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Sociology and the Environment.docx

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Robert Brym

Toward Environmental Sociology - Initially, sociology’s focus was on nurture, not nature - Early sociologists like Emile Durkheim downplayed the role of biological and physical factors in influencing human affairs, while at the same time elevating the importance of “social facts,” such as norms, groups, and institutions - Sociologists opted for explanations that framed behaviour in terms of “nurture” rather than “nature” - Most early sociologists subscribed to human-exceptionalism paradigm:  Worldview that focuses on:  Steadily evolving social progress  Increasing prosperity and material comfort  Class mobility for all segments of society  But ignores environmental costs of economic growth - 1970s  Environment became a sociological issue  Impetus from increased societal attention to urban decay, pollution, overpopulation, and resource shortages - Environmental sociology has developed from multiple nuclei (interests), but one unifying element:  Recognition of a key value conflict between environmentalists and their opponents Environmental Value Conflict - Paradigms are social lenses that shape the way people view their world - Stephen Cotgrove – Difference between environmentalists and mainstream population rooted in two main environmental paradigms:  Dominant paradigm: Emphasizes moral imperative of material wealth creation and moral conviction that humans have inalienable right to dominate nature  Alternative environmental paradigm: Rejects views in dominant paradigm and stresses need to adopt small-scale, decentralized economic and political structures in harmony with nature  Non-material values  social relationships and community, exercise of human skills and capacities and to increased participation in decisions that affect our daily lives  Value natural environment for its own sake, thus questioning human’s right to dominate it - Major attempt to bridge differences between the two paradigms is located in idea of sustainable development:  Economic development that meets needs of present without compromising ability of future generations to meet their own needs  Idea of sustainable development arose out of 1987 report of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, more commonly known as the Brundtland report  This report foresaw a new form of economic growth, especially for developing nations, that would be both environmentally aware and egalitarian, integrating objectives for social development with the demands of science - Proponents argue is possible to have continued economic growth without harming the environment  But many environmentalists are critical of concept, emphasizing difficulty in maintaining balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability - Critics of sustainable development point out the it requires an extraordinary degree of cooperation and a deep commitment to reform - This is difficult to achieve, especially in nations of the Southern hemisphere, where rural economies are often still controlled by wealthy landowners, and the poor are forced to engage in ecologically damaging practices, such as stripping the rapidly dwindling forests for cooking fuel in order to survive Environmental Attitudes, Concerns, and Behaviours - Are three methods for measuring people’s environmental view of the world:  Dunlap and Van Liere – Utilize new environmental paradigm (NEP) scale (12 items that measures respondents’ extent of agreement with various statements such as “the balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset” and “humans need not adapt to natural environment, because they can remake it to suit their needs”)  General public moderately accepted emerging environmental paradigm  Ask respondents how worried or upset they are regarding series of environmental problems  Ask respondents to weigh tradeoffs between, for example, environmental protection and jobs - Two complementary hypothesis address question of whether public concern with environmental quality has changed since first survey results carried out in early 1970s:  Broadening-base hypothesis: Grossman and Potter – Predicts environmental concern will eventually diffuse throughout all groups  Economic-contingency hypothesis: Buttel – Suggests broadening of social bases of environmental concern depends on prevailing economic conditions  Buttel argued that when economic conditions worsen or are perceived to be getting worse, those who are least well off will be the first to shift their focus from the environment to the economy. - Little research support for either hypothesis:  In North America, concern for environmental issues has remained stable for last two decades  Income and occupational prestige only weakly related to environmental concern - Best predictors of concern with environmental quality:  High levels of education, youth, political liberalism, and urban residence - Greenbaum has characterized the social bases of environmental concern as “complex and subtle”  Environmental concern spans a wide variety of subject matters  How concerned we will be about a particular environmental problem will depend on how we will be affected by its benefits, costs, and risks - Most people indicate concern for environment but will behave responsibly only if it is not appreciably more expensive or inconvenient to do so  For the most part, those who score positively in environmental-concern polls do not show any particular willingness to go beyond low-cost personal actions (e.g., recycling, buying “green” products) to make deep-cutting sacrifices for the environment  One study found that support for measures to help the environment declined when it required any change of personal habits  In another study (Derksen and Gartrell), the key factors accounting for participation in recycling programs was the easy availability of curbside pickups rather than positive attitudes towards the environment; even those who were environmentally concerned were no more likely to recycle than those who were unconcerned The Environmental Movement Social Base and Composition - Composition of 19 century environmental movement::  In the United