Anthropology and climate change Essay Example

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Anthropology and Climate Change


It is because of the warmth of the sun that life is possible on earth. While some portion of the sun rays bounces back to space, there is a portion that is trapped by a mass of delicately balanced gases up the atmosphere. The balancing gases collectively form a layer of insulation that protects Earth from being a frozen rock. This layer and balance have been tampered with by human needs and activities. Because of man’s needs that are met by various industrial and agricultural activities, the global average temperature has escalated to 0.7 degrees Celsius for the past 1000 years (Sponsel, 2011, p. 37-55). Extreme effects are now being realized around the globe as the atmospheric balance is disrupted. This essay discusses the argument between human needs and the anthropological sciences of environmental protection. It presents an overview of anthropological theories and arguments of environmental protection against human needs. The final part will view the use of renewable sources of energy as one of the most effective anthropological perspective solutions to climate change.

A big number of climate change analysts have augmented the idea that human activities are the immediate causes of atmospheric imbalance. Murphy & Timbal (2008, 859-879) have argued that the conservation of the environment, bio-diversity and ecological processes can be achieved through the use of conservation and sustainable development programs. Brosius (2006, 683-685) argues that as much as climate change depends on biology and scientific knowledge, its control depends on demographics, cultures, economics and politics. On the other hand, human forces that shape the environment are necessary in understanding climate change (Head et al. 2014, p. 175-195). However, since most of these critics argue from an anthropological point of view without scientific evidence, scientists have made more strong efforts to rebut their arguments. By and large, the scientific community has discredited such arguments making it an issue of global concern. The debate formulated from this kind of argument is whether climate change is artificial or instinctive. Simply put, climate change is more of a human problem than a natural problem.

The global challenges of climate change are framed by and rooted in the cultural habits and social institutions. While climate change poses a global impact, its intensification will demand the use of huge public expenditures for emergency aid. This brings us to the generalized knowledge that the social adaptations and solutions for this problem require insight and knowledge mostly from social sciences and humanities. According to a report published by the American Anthropological Association in 2015, the source of current environmental challenges is generated by the cultural and social choices that exist at the societal level (Head et al. 2015, p. 175-197).

More importantly, the critical anthropology of climate change is driven by both the political theory and the eco-social perspective as guides to explain various human interactions with the environment (Rappaport, 1967, 17-30). The political theory propounds that the environment is shaped by various rules and regulations that are formulated and enacted to ensure sustainability. Whereas, the eco-social perspective postulates that there are specific social and economic activities of human beings that can instigate changes in climatic conditions and, therefore, their investigation can help conservatists and environmentalists to control and manage climate change. Most questions asked by these perspective regards to an address for planetary sustainability and the capitalistic mode of production (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1976, p. 307-318). Equally, the role of power regarding renewable and unrenewable sources have been questioned. Regarding the control and non-control of pollution, the contradictions of sustainability and existing carbon mitigation regimes have both led to the emergence of environmental degradation social movements. According to Ellen (2001, p. 4556-4680), arguments from anthropological movements, global capitalism serves to embody contradictions that are geared towards enhancing a sustained basis for the survival of humanity. The aims of this perspective are to establish an alternative world system that can be able to meet the man’s basic needs through environmental sustainability and a safe climate.

In their application, anthropologists aim to promote issues of sustainability by use of broad social and cultural efforts. Their participation in environmental movements in support of economic, technological and social changes and the formulation of environmental policies towards long-term sustainable practices (Brosius, 2006, 683-685). When it comes to applied initiatives, anthropologists have been at the forefront of establishing safe environmental practices, both economic and industrial at the global, national, regional and local levels. For instance Brosius (2006, 683-685), asserts that both social and physical science are crucial for determining the future trajectory of climate change and its causes. Sally (1994, p. 30-370) argues that climate change can be understood from the perspective of human conditions such as livelihood, culture, health and life. Some critics have argued that by having anthropologists developing this thought, they are seeking to become climate scientists and agricultural ecologists. Conversely, their aim is to create an understanding of how man’s needs in the macro and micro level have impacted climate change and therefore adopt a mitigation strategy from the social and cultural perspective (Sally, 1994, p. 30-370).

