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Sociological Understanding of the Environment

Sociological Understanding of the Environment

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify environmental consequences from a sociological perspective.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Images from; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on the sociological understanding of the environment. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So in this lesson, we're looking at sociology and then the environment. Specifically, we're looking at two different types of interactions. We're looking at how human are affected by the environment and how the environment affects individual people and groups of people. So let's start by looking at how the environment affects humans.

So here we have a rain cloud. Now, when it's raining, the weather is obviously affecting us. We carry an umbrella. Or we do with being wet. We might get sick. On a basic level, weather can affect us.

But sociology-- we might look at the individual effect on people, maybe a couple approaches. But we're more interested in how it's affecting groups of people or cultures.

So let's say we have a lot of rain-- in fact, so much rain there's a flood. If this flood happens in India, it is dangerous. People might die. People could be injured. But their culture actually depends on the rainy season and these floods to have sustainable farming. They need their rivers to overflow and flood so it can replenish the soil and increase the moisture in the soil so that they can effectively grow.

In that society, they're relatively used to it. The rainy season comes, and they expect to have a lot of rain. Now, that happens in a society that is not used to rain, it's going to have a very, very different effect on them. I like to think of the idea that the natural environment really can shape the way human culture develops.

In Minnesota, we have a thriving art scene, really good musicians, great theater, orchestra, all these different sorts of great arts. I personally argue that part of the reason why we have such thriving arts is we need something to do in the winter. In the winter, Minnesota-- it can be super cold, a lot of snow. We want to be indoors.

So the environment is really affecting us in a way that I think it's helping promote this artistic culture. It doesn't mean that it caused it. But I think it helps it sustain it and helps it happen.

You don't really see that same kind of artistic culture in all parts of the world. And I like to contrast that with a nice beach resort, beach resorts that-- a beach is so nice, why would you be worried about going into a play? Why would you want to sacrifice sitting and soaking up the sun and playing on the beach and swimming and surfing to go sit inside?

So the environment can affect us in a lot of different ways. Some people argue that the environment affects different groups of people within the same society differently. A term that ties in with that is "environmental racism." So this is a form of racism which unjustly puts minorities in jeopardy from environmental hazards.

So let me explain those two bullet points underneath it. And then I'll give you an example from the relatively recent news here. Hazardous environments-- so we're looking at things that are unhealthy and dangerous for humans.

So let's look at housing first. Who wants to live in a neighborhood with a big, messy, dirty factory that might be polluting your neighborhood, might make your backyard unsafe for your kids to play in? People don't really want to live there. So what's going to happen to those prices in that neighborhood? Well, the prices are probably going to be considerably lower.

So if the prices are lower, anyone can afford to live there. But who's going to be forced to live there because they can't find anywhere else that's in their budget? People without a lot of power, people without a lot of economic resources. So minorities really get put in jeopardy to environmental hazards because of housing.

This also happens with occupations. Dangerous occupations, like being coal miners, working in hazardous material factories-- even if those jobs pay well, most people are going to choose to find another sort of job before they work that job. Again, it's unfairly putting minorities in jeopardy to these environmental hazards.

Now we're going to flip the coin and look at how we affect the environment. So there's two ways that we have an effect on the environment. Well, actually, there's many, many ways. But I'm going to give you two ways here in this lesson.

So the first one is global warming. The temperatures in the United States and across the world have been steadily rising, both on the surface and in the atmosphere, since the 1850s or late 1900s. And they continue to rise. And all evidence points to the fact that that is coming from humans. We are doing something to the environment that we are changing the temperature of the world.

And we are yet to really see what exactly the consequences of this global warming is and if we're going to be able to curtail it or stop it or reverse it. But climatologists basically across the board agree that global warming is happening. And the question now is, how are we as humans going to modify our behaviors to curtail global warming?

Another way we affect the environment is biodiversity. So biodiversity in a general sense just means the diversity of biological life within an environment. So if you're looking at an environment like the ocean, how many different types of life are in this environment?

In general, the world is a very, very diverse place. And many ecosystems, many environments are super plentiful with a lot of different types of life. And that biodiversity, that variety of life is really a strength for the world. And it's a strength for humans. Many medicines and innovations come from this diverse world.

But what's happening is that humans-- the way that we're interacting in the environment is we're diminishing biodiversity in many, many different environments. You can be looking at rainforest and the amount of rainforests in the world that have been cleared and how there are many species that we don't even know exist yet in the rainforest. And as we eliminate rainforest, we are diminishing the biodiversity of the world.

So if we are going to acknowledge that we have an effect on the environment, what exactly is being done or can be done? Well, there is this approach called the "ecological sustainable culture." And what that's really saying is, can we have a culture that allows for a healthy long-term relationship with the environment and with the world?

Can we change our culture? And it could be on a local level. It could be on a global level. Can we change our culture to really have a sustainable relationship with the environment?

I have up there reduce, reuse, recycle. This was the big tagline when I was growing up about how we need to reduce how much we use. We need to reuse what we use. And we need to recycle what we end up using. And that's really how we're going to change the environment.

I don't think it really captures exactly what this approach is calling for, but it is a start. There's going to be many trade-offs for us as a culture if we're going to find a way to have a healthy relationship with the environment. We might have to take some steps back technologically with some of the comforts that we have and our style of living to make sure the environment can be successful and be healthy.

My last little bullet point on there says, cataclysmic event. There are some that argue that we're really, as a society, not going to be able to reach this ecologically sustainable culture unless something really crazy happens that forces us all to change our habits. There are too many trade-offs for us to give up some of those luxuries and comforts that we are used to and expect in our modern society.

So today's takeaway message-- environmental racism is a form of racism which unjustly puts minorities in jeopardy for environmental hazards. Ecological sustainable culture is this culture that allows for a healthy, long-term, and continued interaction between the humans and the environment. Global warming is the rise of average temperatures on the Earth's surface and in the atmosphere. And biodiversity is the diversity of biological life within an environment.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know

The diversity of biological life within an environment.

Ecological Sustainable Culture

A culture that allows for a healthy, long-term, and continued human interaction with the environment.

Environmental Racism

An institutionalized form of racism that results in minority groups suffering disproportionately from environmental dangers.

Global Warming

The rise in average temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere since the late 19th century.