GM SI Service Information 1980 Through 2009
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GM SI Service Information 1980 Through 2009
This study takes an historical approach in order to establish how the form and function of the social-ecological system that represents the Bangladesh south-western coastal zone has changed over recent decades. Time series data for a range of ecosystem services and drivers are analysed to define the range of trends, the presence of change points, slow and fast variables and the significant drivers of change. Since the 1980s, increasing gross domestic product and per capita income mirror rising levels of food and inland fish production. As a result, the size of population below the poverty line has reduced by 17 %. In contrast, non-food ecosystem services such as water availability, water quality and land stability have deteriorated. Conversion of rice fields to shrimp farms is almost certainly a factor in increasing soil and surface water salinity. Most of the services experienced statistically significant change points between 1975 and 1980, and among the services, water availability, shrimp farming and maintenance of biodiversity appear to have passed tipping points. An environmental Kuznets curve analysis suggests that the point at which growing economic wealth feeds back into effective environmental protection has not yet been reached for water resources. Trends in indicators of ecosystem services and human well-being point to widespread non-stationary dynamics governed by slowly changing variables with an increased likelihood of systemic threshold changes/tipping points in the near future. The results will feed into simulation models and strategies that can define alternative and sustainable paths for land management.
In this study, we develop further the co-evolutionary approach through description and analysis of multi-decadal changes in social, economic and biophysical variables for a region where the need for enhanced management tools is pressing: the coastal zone of south-west Bangladesh. Our main aim is to use that information to infer the rates and direction of change, the possible existence of transgressed thresholds, the changes in system resilience and the long-term relationship between poverty alleviation and environmental degradation as a foundation for further studies on the social-ecological links and modelling of appropriate management practices.
Bivariate plots (Figs. 5, 6) show the association between rising food provisioning services, rising GDP and poverty alleviation. Figure 5 shows that rising agricultural production is coupled with poverty alleviation that is also evident in other countries (e.g. Niger, Afghanistan and Mexico) (WB 2013). But it is also possible to explore the links between rising GDP, a measure of economic growth, and environmental quality. Environmental Kuznets curves are simple bivariate plots showing the relationship between economic wealth and environmental quality through time (e.g. Beckerman 1992). A bivariate plot (Fig. 7) of relative GDP against an index for water quality degradation (surface water salinity) in the BCZ shows that water resources have deteriorated as the Bangladesh economy has grown. In many middle- and high-income countries, the level of environmental degradation slows and reduces as GDP allows for investment in environmental remediation and protection measures. But in the BCZ, there is no indication that this turning point has been reached.
But is a turning point possible? Direct actions to reduce degradation could include greater control on water quality through stronger regulation on the extent and practice of shrimp farming and on the exploitation of the mangroves. But external controls on river discharge and regional climate may mean that these can only be partially successful. Proactive adaptive strategies for managing agriculture, such as through the introduction of new crop hybrids, might also be introduced although the dependence of T-Aman rice on irrigated water, obtained from declining resources, highlights the challenge of overcoming one problem without creating new ones or relying on environmental elements already stressed. The combined evidence from this study for declining resilience, possible tipping points and observable positive feedback mechanisms suggests growing unsustainability across the whole social-ecological system (cf. Zhang et al. 2015). Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a continuation of environmental degradation and losses of regulating services could eventually drive declines in rice, shrimp and fish production. This would impact first on rural poor farmers dependent on wage income or subsistence products, and gradually the larger landowners and associated processing industries. In time, a partial environmental improvement might occur as land became less intensively used. But in this scenario, it is unlikely that regional economic growth based on agriculture would continue. Rather than economic growth constraining environmental degradation, there would be a reversal or upturn of the Kuznets curve towards an earlier stage of development (cf. Liu 2012). Such a bleak prospect calls for the rapid involvement of scientists, stakeholders and politicians to negotiate a management plan for the BCZ.
There are multiple drivers of these changes in ecosystem services that range from global climate change and new agricultural methods to specific infrastructural developments (e.g. the Farakka barrage and polders), and local-policy-driven actions (e.g. commercial shrimp farming). Most of the ecosystem services and well-being have experienced change points around 1980s, where water availability, shrimp farming and maintenance of biodiversity have passed tipping points.
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