Japan to Release Fukushima Nuclear Waste into the Sea

Japan announced today that it’s going to release one million tonnes of contaminated water from the old Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea – which will no doubt have negative consequences for fishing around Japan and maybe in neighbouring countries.

It was 10 years ago when an earth quake ruined the nuclear plant, putting it out of action, and 10 years on the Japanese government is still dealing with its legacy – a toxic radioactive legacy that is going to linger for many years into the future.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a great example of how large scale modernist projects can go very wrong and cause enormous high level environmental damage. When we way up the huge costs of nuclear disasters such as this, it makes smaller scale renewable energy systems look much more appealing.

It’s also a reminder not to trust BIG tech or governments – the two together are required to build and back huge high tech projects like nuclear power – and when they go wrong, it’s the government that has to deal with the problems, and in this case we can see that they don’t have any decent answers – other than holding onto the waste and then finally releasing it.

All in all, it’s a great argument for people centred development, small scale solutions to meeting our energy needs!

Sociological Observations on the UK’s Vaccine Role-Out

The UK has vaccinated more people (proportionate to population) than any other country:

This is probably due to a combination of the following:

  • A successful ‘social policy’ initiative by the UK government – a sustained focus on getting as many people as possible vaccinated in as short a time as possible and the funding to match.
  • Our National Health Service – so having the infrastructure in place already to enable a relatively easy roll-out of the vaccinations.
  • The fact that UK companies are in the front-line of researching and producing the vaccine – so our ‘industrial and knowledge infrastructure’.
  • Possibly the high level of trust people place in the medical profession (not so much in the government).

However, ethnic and class inequalities are still in evidence:

It’s interesting that the UK is so far ahead of the rest of the EU in rolling out the vaccine, so clearly this isn’t just a matter of ‘developed’ countries being better equipped to roll out mass vaccination programmes.

However I think it’s certainly the case that without a functioning Nation State a mass vaccination programme would be much more difficult to roll-out and track.

Ethnic minorities are less likely to have received the vaccine

Lower social classes are less likely to have received the vaccine:

You should be able to apply some perspectives and sociological concepts to analyse why this may be the case – perhaps lower levels of trust in institutions by these groups?

Interestingly India has just started a mass roll-out of vaccines, aiming to inoculate 300 million people by August – I have a feeling they are going to hit their target, despite the much larger number of people and larger geographical area!

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How Pollution and Toxic Waste harm development

Western models of development are built around high levels of production and consumption to increase economic growth, and all other things being equal, the more we produce and consume, the more pollution and waste we produce.

According to the World Health Organisation, Air Pollution kills 7 million people a year, most of whom live in developing countries.

This recent report outlines the 15 most polluted cities in the world, 10 of which are in India, which reflects the extent to which India’s recent development has been dependent on the largely unregulated use of fossil fuels (coal and oil) in recent decades.

There are some regions of earth where pollution is particularly intense, and these tend to be areas of resource extraction or industrial manufacture in countries with lax environmental legislation.

One well-known historical example of this is Shell’s oil extraction operations in the Niger Delta – where huge amounts of oil have leaked into local water ways, destroying local economies and ‘gas flaring’ is used to burn off excess gas generated during the oil extracting process. You can explore this more in this video: Poison Fire.

There are also certain regions of China which are very polluted, and this is something Anna Lora-Wainwright (2018) explored in her recent ethnographic study – Resigned Activism – Living with Pollution in Rural China.

NB – this isn’t ‘ordinary pollution’ she’s looking at – she studied three villages in total, all of which are coping with the effects of large-scale industrial pollution because of the heavy manufacturing or waste disposal that occurs in those areas. All of these villages have well over the national average of cancer deaths reported, and it’s obvious the pollution is the problem

One village was dealing with phosphorus pollution, another Zinc and Lead pollution and the third the pollution from electronic waste. The later village has global notoriety – Guiyu is well known as the world’s largest e waste site.

