By: Amanda Apicella
Throughout “Environment and Society” the authors discuss the various schools of thought when it comes to environmental issues and humans’ roles in it. There are many contradicting points and ways of thinking that are brought up and the purpose of this book that was stated in the introduction (to give a wide variety of viewpoints to get a fuller picture and challenge our own opinions and potentially recognize our own assumptions they may be based on) is pretty well done.
This was especially true for me when it came to the initial chapters regarding “Population and Scarcity” and “Markets and Commodities” which made me reconsider a few of my own viewpoints. I will admit that when it comes to the economy and the inner workings of businesses (the pros and cons of various systems too) I am not the most knowledgeable by a long shot. I used to think in just solutions rather than the means to achieve them so to speak so when these topics were brought up in the book it really provided some insight and different views/factors that I may not have really considered much before. I did know that the issues regarding regulations and the approaches to dealing with these problems was complicated but it really did make me reconsider the various approaches and possibilities of it. Jevon’s Paradox (where innovations leading to more efficient use of resources actually leads to increased usage overall than even before) honestly blew my mind when I was reading about it but when I really stopped to think about it, it did make sense (even if it complicated the issue further in terms of solutions).
The issue of human population has always been a hot topic and in the first chapter the authors address it from different points of view and bring in different approaches that throw different assumptions/viewpoints into question (including each other). They discussed different approaches and their effectiveness/ethics in controlling populations (as well as different factors that play a part in or cause populations to increase/decrease/stabilize in the first place) but also brought up some other views from people who point out that populations may not be a “problem” as we make it out to be or may just be a symptom rather than a cause. The role of women’s rights in population control I found to be quite interesting as it does make a lot of sense and clearly has historical credibility when it comes to women’s literacy rates and birth-rates in various countries. Rather than trying to force a population or control it through sterilization (or through not assisting the poor and allowing those that can’t support themselves/their families to suffer and die) as some viewpoints suggested, an effective approach may be to actually empower the people through education and providing means of controlling their own reproduction so they can limit it themselves. Giving people options/freedom and education to make informed choices not only helps in terms of population but also may help with innovations by leading to more people participating in the sciences/inventing in general. It also allows for poorer people to potentially be able to improve their own condition without being held back by having to support children (can have them when planned for so all the children are provided for properly). To counter that though, they also bring up the potential good of larger populations (leading to more innovation in technology and more efficiency/environmentally friendly practices being practiced out of necessity). To contrast that point as well they also bring up the aforementioned issue of increased efficiency in technologies potentially leading to more excessive consumption that is actually more damaging in its effects than before.
It is clear there are many factors to dealing with the balance/relationship between human society and the environment and challenging our own opinions and assumptions is necessary to figure out potential solutions. There is no perfect argument or solution that will cover everything or come with no downsides/issues of its own. By realizing different factors these viewpoints argue around, and in turn scrutinizing our own opinions/assumptions, we can at least approach these topics with a more informed and aware opinion (or theory) than we did before.