Environmental Problems are not just “Environmental” but also “Social” Problems.
Environmental Problems are not just “Environmental” but also “Social” Problems
Environmental problems have reached a new height in the 21st century, and effects of global warming are rife in every part of the world. Air, water, and soil pollution have become rampant in today’s industrialized world. For instance, deforestation is at its peak with lands running barely at an alarming rate. There are incidents of water shortage, desertification of land, environmental degradation, and several natural calamities all due to environmental problems (Steinberg 807). The claim that environmental problems are not only environmental but also social problems looks promising regarding further exploration. In fact, it is believed that the environmental problems come with many social problems embedded in them.
The emergence of the environmental problem has been a gradual process. In fact, one of the factors that have contributed greatly to environmental pollution is industrialization. Industrial effluents have had a massive impact on the current environmental problems experienced today. For instance, the discovery of the diesel engine did not only increase machinery efficiency but also brought a myriad of challenges to the environment. Most of the industries depend on fossil fuels to operate their engines. The fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide upon burning. Carbon dioxide is one of the major culprits of global warming (Steinberg 809).
Global warming leads to environmental issues such as melting of snow in the mountains causing an overflow of rivers and depletion of water sources. In the long-run, when all snow in the mountains melts down, water sources will dry up. Consequently, the problem of water shortage is born by societies that depend on those rivers, thus creating a social problem. In fact, water is an essential commodity in the life of animals and human beings. Natural resources such as water have been at the center of conflict between communities in different parts of the world. Additionally, industries require water for processing and cooling machines.
The industries especially in the agricultural sector harness water directly from water sources and direct wastewater back into the rivers. Consequently, the water is polluted and when consumed by human beings it leads to health problems. Consumption of contaminated water has played a central role in the spread of contagious diseases such as cholera. Also, wastewater may contain chemicals such as lead and sulphur, which can lead to skin cancer and other body effects.
Moreover, global warming has led to a shortage of rains in different parts of the world. Subsequently, shortage of rain causes drought and crops failure, which in turn leads to hunger in areas that depend on rain-fed agriculture. Over 60% of the African population lives in rural areas, and they mainly practice subsistence farming which is dependent on rains (Fentiman 97). When it does not rain due to global warming and environmental pollution, thousands of lives are lost caused by hunger. The drought and famine do not only affect human beings but also animals, thus leading to poverty and decline in the standards of living and shrinking of wildlife. Drought and feminine also lead to social conflicts as communities scramble for scarce pasture and water for their animals, especially among the pastoralist communities. Evidently, most of the environmental problems have led to social problems, or they have a direct connection with most of the social problems experienced in the societies today.
Other than global warming, there is degradation of the environment through mining activities. Natural minerals are very valuable, but on the contrary, they cause more harm than their value to the environment. Given the value attached to the minerals, those engaging in the mining activities do not put any measure to conserve the environment. Firstly, mining causes relocation of families from their lands. Families are displaced without caring where they will move, and some are poorly compensated or not compensated at all. For instance, Gordon et al. (97) argue that “mining is an innocuous process that inevitably involves forceful and violent reorganization of people’s life as they are subordinated under the whims of capitalism” in Chile, Columbia, and Venezuela. When families are relocated from their land, they are drained into abject poverty and other social crisis. Furthermore, mining leads to the destruction of the environment; soils are impoverished, water bodies are polluted, and vegetation is cleared to pave the way for the mining activities. When the soils are penurious, the livelihood of the local communities depending on agriculture for survival is affected. As a result, poor soils lead to poor production and eventually hunger. Communities that depend on fishing for a livelihood are also adversely affected by water pollution. In fact, water pollution affects aquatic life meaning that fish die or migrate away from that area leaving the community hungry and jobless. Clearing of vegetation affects the rain pattern in the areas affected, thus causing low agricultural production.
Secondly, mining industries have a propensity of polluting the environment and at the same time mistreating their workers a case that has been witnessed in Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, and many African countries (Gordon and Webber 81). As if environmental pollution is not enough, mining industries engage local communities in forced labor, heavy workload, and poor wages. Thereby, the productive population in the society is subjected to various atrocities, hence affecting their productivity both socially and economically. In the past, the issue of forced labor was prevalent during the colonial era, and it had an adverse impact on population growth. Overall, poor wages leads to poor living standards, which in turn lead to crime. During the colonial era mining dynasties, most Africans were subjected to low living standards as a result of mineral exploitations especially in Nigeria, Congo and South Africa (Fentiman 99).
Thirdly, when communities learn that their pieces of land are no longer productive, they move into urban areas to look for employment. Rural-urban migration leads to housing problems, a scenario that is associated with the development of slums. For instance, oil mining in the Niger Delta led to the alienation of land and relocation of families into urban areas (Fentiman 81). Unemployment in the urban areas also leads to a rise in criminal activities and other social vices such as prostitution. Most of the urban areas cannot support the job pressure exerted by the huge number of those moving from rural areas to urban areas.
