Humans in industrial and postindustrial societies seem to have conquered the limitations placed on them by the environment through the use of technology. However, we actually live in a sensitive ecosystem in which humans and their physical environment interact and are interdependent. Harming the environment can have negative effects on the humans in it as phenomena such as the greenhouse effect, global climate change, and thermal pollution demonstrate. We live in a society that is the result of rapid changes in technology that have affected our lives. However, with every potential benefit comes a concomitant risk. Although technological advancements should not be stifled, it is important that they also be implemented with consideration for the uncertainty of their effect on the human ecosystem.
Keywords Economic Development; Environment; Ethics; Greenhouse Effect; Human Ecosystem; Industrialization; Postindustrial; Preindustrial; Society; Sociocultural Evolution; Technology; Thermal Pollution
Increasingly, the impact of humans on the environment has become an issue of social concern. The ever-decreasing availability of sources of fossil fuels and contemporary society's ever-increasing need for it to run its technology is a concern in and of itself. However, when the use of chlorine- and bromine-based products creates a hole in the ozone layer, this becomes an issue of immense and far-reaching proportions. Although this might seem to be a simple matter of doing what is right, the interaction between society and the environment is a political one as well, and it is often difficult to reach consensus on an operational definition of what is right. For example, although legal limits may be in place in a society that cap the amount of certain kinds of pollution that a single organization is allowed to produce, is it ethical to also have a system of pollution credits (i.e., a system in which a business that produces more pollution of a given type than legally allowed is able to purchase "credits" from a business that produces less pollution than is allowed) if one's aim is truly to reduce or eliminate pollution?
Human Relationship with the Natural Environment
Humans have always depended upon the natural environment. The natural environment provides us with the raw materials necessary to feed ourselves and our families and to build our technologies, whether they are spears and baskets for hunting-and-gathering societies or harnessing sources of energy for industrialized societies. In earlier stages of sociocultural evolution, this relationship between humankind and nature was arguably easier to see. Prehistoric humans tended to live in more temperate zones where they could find year-round supplies of food and needed little shelter from the elements or lived nomadic lifestyles in order to have a continual source of food and sufficient shelter. In twenty-first-century industrialized nations, however, people tend to buy their food at supermarkets and retreat into their human-built homes for their air conditioning or heat. Yet even with high-tech approaches to farming, people are still dependent on the sun to shine, the rain to fall, and the temperature to remain within a certain range over a window of time in order to have sufficient food to eat. The demands of industrialization require that we use our natural resources in order to run our technology. However, the demands of future generations mean that we must use these resources wisely and in a sustainable manner so that society does not stop because of our lack of concern.
The modern environmental movement began as societies came to realize that many of the things that were being done to improve or use technology to make life better in the short term were simultaneously having a negative impact on the environment and making life worse in the long term. Ecosystems are systems in which organisms and their environment interact and function as a unit. In ecosystems, the various parts (i.e., organisms and environment) are interdependent on each other and function as a unit. For example, animals breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide to live. They also either eat plants or eat other animals that eat the plants. The plants, in turn, require the use of the carbon dioxide expelled by the animals and, in turn, expel oxygen that is used by the animals. When the animals die, their bodies decompose and provide nutrients that enrich the soil and help the plants grow in a continuing cycle of interdependence. Human ecosystems are ecosystems that include human beings. As in other ecosystems, in human ecosystems, the parts are interdependent and function together. Obviously, human beings — even in the postindustrial age — are dependent on clean air, clean water, sunshine, and other essential elements of the natural environment to survive. Similarly, the natural environment is affected by pollution and other artifacts of human civilization. If the negative impact of human civilization becomes too great, the natural environment is harmed (e.g., greenhouse effect, global climate change). If the natural environment is harmed too much, the human part of the ecosystem will have to change in response if it hopes to survive. Done early enough in the cycle, this may mean doing relatively simple things as recycling and finding alternate energy sources. If the damage caused by humans is allowed to go unchecked for too long, however, the human ecosystem may be harmed to the point that society may have to find new ways to survive, may go backward on the sociocultural evolutionary scale, or may even become extinct.
The supply of many natural resources is limited, which means that once these are gone, they cannot be replaced (e.g., fossil fuels). Other natural resources are renewable only if we harvest them in a sustainable manner (e.g., lumber from forests). In addition, the parts of an ecosystem are interdependent: What happens to one part of the ecosystem affects the other parts (e.g., global climate change affects how and where certain crops can be grown). Therefore, two factors in particular are of concern in the environmental movement: vanishing resources and environmental pollution. Human beings depend on other parts of the human ecosystem for their survival. If the resources vanish, are poisoned, or otherwise made unusable through pollution, human beings and their concomitant societies will not be able to survive in the same form as they have or, depending on the type of resource that vanishes, may not be able to survive at all.
For example, if humans poison the air (our oxygen supply) or the water table with pollution, these seemingly unlimited natural resources can become unusable. Although sometimes such damage can be undone, this often does not happen before illness and loss of life occur. An excellent example of how this can happen occurred in the mid-twentieth century. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was widely used as a pesticide in the United States during the 1940s and '50s. After a few years of use, DDT had not only seeped into the soil and the groundwater, but on into the oceans, and by extension, the fish that lived in the oceans and the birds that ate the fish. Although the birds that ate the tainted fish continued to look healthy, they stored the chemical in their bodies which, in turn, caused their eggs to become disastrously brittle, ending not only in a severe reduction in the number of birds hatched for that generation but for many generations afterward. However, it was not only bird populations that were affected. DDT also contaminated the human food supply, with significant results including cancer and the contamination of human breast milk. Before the source of the problem was identified and corrected, severe damage had been done.
