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Environmental Sustainability: Definition and Application

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  • 0:07 The Environment
  • 1:15 Environmental Sustainability
  • 2:23 Sustainable Agriculture
  • 3:34 Sustainable Forestry
  • 5:02 Sustainable Energy
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Environmental sustainability allows for the needs of man to be met without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Learn applications of environmental sustainability, including sustainable agriculture, forestry and energy.

The Environment

Let's say that Timmy wants to pick the apples from his apple tree. As Timmy sees it, he has two options. He can grab a stepladder and go up to where the apples are or he can grab an ax and cut down the apple tree. Timmy thinks the second option is a great idea because, instead of bothering with a cumbersome ladder, he can just chop down the tree and bring the apples to ground level, where he can easily pick them up. Timmy is pretty proud of himself for coming up with a solution, but I bet you can see a problem here.

While Timmy has plenty of apples for his immediate needs, he will not have his needs met next year because there will be no tree to produce fruit. In other words, Timmy did not sustain his natural resource and it will no longer be available to him. By chopping down the apple tree, Timmy overlooked the importance of environmental sustainability. In this lesson, we will look at this concept and a few ways it is being applied to ensure that future generations can enjoy the natural resources our planet has to offer.

Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is defined as responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality. The practice of environmental sustainability helps to ensure that the needs of today's population are met without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

When we look at the natural environment, we see that it has a rather remarkable ability to rejuvenate itself and sustain its viability. For example, when a tree falls, it decomposes, adding nutrients to the soil. These nutrients help sustain suitable conditions so future saplings can grow.

When nature is left alone, it has a tremendous ability to care for itself. However, when man enters the picture and uses many of the natural resources provided by the environment, things change. Human actions can deplete natural resources, and without the application of environmental sustainability methods, long-term viability can be compromised.

Sustainable Agriculture

One way environmental sustainability is being applied is through sustainable agriculture. This is defined as the use of farming techniques that protect the environment. Sustainable agriculture has grown out of concerns over the industrialization of agriculture that began in the 20th century.

Although industrial agriculture has the ability to produce abundant amounts of food at affordable prices, the method of farming can be detrimental to the environment. Industrial agricultural methods are heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and put high demands on soil and water resources. Also, industrial crops are often monocrops, which involves growing a single crop year after year.

These methods can lead to water pollution when chemicals run off into waterways, deplete the water resources due to overuse, and soil erosion and poor soil quality due to aggressive planting. With sustainable agriculture, farmers minimize water use and lower the dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. They also minimize tillage of the soil and rotate crop planting each year to ensure higher soil quality.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forestry is another application of environmental sustainability. This is defined as the practice of regulating forest resources to meet the needs of society and industry while preserving the forest's health. Forests are important to local and national economies. Wood can be used as a source of fuel, timbers can be used in the construction industry and wood pulp can be used in the manufacture of paper.

Beyond what forests can do for an economy, they also have environmental benefits. Trees capture and store carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Forests also play a key role in the water cycle. Tree roots gather water from the ground and release it into the air as water vapor. If forests are cleared without environmental sustainability methods in place, these benefits are lost.

One application of sustainable forestry is selective logging. Selective logging is the practice of removing certain trees while preserving the balance of the woodland. Other examples of sustainable forestry include allowing young trees time to mature before they are harvested, planting of trees to expand forestlands and the creation of protected forests. While sustainable forestry practices are more time-consuming and may be more expensive than clearing all the trees from a forest, the forest's natural assets are sustained for future generations.

Sustainable Energy

Another way environmental sustainability is practiced is through the development of sustainable energy. This can be defined as energy that is produced from a renewable source. Therefore, sustainable energy would be energy captured from the sun, wind, moving water or energy crops, which are crops grown to be turned into biofuels.

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