Lora-Wainwright focused on how people responded when they knew they were being subjected to a significant cancer risk from pollution – how they organised and protested, but also how they just coped on a day to day basis -living with things such as polluted water that’s going to give you cancer if you drink it.

She also focused on how this all ties in with the wider Chinese government’s industrialization agenda and the fact that the government would rather keep reports about such pollution quiet.

The book is currently under revision, but you can listen to a podcast which summarises the findings here.

It is not just industrial production processes that cause environmental problems, it’s also people’s increasing levels of consumption and the amount of domestic waste generated….

One country which faces a real challenge with pollution from domestic waste is Indonesia, a densely populated country where residents have developed the habit of throwing their rubbish in the river, resulting in one of Indonesia’s river’s: The Citarum being dubbed ‘the dirtiest river in the world’, explored in this 2020 DW Documentary.

Discussion Question: do you think industrial capitalist models of development can ever be sustainable? 

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Global Warming and the threat to Human Development

This post explores the extent to which Global Warming poses a threat to continued social and economic development.

According to the latest data from Climate.gov global warming is currently causing sea levels to rise by 0.3 centimetres a year, which means that sea levels may have risen by up to 2.5 metres by 2100.  

A recent report by Climate Central (2019) suggests that 300 million people live in areas that will be subject to severe flooding due to climate change, China and Bangladesh have the most people living in at-risk areas.

The Polynesian Island of Tuvalu, population 11 000, is on the frontline of Sea Level Rise – located in the Pacific Ocean this is a thin slip of an Island where the residents are now struggling to survive because of rising sea levels. This Guardian article (2019) takes an in-depth look the problems the residents face. There is a very real chance all of these people could end up being climate change refugees within the next decade. NB the United Nations is aware of their plight, but it’s difficult to see what we can do that is practical.  

This documentary from 60 Minutes Australia (2019) explores the rapid disappearance of parts of the Solomon Islands, where sea levels have increased by up to 15 centimetres in the last 20 years:

From a research methods perspective this is interesting as one researcher used old photos to compare where some of the islands used to be compared to their reduced sizes today; and there are also interviews with people who grew up on the islands – some of the places they used to picnic as kids are now gone forever, completely under water!

The Global Climate Risk Index is a useful broader source than the above – it focuses more on all extreme weather events, so not just flooding (also droughts and extreme weather events).

NB – just to reiterate that the latest modelling suggests that if anything sea levels are rising FASTER than previously projected, so these problems are set to get worse!

Why are so many Nigerian schoolchildren being kidnapped?

More than 600 students have been abducted from schools in the North West of Nigeria since December 2020.

The latest Mass kidnapping was in late February 2021, when over 300 girls were kidnapped from a secondary school, although they were released after a relatively short period of time afterwards.

This rather grim trend is clearly relevant to the Global Development topic within A-level sociology, especially the education topic.

Why are so many girls in Northern Nigeria being abducted?

The roots of this practice can be traced back to Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group originally founded by Mohammed Yusuf (since deceased) – the name of the group literally means ‘Western Education is Banned’ and in 2014 this was the group who gained global notoriety when they abducted 300 schoolgirls, leading to the ‘Bring Back our Girls Campaign’.

Since then Boko Haram has gone through various shifts and split in two, and probably has less power now than it did back in 2014, however, they seem to have set something of a trend with their kidnapping of girls tactics.

Since then, thousands of children have been kidnapped, but now it is not politically motivated as it was with Boko Haram, there are just rogue gangs who are now kidnapping literally for the ransom money.

There are alleged cases of organised gangs being not only paid off by local officials for returning kidnapped girls, but not even being punished, but being pardoned, and this has only attracted more people to do likewise.

It seems that dire poverty in Northern Nigeria is driving people to do this, and it’s also driving the army to not be too bothered about tracking down kidnapped children.

There’s lots of links to A-level sociology here – obviously this is a tricky barrier to development – this is happening because of poverty, local political corruption, geography – it’s very sparse in the North of Nigeria, making kidnapping an easy crime to commit.

Clearly this is going to prevent development because of the disruption to education – it’s not only the kids actually getting abducted, but it’s also children being taken out of school by parents for fear of them being abducted.

