Environment and Society ch. 7-8

A common theme throughout these chapters seemed to be greed. Everything that was happening in these ideas and examples revolved and were consequences of the desire for personal gain and disregard for anything else. This theme is evident throughout chapters 2-8, however I think it is the most intense in chapter 7. Here are a few points and pieces of information I found interesting.

In the beginning of the chapter it talks about a leaked memo written by Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s economic advisor. In this memo, he states many disturbing ideas about waste and pollution. He explains how he thinks industries should export their pollution. This idea doesn’t sound bad at first but then he continues on by saying they should export it into lesser developed countries because they are “under-polluted” and they need to absorb their fair share of the global pollution. Furthermore, if the people in the area where the pollution is being exported to get sick or even die, it will be of less impact and these people are expendable. Also, he explains that they can get away with this because in lesser developed countries, there is less of a demand for a clean environment. As you can imagine, this would enrage people. He commented to the public that this was just a sarcastic reply to a coworker. Who knows if this was actually true but things like this have happened before around the world.

Carbon trading id a common practice amongst different industries in different regions. In the global exchange of pollution, industries can sell and buy “carbon credits” that allow them to emit an allotted amount carbon into the atmosphere. Industries that have not emitted their full allotted amount can sell their carbon credits to other industries to allow them to go over their allotted amount and also to “offset” the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

There is also a market for the import and export of solid waste nationally and internationally. Cities, states, and countries alike will pay a lot of money to export solid waste out of their area. Incentively, areas will charge a lot of money to import waste from other areas. usually, solid waste will be exported from higher developed areas into lower developed areas.

Karl Marx explains the relationship between Political, Economical, and social systems with 4 relevant concepts: labor, accumulation, contradiction, and crisis.

  • Peoples labor is sold on a market
  • This allows for accumulation of capital by a small number of individuals
  • which creates contradictions since capital becomes over concentrated
  • This then causes disruptive financial and ecological cries.

The author described Labor in a way that I hadn’t really thought about before. The texts states, “Labor is the act of altering nature and bringing it into the process of making the human world.” This is very true if you think about it. Mostly everything we use in the human world is a product of labor. We have to bring things from nature and process them and then put them together to form, lets say, a chair. We take the lumber and cut it to the desired length, then the screws, made originally from iron, and put them together with labor. There is no such thing as a naturally grown chair, it must be made by us. this leads me to the next point. because things have to be taken from nature, and labor has to be bought to do it, big businesses try to get the most out of their money to make more capital. That is why they are called capitalists. Capitalists have to “underpay” labor and or nature or there can be no capitalism. They take more from nature than they give back, and they take more from the economy than they give back. This is why there are issues with environmental and ecological sustainability of capitalism.

The first idea of capitalism started with the Enclosure Laws in England. These laws privatized communal areas and forests and therefore pushed many independent “small-holds” off the land. This gave complete control of the means of production to a small group and took away independence everyone else. They now were forced to sell their labor to this small group in order to survive rather than reaping the benefits of their own labor. It is argued that capitalists threaten the health of the earth and those who live on it. this is mostly drawn from the idea of undercutting.

People nowadays treat nature as a commodity. The nature company started selling petrified wood, butterfly nets, and animal books and people were eating it up thinking they were buying “green” products. however, it was later discovered that they were only supporting and enabling a company that was cited as a party responsible for pollution at a superfund site and further hazardous waste violations. This company was just taking advantage of the supply and demand.

Chapter 8 focuses on the ideas and perspectives of wilderness and nature. whether these two things are socially constructed for personal gain or if they are actually factual.

The author gives an interesting definition of wilderness; a natural parcel of land, more or less unaffected by human forces, increasingly, wilderness is viewed as a social construction. This definition contradicts with the idea that America (the new world) was a wilderness when columbus “discovered” it. It was already inhabited by indigenous people who altered the land for hunting and other activities and ways of life.

The use of the word “nature” is also very controversial because it has a lot of different applications. For example:

  • The essential quality and character of something
  • The inherent force which directs either the world or human beings or both.
  • The material world itself, taken as including or not including human beings.

Coming back to the idea of social construction, a lot of things in history were considered scientific fact but were actually a product of social construction. The idea behind legal slavery for example. Black African slaves were believed to be lower on the evolutionary chain, closer to apes than Caucasians were. They were seen as animals. nothing different than the donkeys they use to pull their plows. That is why they were legally enslaved. It is later enforced that they are the same and should be treated as such. but it went on for so long because of greed and the desire for self gains. Why pay for labor when you can capitalize on free slave labor. Many many companies utilized this idea before slavery was outlawed even if they knew the slaves were human just like them. They were making a lot of capital so they overlooked that.

In order to determine whether something is natural, or non- social, a few questions need to be asked;

  • Is this claim or concept natural, inevitable, timeless, and universal?
  • If not, at what point was it invented? under what conditions?
  • What are the social, political, or environmental effects of believing that this claim or concept is true, natural, or inevitable?
  • Would we be better off doing away with the concept all together, or rethinking it in a fundamental way?

these questions can be answered with the issue of slavery and every answer to every question points against it.

These companies and ideas were great examples of greed and disregard for everything else in order to achieve personal gain. Everything in this society we live in is fueled by money and capital. we need money to survive so we gather and save as much of it as we can.

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