MOD 10 – Chris Miller


Part One:  Draw on the lecture to create a system diagram that shows how humans impact biodiversity and vice versa.

Part Two:  In 250-300 words explain your system diagram.

This diagram shows how biodiversity and humans are interrelated.  Each affects the other in various ways that I tried to capture.  I also attempted to show that there are different lenses though which one can examine the interaction.  To start I have an arrow pointing from biodiversity to humans.  This signifies that biodiversity impacts humans and the arrow in the opposite indicates the same, only for humans.  Biodiversity impacts humans first through an anthropocentric view.  This is further broken down into ecosystem services, which include all of the quality of life benefits we receive such as clean air, water, replenishing soil and maintaining a proper heat balance in the atmosphere.  The other uses are more economic and provide a more tangible benefit.  For example biodiversity provides us with medicines, food, recreation and scientific information.  On the other branch we have the ecocentric branch.  Humans don’t really receive anything in this view, but we understand that biodiversity has an intrinsic value and a right to exist.  In the other direction, from humans to biodiversity, I have three main categories.  The first category signifies that humans have impacted biodiversity through movement and migration.  Also, that we have affected it through selective breeding in agriculture.  Conservation efforts can stem from both ecocentric and anthropocentric views, but the point is that humans realize the need for biodiversity and affect it through conservation.  Lastly, I have destruction of biodiversity for economic gain.  I think this is the largest impact that humans have had on biodiversity.  Throughout time we have chosen our needs over the needs of the environment, which has harmed biodiversity.  This trend continues to this day and is a complicated issue to solve.

Part Three:  In 325-350 compare and contrast the deforestation in the U.S. and the deforestation in the Amazon.  Examine the reasons for the deforestation and consider the ethical implications.  What should be done?

There are many reason for the deforestation in the Amazonian forest.  For starters the government incentivizes this deforestation through a combination of tax breaks and subsidies.  The Amazon also suffers because of clear-cutting for cattle, subsistence farming, commercial agriculture and logging (Lind).  The commonality between all of these activities is that they benefit people by providing economic opportunities.  This poses an ethical question and a choice between people or the environment.  The same situation took place in the U.S. as we learned within the lecture.  The U.S. chose people over the environment as nearly all of our virgin forests have been clear-cut.  Many of the governmental policies between Brazil and the U.S. are also very similar.  For example the U.S. provides subsidies to farmers and the agriculture industry enjoys substantial property tax breaks.  We also destroyed our forests for economic gain through logging, agriculture, and other activities that contributed to economic development.  The essential question is how can we as a nation ask other countries to protect their biodiversity when we destroyed ours?  The U.S. gained so much in economic terms through the exploitation of our natural resources.  It’s unjust of us to expect people of other nations to forgo economic development in favor of biodiversity.  This is similar to the conflict we examined within the climate change module.  In the climate change module the developed nations benefited from exploiting fossil fuels, while less-developed nations are just beginning to reap the benefits.  Once again it’s unfair of us to expect them to give up their economic development. I think the only course of action is for developed nations to contribute to a worldwide fund.  This fund would be used to fund sustainable investments in nations where biodiversity is threatened.  The purpose of the fund would be to provide economic opportunity to locals, while protecting the forests.  Providing an alternative source of income is one of the best ways to discourage deforestation, while also benefiting the local population.

Lind, Derick. “Impacts and Causes of Deforestation in the Amazon Basin.” Impacts and Causes of Deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Kanat, 6 May 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

