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Social Sci LibreTexts

15.3: The Environment

  • Page ID
    14585
  • Learning Objectives

    1. List two reasons that make the environment an appropriate topic for sociologists to study.
    2. Describe two of the environmental problems facing the world today.
    3. Describe what is meant by the assertion that environmental problems are human problems.
    4. Explain the concepts of environmental inequality and environmental racism.
    5. Understand the various environmental problems that exist today.

    At first glance, the environment does not seem to be a sociological topic. The natural and physical environment is something that geologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and other scientists should be studying, not sociologists. Yet we have just discussed how the environment is affected by population growth, and that certainly sounds like a sociological discussion. In fact, the environment is very much a sociological topic for several reasons.

    First, our worst environmental problems are the result of human activity, and this activity, like many human behaviors, is a proper topic for sociological study. This textbook has discussed many behaviors: racist behavior, sexist behavior, criminal behavior, sexual behavior, and others. Just as these behaviors are worthy of sociological study, so are the behaviors that harm (or try to improve) the environment.

    Second, environmental problems have a significant impact on people, as do the many other social problems that sociologists study. We see the clearest evidence of this impact when a major hurricane, an earthquake, or another natural disaster strikes. In January 2010, for example, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti and killed more than 250,000 people, or about 2.5 percent of that nation’s population. The effects of these natural disasters on the economy and society of Haiti will certainly also be felt for many years to come.

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    As is evident in this photo taken in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, changes in the natural environment can lead to profound changes in a society. Environmental changes are one of the many sources of social change.

    United Nations Development Programme – Haiti Earthquake – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.