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Components of Environment
Components of the environment can be analyzed at various levels i.e. At the level of activities, at the level of processes, and at the level of orientations. Some of these issues and examples are discussed below.
As discussed in the earlier section in one of the UNESCO reports, the following activities have been suggested as components of environmental quality.
- Fire protection.
- The comfort of home.
- Electric service.
- Privacy in your home.
- Relation with fellow workers.
- Postal service.
- Mechanical helpers in your family.
- Telephone services.
- Public-water system.
- Relation with neighbours.
- Gas service.
- Freedom to live where you want.
- Sewage disposal service.
- Availability of food around your living place.
- Convenience for getting to important places.
- The noise level in the home setting.
- The beauty of your home.
- Security of your home.
- The topography of the land around.
- Product is available to the community.
- Medical care in your locality.
- Police protection.
- Quality of water used by the household.
- Natural outdoor recreation.
- Variety of wildlife in the community.
- Cleanliness of air around.
- Overall weather.
- Public information media.
- Level of crowding in your residential neighbourhood.
- Transportation over a long distance.
- Level of traffic congestion.
- Quality of water for recreation.
- Product quality and variety.
- Relations among the group in the community.
- Freedom to move from class to class.
- Freedom to move from on a job to another.
- Public services-gas, sewage etc sec 7,12,10,14 etc.
- Unspoiled natures.
- Man made environment.
- The physical condition of the environment at school.
- Isolation of your community.
- The physical condition of the environment where you work.
- Amount of open space around.
- Access to parks.
- Control of dogs and other pets.
- Cost of living.
Understanding the environment involves studying the complex relationships between the people and the typical physical settings in which they conduct their daily lives. Environmental interest in studying human behaviour in the familiar, everyday physical environment where people live and work as well as its relevance to the environment design and social planning has made it especially responsive to the demands of today’s world. Environmental studies are an area of social sciences where the focus of the investigation is the interrelationship between the physical environment and human behaviour and experience of man. Fig 1.4 presents this.
The other perspective of components of the environment relates to environmental processes, its multidisciplinary and applied aspects.
The Environmental processes
The environment is a new subject and a complex field of study. Therefore it is important to consider some of the characteristics that describe the what, how and why way environmental process work. In this section, we attempt to explain the adaptation focus, physiological processes, the holistic view, interdisciplinary involvement and applied orientation of the subject matter.
Adaptation focus: The process of adaptation. It is of interest to study how people adapt to the complex demands of the physical environment. For example, how people live in crowded places or overcrowded setting. Robert White (1974) defines adaptation as encompassing all the processes with their environment. This includes the most simple ways of dealing with minor environment and irritations to the most complex efforts to cope with major environmental changes. These challenges in the living system in interaction with the environment are the adaptation processes. The holistic view of the organism and environment is considered along with the active role of the living organism in relation to their environment.
Physiological Processes: – The adaptation focus of the environment emphasizes the process that mediates the effect of physical setting on human activity e.g. the effect of classroom noise on student’s grades.
Overall view: – Historically, the analysis of the environment was a very small and molecular level but now the emphasis has shifted from micro to macro level. It is how environment and behaviour must be seen as interrelated parts of an indivisible whole.
The positive and adaptive ways in which people cope with environmental challenges suggest an active role. This view looks into how people have varied and creative ways to cope with their environments.
The adaptation process model (Fig 1.6) shows the affected environment on behaviour is mediated by a number of processes. It shows the direction of effect in the environment behaviour relationship is reciprocal i.e. people may act on the environmental conditions while the environment also acts on human behaviour. The negative effects of situation such as overcrowding may be reversed through effective coping processes.
Multidisciplinary Orientation: The branches of study here have included not only the environment but also other fields such as Sociology, Psychology, Geography, Anthropology, Medicine, Architecture and Planning etc (refer to fig 1.2). The study of human behaviour in physical settings requires the works of researchers in many social sciences as well as of architects and planners responsible for the design of human settings. The areas of study include.
The Applied Orientation: – The environmental study has an orientation towards both the resolution of the practical problem and the formulation of new theories. Lewins (1974) action research is a useful model for the intermingling of practical and theoretical needs of the environment.
For example, The study of university housing environment is one research area where theoretical and practical objectives have been successfully combined. Thus one may understand the components of the environment at various levels i.e. At the level of activities, at the level of processes and at the level of orientations.
Preventive Expenditure Techniques
How many people are prepared to spend to prevent degradation of the environment can be used as a measure of the value of the environmental effects. It is, however, usually thought that this technique underestimates the value of the environmental effects for various reasons. If the full scopes of environmental effect including the long-term consequences are beyond the common people’s comprehension, the expenditure they would undertake to prevent degradation of the environment would all very much short of the required levels. Secondly, it may always not be possible to fully offset all environmental effects by preventive expenditure especially in case of massive investment projects (such as large dams) which cause large environmental changes.
Replacement Cost Techniques
In this technique, how much people are prepared to spend to restore the environment to its previous state after degradation has occurred is taken as a measure of the value of the environmental effects. This technique also suffers from shortcomings similar to those mentioned in the context of the preventive expenditure technique. It is normally beyond the competence of common people to judge the full scope of damages done to the environment and it is not usually possible to restore the environment to its previous state after it has been damaged.
