Sociology Environmental Sociology
by
Thomas Burns, Beth Caniglia
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0117

Introduction

Although humankind has always relied upon the natural environment, the character of that relationship has changed dramatically over the course of history. With the transition from hunting and gathering to farming, the relationship changed, as it did again with the move to industrialization. Some of the most dramatic changes happened during the 20th and early 21st Centuries. Particularly since the Second World War, environmental problems have become more severe than ever. Many ecosystems stand on the brink of collapse. Environmental problems often stem from any number of causes that are hard to disaggregate. They are manifested on a number of levels and involve complex interactions between natural and social systems. The approach taken in this article is to focus on environmental problems associated with modernity and the approaches environmental sociology has taken to understand and evaluate those problems. With increases in the size and concentration of populations, economies of scale, advanced technological capabilities, elaborate divisions of labor, and widely skewed access to resources, there have arisen ecological imbalances that have manifested themselves in myriad ways. These include air and water pollution, deforestation, global climate change, and biodiversity loss. This leads us to one of the most difficult problems of modernity itself: we have the ability, and perhaps even the propensity, to create environmental problems that go beyond our ability to address them in sustainable ways. With modernity comes a rise in mass education and literacy and, for many, a rising standard of living. And yet with these we see the expansion of unsustainable lifestyles, which are more frequently marked by participation in the treadmill of production and consumption. In and of itself, modernization is not a bad thing, and we certainly cannot revert back to a time before industrialization. Yet if the central problem is the interface between humanity and the natural environment, there are a number of crucial imbalances to consider in natural ecosystems, as well as in human systems. In this article, a brief overview of sociology’s co-evolution with modernity is presented. Then the article reviews environmental sociology’s approaches to the environmental consequences of modernity from macro- to micro-level perspectives. Also examined are approaches that bridge the culture-structure categories.

General Overviews

The following books and articles provide helpful overviews of environmental history and environmental sociology as a field. Ponting 2007 and Hughes 2009 are world-historical accounts in which the complex interpenetrations of human and natural systems are given serious and extended consideration. Particularly since the Industrial Revolution, and even more so in the post–Second World War period, humankind’s impact on the environment has been so profound as to be unprecedented in its cumulative effects (McNeill 2001 and Heinberg 2011). Throughout history, human societies have relied on the natural environment. During much of that time, resources have been plentiful enough to be taken for granted to the extent that environmental goods such as water, trees, air to breathe, and soil in which to grow crops have been taken for granted. As societies continue to do this, they threaten what Catton (in Catton 1976 and Catton 1980) characterizes as “overshoot”—a situation where humankind uses resources beyond the earth’s capacity to sustain itself. Although in the short run this can be inconsequential, as people continue to draw upon nature’s bank of resources “overshoot” is an unsustainable situation, since resources are being used faster than they are being replenished. Heinberg 2011 makes the case that many of the problems inherent in this scenario have already come to pass, and they will continue to get worse unless societies address them on a deep level. Particularly problematic is the built-in assumption in many economic systems that unlimited growth is possible and a necessary component of a healthy economy (Heinberg 2011; Meadows, et al. 1972; and Meadows, et al. 2004). Dunlap 2010 makes a compelling case that sociology must pay closer attention to the complex interface between human and natural systems. Of particular concern for Dunlap is a transition in how people think about the human-environmental interface toward a “new environmental paradigm” that fully appreciates this link. Sociology and history have not paid nearly as much attention to the environment as to other issues. The works in this section serve as correctives to this overall trend.

  • Catton, William R. Jr. 1976. Why the future isn’t what it used to be. Social Science Quarterly 57:276–291.

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    Discusses the modern issue of scarcity and how it has affected society. The author presents the ways this situation can be improved upon in the future. He also suggests using the past as a way to better understand the future and thus be able to alleviate the effects of some of the world’s issues.

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    • Catton, William R. Jr. 1980. Overshoot: The ecological basis of revolutionary change. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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      The author presents the idea that the earth is already past its carrying capacity and how that issue relates to ecology. He discusses how overpopulation has already affected the earth. Catton also critiques prior attempted solutions to this problem and explains how they were actually detrimental.

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      • Dunlap, Riley. 2010. The maturation and diversification of environmental sociology: From constructivism and realism to agnosticism and pragmatism. In The international handbook of environmental sociology. 2d ed. Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate, 15–32. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

        DOI: 10.4337/9781849805520Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Provides a thorough update of the field of environmental sociology and includes several of the newer theoretical and empirical areas, such as ecological modernization theory, world polity theory, and climate skepticism. A call for the integration of science and sociology makes this piece stand out from others.

