Modulus 10 – Ryan Gebhardt

  1. Why is biodiversity important to achieve?

Biodiversity on our planet is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Entire ecosystems rely on individual species to perform their acts in the system. If we start to let biodiversity slip through human action, we could cause a domino effect that wipes out millions of species of animals. If we are to preserve our own existence on this planet, we will need a diverse environment that enables us to utilize the world’s biological resources. Another important idea behind biodiversity is that this planet is the only known in the entire universe that contains human life. Of the vast, vast cosmos, only one blue dot among billions is known to hold the precious life that we take for granted. We should do our best to keep biodiversity alive for the sake of life itself.

2. What role do you see yourself (and mankind) play in biodiversity?

I personally believe that we can all collectively make a difference towards furthering biodiversity. We can use political pressure with our combined voice to steer policy towards “green” policies and away from poisonous practices like fossil fuels and over-fishing. Humans have been the catalyst if mass extinctions for too long. We need to take further steps to reduce the impact of the “superpredator” that is the human race. I personally will live my life according to the idea of maintaining a healthy and sustainable relationship with nature, and I hope that my fellow classmates will too.

Module 9 – Ryan Gebhardt


Untitled drawing (1)

When creating my diagram, I decided the most obvious and necessary block of text to include is Climate Change. Since climate change is the core of this issue, I also added three text boxes (in red) of three major contributors towards global warming. These three are methane emissions from agriculture, greenhouse gases that are produced by burning fossil fuels, and carbon emissions stemming from vehicle use. From Climate Change I connected the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, whose central issue was quite clearly climate change. During this meeting, countries from across the world came together to discuss this issue. From there I connected the summit to three more blocks, one of them being the Copenhagen Accord. The US was among the countries that wanted to institute an accord that outlines practices that slow or reverse the pollution tainting our planet. While the US plan would hurt the economies all countries involved to varying degrees, developing countries would feel the brunt of the plan. This made it undesirable for these less-well-off countries who need an industrial economy to become competitive with other nations. Along with this I attached “US seeks intelligence” since the US was trying to get more information to press their accord and I also attached the fact that the Beijing talks hadn’t lead to a deal either. Those combine at my second to last box, the fact that the US hadn’t acquired enough popular support from other countries to enact their accord. As a result of this, the US used its vast intelligence network to try and bully other countries into the deal.

I personally believe that the leaking of this information is very important since it adds a level of accountability to our representatives who act on our behalf. The US government is clearly the most powerful in the world at the moment, having access to bleeding edge technologies and the best and brightest at their disposal. To let this power go constantly unchecked can lead to abuse like what we have seen. The use of spying and threats to bully smaller countries into agreeing with us is very unlike the values the American government is supposed to uphold. Since we live in an international society today, we can’t accept blackmail and extortion as viable negotiation tactics. As strongly as I feel that we need to address climate change, we need to do it in a manner that respects other countries’ privacy and their view points. Convincing a whole country to adopt a policy that might not directly benefit them is tough, but it should be done legally and with proper discourse, not with shadow games and threats.

Vulnerability Reduction – Ryan Gebhardt

My hometown is Delran, New Jersey outside Philly. From scanning The Nathan World Map of Natural hazards, it seems my largest environmental threat is a hurricane coming up the east coast and possible flooding. The map seems to be a great way to get an idea of what disasters parts of the world face, but it isn’t particularly well suited to give an indication of what individual cities and towns face. The map itself isn’t very large, and it wasn’t easy figuring out my town’s location and potential natural disasters.

Using the RSOE interactive map, I noticed an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 measured off the coast of Japan. This caught my eye because it reminded me of the past earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Japanese coast only a few years ago. While this particular earthquake isn’t expected to produce a sizable tsunami, if at all, it is a chilling reminder that this sort of event can happen out of the blue. While this is scary for Japan, the chance of a large-scale earthquake happening in New Jersey is incredibly unlikely. We are nowhere near a fault line, meaning any seismic activity must come from deep underground. If this type of event were to happen in my hometown, however, the earthquake would likely cause a considerable amount of damage. While I’m not entirely positive on what level of strength my hometown’s buildings are built, they were definitely made with earthquakes in mind. Homes like mine that include a basement would be at much higher risk to collapse, causing serious structural damage across the region.

