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Topic 7: Sociology and the Environment Sociology and the Environment.

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Adam Green

Topic 7 – Sociology & the Environment (Week 7 lecture + NS Chp 16 + SIQ Chp 26) Outline: 1. Relationship between technology and environment -- What are the most dangerous spin-offs of technology? - Global Warming; - Genetic Pollution; -- How to overcome some of these problems -- How does the risk of technologies distributed across the social groups? - The risk is socially constructed; - The risk is socially distributed; 2. Global economy’s impact on the environment.  Hiroshima -- e.g. Hiroshima (1945); 200,000 killed instantly; -- Two distinct periods: 1. Era of Nave Optimism (period before Hiroshima): - People believe that technology can improve human life; - People face technology with owe, reverence; - Pechnology = magic; technologist = priest 2. Period after Hiroshima: - Three weeks before Hiroshima the first bomb was tested in New Mexico by J. Robert Oppenheimer, who expresses worry and anxiety about the technology; - Growing pessimism; people start to question technology;  Events/Disaster/Frankenstein Type Technology -- 1984 Gas Leak in a Pesticide Plant in India; 4000 deaths & 30,000 injuries -- 1986 Ukraine radioactivity explosion (30,40times of Hiroshima); human and animal mutation; -- 1989 Quebec cure oil spill in Alaska;  Normal Accident & Risk Society -- Charles Perow (mid-80s sociology) coined the term normal accident: -- e.g. computer program: - consists of millions of conditional statements - due to the complexity of these conditional statements, we can’t test the consequences of billions of these conditional statements; - therefore the complexity of technology will eventually fall (just like when your computer dies); -- Ulrich Beck (German sociology) coined the term Risk Society -- e.g. Toronto Brown Field (hazard materials and waster underground the city); some condos are build on these brown field; -- examples of the “risks”: global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, etc;  Global Warming -- Begins with the Industrial Revolution; increase need to burn fuels; -- Burning of the fuels creates CO2, release into the air, allowing more radiation enter the atmosphere but less to go out: Green House Effect -- Results in overall increase in surface temperature – immediate consequences of global warming; -- Serious climate change: water evaporates – more rainfall -- storm and hurricanes --- more floods --- -- soil less land to cultivate -- e.g. Graph “Insured Loss”: huge increase in average loss since 2004; -- e.g. Sea ice retreat 1 meter - 12% of the heavily populated coastal areas underwater - 0.5% surface area of US underwater  Genetic Pollution -- Human intervention of the DNA (recombinant DNA); Creates new species (mid 80s); e.g. combine genes of Fireflies and Tobacco plants (have leaves glow in the dark); e.g. combine genes of sheep and goat; -- Since 90s government and corporations have been investing heavily in creating a complete genetic map of humans, various plants and animals e.g. Eliminated hereditary diseases; farmers will be able to grow plants free of frost, diseases; e.g. Microorganisms absorb radioactivity and oil spills; -- While these project help “clean up” some of the problem, they also involve dangers of genetic pollution, causing huge ecological catastrophe -- New species enter ecological environment – “Super Bugs” “Super Weed” “Super Virus” – so powerful that nothing can stops it;  Environment issues are Socially constructed -- Environment problem is only environment problem when we see it as a problem, when we label it such. -- The process of labeling it is a sociological one, and a political one; a process to connect real life with the information provided by scientists and researchers. -- Scientists and politicians sometimes dispute about environment problems; problems are recognized as being problematic only after the right social and political process. -- Environment issues are socially constructed (or demolished), though their consequences are not; -- Environment issues may not be inherently problematic, though the consequences are inherently bad; e.g. First theory of global warming was proposed 100 years ago, but not recognized then; it’s only in the 70s when there were growing environment movements (e.g. Green Peace) that politicians, researchers, scientists and the public began to recognize it. -- Mass media aids the spread of the process to recognize the problems of global warming; -- Public interest in the global warming reaches its highest between 80s and 90s; -- Summer of 1988 brought the worst drought in Ontario – many people started to get worry; -- Insurance industry in the UN began to concern the problems of global warming; -- 93-94 polls show people’s opinions that the burning of fuels was the biggest cause of global warming -- by 94, public opinion won the facts: e.g. Volcanic eruption in the Philippine e.g. 94 reports concerning surface and atmosphere temperature (actually decreasing not increasing) Groups that have the most to lose in Global Warming (EU, UN, Insurance Companies) insist on this report and stat e.g. Aug 98 satellites were slightly off their orbits, thus reports in 94 is misleading (NASA calculated that the surface temperature was actually rising)  Environment issues are also Socially Distributed (Unequally Distributed); -- less or greater risks depending on social location (class, race, nationalities); e.g. Report of Tornados: why always report situation is trailers instead of houses and condos in Downtown Toronto? Because the damages were greater in poorer areas (weaker house structures); -- Politically and economically disadvantaged group always suffered the most/ the most vulnerable e.g. Video: “Rising Tide – Egypt” Developing countries are the worst affected in environmental issues; Contribution of greenhouse gas: Egypt 0.5%; US 22%; Egypt is paying the price for the excess of others; -- Advantaged class put the disadvantaged in danger to protect themselves; e.
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