Since the dawn of humankind, human systems and natural systems have overlapped and interacted. Humans are integrated in nature simply because they are living beings on the planet Earth, and “the delineation between social systems and ecological systems is artificial and arbitrary (“Socio-ecological system”).” The environment and the resources it provides serve as the basis for human functioning and society, especially within the globalized capitalist regime the world population lives under today. Natural resources, whether in their quintessential forms or as inputs for synthetic production, form the foundation of all economic activities in modern society. Competition for these resources, which are limited in quantity, results in some individuals or groups having more power over these resources than others. This leaves those with the least amounts of power and/or capital dependent on those that have control over the resources.
In this modern globalized world, many forms of social and economic stratification have allowed the most powerful and privileged members of society to gather and hoard stores of resources. This elite group maintains its socioeconomic status by limiting access to resources for peoples of lower status, mostly by setting prices high in order to earn profits. After all, capitalism, in essence, is driven by an “intrinsic need for the exploitation, destruction and instrumentalization of animals, earth and people for the sole purpose of creating wealth,” which energizes the forces of exchange involved in globalization. Because the management of environmental resources in society is almost always guided by money as a form of power, those of lower ascribed status are at a systematic disadvantage when it comes to accessing natural resources.
Because nearly all transactions in a capitalist economic framework are driven by a desire to gather and retain large quantities of valuable assets, inevitably, developments in globalization and the spread of capitalism, materialism, and consumerism have led to the overexploitation of many natural resources. This has further cemented stratification by economic class, by education level, occupation prestige, and by social class. The reason for this occurrence is that globalization has allowed social systems to evolve in a way that there are certain communities and individuals that are dependent on other communities and individuals for resources. So, instead of having smaller, sustainable communities, the world has become one giant interdependent community, trying to spread resources across the whole world that are not meant to be spread so widely—there will not be enough to last future generations.
At this stage in global development, most of the time the elite class in possession of the natural resources is made up of corporations rather than individual persons. The lack of regulation by many governments, particularly that of the United States of America, enable such multinational companies to use money to sway the outcomes of political races in favor of little to no restriction on business. There is no action in the global economy that does not impact someone else, either directly or indirectly. Correspondingly, when corporations are able to exercise political and economic dominance over society, severely skewing the income and wealth distributions, the marginalized become even more marginalized.
The nature of stratification is inequality. In this case, socioeconomic stratification places individuals on different levels from birth in regards to access to necessary resources. The kinds of natural resources that all people need access to include: food, water, provisions for shelter, items necessary to administer proper health care upon occasion, and materials that allow for the creation of marketable products (in order to assure financial stability). For those in poverty, having the distribution of such resources so tightly monopolized by corporations with such wealth and power mean that there are few to no ways to gain more financial capital and resources—resulting in little to no potential for social mobility in modern societies.
Globalization has resulted in more forms of stratification, specifically by creating a divide between developed and developing economies. Companies in developed countries use developing countries as sources of cheap resources, including raw materials and labor. Furthermore, production processes occur for the most part in these developing countries, so an even greater quantity of natural resources are used to construct the necessary equipment and facilities for industrial scale production. The exploitation of reserves in developing nations contributes to the power of multinational corporations over global stores of natural resources, perpetuating multiple forms of inequality. In another vein, the use of cheap labor in developing countries inhibits workers from earning high enough wages to have sufficient purchasing power to access natural resources. This type of labor also tends to demand absurd numbers of hours, basically preventing workers from spending time on education or other activities that could help improve their overall well being. For example, in the garment industry in India, “For 80% of current workers, a 6 day working week was the norm, while 20% reported working 7 days a week. Three-quarters usually worked 8 hours per day, but the remainder (25%) worked more than 10 hours, including more than 12% who reported working 12 hours or more. A clear majority (79%) said that they were required by their employer to work more hours or days than was initially agreed, either on an occasional (41%) or regular (38%) basis. Two-thirds said they could not refuse to undertake this extra work.” There is little supervision or regulation of practices surrounding unskilled and inexpensive labour, particularly in developing countries. This manifests itself as a multi-faceted disadvantage for those that do work so hard and still have such restricted access to resources.
Industrial workers tend to reside or at least work in urban areas; however, there are also many aspects of life in rural areas and in the agricultural sector that limit access to resources for certain groups of people in those regions. Due to structural obstacles, access to land for agricultural production, access to food (of decent nutritional value), and access to water is hindered for enormous numbers of people in lower socioeconomic classes. After all, “Almost 70 per cent of India’s population lives in rural areas, and some 20 million rural households are reported to be landless, while millions more have insecure rights to their land. Agricultural wage earners, smallholder farmers and casual workers in the non-farm sector constitute the bulk of poor rural people. Within these categories, women and tribal communities are the most deprived” (“Investing in Rural People in India”). Natural resources are used in sustainable ways by rural peoples to earn a living. For example, some women gather and sell firewood in order to make money. However, due to the overexploitation of wood (i.e. deforestation by corporations to mass produce goods like paper or to clear the land for mining or construction), the amount of trees left for use by women in rural areas in India has been severely restricted. “This has a direct impact on the diets of poor households. The decline in the availability of fruits, berries and so on, as well as firewood has forced people of poor households to shift to less nutritious food and eat half-cooked meals or even reduce the number of meals eaten per day.”
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