States  Largely the elite  In Canada  Small group of dedicated civil servants who convinced government to undertake state initiatives - Although environmental concern exists across a wide cross-section of the population, it has been most intensely concentrated in the environmental movement - Movement activists have waged environmental battles with loggers, utility companies, whalers, agricultural corporations, developers, and other defenders of the dominant paradigm - The environmental movement does directly incorporate many of the elements of the alternative environmental paradigm in its philosophies and actions - In the early movement in Canada, some state initiatives undertaken in response to pressure from civil servants included establishment of the first national park in Banff in 1887, and the signing of the Canada – U.S. Migratory Bird Convention in 1917 - Composition of modern environmental movement that emerged in late 1960s and early 1970s:  Well-educated professionals from urban and suburban backgrounds, and college students from white-collar backgrounds  More recently, environmentalists identified as members of “new middle class,” including teachers, professors, social workers, etc.  Often become involved with issues faced by population they serve - There is evidence from different countries for the new middle class theory of social movements - Today, those connected to the environmental movement work in public service- oriented jobs and become involved out of issues faced by their clients Environmental Mobilization - In addition to researching the social composition of the environmental movement, sociologists also have been interested in learning how environmentalists mobilize people to their cause - Much research on this topic has focused on community-based, grassroots environmental organizations - Auyero and Swistun conclude that common neighbourhood perceptions about a toxic environment do not form easily or automatically  Two reasons that shared critical understandings regarding toxic danger are slow to develop:  “Relationally anchored”  Process of contamination was slow and gradual rather than suddenly imposed  “Labour of confusion”  State politicians and officials show minimal concern, and do not take action when they say they will in terms of environmental concern  They suggest the two are related - Local communities pass through four stages in process of challenging environmental polluters: 1) Come to view themselves as “victims” of some corporate environmental crime 2) Make individual appeals to government regulatory agencies to take action or force end to the “crime” 3) Become disillusioned with slow pace or absence of official action; begin to seek environmental justice 4) Become organized and increase democratic pressure on government regulators - In the final phase, increased democratic pressure has either convinced government regulators to enforce environmental standards or proven insufficient, in which case the problem continues unchecked - To convince people to participate, members develop frames (interpretation of events and meanings) with which to interpret environmental events - Are three elements of successful framing:  Diagnostic framing (identifies a problem and assigns blame)  Prognostic framing (offers proposed solution to problem)  Motivational framing (puts out call to take specific corrective action) - The better these three frames are integrated, the greater their capacity for mobilizing people - Contemporary environmental frames frequently constructed around image of impending global collapse:  In early 1970s  Threat framed as concern over possibility of exceeding Earth’s carrying capacity (i.e., optimum population size Earth can support under present environmental conditions)  The authors suggested that within a century we would face a major crisis brought on by uncontrolled population growth and rising levels of pollution  In 1980s  Threat framed as “biosphere crisis” generated by global climatic changes resulting from increased emissions of “greenhouse gases”  The biosphere crisis frame makes claims for changes in global weather patterns that have the potential to trigger major environmental changes, including rising sea levels, hotter summers, more frequent and more severe droughts, dust storms, forest fires, and the rapid extinction of 1000s of species of plants and animals  The solution, environmentalists claim, is to embrace wholeheartedly the alternative environmental paradigm Ideological Divisions - Although we often speak of the environment movement as a single entity, there has long been a basic philosophical split that gives rise to differing views of roots causes of environmental problems, preferences among strategies for coping, and visions of an ecologically sound society - There is philosophical split among environmentalists:  Value-oriented environmentalists: Focus on changing people’s value orientations  Stress viewing survival of all living and nonliving things as components of healthy ecosystems  Success-oriented environmentalists: Focus on taking actions that prevent environmental harm  Primarily concerned with direct effects of industrial pollution and other activities that damage physical environment - Two main wings of US conservation movement:  “Resource Conservationists”  wanted to manage natural resources by applying modern engineering and administrative techniques  “Preservationists”  believe it was necessary for the government to intervene in order to preserve areas of natural beauty and scientific importance - Value-oriented environmentalists come closest to popularizing the alternative environmental paradigm Deep Ecology - The deep-ecology argument was set out in the early 1970s by Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess - Deep ecology: Environmental ethic emphasizing “biocentric approach” that views all species in nature as having equal value - Advocates biocentric egalitarianism: Since all things on earth have equal right to exist, humans have no special rights or privileges that allow them to subdue and destroy their natural surrounding  According to deep ecologists, humans are only one species of many and have no special righ
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