Environmental Problems

Final Group Project Poster

Chapter 14: Environmental Problems

These are our first hand experiences with environmental problems and how they relate to the sociological perspectives that have been discussed in class and the readings, and also the experiences and commentary of our peers from the week's discussion.


My very brief encounter with an environmental problem is with the drought that affected most of California and Oregon, as well. While there have been winters before where there has not been a lot of rainfall, this particular instance was worse than the others and we had to take action. In my community, there were restrictions on when residents could water their lawns or plants and those restrictions varied based on location. One side of the freeway could water every other day and the other side of the freeway watered on those off days. There were also certain times during the day that residents could water, and those were either early in the morning or later in the evening so that the water would not evaporate quickly into the hotter, midday air. This kind of restriction was something that I had never dealt with before in my life, and I think it came as a shock to many people across the state.

According to the functionalist perspective, “a highly technological social organization has many benefits but also many dysfunctions” as it can “overuse resources…and deplete them…” (pg. 380). In this day and age, affluence could mean not having to worry about the length of showers or letting the water run when doing dishes. With newer technology, some appliances are more efficient with water use and energy use inside the household. However, the ability to pay for water contributes to the idea that people can use water as they please. I know that my attitudes towards water usage were somewhat of this nature until the drought really became a problem. As mentioned in Chapter 14, “people’s consciousness of environmental problems has fluctuated over time” and a lot of people do not view environmental problems as threats even if they are (pg. 382). The abruptness of the drought and its seriousness, in my opinion, seemed to catch everyone off guard in terms of what was being asked of us to decrease our water usage. My family, for example, put a bucket in our showers to catch the water that was used before the temperature of the water was warm enough for a shower. We would then use this water to hydrate the plants in our yard. We also had a rain barrel outside to catch whatever rainfall that might come our way. My family was not frivolous with water in the first place, so these changes were not extremely disruptive to our way of life, but that could be different for other families who might have already been surviving on little water or overusing water to a large extent.

With this experience under my belt, I am definitely more conscious of how and when I use water. The practices that my family adopted, and still uses, are with me even in Corvallis. It still frustrates me to see sprinklers that water more of the sidewalk than the grass, because back home that could be reason to get your neighbor a serious warning to fix their sprinklers. I am glad that the county implemented regulations on water usage during the time of drought because they can provide some guidelines and examples for how people should be using water to lessen the risks and damage of a serious drought in the future.

Addition after Week 10's Discussion Board

In Week 10’s discussion, Kieran states a good point about how “people create an idea that their resources are infinite”. With this concept in our heads, it is much more probable that said resources will run out faster than we believe. A reason for this is simply that “it came to be identified as a problem by more people because they learned about the nature and extent of assaults on the ecosystem…” (pg. 383). This idea seems to be what Kieran was mentioning and what a lot of other posts discussed on the discussion board this week. This new knowledge can affect people’s behavior in terms of how they interact with the environment and its resources. This was a very real example of what discussion board participants brought up as carelessness towards the environment that will be detrimental, as Kieran quoted from the textbook. A quote from the reading Flat Broke with Children by Sharon Hays also seemed to fit the drought circumstance. “’A lot of people don’t realize how close they live to being homeless’”, she quotes, ‘”I mean, you’re just one or two paychecks from the street’” (pg. 475, Hays). This idea corresponds with how we treat environmental resources, and how they might be growing scarce before our very eyes and we don’t realize it. As Lori Cramer talked about in her interview, social constructions do not have to be permanent because they were originally constructed at some point and have the ability to be malleable (17:45, 16:00). With the shock of a relatively bad drought, people should be trying to see a way in which we value the use of water and how that importance can change to fit the circumstances. Cramer mentioned how people's behaviors do not reflect the things they apparently value (8:00). That should be the motivation - to get our behaviors to directly relate to how we value environmental resources.

