1. Discuss the problem of risk in environmental sociology. What is risk and how is it defined and
managed? What importance does risk have in the discussion of the environment? Discuss risk
management, communication, the risk society thesis, and the precautionary principle. Use
examples from lectures, films and readings in your answer.
- Actual or potential threat of adverse effects on living organisms and environment by effluents,
emissions, wastes, resource depletion, etc., arising out of an organization's activities.
Management of environmental risk
- companies and organiations must assess, mitigate and monitor certain risks involved with their
- accidents, natural events and deliberate assaults are all possible ways for an enterprise to cause
pollution or other risks
- risk management places a strong emphasis on targeting the problems that could arise with
implements a system of metrics that help with prevention
- 1. identify the most critical assets of the enterprise. - how these assets function within the
broader landscape of the environment is important - must determine if any of these assets are a
threat to the long-term stability of the environment and how they will ultimately impact life of
- 2. identify any changes that my be a threat to its continued existence. - ex. if the company uses
a lg amount of paper, the fact that the level of natural tree growth continues to dwindle is a
long-term threat to the survival of the organization.
- another option for handling environmental risk management includes the transfer of risks to
- precautionary principle
- action without certainty:
- being proactive - trying to fix a problem before risk presents itself
- Risk Society Thesis - Beck
- pessimistic view on society
- look at threats to environment
- we don’t have information on all risks - there are still many unknown risks
- Global Warming
- Environmental Sociology
- focuses on degradation of environment
- deals with how organisms exchange materials, food, waste, and energy with their
- Ecosystem - interaction of all living things of a particular environment with one another and their
- Carrying Capacity
- limitations an ecosystem has to support its population
- bare necessities - food, water
- Sustainable development
- development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs
The Environment and Risk
- manmade risk - second-hand smoke
- Risk from science and technology
- natural progression from society
- Deals with uncertainty
- we tend to focus on uncertainties even when new technologies seem perfect
- Role of government
- place laws (cellphones can’t be used while driving)
- Fear mongering
- public health & STDS
- Changes to technology
- Conflicts over what scientists say
Communication of Risk
- risks are not well communicated by the government or corporations
- corporations don’t disclose all information to public
Psychology of risk
- overestimate low frequency events (1-2 deaths), but overestimate high magnitude events (plane
crashes, terrorist attacks)
Risk and Environment
- Loss of control and unknowns
- we don’t know about the risks
- individual and family health and well being - the way you live your life may be at stake
Why does environmental risk exist?
- lack of control
- lack of information - no knowledge available about certain risks - ex. uncertain about when the next
hurricane will occur
- a lot of risks are unpredictable.
movies: Worst Case Scenario
- The people living in the city were concerned with their health, while Shell was only concerned
that their wells were functioning properly.
- If there was a big blow out of one of the wells, Shell was not responsible for evacuating the
people in the town, and it would take just 6 hours for sour gas to reach the surface.
- People on LakeAscabasca lived only 120km away from one of the largest oil sands in Canada.
- Many got cancer, and were getting sick off the water.
- fish that they ate had deformities and animal habitat was being destroyed.
- Oil sands people did not think they were causing such misfortunes in their city and did nothing
to help them get better.
2. Discuss in detail three theories of environmental sociology. How does each differ in their
approach to the problem of environmental degradation? Which theory in your opinion best
explains the environmental problems we are faced with? Use examples from lectures,
readings, and the films “Tipping Point” and “Worst case Scenario.”
World Systems Theory
- Global Labour
- inequalities of power and wealth
- world systems theory posits there is a world economic system in which some countries
benefit while others are exploited.
- Wallerstein developed World Systems Theory: 3-level hierarchy: core, periphery and semi
- core countries are dominant capitalist countries which exploit peripheral countries for labor and
- peripheral countries are dependednt on core countries for capital and have underdeveloped
- semi-peripheral countries share characteristics of both core and peripheral countries
- economic decline and environmental degradation
- the United States is a core countries - vast amounts of capital and labor
- India is a semi-peripheral country - largely dependent on foreign investors for capital, but has
growing technology, industry and an emerging middle class consumer market
- Cape Verde is a peripheral country - foreign investors allow for the extraction of raw materials
and the production of cash crops, but all are for export to wealthier consumer markets. - World Systems theory recognizes the minimal benefits that are enjoyed by low status countries
in the world system.
- Core countries own most of the world’s capital and technology and have great control over
world trade and economic agreements. They are also the cultural centers which attract artists
Treadmill of Production - Schnaiberg
- his theory centers around two key notions: that of a “treadmill of production”, and that this
treadmill tends to result in environmental degradation (through withdrawals)
- according to schnaiberg, the tendency to growth is due to the competitive character of
capitalism, such that corporations and entrepreneurs most continually expand their operations
and their profits lest they be swamped by other competitors
- State agencies and officials prefer growth over stagnation in order to ensure tax revenues and to
enhance the likelihood of re-election or continuity of power.
- state undertakes spending aimed at subsidizing or socializing the costs of private production &