Biodiversity in the National Parks

  1. Find a personal favorite/particularly interesting US National Park and describe its biodiversity in a general sense. (100-200 words)
  1. Create an energy flow systems diagram on Google Docs including at least five different animal species and 1 plant species. (Describe the interaction between species along the arrows of the diagram.)
  1. Identify a current or potential future threat to a species in the National Park. Has there been any steps taken to address these threats? If so, please describe. If not, think of a way this threat could be stopped or mitigated. (100-200 words)
  1. The Zion National Park is situated in a particularly fascinating area of Southwest Utah, and exhibits some of the most striking landscape scenery in the country. Along with its amazing views, it also houses a variety of plant and animal species. The top predators within the park include cougars, coyotes, X, and X. Bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, rock squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and many other small animals roam the park as well. The park contains bright green flora that provides great contrast to the canyon walls throughout Zion. There are a vast amount of plant species throughout the park include sagebrush, prickly pear cactus, juniper, and douglas fir. At Zion National Park, no matter where one turns, a landscape bursting with life is lying there waiting to be explored.
  1. zion national park
  1. One issue that the Zion National Park has faced throughout much of its history and still to this day, is a shortage of bighorn sheep. The initial decline in bighorn sheep populations was due to the damaging effects of the settlement and development of the local land. As we have seen in this past module and others before it, human development of land has extremely damaging effects including disrupting water flows, depleting resources, and introducing new diseases through livestock. The loss of the bighorn sheep would mean a link in the food chain would be removed, undoubtedly causing damage to the rest of the species in the park. There have been reintroduction efforts ongoing since the mid-1960’s, but numbers stayed low for a number of decades throughout multiple attempts. Presently, there are over 65 bighorn sheep in the park and the herd appears to be doing well and growing. Park officials believe Zion could support at least twice as many bighorns, so hopes are up for the future of this iconic species.

Module 9 – Climate Change

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My diagram begins with the interaction of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and the subsequent damage to the environment. This interaction is the core issue and it is at the top of the diagram because it is the reason for all of the information found below it. My diagram shows that the negative effects of climate change are real and that there is a real need for a solution to this growing problem. From there, I show how the UN(United Nations) has made an effort to fix this problem by calling a summit of all UN countries to propose a solution. The first summit produces the Kyoto Protocol, which is not accepted by the US. A later summit held in Copenhagen was arranged in order to create a deal that all countries could agree to. The deal that was proposed, the Copenhagen Accord, was highly controversial and my diagram shows that many UN nations were not eager to support it. The US had strong support for the Accord because it greatly benefitted our economic interests. The bottom half of the diagram is modeled to represent the actions the US took in order to gain support for the Copenhagen Accord, as well as the results such actions had. The diagram shows that the US engaged in numerous questionable activities in order to gain support for the accord. Included in these activities by the US to control other nations were spying, bribing, threatening, and offering aide. The diagram depicts how these tactics have largely resulted in these nations agreeing to support the Copenhagen Accord. Whether the remaining countries end up supporting the Accord is for time to tell.

I think that the State Department cables should have been released, and I am very thankful that they have been. I think it is important that the world know how these international treaties are created and supported. I was surprised to see such dirty tactics being used by the US, and I am ashamed that they would approach such a worthwhile goal of fixing climate change with such shady politics. It is apparent that the Accord benefits the US greatly as seen from the intense effort the US put into convincing other countries to support the Accord. I think that negotiating a climate change solution with the main concern being money is ridiculous from the get-go. It is apparent that all of the participating nations are more concerned with protecting/building their economies than they are with saving the environment. I think that the shady tactics used by the US to garner support for their Copenhagen Accord are absolutely despicable, and completely dishonest. When you consider the issue at hand, and realize that it is a problem that will not be solved without collective action, it becomes apparent that every country will need to participate in order to bring a halt to climate change. However, with the current culture of corrupt politics, it may be some time before a solution is found that actually benefits the world, rather than a few countries economies. The best approach to fix this situation would be to hold a UN summit on climate change and enforce transparency. This way, diplomats will be more likely create solutions that help the environment rather than their economy. After all, the world belongs to every human and organism that lives here. It should be our right to know about the solutions being proposed as well as the interests of those proposing them.