The Politics of Climate Change – MOD9


The WikiLeaks cables showed how complex the politics of climate change are.  I didn’t want to focus on the specific acts that any one nation was taking, but rather what was driving those actions.  In my diagram I illustrated that climate change is finally recognized worldwide as a scientific fact by the majority of nations.  Private citizens and politicians have begun to understand the dire implications of climate change not only for future generations, but for current ones as well.  I think the world is beginning to act on climate change even if we’re in the early stages.  My second bubble is “Politics” because now that the problem is recognized, the politics of nations comes into play.  WikiLeaks gave us an interesting insight into the behind the scenes actions of our government and governments around the world.  By looking at the actions of these governments and their economic situations, I placed them into either the “Developed,” “Developing,” or “Underdeveloped” categories.  Developed nations like the U.S. have already benefited from the industrial revolution and are moving towards a green economy regardless whether we are forced to or not.  Developing countries have benefited from the industrial revolution and use of fossil fuels, but not to the same extent as the developed countries.  They still rely and will rely on fossil fuels for many years to come.  The developed countries had their turn and ruined the environment in the process.  To them it’s only fair that they be allowed to maximize their economic development through the use of fossil fuels.  We also have the underdeveloped countries.  These countries have not benefited greatly from the industrial revolution, but they often bear the worst of its consequences.  I further categorized “Developed” and “Developing” in to “Countries with Influence.”  The “Underdeveloped Countries” were placed into a category titled “Countries Vulnerable to Influence.”  Essentially the developed and developing countries are using political, economic, and covert tools to exert their influence, while the underdeveloped countries are selling their votes.  The Copenhagen Accord battle is just one battle of many more to come in the climate change saga.

The earth is at a point where change must happen, especially with the discovery of a planetary bound.  Our planet is extremely resilient, but our actions have pushed this resiliency near its limit.  I believe that everything should be done by the U.S. to slow climate change, with the eventual goal of stopping it.  I do not think that the U.S. diplomatic cables should have been released.  Transparency is great, but other nations opposed to our plans would use that information to undermine our efforts.  I see this as a question between distributive justice and procedural justice.  A country subscribing to procedural justice would follow all international rules and not worry about what decisions are made.  The better approach is to follow distributive justice and concern ourselves with the consequences of our actions.  We should weigh each decision and see if it will benefit the people of the world.  The U.S. is in a unique position as the world’s super power to foster change or force change if need be.  We should use our influence to create change diplomatically, while also creating change with our economic resources.  If we can help other nations become more sustainable their economy, quality of life, and the global climate change situation will improve.  In my opinion the ends justify the means when it comes to climate change.  I do not have a problem with the methods used by the U.S. to pass the Copenhagen Accord, but I do have a problem with the consequences.  The Copenhagen accord is a flimsy agreement that will do little to stop climate change.  The agreements passing also weakened other more promising solutions.  It appears that the U.S. was more interested in saving face than actually creating change.  We need the world’s super powers to us any means necessary to solve climate change.  It is a classic collective action problem and I think the solution is a strong country willing to lead.  People will always look out for themselves before they worry about what the world’s climate will be like in 100 years.

Chris Miller – Learning Activity 8

My hometown of Pittsburgh is located in a region with a low risk of natural disasters.  According to the Nathan World Map Pittsburgh has a very low risk of wild fires and tornados.  There is some earthquake risk, but it’s also negligible.  The greatest risk seems to come from precipitation which causes flooding and hazardous winter snowfall.  In my opinion, the Nathan World Map is not very well suited for looking at specific cities. The map is a better resource for comparing different global regions on a larger scale.  It’s hard to accurately determine the risks that Pittsburgh faces.  To improve the Map’s usefulness, it would help if it were interactive and allowed the user to zoom in to a smaller scale.

