Free College Essay Papers

Jan 31, 2009 Filed under:Samples — admin @ 3:01 pm

College Essay Papers

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Free College Essay Paper Sample

Few people recognize the benefits of sharing Earth with millions of other organisms or think much about the importance of a reasonably stable climate. Furthermore, the most critical environmental risks are difficult to perceive. With the possible exception of a zoo keeper or someone else observing the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon (or some other sole survivor) in captivity, no one has ever watched one species go extinct, let alone thousands. No one has ever observed the results of heating the planet by a half-dozen degrees over fifty years or so, either. The costs associated with individual risks are usually paid in minutes or months; those associated with environmental risks may be paid over millennia or more. The costs may be virtually infinite, but they are distant in time and amorphous, unlike those of hitting the ground at 100 miles an hour after your parachute has failed to open.

Environmental risks often do not present themselves in forms that are easily perceived by people. A car swerving toward our car or a snarling dog lunging at us are the sorts of stimuli that millions of years of biological and cultural evolution have prepared us to recognize as threats. But the gradually climbing zigzag line on Keeling's chart of the CO 2 concentration above Mauna Loa or statistics on habitat destruction are not. For most of human history, people could do nothing about environmental changes occurring over decades. People didn't cause them, and people couldn't stop them. Consequently, human beings evolved perceptual systems that were not good at focusing on gradual change in the environmental backdrop against which their lives were played out—in fact, they actually suppress detection of such change. With the background held constant, the sudden appearance of a hungry tiger or a tasty gazelle (or a speeding car) was all the more readily perceived and dealt with.

Despite all these difficulties in perception, society must constantly weigh risks and benefits. Suppose, as the Stanford computer study suggested, that very rapid climate change in the next century could result in hundreds of millions of premature human deaths? What costs should be incurred to slow that change if its probability were 1 percent? 5 percent? 25 percent? 50 percent? These are not easy questions to answer, and there is no scientific basis for answering them. Since most of the measures required to slow the warming, from greatly increasing energy efficiency to land reform in poor nations, would carry other great benefits, and since the probability of unprecedented change appears to be in the vicinity of 50 percent, a very large social effort, one incurring substantial costs, seems to us not simply justified but virtually mandatory.

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