One such a strategy that has been formulated as an anthropological social and cultural approach abandonment of non-renewable sources of energy. All human activities such as land use, deforestation fossil burning contributes immensely to the use of these sources of energy. The human population is clustered with the use of non-renewable sources of energy such as oil and coal. Non-renewable sources are the main sources of greenhouse gasses (Sponsel, 2011, p. 44). Carbon IV oxide is one of the very important components of the greenhouse gas. Either through the way they are extracted or through the way they are used, non-renewable sources have posed serious environmental effects.

Perhaps, greenhouse gas emissions from these sources are the most paramount climate change, agents. These gasses include but not limited to Carbon IV Oxide and Methane. Among these non-renewable sources of energy, coal comprises the highest percentage of Carbon IV oxide. Australia is a major exporter of coal as it accounts for up to 34.8% global coal exports. In 2015, the amount of carbon IV oxide produced from the mining and use of coal in Australia was higher than 71% (Head et al. 2014, p. 175-195). The rise of sea water that has caused regular tsunamis and hurricanes experienced along the country’s coastal regions are as a result of the greenhouse effect (Murphy & Timbal, 2008, 859-879). Most of these occurrences have occasionally led to the loss of lives and depletion of the environment. Additionally, climate change due to the greenhouse effect has led to the reversion of Australian economy.

A 2007 independent study titled «Garnaut Climate Change Review» conducted to review the possible causes of economic regression in Australia’s alpine areas and recommend possible solutions revealed that one of the factors that are suppressing economic growth in Australia is the human induced climate change (Maunsell Australia, 2008). Among the climate change impacts highlighted by the study includes the increase in solar radiation, decrease in snowfall, increase in extreme rainfall events, temperature and evaporation. These variables were realized to have had serious social and economic implications on infrastructure, employment opportunities, and some visitors to the country, the integrity of structural foundations and reduced ecotourism. The study concluded that there was the need to discard the use of non-renewable energy sources for a safer environment.

More, renewable energy sources do not only emit greenhouse gasses, but they are also potential sources of air pollutants. For instance, the single largest source of mercury emissions in Australia are the coal-fired power plants (Australia 2015). Mercury is known to blend with water once emitted to the air. According to the anthropologists, chemicals and emissions to the air due to the use of non-renewable sources of energy can easily disrupt the mental and physical make-up of human beings. Through a food chain, the substance will quickly accumulate on aquatic animals leading to neurobehavioral and neurological effects in young children and embryos. Equally, through the water cycle, emissions from non-renewable sources of energy can accumulate in water meant for human and animal consumption.

Data from the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System reveals that gas emissions from heat and electricity production are approximately 60 million tons per year Warner, 2009, p. 60). This comprises approximately 36.6% of all the NSW greenhouse emissions. Currently, coal meets more than 23% human global energy needs (Murphy & Timbal, 2008, 859-879). Additionally, 40% of electricity in various households and industries is generated from coal (Murphy & Timbal, 2008, 859-879). The country generated a total of $6.7 billion in 2014/2015 from the export of 90 million tons of coal in 2014/2015 (Head et al. 2015, p. 178). Mining operation has been recorded to be affected by frequent storms. Concerns have been raised on the techniques used to control carbon emissions. For instance, the Pre and Post-carbon capture technology has not been effective with evidence that carbon emissions have increased by 5% from 2015. Pollutants that affect human health in Australia emanate from each phase of coal’s life cycle. This cycle includes the mining process, contamination of water tailings, washing, transportation and combustion of coal.