Property Value Techniques
Real estate values depend on various factors, including environmental factors. Residential accommodation at the lake or with a view to maintaining commands a premium in the market. Air pollution depresses the price of a property in the area. People are willing to pay more for a property similar in other respects in areas with clean air. The difference in market price can be used as a measure of the value to society of the cleaner environment. The measurement of this value in practice may, however, be quite difficult. In order to separate the effect of cleaner environment on properly value from other factors (such as location, quality of neighbourhood, etc) that affect a site’s value, one would require to collect data as the value of various sites throughout the area and analyse the data with the help of an appropriates statistical method.
There have been several studies exploring the relationship between air pollution and property values, most of these studies show a significant negative relationship between properly value and air pollution. These studies have, however, been criticized for underestimating the environmental effects of air pollution. People often do not know or understand the severity of pollution problems at different sites.
It requires special expertise to accurately estimate the pollution level at a site. Even if people are told about the presence of air pollutants in the area, they cannot make any use of such information because they lack knowledge about the effects of pollutants on human health or property. In such conditions, it is not logical to expect that difference in properly value would correctly estimate the value of the environmental effects of air pollution.
Human Health – Effect Technique
One method to estimate the value of environmental effects to study the effect of pollutant exposures on human health.
It involves putting a monetary value on illness and death caused by exposure to pollutants. This idea of putting a monetary value on human life does not appeal to everyone. Many regard human life to be of infinite value. But, is society’s behaviour always consistent with such thinking? IS society prepared to pay whatever is necessary to prevent death? If human life were considered of infinite value, we would never allow those activities which pose a risk to human beings, given that virtually no economic activity is completely risk-free, and they all would be stopped.
For example, injurious and deaths caused by road accidents could be reduced significantly if laws pertaining to the road safely are made very strict. Several studies have shown that appropriate changes in the design of vehicles and lowering of speed limits can reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents significantly. But we know that society does not take all these required steps. This, of course, does not mean that human life is cheap. Most people consider it invaluable, if not of infinite value.
One way to determine the effects of exposure to pollutants on human health is to study the incidence of diseases among people. Of course, air pollution is not the sole cause of diseases. There are many other explanatory variables such as age, sex, hygienic conditions, climate, living standard and dietary habits. In order to separate the effect of air pollution from other variables, a large body of data on the incidence of various diseases among different sections of the population in various places needs to be collected and analysed with the help of appropriate statistical methods.
An alternative method of determining the effects of exposure of pollutants is to conduct laboratory experiments on plants or animals. Plants animals are exposed to different levels and different kinds of pollutants to study their effects. Rats are often used as study objects for various reasons. The results of such studies, however, cannot be generalized too much. These studies cannot tell much about the effects of pollutants on human health as the human physiology is much different from that of rat or any other animal.
Once the relationship between pollutant exposures and human health effects is determined, the next step is to estimate the value of human health effects in monetary terms. The human health effect technique calculates the value of the health effects by looking at lost economic production and increased health-care costs. The opportunity costs of an individual’s premature death can be calculated by estimating the discounted present value of his future earning if he had not died prematurely. This provides a measure of lost economic production and thus a measure of loss to society. In case of illness, the cost of care is added to the losses of earnings. This technique, however, does not value the psychic costs of ill health.
Many people find such procedure of calculating the worth of human life highly unsatisfactorily because according to this criterion a large section of people would command a very low economic value, especially the old people, disabled and those unemployed or in poorly paid jobs.
Travel Cost Method
This method estimates the time and money that people are willing to spend on ‘eco-trips’, i.e., visits to places of environmental value such as mountains, forests, lakes and parks. This method, however, severely underestimates the worth of the environmental assets and services because of its highly narrow focus. It only looks at the entertainment, recreational aspects of environmental assets. The environment constitutes the basic life support system; its total value consists of several components as discussed above. This approach ignores most of them.
In this method, the value of environmental assets and services is assessed through public opinion surveys. People are directly asked their valuation of the environment. They are asked how much thing is willing to pay to conserve the environments. There are problems, however, with the approach. People often lack knowledge in that area; therefore their responses do not accurately reflect their concerns. Secondly, there is a general inherent problem with Survey method i.e. the answer to a question very much depends on the way it is asked. If people realize that their answer will have an effect on the decisions they may reply in a strategic manner. For example, if how much they are willing to pay is a hypothetical question (i.e., no payments are involved), people will answer it in one way. On the other hand, if there is a probability that they may actually have to pay they will answer it in another way. In the latter case, there would be a systematic underestimation of the value of the environment. If they understanding that they do not have to pay, the polluter will pay, their responses are likely to overestimate the value of the environment. If they are asked how much compensation they should be given for the environmental damages, they would certainly exaggerate the worth of the environment.
For these reasons, it is quite difficult to interpret the survey responses and come up with a figure which genuinely represents people’s valuation of the worth of the environment. Investigators should try to frame questions in such a manner which induces individuals to respond not as interested parties but as disinterested observers, as people concerned with the public interest.