I chose to focus on a heat wave in Kenya that occurred this March.  According to the RSOE EDIS website there were no fatalities, but there were reports of dehydration.  This disaster interested me because it’s something that can affect my hometown of Pittsburgh as well.  Heat waves can affect many different regions, albeit to varying degrees.  Pittsburgh has a temperate climate, so any heatwave wouldn’t have the same intensity as a heat wave in Kenya because it lies on the equator and therefore has a much hotter climate.  The scale of the disaster in Kenya was widespread, but didn’t do a whole lot of damage to the populace.  Heat waves are very dangerous, especially for people that lack air conditioning.  People engaged in physical activity are also at great risk of heat stroke or dehydration.  I think that part of what makes heat wave so dangerous is that many people do not take them very seriously.  Everyone takes most natural disasters seriously, but heat waves are a more insidious type of disaster.  I think that the scale of the disaster in Kenya is similar to what would happen in Pittsburgh, however as I said before the intensity would be lower.  Also, most people have air conditioning in the U.S., which can save lives if people limit their time outside.  If a heat wave hits Pittsburgh we would see an increase in dehydration and heat-related illness just like in Kenya.  Heat waves affect a wide area and can last for a long time. This puts the poor at a special disadvantage.  Like I previously stated, most people in the U.S. have air-condition, which can help people avoid being sickened by a heat wave.  A few of the only people who lack air conditioning are the poor.  They may either not have it or have too little money to pay for the electricity.  Young children are also at a disadvantage because they are active and do not understand the dangers posed or the need to stay hydration.

Pittsburgh is a very safe city in regards to natural disaster risk.  The three largest risks according to Brookline History are flooding, precipitation and tornados.  Flooding is the largest risk because of the way Pittsburgh is situated.  The city is surrounded by rivers and Brookline History says that the city experiences a flood at least once a year.  The flood level is 24 feet and the river is normally around 16 feet.  A flood that should statistically occur once every 100 years would be around 35 feet higher, which is almost 20 feet higher than the normal water height.  The second greatest risk is also posed by precipitation because Pittsburgh can experience severe snowstorms.  The area is also vulnerable to tornados and earthquakes, but these are less severe than in other regions. I have personally experienced a minor earthquake and tornado but in general Pittsburgh is very safe from natural disasters.

To increase the resiliency to natural disasters in my town of Pittsburgh the community can take a variety of steps.  First we must understand the dangers and vulnerabilities of the geographic region.  The city of Pittsburgh has many rivers and is located in a valley.  This makes it susceptible to flooding.  Flooding is by far the greatest danger faced.  To combat the dangers of flooding and other disasters, early warning systems are the first line of defense.  Accurately predicting natural disasters allows the government and citizens to mobilize and prepare for the upcoming event.  Pre-preparation is key to readying any area for a disaster.  Competent systems such as evacuation procedures must be in place and ready to be executed. I think that the local and city government would be in the best place to perform these actions.  Individuals can also prepare by understanding what to do during different disasters.

Improving Sustainability MOD 7

I’m from Pine Township, which is a suburb about twenty minutes outside of Pittsburgh.  The neighborhoods are spread out and consist mainly of single family homes.  A car is required as there is no downtown and shopping must be done at strip malls.  There is also little public transportation.  After reading the module I would classify it as an automobile suburb.  The township has a total population of 11,497 people according to the 2010 census and is located in Allegheny County.  The community might be small, but being part of Allegheny County gives Pine residents access to most things associated with larger cities.  Many parents work in Pittsburgh, as does my dad.  I lived in the same house in Pine Township my entire life and enjoyed growing up there.  I was lucky to have safe neighborhoods with wide open spaces to play in.  I realize that the automobile suburb is not very sustainable, but I do recognize the advantages it has for raising a family.

The first city I chose to examine was Rochester, NY.  This is the most similar neighborhood to Pine Township.  Rochester and Pine are both automobile suburbs located on the outer edges major metropolitan areas.  I think that both of these neighborhoods have sustainability problems that are complicated and hard to address.  The distances to shopping areas makes it nearly impossible to live in the area without a car.  Another problem is the lack of population density.  The fact that the population is not concentrated makes public transportation unviable.  Despite these problems, there are ways to improve the sustainability of Pine Township.  One of the main ways is by changing the mixture of old and new developments.  I’ve already witnessed this as Pine now has two mixed use developments consisting of townhomes and shops intermingled.  This decreases the need for a car and encourages walking.  Another way to improve the sustainability is for the township to enact policies that encourage new and old construction to meet higher environmental standards that offset the heavy reliance on automobiles.