And as with so many things in development, the solutions here are not that obvious!

Also note the links to Right Realist theories of Crime – namely rational choice theory!

Find out more…

This BBC News article summarises the latest trends.

The relationship between industrial development and the environment

Does industrial development lead to environment decline?

This is one of the key questions in the Global Development for A-level sociology.

The historical relationship between industrialisation and harm to the environment

Historically, both Capitalist and Socialist models of development have largely ignored the environmental impact of development for most of the last 200 years, with the environment only appearing  on the International Development Agenda until the late 1980s (see later).

The industrial capitalist model of development favoured by Modernisation Theorists is based on achieving economic growth through industrialisation and exporting goods to other countries in order to increase income. Both of these processes have been historically dependent on consuming large amounts of natural resources and have tended to create large amounts of pollution. This is because the efficiencies of industrial production are achieved through mechanisation, which has historically been fuelled by polluting fossil fuels, mostly coal (which aren’t needed when people grow their own food and make their own clothes in subsistence systems), and the exporting of goods around the world also requires more energy for transportation compared to subsistence systems, which has increased the demand for oil.

The Modernisation Approach also aims to achieve the ‘high age of mass consumption’, implying that the ultimate aim of development is for everyone in the world to consume at the level of people in the western, developed world. Today this would mean the average person eating a lot more meat, owning a car, taking holidays abroad and having a higher turnover of material goods (mobile phones and clothes for example), and the more people who move towards this, then the greater the demand on the earth’s natural resources (land, water, fossil fuels, minerals) and the greater the pollution that is created in the manufacturing and distribution of these goods.

While it remains easy for people in the West today to ignore the environmental impacts of the industrial-capitalist mode of development there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that this path to development has resulted in significant harm to the environment. We have already seen this in case studies such as the coal mining fuelling industrialisation in Northern India, Deforestation in Haiti, and the toxic waste resulting from ship-breaking in Bangladesh.

A clear relationships between industrial development and increasing CO2 emissions…

CO2 emissions are effectively a measurement of how much oil and coal a country uses, the burning of which lead to global warming which is widely regarded as the major environmental problem of our time.

Based on the table to the chart above (taken from Our World in Data) ,there seems to be a clear relationship between Industrial Capitalist Development and environmental decline.

Increasing Awareness of Environmental Decline in Recent Decades…

Increasing awareness of the damage we are doing to the environment has led to the emergence of numerous conservation groups, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature who have successfully campaigned for the establishment of various nature reserves around the world, and also to well-known international environmental pressure groups such as Greenpeace and the Friends of The Earth who campaign more broadly to get governments to introduce measures to slow the pace of environmental decline. These groups today have wide ranging support from the general public to the extent that Green Parties around Europe have gained steady support in the last three decades (not that you’d know this because the media under-reports it).

There are numerous ways of categorising the harms we are doing to the planet, and one way of doing so is to break down environmental challenges into the following categories…Global warming and sea level rise

  • Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising
  • Deforestation
  • Desertification
  • Pollution and toxic waste
  • Resource Depletion
  • Species Extinction
  • New ‘Risky’ Technologies

We will explore these challenges further in future posts!

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How War and Conflict Harm Societies and Prevent Development

While immediate violent death or injury in battle are two of the more obvious direct consequences of war and conflict, there are many other direct immediate and indirect, longer term negative consequences that can drastically add to people’s misery and retard any kind of positive development happing in a country for several years after a conflict ends.

The direct effects of conflict include:Indirect, longer term effects of conflict
Death and injury psychological traumadisplacement.  The destruction of physical infrastructure (unsafe living conditions) The destruction to work/ economic infrastructure/ employment opportunities The disruption of schooling and health care servicesThe disruption to family lifeLonger term physical health and mental health problems Environmental decline

NB – the distinction between direct/ indirect or immediate/ long term isn’t a hard and fast one, they can easily merge together, especially when a conflict drags on for several years – and the breakdown of social infrastructure (usually categorised as a long term, indirect consequence of war) kind of becomes more immediate and direct!)

