Impact of Physical Environment on our life!
- Introduction to Physical Environment
- Role of Physical Environment on Social Life
- Limits on the Role of Physical Environment
- Different Aspects of Environment
- Effect of Environment on Social Life
- Environment, Life and Human Society
1. Introduction to Physical Environment:
Physical environment consists of all those things which nature creates for the individuals. They are the product of nature and not the artificial creations of the human beings.
Physical environment is also called natural and geographical environment. To explain it in the words of Maciver and Page, “The geographical environment consists of those conditions that Nature provides for man. It includes the earth’s surface with all its physical features and natural resources—the distribution of land and water mountains and plains, minerals, plants and animals, the climate and all the cosmic forces, gravitational, electric, radiational that play upon the earth and affect the life of man.”
Similarly Sorokin also writes, “By geographical environment we mean all cosmic conditions and phenomena which exist independent of man’s existence and activity, which are created by man and which change and vary through their own spontaneity independent of man’s existence and activity.”
Physical environment is further subdivided into uncontrolled or natural environment and the controlled or artificial environment. The former is composed of those external material objects or phenomena which though in some points may be modified by man, are, in general out of his control. That is to say, most of these man can change only slightly but mostly the change depends on forces beyond his power. Among this aspect of the physical environment we may place the objects which are more commonly known as Nature.
It includes the sun and stars, the winds and rains, the mountains and the seas, the seasons, the tides and the ocean currents. However, it may be said that man may not be able to establish his full control on the so called uncontrollable aspects of physical environment, but he can certainly put them to use to serve his needs. On the other hand, the controllable environment consists of those elements which are amenable to the direct control of man and which he can modify in a large measure.
Some of the instances of this type are the vast stretches of land which he brings under cultivation, the rivers and streams which he tames with dams and embankments and such other natural resources. There can be drawn a more subtle distinction between these two categories of natural environment and it is that the first category mostly contains the abstract and the hidden objects of Nature while the second category largely consists of the concrete and visible objects of the physical world.
2. Role of Physical Environment on Social Life:
It is an unimpeachable truth that physical environment plays a predominant role in determining the behaviour of individuals and groups. So great is the influence of physical environment on human life that special studies have been made about this relationship since the time of Montesquieu. The close relationship between physical environment and social phenomena has led to the rise of Geographical School of Sociology in the modern time.
Referring to the work of this school Maciver and Page, observe, “The writers of this school have added tremendously to our knowledge of the role of geography in man’s development. They have made us aware of the interplay between climate and topography and the various aspects of the physical environment, on the one side, and political and economic, technological and cultural phenomena on the other. But their interpretations have sometimes misled us also.” But this fact need not tempt anybody to belittle the impact of physical elements on society.
There are several ways through which the various aspects of physical environment have affected the human society and the more important of these facts may be stated here in the following order:
1. Influence of Rivers:
It cannot be denied that the movement and the growth of population largely depend upon favourable physical conditions. In this respect the rivers have been seen playing a vital role. It is a matter of history that the earliest dense population appeared in certain fertile plains and valleys of the east where great rivers assured ample food supply and easy means of communication. For instance the Indus, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Yangtze- kiany nurtured the earlier civilizations as certainly as they fertilised the soil.
Besides this the river is the first great highway which made possible the movement of the people from place to place. There followed in its train the contacts of commerce and migration and invasion according to their kind stimulating or crushing social development. The civilization of Europe would have been very different, had there been no Danube or Rhine.
Most of the great cities of the world are situated on streams and particularly on their tidal reaches. Even the course of the rise of Indian civilization would have been quite different if there had been no Indus and Ganges. Thus it is obvious that rivers have proved to be the creator and the nurse of the earliest human civilizations.
2. Role of Oceans:
The oceans are another element of physical environment to have its bearing on human civilization. The seacoasts are often seen playing a vital role in determining its course. To quote Maciver, “Barrier and threshold” these are the roles which the seacoasts have played in history.” The open seas have often placed limits on the aggressive instincts of the people, but at the same time they have helped in developing the spirit of adventure in them.
Oceans offer many opportunities of advance to the adventurous people and the countries close to the sea easily become great powers of the world. For instance, the power of Spain, Holland and England had arisen not only by historical circumstances but also by improvements in the techniques of navigation.
Britain could establish a vast empire in the world solely by virtue of being the mistress of the sea. Now the vast development of international trade has thrown into bold relief the vital importance of the sea for all the people and nations. No country can think of its all-round development without having access to the sea.
3. Influence of Climate:
Now this fact has been thoroughly established that the climatic conditions also exercise a powerful influence on the health, habits and activities of men. For instance, it is observed that extremes of heat or of cold have a deterrent effect on social development. On the other hand, a certain moderate temperature is best calculated to evoke all kinds of human activities.