One of the major factors causing pollution to the human ecosystem are by-products of various technologies that we use to make our lives better. In the industrialized parts of the world, pollutants from vehicle emissions poison the air, causing respiratory problems. Industrialized societies also contribute to water pollution through such activities as the dumping of waste by tankers into the ocean and toxic runoff from factories into small streams that flow into larger rivers. Even everyday things such as runoff of pesticides or fertilizers used in the home garden or leaks or spills from some air-conditioning systems or other equipment can contribute to water pollution as the chemicals seeping to the ground and contaminate the water table. One type of contamination that became of great concern in the 1990s came from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and bromine-based compounds. These chemicals were long used as coolants in refrigerators, components in the manufacture of some plastics, and aerosol propellants. When released into the air, they worked their way into the upper atmosphere and eliminated the highly reactive ozone that blocks ultraviolet light. The more the ozone layer was depleted, the more damaging ultraviolet light got through. For humans, this resulted in an increase in sunburns, skin cancers, and other dangerous illnesses. Under the Montreal Protocol (first drafted in the late 1980s and last amended in 1999), the worst ozone-depleting substances, CFCs, were banned and are gradually being phased out, with developed countries helping to fund and facilitate the elimination process in developing nations...
Society Influences the Grimm Fairy Tales
The Grimm brothers are well-known story-tellers. Most of those who have seen the classic Disney movies like Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs have experienced an innocent version of the gruesome and dark tales that are the Grimm fairy-tales. In the beginning of their journey, the brothers had no intention of becoming story-tellers. The article “Grimms' Fairy Tales” states that the brothers found that the best way to allow someone to share the sounds of their dialect was to share the stories that had been passed down to them; the brothers kept a record of the stories they heard and had a book published in 1812 called Kinder und Hausmarchen, which translates to “Tales of Children and the Home”. Fairy tales during the brothers' time didn't have the same purpose as the ones today do. Bayer explains that during the Grimms' time, fairy tales were told to teach lessons and to pass on cultural values and wisdom to younger generations, not to entertain them. Because the purpose of these tales wasn't to entertain, the story-tellers weren't concerned about frightening their younger audiences (“Grimms' Fairy Tales”). Norton states that the tales were told around the fire to children and adults alike. Norton also tells us that, because these stories were dark and provocative, society decided that the nature of the tales had to change. Society had to protect their children from the gruesome nature of the Grimm fairy tales.
Society may take the bulk of the blame for the changing tales, but, in the beginning, it was the brothers who began that change. The brothers, before publishing their first collection, censored the gruesome stories to better accommodate the beliefs of their time (“Grimms' Fairy Tales”). Norton says that society began to pay closer attention to the graphic tales when they had moved from the fire-side and into the nurseries. These tales were dark and contained a lot of violence, sexual undertones, and deception, according to “Grimms' Fairy Tales”. Mothers didn't want their children, especially the younger ones, exposed to stories that inspired violence. Abler explains that as society revised the tales time and time again, the sexual undertones and violence against the innocent left, while the violence against wrongdoers stayed and lessons of Christian morality were put into place. According to “Grimms' Fairy Tales,” English adaptations of the tales tried to make them innocent entertainment for children. Norton explains that these changing tales are forms of education, social regulation, and even mirrors of society. As these stories evolve, they are telling us about ourselves and our changing society. Abler explains that today's fairy tales suggest that the biblical values of Western society have been replaced by concepts of independence and morality. In this shift of morality, the deeper meanings and lessons of some of the earlier versions of the stories are quite often forgotten (Abler). One of the most popular names for children's movies remains a prime example of society's influence on the Grimms' tales.
Walt Disney, a name known to many, has created several films loved by most who watch them. Disney knew his audience when he considered revising the dark nature of the Grimm tales; the people of America had not only been through a world war, but had also suffered from an economic depression – all in one generation. Abler tells us that Disney knew to soften the social and political messages these stories contained; he also know to tweak the stories to enhance their entertainment value. In trying to heighten America's spirits, Abler explains that Disney created Snow White and the Seven Drawfs, spending almost 1.5 million dollars. Being in the midst of the Great Depression, this was an immense amount of money. Fortunately, Disney's economic risk turned out to be a huge success; people went without necessities to buy eighty-three minutes of escape (Abler). Disney simplified the Grimm tale by changing the dynamics of a mother-daughter rivalry to a much simpler moral lesson against vanity, according to Abler. In his revisions of these stories, Disney changed the norm for fairy tales; the hero or heroine received a happy ending, while the villain was disposed of by consequence of their own actions to preserve the innocence of the main character (Abler). Disney's revisions avoid the unpleasant realities that other tales hadn't bothered to avoid; the paying public, however, was quite content with the sunny revisions that Disney offered (Abler). As the world began to evolve into a more independent place, so did the fairy tales. Abler says that the tales began to show trends of people not looking to higher authority for guidance, but trying to find answers within themselves. Though we can try to blame Disney for how fairy tales are known today, we can't. Disney only responded to the people. Society asked for a change and that's exactly what they received.
Change, though sometimes unnecessary, was what was asked for by society. The original tales gathered by the Grimm brothers proved to be too dark and depressing for children. Though the audience was supposed to be varied, society regulated the tales by softening the morals and removing the violence. The regulation went even further with the innocent, modern Disney versions of some of the tales. Change is inevitable, and fairy tales are no exception. They will change as society changes. Society will just have to wait and see what the future holds in the way of fairy tales.
- "Norton Publishes Classic Fairy Tales, Unsanitized; a Willa Cather Draft Reveals a Meta-Novel." The Chronicle of Higher Education 49.06 (2002). Gale Biography In Context. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
– Albert Einstein