The Jamaica Plain neighborhood is Boston has a few similarities to Pine Township.  This leads me to believe that Pine could borrow some of Jamaica Plain’s features to become more sustainable.  Jamaica Plain and Pine are both suburbs, albeit different types.  Pine Township is growing and has had population growth of 47.4% since 2000.  This means that the population density is increasing, leading me to believe that public transportation could become viable.  Jamaica Plains has a higher population density, but if Pine continues to grow, it could borrow aspects from their streetcar model.  As I previously mentioned, Pine is increasing the amount of mixed use developments and these would be great places to locate bus stops.  It will never be possible for everyone to walk to these stops, but a large portion of the population would be able to.  Also, many people work in Pittsburgh and commute daily.  Currently there is no train line servicing the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh.  In the future bus lines could transport commuters to the train, which would increase the townships sustainability.

A Diet Centered Around Protein

This assignment really made me think about what I eat in my daily life.  I’ve never really looked at my eating habits before and didn’t think they were unusual.  When I broke it down, I realized that I eat meat with almost every meal.  It is usually eggs in the morning, lunchmeat in the afternoon, and some type of meat for dinner.  A lot of my dinners are predominately meat because in my mind it’s the focus.  A meal doesn’t feel complete without some type of meat.  I think this social norm came from my family.  I grew up in a family that ate some type of meat with almost every meal.  My friends and extended family were the same way. I think this type of eating is normal for many Americans.  We’re relatively affluent compared to the rest of the world and this affluence shows up in our diets.  Eating a lot of meat is definitely a social norm in this country.  We can see this norm in the way vegetarians are treated.

My food choice is definitely bad for the environment.  Eating a lot of meat has a large impact on our resource usage and is a contributing factor to global warming.  The first issue posed by eating meat is sustainability.  It’s not sustainable for everyone on the planet to have the same diet as me.  As incomes rise, people will buy more meat and worsen the problem.  Eating meat is not sustainable because of the inputs it takes to raise livestock.  They need to be fed with food that could otherwise be for human consumption.  The caloric intake of an animal does not equal the calories we get when they’re consumed. This means that calories, which took resources to grow are wasted.  The second societal issue posed by a meat-centric diet is obesity.  We all know that Americans have an obesity problem and our diets are a major factor.  Meat has high levels of fat and we would be healthier by incorporating more plants into our diets.



Economic Development vs. the Environment

I chose to examine a case study that looked at deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.  This case comes from Colby College  The focus of the case is about how the Brazilian government’s decisions impact local farmers and in-turn impact the amazon.  The government’s tax policies benefit major producers by excluding up to 90% of income from taxation.  This drives up the price of land beyond the reach of small producers who are then driven to find cheaper land in the Amazon.  The government also recognizes squatter rights and this further incentivizes local farmers to clear-cut and farm the Amazonian forest. Brazil has a large agriculture sector and this tax structure is in place to grow the industry.  The goal of the policy is economic development and an increase in the per capita GDP of Brazil.  As we learned in lecture, development is an ethical question and not all development is positive.  In this case we can see the positives because it increases GDP and provides jobs, but at the same time it decimates forests.

The second case I chose focuses on deforestation in Indonesia and comes from the Indonesian Working Group on Underlying Causes of Deforestation and Forest Degradation  Indonesia’s rate of deforestation dramatically increased in 1966 after all forests were declared state property.  This simplified ownership and made it easier for international corporations to operate in logging and agriculture.  During the 1990’s the government had a stated goal to become the world’s largest producer of wood pulp and palm oil.  The International Monetary Fund further worsened the situation when they stipulated that Indonesia should remove all barriers to palm oil investment.  This case is similar to the Brazilian deforestation problem, but they differ on scale.  The deforestation in Indonesia is at the nationwide scale, while Brazil’s occurs at the local level.  This development is also focused on increasing GPD to improve the lives of Indonesians.  Once again, this development has positive and negative effects. The ethical question posed is, what is more important, the lives of Indonesians or preserving the natural habitat?

