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The Big Idea - Environmental Factors - You are what you… live on

Lava, lava, what a palaver

You’ve just moved into your brand-spanking-new house, resplendent with solar panels, water reclaiming technology, a composting toilet, and space to raise organic vegetables to leave almost no carbon footprint! Your land was a steal. Nobody seemed to want it! Nestled among beautiful mountains, the soil is rich and full of energy. But then…but then…that beautiful mountain erupts in a fiery fountain of spewing lava that cascades down the mountain, engulfing your house, melting your carrots, and wiping away your lifelong dream. You built a house next to an active volcano, you silly billy. Why would you do that? Tsk tsk. 

Let’s do a merry dance through how our environment impacts us using everyone’s favourite analysis tool - P.E.S.T.E.L!!! Hurray! Analysing the intricate dance between our environment and the facets of human society through the lens of a P.E.S.T.E.L. analysis unveils the multifaceted impact of geographical and environmental factors on political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal dimensions of civilisation. We’re symbiotes, like small ticks, sucking on the blood of our host - EARTH! No, sorry. That's just a parasite. Oops!

Political 🏛️

The allocation of natural resources, such as water 💧 and arable land 🌱, has been a cornerstone of political power and conflict throughout history. Regions rich in resources often see a concentration of power and wealth 💰, while scarcity can lead to political instability and conflict ⚔️. The control of waterways, essential for trade and agriculture, has been a critical political issue from ancient civilizations around the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates rivers to modern disputes in the South China Sea. Environmental disasters, like the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, not only shape urban planning policies but also influence political philosophies, challenging the status quo and leading to shifts in governance and policy priorities. In the case of the Lisbon earthquake, a sprawling, powerful empire went into a death spiral as the very heart of it was ripped apart by Mother Nature (and she didn’t even bat an eyelid).

Economic 💹

The economy is deeply entwined with the environment, from the dependency on natural resources for production to the impact of natural disasters on economic stability. The spice trade 🌿, reliant on specific climatic conditions, not only fueled the economies of entire regions but also spurred exploration and colonial expansion 🌍. Conversely, environmental challenges such as droughts, floods, and earthquakes can devastate economies, as seen in the Dust Bowl or the economic repercussions following major earthquakes in countries like Japan 🇯🇵. Despite our best efforts, the resources beneath our feet and whims of physics and nature decide a great deal about how the world economy works. The fossilised remains of plant and animal matter, swilled around in our crust by convection currents flowing below in the Earth’s mantle created a game of luck for the economies that followed. Did your country win big? 

Social 👥

The environment profoundly influences social structures, lifestyles, and cultural practices. In regions prone to seismic activity, such as Japan, societal norms around preparedness and resilience are deeply ingrained, impacting education 📚, community planning, and social cohesion. Environmental conditions dictate dietary habits 🍲, clothing 👕, housing 🏠, and even leisure activities 🏞️, reflecting the adaptability and creativity of human societies in response to their surroundings. Just imagine how different your life would be growing up in a different environment on, say, Mongolian plains in the days of Genghis Khan. How would this have changed your social norms? 

Technological 🛠️

Technological advancements (like these sick emoticons) are often spurred by environmental challenges and opportunities (ermm…). The development of agricultural technologies, from ancient irrigation systems to modern hydroponics, exemplifies humanity's ingenuity in maximising the potential of their environments. Seismology and earthquake engineering have advanced in response to the threats posed by living in tectonic active zones, leading to safer buildings and early warning systems that save lives and mitigate damage 🏗️. In Iberia, houses are built with narrow streets to block sunlight from hitting pedestrians below and houses are painted with heat-reflecting white paint to keep houses cool in hotter months. Technology doesn’t even have to be technology so to speak. Carrier pigeons allowed armies for thousands of years to send vital messages back and forth across huge distances as recently as the First World War. Overcoming our geographical challenges is unique to each nation as each nation has an inimitable context and a natural part of being human. 

Environmental 🌳

Beyond the immediate impacts, human-environment interactions have long-term environmental implications. Deforestation, urbanisation, and pollution alter ecosystems, demonstrating the critical need for sustainable practices 🌱. Climate change, driven by human activity, is reshaping weather patterns, sea levels, and biodiversity, prompting global discussions on environmental stewardship and sustainable development 🌍. For most of human history, we merely sought to not be killed in horrible ways by our environment. Since the Industrial Revolution, we really started to shape the environment to fit us. However, it’s not a new idea. The farmers along the Nile River redirected water thousands of years ago. 

Legal 🌳  Boring! Let’s just not.

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