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        • Heinberg, Richard. 2011. The end of growth: Adapting to our new economic reality. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society.

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          According to this study, the economic pace at which the world is growing has reached its capacity because of natural limits. Explains why the ongoing financial crisis has occurred due to resource depletion, environmental impacts, and increasing amounts of debt.

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          • Hughes, J. Donald. 2009. An environmental history of the world: Humankind’s changing role in the community of life. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

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            Gives a concise history of how human life and the natural environment have interacted. He focuses on changes in periods of history where human intervention has led to environmental degradation. Each time period discussed contains several case studies that concentrate on ecological patterns arising in that era.

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            • McNeill, J. R. 2001. Something new under the sun: An environmental history of the twentieth century world. New York: W. W. Norton.

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              This text shows how modern human activity has had a tremendous impact on global ecology. It proposes the idea that these impacts can be looked at in a positive light.

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              • Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, J. Randers, and William W. Behrens III. 1972. The limits of growth: A report of the club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Signet.

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                This text seeks to help people understand the magnitude of overusing resources, the increase in population growth, and other related environmental issues. The authors intend to demonstrate how to prepare for the “overshoot” of the global carrying capacity through models and thorough discussion.

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                • Meadows, Donella H., Jorgen Randers, and Dennis L. Meadows. 2004. Limits to growth: The 30-year update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

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                  Includes updates on a 1972 research study based on the overuse of resources and population growth consequences. Here scientists discuss ways to meet needs without exceeding earth’s carrying capacity and provide an array of possible positive outcomes.

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                  • Ponting, Clive. 2007. A new green history of the world: The environment and the collapse of great civilizations. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin.

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                    Discusses the association between human history and the environment. Ponting argues that since the beginning of the development of civilization, humans have continuously produced societies that flourish due to the exploitation of resources, which eventually leads to the population outweighing the amount of resources, thus causing societies to fail.

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                    Sociology and Modernity

                    The discipline of sociology came into existence in the mid-19th century, well into the industrialization of society. The early sociologists were absorbed with the most pressing social problems of their era: perverse divisions of labor for Marx, the increasing ubiquity of all-encompassing routinized formal organizations for Weber, or the breakdown of an overarching normative system for Durkheim. Each of these caused a plethora of social outcomes such as alienation, disenchantment, crime, and suicide. While modernity can be conceptualized in a number of singular ways, it is useful to see its increasing complexity on many levels: a rise in industrialization, a gradual transformation to a more complex division of labor characterized by an array of disciplines and elaborate hierarchies of social stratification, a decline in traditional authorities such as religion, and a rise in people’s faith in science. These processes were accompanied by numerous social changes, including rises in formal education, urbanization, and a shift from agrarian farm-based to industrial and postindustrial societies. More people than ever—seven billion and counting—live on a planet with finite resources. The majority of people are disconnected from the workings of nature, such as germination of seeds, as well as births and deaths of animals. Before the Industrial Revolution, over 95 percent of people were involved in food production. In contemporary industrial societies, that ratio is precisely the opposite—over 95 percent of people are no longer engaged in farming or related activity. As a result, many people are alienated from significant aspects of the natural world. With modernity, there is the increasing complexity of factors such as the economy, the polity, and the education system. There is a tendency to see solutions in narrow, artificially simplified ways (Burns 2009). Examples abound of people seeing solutions through the narrow focus of their own disciplines while being disembodied from a larger ecological consciousness. Economists may see environmental problems as most appropriately addressed with economic measures such as “cap and trade,” or other monetary incentives (e.g., Stern 2009). People who have come to rely on technology may take for granted the idea that all problems, no matter how complex, ultimately have a technological solution (Hornborg 2001). Such a view tends to discount a broader holistic perspective. While the efficiencies of large-scale production may make sense from an economic standpoint, it rarely does from an ecological perspective. The reasons for this are complex, and this article will touch on aspects of this crucial principle.

                    • Burns, Thomas J. 2009. Culture and the natural environment. In Current trends in human ecology. Edited by Priscila Lopes and Alpina Begossi, 56–72. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press.

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                      Details the relationship between culture and the environment in this article. Culture is a product of the environment in which it is created because people are influenced by their surroundings. They must adapt to the area in which they live, but they also have an impact on it.