Undeniably, the rate of conflict between local communities and mining companies has been high in the recent past especially in Latin America countries (Gordon and Webber 79). In most cases, people protest against environmental degradation caused by the mining companies and lack of development in light of constant environmental destruction. As a result, the conflict between mining companies and local communities increases insecurity and crime in the affected areas especially in Colombia and Chile (Gordon and Webber 83)
Clearing the vegetation by the mining companies affects the migration patterns of animals. In fact, the animals’ habitats are affected, and this result to the conflict between wild animals and human beings especially in Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia (Gordon and Webber 76). The emergence of the conflict increases insecurity as members of the society live in fear of being attacked by the wild animals. Overall, insecurity affects movement and interaction of people.
Chemical emissions from the mining industries affect the climatic conditions leading to poor or no rains, high temperatures and drought in the long run. The emissions are also poisonous to human beings since they have been attached with respiratory, skin and sight diseases. For instance, rocks from mining sites are hazardous to water sources since through a process called acid rock drainage they emit sulphuric acid, mercury, arsenic and other toxins into the water a case evident in Chile mines (Gordon and Webber 76). As a result, the chemical poses a health hazard to the lives of those who consume the water directly or use to sow crops. Consequently, the life expectancy of such people is reduced dramatically, and the chemicals may take time before their effects end. Ultimately, health safety has become a hidden environmental battleground for most community members residing or working in areas infested with environmental problems in Mexico (Santiago 184). Heavy rains over a short period are attributed to the irresponsible clearing the vegetation. The heavy rains cause floods, destruction of property, deaths, and displacement of people. Therefore, the rains cause more social problems than good to the affected communities.
Additionally, destroying vegetation and displacement of people affects their traditional habits. Through alienation of land for mining purposes, some communities have been deprived the privilege to visit shrines and other places that have religious significance to them. For instance, according to Fentiman (83), oil mining in the Niger Delta denied the bonny community from accessing their worshipping shrines as they were displaced. Consequently, environmental problems have far-reaching social implications on some of the communities. Undeniably, erosion of culture in some communities especially in the African settings can be attributed to environmental problems a good example being Bonny community in the Niger Delta (Fentiman 91). When trees, caves, hills, and mountains were crushed during the mining activities, the social life of the bonny community was affected. In fact, institutions that make a community culturally unique are being eroded at an alarming rate through environmental degradation (Fentiman 91). The author also argues that communities are forced to modify their traditions in a bid to cope with environmental changes within their locality (Fentiman 91).
Moreover, environmental problems affect transport and movement of people. For instance, open pits that are left after mining pose a threat to the free movement of people. The open pits limit space for construction of roads, playing grounds or houses. Moreover, the open pits are usually occupied by mosquitoes for breeding, which are a health hazard. Lastly, the open pits become death baits for community living around them since there are high chances of falling in them.
Most of the industries are hell bent in the production of goods and extraction of natural resources without giving any meaningful attention to the environment around them against the backdrop of enormous profits they record (Santiago 184). Subsequently, deforestation, which is instigated by financial gains, leaves communities exposed to social problems including hunger, deprivation of natural medicines, and rise in poverty levels and exposure to natural calamities such as storms, tornados among others. The foreign companies witnessed that in Mexico during the mining expeditions from America and Europe (Santiago 189).
Environmental problems have not remained to be environmental problems alone, but they have a myriad of social problems connected with them. The increase in environmental problems has led to the increasing number of social problems. The conflict has been rampant in different parts of the world as communities scramble for scarce natural resources such as water and pasture as a result of environmental complications. Erosion of culture is also embedded in environmental problems. Communities are made to shift from their traditional way of doing things to fit in the rapidly changing environment. To cope with it, more efforts should be put in place to counter the effects of environmental changes in a bid to decrease the high number of social problems. Environmental conservation should be everyone’s responsibility since it effects are far reaching. Moreover, activities that jeopardize environmental conservation should be fought actively in a bid to ensure that they no environment is harmed in any way.
Fentiman, Alice. “The Anthropology of Oil: The Impact of the Oil Industry on the Fishing Community in the Niger Delta.” Social Justice, vol. 23, no. 4, 1996, pp. 87-99. https://www.jstor.org/stable/29766976?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. (Link provided as per the customer’s request).
Gordon, Todd, and Jeffery Webber. “Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, 2008, pp. 76-77. http://blogs.ubc.ca/geog328/files/2015/09/gordon-webber-imperialism-and-resistance.pdf (Link provided as per the customer’s request).
Santiago, Myrna. “Class and Nature in the Oil Industry of Northern Veracruz, 1900-1938.” A Land Between Waters, edited by Christopher R. Boyer, University of Arizona Press, 2012, pp. 173-191.
Steinberg, Ted. “Down to Earth: Nature, Agency, and Power in History.” American Historical Review, 2002, pp. 807-809.