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Critical analysis of framing and discourse in understanding population change and industrialization

Framing is the scientific understanding of a problem or issue through a certain perspective. It incorporates how an issue is problemized and defined in a given population. Discourse is the conceptual generalization of conversations and in these regarding environmental conditions. Population change and industrialization have for a long time been termed as leading cause of environmental degradation (Humphreys, 2009, pp 68). This paper critically analyzes the importance of framing and discourse in understanding the environmental issues.

Industrialization is the shift in a country’s economy from small scale farming to large scale production of products and using technological complexities in the production. There is no doubt that industrialization is an important aspect in any country’s development. However, the cost of industrialization and development in general is environmental degradation. In most instances, the poor working class suffers the brunt of environmental degradation as they have poor coping mechanisms compared to the high end citizens. In India, the margin between these two classes is large and widespread and has been blamed for the increased vulnerability.

The Environmental Kuznets Curve assumes that industrialization first leads to environmental degradation at the onset (Mawdsley, 2009, pp 76). However, as the industrialization progresses, more and more resources are available to offset the environmental degradation. The assertion is that rich countries can afford to industrialize and then later install cleaner technologies at industrial scale. One example of this approach is the installation of energy saving light bulbs after harnessing of energy from polluting avenues. There is also an assumption that the people in rich countries will demand for greener and cleaner environment from their governments. Most of the people agree that developed countries first went through the dirty path of industrialization before enjoying the cleaner environment that they have now. The notion is that cleaner environment can be suspended for the benefit of industrialization in the short term and then pursued later on when wealth is in plenty (Mawdsley, 2009, pp 91)

Industrialization cannot be generalized to follow the Environmental Kuznets Curve in all the places in the world (Mawdsley, 2009, pp77). The reason is because not all pollutants follow the pattern in their manifestation. Carbon dioxide, for example, does not conform to the trend of being reduced by increased wealth and is a permanent pollutant that has far-reaching impacts on the global environment. In addition, the reduction in degradation anticipated in rich economies may not ideally be a reduction but a change in the geographical distribution of the degradation. Most of the industrial processes that generate these pollutants are for instance relocated to other less developed countries and therefore the pollution continues, albeit in a different country (Mawdsley, pp 79). This discourse of industrialization creates a bigger picture in understanding the politics of environmental degradation including the carbon trade.

The concept of industrialization is presented as a complex one with questions as to how it should be addressed forming a bulk of the debate. There is an assertion that the pollution in China, for example, should be apportioned to the different countries that absorb the products manufactured in China. The reasoning is that since the products are meant for the international market, then the emissions should be apportioned based on the market absorption of the products. While this may seem like a reasonable and fair approach, implementation of such a suggestion is very impractical due to the complexities involved. Moreover, the pollution occurs in a specific country and should therefore be counted for the specific country (Humphreys, 2009, pp 88).

The aspect of industrialization and environmental degradation is framed as a natural process that will eventually heal (Mawdsley, pp 76). The concept does not however, take care of the fact that these reversals in environmental degradation may be too late and damage may already have been made. Natural ecosystems have limits as to the level of human interference they can withstand. Ecosystems will not therefore wait for man to start reversing the negative impacts of industrialization. In fact, most of the severe degradations are results of surpassing the natural limits of the ecosystems and resources permanently depleted (Aradau, 2009, pp 69). In this regard, one cannot just assume that the process of industrialization will follow a predetermined curve that does not even apply to all the processes of industrialization.

The concept of industrialization and indeed development is packaged to reflect the view that it has the ability to replace natural and environmental capital with human made capital. (Mawdsley, n.d., pp 92) found out a direct correlation between industrialization and environmental degradation. This discourse is so widely spread that it has become the norm with people preferring to use processed products that could have otherwise be used in their natural form. An example is the issue of mineral water which is in most cases sourced from the same sources that the ordinary citizen sources theirs. The assumption is that the water that is processed and has undergone through the processes of industrialization is much better than water from the source. The impact of this framing is an increase in industrialization and the continued exploitation of natural resources to be substituted with artificial products (Mawdsley, n.d., pp 69). The resulting outcome is a large scale pollution of the environment in increasing scales.

The issue of environmental degradation resulting from industrialization is usually framed in a manner pitting the rich against the poor. Most of the population in India falls under the poor bracket that includes the landless and forest dwellers (Mawdsley, n.d., pp 84). The conservationist share in the view that the poor need to fight off industrialization that leads to environmental degradation as it affects their daily livelihoods (Humphreys, 2009, pp 74). Indeed, most of the poor people in India depend on the environment for the basic resources of food, water, and clothing and shelter (Mawdsley, n.d., pp 85). In fighting against environmental degradation, the poor do not have resource allocation in mind but the effect of the process on their livelihoods which are purely anchored within the environment. Critical theorists contribute important insights into the relationship between industrialization and environmental degradation. The assertion that industrialization means development has highly been contested by critical theorists who advocate for conservation (Aradau, 2009, pp 58)

For many decades, the aspects of population increases have been attributed to negative environmental impacts. Population growth is not however the only problem as population displacement has also been shown to result in environmental degradation in many areas (Aradau, 2009, pp 21). Population trends are often assumed by policy makers and international institutions to cause negative environmental impacts. However, this assertion cannot be further from the truth as research has shown over the years (Akimoto, 2003, pp 1717).