Glenn discussed a point that is, in my opinion, very central to California and a controversial topic with the recent drought. The agricultural business that sustain themselves in California did not accommodate for their water usage when the drought hit. Cash crops that are grown in the state are a major source of revenue and international business. I thought this brought up a different side of the drought and showed the prioritization of water. This occurrence very much relates to the conflict perspective in terms of the group with more power getting the resources. In correlation to the same reading mentioned in the previous paragraph, Hays’ writing can reflect the situation that Glenn describes. In talking about the welfare system, one of Hays’ correspondence talks about how “’…some people on welfare are being greedy… So that’s a glitch in the system…I think that we have to weigh things and maybe investigate more’” (pg. 478-9, Hays). The agricultural businesses are being greedy and taking from people who might already be dealing with a limited water supply. That is a glitch in the delegation of restrictions that is potentially harmful to the many while serving the few. But those few are the ones with power and control, thus taking us back to the conflict perspective and possibly an issue of class or power. With this going on in the state, it is easy for the public to feel like their restricted water use is not even helping the environment we live in, but is instead compensating the agricultural businesses who are using much more water than any given community. Does having restrictions on one group of people, but not another really help us limit our water use or put us in a stagnant position? In a time of crisis, and with the contributors to California’s economy being agriculturally based, it is important that everyone is doing their part.

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China is facing a very serious environmental issue which is the air pollution, or be more specific--the smog. As a Chinese student, my first-hand experience would be every time when I went back to my country for summer, I got really shocked by what I saw everyday. Even though I have heard that some cities in the north of China are facing smog issues before I went back, I never thought it could spread so quickly to my hometown in the south and most parts of China now. What I usually saw was the gray sky and it’s hard to find any other color when you look above. It may be difficult to smell anything different when I went on the streets, but the filter mask I was wearing can become a little dirty and black after I got home, that’s how I can directly feel that the smog was killing me slowly. I still remember clearly that when I opened the windows to let some fresh air come inside just like I always did, my mom shouted at me and closed the windows quickly. She was acting like there was some invisible monster outside. It is completely a wrong idea if you think the smog only happen in poor areas since the government may not have enough money to control. Actually, big cities like Beijing are even having worse situations. According to the data provided by Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, 175 days were polluted in the year of 2014 in Beijing.

Everyone is responsible for making some contributions to this big problem since we all have made it more serious in some ways like driving vehicles. However, the major cause is the pollution from big factories and lack of supervision from the government. Indeed, due to development of economy and industrialization in our society, living standards in China has been through a dramatic increase for the last two decades. " there are many pressures toward economic growth, and such growth is not inherently bad. However, it can result in more products produced and more environmental damage. In addition to the increase of products produced, corporations also tend to ignore some of the costs of doing business, and these costs often involve environmental damage"(Sullivan, p.379). In other words, we sacrificed our environment to purse economic growth, which leads to the situation now. These owners of factories made a great fortune by hurting the environment, and the local governments also get what they want--GDP. The big group of normal citizens are actually the only ones who are suffering the smog without getting anything in return. Different class are being treated unequally. In addition, from the video of week 10, Professor Cramer mentioned an interesting concept which is called "day-to-day survivors and strategy" (5'31"). I think it fits a situation Chinese society is having now. Poor people are being pushed to use masks and learn skills of how to avoid breathing too much smog, while rich people are moving to other countries with the help of money.

After having those helpful communications with my group and classmates, I found out that environmental problem is not an unique thing in China. There are also different kinds of problems happening in America and all other countries. However, it is even more surprising for me to see the fact that quite a lot Asian countries are suffering from pollution. It is a common agreement that Asian has the largest population in the world and most of them are not well-developed countries. Thus, big companies like Apple moved their manufactures to these Asian countries due to the low cost of labor, land and also the loose regulations. As you can see from the graphic, the percentage of manufacturing output in China and the rest of Asia are taking over half of the global total in 2013 compared to only 20 percent in 1990. Thus, those beautiful places were turned into big "garbage cans" because of this. There is clearly some inequality among different races. It is also talked about in the text book, "environmental justice, the idea that environmental hazards should be shared equally by various group in society or at least that no group or community should bear the burden of environmental hazards at a level disproportionate to their numbers in the population or their contributions to creating the hazard"(Sullivan, p. 387).

It will take a long time to make our environment to recover for sure, but it is never too late to start, since we really don't have a second choice.

