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Global environmental change

THE PROBLEM OF ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

The subject of detrimental environmental change has received much attention in the news media for some time. Scientists, policy makers, and the public have become increasingly concerned about the threat that such change, if it continues unabated, poses for the future. Growing numbers of scientists from a variety of disciplines have been systematically studying specific aspects of this change and attempting to identify effective strategies for preventing or mitigating potentially catastrophic effects.

Human factors researchers have not focused much attention on this area in the past. Perhaps it has been assumed that the discipline has little to offer toward the solution of environmental problems. We believe it does have something to offer. This chapter represents an effort to stimulate and contribute to a dialogue that will help identify what some of the possibilities are.

Dimensions of the Problem

Some earth and atmospheric scientists have been documenting an increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere and have been attempting to better understand how a continuing accumulation will affect the future world climate (Houghton and Woodwell, 1989; National Research Council, 1983). Others have been studyingPage 159

such phenomena as “acid rain” and its effects on lakes and streams, forests, and materials (Baker et al., 1991; Mohnen, 1988; Schwartz, 1989), air pollution and urban smog (Gray and Alson, 1989; National Research Council, 1991; Office of Technology Assessment, 1988), and the thinning of ozone in the stratosphere (Stolarski et al., 1992; Stolarski, 1988). Studies have focused on the contamination and depletion of fresh-water supplies (la Riviere, 1989; National Research Council, 1977; Postel, 1985), on the depletion of the world’s forests (Myers, 1989; Repetto, 1990) and wetlands (Steinhart, 1990; Wallace, 1985), and on the worldwide loss of arable land (Crossen and Rosenberg, 1989; National Research Council, 1990; Schlesinger et al., 1990). Biologists have been documenting the loss of wildlife habitat and the accompanying decrease in biodiversity (Soule, 1991; Wilson, 1989). More detailed discussions of the many facets of the problem are readily available (Gore, 1992; Nickerson, 1992; Stern et al., 1992).