Population growth has always been portrayed as a catastrophic occurrence and one that is dangerous if not controlled. The logic behind this is the fact that an increasing population consumes much more and generates much more waste therefore polluting the environment more. In simple terms, this seems like the ideal scenario and the only explanation for the nexus between environmental degradation and population growth. Most of the opponents of population growth argue that increase in population may lead to eruption of conflicts as people scramble for the available resources (Aradau, 2009, pp 26). Population growth and displacement of people is depicted as a cause of environmental degradation whose effect is danger to the world.

The views on population growth are that it may lead to a bomb or explosion in the numbers of people in the world while the resources remain limited. Indeed the number of people in an area should be sustained by the available resources and should not exceed the carrying capacity of that environment. The assumption is that overpopulation leads to depletion of non-renewable resources and environmental degradation in general. Moreover, the displaced population is also seen as a danger to the location in which they move to as they increase the depletion of nonrenewable resources in the areas they move to. The discourse suggest that population growth should be cross checked to reflect that carrying capacity of the area under study (Aradau, 2009, pp 37). This assertion is flawed in the fact that it fails to understand the social context in which resources are utilized and/or population increased.

Another discourse in population increase is framed to show people’s ingenuity to solving environmental degradation. In addition, the role of modernization in slowing population growth presents hope in the exploitation of solutions to environmental degradation. The underlying principle in such a discourse is that increased populations lead to innovation that may improve efficiency and therefore production (Budds, 2009, pp 117). In this regard, the negative impacts of population increase can be absorbed through by organizing the economy in a more efficient manner. In this discourse, population increase is seen as an asset as opposed to being a liability.

The discourse assumes that demographic transition is packaged in four stages (Budds, 2009, pp 126). At first, mortality offsets that high level of fertility therefore balancing the population levels. With industrialization, mortality levels continue to decrease due to technological advancements in healthcare. In this stage, rapid population growth takes place and leads to suppression in the resources available. The next stage involves a reduction in the fertility rates thereby slowing the population growth rates. In the last stage, population is stabilized therefore striking a balance between the available resources and the people that depend on the resources. The discourse, however, fails in its attempt to draw comparison between historical circumstances and the current situations.

There is also another discourse that suggests that lifestyle and consumption levels are more significant cause of environmental degradation than population increase (Mawdsley, n.d., pp 84). The discourse assumes that the levels of consumption may be different among different communities and the levels of wastages are also not similar. The discourse shows that people in developed world utilize much more than average consumptions in the developing world. Therefore, according to the discourse, the population size is not the only determinant in environmental degradation but rather the consumption patterns. In the same regard, the average wastage in the developed world is higher than in the developing world. The reasoning behind this assertion is the fact that people in developed world have the tendency of processing the food and therefore leading to high waste generation.

Different people are responsible for different levels of emissions and this is determined through individual carbon footprints. Rather than merely attributing environmental degradation to population increase, the discourse shows that the per capita consumption is a more significant yardstick in measuring environmental degradation (Humphreys, 2009, pp 86). In essence, the environmental degradation could be much more in fewer populations that utilize much more resources that in larger populations that utilize fewer resources.

Issues of population are very much dependent on women and therefore the aspect of gender and feminism cannot be overlooked in handling environmental degradation that results from population growth.  In addition, the different roles of men and women in society provide distinct avenues through which different divisions of people may lead to environmental degradation and how they can reduce it. Another subdivision is that of race because it shows the difference between the developed and the developing world spheres. It has been shown, and rightly so, that the influences of the developed and the developing world on environmental degradation are different both in magnitude and scope.

The discourses showing that population increase and industrialization directly lead to environmental degradation have shaped policies and regulations regarding the subject (Humphreys, 2009, pp 89). In addition, many divisions based on gender, race and orientation have risen up each with their own ideologies on environmental degradation. While it is true that industrialization and population growth leads to environmental degradation, many more factors are involved in these processes. It is not factual to therefore attribute environmental degradation solely to the processes of industrialization and population growth.



Akimoto, H. 2003. Global air quality and pollution. Science. pp 1716-1719.

Humphreys, D., 2009. The role of science in climate change policy. In A Warming World. pp. 62–97.

Budds, J., 2009. Urbanisation: social and environmental inequalities in cities. In Environmental Issues and Responses. pp 100-136.

Aradau, C., 2009. Population and environmental degradation: gender, race and inequality. In Environmental Issues and Responses. pp. 18–55.

Mawdsley, E., Industrialisation, development and environmental degradation in India. In Environmental Issues and Responses. pp. 62–95.


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