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The idea of tree-structured accounting can be illustrated by the following sketch of a tree describing the causes of global climate change. If the trunk of the tree represents the greenhouse gas-producing effect of all human activities, the limbs can represent the contributing greenhouse gases.Table 3-1 presents the limbs during two different time periods and a projection for a future period.The important proximate human causes of global change are those with enough impact to significantly alter properties of the global environment of potential concern to humanity.
It is not identical to the "global warming potential" of gases emitted by human activity, a property that integrates the effects of gas emissions over future time.
Global warming potential is affected by the different atmospheric lifetimes of greenhouse gases before breakdown, so that the relative importance of gases for global warming depends on the future date to which effects are estimated.
Such an accounting system is helpful for social science because, by beginning with variables known to be important to global environmental change, it anchors the study of human activities to the natural environment and imposes a criterion of impact on the consideration of research directions (see also Clark, 1988).
This is important because it can direct the attention of social scientists to the study of the activities with strong impacts on global change.
Researchers might then investigate the social factors that affect change in the number of automobiles and their typical life span, such as household income, household size, number employed per household, and availability of public transportation.
More detailed analysis can be carried out until it no longer would provide information of high enough impact to meet some preset criterion.This section describes an accounting system that can help to perform the task and illustrates it with a rough and partial accounting of the human causes of global climate change.A useful accounting system for the human causes of global change has a tree structure in which properties of the global environment are linked to the major human activities that alter them, and in which the activities are divided in turn into their constituent parts or influences.Because the connections between global environmental change and the concepts of social science are rarely obvious, social scientists who begin with important concepts in their fields have often directed their attention to low-impact human activities (see Stern and Oskamp, 1987, for elaboration).An analysis anchored in the critical physical or biological phenomena can identify research traditions whose relevance to the study of environmental change might otherwise be overlooked.Total effects of greenhouse gases projected for 2025-2050 varied by a factor of 5 from the "accelerated policies" scenario, which projected the lowest level of emissions, to the "business-as-usual" scenario, which projected the highest.For instance, automobile fuel consumption can be analyzed as the product of number of automobiles, average fuel efficiency of automobiles, and miles driven per automobile; the determinants of each of these factors can be studied separately.Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone.Everyone can contribute to making sure the Global Goals are met. An early estimate of the 100-year global warming potential of gas emissions in 1990 allocates it as follows: CO, nonmethane hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide), 8% (Shine et al., 1990).Although these estimates differ from the radiative forcing estimates in the table, the differences are not great in terms of the relative importance of the gases for the global warming phenomenon.