C. Air, Water, Land, and Food

In this Chapter:

Human beings need many things, and at the top of the list are adequate clean air, water, land, and food.

Study Questions

  1. In the last 30 years, many pollutants have been cleaned up and many sources have been improved so they no longer emit as much pollution. But pollution now affects the entire world and new sources are arising all the time. Overall, is our world becoming more or less polluted?
  2. What promising new technologies or social changes should be pursued to reduce our impact on the world?
  3. Starvation can be caused by many things, including drought, floods, over-population, and poverty. Which of these factors are most important and what measures should be taken to overcome them?

Overview Article C

3 pages total

“Chapter II: Spaceship Earth,” in Achieving Eco-Nomic Security On Spaceship Earth, by Jim Bell, 3 p.

The earth has a life support system that supplies us with everything we need, and will continue to do so indefinitely, as long as we don’t damage it too seriously.

Reading Set C1: Air

48 pages total

“Earth’s atmosphere,” by Wikipedia contributors, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 p.

An overview of the earth’s atmosphere, its composition, density, temperature, and history.

“Air pollution,” by Wikipedia contributors, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 p.

A short overview of air pollution.

“History of Air Pollution,” by Mothers for Clean Air, 2 p.

A short history of air pollution and four major air pollution disasters.

“What is Acid Rain and What Causes It?,” Almanac of Policy Issues, adapted from “Acid Rain,” Environmental Protection Agency, August 6th, 2002, 7 p.

A brief overview of acid rain and its causes.

“Air Quality and Your Health,” by the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 4 p.

A brief introduction to how air pollution affects human health and the environment.

“Dirty Skies: The Bush Administration’s Air Pollution Plan,” National Resources Defense Council, 6 p.

As air pollution continues to harm Americans’ health, the Bush administration is pushing its misnamed “Clear Skies” initiative, which would gut existing health protections and do nothing to curb global warming.

“Back from the Brink: How NRDC Helped Save the Ozone Layer,” by David Doniger and Michelle Quibell, Natural Resources Defense Council, September 2007, 13 p.

When a “miracle compound” turned out to be a serious environmental hazard, scores of nations worked together to create a global solution.

Reading Set C2: Water

52 pages total

“World’s Water Resources in Swift Decline,” by Carmen Revenga, World Resources Institute, WRI Features, Volume 3, Number 3, March 2005, 4 p.

Water policies in most nations are failing to protect life’s most vital resource. Good overview

“Captive Water: Privatising Water will Lead to War,” by Vandana Shiva, Resurgence, Issue 219, July/August 2003, 6 p.

Privatization of water is the ultimate human rights violation, the ultimate human wrong. With examples from India, Shiva argues for water democracy.

“The Battle For Water,” by Tony Clarke and Maude Barlow, Yes! Magazine, Winter 2004, 7 p.

Waste, pollution, population growth, global trade rules, and now privatization are threatening billions of people with water scarcity. How can we reclaim water for all life?

“Blue Gold: The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of World Water,” by Maude Barlow, report summary, International Forum on Globalization (IFG), June 1999, 6 p.

The push to commodify water comes at a time when the social, political, and economic impacts of water scarcity are rapidly becoming a destabilizing force, with water-related conflicts springing up around the globe.

“The Need For Common Principles,” from Blue Gold: The global water crisis and the commodification of the world’s water supply, by Maude Barlow, International Forum on Globalization (IFG), Spring 2001, 18 p.

In order to take the kind of action needed by all levels of government and communities around the world to protect water, it is urgent that we come to agreement on a set of guiding principles and values such as the ten offered here.

“Corporations Tap Public Water: Bottled Water Drains Life-Sustaining Resources,” by Stacy Folsom, Resist, May/June 2006, 7 p.

Bottled water threatens our health and our ecosystems, costs thousands of times what tap water costs, and undermines local democratic control over a common resource. Corporations are trying to make a profit-driven commodity out of a precious resource that rightfully and historically have been a public good.

“Reviving Our Oceans,” Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Revised December 7, 2006, 4 p.

Changing the way we think about and manage our oceans can help avert a crisis.

Reading Set C3: Land Use, Development, Erosion, Sprawl

33 pages total

“The Problem of Wind Erosion,” Wind Erosion Research Unit, Kansas State University, 3 p.

Wind erosion is a serious problem in many parts of the world, especially in arid and semiarid regions.

Review by Tim Gebhart of The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan, Blogcritics Magazine, December 30, 2006, 7 p.

The Worst Hard Time examines the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl — a modern ecological disaster.

