People and the Environment

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Fracking Introduction

Scientific uncertainty has four components, these are: risk, uncertainty, ignorance and indeterminacy. The four components will be used in this argument to assess how they have been used to delay taking action with the contested environment of fracking.

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Section 1 - What is Fracking?

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing is “the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.” (Shukman BBC News 2013) The extensive use of fracking has caused environmental concerns and fears of water contamination and earthquakes. 

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Section 2 - What is a contested environment? Link

Firstly, a contested environment is when environments are the source of disagreements between parties that are interested. Along with a visible disagreement, there is usually a strong commitment, some deployment of power and a polarization of opinions. Opinions on fracking are polarized as policy makers and industry officials see the process as a major future energy source which "when used in combination with horizontal drilling, shale gas reserves could provide energy for the next 100 years" (IHS Global Insight, 2009, ??.) On the other hand, local governments, home owners and public health groups are wary of the environmental and health impacts. 

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Section 3 - Risk

As one component of uncertainty, risk is when we are aware that there are potential consequences yet we continue to go forward with the task at hand. Fracking involves numerous potential risks, of which many have been subject to public controversy. A study in the United States on public opinions to fracking revealed that the "rising public concerns were due to impacts on environmental quality... and public health" (Davies and Fisk, 2014: 01) as well as worries over water contamination. The public awareness of the consequences of fracking became more prominent through media coverage, such as the News. In this case, the media are therefore the 'claim-makers' in the contested environment.  Contested environments have been viewed as social constructs and "that it is on the basis of these social definitions rather than the real conditions that we act" (Eden, 2005: 27.) Therefore, exacerbated media coverage of fracking protests may be the reason why more of the public will oppose fracking, rather than basing their judgment of factual information.

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Risk Example:

Action has been delayed in regards to fears over risks involved with fracking. Public concerns have led to action not being taken in regards to shale gas exploration. The Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 2011) report includes an article on exploration being delayed in Blackpool, UK. Cuadrilla Resources claimed that its fracking activities led to a minor earthquake, increasing public opposition and action to be taken. Such action led to them "influencing a recent council decision to refuse planning permission for drilling" (Anon 2011, 6-7.) The lack of scientific certainty here by the public as well as by Cuadrilla Resources themselves led to delayed action being taken as drilling permission was refused on the basis of uncertainty.

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Section 4 - Uncertainty.

Uncertainty is when we have knowledge of the main parameters however we are still unsure of the distribution of these probabilities. We therefore can only make rough estimates as to what will happen in the future rather than basing foresights on solid statistics. Relating to fracking, it remains uncertain as to whether the long term benefit of natural energy from fracking will outweigh the potential long term risks surrounding the environment and public health, such as damaged underground systems, increased earthquakes and adverse health outcomes. 

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Uncertainty Example

To exemplify how uncertainty leads to delayed action. In New York, hydraulic fracking has been banned due to public health concerns. The Department of Health suggest that emissions from the process of fracking have the potential to contribute to community odor problems, respiratory health impacts such as asthma exacerbations” (NYS Department of Health; Anon 2014: 05.) Recent evidence from studies in Ohio and Oklahoma suggest that “HVHF can contribute to the induction of earthquakes during fracturing.” (Holland 2014 and Maxwell 2013) The way that the potential public health consequence of the mild earthquake activity is unknown displays how through scientific uncertainty, fracking must be delayed due to unforeseen consequences.

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Section 5 - Ignorance

Ignorance exists when we do not know what we do not know. (Donald Rumsfeld) In fracking, until the first drilling took place, we did not know how catastrophic the impacts would be and if there would be any impacts at all. We still remain uncertain as to whether it is the act of fracking that leads to seismic activity. 

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Ignorance Example

Despite uncertainty, a study headed by William Elsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey documents a dramatic increase in earthquakes in the Midwest coinciding with the start of the fracking boom Elsworth goes on

it is hard to look back without pre-quake data… there are many things we don’t understand” (Ehrenberg 2012: 20.) Through remaining unclear as to what the exact causes of the earthquakes are, most (if not all) fracking companies must apply the precautionary principle which states that

 "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation (UNEP 1992: ??) Therefore in reversing the principle, fracking becomes an issue. Action must be delayed until scientific consensus is sufficient, as fracking may cause damage to the environment.

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Section 6 - Indeterminacy

Indeterminacy is where relations of cause and effect cannot be determined. It can be questioned as to whether the earthquakes and tremors which took place a few hours after fracking were caused naturally by coincidence, or whether the fracking actually caused the incident. 

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Indeterminacy Example

In New York, issues have arisen due to elected leaders being consistently undecided on whether to continue fracking or to stop it. “For well over five years now the state of New York has delayed, procrastinated, and otherwise just plain evaded promulgating even the most rudimentary of regulations on the subject” (Sabino, M 2014: 2.) After a lawsuit, the state law encouraged the exploration of oil and gas reserves. The DEC “routinely expedited the approval of drilling that fit within the parameters of the basic GEIS” (Generic Environmental Impact Statement.) The drilling went smoothly until concerns over fracking hit the media. The commissioners of the state were aware of the potential energy supplies underground however, they stopped all drilling practices and they still remain uncertain in their decision to continue drilling.

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Indeterminacy Example Continued

Land owners and the public remain confused and untrusting of the New York state for conflicts have arisen. “It is alleged in a lawsuit that a DOH report from February 2012 declared that any health risks from fracking operations were preventable, implicitly giving the OK for issuing fracking permits without further delay” (Sabino, M 2014: 04) The department of health therefore give permission for fracking continue despite health concerns. However, the state still remains uncertain and indeterminate about the effects of fracking therefore action continues to become delayed. 