From studying online factors around my hometown I’ve found that a devastating hurricane coming up the east coast or torrential downpour resulting in flooding are the most dangerous two natural disasters that could occur in my hometown. My hometown has experienced hurricanes before, but they usually produce limited property damage in my area, unlike the shore which bears the brunt of the storm. The hurricane’s biggest threat is knocking down trees and power lines in its path and flooding the area. Floods aren’t only caused by hurricanes though, as the local region is prone to heavy downpour. Flooding causes damage by seeping into structures and blocking infrastructure like roads and bridges. The property damage from this can be costly, and with the combination of power loss from these storms can cause life-threatening conditions.

The best way for my town to protect itself from these two natural disasters is to ensure buildings are well protected from flooding conditions and that our electrical utilities are well protected in the event of heavy winds and possible flying debris. Flood protection can be in the form of building codes, a town-wide effort to shore up building protections, or installing more flood drains around the town to prevent water buildup. Hurricanes are trickier to prepare for since they involve flying debris and high-speed winds, which can cause unfavorable situations no matter what you plan for. For a hurricane, the best preparation is a thought-out evacuation/protection plan. If the homes of residents are at risk of destruction from the wind, the township should have a procedure for residents to take cover in a community building made to survive such conditions. I believe my home town already provides this service, like many around me. The best people to foresee these procedures would be the local government officials, like the mayor and health and safety office. If I were to personally prepare for these events, I would ensure my family had proper access to clean water in the event of the water pipes becoming unusable from flooding. I would encourage my neighbors to do the same and make sure there’s enough food for at least a few days to a week.

Module 7 – Ryan Gebhardt

My I live in my small hometown of Delran, NJ, about 20 minutes away from Philadelphia. It has a decent sized population of 17,000 and is overall a middle class township. Being a town of 7 square miles, the population is pretty dense at 2500 per square mile. It’s definitely an automobile suburb, but I often found myself walking across the town to get some food with my friends as a kid. I grew up in this town all of my life, and experienced a lot of what it had to offer. In the part of Delran I lived in, the main community spot was the local swim club. During the summer it was very common to see a lot of your neighbors, making it great to socialize and get to know your neighbors. We also had a park close by that was often frequented by kids from all over, especially during the summer.

The Danish city of Copenhagen is the first city I would like to talk about. It really caught my eye and I thought what they did there was what I’d like to see more cities do. The emphasis on pedestrian and cycling modes of transportation is definitely appealed to me, as it both adds an incentive to use automobiles less, which lowers emissions and less pollution, and creates a relaxing release from stress. If more cities had better cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, we could see more human-based architectural development that could lead to some beautiful cities. While my town is no city, I would like to see some of these ideas implemented in my hometown to further encourage social activities, which can really pull together a community.

The second city I’d like to talk about is the New England city of Boston, Massachusetts and its Beacon Hill. I chose this one because one of my roommates was born and raised around Boston. This place is another example of a pedestrian focused town, something I really value. I really love the design of pedestrian only streets, especially with the beautiful Boston architecture. Without a doubt I think that pedestrian designs are effective in bringing a community together, since you aren’t as solitary as you would be in a car and are more likely to socialize. It also has the effect of lowering car usage and therefor emissions produced will also decrease.

