Physical Anthropology

Anthropology and the Environment

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Today there is a complex web of human activity, production, consumption, waste and a host of anthropogenic and natural environmental influences and consequences. There is no modeling or single disciplinary approach for environmental crisis that can even describe the complexity, let alone provide guidance as to which programs are going to lead to the most positive results.

Anthropology and ecology has always had an interaction, as the earliest activities of human were studied in a context of natural and environmental influences, restrictions and enhancements of opportunity. Now, the process is to look more at the reverse: how human activity and social interaction is changing natural environments. There is a sensitivity to and respect for the differences between people that allows for a more realistic analysis and database for developing programs.

This is a situation that is so complex that the holistic and unique nature of anthropological study and analytical technique will offer some hope in unraveling the complexities. Anthropology offers field experience in more areas and levels of human endeavor and being, along with a comprehensiveapproach and unique analytical processes. Specifically, an anthropological approach can be highly beneficial in getting to, analyzing and describing increasingly complex communities that exist within individual national systems.

In other words, environmental anthropology right now is a process of doing the same thing that anthropologists have always done, but with respect for and in relationship to the environment. Community by ecosystem, the environmental anthropologist attempts to aid policy design, development and implementation by providing information about human social interactions and contributions in relation to environmental concerns.

Anthropologists can offer insights into the workings of the levels at which people operate: as individuals; as organizations and groups; as corporations and as policy makers.

Case studies and fieldwork can help to identify the roles, experience and activity of the various levels and can assess the effects of programs, whether they are educational and aimed at getting people to adopt new behaviors and activities; whether they involve the behavior of corporations and environmental damage or superfund cleanups; or whether they constitute specific systems for building environmentally stable communities.

The term "ethno", when added to any of the sciences that relate to ecology pretty much sums up the roles that anthropology can play. There is ethnobiology and ethnoecology along with more traditional approaches. Whether looking back from an archeological perspective, looking at current contexts through field work or looking at the future through assistance in program and policy development and implementation, anthropological approaches will evolve as the importance of environmental issues and human social interaction evolves.

More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

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