Module 7 Town Comparisons

My hometown is Downingtown, PA, a small suburb about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. It has a population of 7,930 and the majority of neighborhoods are automobile suburbs. Although it would be a considered an automobile suburb, I did spend a good amount of time walking between the high school and downtown during my high school years. There are a good amount of recreational parks in my town as well, and many people take advantage of these by walking their dogs or riding bikes. There is also a local lake, so when the weather gets nice a lot of people come out for watersports.

The first city I would like to consider is Copenhagen. Their bike-friendly culture and infrastructure makes it extremely easy to use a bike to travel throughout the city. The bike-only streets and lanes give an added sense of security to bikers, which I feel is important. As well as the social upsides, the environmental impact of switching from cars to mainly bikes is very positive and should be something all cities should try to model themselves after. Adding bike lanes in my town would provide all the above benefits and more.

The second city i would like to consider is Beacon Hill in Boston, MA. The pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods mean they have a smaller reliance on cars than my town, and they most likely have a smaller carbon footprint. The pros of walking around town versus driving are numerous, and the people in my town could certainly benefit from such a norm. A higher reliance on walking or using public transportation takes stress off of personal finances, and reduces one’s carbon footprint, both of which are important.

Module 6 – Food Choice

This past summer, I attended a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game with my dad and sister. Throughout the game, vendors holding large buckets of popcorn, hotdogs, peanuts, and beer roamed around the stands looking for sales. After a couple innings I found myself getting quite hungry, and gladly bought a hotdog and peanuts from the vendor. If I had other options for what to eat for lunch, I almost certainly wouldn’t have picked a hotdog. However, I was at an MLB baseball game, and these types of food are synonymous with attending games. The peer pressure to eat the typical baseball fan food and the lack of other meal options led me to choose the hotdog. This system is set up to benefit a wide range of organizations, from the stadium owners to the owners of the factory farms where the meat for hotdogs came from. By not allowing fans to bring in their own food, the stadium owners leave no option to the fans other than buying from the vendors and thus funding the system.

The limited and unhealthy food options available at major sports stadiums in the US ultimately support a number of serious societal issues. By purchasing, and then selling the hotdogs and hamburgers that are so common at baseball games, stadium owners are supporting factory farming. By keeping the demand for such foods high, the baseball industry is encouraging and perpetuating the practice of factory farming. Additionally, all of the uneaten food that is made in baseball stadiums is simply thrown out. Such negligent waste of food harms the environment by creating more waste and dangers down the road. I think that in order to work towards solving this problem, the governing body of the MLB should pass rules that require stadium owners to offer a wider variety of foods, including more nutritionally rich foods. Another way to help attenuate this problem would be to allow fans to bring their own healthy snacks into the stadiums.jds5748 food system

James Sharer Module 5

The first case study I examined was published on the University of Michigan’s website in the Environmental Justice Case Studies section. It can be found here: It focused on land belonging to two Native American tribes being threatened by a local mining company. The case study investigates the history of the tribes and their ownership of the reservation land, as well as the lawfulness of the mining company encroaching. The mining company mining in their land could threaten the local water supply, which would have bad effects on quality of life and agricultural/livestock output.

The second case study I examined was published in the Development Progress report from the Overseas Development Institute. It can be found here: case study focused on the agricultural development of Thailand and the subsequent effects the success of specialized farming has had on its economy and population. The increased production of a variety of specialized crops has increased the nations GDP, and farmers are directly benefitting from it. As well as financial gain, the population now has access to an abundance of healthy food, increasing their quality of life. The increase in farming and its rewards have done great things for the development of the country of Thailand.

Compared to my situation, the issue that the Indian tribes face is unfamiliar to me. While there are a couple of quarries in some towns close to mine, I have never felt affected by them or heard anything about contamination of our water supply. As for the Thailand case study, a comparison is a little more feasible. Since my hometown is in an area of Pennsylvania renowned for its soils fertility, I am well aware of the perks of agriculture. My area has long been a strong producer of crops and I can often buy locally grown fresh organic fruit and vegetables. This increases my quality of life and consuming the fresh food prolongs my life expectancy. Additionally, the income earned from farming is more than enough to keep the local economy sustained.

James Sharer Water Consumption

Part 1A.

