- Social relationships with the environment have changed over time and they vary from place to place.
- There are a few environmental problems that demand attention.
- All societies have an ecological basis. The term ‘ecology’ denotes the web of physical and biological systems and processes of which humans are one element.
- The ecology of a place is also affected by the interaction between its geography and hydrology. Ecology has been modified by human action. What appears to be a natural feature of the environment – aridity or flood for example, is often produced by human intervention. Deforestation in the upper catchment of a river may make the river more flood-prone.
- It is often difficult to distinguish between the natural and human factors in ecological change.
- Social environment emerges from the interaction between biophysical ecology and human interventions.
- For instance, the fertile soil of the Indo-Gangetic floodplain enables intensive agriculture. Its high productivity allows dense population settlements and generates enough surpluses to support other non-agricultural activities, giving rise to complex hierarchical societies and states.
- The interaction between environment and society is shaped by social organization.
- Property relations determine how and by whom natural resources can be used.
- Landless labourers and women will have a different relationship with natural resources than men.
- In rural India, women are likely to experience resource scarcity more acutely because gathering fuel and fetching water are generally women’s tasks but they do not control these resources.
- Different relationships between environment and society also reflect different social values and norms, as well as knowledge systems.
- The multiple cultural meanings of a river – its ecological, utilitarian, spiritual, and aesthetic significance, are stripped down to a single set of calculations about profit and loss from the sale of water for an entrepreneur.
- There are different perspectives of the environment and its relationship to society. These differences include the of ‘nature-nurture’ debate.
- Theories and data about environment and society are influenced by the social conditions under which they emerge. Thus the notions that women are intrinsically less able than men, and the Black naturally less able than the White, were challenged as ideas of equality became more widespread during the 18th century’s social and political revolutions.
- Geology, geography, botany, zoology, forestry and hydraulic engineering are among the many disciplines that were created and institutionalized to facilitate the management of natural resources for colonial purposes.
- Complex industrial technologies and modes of organization require sophisticated management systems which are often fragile and vulnerable to error.
Major Environment Problems and Risks:
- While fossil fuels and specially petroleum hog the headlines, the depletion and destruction of water and land is probably even more rapid.
- Aquifers which have accumulated water over hundreds and thousands of years are being emptied in a few decades to meet the growing demands of intensive agriculture, industry and urban centres.
- Biodiversity habitats such as forests, grasslands and wetlands are the other major resources facing rapid depletion, largely due to the expansion of areas under agriculture.
- Air pollution is considered to be a major environmental problem in urban and rural areas, causing respiratory and other problems.
- Indoor pollution from cooking fires is also a serious source of risk.
- Water pollution is also a very serious issue affecting surface as well as groundwater.
- Cities also suffer from noise pollution, which has been the subject of court orders in many cities.
- The release of particular gases (carbon dioxide, methane and others) creates a ‘greenhouse’ effect by trapping the sun’s heat and not allowing it to dissipate. This has caused a small but significant rise in global temperatures.
- Global warming is likely to result in greater fluctuations and uncertainty in climates across the world. China and India are increasingly significant contributors to world carbon and green house gas emissions.
Genetically Modified Organisms .
- New techniques of gene-splicing allow scientists to import genes from one species into another, introducing new characteristics.
- Genetic modification may also be done to shorten growing time, increasing size and the shelf-life of crops. Little is known about the long term effects of genetic modification on those who eat these foods or on ecological systems.
Natural and Man-made Environmental Disasters
- The Bhopal disaster of 1984 killed about 4,000 people when a toxic gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory and the tsunami of 2004 killed thousands of people are the most recent examples of man-made and natural environmental disasters.
Why Environmental Problems are also Social Problems?:
- Social status and power determine the extent to which people can insulate themselves from environmental crises or overcome it.
- A sociological analysis shows how public priorities are set and how they are pursued may not be universally beneficial. Securing the public interest may actually serve the interests of politically and economically powerful groups, or hurt the interests of the poor and politically weak.
- The school of social ecology points out that social relations, in particular the organization of property and production, shapes environmental perceptions and practices.
- Deforestation: The loss of forest area due to cutting down of trees and/or taking over the land for other purposes, usually cultivation.
- Emissions: Waste gases given off by human-initiated process, usually in the context of industries or vehicles.
- Ecology: The web of physical and biological systems and processes of which the humans are one element.
- Effluents: Waste materials in fluid form produced from industrial process.
- Hydrology: The source of water and its flows; or the broad structure of water resources in a country or region.
- Urban community: Human beings living in the environment of the urban areas.
- Metropolis: When a city is socially and economically linked with its suburbs, neighboring towns and rural areas, it becomes a Metropolis.
- Primitive city: Large urban centers of the industrial cities having large population with high density are called primitive cities.
- Magnet cities: Cities which attract a large population of rural people for better economic opportunities.
- Suburb: A community situated just on the outskirts of a city having low population density and smaller population.
- Environment: Means both biological and geographical conditions.
- Aquifers: Natural underground formations in the geology of a region where water gets stored.
- Mono culture: When the plant life in a locality or region is reduced to a single variety.
- Urban ecology: Branch of urban sociology that deals with the relationships between man and environment of the urban areas.