“If the human ‘balance of nature’ is essentially a matter of matching persons with activities, anything that disturbs that balance leads to social change”- (Bryant & Peck, 2007; 449)
In a continuously developing world particularly with reference to the current global ideal of what we now call a “modernised society”, the concept of social change may be identified as the influence perpetuating the pandemic. Social change in this instance is described as the adjustment in the basic structures of a social group or society (Giddens, 2006). According to Giddens (2006) social change is an ever-present phenomenon in social life, but has become especially intense in the modern era due to efforts to restore “social balance”. Hence, the outcomes of these efforts of social change may be reflected in a positive or negative light. In essence if social change is the perpetuating factor of a developing society, then the trigger of its influence must come from some sort of threatening social event. These events may vary in form. Natural disasters are thus recognised as not only an environmental, yet a societal event as well that poses a threat for social change, arising from the social consequences that they bring about. This essay will therefore aim to discuss the impact of social change on the environment and describe the social consequences of natural disasters, with reference to case studies to provide evidence.
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The onset of social change as mentioned above is triggered by social events. Subsequently those socially threatening events are triggered by the victims themselves. In this case human beings are not only the victims yet also the perpetrators of critical social events which predispose social change. There are many elements and dimensions that need to be considered when addressing
the intricate concept of social change.
The first is that social change has consistent characteristics (Macionis, 1996). In this sense according to Macionis (1996) the first characteristic is that social change happens everywhere, though differs from place to place. For example the United States would experience faster change due to its advanced technology in comparison to a third world country that does not have these advances.
Another characteristic is that social change is sometimes intentional but often unplanned (Macionis, 1996). In this context one would draw attention to technological developments and the levels of advantages and disadvantages. For example in the transportation industry, the invention of the airplane was developed in order to increase trade and speed travel. Though, when it was developed it was probably not realised how this invention would affect societies and families in the future. Accordingly, we now suffer with the devastating consequences of global warming of which the advances in transportation have contributed.
In addition social change also generates controversy (Macionis, 1996). In this case the conflict theory is reflected whereby social change emerges due to conflict amongst race, class, religion etc. Karl Marx in particular believed that class conflict sparked change and the conflict theory draws on the works of his communism approach reflected in his perspective of the class system.
Lastly, some social changes matter more than others do (Macionis, 1996). For example the invention of computers was more important than the invention of cabbage patch dolls (Macionis, 1996).
The causes of social change arise in cultural, conflict, political, economic, environmental and ideational contexts. Yet, combined the causes form the “globalisation” pandemic. Globalisation may be describe as the process of increasing the connectivity and interdependence of the world’s markets and businesses (DFAIT, 2002). The ever-increasing interdependencies among nations in resource exploitation, production (including out-sourcing) and marketing and the need to remove obstructions to this interdependency are driving forces behind the rush for globalisation (Rahman, 2002).
These interdependencies cause a need to develop and, in marketing terms, this need becomes a demand thus as the demand increases so does the production. Consequently as the production increases the advances in the particular products increase to ensure better quality and so the process continues. This has continued to the point where we now have genetically modified foods to feed a growing population and the process of cloning. It is these particular advances that are now the reasons for many of the environmental problems that have occurred recently. Hence, the point made on the notion that social change forms part of a cycle.
According to (Rahman, 2002) these global forces have produced rapid social change which is often marked by more inter and intra-regional disparity, environmental and ecological crisis, social disintegration, conflict and violence. Local population growth and natural disasters further aggravate the magnitude of human hardship (Rahman, 2002). This hardship occurs due to the use and limited availability of the resources which is usually used to generate the products that globalization exploits.
These hardships arise because humans, like all organisms on Earth, interact with both the biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) factors in their environment (Richmond, 2002). This interaction has devastating effects on the environment. As Richmond (2002) explains, environmental degradation happens when a potentially renewable resource (one of the biotic or abiotic factors humans need and use such as soil, grassland, forest, wildlife or fuel) is extracted at a rate faster than the resource can be replaced, and thus becomes depleted. According to Richmond (2002) if the rate of use of the resource remains high, the resource can become non-renewable on a human time scale or even become non-existent.
Evidence occurring throughout the twentieth century shows that agriculturally productive land has been extensively modified to make it even more productive (Richmond, 2002). This includes the widespread use during the twentieth century of chemical fertilizers (often produced from oil) pesticides, and extensive irrigation (Richmond, 2002). As Richmond (2002) emphasises to supply the needs of extensive irrigation, surface water has been diverted and many wells have been drilled seeking more subsurface water. At the same time that industrial agriculture was growing, agriculturally productive land was being lost to urban development and industry (Richmond, 2002). In the twenty first century, competition for remaining land and water resources is expected to continue to increase (Richmond, 2002). These particular problems are contributory causes of globalisation and can lead to natural hazards.
Natural hazards, which is defined as a threat of a dangerous magnitude of a natural process, have the potential to cause a number of primary and secondary phenomena (Chen, 2005). According to Chen (2005) primary phenomena are the natural hazards themselves this includes tropical cyclones, floods, storms, droughts and earthquakes. The secondary phenomena comprises of the vulnerabilities of the elements at risk such as populations, infrastructure, economic, political and social activities, which make them more susceptible to being harmed or damaged by a hazard event (Chen, 2005).
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The secondary cause results from the dependency of the primary. For example the devastating and seemingly arbitrary nature of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina can reinforce the popular notion that such events are random in their social dimensions. There are many aspects of social dimensions that get affected and these occur abruptly due to the unpremeditated impact of natural disasters. In the case study based on Hurricane Katrina, among New Orleanians who were employed at the time of the storm, only a quarter reported having the same job one month later, compared with over two-thirds of respondents from outside the city (Elliot & Pais, 2006). This shows that the natural disaster brought about unemployment which is considered a social issue.