For my home town of Downingtown, PA, the Downingtown Municipal Water Authority (DMWA) is responsible for providing water to over 10,000 people in five local counties. The source of the water is surface water from the East Branch Brandywine Creek. The DMWA is permitted to take up to 3.8 MGD (million gallons per day), but on average supplies 1.2 MGD to customers. The watershed for this intake covers 64 sq. miles and 12 municipalities in Chester County. The major use for the land within the watershed is agricultural (62%) with forested land (32%) and some urban developed areas (4%). The DMWA owns and operates a water filtration plant where the surface water source goes through an extensive treatment process involving chemical additions, mixing, flocculation, settling, filtration and disinfection prior to distribution. Once the water is treated, it is pumped through a distribution network of buried pipes to each household that relies on county water. For my house, we have a septic take that directly collects our waste water, and the water company empties it on a regular schedule. Once the company treats the waste water, it is dumped back into the local water system.


Part 1B.

Activity Water Usage (gallons)
Teeth Brushing (x2) 2 gallons
Shower (x1 @ 10 minutes) 50 gallons
Toilet Flushing (x5) 15 gallons
Drinking Water 1 gallon
Hand/Face Washing (x6) 6 gallons
Dishwashing (1x by hand) 20 gallons
Total 94 gallons



Part 1C.

In my experiment to only use 2 gallons of water a day, I knew from the beginning that dishwashing, showering, and toilet flushing were the three areas I really needed to cut back on. I decided that I would completely remove showering from my day, effectively cutting out 50 gallons. While I still brushed my teeth twice, I made sure to turn the water off while brushing in order to save water. Instead of flushing every time I went to the bathroom, I decided only to flush when I went #2, which cut my toilet-related water usage from 15 gallons to 6 gallons. I found it difficult to cut down on my drinking water usage, so that stayed at 1 gallon. Seeing that I am normally a very clean guy, and that I already skipped a shower for the day, I had a hard time cutting down on my hand/face washing, so that stayed around 5 gallons. I tried to limit the water I used while washing my dishes by turning the water off while I was scrubbing them. Overall, my water consumption for the day was around 25 gallons, which I would consider to be a failed attempt at the 2 gallons a day experiment. While I was able to cut my water usage down by a significant amount, I was still nowhere close to achieving the goal of 2 gallons. I had no clue that I actually used this much water on a daily basis, and I still struggle with imagining how so many people are able to manage to survive with so little water. Geography is pertinent to water use because it is closely associated with the source of the drinking water for many people. If there are a large number of agricultural fields spraying fertilizer as well as multiple power plants within a watershed, the runoff from those can pollute the water. A geographical location in which there is little to no water sources often creates huge problems for people living in those areas. In these situations, water conservation is a universal practice, as it is vital to the survival of the people.

Module 3: Ethics

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

I believe that it is better to perform good acts than to be a good person. The consideration of this question was very extensive and difficult, but it eventually came down to one factor for me. I believe that the most important aspect of these two options is the ultimate effect it has on others. By performing a good act, one is directly affecting those around him in a positive manner. Additionally, this demonstration of a good act may be enough to motivate someone else to perform a similar good act later on. While I do believe that it is good to be a good person, it is possible for a good person to live their whole life without performing good acts. It is one thing to believe in and think the right thing, but it is another thing to practice it. Thus, I believe that it is more important to consistently perform good acts than it is to be a good person. Of course, in the consideration of this question, I quickly concluded that those who perform good acts must be inherently good. However, this is certainly not the case everywhere and those who perform good acts as a means to other less virtuous ends are not ethically grounded.


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

The pleasure and pain of non-human animals should be of equal importance with those of humans. While we humans do have the brainpower and motivation to use other animals to our advantage, I do not think that we fully understand the effects of these actions. The easiest way for humans to understand other humans is through the articulation of emotions and physical phenomena. When a human is experiencing pleasure or pain, they can articulate that feeling with language. Non-human animals are unable to articulate their sensations, and can only do so with noises and body language. This inability to communicate, as well as the general inability to escape or fight back causes me to pity animals. Just because another organism cannot communicate on our level or think at the same capacity, does not mean that they deserve, or should be subjected to, worse treatment. Killing animals for food is a situation in which I can bypass my ethical grounds on animal treatment, but only to an extent. Ideally, I would have livestock in comfortable living quarters for the majority of their lives, until the time to harvest them comes which is when we should issues a swift and painless death.


