Air and Atmosphere
Understanding existing patterns of abundance and scarcity
Natural cycles maintain the Earth's atmosphere in a relatively steady state. Notwithstanding fluctuations over time-frames ranging from seasons to millions of years, levels of gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide have long remained at around 78%, 20% and 300 parts per million (0.0003%) of the atmosphere. These gases diffuse evenly throughout the atmosphere, meaning that oxygenated air to breathe is abundant wherever there is exchange of air with the atmosphere. Introductory treatments of the relevant geophysical processes can be found in websites such as these:
Michael Pidwirny, Physical Geography, Chapter 7, Introduction to the Atmosphere http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/chapter7.html
If existing levels of gases in the atmosphere remain unchanged, the Earth's climate will also tend to remain similar as in the recent past. Natural fluctuations in climate, including long-term changes such as the Ice Ages, are only partially explained, however. (***some guide to the literature on this?***)
All humans need to do to maintain the natural abundance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases in the atmosphere is not to mess with them. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have changed the atmospheric concentration of various gases at increasing rates, however. The drivers of change can be classified as either technological and chemical (the industrial processes that emit certain kinds of gases, the rates of emissions, and their distributions in time and place), or social and institutional (the reasons why people choose to engage in those activities that emit harmful gases into the atmosphere). Human-caused changes in the atmosphere can further be classified according to their scale, ranging from the impacts of one factory or industrial zone or one city, to larger regions and ultimately to the entire atmosphere. Initially, impacts tended to be intense and localized, leading to extreme impacts on human health and on local ecosystems. In some of the advanced industrialized regions of the planet, such local impacts have been reduced in response to political pressures by citizens, but they continue almost unabated in other industrial regions where economic pressures to cut costs are overwhelming or the political pressure to clean up is not strong enough. Meanwhile, the much more intractable issue of increasing greenhouse gases has come to the forefront, threatening global, disruptive climate change.
Technological causes of polluted air and increased greenhouse gases (provide relevant links) Sulfur dioxide Nitrous oxides Particulates Hydrocarbons Carbon dioxide Methane Chlorofluorocarbons etc.
Social and institutional causes of air pollution and increased greenhouse gases Costs of air pollution (e.g., impacts on human health) are not borne by the polluters (costs are externalized) Competition between producers in the market forces each producer to reduce costs of production; if pollution control costs money and costs of pollution are externalized, competition can force companies to choose more rather than less polluting processes in order to stay in business. The market hence pushes companies to pollute the air; non-market mechanisms are needed in order to change this. Hence:various types of government approaches to regulation of pollution Government regulation usually only occurs as a result of citizen pressure. Hence discussion of what kinds of citizen pressure are effective or ineffective under various circumstances
Approaches to creating greater abundance
Technical methods to change production processes (substituting less polluting for more polluting ones, switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, energy efficiency)
Various forms of government regulation
Potential for commons-based approaches (e.g., trusts following Peter Barnes)
Links and Stories
To be added; contributions welcome
Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons.
Proposes how to make polluters pay while providing benefits to all co-owners of the atmosphere (all of us) equally. Does not offer a critique of markets outside of what he considers the commons sector.
Kathryn Milun. 2011. The Political Uncommons: The Cross-Cultural Logic of the Global Commons. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate.
Offers insight into why Western law and philosophy in the wake of Roman law and its interpreters such as Hugo Grotius find it so difficult to take on responsibility for international commons.
The Copenhagen Diagnosis, 2009: Updating the world on the Latest Climate Science. I. Allison, N. L. Bindoff, R.A. Bindschadler, P.M. Cox, N. de Noblet, M.H. England, J.E. Francis, N. Gruber, A.M. Haywood, D.J. Karoly, G. Kaser, C. Le Quéré, T.M. Lenton, M.E. Mann, B.I. McNeil, A.J. Pitman, S. Rahmstorf, E. Rignot, H.J. Schellnhuber, S.H. Schneider, S.C. Sherwood, R.C.J. Somerville, K.Steffen, E.J. Steig, M. Visbeck, A.J. Weaver. The University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC), Sydney, Australia, 60pp.
Report by an international group of prominent climatologists on climate and the human impact on climate.