Ryan Gebhardt – The Virtue of Moderation

Like everyone else here, my diet as a kid was affected by social norms. My diet was a fairly typical diet for a middle-class kid in America. We ate hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, and a lot of other unhealthy food often propagated by our American culture, so you might think we had a problem with obesity. Nope. We might have taken part in eating greasy or sugar-filled food, but we did it in moderation. My mom cooked us plenty of healthy and nutritious meals, like some tasty grilled chicken or a plate of steamed salmon, but allowed us to treat ourselves on McDonalds or some Chinese food every once in a while. Everyone in my family maintained a healthy physique and a healthy attitude towards food.

In today’s society we have an issue with obesity. A lot of factors play in to the physical condition of obesity, but by far the largest factor (as shown by scientific studies) is from putting too many calories into one’s body. Genetics, while having an influence, takes a backseat to the driving force of the pleasure of eating food. When we are young our views and relationship with food is determined by the choices of our parents. If as a child your parents feed you cheap and unhealthy at every opportunity, you’d be far more likely to develop obesity as you age. Social norms plays a large factor in dictating these parents’ actions. Often people believe that a “well fed” (fat) baby is a healthy baby since they will use the excess to grow bigger and stronger, which is woefully incorrect and is damaging to the child’s health and future relationship with food. If more parents taught their children the virtue of moderation, we’d have far less obese individuals in this world.Untitled document

The Power of Incentives, from France to North Carolina

The first case I chose was from the Colby database under Agriculture. The focal question asked by this case is: Does farmer behavior matter in determining the supply of environmental benefits? Shortly after World War 2, European countries were having serious problems with farmers unable to accumulate sufficient income, stifling agricultural growth. The CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) implemented a price floor to let farmers sell their crops for higher-than-market prices, which ultimately ended disastrously with a huge surplus of crops and low global prices for these products. While CAP reformed their policies, they realized the need to protect the environment from the heavy-use of farming in the area. They realized this wasn’t a form of sustainable development, and to fix this they implemented incentives for farmers to implement eco-friendly processes. The success of these programs were determined entirely by the amount of participation from farmers, even when the government promised to pay for any income lost from the practice. Older farmers (who were set in their ways) were less likely to implement the practice than younger farmers were.

My second case comes from the University of Michigan, an environmental justice article about hogs in North Carolina. North Carolina has more hogs today than ever, all pent up in farms made to contain and breed them for food. The waste from these hogs is abundant. It is stored in large “lagoons” which can be up to 10 acres of surface area and as a deep as 12 feet. These lagoons are claimed to be leak-proof, the sludge from the waste would sink to the bottom of the lagoon and seal it shut. Even the Division of Environmental Management claims they are perfectly safe, yet a N.C. State study says they are insufficient and pollute waterways. It claims that sandy areas especially are easily permeable for the lagoons to leak out into essential water ways and underground wells. These lagoons are rich in nitrogen and when they leak into nearby rivers or other waterways, algae can grow and explode in number, which eat the oxygen in the water and kill wildlife around it. This is an environmental justice issue that current policies don’t effectively cover. There needs to be some policy in place to incentivize these hogs farmers to push them to add these protections to the environment.

I have lived my whole life in Southern New Jersey, a place where farms are very abundant. Whenever there is human development, there are often conflicts with the health of the environment. Agricultural growth in New Jersey isn’t defined by large development, but instead compact development. The impact of New Jersey farmers on the environment can be related both to the hog farmers of North Carolina and the farmers in France. The idea of compact development can interfere with local suburbs and bring up health risks concerning the proximity to pesticides and other wastes. The use of too many farms all within proximity to each other can cause damage to the natural ecosystems by developing over them and draining soil nutrition in the surrounding areas. Both are related to the two case studies, the Hog farming and French farmers respectively. We can learn from these two cases that we need policies that incentivize sustainable developmetn and environemtnal justice through an economic means. Farmers in New Jersey to farmers in France to farmers of hogs in North Carolina all work for an income. Policies that give farmers a chance to protect the environment without hurting their income will always be the favorable option.