Is my own life worth more than the lives of others, the same, or less (selfishness vs. altruism)?

My life is worth more, to me, than the lives of others. It was difficult to write that, almost as difficult as it was to come to that conclusion. Throughout my childhood, my parents and teachers constantly reiterated the importance of being a selfless, compassionate person. I have built upon these basic guidelines and have tried my best to live accordingly. However, when it comes down to decisions that are as serious as determining the worth of a life, dissonance quickly takes hold. I would love to write that other lives are more important and that I would gladly give up my own in order to save another. Yet when I truly consider it, I think of my life as being more important than those of the people around me. In the big picture, outside of my biased mind, I don’t think that my life is generally worth any more or less than anyone else. I believe that on the grand scale of things, each person contributes what they can to society and the world and that is enough.

Module 2 – James Sharer

The core idea behind my diagram is that humans’ social systems interact closely with their surrounding ecosystems, and that changes to our social system can cause drastic changes to the entire system. This human-ecosystem interaction can be clearly seen in the immense impact that one innovative piece of technology can have on an entire community. My diagram charts the interaction of a rural Indian village with a biogas generator that has been introduced to improve their quality of life. The diagram displays how people used to collect and burn wood in order to cook their food, which resulted in harmful smoke production as well as contributed to deforestation. The biogas generator removes the need for wood as fuel, which effectively stops the positive feedback loop of cutting and burning wood. The biogas generator also produces slurry that dries into compost, which can be collected and sold by families for profit, which ultimately increases the sustainability of the community.

In a comparison between my diagram and Gerry Marten’s, there are a number of notable similarities and differences. Both diagrams separate the social system and the ecosystem, which helps clarify the interactions of each. One way that the diagrams differ is in their content and attention to details. Marten’s diagram specifically addresses the dynamic between children and fuel gathering on the social system side, as well as the local landscape and the effect of irrigation. My diagram, on the other hand, takes a more simplified and family-oriented approach to the effects of the biogas generator. I believe these similarities and differences exist because of the inherent unstructured nature of system diagrams and the amount of ways that various aspects can be interpreted. Each person has a different set of experiences and mindsets through which they process the outside world, and visual representations of this are bound to be different. I think that it is valuable to compare different system diagrams, as it gives one the opportunity to identify aspects of the system that may have been overlooked. Additionally, hearing different perspectives on the effect of certain aspects of the diagrams may help clarify their true impacts.


Getting to Know You – James Sharer

Hey all. My name is James Sharer and I am a senior biology major at Penn State Main Campus. I’m from Downingtown, PA, which is about 3 hours from Penn State towards Philadelphia. I grew up with my parents, one older sister, and a multitude of dogs and parrots. I was recently accepted to a medical school in Philadelphia, and I am still waiting to hear back from multiple other schools. As for my career choice, I am very interested in many different specialties, but I don’t have to worry about making that decision for another 3 years or so. I’m excited to learn about the plethora of specialties that will be open to me after med school. I signed up for this course in order to satisfy my credit requirements so that I can graduate on time. Being a biology major, I have studied many topics that this course will touch on, so I thought it was a good fit for my interests.

I think that one of the most interesting and serious aspects of this course are human-environment interactions. Humans rely so heavily on their surrounding environments, that major changes in these environments often wreak havoc on the local population. One example, which was mentioned in the text, is the drought problems that California is facing. I spent this past summer in Venice Beach, California, and felt the effects of the drought. Driving to work in the mornings I would hear radio talk show hosts reminding people about conserving water, only to cut to a commercial break, which included helpful advice such as advising people not to water their lawns. Additionally, there were multiple instances where wildfires raged out of control, threatening people’s neighborhoods and homes. When I consider this situation in a geographical perspective, I cannot help but think about other countries in this world that may be facing similar problems. For example, the drought in California may seem bad to us because we have to cut back on water consumption, but at the same time a drought that is currently happening in Ethiopia on a much larger scale is taking hundreds of lives a day. There economic standing and local resources are much worse than California’s, making the drought in Ethiopia especially tough.