Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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The Oil Spill and the Environment

June 12, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

Within the context of the BP oil spill, we can also begin to look at environmental sociology.  The question that environmental sociologists will as in reference to this event is, of course, how has the human activity of drilling impacted the environment of the Gulf Coast.  With this environmental catastrophe now well into its second month, it is affecting not just the waters and animals of the Gulf but the coastline as well.

Taking a step back, we can look at the larger sociological questions that the Gulf spill has brought to light.  When it comes down to it, society created the demand for oil that led to exploration and what turned out to be risky drilling activities.  How did we get to this point?  What social factors pushed us to the point that it became profitable for BP to extract oil from a mile below the ocean?

As much as sociology can help us understand how we got to the point of this disaster, it can also point the way forward.  Environmental sociology can help us understand what social changes will be necessary to reduce society’s impact on the environment.

What social changes do you think are necessary to preserve our environment?  Can those changes be made?

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Does Energy Independence Mean Blowing Up Our Mountains?

July 17, 2009

Many people are concerned about our dependence on foreign sources of energy in the forms of gas, oil, and coal. But what is often overlooked is that in order to transport that energy or build the machines it is used to operate, we also need other resources such as water, wood, and metals. As a result, people are not only in search of domestic sources of energy, but for domestic sources of the needed support resources to tap into those energies, as well.

A key factor in all of this is cost. Some sociologists worry that the downsides of methods used to control the cost of developing or finding these materials might override their benefits. For example, consider such comparatively inexpensive mining techniques as mountain top removal or hydraulic drilling. That’s right—mountain top removal!

Below is a short excerpt from a PBS documentary about mountain top removal. Watch the video and if you like, respond to one of the discussion topics below:

1. People that support mountain top removal argue it is inexpensive compared to traditional mining. It also allows companies to mine in areas that contain smaller amounts of minerals, which would create jobs where traditional mines couldn’t be used. They also argue it is a safer for the workers than shaft mining. Do you think mountain top removal should be allowed? Why or why not?

2. What level of damage do you think this does to the land in the area? How long do you think this damage will last? How widespread is the damage? What other forms of industry would you suggest that local communities pursue in these areas?

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A Turtle Highway—Social Problem or Social Folly?

July 17, 2009

turtleIn Florida, more than three million dollars of federal stimulus money is going to be used to build a tunnel underneath a highway for turtles. This project is similar to a tunnel built for frogs in California during the 1990s. The argument is that the tunnel will supply “shovel ready jobs,” protect wildlife from cars, and prevent car accidents.

Other people argue this is a wast of tax payer money. That this kind of activity is directed at apeasing special interest groups and supply micro-short time jobs in particularly selected voting areas; in other words the tunnel project is political not environmentally motivated. What do you think? Would you like to respond to this article? If so, select a topic below and post to it:

1. Sociologists have been warning for some time that mankind’s continual expansion into nature without careful planning would result in long term damage. Do you think society should be responsible for protecting wildlife when it encroaches into the animals’ habitats? Why or why not?

2. What do you think are some immediate dangers of wildlife, such as turtles, alligators, deer, or birds, attempting to cross this highway? What are some long term ramifications of this situation? How can you take the circumstances of this problem and generalize them to other environmental issues?

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The Monster Plastic Garbage Island!

June 29, 2009

It might sound like a cheap horror movie—but it's real. A huge, dangerous, growing island of trash!

It might sound like a cheap horror movie—but it's real. A huge, dangerous, growing island of trash!

In the North Pacific Ocean there is an island of floating trash roughly the size of Texas. It has been called the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. Some believe this trash came from both land sources and ships. This huge mass of floating garbage was formed over many years as the currents and winds of the ocean gathered the materials and pushed them into one area—similar to pollen floating to the center of a pond or pool. The mass consists mostly of plastic—a material that can take over 1,000 years to dissolve! Scientists worry that this formation might affect tides, wildlife, and water temperatures, and even become a threat to ships in the area!

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, please offer a reply to one of the topics below:

1. Who do you think should be responsible for cleaning up the Pacific Trash Vortex?

2. As a sociologist, what steps do you think should be taken by our global society to prevent this problem from enlarging or re-occurring?

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The Environment Versus the Economy: Which is More Important During a Recession?

June 1, 2009

This is a blue crab. The color is quite pretty, it tastes great, and, like many animals, its habitat is in danger.

This is a blue crab. The color is quite pretty, it tastes great, and, like many animals, its habitat is in danger.

Recently, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission determined they were going to continue preventing fishermen from winter dredging. Winter dredging is a traditional method of catching crabs in which fishermen drag a net along the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay to gather hibernating crabs. However, Steve Szkotak of the Associated Press recently reported that biologists estimate anywhere between 25% to 50% of the crab catch will be killed in this dredging process. Stopping the dredging could be important in protecting the crab population because many of these crabs are pregnant. On the other hand, the fishing restriction will result in over 50 boats not going out to work. This could increase the local unemployment rates.

Unfortunately, this story—in which the jobs of hard working people are up against the protection of the irreplaceable natural environment—is an old one for sociologists. Which should take priority and why? Would you like to discuss this issue? If so, post a reply to one of the discussion topics below:

1. Who do you think should have the responsibility of protecting the environment—the local community, the state, or the federal government? Look at your response and explain the advantages and disadvantages of your choice.

2. Which do you think is more important in the short-term: avoiding the social problems of high unemployment or the needs of the environment? Why? List a few issues you associate with both problems. Does taking a long-term perspective of the problem change your list? Why?

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The Green Movement in a Flush?

February 28, 2009

Controlling the human impact on the environment has become quite an issue lately. How different societies attempt to become more responsible varies depending upon the specific character of each society. For example, if primitive coal production is high in a society, then more advanced “clean coal” production methods might be adopted. If a nation is heavily involved in commercial fishing, then the amount of fish harvested might be reduced or the number of fish raised to replenish populations might be increased.

Some societies might attempt to conserve natural resources by reducing consumption. Canada and Australia are two examples. Both want to reduce the amount of water people are using to flush their toilets, but they are approaching this goal very differently. Australia wants to develop a tax law that will charge Australians for each flush. Canada has passed legislation to pay people a tax rebate to use smaller toilet tanks.

Would you like to comment about this or other consumption control measures? If so, you can start by responding to one of the topics below:

1) The Canadian flush tax might seem far fetched, but can you think of a consumption tax used in the United States designed to reduce the use of a product or service? How successful was the tax? What insight does this give you to a similar approach in reducing natural resource consumption?

2) Which do you think would be the most effective in changing flush behavior: charging someone to flush or paying them to flush less? Explain your answer. How can the principles and assumptions of your response be generalized to control other behavior such as drunk driving, crime, or smoking?

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