SOCS 325 Environmental Disasters

March 8, 2022
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SOCS 325 Environmental Disasters

SOCS 325 Environmental Disasters

Students are required to include one Video Media Upload
(Record/Upload Media) for each graded topic, each week.

For Video-Media Upload instructions, refer to Resources in
Introduction and Resources

Examine, debate, and explain both the social and
environmental consequences of an environmental disaster; such as the Exxon
Valdez oil spill, Bhopal chemical release, Love Canal toxic waste, or any past
or recent environmental disaster (i.e., Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill).

DQ2 ENVIRONMENT RISK: EAST VS. WEST

Students are required to include one Video Media Upload
(Record/Upload Media) for each graded topic, each week.

For Video-Media Upload instructions, refer to Resources in
Introduction and Resources

Discuss and debate how Western societies address risk with
regards to the regulation of toxins in the marketplace and environment. Does
this differ from Eastern societies? Why?

For the purpose of this article an environmental disaster is defined as a specific event caused by human activity that results in a seriously negative effect on the environment. Sometimes a natural disaster can become an environmental disaster, but that is a topic to be discussed elsewhere.

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SOCS 325 Environmental Disasters

SOCS 325 Environmental Disasters

In most cases environmental disasters are caused by human error, accident, lack of foresight, corner cutting during industrial processes, greed, or by simple incompetence. In other words without some kind of human intervention they would never have happened. They are also often characterised by firm authoritative denials that anything serious has even happened.

Lack of foresight is a common cause of an environmental disaster. In agriculture a classic example of is the increasing salinity of soils in hot climates. With the need to produce more food, a warm climate seems ideal for European-style agriculture, once the existing vegetation has been cleared. The one proviso is that there must be plenty of water. Irrigation projects and deep wells are usually the answer, but as has been found in Australia, if this is not properly managed, salination can result and the land becomes effectively useless.

A further example of a catastrophic and misguided interference with nature resulted in the dust bowls that hit North America in the 1930s. The fertile soil seemed ideal for intensive agriculture, but a combination of deep ploughing and a lack of crop rotation weakened the soil structure. Following years of drought, high winds simply removed all the topsoil and millions of acres of once fertile farmland became a virtual desert.

Another unforeseen agricultural disaster was Moa Zedong’s 1958 decree to eliminate sparrows. It was considered that because sparrows ate grain seeds they were robbing the people of the fruits of their labour. The campaign was very successful that it cleared the way for swarms of locusts to descend on the farms. Crops were decimated, leading to a famine that resulted in the deaths of 38 million people.

Introducing alien species can be just as disastrous as eliminating native ones. This has been the case in Australia when in 1859 12 imported English wild rabbits were released so that a local settler could go hunting. In the course of time they multiplied and it is estimated that even after serious efforts to control them, the Australian rabbit populations is still between 200 and 300 million.

As well as being responsible for the loss of vast acreages of agricultural crops and grazing land, rabbits are suspected of being the most significant known factor in species loss in Australia, killing young trees by eating the bark at the base of the trunk. They are also responsible for serious erosion as they eat native plants, leaving the topsoil exposed.

It is very easy to upset the fragile balance of nature. In June 1918 a steamship ran aground on a Pacific Island and while it was stranded, Black Rats escaped and got ashore. Here they thrived, causing the extinction of several of the island’s endemic birds and other fauna. They also raided the crops of the islanders, particularly the seeds of the Kentia Palm, which was the islanders’ only export commodity.

In an effort to control the rats, Masked Owls were introduced but this simply compounded the environmental disaster. By introducing yet another predator to the ecosystem, the result was that many of the remaining sea birds were simply wiped out as breeding species.

Industrial pollution has been the cause of so many environmental disasters that it is impossible to list them all. One of the most serious was the Bhopal disaster of December 1984 when a leak of methyl isocyanate resulted in at least 22,000 deaths plus various genetic diseases that will continue for generations. The chief causes of this disaster were negligence, corruption and the complete disregard of safety standards.

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