Energy sources that are not renewable are the primary causes of waste generation and air pollution. For instance, the use of nuclear energy is known to lead to the accumulation of uranium on the land surface. For instance, Canada and Australia are the leading countries with high uranium accumulations because of the amplified use of nuclear energy in industries (Igoe, 2010, p. 375-397). The radioactive nature of uranium is harmful in the human environment since it is a potential of physical conditions such as paralysis. Disasters from oils spills have been recorded to have devastating impacts on man’s social life. Particularly, water and food shortages, drought and heat waves have claimed thousands of lives yearly across the world (Igoe, 2010, p. 375-397).

The use of non-renewable sources of energy causes global climate change that propagates problems such as environmental degradation, poverty, and social tensions thus threatening human stability. Millions of people across the world have been displaced by the effects of climate change such rising sea levels instigated by human activities like depletion of aquifers and desertification. Global warming due to gas emission has increased the risk of infectious diseases like dengue fever, encephalitis, malaria and yellow fever, which are known to be common in warm places thus impacting human health (Wilk, 2002, p. 5-13). The continued use of such sources of energy is a clear indication that human beings admit the occurrence of such accidents and deformities.

Many anthropologists are currently asking questions from the cultural, ecological perspective to examine human-environment relations. For Sally (1994, p. 30-370), human activities contribute the largest to climatic changes. According to Rappaport (1967, p. 28) most of the phenomenological examinations of climate change focus on the perceptions of the people and their little knowledge on the need to curb these changes. Among the theories used is the political ecology theory is understanding the capitalist mode of production about environmental sustainability (Hughes, 2003, p. 929-933). The theory rebukes the capitalists who engage in production without considering the environmental disasters associated with pollution. Instead, alternative renewable sources of energy should be used as it is the basic input in production.

To ensure reduced emissions of greenhouse gasses in electricity and industrial sector, there is need to encourage additional generation of electricity from renewable sources. The theory provides opportunities to clean renewable energy, generates a sense of community ownership and improve the general environment. In so doing, the use of non-renewable sources of energy will decline about its influence in climate change. Putting into use these renewable energy sources will improve the global and community outcomes.

The sustainable energy that is generated from the natural environment provides affordable electricity to run machines in industries and even in homes. The industries are likely to reduce costs through savings, reduced risks and in return increased revenue. Certainly, use of renewable energy sources limits the effects of high prices in natural gas. Most industries use energy in running machines during production and even fueling vehicles that carry raw materials and finished products to the market. Equally, the environmental benefits in reducing the cost of complying with environmental regulations that come in the form of taxes and high fines.

The health of people is crucial in any society, use of non-renewable energy emits gasses that can affect the well-being of the inhabitants (Hughes, 2003, p. 930). Inhaling of dangerous gasses can lead to dangerous diseases such as chronic and lung cancers. Tentatively, the use of forms of energy such as solar and wind are environmental friendly thus reduce possible health risks to humans and plants. Additionally, it improves the air quality and visibility of the inhabitants due to reduced burning of fossil fuels.

Notably, efforts are made by anthropologists in encouraging the use of renewable energy sources, especially in industries. The move is due to most industries relying on the use of non-renewable energy in production. The fumes from such industries contribute to the pollution of the environment which in turn cause global warming. The use of alternative energy sources has been put forward by various agencies and commissions that are mandated to manage and control industries in their energy use like in Australia (Australia 2015) where the government has assigned the Renewable Energy Agency to make alternative renewable sources and increase its amount. Also, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation invests in funding renewable energy projects and technologies.

In conclusion, there is a need to identify and understand the interconnectedness between human activity and the environmental changes. As seen from the discussion, the classical era of nature and culture has been associated with the climatic theories of climatic change. Particularly, in Australia, the consistent use of coal as the main source of energy has led to increased environmental pollution and in turn global warming. The side effects are evident in experienced hazards such as tsunamis and hurricanes that have led to the loss of life and property (Hughes, 2003, p. 929-933).


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