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.
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.
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?
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!
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
Pollution and toxic waste
New ‘Risky’ Technologies
We will explore these challenges further in future posts!
Developed countries spend a lot more on their armed forces than developing countries, and the USA spends more than the next nine biggest spenders combined.
Many developed countries have full time standing armies, navies and air forces and some have nuclear arsenals, all of which need paying and equipping, which in turn means research and development budgets into the latest military technologies.
This high level of military expenditure is typically justified on the basis that it is necessary to ensure ‘Peace and Security’ both at home and abroad, and since the end of World War II developed countries have frequently intervened in poorer countries abroad by arguing that force is sometimes necessary to bring about a more orderly or stable society.
The recent full-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified as necessary to root out the terrorist forces responsible for the 11 September 2001 ‘terrorist’ attacks on the United States, and today the ‘War On Terror’ continues, having largely shifted to now take the form of a ‘Drone War’ against suspected terrorists, which is occurring in numerous developing countries, but most notably Pakistan.
The USA and its allies continue to justify a high level of military expenditure and the continued use of force on the basis that it is necessary to ensure peace and security both at home and abroad.
There are, however, a number of radical theorists that argue this is a lie. Below we look at three academics associated with Dependency Theory tradition who argue that the West actually uses military force abroad in order to get rid of peaceful put anti-American governments, to secure oil resources (Americans do like their cars!) and to make money: there’s nothing like a war to generate a profit!
Noam Chomsky: The USA as Rogue State
According to Noam Chomsky (2004) the USA has used military force or funded the use of military force in over 50 countries since the end of World War Two. The USA has over 1000 military bases worldwide, and is far the biggest aggressor of the last half a century.
Sometimes it has even used its military power to overthrow democratically elected governments that do not support American Interests. Chomsky points out that if America really wanted to support freedom and democracy around the globe, then it would, by now, have tackled the oppressive communist regime in North Korea, and it probably wouldn’t do business with countries such as Saudi Arabia and China which have dubious records where human rights are concerned.
Noam Chomsky’s view is backed up by John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War Against Democracy’ in which he points out that the use of military force against foreign governments that do not support American interests has formed the backbone of America’s foreign policy since the end of world war two. Afghanistan and Iraq are just the last two in a very long list of countries that the United States has used organised state violence against.
List of Countries Bombed by the USA since WW II China 1945-46Korea 1950-53China 1950-53Guatemala 1954Indonesia 1958Cuba 1959-60Guatemala 1960Belgian Congo 1964Guatemala 1964Dominican Republic 1965Peru 1965Laos 1964-73Vietnam 1961-73Cambodia 1969-70Guatemala 1967-69Lebanon 1982-84Grenada 1983-84Libya 1986El Salvador 1981-92Nicaragua 1981-90Iran 1987-88Libya 1989Panama 1989-90Iraq 1991Kuwait 1991Somalia 1992-94Bosnia 1995Iran 1998Sudan 1998Afghanistan 1998Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999Afghanistan 2001Libya 2011
Video – Noam Chomsky : The United States is the World’s Biggest Terrorist
David Harvey: The War on Iraq was ‘All about Oil’
The contemporary Marxist Geographer David Harvey (2005) has taken the above even further. Harvey argues that the Iraq War was really ‘all about oil’. He points out that the continued global economic and military superiority of the USA is dependent on securing for the future a reliable supply of oil, most of which lies in the Middle East. According to Harvey, there is documented evidence that members of George Bushes’ cabinet expressed a desire to increase US influence in the Middle East for precisely this reason. In this context, 9/11 and the linking of Iraq with the threat of terrorism provided a legitimate reason for the USA to secure its interests in that region.
Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine
Naomi Klein goes even further arguing in‘The Shock Doctrine’ (2008) that the American government uses war to destroy infrastructure in developing nations so that American companies can make a profit out of rebuilding that infrastructure. To support this Klein points out that Dick Cheney, vice president of the United States when the US went to war with Iraq, was also CEO of a Corporation called Halliburton, a company which won $2 billion in contracts to rebuild Iraq after the war.