The distinction is really just an analytical tool, the important thing it highlights is that immediate violent death and injury are usually just the start of the negative consequences of warfare – the consequences are much longer term!

The Immediate effects of War and Conflict

There have been over 10 Million Conflict Deaths in the last 30 years

There have been 15 conflicts since the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 with death tolls of more than 25 000 people, of which 9 are currently ongoing (in March 2021). The total number of deaths in these conflicts stands at just over 10 million people (upper estimate), but this doesn’t include the people dying in the many smaller conflicts which have taken place in the last 30 years in which fewer than 25 000 people died.

I picked the Rwandan Genocide as a starting point because it is very well-known and relevant to Crime and Deviance as an example of a state crime. It also stands out as one of the few examples of a country that has gone on to see a reasonable level of development since the conflict. (Also, going back 30 years is a pretty standard period for analysis in A-level Sociology!)

The conflicts with highest death tolls in the last 30 years were:

  • The Rwandan Genocide needs a mention – there were an estimated 800 000 deaths, but within a very rapid time frame, and much of this done with hand-weapons like machetes, and it was ethnic cleansing, all in all making it particularly horrific.
  • The Second Congo War – in central Africa with an upper estimate of 5 million deaths (NB given the relatively small geographical area this was kind of like World War Two in the middle of Africa)
  • The War on Terror – 2001 to the present day – with over 1 million deaths
  • The War on Iraq – 2003-2007, but which spilled over into a civil war, 2014-2017 – and a total of around 500 000 deaths between the two
  • The Syrian Civil War – ongoing and an upper estimate of almost 600 000 deaths.

Thankfully the numbers seem to be coming down. According to one estimate, the total death toll for the 17 most deadly conflicts in the world stood at around 300 000 in 2016, but this had reduced to 100 000 deaths by 2020.

Physical Trauma and Injury

While it is possible to get death tolls statistics for conflicts, these are usually estimated, and estimates can range widely – the Syrian Civil War has a death toll range of between around 400 000 to 600 000 for example.

Given the problems with estimating death tolls in war, it should be unsurprising that it’s very difficult to find estimates for the number of people injured in war and conflict – either through serving on the front line, or civilians being brutalised by ‘soldiers.

In situations of war, when law and order are determined by violence, there must be several cases of violent assault which simply go unreported and unnoticed.

One particularly horrific aspect of physical injury and trauma in conflict zones is through the use of rape as a weapon of war – it’s estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC for example, a legacy of conflict in that country.

Rape can also be used against boys and men as a way of asserting authority over them.

This report by ReliefWeb provides an overview of the extent of rape as a weapon of war.

Displacement

A rational response to conflict in a region is to flee to another region or country, and many people do. The United Nations reports that there are currently 80 million refugees, or displaced people.

Most refugees come from Syria (5 million) and Turkey hosts the most (3 million). 80% of refugees are hosted in developing countries.

While Displacement is an immediate problem caused by conflict, and results in immediate problems related to living in temporary accommodation (tents), with possible poor sanitation and food shortages, there are also longer-term problems related to lack of status, children being out of education and so on.

Longer Term effects of War and Conflict

Conflicts can drag on for several years, even decades in some countries, with devastating longer-term consequences….

The destruction of physical infrastructure – such as buildings and roads mean that civilians who remain may be living in unsafe buildings with no running water, sewage or electricity – basically a war zone can turn a previously developed neighbourhood into a slum. Power stations and roads may also be damaged in conflicts, and these can be expensive to repair post-conflict, taking up a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on social development.

War also results in the destruction to the economic infrastructure – in a war-torn country business slows down or stops because it is unsafe – with a corresponding downturn in employment and income. Foreign companies may also leave the country, and imports may dry up as it is too risky to do business there. All of this means the cost of goods and the cost-of-living increases.

Disruption to education – schools may be forced to shut down, and refugee children may not be able to get an education. If children spend a year, or two, or more, out of formal education, they will struggle to catch up.

