Define Environmental Degradation: Real-Life Examples

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Strangers In Their Own Land" by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you define environmental degradation? What does environmental deregulation mean for people?

When you define environmental degradation, it’s often to examine how companies and governments harm the environment. This deregulation often causes direct harm to citizens.

Read more to find out how you define environmental degradation and more.

Define Environmental Degradation

How do you define environmental degradation in real life? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental watchdog groups, Louisiana is one of the most polluted states in the country. The state’s wetlands, for example, are in an extremely vulnerable condition. Since 1930, Louisiana has lost an area of its wetlands equal in size to the entire state of Delaware.

This can largely be attributed to the power and influence of the extraction industry, particularly the oil and petrochemical industries. These sectors are notorious for hazardous working conditions where employees are routinely exposed to potentially lethal chemicals. Companies are also known to dump industrial waste into the streams and bayous.

The ravages of Louisiana’s largely unfettered extraction industry have destroyed an entire way of life. Since before the area was even part of the United States, generations of Cajuns (French Creole-speaking people, descended from 18th-century Acadians deported from Canada by the British), had been able to make a living from the land and water. Even today, older residents recall the days when they were able to live a self-sufficient life, growing beans and vegetables on their land and catching fish, turtles, and frogs from the nearby bayous.

But with the arrival of companies like Firestone and Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) in the years after World War II, industrial pollution poisoned the land and water. Instead of aquatic wildlife, the bayous began to yield industrial waste and bits of rubber from the tire plants. Agriculture and husbandry became impossible when farm animals began to die after drinking the fouled water.

Republican politicians and their pro-business, laissez-faire ideology have given these polluting companies a free hand to poison the drinking water and destroy a once-thriving commercial fishing industry, all in the name of free enterprise. Rather than using the power of government to rein in the reckless and dangerous behavior of the private sector, Louisiana Republicans—and the large majority of voters who support them—instead castigate “Big Government” and “overregulation” as the source of the state’s problems. This is important to consider when trying to define environmental degradation.

Define Environmental Degradation: Real-Life Examples

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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