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Social Environmental Pollution

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We often hear about land pollution, water pollution, and air pollution, and many of them are related to the natural environment. However, the social environment that we live in is also equivalently important. Natural resources are wasted, degenerated, and polluted rapidly due to human interventions and natural reasons. Thus, there must be a healthy social environment to restore nature. The United Nations has taken various measures to protect the environment. For instance, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Sustainable Development Goals are some interventions. These policies and programs act to balance socio-environmental imbalances.

Nonetheless, irrespective of global discussions and various actions towards environmental protection, we humans are doing much harm to nature in search of development. For example, recently, Sri Lankans experienced massive seawater pollution due to hazardous ships on fire. It causes problems not only for sea animals but also the society at large. Currently, some countries are experiencing floods, heat waves, and several extreme weather conditions due to climate change resulting in social and environmental pollution. In this brief note, I would like to focus on social environment pollution and why we should be concerned. 

What is social pollution, and what are the types of social pollutions?

Society is a socially constructed system formed by individuals and their complex social relationships. It has a set of values and norms that help to maintain harmonious relationships between members of the society and grant them full opportunity for development and enjoy a decent and high quality of life while free from any form of harm. In such a context, social pollution can be described as undesirable actions, reactions, or things developed among people who are stressed due to various socio-economic and political reasons, which distort society, harm health, outrage social norms, destroy culture, and pose a severe threat to overall peaceful societal existence. 

Social change is inevitable. However, rapid social transformations due to socio-political-economic-cultural and structural changes in society, almost all the social institutions considered as central pillars of society, are changing and experiencing various social problems. In general, we can see several types of social pollution occurring today in the social environment, including noise pollution, visual pollution, family pollution, economic pollution, mental pollution, religious and moral pollution, educational pollution etc. Some of them contribute adversely to the existing social system.  For example, when we take religious and moral pollution, instead of following the basic principles of any religion, people are interested in the instrumental values of the religion nowadays, following only popular practices and believing in religious extremism. On the other hand, due to the increase of value-free society, immoral values such as greed, selfishness, self-indulgence, and opportunism are being patronized and farming individualized values only for their interest. Thus, shared values are deteriorating due to social pollution.

Not only religious or moral pollution but also education pollution is a common phenomenon in society today. Increasing competitiveness over scarce resources does not provide room to achieve the sole purpose of education. We know of slogans like ‘education for all’ and ‘education is a universal right’, but these do not exist in reality. Education is becoming a commodity, and inequality leading to pollution in education increases due to the competitive capitalist society. Wrong methods of evaluations and being used and the correct values are not visible in the society to follow. Therefore, proper training and guidance are impossible, and children follow the same pollutant social environment and their corrupted leaders, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

This vicious cycle of social pollution contributes to trigger different other dimensions of social pollution. For example, corruption, fraud, disrespecting others’ rights and ill-treating minorities, distrust and tension among ethnic groups, backwardness, promoting destructive customs and traditions instead of science are examples of social pollution. Moreover, we consider the family as a primary and essential social institution. However, due to competitiveness, financial difficulties, changing social norms and customs, the nature of the family is changing.  Extended and joint families are decreasing, and nuclear families are increasing. Mutual support- adjustment, values of sacrifice, ill-treating and exploiting weak family members and older adults are left behind due to migration, and social and economic pressure are some of the main contributing factors in family pollution.

Since money becomes the primary agent of the social status now, materialism is getting value more than ever, and dishonest and wrong method is employed to accumulate wealth quickly. Social inequality also continues to rise as the poor become the poorest among the poor, and greedy politicians are farming social inequality in order to gain their votes. Moreover, due to dirty-party politics, the voting system and corruption for grabbing power, the ideal political ideologies and philosophies are deteriorating. Due to the political pollution, having an equal chance of being elected is impossible, and mud-slinging, political violence, power politics, and character assignations are factors that trigger the pollution in politics and take away women and the minority groups from good governance. Overall, the effect of social pollution has negatively affected the psychological and spiritual well-being of the people in society. Moreover, mental pollution due to losing ethics, false beliefs, extremism, and negative justification also trigger various pollution and vice versa. For example, people with a polluted mind or socially polluted individuals cause noise, visual pollution, air pollution and others.

