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Environment and Society

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SOCI 100
Debra Pentecost

Environment and Society I 03-13-2013 Sociology and the Environment  Major focus of the sociology of the environment: conflict between environmentalists and their opponents in industry and science  Support for environmentalism has remained constant for nearly two decades, with a majority of people generally supportive of environmental values and a young, well educated, urban, liberal group leading the movement for environmental change  In order to mobilize the reluctant majority: Organizers must develop and spread interpretations of events that play up the possibility of environmental crises  The goals of conserving resources, reducing pollution and restricting population increase are especially difficult to achieve in the third world  At the community level, willingness to act on environmental problems rises as trust in authority figures declines.  Environmental problems are often contested on the basis of acceptable risk. The definition of what is acceptable risk is strongly influenced by the distribution of power in society, with more powerful individuals and groups better able to determine what is and what is not risky. Environmental Value Conflict Counter Paradigms of the Environment Dominant Paradigm Alternative Environmental Paradigm Core Values Material, economic growth Non-material Natural environment valued Natural environment as a resource intrinsically valued Domination over nature Harmony with nature Economy Market forces Public interest Risk and reward Safety Rewards for achievement Income related to need Differentials Egalitarian Individual self-help Collective/social provision Polity Authoritative structure Participative structure (Experts influential) (Citizen involvement) Hierarchal Non-hierarchal Law and order Liberation Society Centralized Decentralized Large scale Small scale Associational Communal Ordered Flexible Nature Ample reserves Earth’s resources limited Nature hostile/neutral Nature beningn Environment controllable Nature delicately balanced Knowledge Confidence in science and Limits to science technology Rationality of ends Rationality of means Integration of fact/value, Separation of fact/value, thought/feeling though/feeling  Sustainable development – development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs  Broadening base hypothesis – predicts that environmental concern will eventually diffuse throughout all groups in the nation  Economic contingency hypothesis – the broadening of the social bases of environmental concern depends on prevailing economic conditions o When economic conditions worsen, those who are least well off will be the first to shift their focus from the environment to the economy  The environmental movement aims to convince as a wide a segment of the public as possible that its interpretation of the world is correct and should therefore be acted upon. So, members of the movement develop “frames” – interpretations of events and their meanings. o Diagnostic – identify problem and fixing a blame for it o Prognostic – offers proposed solution o Motivational – call to arms to potential recruits to take specific coercive action  Contemporary environmental frames are frequently constructed around the image of an impending global collapse. o Carrying capacity – optimum population size that the planet can support under present environmental conditions  The accusing finger should not be pointed at capitalism, but at industrialism, with its accompanying lack of environmental responsibility.  Governments are torn between economic development and
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