Sources/ Find out more…
Just so you’ve got the proper academic links to the books:
It is sad to say, but there are currently ongoing wars or minor conflicts in around three dozen countries, most of them in the Middle East, North West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and a major ongoing drug-war in Mexico.
Wikipedia lists around 40 ongoing wars and conflicts with over 100 combat deaths in 2020 or 2021. NB Wikipedia is a useful starting point for this topic as it provides us with a statistical and historical overview which is relatively easy to understand, but keep in mind that you’ll need to verify sources and check up on how valid the data is!.
Map of Conflicts in the world today
Wiki categorises ongoing conflicts as follows:
Major wars, with over 10 000 direct conflict deaths in the current or previous year – there are three of these: in Afghanistan, Yemen and the Tigray conflict in Sudan/ Ethiopia.
Minor wars, with 1000 to 9999 deaths in the current or past year – there are around 12 of these.
Minor Conflicts, with 100 to 999 deaths in the current or past year – around a further two dozen fall into this category.
They also list ‘minor skirmishes’ which have resulted in 1 to 99 deaths.
A point of note is that the Mexican Drug War actually had the highest death toll in 2020 – with over 50 000 deaths, but it’s not classified as a ‘major war’ because most of those deaths are murders rather than as a result of direct armed conflict between the drugs gangs and the Mexican armed forces.
Examples of recent and ongoing conflicts (list taken from Wiki)
Yemen’s Supreme Political Council vs. Hadi Government and Saudi-led Coalition
It would be worth spending some time exploring some of these conflicts to get a feel for their differences and similarities.
But even if you don’t do any ‘deeper digging’ just a quick skim through Wiki’s list of ongoing conflicts can be informative – it shows you that MOST contemporary high death toll conflicts occur in developing countries, mostly in the middle east and Sub-Saharan Africa, and it also shows you just you that some countries have suffered ongoing or successive conflicts for several years – we see this in the Congo, and in Iraq and Syria.
Wikipedia also looks at conflict deaths by country from 2016 to 2020 – Mexico tops the list in 2020, and this along with Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Nigeria have had particularly high levels of conflict deaths over the past 5 years.
Health and Development is one of the aspects of development students taking the global development option for A-level sociology have to study…
There are a number of fairly obvious explanations as to why low income countries face poor health conditions.
Lack of an improved water source
Hundreds of millions of people in sub Saharan Africa and Southern Asia especially, mostly living in rural areas, rely on water from local streams and rivers, which is often contaminated with disease spreading parasites, which are ingested and then cause diarrhoea – resulting in hundreds of thousands of death each year from the resulting malnutrition and dehydration.
This is responsible for the spread of diarrhoeal diseases – living in close proximity to open sewers full of human and animal waste products exposes one to a host of disease pathogens
Nearly a billion people in the world are malnourished – this is one of the leading causes of child mortality.
Underdeveloped public health services
In the developed world there is 1 doctor for every 520 people, in the developing world there is one doctor for every 15 000 people. In rural areas, hospitals are spread so far apart that pregnant women often find it a practical impossibility to get to one for child birth.
War and Conflict
Some countries, most notably Somalia and Afghanistan, are currently in conflict – obviously this increases the likelihood of people getting injured and puts additional strain on a countries economic and health care resources.
All of the above are ultimately linked to underlying poverty – as emphasised by Hans Rosling in his various videos.
Patriarchy and Traditional values
Modernisation Theorists emphasise the internal cultural values of developing countries that can act as barriers to improving life expectancy etc.
Patriarchal traditions may prevent money being spent on training midwives and providing maternity resources which could help reduce deaths in pregnancy
Patriarchy and religious values may prevent contraception use – which is linked to the spread of HIV in Sub Saharan Africa
Jeffrey Sachs also points out that Environmental Factors also play a role – simply put, Mosquitos, which spread Malaria, responsible for 5% of deaths in low income countries, are especially partial to the conditions in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
You might also like this post: strategies for improving health in developing countries. Link to follow.
