on the environment present a widely-diverse coverage of natural processes. What is needed, we believe, is a deeper understanding of basic scientific facts and principles interwoven with the social, economic, and political implications of environmental decision-making.
We have taught environmental science topics for many years, and these opportunities have provided us with a first-hand view of both the technical and the human dimensions of environmental subject matter. It was the experience from 18 years of teaching an introductory course that led the first author to take the lead on writing a new text. Fellow ecologists, Drs. F. Evrendilek and S. Fennessy, terrestrial and aquatic specialists, respectively, kindly joined the effort as coauthors. From the beginning, it has been our goal to develop a fully integrated textbook that rigorously explores environmental issues and their possible solutions. To achieve this dual objective we emphasize the basics of ecology, use this foundation to build an understanding of major environmental problems, and explore methods that might mitigate what has been degraded or destroyed. In doing so, we have endeavored to include an in-depth selection of references, examples and data, case studies, and websites. With these tools, students can further explore topics of special interest.
But why a new text? There are several reasons. We want to share our experience with teaching introductory environmental science using an approach that is strongly grounded in science, the scientific method, and evidence. We also noted that students in our classes were not wholly satisfied with the textbooks we used. What we have also noticed over the years was that students are eager to learn about the environment and are actively looking for ways to focus their talents and make a difference. This desire is important to us as teachers, for our students are the world’s future scientists and environmental professionals, decision-makers, writers, poets, and artists. We firmly believe that environmental literacy for all is a must. We also recognize that students welcome the challenge to learn, ask thoughtful questions, and generally crave current, in-depth information.
This book, intended for a beginning college-level environmental science course, uses a back-to-the-basics, building-block approach. The subject matter is divided into three major sections. In Section A, we introduce principles of ecology that can be used to understand how ecosystems respond to disturbance. In Section B, we deal with how human population growth, expanded technology, and unprecedented economic development have altered ecosystems and created serious local, regional, and global environmental problems. The final Section C makes a case for seeking long-term solutions through the prevention and mitigation of environmental problems in their interconnected, interrelated, and thus, interdependent ways.
We have undertaken this project in the belief that students can attain an environmental literacy that “requires a fundamental understanding of the systems of the natural world, the relationships and interactions between the living and non-living environment, and the ability to deal sensibly with problems that involve scientific evidence, uncertainty, and economic, aesthetic, and ethical considerations.”* Nonetheless, given the speed with which new data and syntheses are becoming available from diverse sources, no textbook on the environment can claim to have covered everything.
Our gauge of success depends on how well this book is received by students and instructors alike. From both, we look forward to receiving comments and suggestions with gratitude.
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