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It is important to acknowledge that natures growth is not a linear process. Any environmental shift no matter how big or small it is effects anything that exist within it. This reality of cause and effect is directly related to how interconnected nature is, this aspect of nature is referred to as a system. A system is defined in the article “Systems Thinking: Ecological understanding requires shifting to a new way of thinking.”;

“A system is a set of interrelated elements that make a unified whole. Individual things—like plants, people, schools, watersheds, or economies—are themselves systems and at the same time cannot be fully understood apart from the larger systems in which they exist.”

The description given in the article shows how interconnected life can be. It also shows that if one variable is changed in a system, then there will be ramifications for this change. The article gives the example of education and how this shift from “analytical thinking to contextual thinking” could result in the structure of education changing, meaning a shift in focus on a more project based curriculum.

The most prominent example of this system theory that we as a total society are facing today is the rise in global temperature caused by the increase of greenhouse gases. The main culprit of this shift is Carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is emitted into the environment when fossil fuels are burnt. Fossil fuels include oil, natural gas, and one of the biggest contributors coal.

Coal is a result of the life cycle of plant life ranging back to the time of the dinosaurs. Its formation occured during the period known as the Carboniferous Period, approximately 286-360 million years ago. As the trees and plants died and sank into the earth they created a layer of material called peat. As time passed (many hundreds of years) the peat was covered by minerals, clay and sand and formed a rock called sedimentary. Rock continued to pile on top of the peat causing it to compress. Eventually all of the water was squeezed out of the peat and over millions of years later it turned into coal.

This long process is what allows us to produce the unsustainable amount of electricity that we consume daily. Coal itself produces 40% of our electricity, resulting in a whopping 6.2 billion tons being consumed annually. This mass addiction to coal is having a huge effect on the environment both in the landscape and in the atmosphere.

In order to burn coal it must first be extracted from the earths surface. The most prominent way of extracting coal in the US is known as surface mining. The majority of the coal reserves in the US are located near the earths surface so to extract the coal miners use large equipment and often dynamite to remove large parts of the earth. As a result the natural habitats of area of the mining have been destroyed in order to feed the need for cheap electricity (subsidized by the government).

The effects of coal on the atmosphere have been detrimental as well. As it is responsible for 37% of all man made Carbon dioxide emissions. Without looking at the entire system humanity has devastated the environment in its need for electricity. If we where to step back and look at the effects of burning coal we could begin to piece back together the system that allows us to live.

Question: do you know where your electricity is coming from? If so is it a green energy source?









One thought on “Week 2: Looking at Coal

  1. I think that this was a really great example of what the readings were saying. So many people don’t realize the true cost of cheap electricity and how that can effect so many things.


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