The disruption to health care services – health services have to focus on dealing with battle related injuries – dealing with immediate problems, which means there are fewer resources to go towards other health issues – such as dealing with vaccinations and maternity related health issues.

Longer term health issues – the trauma of war can be felt for decades – as witnessed in the high suicide rates of war Veterans, something which is probably mirrored in people who suffered rape and/ or torture as part of war.

Longer term economic problems – the Global Peace Index notes that the Economic impact of Global Violence in 2019 was over $40 trillion – an almost incomprehensibly high number, and certainly enough money to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

Basically, every social development indicator is negatively affected by war and conflict in a country!

Sources – find out More

Why are birth rates higher in developing countries?

Even though we’ve looked at theories suggesting high birth rates may not be a problem, it remains a fact that birth rates are higher in the developing world. Here are some theories why this is the case…

The first set of theories below come from a Modernisation Theory perspective

Traditional religious values

Paul Harrison’s inside the third world (1990) points out the highest growth rates are in Muslim and Roman Catholic countries. He argues that strictly religious cultures fear that using contraception would encourage promiscuity. Both Islamic leaders and Catholic leaders counsel against the use of contraception in the developing world.

Traditional Masculinity

Many men in Latin America feel that using contraception would compromise their masculinity

Patriarchy

Patriarchy is the norm in many developing countries, which excludes women from decision making processes. In some traditional cultures women do not have a say in whether they have children and are effectively seen as the property of men. Introducing contraception would give women more control over their bodies and effectively undermine the patriarchal basis of power in those countries. Thus it is a combination of traditional religious beliefs and patriarchy that contribute to high population growth.

Dependency Theory

Adamson (1986) argues that poverty causes overpopulation rather than internal cultural values causing overpopulation and then overpopulation causing poverty. He argues that there are several reasons why it is rational for poor people to have lots of children.

  • In developing countries children are seen as economic assets because of the increased income they can generate. This is especially true where the government does not punish parents for not sending their children to school.
  • Children provide old age care to parents in developing countries where there is no social welfare/ pensions
  • In areas of high infant mortality, it makes sense to have 5 or more children as this increases the likelihood of at least one of them surviving to adulthood.

Conversely, in developed countries with higher standards of living it costs much more money to bring up children which discourages large families. This was the case in the UK in the 19th century.

The ‘overpopulation’ topic is part of the Global Development option, usually taught in the second year of the course. For more posts about Global Development, please click here.

Overpopulation and Consumption

High birth rates and population growth result in higher levels of consumption of resources (all other things being equal), which can have a negative effect on social, and especially sustainable development.

This is one of the main topics within the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

Population Growth – Key Facts

  • Most world population growth has occurred in the last 100 years. In 1925 there were 2 billion people on the planet, today there are over 7.8 billion.
  • Most of this growth has taken place in the developing world: Between 1960 and 2005 Asia’s population doubled and Africa’s trebled.
  • Growth hot spots are today mainly in Africa. 
  • Meanwhile, Some Western populations are actually in decline. China’s population growth rate also seems to be slowing.

The United Nations data site is a good source for keeping up to date.

The Malthusian view of Population Growth

In 1798, Thomas Malthus argued that populations increase at a faster rate than the ability of those populations to produce food to feed themselves. He argued that this would lead to a natural process of famine, malnutrition and conflict over scarce resources that would increase death rates and so bring the population back into line with available resources.

In Malthus’ own words….

‘The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.’

—Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61[1]

The Malthusian view essentially sees the problem of overpopulation as a purely natural process, and one that sorts itself out through a natural process of rebalancing. Behind Malthus’ theory lies the assumption that there are certain natural limits to population growth – and once these limits have been reached, natural checks occur.

Neo-Malthusianism – Paul Erlich –The Population Bomb, 1968

After World War II, mechanized agriculture and the Green Revolution greatly increased crop yields, expanding the world’s food supply while lowering food prices. In response, the growth rate of the world’s population accelerated rapidly. In response to this, in 1968, Paul Erlich wrote the Population Bomb, drawing on Malthus’ ideas and predicting an imminent Malthusian catastrophe.