Or listen to this interview:

“Stories from the Great American Dust Bowl,” radio interview on “Fresh Air,” WHYY, December 4, 2006, 30 min.

Terry Gross interviews Timothy Egan, the author of The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

“FAO: conventional tilling severely erodes the soil; new concepts for soil conservation required,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1998, 3 p.

Agricultural land could be protected or saved from degradation and erosion if farmers applied environmentally friendly tillage.

“Scientific Facts on Desertification,” GreenFacts, 8 p.

This summary of the leading scientific consensus report says that desertification is largely caused by unsustainable use of scarce resources. Great overview website, allows you to choose level of detail

“Sprawl Overview,” Sierra Club, 2 p.

Poorly planned development threatens our environment, our health, and our quality of life in numerous ways.

“Sprawl Costs Us All: How Your Taxes Fuel Suburban Sprawl - Introduction,” Sierra Club, Spring 2000, 5 p.

Besides its other problems, sprawl is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

“Sprawl Costs Us All: How Your Taxes Fuel Suburban Sprawl - Solutions,” Sierra Club, Spring 2000, 3 p.

To stop sprawl: cut the subsidies that feed sprawl, ensure that the costs of growth are fairly shared, and employ tested smart-growth techniques.

History of Urban Ecology Institute, 2 p.

A very brief definition of urban ecology.

Reading Set C4: Food and Farming

35 pages total

“12 Myths About Hunger,” Institute for Food and Development Policy Backgrounder, Vol. 5, No. 3, Summer 1998, 8 p.

Hunger is not a myth, but myths keep us from ending hunger.

Review by Danny Yee of Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, December 23, 1997, 7 p.

Diamond argues the central key to understanding human history is food production, or the domestication of plants and animals. great on the history of agriculture (and more)

“A revolution long turned brown,” by Kasturi Das, India Together, August 2004, 7 p.

Organic agriculture seems to be emerging as an alternative to Green Revolution technology in India.

“Cuba’s agricultural revolution an example to the world,” by Andrew Buncombe, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 13, 2006, 7 p.

Spurred into action by the end of Soviet Union subsidies, Cuba has established a self-sustaining system of agriculture that by necessity is essentially organic.

“Consumer Pressure Speeds up a Farming Revolution,” by Donella Meadows, Sustainability Institute, June 1, 1989, 3 p.

Market forces push farmers towards organic production.

“Food Revolution: Americans Lose Their Appetite for Anonymous Food,” by Brian Halweil, Yes! Magazine, Spring 2006, 5 p.

Americans are increasingly relying on food from local producers rather than counting on corporate agriculture.

Reading Set C5: Agribusiness, Ownership of Seed, Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs)

70 pages total

“A Better Way to Feed the Hungry,” by by Frances Moore LappĂ© and Anna LappĂ©, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 22, 2002, 3 p.

Bill Gates’ idea of fighting malnutrition abroad by fortifying food is shortsighted.

“Food Democracy vs. Food Dictatorship: The politics of genetically modified food,” by Vandana Shiva, Z Magazine, Volume 16, Number 4, April 2003, 10 p.

Contrary to claims made by proponents, genetically modified (GM) foods are undermining food and nutritional security, food sovereignty, and food democracy. 

“Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds,” by Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset, Dollars & Sense, March/April 2001, 10 p.

If the Green Revolution has taught us anything, it is that increased food production can — and often does — go hand in hand with more hunger, not less. Good overview

“In Praise of Cowdung,” by Vandana Shiva, ZNet Daily Commentaries, November 20, 2002, 6 p.

Monsanto vs. organic farming.

“Earth Democracy,” an interview with Vandana Shiva by Sarah Ruth van Gelder, Yes! Magazine, Winter 2003, 11 p.

An interview with Vandana Shiva about seed saving, cultural insecurity, economic insecurity in India, and hope.

“On Pests, Weeds And Terrorists: Weaving Harmony Through Diversity,” by Vandana Shiva, ZNet Daily Commentaries, November 30, 2002, 9 p.

Pests are a product of a disharmony within plants and in ecosystems. Weaving harmony in agriculture implies bringing back the diversity which creates pest - predator balance and organic methods of breeding and production which produce resilient plants.

“The End of Agribusiness: Dismantling the Mechanisms of Corporate Rule,” an excerpt from Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture by Dave Henson, May 2002, 21 p.

When making decisions about our society and the environment, corporations have no business being present at the decision-making table. (with sections on corporate personhood and strategy)

Additional Resources


Next Reading Set Collection: D. Industrialization and Energy Use