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Friday, May 12, 2006

Yet More GRE Practice

Again, 45 minutes for the following essay:

"Our declining environment may bring the people of the world together as no politician, philosopher, or war ever could. Environmental problems are global in scope and respect no nation's boundaries. Therefore, people are faced with the choice of unity and cooperation on the one hand or diunity and a common tragedy on the other."
Starting now.

Yes, a declining environment may in fact bring the world together as nothing else, as no one else could. It might also be ignored by a large number of people, or the significance of the decline may be downplayed. Herein lies the problem with environmental issues: what to one person or group is a looming, unavoidable catastrophe is to another is scare tactic put to use by left-leaning, tree-hugging environmentalists. The question should be focused then not on the potential of an environmental meltdown bringing the world together, but the likelihood of the world responding in a unified manner. To do this, it is necessary to look at what factors stand in the way of such a worldwide joint fight.

That environmental problems are of a global scale is a fact agreed upon by most leading scientists and politicians. Phrases and words such as global warming, melting ice caps, deforestation, and desertification are found in papers on a weekly, if not daily basis. Yearly sandstorms start in western China, move East over Japan and Korea, and at times cross all the way to the western United States are proof positive that national boundaries can not contain environmental hazards. Likewise, global warming will not contain itself over one greenhouse gas emiting country - the entire globe will experience a temperature rise. The first major difficulty in discussing environmental crisis arises, not when talking about the potential reach of a problem, but when one takes into consideration the difficulty in defining the extent of a problem .

In the United States, at this very moment, there is a growing furor over the cost of gasoline. Oil prices have spiked and people who have been used to cheap gasoline with which to fuel ever larger cars are feeling a strain in their budgets. Certain suggestions for easing the pain have been put forth: gas rebates, a temporary cessation of gas taxes, and exanded drilling in protected wildlife areas amongst them. Beyond this, there has been talk of expanding incentives for the purchase of cars that can run on electricity or alternative power sources. Talk of alternative means of energy production have existed for years, as have the technological and intellectual means with which to pursue them. However, due to the influence and power of the oil industry in politics, there has been no incentive for the government to pursue these sources. What's more, even as scientists and environmentalists around the world have warned of global warming, leading politicians in the United States have played down both the existence of global warming and the long term threat that it holds. Because of this, the nation did not sign on to key environmental treaties and it leaves one to ask, if the leading nation in the world can not agree on what is or is not real, or what is or is not a threat, how can the rest of the world be expected to a) find a consensus, or b) change its behavior in a way to prevent further destruction.

Self interest is a powerful motivator, and the actions of the United States, and of other leading nations prove that. What increases the severity of this is the consideration of nations like China and India, countries with gigantic populations that are industrializing and modernizing at rates never before seen. If one looks at the history of industrialized nations, one can see a pattern of advancement at the behest of the environment, and then a secondary consideration, after a certain level of modernization has been achieved, of the effects on the environment and what might be done to improve things. In looking at China, one sees a nation that is having forests destroyed across Southeast Asia in an effort to supply its need for building materials, looking for oil supplies in South America and Africa (and in doing so supporting dangerously corrupt governments), and creating an inordinate amount of pollution in its major cities. What's more, as more Chinese acquire new wealth, more cars are being purchased and more fossil fuels are being burned, creating more pollution and more greenhouse gases. Will China stop its march towards first world nation status because of threats about the environmental impact? Or will they take the steps necessary to avoid seriosly damaging the environment by developing new technologies? The same questions can be asked of India and many other second or third world countries that hope to move forward. It is doubtful that they will sacrifice that they see as a right to a better standard of life because already industrialized nations have created environmental problems.

In looking at the world' environment, it is undeniable that change is occuring. What is debatable is the danger that these changes hold? What is also debatable is what can be done now to prevent any looming catastrophe. These uncertainties, along with the self-interest that drives both individuals and governments leads me to believe that it will, in fact, take a catastrophe of near unimaginable proportions to bring the world together. If one looks at recent catastrophes in New Orleans, or with the tsunami in South Asia, it is evident that people are willing to feel sympathy for victims of environmental disasters, or even open their wallets to assist people, but it will only be when something directly affects the entire world that true unity may be found.

Now for the second essay, which is an analysis of the following argument:

6 months ago the region of Forestville increased the speed limit for vehicles traveling on the highways by 10 miles per hour. Since that change took effect, the number of automobile accidents in that region has increased by 15%. But the speed limit in Elmsford, a region next to Forestville, remained unchanged, and automobile accidents declined slightly during the same six month period. Therefore, if the citizens of Forestville want to reduce the number of automobile accidents on the region's highways, they should campaign to reduce FViklle's speed limit to what it was before the increase.

30 minutes:
In the six months since the speed limit was increased in Forestville, accidents have increased by 15%. In a neighboring town, the speed limit remained the same, and traffic accidents declined slightly over the same period of time. In reading these facts, it would be easy to draw a correlation between the rise in speed and the rise in accidents. It is overly simplistic, however, to say that if the residents of Forestville want to reduce the number of accidents in their town, they must "therefore" campaign to reduce the speed limit.

While it is obvious that speed is often a major factor in accidents, one must consider a wide range of other possibilities - other factors that may need to be addressed in examining the number of auto accidents in a given community. For example, it is possible that there are an abundance of traffic officers in Elmsford and none in Forestville, and that accordingly drivers in Elmsford are more cautious drivers. It is likewise possible that before the increase in speed limit, there were more traffic cops on duty in Forestville and after there were fewer, meaning that drivers were not just going faster, but more wreckless as well. In such a case, it would seem that rather than changing the speed limit, the citizens of Forestville need more police on the roads.

Another possibility is that the roads in Forestville are more crowded, in worse condition, or in some other way conducive to more accidents occurring. For example, perhaps the roads in Forestville are windy and hilly as opposed to flat and straight in Elmsford, and this six month increase occurred over the course of autumn and winter, when slick road conditions would make driving on windy, hilly roads more dangerous.

To consider still more explanations for why there might have been a sudden increase in traffic accidents in Forestville, one might ask if a number of the accidents were alcohol related, and then draw a correlation to a new bar or series of bars in town. One might also ask if the accidents involved young, inexperienced drivers, for whom driving at any speed limit is dangerous, or for older drivers who while use to driving are not necessarily used to driving at higher speeds.

That the lowering of the speed limit to its original level in an effort to lower the number of accidents in Forestville seems an obvious argument. However, by not addressing any other possible explanations for the increase in accidents while linking it so strongly to the rise in speed limit, the argument fails to convince the reader willing to consider other causes. The leap in logic from cause to effect to solution is done too quickly and with too narrow of a focus.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:56 AM  

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