No matter if they are physical, mental or intellectual, but their performance under moderate climatic conditions is definitely much better than is the case under the extremes of climate. People develop inertia and laziness while living in extremely hot places, but on the other hand, too much cold cripples human activities and slackens their energy. The variance of human activities and social life under different climatic conditions is best exemplified by the difference in the life pattern of the people living in the hills and in the plains.
4. Effect of Seasons:
Some western writers have tried to exhibit the existence of co-relation between seasonal changes and the frequency of crimes. It is held that crime against the persons and suicides occur more frequently in summer and crime against property in winter. However, it should be kept in view that it is not climate or season alone which produce these phenomena.
The environment of man is many sided of which climates, seasons and other geographical features are only a part. There are so many other forces at work which together with physical environments affects the human life and activities.
5. Impact of Natural Resources on Social Life:
The geographical environment influences the life of the people in one more way also. Every piece of territory which is inhabited by a group of people has its own natural resources. These varying kinds of natural resources of the different places influence the social life of the people living there and also determine their occupations.
For instance, if on a particular place the land is fertile and irrigation facilities are sufficiently available the people of that region will mostly do agriculture or will adopt such other occupations as are connected with agriculture, On the Other hand, if a particular region is full of mineral resources there industry will predominate and the people, in general, will adopt industrial and commercial occupations. These people living in different regions and doing dissimilar occupations are sure to differ from one another in their social ways, customs, manners, ideas and mode of life.
3. Limits on the Role of Physical Environment:
It has been noted above that physical environments play a vital role in the determination and direction of the social life of the people. Changes which occur from time to time in the different social phenomena are taken to be the direct or indirect results of the interaction and influence of the objects of natural environment.
But it cannot be viewed as an exclusive factor in the shaping of social life. There are certainly operating a large number of limits on the role assigned to physical environment, which proves that it is a partial factor in changing the social life and human civilization.
To begin with the critics assert that it is not the exclusive physical environment which determines the social phenomena. There is no consistent delation between the two. In many instances, similar cultural practices are found among people living under very different physical circumstances.
For instance, monogamous marriage is practised all over the world and similarly Christian religion has been followed by the people living under extremely different physical conditions. If the effect of physical environment on social situations had been absolute and exclusive, we could have nowhere found social and religious institutions monogamy and Christianity as all pervasive in character.
Secondly, it is customary to regard climatic conditions as an influential factor in the matter of changes in population. For example, birth-rate and death-rate are, in general, higher in tropical regions than in temperate zones. There may be some reality in this assumption, but even then it would be improper to place the whole responsibility for it on climate alone.
There are differences in racial character, economic development, cultural heritage and religious beliefs which have large bearing on this issue. It would be quite a drastic view to hold that climate is the only explanation for the social phenomena of high birth and high death rates in certain regions. The correct view on this question is that climate is not the sole, but one of the factors which influence population.
Thirdly, it has been so happening that different social institutions develop under similar climatic conditions. It is usually found that different groups of people living under similar climates exhibit a wide contrast in their customs, manners and temperaments. Westermarck in his study of the origin and development of the moral ideas has amply illustrated this fact. Moreover, none of the changes that have occurred in a certain culture can be directly related geographic changes.
Fourthly, it is contended that growth of civilization has minimised the influence of physical environment. There have occurred a large number of changes in the mutual relations of geographical conditions and social progress. Now the distribution of agricultural resources is less determinative as civilization progresses regarding the distribution of population.
For instance, in the pre-industrial age the most populous part of England was that of the greatest fertility of soil and rich in agricultural produce, whereas now the density of population is found in the regions rich in mineral resources and industrial prospects. Similarly natural routes of migration and trade matter less than of old, as men have learnt to build railways through mountains and over swamps and to use the unbounded highways.
Fifthly, it has been conclusively proved now that the geographical environment alone never explains the rise and fall of civilizations. Similar geographical conditions have produced short-lived and long-lived civilizations. The age-old and the popular assumption has been that civilizations emerge when environment offers unusually easy conditions of life.
Sixthly, the march of civilization has lessened the influence of climatic conditions on human affairs. It is now possible to overcome the natural disadvantages of certain climates. By the use of the developed techniques of science and technology. The Panama Canal Zone has, for instance, been delivered from malaria through the application of science.
Even the extremes of heat and of cold grow less deterrent as the arts of warming and cooling dwelling places improve. In this way it is clear that an individual’s energy and health are not determined by climate alone as they are the result of many factors of diet, hygienic conditions, living standards, attitudes and values. Bowman is of the opinion that as the social heritage grows immediate geographical factors assume a less determinant role in the interpretation of society.
