Then in the second part of the essay I will go on to discuss the birth of the field of environmental sociology. Within this new subfield sociologists have written at great length about the many environmental issues facing the world today. Many of these issues are overlapping and interconnected. I will address three of these challenges I believe to be most acute; (1) Globalisation, (2) Human consumption, and (3) Sustainability.
Sociology in context The founders of Sociology (Marx, Durkheim and Weber) paid little attention to environmental issues because they were not seen as relevant or particularly problematic to society at the time, and therefore were not considered as topics of significance to classical social scientists. Instead they focused on matters such as poverty, stratification, social inequality, class systems, industrial development, religion and government.
The detrimental impact of human beings on our natural surroundings were not yet acknowledged and the “natural landscape was taken for granted, simply as the backdrop to the much more pressing and urgent social problems generated by industrial capitalism” (Glidden’s, 2007). The Emergence of Environmental Sociology It wasn’t until the late 1960s that environmental issues were first recognised as relevant challenges in the field of sociology. In the United States the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act highlighted the strain hat the environment was under as a result of human consumption, and the increased demands of agriculture and industry. This was one of the first written laws designed to lay down a broad national framework for protecting the environment (NEPA, 1969). The emergence of this subfield was a direct consequence of the growing interest in environmentalism in the 1970’s. I will now address the environmental challenges posed by (1) globalisation, (2) human consumption, and (3) sustainability from a sociological perspective. Globalisation
One of the contributing factors that has magnified environmental awareness in the latter half of the twentieth century are the impacts of globalisation. Globalisation is a process where the amount of economic, social and cultural activity carried out across national borders is increased. The process of globalisation has significant economic, social and environmental implications, both positive and negative. It ‘’enables free flow of goods, capital and technology and thus it becomes a motivational force for nations to develop themselves and (can) create a more gainful environment in the world scenario’’( Alamar.
K, 2010). While this growing flow of capital, technology and trade has arguably helped the developed nations of the world to expand further, this has often come at the expense and exploitation of natural resources in developing countries. For example ‘’the demand for hardwood and woodchips in developed countries, such as Japan and the Netherlands, accelerates deforestation, soil impoverishment and a loss of local biodiversity in less-developed parts of the world, such as Brazil and Indonesia’’ (Dreher.
A, Gaston . N. 2008). The world has been recast as one big universal market place and whilst the benefits of this are many, it is also having a negative effect on our environment. Some of the other negative effects of globalisation on the environment manifest themselves in the increase in air traffic, cars, sea transport, waste and the ever rising consumption of water and fossil energy. These factors all have profound impacts on the environment ranging from local to global (Dreher. A, Gaston. N, 2008).
Increased Human Consumption As previously stated in the introduction the issues of globalisation and consumption are interdependent. The increased ‘flow of goods’ made possible by globalisation has led to a greater international demand for consumer goods. Much of the debate surrounding environmental challenges centres on this area of changing human consumption patterns. Consumption refers to “the goods, services, energy and resources that are used up by people, institutions and societies’’ (Gidden's, 2001).
There is a direct correlation between high levels of consumption and economic development. As economies have flourished particularly in developed countries, this in turn has resulted in the average person having more disposable income to spend on luxuries after necessities. These luxuries come in the form of more food, clothing, personal items, leisure time, cosmetics, holidays, cars and so forth (Giddens 2001). In a lifetime the average person consumes tons of raw materials, which must be extracted, processed and eventually disposed of as waste.
In industrialised countries it is becoming increasingly difficult to dispose of the enormous amounts of refuse. Landfills are fast filling up and many urban areas are struggling to find places to dispose of domestic waste. For example, a report released by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency for the year 2011 found that uncollected household waste was estimated at 128,000 tonnes, which is a matter for on-going concern given the likely hood that some of it may have been burned or dumped. This is a trend common to most if not all developed economies.
The impact of deforestation is not always confined to the local area; it can also have regional and potentially more global effects (e. g. , global climate change). Human impact as a contributing factor to many regional natural disasters (e. g. Bangladesh floods in 2007) cannot be easily quantified. What is clear however is that we are witnessing major shifts in our natural environment. These changes are manifesting themselves at local level in uncultivable soil, desertification, water contamination and air pollution. Sustainability
The modern concept of sustainable development has emerged gradually over the last 40 years. During this time individuals, communities, governments, and nongovernmental organisations (NGO’s) have developed an awareness for the importance of the environment and humans’ increasing negative impacts on the natural world (Hardisty. P, 2012). Sustainable development is defined as ‘’the use of renewable resources to promote economic growth, the protection of animal species and biodiversity, and the commitment to maintaining clean air, water and land’’ (United Nations Our Common Future Report 1987).
Sustainable development means that growth, ideally, be carried out in such a way as to recycle physical resources, rather than deplete and destroy them, and to keep pollution levels to a minimum (Gidden’s 2001). Currently a third of the world’s population live directly off their own local produce (UNDP 1998). These people’s livelihoods are entirely dependent on the land. Therefore this makes them extremely vulnerable to any environmental change. One example of these changes is soil degradation experienced in parts of Asia and Africa.
As local populations grow, so too does the demand for increased agricultural output, which leads to over-farming (Giddens, 2001). More efficient and sustainable methods of farming need to be urgently employed so as not to completely exhaust the land for future generations. In order for sustainable development to make an impact it requires individuals, businesses, multinational corporations and the government to commit to a policy of reform in how they consume resources and the methods they use to dispose of solid waste and manage air pollution.
There is reluctance amongst many to adapt to sustainable development as they argue it will come at the expense of economic growth. Therefore the real challenge facing environmental sociologists is to find ways to convince or incentivise these individuals and organizations that sustainable development is the only way forward. Conclusion Over the course of this assignment I have explored the emergence of environmental sociology beginning in the 1960s.
I have analysed three of the most urgent challenges facing scholars of sociology including globalisation, changing human consumption patterns, and sustainability. One thing that has become apparent is that these challenges are all interlinked, and therefore cannot be addressed in isolation. The effects of globalisation and changing consumer patterns are evident on both a local and global scale. In support of this argument I have endeavoured to provide both local and global examples of the impacts of these sociological forces.
Clearly the relationship between humans and the environment is a complex one. Our increasing demand for raw materials is stripping the earth of its already scarce resources, and therefore this relationship is unsustainable, and in urgent need of rebalancing. The urgency and scale of these environmental challenges have meant that sociologists have had to redefine the parameters of classical sociology. If the environment was once merely a ‘backdrop’ to the study of “human social life, groups and societies” (reference), changing circumstances have dictated that it can no longer be side-lined.
Instead, environmental sociology must be understood, appreciated and addressed with the same diligence a traditional disciplines of sociology. Bibliography Books: * Giddens, Anthony, Sociology 4th edition, Polity Press, 2001, Ch. 19, Pg 609-621. * Hardisty, Paul E, Environmental and Economic Sustainability, CRC Press, 2010, Ch. 2. Journals: * Alamar. K and Murali. N, Globalisation, the Environment and sustainable Development, Taylor and Francis Group, London 2010. * Alamar. K and Murali.
N, Environmental Management, Sustainable Development and Human Health, Taylor and Francis Group, London, 2008. * Dreher. A, Gaston. N, Martens. P, Measuring Globalisation; Gauging its’ Consequences, Springer Science + Business Media, LLC, 2008. * Internet Resources: * National Environmental Policy Act, 1969 http://www. epa. gov/region1/nepa/ (accessed 7/10/12) * Environmental Protection Agency, Irelands Environmental Challenges and Priorities Report, 2012 http://www. epa. ie/ (accessed 4/10/12)