Ryan Gebhardt – Modulus 4


I live in a small town called Delran in Burlington County in Southern NJ. The households in this township are supplied by subterranean water wells, like most South Jersey townships, which are extracted by local water utilities and stored in water towers to be distributed. Excess and waste water from households enters the sewers through household pipes, which is sent to one of two water treatment facilities. The New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System is in charge of purifying the water through a myriad of facilities used to discharge water back into the system. The water sent there gets purified by one of these facilities where it reenters the water supply. I thought this was interesting because I always thought we retrieved our water from the Delaware river and/or the Rancocas Creek, both of which are close by (Even Delran’s name derives from these two rivers.)


Water Using Activity Number of Times Water Expended
Shower 1 (15 minutes) 40 gallons
Toilet Usage 4 toilet flushes 7 gallons
Drinking Water 5 glasses  1 gallon
Hand washing 4 2 quarts
Brush teeth 2 2 quarts
Handwash Dishes 1 2 gallons
  Total 51 gallons


On Sunday, I attempted to use only two gallons of water for the whole day. I woke up and decided I had to skip a shower to get anywhere close to two gallons. I used the bathroom and washed my hands, realizing I had practically used up my daily allowance in one go. To only use two gallons of water a day, I’d probably need to completely forfeit any hope of using some for personal hygiene. If I drank less than one gallon of water a day and nothing else, I would be able to flush my toilet just once. So if I were to retry this task, I would first eliminate my use of many sanitary options. No toilets, no showers, little to no amount of water to wash out my mouth after brushing my teeth, use paper plates instead of reusable plates, only one or two glasses of drinking water and only wash hands before preparing a meal. In theory it sounds doable, in practice it is much harder to grasp how much water I use. Thinking about how much water I get to enjoy on a daily basis makes me very thankful to live in a country where this water usage is the norm. To live off only two gallons a day sounds like such a foreign concept to me.

Ryan Gebhardt – Modulus 3

Question 1: Is it more important to be a good person or to perform good acts (virtue ethics vs. action ethics)?

This is the classic case of “what makes someone good?” I believe this question is fundamentally flawed because it fails to understand what ‘good’ is, in my opinion. I believe ‘good’ can not be objectively stated in all cases. An interesting (and somewhat extreme) case of this is one person many believe was the most evil man to walk the Earth, Adolf Hitler. Hitler committed many atrocities in his lifetime, but he still believed he was not only a good person, but he also was performing ‘good’ acts for the betterment of mankind. We may sit here and think he was insane for believing so, but what do you judge his decisions based off of? I don’t believe there is some absolute ‘good’ to judge every decision against. Every action we make is relative to our own moral compass and it is only the self that can determine what is ‘good’ in our eyes. We all like to believe we are not only good people, but our actions are for the most part ‘good’ acts.

Question 3: Does the process by which decisions are made matter more than the outcomes of these decisions (procedural justice vs. distributive justice)?

I believe that the process of how decisions are made are either even more important than the decisions themselves. I believe a great example of this is our justice system (at least in theory.) Our justice system has the duty of determining who is innocent and who is guilty, which in some cases is also the decisions between life and death. The process by which this decision is made is far more important to me than what the actual result is. I’ll use an example to explain my reasoning. Imagine a scenario in which a man is on trial for murder. The prosecution offers a piece of evidence which is damning, like the murder weapon with the defendants finger-prints on it. However it comes to light the prosecution broke into the defendants home without a warrant and found it in his closet. from the outside it’s obvious that the man did the crime, but should he face punishment? They had the evidence to convict the man, but only after committing a crime themselves. The method in which one makes a decision should be the the spirit of the decision itself, i.e, if one wants practice law, they must stay within the law themselves.

Question 4: Do ecosystems matter for their own sake, or do they only matter to the extent that they impact humans (ecocentric ethics vs. anthropocentric ethics)?