I lived my entire life in a populated suburb about twenty minutes outside of Pittsburgh.  The lecture showed that GDP is a strong indicator of development, despite its limitations.  Both Indonesia and Brazil are less developed when looking at per capita GDP as an indicator.  My town does not rely on the environment for our income, unlike the people of Brazil and Indonesia.  We can apply the concept of environmental determinism to understand the policies of the governments and the actions of the people.  Both Indonesia and Brazil have warm climates and plenty of arable land on which to farm.  In Pennsylvania half of the year is too cold to grow anything and most of the land is already occupied.  The Indonesian and Brazilian people have a strong incentive to farm, which leads to deforestation.  I had other avenues to pursue in order to make a living.  I think it’s important to conserve, but I can’t blame the people or the government for trying to improve their lives.

Water Supply and My Usage

I live in Pine Township, which is located about 20 minutes north of Pittsburgh.  My township contracts our water services out to the West View Water Authority.  They provide water for over 200,000 people in the Pittsburgh area.  The West View Water Authority treatment plant is located on Neville Island.  The plant obtains its water from the Ohio River and treats it using granular activated carbon among other chemicals.  After treatment, the water is pumped to one of 11 reservoirs located in their area of operation. From here the water is pumped into the Pine Township water storage tank.  The water storage tank is necessary because water is delivered by utilizing gravity.  When I turn on a tap or take a shower, gravity allows the water to flow down from the water tank, through a series of pipes and out my faucet.  From here the water goes down the drain and enters a series of pipes that take it to a wastewater treatment plant.  My wastewater treatment plant is located in the neighboring township of Cranberry.  The wastewater plant process the water using both physical process and chemicals.  After treatment it is released into Brush Creek.


I failed in my attempt to live on two gallons of water for a day.  My usage was roughly 5 gallons. The night before my attempt, I made a plan detailing my water usage for the entire day.  I used water for drinking, washing, brushing, toilet flushing, and dishwashing.  The largest portion of my daily water usage comes from showering.  We have an older shower that uses roughly 5 gallons per minute.  This would have blown me through my 2 gallon goal, so I took a shower the night before to eliminate my largest usage of water.  For my other activities, I consciously used as little water as possible.  Flushing the toilet is my second largest usage of water and I planned around this to minimize its impact.  I only used the facilities on campus, which are more efficient.  I also used the urinal as much as possible.  Despite not meeting my goal, I did substantially reduce my water usage compared to the total calculated in 1-b.  I can imagine the challenge of living in an area that does not receive adequate precipitation.  In order for a sustainable future, we need to build in areas with a reliable water supply.

Module 3: Ethics

Is it more important to be a good person or to perform good acts (virtue ethics vs. action ethics)?

This is an interesting questions because as the lesson recognizes, virtue and action ethics are interconnected.  That being said, I believe it is more important to perform good acts.  Regardless of whether the person is good, when they perform good acts it has a positive effect on everything else.  I place more weight on doing what is right because the action is what will have an impact.  There are many great people who want to do good things, but never get around to it.  They might be good people, but they never did anything to help out and create a positive impact.  The flip-side is people who perform good acts, but have hidden motives.  Celebrities are a good example because I’m sure many of them only do charity out of self-interest.  Regardless of the fact that they are acting out of self-interest, their actions have a positive effect on the world.  This is not an easy question, but I believe we are judged by our actions, not our thoughts or intentions.

Do the ends justify the means (ends ethics vs. means ethics)?