Based on the same study by Elliot & Pais (2006) it was concluded that when such disasters do occur, individuals understandably become stressed. The results of the Hurricane Katrina Case study also show that for all three indicators of stress (current, short-term, and long-term) proved to be remarkably consistent (Elliot & Pais, 2006). They show that race, not class, had a strong influence on post-disaster stress associated with Hurricane Katrina, with blacks generally reporting higher stress levels than whites, all else being equal (Elliot & Pais, 2006). Moreover, this racial difference increased further into the future when respondents are asked to look five years ahead (Elliot & Pais, 2006). For example, the average black-white differential in stress was greater when respondents are asked to look five years ahead than when they were asked to look only a few months ahead (Elliot & Pais, 2006). This provides evidence that natural disasters have social impacts yet is not the driving force behind political change. Instead the politics and ethical issues arise from the mind-sets of the victims themselves arising from the current social systems implemented prior to the disaster.
The very same study proved that when these disasters occur, individuals are intensely personally affected and prior research suggests that this stress tends to be higher in technological disasters than in natural disasters (Erikson, 1994; Freudenberg, 1997; Norris et al., 2001). This pattern is pertinent to Hurricane Katrina because many observers now view events within the City of New Orleans as primarily a technological disaster (levee failure) and events outside the city as primarily a natural disaster (wind, rain, and storm-surge destruction) (Elliot & Pais, 2006). This proves the correlation between man made global advances and natural disasters.
In another study conducted in Ethiopia on the effect of the severe prolonged Ethiopian drought of 1998-2000 presents a second kind of disaster experiment (Carter, Little, Mogues, Negatu, 2007). Direct destruction of assets was modest, but the income losses of repeated crop failures in some locations forced households to choose between preserving assets, or selling them to maintain current consumption and health v(Carter et al, 2007). This particular example suggests that natural disasters puts its victims into a life threatening position of decision yet that decision is forced upon by a global economy.
Hence, in order for survival individuals are forced to resort to modern consumptions and become part of the modern economic system. This occurs due to the premise that most land is owned by those who have the most wealth and power. Individuals who are in poverty are therefore unable to build their villages on these lands, though those who have some kind of wealth have an advantage to rebuilding a living.
In the case of the recent earthquake in Haiti crisis, political instability and violence seem to have intensified over the last two decades (Daumerie, 2010). While the influence of population on political stability and security is certainly not a simple cause-and-effect relationship, a very youthful age structure can potentially exacerbate the development challenges faced by a nation and, in turn, accentuate political instability (Daumerie, 2010).
In Haiti, 15 to 29 year-olds comprise 50 percent of the population, and entering the labour market proves very challenging for them (Daumerie, 2010). As Daumerie (2010) suggests between 45 and 55 percent of youth in their twenties are either unemployed or inactive. Girls perform hard, unpaid work in the household and in some cases engage in paid sexual activity (Daumerie, 2010). As noted by Steve Laguerre of Catholic Relief Services, “We have a lot of cross-generational sex between young girls and older men who can provide for them.” (Daumerie, 2010;2). According to Daumerie (2010) young boys substitute this by engaging in illegal activities, which in the data are reported as inactivity. Eighty percent of violent crimes in the Caribbean are committed by men, the majority of whom are under age 35 (Daumerie, 2010).
The case of Haiti reveals political, economical and social issues that have arisen from the natural disaster. The victims in poverty are forced to resort to desperate measures and the youth is devastatingly affected by this. According to Daumerie (2010) in the capital Port-au Prince, dozens of gangs wander the slums and kill, steal or beat with freedom, while controlling different parts of the city. For a population of less than ten million (half of them children), surveys report 209,000 small arms and light weapons distributed among a horde of armed groups, including criminal and youth gangs, resistance fronts, death squads, prison escapees, political groups, self-defence militias, private security companies and children (Daumerie, 2010).
With a succession of military officials rising to power in recent years, international aid was largely suspended and the Haitian army was left with little capital to reimburse its soldiers, who began to use their weapons against citizens for their own gains (Daumerie, 2010). Later, the drug trafficking trade also contributed to the proliferation of violence as Haiti was used by the Colombian cartel as a trans-shipment point for cocaine (Daumerie, 2010). Armed criminal group violence has intensified radically since the last military overthrow in 1994 and have become more brutal since 2000 (Daumerie, 2010). One can elicit that the use of weaponry and violence poses disastrous effects on the physical environment.
According to Enzler (2006) the use of weapons, the destruction of structures and oil fields, fires, military transport movements and chemical spraying are all examples of the destroying impact war may have on the environment. Air, water and soil are polluted, man and animal are killed, and numerous health affects occur among those still living (Enzler, 2009). The use of warfare thus contributes to the damaging effects of global warming experienced all over the world today. Hence the notion that the victims impose harm on the environment.
In conclusion humans are continuously faced with social change due to the fact that they are continuously changing their way of life. By continuously changing the way of life by modernized means we are changing the life of the living environment itself. The globalisation pandemic is evidence of this. As we continuously develop these advances in production and ways of living we are destroying the “balance of nature”. When this balance is disrupted natural disasters occur and hence social change emerges. This brings about a cycle where human action and nature are dependent upon one another. Social change in its current state needs to be directed in a positive light where balance is restored. Perhaps this balance will only be renowned when human action is directed toward positive outcomes.
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