Erlich’s ideas, however, only focussed on the developing world, because birth rates and thus population growth had effectively stabilised in the developed world: By the early 21st century, many technologically developed countries had passed through the demographic transition, a complex social development encompassing a drop in total fertility rates in response to lower infant mortality, increased urbanization, and a wider availability of effective birth control.

In the developing world, however, Erlich argued that unless birth rates were brought under control, mankind was in danger of breeding itself into oblivion. High birth rates in the developing world would lead to overpopulation which in turn leads to six major problems: Famine, malnutrition, poverty, war, desertification and deforestation.

How Many People can Planet Earth Support?

This more recent BBC documentary from 2012 narrated by David Attenborough seems to be coming from something of a Malthusian view:

Criticisms of Malthusianism and Neo-Malthusianism

They fail to take account of the ‘demographic transition’

The demographic transition is where countries shift from high birth rates and high death rates to lower birth rates and lower death rates. During the shift there is a period of high birth rates and low death rates when the population increases, but this is temporary, although it might well last for several decades.

European countries went through this about 150 years ago and developing countries are currently going through a similar ‘demographic transition’ but over a shorter timescale.

Paul Eberstadt is a proponent of this view and argues that population growth is not due to people having more and more babies it is because the death rates in developing countries have decreased and especially the infant mortality rates have gone down. In particular, western aid has led to better maternal health care, more babies being born in hospitals and the eradication of diseases such as smallpox, measles and malaria. What this means is that ‘overpopulation’ should not really be regarded as a problem, it is really a sign of things getting better in the developing world.

Looked at in more general terms there is a broad correlation between increasing WEALTH and decreasing birth rates which Malthusianism fails to take account of and population growth in developing countries has actually been about decreasing death rates, rather than increasing birth rates….

Hans Rosling explains the demographic transition in this brief video clip (19 to 28 mins)

Malthusians fail to recognise the role of Politics in causing ‘Overpopulation’.

Overpopulation proponents suggest that there is not enough food for everyone, however, the World Food Programme points out that there is enough food for everyone, but several hundreds of millions of people lack access to that food because of such things as poverty, conflict and poor agricultural infrastructure – In other words it’s not too many people that’s the problem, it’s the economic and political systems that block access to available food.

According to the latest figures from Earthscan, if everyone were to consume at the level of people in America, then it would take five planets to provide the necessary resources and soak up the waste generated. People in the West consume vastly more than their fair share of the earth’s resources. A typical consumerist lifestyle is hugely dependent on vast amounts of energy, especially that from oil, and this cannot be sustained with current technology.

You can explore your own ecological footprint here….

https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ – /

Relating this back to Dependency Theory, part of the problem is that the developed world requires a disproportionate amount of the world’s land and resources because of its higher levels of consumption. This is illustrated in the video below…

Extension Work – Visit Overpopulation is a myth – Watch the short video clips on this web site and note down further criticisms of the Malthusian view of population growth

How will teachers cope with longer school days?

Most schools in England and Wales re-open today after effectively being closed for two months.

There are talks of school days being extended and the summer holidays being cut to allow those students who need it to catch up.

The problem is, are teachers going to cope with this? When stress levels are already a historic highs:

Being a teacher during the Pandemic has been a horrifically stressful experience for most teaching professionals. Whether schools are closed are open, it means more work for teachers than pre-pandemic, even without extra catch up lessons.

While schools are in full lockdown, teachers still have to manage online lessons for as long as they did while in school, knowing full-well that some students would be paying minimal if any attention during said lessons, which creates a demand/ need to chase such pupils.

And surely things are worse when back in school – if some students are isolating, teachers have to manage the classroom AND those students who can’t attend in person, juggling yet more tasks.

And then there’s having to deal with not just the academic side of things, but the social and mental health problems that come with dealing with a Pandemic overall.

Teacher stress is at an all time high according to a recent survey by education support, so it’s all very well and good putting in place plans to help students catch up, but this might break some teachers.