I believe that there are many situations where the ends justify the means. For example consider a person who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. In this case a lawyer would be justified to break the law in order to overturn the wrongful conviction.  There are however limits when thinking about ends ethics.  The means that get you to the end cannot be too extreme.  This is where the essential problem with ends ethics lies.  How do you determine what’s justified and what isn’t?  I believe that for most things the end result is what matters as long as it is positive.  I would rather have someone do something immoral if the end effect outweighs their transgression.  I can however think of many situations where the means would not be justified by the end result.  I think that both types of ethics have a place in society.  Sometimes the means can be justified by the end.  In other cases the means cannot be justified by the end result.  We need to evaluate each situation individually.  I believe that whenever possible we should try to do things the right way, but sometimes it’s ok to use questionable means if the ends justify it.

Do ecosystems matter for their own sake, or do they only matter to the extent that they impact humans (ecocentric ethics vs. anthropocentric ethics)?

I believe that ecosystems matter or their own sake.  My view is more in line with ecocentric ethics because we as humans do not have a right to everything.  Natural environments and their living organisms have just as much a right to exist as we do.  I understand that humans are the ultimate apex predator and can basically do whatever we want with nature.  Just because we have the power, it doesn’t mean we should use it.  I think that ecosystems should be left as alone as possible.  This being said I do believe that some human interaction with the environment can help save ecosystems.  We need space to live, farm and exist.  Every natural environment cannot be preserved, but we should try to be as sustainable as possible.  If making a forest a national park can help preserve it, that’s what we should do.  It won’t be unspoiled wilderness, but it’s the best we can do.  If houses need to be built they should be designed in the least environmentally damaging way.  Our actions should be sustainable, where both humans and the environment live in cohesion.

Module 2: Learning Activity – Chris Miller

In my diagram I tried to show what the people were doing in their lives and the impact this was having on the environment.  Prior to the installation of a Biogas system the people and environment were not in cohesion.  People took what they needed from the environment and their lives were hard.  They couldn’t worry about the environment because they were focused on surviving.  This wasn’t good for the local population or the ecosystem.  The situation with a Biogas system looks like a positive feedback loop.  The loop started when people began composting, which turned their waste into something beneficial.  This improved crop yields and these extra crops will create more waste than before.  The waste is also providing jobs to locals and the farmers should have more income from their increased crop yields.  With more money in the local economy consumption should rise, thereby creating more waste in the future and continuing the loop.

My diagram is similar to 1.5 in that we have both broken it into two main categories (Social System and Ecosystem).  Our diagrams also both show the interconnectedness between the social system and ecosystem.  There are many differences most notably that my diagram focuses on a broader view.  The books diagram is a little more specific and focuses on the small problems and positives within the system.  I think that there are similarities and differences because we are both trying to illustrate an interconnected system but took slightly different approaches.  By looking at both diagrams you can see both the large issues and the small drivers of those issues.


Getting to Know Me: Chris Miller

Hi everyone, my name is Chris Miller.  I’m a senior Finance major at Penn State.  I currently live off-campus in downtown state college.  During my childhood in Pittsburgh, I developed an appreciation for nature by playing in the woods behind our home. I also enjoy lifting and playing basketball in my free-time. This is my fourth year at Penn State and with graduation approaching, I’ve been considering different career options.  I spent the past seven months working at IBM in New York. I’ll either end up in corporate finance or banking. I’m excited to take this course and learn about geography at the college-level.  Specifically, I would like to gain a better understanding of our negative interactions with the environment and how these can be improved.

I’m interested to see how geography can analyze human-environment interactions and help solve global issues.  With this problem I believe it’s essential to look at scale, globalization, and governance.  Many country specific environmental issues have far reaching implications.  We need to examine how globalization increase the strain on these resources and how nations can govern trade to reduce the strain.  This governance should promote sustainability, without economically harming local actors. Over-fishing is a great example because it’s a global problem with severe consequences for local communities.  Governments need to create a sustainable framework of laws and treaties to combat this problem, while keeping scale in mind.  Globalization has increased demand for seafood and people at the local level are incentivized to meet this demand.  Any solution should consider this local scale and explore ways to provide new employment.  A possible solution would be to construct a fishery in the local region, which would meet demand and provide an alternative to fishermen.