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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sources and Sinks
The quest to integrate climate change into
Science education at Streamwood High School

Throughputs are the continuous flow of energy and material needed to keep people, cars, houses and factories functioning.  Limits are the rate of extraction of source or resources for productivity and the absorptive capacity, sinks, of the world to process waste.

From the 30 year updated edition of the book, Limits to Growth by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, they issued this response, “The throughputs flows presently generated by the human economy cannot be maintained at their current rates for very much longer”.  Their findings concluded the following, “The current high rates of throughputs are not necessary to support a decent standard of living for all of the world’s people”.

“The ecological footprint could be reduced by lowering population, altering consumption norms, or implementing more resource-efficient technologies.  Humanity has the knowledge necessary to maintain adequate levels of final goods and services while reducing greatly the burden on the planet.  In theory there are many possible ways to bring the human ecological footprint back down below its limits.”

The study of science produces, for students, an understanding of the fundamental aspects of energy and its many, varied and multidisciplinary conceptual frameworks (biology, chemistry, physics environmental science and geology) supporting our perception of the world that we inhabit.  Climate change is driven by all these scientific determinants and more!  Social and economic consequences will also powerfully influence the outcome associated with climate change and its impact upon the habitability of our planet for all humankind.

Climate change, in the science curriculum, presents a challenge for students to utilize their conceptual understanding of the many disciplines of science and to think cross-disciplinary to solve problems.  The problems associated with climate change are multidisciplinary and it will take a multifaceted approach as a solution to the reduction of the human ecological footprint on the planet Earth.


The Physics and Chemistry of Climate Change

The science of climate change guides the changes we now experience such as the following disruptive forces: rise in atmospheric temperatures, water shortages, food shortages, rising sea water, rapid extinction of species, destruction of rainforests, melting polar ice caps and the relentless acidification of oceans.

How many degrees of centigrade can we allow the average global annual temperature to rise above the Pre-Industrial level?

To achieve a 2 degrees of warming of the atmosphere, then the carbon dioxide concentration cannot exceed 450 part per million. This will still leave us with wide spread shortages of food, rising sea levels and dramatic increases in extreme weather like the droughts in California.
The chance of looming runaway global warming, which collapses human societies, is still 20 percent ( 1 in 5) even after this target is met.The solution is to reduce the level of heating to less than 1 degree of warming.This is achieved with a carbon dioxide concentration of around 350 parts per million in the atmosphere.

For the next 100 years we must remove 6 Gigatons  ( 6 billion tons) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year through bio-engineering initiatives, new renewable technologies and through more efficiency built into the energy system.  By 2023 we would see a 50 percent reduction in emissions and by 2100 a 100 percent reduction.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany (PIK): If we want to reduce the risk of exceeding the 2 degree warming of the atmosphere from carbon dioxide pollution, then we must not exceed the limit of 890 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution emitted between the years 2000 and 2050.

"Put another way: humanity can only afford to burn and vent less than one quarter of known oil, natural gas and coal reserves. Already, between 2000 and 2006, the world emitted roughly 234 billion metric tons of CO2—and roughly one third of the total trillion metric ton "budget" has already been spent to date. "We can burn less than a quarter of known economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves between now and 2050," says co-author and climatologist William Hare, also of the PIK. "Not much at all of coal reserves can be burnt and still keep warming below the 2 degree [C] limit."






Sources and Sinks

From the book, Limits of Growth by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, they make the following assessment, “Streams of material and energy flow from the planetary sources through the economic subsystem to the planetary sinks where waste and pollutants end up.”

“There are limits to the rates at which the sources can produce and the sinks absorb these flows without harm to people, the economy, or the earth’s processes of regeneration and regulation.”
“Any activity that causes a renewable resource stock to fall, or a pollution sink to rise, or a non-renewable resource stock to fall without renewable replacement in sight, cannot be sustained.”

Embedding the study of climate change into the curriculum will help to underpin the very nature of what science is to our society.  It is the basic understanding of the world we inhabit.
Paul Gilding author of the book, The Great Disruption, makes the following assessment, “Any analysis of the state of the world’s capacity to support human society must be based on the physical sciences--measurement and trend analysis of actual physical activity based on our understanding of physics, biology and chemistry.”

The integrity of our current system of sources and sinks is being compromised by  unsustainable growth.  Currently human inhabitants are sustained by overshooting the planet’s capacity to provide resources and process waste by 140 percent!  Given continual tends along this unsustainable path of existence, our societies will overshoot the planet’s capacity to support humankind by 560 percent come the year 2053.

The science dictates that this is not going to happen.  

Collapse is inevitable. If you understand the science then you are more likely to address this problem and design effective solutions.  Without the knowledge and understanding of our world that science can bring to you,  then the chances for the survival of the human species on  Earth is greatly diminished.


It is imperative that the challenges of climate change be integrated into our science curriculum at all levels and in all disciplines.  We must embark upon the quest to confront the science of climate change face to face in a logical and thoughtful manner.  There is only one planet Earth not 1.4 or 2 or even 6.  Just one.  We have to reign in the overcapacity, the overshoot that is an inevitable consequence of the current system.

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