As humans, I believe we are only capable of believing they matter to the extent that they impact us. I do not believe humans have an inherent connection to the ecosystems outside our human environment. The only connection we have to the many multitudes of ecosystems in this world today is how they directly, or indirectly, affect our lives and the sentiment we show towards them. There are many reasons why we need to respect and maintain our ecosystems in today’s world, considering we draw so many resources from it. In the long-run the only thing keeping ecosystems from being rolled over by human development is our own sense of sentiment towards their utter complexity and beauty. What this means is that the value we each individually give to the ecosystems of our planet is the only value that can exist,. Without humans to subjectively determine value, no value can exist. Therefore anthropocentric views are the only view we can truly hold on to.

Question 5: Do the pleasure and pain of non-human animals matter as much as the pleasure and pain of humans (speciesism)?

This is a particularly hot topic of debate that more often than not leads to polarization of either side. In my opinion, there is a stark difference in the lives and experiences of humans and animals. Humans have the extraordinary ability of conscious thought. We can make decisions, ideas, revolutions, and philosophize. I believe this to be an incredibly important distinction when valuing the lives of humans to non-human animals. Our brains are not fully understood machines, but we are so far ahead of non-humans in intellect that it may be true that there exists a sort of existential line that, once crossed, catapults that creature’s brain to one of a self-aware thinking being. If I had to choose between the pain of a human or the pain of an animal, I would always choose the animal. Likewise, if the decision was of pleasure, I would always choose the human to experience pleasure. In some capacity animals are more like machines experiencing things, while humans are capable of understanding the impact of the effects.


I accidentally did 4 questions, might as well keep all four up though.

Ryan Gebhardt Module 2

Biogas is a very good example of an idea that contributes to a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. On each side of my diagram is the ecosystem and the Social System and its components related to each of them. In the design of my diagram I tried to show Biogas as the driving force of its many positive impacts, some of which also branch off and have further effects on the system. While biogas’ immediate purpose might be to lower human effort in collecting firewood and produce less harmful gases from stoves, through its byproducts the women of the village were able to provide a living for themselves producing and selling organic compost. And from this compost, farmers produced higher yields of higher quality crops which benefits the local people and economy greatly.

When comparing my diagram to Gerry Marten’s figure 1.5 in “Human Ecology,” I notice we have some similarities and differences. I would say Gerry’s figure includes a lot of similar ideas to mine, including the production of compost and the decrease in deforestation. However we differ in some areas, especially on the social system-side. I chose to include farmers on the social-side due to the primarily human impact it has. He also doesn’t include the economic impact of the situation, like how the local women were making a living and farmers were earning more from their crops. We seem to have differences because he focused more on the broader implications of this product while I focused more on the specific impacts it makes to the people involved. From comparison of the two designs I believe it makes it clear there are always more angles to look at issues than we might imagine.

Module 2 Biogas_rpg5121

Getting to Know You – Ryan Gebhardt

Hello, my name is Ryan Gebhardt. I’m a sophomore here at University Park, State College, PA. I am originally from the small town of Delran in New Jersey, a few minutes out from Philadelphia. I am an undergraduate in the College of Engineering and the major I’m working towards is Electrical Engineering. I have an interest in programming and enjoy to play video games in my spare time. My favorite game being Dota 2 which I have even joined a club for it here at Penn State. I’m looking to join more clubs this semester to further look into my interests and make more connections. What I hope to gain from this course is a better understanding of how people affect and use the geography around them through culture and necessity. I’m also interested in the political side of geography and how decisions in congress may be able affect our view of the world.

An important issue that I’m interested in the the first module brings up is how governance affects geography. The natural world around us is subject to many human forces, which are more or less controlled by the governing body located in that area. Decisions made by policy makers or despots can now affect issues all over the world thanks to globalization and the connectedness of modern society. We are in an age that is beginning to understand that every action we take as both groups and individuals affects the planet in its own way. Government decisions related to economy and trade can be especially impactful since it encourages or discourages production of goods, which often either adds to or takes away sources of environmental damage.