As a genera rule, people in developing countries suffer from poorer health than people in developed countries – with higher rates of deaths from preventable causes resulting in higher child mortality rates and lower life expectancies.
Theories of development aim to explain why this is the case and what the most effective solutions to improving health should be.
Modernization Theorists would expect health patterns of developing countries to follow those of the developed world in the past. They believe that developing countries are entering the ‘epidemiological transition’ associated with economic development and rising GDP
Before the transition, infectious diseases are widespread and are the major causes of death; life expectancy is low and infant mortality high. With Industrialisation, urbanisation and economic growth come improvements in nutrition, hygiene and sanitation which lead to falling death rates from infectious diseases. After the transition, health improves.
It follows that the best way for developing countries to improve the health of the nation is to focus on industrialization, urbanization and economic growth. Improvements in health should follow.
Modernisation Theorists also argue that targeted aid can play a role in improving the health of developing nations
This can mainly be done through ‘Selective biomedical intervention’ – Such as mass immunization against disease, or distributing vitamin supplements to populations, or handing out mosquito nets. One of the best examples of this is the work of the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation work on combatting Malaria, the reduction of which has been one the great success stories of the last decade.
The eradication of Smallpox is a good example of this strategy working:
One limitation of using selective biomedical intervention is that theexpense means that it is difficult to maintain, and, where the distribution of mosquito nets is concerned, this may lead to choking off local entrepreneurs, as Dambisa Moyo argued in ‘Dead Aid’.
Dependency Theory points out that attempts by developing countries to improve health may actually be hindered by the West
Firstly, if you remember, Dependency Theorists point out that it is exploitation by developed countries that keep developing countries poor and they receive very little income from their dealings in world trade which means there is little money left over for investment in health care.
Secondly, there is the problem of the ‘brain drain’ from the developing to the developed world. At least one in ten doctors in the west has been poached from the developing world – it is obviously much more appealing for people in Africa and Asia to work in Britain where they can receive several times the salary they would in their native country.
Thirdly, Many African companies have had to pay high costs for pharmaceuticals manufactured by Western corporations. This is especially true of AIDS drugs. Western companies are thus accused of exploiting desperate people in Africa.
Finally, some Transnational Corporations have actually contributed to health problems through selling products that would not be regarded as safe in the West, not to mention polluting in the pursuit of profit.
Relevance to A Level Sociology
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.
Modernisation Theory – Urbanisation promotes development
Modernisation Theorists argued that urbanization had an overall positive impact on developing countries. They argued that cities are better environments to promote positive economic and social change compared to the correspondingly ‘backward’ traditional rural (countryside) communities.
How cities can promote development?
Giving a boost to economic growth – Cities attract Industrial-Capitalists into setting up factories because they give them access to a large pool of labour. The wages paid to factory workers then trickle down to other city services.
Cities can also play a positive role in cultural social change – They encourage the emergence of a new entrepreneurial middle class who aspire to modern lifestyles
Cities also weaken the ties of individuals to families in rural areas which challenges and overcomes the traditional values of collectivism and patriarchy.
Finally, Cities can promote development because it is easier for governments to establish health care and education in areas with dense populations compared to the more dispersed populations found in rural areas.
Dependency Theorists see Urbanisation as primarily benefitting the wealthy.
The last 30 years has seen the emergence of dozens of truly ‘global cities’ – London, Cairo, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Rio –globally interconnected via satellite communications and air-transport networks, with exclusive shops, housing and entertainment, but only actually available to the relatively well off – the minority.
Increasing amounts of urban poor work in low-paid service sector jobs, hidden away in sub-standard housing, just about earning a ‘living wage’. Also, an ever increasing amount of developing countries’ economies become oriented to developing infrastructure in the city for the benefit of middle classes, tourists = Olympic and Football stadiums, rather than improving the lives of the majority in the more rural areas.