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Water pumps are commonly used in India as a primary source of drinking, cooking and bathing water for a large majority of India's rural population. Although I did not personally have one when I lived in India, I did occasionally visit relatives who did use it as their primary source of water. The reason these water pumps exist is because there are only so many pipelines which can go through a rural village or a neighborhood. These water pumps and wells can be easily contaminated since they are open water sources, which makes them unstable for long term usage and they’re often considered a technology which cannot be improved upon. India is facing an environment problem which involves the environment concept of carrying capacity. "Exceeding the carrying capacity of an ecosystem means that people are depleting or destroying resources at a more rapid rate than they can be replaced" (Sullivan, 377). India has a huge problem with over-population that is putting immense stress on its environment and the resources are quickly running dry. Whether they are water sources or the amount of land available for subsistence farming, India is facing serious environmental issues but is also serving as a platform for new innovations.

India also suffers from high population density. Population density is an issue because it puts an immense amount of stress on the environment. Carrying capacity is negatively correlated with having a high population density. "The level of environmental damage in some very crowded nations, such as India, would horrify many people in the US. Yet, people become used to some level of air and water pollution" (Sullivan, 377). This describes my state of living when I was in India very well because like water, electricity was also a scarce resource. We used to have scheduled power outages daily from 10 am to noon and during that time, we used generators for powering our electronics and heating, for which we had to go buy gasoline. It may sound odd but that was a rather normal and easy life, because there are many other people who don’t even have that.

So the problem in general can be looked at as being very broad or very specific. It is a social, environmental and a class problem all in one, and on top of that it heavily impacts the ecosystem. The conflict theory describes this problem very well. It states, "the problem is not how much is available but who gets a share of what is available" (Sullivan, 380). This is true because not all areas in India lacked power and electricity and water. Generally, the government areas or military bases are fine (my uncle was in the army and used to live in their barracks and they had electricity and water with no scheduled outages). Government regulation (395) could be the solution to this problem. Government legislation have been put into effect which aggressively deal with these issues because only recently have these topics been introduced into Indian politics (whereas previously they were shoved under the rug). I think that's a step in the right direction, but a step in the right direction doesn't have much impact when you have to climb up an entire spiral staircase. Only time will tell if India will be able to deal with the problem of its ever increasing population negatively affecting its environment. Another question that remains is how will India innovate a new water system to look after the millions who are without that security.

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Nowadays many people in China are facing a serious environmental problem - air pollution. Air pollution already has a negative impact on the environment and human bodies. According to the statistics in 2000, urban air pollution led to the deaths of 800,000 people in the world and about two-thirds of victims are the people from developing countries. Thus, I think air pollution has become a universal and serious environmental problem almost all the countries over the world.

I would like to share my experience with air pollution. Half a year ago, on the way back home I saw many people were wearing health gauze masks on the street when I was in Hong Kong. With curiosity, I asked a stranger why there are so many people wearing health gauze masks on the street and I was shocked by what he said, “because of the serious air pollution, Hong Kong's air pollution soared off the charts to unprecedented highs, and I would much rather live in the country than in the city.”“One of the major battlegrounds of environmental issue is the extent of government regulation that should be adopted.”(pg. 395) I totally agree with this statement, government should take forceful measures to strengthen the regulation on protecting the environment.

According to the Census Bureau, “as much as 70 percent of certain air pollutants in urban areas, such as carbon monoxide, is attributable to the internal combustion engine, despite efforts to control these emission by using devices such as the catalytic converter” (pg.390). However, the influences of air pollution in China are even more extreme, there are many causes of the serious air pollution in China. For instance, large amounts of carbon dioxide emission, some small and medium-sized enterprises are not paying attention to the environment, cut down trees and pollute the air, and more and more environmental pollution operations moving to China from other countries. Furthermore, in order to develop the local economy, China imported large amount of industrial production operations, and gave all kinds of preferential policies to those operations.

With the development of Chinese economy, people pay more attention to their living qualities, living environment have been improved greatly. Although I can see obvious changes in the environment around the place where I live in China, but my experiences help me re-establishing my sense of protecting the environment.

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