Seventhly, it is noteworthy that there is hardly any connection between the climate factor and the commission of crime particularly of suicide. The actual temperature level has little to do with the correlation between the two phenomena.
Thus as Maciver puts it, “These facts suggest an explanation of a social character that suicide occurs characteristically where conditions encourage social isolation, where people lack the sense of solidarity created by strong social responsibilities, where they are most apt to be thrown back on their own resources for comfort, companionship and consolation.”
It may be said on the basis of these facts that geography by and in itself, never absolutely determines the course of human events. Every advance in the scientific technology increases man’s ability to modify his environments. The net result of all this is that in the present day world the impact of physical environments on social phenomena is not as much conclusive and marked as was thought of it in the past times.
It may be therefore, said that physical environment without playing a determinant role provides an external set of condition under which the life of man in society proceeds. These conditions can hardly be ignored in the study of social behaviour, the attitudes and interests of men. The physical environment is more of a limiting than of a determining nature.
4. Different Aspects of Environment:
It has been stated above that the term environment is a wide and all pervasive phenomenon. It consists of all surroundings and influences whatsoever that are present whenever an event occurs. It is any external force which influences us. Environment is thus not a simple but a complex phenomenon and consists of various forms.
The chief among these may be discussed in the following order:
(1) Natural Environment:
The natural environment is composed of those external material objects or phenomena which are out of man’s control. Such are, for instance, the winds and rains, the sun and stars, the mountains and the seas. These objects are, in general, out of man’s power and can be subjected to no drastic modification at the instance of human energy and skill. Thus with the help of science and technology man has harnessed and modified some of the forces of Nature, but by and large they are still beyond human domination.
(2) Artificial Environment:
Artificial environment refers to every material thing that is considerably modified by the action of man. Such are the vast stretches of land which he brings under cultivation, the dams and embankments with which he directs rivers and streams to useful purposes, the vast system of industry and machinery created by his ingenuity. The natural and artificial environments may be taken as two parts of the same physical environment. They are also called the uncontrollable and controllable environments respectively.
(3) Psychological Environment:
The psychological environment consists of those attitudes and dispositions built and organized by previous experiences which affect condition or otherwise influence the individual’s behaviour without always determining it. When we reflect upon our own psychological acts we often realize that in making a decision we are inclined towards a certain type of action by our own previous experiences and training.
It is finally by an act of self-determination that we make our own choices and decisions and accept full responsibility for them. These free acts, difficult to understand in a mechanistic theory of the universe are the most genuine manifestation of man’s personality.
They always work as a centre of man’s psychological activity and creativeness capable of self-direction and master in a way-limited but real of his own acts and destiny. The internal forces which influence and condition the self cannot be identical with the self. They are in general opinion its internal or psychological environment intimately connected with, though distinct from the social environment.
The reality of this power of self-determination in man, acting upon previous experiences and actual tendencies has acquired such importance in present days that it has given rise to two new philosophical theories. There are the theories of personalism and existentialism and are much in vogue in Europe and America.
(4) Economic Environment:
The economic environment is a part of both the physical environment and social environment. It refers to those economic goods and material things which surround the individuals and are meant to provide them the comfort and convenience in life. Thus it consists of all the economic apparatus like houses and roads, lands and gardens, domestic animals, machines, stores of manufactured articles and in short all such material facilities that bring men on the high level of civilization.
Economic order is, in other words, an order of everyday life which man has built up for the satisfaction of his needs through the application of economic laws. The social significance of the economic order is that it is based upon the principle of division of labour that is on the specialisation of functions of the groups and the areas.
This leads to the interdependence of not only of individuals but also of groups and of nations. Economic environment is also important for the fact that it determines the life and character of society. The closeness of their relationship was clearly proved when the Industrial Revolution was followed by remarkable degree of transformation in the existing social order. It is in view of this fact that Karl Marx propounded the theory of Economic Determinism of Social Change.
(5) The Social Environment:
The social environment is constituted by the society of our fellowmen in so far as they affect us. Society has an influence not only on the physical and economic life of man but above all on its mental and moral development. It is the most pervasive of all the environments and very necessary to the life of the individuals. It is so vital a phenomenon that the life of the individuals can be totally and even finally explained in terms of society.
This type of environment also affects our artificial environment to a large degree and but for the co-operation of society, the development of art, science and technology would not have been possible. It has exerted a great influence on our psychological life as well. Thus social environment has become a very important factor in the working of social order.
It is identifiable with the whole mass of social culture and is, therefore, synonymous of the way of life around the people. That is why every important aspect of social life, i.e., sex relationship, ownership, comradeship, the exchange of services, and goods is ordered, supported and controlled by the different elements of social environments. These elements include customs, traditions, laws, modes of thought and forms of knowledge and belief which form man’s social inheritance.