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Eco-Cities Introduction:

Rapid urbanization has increased the demand for cities to become more sustainable. This is even more so in countries where population growth is increasing rapidly such as China. An eco-city, as a movement towards sustainability, is defined as “an urban environmental system in which input (of resources) and output (of waste) are minimized” (Register 2002:??) Eco-cities can help tackle environmental issues through managing their urban form, in this essay that issue is land degradation. The urban form of a city is whether the area is used effectively regarding spatial use. For instance, interconnected railways and compact public transport links are one way of utilising the form of the city sustainably and effectively. Throughout this essay, the urban form of the aspects of eco-cities is assessed through providing examples of how space is being used effectively.

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Aspect one and China

China, as the country with one of the highest population growth rates in the world, is failing to achieve eco-city criteria. Dispersed urban growth has reduced green land in cities. Currently, “China urban residents only have 6.83m2 per capita of green area” (Zeng 2000 cited in Chen and Jai 2008: 31) which is significantly lower than the 60m per capita average laid out by the United Nations. As one key aspect of eco-city development is to have a high proportion of green space, enabling city and hinterland to meet a major proportion of its food needs,” China is somewhat lacking in this quality. Chen and Jai 2008 go on to analyse the impact of a lack of green space in China stating how the rapid “urban land expansion in China by sacrificing valuable arable land will not only downgrade its capacity to feed itself, but only pressure the long-term food security of the world” (2008: 32.) China therefore must manage its urban form effectively in order to meet food requirements whilst not sacrificing arable land: it can do this through vertical farming.

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Aspect two along with China and VF

As a way of tackling the issue of food security whilst preserving arable land, in urban environments, vertical farming can be implemented. Vertical farming is defined as “the concept of cultivating plants or animal life within skyscrapers or on vertically inclined surfaces” (Despommier 2010 cited in Specht and Siebert et al 2013: 35.) An eco-city needs to be “compact and mixed use so land is used effectively while protecting the natural environment, biodiversity and food producing areas.” Vertical farming is one way of achieving this aspect. In Singapore, domestic production of fresh produce is only 8% of local consumption, with most imports coming from Malaysia, China and Indonesia,” (Griffiths 2014: ??) increasing food supplies is therefore one of the aims of the country. Increasing food supply in a compact location has worked. Sky Greens is a company supplying vertical growing towers which come in heights of 3, 6 or 9 meters and are housed in protected outdoor greenhouses, which allow for weather proof food production all year round. In implementing vertical farming into cities, land degradation lessens as soil is not damaged through developments on large areas of land.

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Aspect three - VF and Sino-Singapore Tianjin

Vertical farming also recycles water used.  It uses “95% less water, as all the water nottaken up by the plants is recycled” (Vertical and Urban Farming -Griffiths:2014, ??) back through the system. Implementing this into cities will therefore start the transformation of that city into an eco-city as one aspect of an eco-city as noted by Kenworthy is to “apply recycling technologies for water, energy and waste so the city’s metabolism becomes a close loop system.” Another way that cities are able to encourage a closed loop system is through water management, waste recycling and switching to renewable energies. The proposed Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City includes many of the features of a closed loop system. In order to recycle energy through the system, the Eco-City aims to “achieve 20% renewable energy utilisation” through renewable sources “solar PV, solar water heating, ground source heat pumps and wind energy” (UNEP South-South Cooperation Case Study – Chan, A 2013.) Also, to promote effective waste management, residents will sort their waste into categories and non-recyclables will be incinerated to generate electricity. Through recycling waste and converting to renewable energy, land degradation will be less severe as there will be a lesser need for landfill sites which damage the environment and are a concern for public health. Also, areas of land will not have to be damaged in order to dig for non-renewable supplies such as oil and coal. 

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Aspect four and five - Sino-Singapore Tianjin

A key aspect of an eco-city is to be “designed to absorb most employment and residential growth best accessible by non-car transport” (Kenworthy.) Planning experts from both Singapore and China have produced a green plan for the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. The plan includes improving land use so that “amenities and jobs are located close by” and transport planning “to increase trips via public and non-motorised modes of transport” through separating networks “to minimise conflict between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles” (Chan, A 2013.) The eco-friendly transport system will include a “Light Rail Transit system, trams and buses” there will also be a 12km Eco-Valley which connects all major centres and nodes along with “community walkways cutting through estates and wide cycling paths on both sides of the roads” (Chan 2013.) The Eco-City proposal attracted more than 60 billion RMB and a range of amenities are opening such as shops, banks and shops to serve those moving to the Eco-City. Through focusing on public transport, the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is achieving the key feature of an eco-city to absorb growth best accessible by non-car transport and also the feature to have “less concern with road infrastructure, cars and motorbikes and more funding of public transit, walking, cycling, infrastructure, most prominently rail” (Kenworthy)

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Aspect six

The last key aspect of eco-city/urban design which relates to urban form and land degradation is to “Ensure the public spaces are legible, permeable, robust, varied, rich, visually appropriate and personalized for human needs.” The legibility here mentioned is about “how easily people can understand a place… this can be achieved through street function, landmarks and different land uses” (Kenworthy 2006: 79) Permeaility is to do with access to locations, rubust is where cities are ‘recycled’ according to the needs of each area and to be rich and visually appropriate implies that the city should create a good sensory experience.

Through achieving the above features, cities are one step further to achieving eco-city status. An example of where a city has achieved this is in Bristol. Bristol City Council have developed the Bristol Legible City (2001-2007) which included many projects including: “Interactive mapping suites, journey planners, city centre street name plates, audible signs, city ways and greenways” (Bristol City Council 2001: 43); to name a few. Through effective urban design, there will be less future need to re-design the city which will reduce land degradation as less work would be needed. Also, the way in which the public will be able to easily navigate around the city would help to tackle other environmental issues such as fumes from traffic jams.

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