Is it reasonable to talk about noise and visual corruption under the umbrella concept of social pollution?

Yes, Why not? Nature is more important to have a peaceful life. Not only humans but all living beings also love nature. We all would like to hear the sound of nature; birds, rivers, and waterfalls. However, do we hear them naturally today? No, it is infrequent. The various industries, different means of transportations, communication and many more have reduced the sound in nature, and very soon, we cannot hear the sound of nature without hearing aids. It is just because of the tremendous sound pollution in the competitive society today.

Sound is what we hear. However, noise can be considered as an unnecessary sound, and it hits our ears more than average pitches causes’ deafness. Sometimes, even though some noises are unavoidable in day-to-day life, some can be considered oppressive and contribute to lowering the quality of life and disturbing other daily activities. Therefore, even though these assessments are purely based on perceived subjective assessment, I think noise pollution hinders various aspects of the day-to-day life of the people. For example, in Sri Lanka, mobile food trucks cause unnecessary sound, which is irritable.

Furthermore, some groups of people performing private concerts or having parties even after midnight, while playing musical instruments with high volume close to the residential areas can be considered noise pollution. Not only the leisure but also some religious activities also cause noise pollution in Sri Lanka. For example, some of the traditions among Buddhist monks and their devotees disturb the villagers’ quality sleeping time, specifically during the Katina time, and they play Gatha or different poojas using loudspeakers throughout the day three months. If the sound can be limited to the temple premise or limited to a certain period of the day, it is highly appreciated by the people who have moderate values and will not disturb other religions. Similarly, Hindu and Islamic religious leaders should also limit the noise they create, as unnecessary sounds hinder the quality of life of the people though they devote and perform pooja or religious activities to enhance the spiritual life of the public. However, although some people complain about such harmful or immoral acts, it is difficult to fight against such acts/individuals due to specific customs, corruption or backwardness in society and political affiliations. Then not only the noise but also social pollution takes place.

Moreover, vehicles are one of the most common sources of making noise due to transportation. Some countries restrict heavy vehicles after a particular time and control the horning considering the sleeping quality of their public. Further, heavy industries and the construction industry also make much noise and affect the hearing of workers and close residents. Thus, such industries are obliged to maintain the sound limit and provide safety equipment for their works while following health and safety standards. Noise from social events is increasing due to loudspeakers, and they are a significant nuisance today and are largely used for marketing, politics, and other propaganda purposes.

Furthermore, household noise created by TV, washing machines also can be considered as a reason for noise pollution. In some societies like Germany, Sunday is considered a ‘silent day’, and if someone/ groups are violating the norms by polluting the noise, they are penalized. Apart from noise pollution, visual pollution is also mainly contributing to social pollution in contemporary society. Visual pollution impairs one’s ability to view, damage the landscape, and make social space unattractive. For example, some skyscrapers might block mountain views. Billboards, junkyards, and waste mountains change the natural landscape and cause harm for the view, distract people, and reduce the diversity of the opinions and loss social-area-identity and others.

The adverse effect of social pollution on humankind and society is enormous, creating short-term and long-term adverse outcomes. Overall, if a society is becoming polluted, the quality of life of the people is deteriorating. Moreover, it may create conflict and widening social inequality. Therefore, we as citizens must protect the social environment and educate all people to improve the social condition while developing trust, enhancing fundamental values and ethics, establishing social-economic justice, reducing power imbalance, enhancing social integration, redefining religion, and practicing sustainable development. Instead of ‘I’, making people aware of the concept of ‘we’ and broaden the prospects of good governance, free from corruption and imparting knowledge of a healthy, livable society is essential. Thus, I believe that education and discussion play a pivotal role in making a better society.

Priyadarshani Premarathne
Priyadarshani Premarathne
Lecturer, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. PhD Fellow in Sociology at Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS), Germany. BA in Sociology, University of Peradeniya


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