Dependency Theorists also point out the Modernisation idea of Industrialisation leading to Urbanisation and development is a myth. What actually happens with Urbanisation is that there are too few jobs available for people who flood to new urban centres and huge amounts of unemployed people in slums come to form an urban underclass – which is actually beneficial to TNCs as this enables them to keep the wages of the unemployed low. Marxists like to think that this concentration of masses of disempowered people may have the potential for revolution. Dependency theorists point out that this is unlikely, however, as a lot of state power in the developing world is oriented towards suppressing this potential for revolution.
Problems associated with rapid Urbanisation
There are several problems associated with rapid urbanisation as infrastructure development cannot keep pace with the influx of people. Some of the problems are explored in the video below.
It is worth distinguishing first of all between the negative health effects of the virus itself and the negative effects of government lockdowns. The severity of lockdowns and the capacity to enforce them vary from country to country, and so the consequences of this politically imposed response to the pandemic will vary greatly across countries.
EVEN IF the stats are unreliable, governments the world over have responded with lockdown measures in response to public concern, which has very real consequences.
Lockdowns are pushing people into poverty, hunger and children are being pulled out of school
This brief report from the ODI puts a human face on the consequences of Covid-19. They provide a case study of one woman in Nairobi, Kenya, who was eating three meals a day and sending her children to school pre-lockdown.
However, lockdown forced the shutdown of her street food stall and now she is eating one meal a day, the children are meal sharing at another household and she doesn’t have the money to send them back to school.
Coronavirus has pushed another 71 million people into extreme poverty
The World Bank estimates that 71 million more people will be pushed into extreme poverty in 2021 as a result of coronavirus, an increase of 0.5% and taking the total to nearly 9% of the world population, eradicating all progress towards ending extreme poverty since 2017.
A further 170 million people in low to middle income countries will be pushed below the global poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50 a day.
How covid-19 has affected households in developing countries
Another World Bank report from December 2020 used phone surveys to interview people in IDA (countries qualifying for development assistance, mostly the poorest countries) and non-IDA countries.
The results show that the consequences have generally been harsher for people in developing countries:
People in IDA countries are less likely to have stopped working but more likely to have taken cuts in wages.
They are more likely to have skipped a meal.
Children’s education has suffered much more in IDA countries compared to non-IDA countries
Government bail outs are much less common in IDA countries.
This united Nations article suggests that poorer countries lack the capacity to respond to a global pandemic and that coronavirus could create further burdens in those countries having to deal with other major health problems such as aids and malaria.
It further notes that closure of borders will affect those countries reliant on trade, and reduce remittances from abroad (money sent home), reduce migrant labour opportunities and affect those countries which rely on tourism for income.
Covid-19 will increase inequality
A final World Bank report suggests that inequality will increase as a result of Covid-19.
This is based on evidence from how countries have recovered from previous Pandemics.
The theory is that households with resources are better able to weather the negative affects of a downturn, by keeping their children in school for example, and by using savings rather than taking on debt, and so can just ‘carry on’ as normal when economic recover comes, while poorer people are having to play catch up.
It’s explained in this handy infographic:
Those working in the informal sector are hardest hit
This LSE. blog post reminds us that many more people work informally in developed countries – and these people will be the hardest hit by lockdown policies – they are the first to be laid-off when work is reduced and they do not qualify for any government assistance measures either.
Other potential impacts
You should be able to find out about other impacts, such as:
In the long term more countries might cut their foreign aid budgets, like Britain has done recently.
Charities such as Oxfam are likely to receive less money from the general public.
It will be more difficult for migrant labourers to find work because of border restrictions.
I dread to think how all of this has affected the movement of refugees!
There have probably been more cases of domestic abuse worldwide as a result of lockdowns.
Possibly the most devastating long-term affect is the number of days of schooling that children in poorer countries would have missed – low income countries have much less capacity to offer home based, online learning, compared to wealthier countries.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is mainly relevant to the health and global development topic, but there are also some useful links here to social constructionism and social action theory.
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