Environmental changes and Social Condition
The interaction between environmental change and social conditions is complex and extremely intertwined. In order to create an advanced, convenient, and comfortable way of living, humanity has changed the environment quickly and radically in a number of ways. However, these luxuries come with an ecological cost. Alterations to the environment can lead to disruptions in not only the ecosystem itself but also in society. This usually leads to further human made changes in the environment to correct this disturbance and a cycle is born. Environmental issues and social conditions seem to act as one entity because a change in one generally elicits a response of some sort in the other. The way environmental change and social conditions play off each other makes it seem as though one cannot satisfy either entity without destroying the other.
The environment is a vital part of life. We rely on the environment for many “ecosystem services” such as providing clean air and water, protection from infectious disease, and natural disasters (Myers, 2009). However, humanity has always been better at taking than giving. We expect the earth to continue providing these services yet do more to destroy the system than aid in the process. The last 200 years have seen extreme advancement in agriculture, technology, industrialization and many other areas that have made social conditions improve; but not without a toll on our environment, whose degradation is, ironically, lessening the quality of life. As the world becomes more and more industrialized and urbanized, we create and become the catalyst for environmental problems such as climate change, land transformation, and alteration of the chemistry of water. These issues also have an impact on social conditions.
Land Transformation and Social Conditions
Land transformation represents the most extensive example of human modification of Earth. Human contact has altered somewhere between one third and one half of Earth’s land surface (Vitousek, 1997). In order to house the growing population, deforestation is utilized to create space for homes. Grasslands are altered and sometimes even destroyed to make them viable for crop agriculture and feed the population. Society wants quick, easy, and accessible transportation so trees are cut down to build roads. All of this doesn’t come without consequence. Land transformation takes a toll on society. In Africa, deforestation in the Amazon basin caused an increase in breeding of a principal malaria vector, A. darling and the area faced an increase in biting rates. When the Cacao Plantation was developed, Trinidad had a similar problem. The plantation was a perfect breeding ground for a malaria vector and caused a malaria epidemic (Myers, 1997). Furthermore, altering these lands notably affects the species that live there. Certain animals require certain living conditions. Land transformation changes these conditions and makes the habitat uninhabitable to those species. Blois and Hadly state (2009), “Extinction directly induced by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and overexploitation of populations is already proceeding at rates unparalleled in the Cenozoic (the past 65 million years), or perhaps the history of life.” Species are going extinct causing a loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity keeps ecosystems healthy and provides an array of services including: climate stability, a variety of crops, and natural disaster recovery. In order to ensure survival species need an assortment of genes, which would be lost without biodiversity (Anup Shah, 2014) Moreover, all life forms play an important role in the ecosystem; even the loss of one can have major effects. For example, a decrease in wolf population through hunting causes an increase in the herbivores usually preyed on by the wolves (Strong, 2010). An increase in herbivores in an ecosystem can diminish plant populations affecting our food supply. Land transformation has impacts on society in a number of interconnected ways.
Climate Change and Social Conditions
Climate change is another impact human activity has on the environment, in turn threatening living conditions. An excessive amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere every day. Humans contribute to the emission of this green house gas substantially. Gasoline from driving a car, electricity used to power businesses and homes, and every industrial factory in the world produce carbon dioxide through the combustion of fossil fuels. Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere already play a significant role in climate change and with time its affects are likely to become more severe (Vitousek, 1997). Even a one degree Celsius change in temperature can cause a 10% reduction in crops like rice corn and wheat (Myers, 2009). Hotter average temperatures means hotter days, resulting in an increase in heat related illness and death. As climate change rises, so does the amount of ground level ozone in the atmosphere. This increases the risk of lung tissue damage and asthma (Climate impacts,” n.d., para. 8). Climate change also impacts the hydrologic cycle by causing an extensive amount of rain or extreme droughts (Myers, 2009). Bad storms threaten social conditions through an increase transmission of disease, contamination of fresh water supplies and pollution. Additionally, like land transformation, climate change contributes to the extinction of species (whose affects on society have been discussed previously). As stated before, animals are biologically equipped to live in certain regions that have certain conditions, such as temperature. If the climate changes enough, animals may not have the ability to adapt to these conditions (Blois and Hadly, 2009).
Oceans, rivers, seas and Social Conditions
Water could arguably be the most important aspect of human life. Water is needed to survive. Since water is so important to survival, society has done much to make and keep it accessible. Most of Earth’s water is regulated for flood control, transportation, agriculture and fresh water supply. Only two percent of the United States Rivers run unobstructed (Vitousek, 1997). The heavy regulation of Earth’s waterways can have devastating costs. Due to regulation and impediments on water, many rivers are barley able to get water to the seas in which they drain. This has been the case for the Aral Sea, whose water volume has been significantly reduced in recent decades. Reduction in water volume creates local problems such a decrease in water quality and an increase in human disease (Vitousek, 1997). Moreover, changes in our oceans also create red flags in social condition. There has been an increase in harmful algae near costal areas. These harmful algae are correlated with changes in temperature, nutrients and salinity (all resulting from human activity in marine ecosystems) (Vitousek, 1997). Fisheries are depleting the ocean of fish at an alarming rate; the removal of these fish can have drastic impacts on aquatic ecology. Areas that protect between costal lands and the ocean are also being destroyed and altered. All these changes are affecting aquatic and human life.
The relationship between environmental changes and social conditions is not simple and certainly not driven by any one factor. Humans change the environment to better the quality of life, changes in the environment have detrimental affects on our ecosystems, and these changes in our ecosystems then create threats to human living conditions. For example, people rely heavily on agriculture to survive but agriculture involves extensive land transformation. Land transformation has affects like climate change, which then create problems in agricultural yields, resulting in food scarcity. Social conditions and environmental change interact with each other on a day-to-day basis; changes in one result in changes in the other. Interaction between the two is best looked at as a cycle.
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