There is indeed great sociological significance of this type of environment, but even then for some unknown reason it is found omitted in many of the modern works on sociology.
(6) The Outer and Inner Environment:
Maciver has mentioned the outer and inner environment of social life. He says, “In his incessant environment. This man-made environment has a twofold character, an outer and inner aspect.” These aspects are called the outer and inner environment.
The outer environment consists of the physical modifications of nature, including our houses and cities, our means of transportation and communication, our comforts and conveniences the whole apparatus and machinery of our civilization.
It includes what some anthropologists have termed our “material culture”. This physico technical structure or a part of it would endure for some time if the society itself perished, as is evidenced by the remaining monuments of past civilization. But this is not true of the other aspect of the social environment.
But, on the other hand, the inner environment is society itself and endures only so long as the society endures. It consists of organizations and regulations the traditions and institutions, repressions and liberations of social life, of what we collectively name the social heritage. For every member of society this system is just as much a part of the environment as are the outer conditions of life, except that his adjustment to it is not of the same inexorable character, not being imposed by natural law.
The total environment, then, (i) an outer environment in various ways modified by man, in the centres of modern civilization and (ii) a inner or social environment to which man is adjusted through conscious response and habituation.
It is not worthy that the distinction between these two aspects of the total environment is essential in the analysis of social reality. But it must also be remembered that the two are always interactive. For man is constantly changing to satisfy his never-satisfied wants, both the outer and inner environment both his physical and social worlds.
However, a close study of various types of environment reveals that those are not isolated phenomena. On the other hand, they act and react upon one another in a large measure. It may also be mentioned that just as environment influences man, even so man influences environment. In this way, it is clear that there is interplay between the different types of environment and there is also interplay between man and his environment. Referring to this fact Pascual Gisbert writes, “All these types of environment are so intermixed in their action that at times it is not easy to distinguish one from the other. As to their effects on individuals or society, it is so difficult to find out how far the influence of each of them extends that the attempt to do it is a perpetual challenge to sociology and philosophy”.
5. Effect of Environment on Social Life:
While discussing the different types of environment every effort was made to bring out their effect but the matter is so important that something more of it needs to be said here separately. It goes without saying that environment plays a significant part in the determination and regulation of the human affairs as well as social phenomena.
To quote in this context the words of Maciver and Page, “Environment is embedded in each and every sphere of life, it does the work of initiating, encouraging and discouraging man’s powers, it is the softness of his speech, and it makes minute changes in his structure. And not merely this it resides in him, it is etched on his mind and muscles, it functions in his blood….it cannot be separated from life. The environment is the warp and woof which constitutes the living cloth of society.”
Furthermore, every change in a living creature involves some change in its relation to environment; and every change in the environment also brings some change in the life and ways of the organic being our environment is our habitation in the completest sense. In its totality, as relative to any group, it is a factor of great complexity. Every difference of environment means a difference in the habits of the people and in their ways of living.
On the other hand, the habits and the ways of living of the people, in so far as they differ, create for them a different environment, a different selection of it within it, and a different accommodation to it through a process of constant selection and constant adaptation. In this way the moving equilibrium of life is maintained in a diversified society.
6. Environment, Life and Human Society:
The correspondence of life and environment is amply illustrated in the case of social groups. Just as every region of a country is in some respects different from every other, so also are the inhabitants of each region. The difference among the people of various regions is in some degree relative to the environment in which they respectively dwell. It is a matter of common observation that as people change from country to city, from agriculture to industry, from mountain to plain, from hot to temperate climates they become adjusted to the new conditions undergoing a process of change as their environment changes.
It is obvious that a well-to-do group has a different outlook from a poor one, a coloured urban group from a white one, and a professional class from an artisan class. The correspondence between life and environment is visible in the character and organization of both small as well as large groups. Whether it is a large group like community and nation or it is a small group like family, the influence of environment is manifested in every case and under all circumstances.
The revelation of the manner in which the environment moulds and is self-modified by the life of the group is one of the chief achievements of the social science, It is sure that from the ancient times men have observed certain rough correspondences between broad physical conditions and modes of living. For example, the inhabitants of tropical regions exhibited characteristic differences from those of temperate or of Arctic regions.
This is why in their physical features and in the living ways the Indians are typically different from English people. But in the recent times these observations have been gradually refined and elaborated into a systematic form. The relationship between physical environment and social phenomena has been particularly brought to the fore-front in the knowledge and thoughts of the people by the findings of modern sociologists. No less progress has occurred in the field of enquiry of social and economic environment as well. Thus it may be said in the end that environment in the totality have proved to be a factor of everlasting importance in the social life of individuals as well as groups.