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                      • Hornborg, Alf. 2001. The power of the machine: Global inequalities of economy, technology, and the environment. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira.

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                        Focuses primarily on how the power of machines can help mankind with economic and environmental issues. Shows examples of how we can use industrialized tools to overcome problems such as money capital and market exchange.

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                        • Stern, Nicholas. 2009. Climate change and the creation of a new era of progress and prosperity. New York: Public Affairs.

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                          The author evaluates the economic future and outlines the essential steps needed to protect growth and reduce poverty while managing climate change. He argues that people have the capacity and creativity to change but that they need the will to inspire political leaders to drive a new global strategy.

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                          • York, Richard, and Riley Dunlap. 2012. Environmental sociology. In The Wiley-Blackwell companion to sociology. 1st ed. Edited by George Ritzer, 504–521. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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                            The authors review the field of environmental sociology from several useful points of view: realist/pragmatist vs. human exemptionalist/agnostic, human causes of environmental problems, social impacts of environmental problems, and solutions to environmental problems.

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                            The Mismatch between Mainstream Sociology and Environmental Sociology

                            Environmental sociology historically has found little from early sociological theories that shed direct light on environmental problems. In a critique of mainstream sociology, Buttel, et al. 2002 sees sociology as having an “aversion” to the natural environment. It has tended to frame social problems as independent of environmental constraints; historically it has ignored environmental outcomes of human social arrangements. Dunlap and Catton 1994 highlights the importance of one’s worldview regarding the connection between human behavior and environmental degradation in predicting pro-environmental behavior. Their work inspired a prolific segment of environmental sociology designed to measure the connections between individual values, beliefs, and behaviors toward the environment. There is also a small but growing group of scholars within environmental sociology who are going back into classical theory from the early writings in the discipline by classical theorists. This includes work reviewed earlier in this essay on metabolic rift in the work of Karl Marx. Foster and Holleman 2012 makes the case that Max Weber did indeed take seriously the limits on natural resources, such as the burning of limited fossil fuels and robbing the soil of its nutrients. In this regard, the case can be made that Weber does come close to Marx in articulating ideas about metabolic rift, or the taking of energy in the form of food or other goods and transferring it from a poorer area to another area that is typically more urban, networked, and powerful. Situating the importance of Weber’s work in relation to that of environmental sociologists (Dunlap and Catton 1994), Foster and Holleman find evidence that Weber’s theory is amenable to “post-exemptionalist” thought, which is to say that Weber does indeed consider important environmental constraints and variables in his theory of economy and society.

                            • Buttel, Frederick H., Peter Dickens, Riley E. Dunlap, and August Gijswijt. 2002. Sociological theory and the environment: An overview and introduction. In Sociological theory and the environment: Classical foundations and contemporary insights. Edited by Frederick H. Buttel, Peter Dickens, Riley E. Dunlap, and August Gijswijt, 3–32. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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                              Takes the discipline of sociology to task for largely ignoring environmental concerns. They make the case that although sociology came into existence in order to understand problems of modernity, the environmental problems were largely externalized—environmental resources were taken as givens, and the harm caused was not seen as affecting humankind enough to consider it seriously.

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                              • Dunlap, Riley E., and William R. Catton Jr. 1994. Struggling with human exemptionalism: The rise, decline and revitalization of environmental sociology. American Sociologist 25:5–30.

                                DOI: 10.1007/BF02691936Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Dunlap and Catton make a key distinction between what they characterize as the Human Exemptionalism Paradigm, which sees humankind as having a warrant to hold itself above the needs of the rest of the life on the planet, and the New Environmental Paradigm, which sees humankind as embedded in the natural ecology of the planet and charged with being responsible stewards of nature. Despite mounting evidence of widespread environmental degradation and the need for responsible environmental action, they find that the Human Exemptionalism Paradigm persists in many quarters of society.

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                                • Foster, John Bellamy, and Hannah Holleman. 2012. Weber and the environment: Classical foundations for a postexemptionalist sociology. American Journal of Sociology 117.6: 1625–1673.

                                  DOI: 10.1086/664617Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Foster and Holleman find that in the preponderance of readings of the theories of Max Weber, environmental concerns are left out. They argue that this is an oversight and adduce several places in Weber’s oeuvre in which he discusses environmental depletion and the constraints limitations of natural resources constrain human action.

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                                  Externalities and Scale

                                  Historically, the full costs of natural resources have been ignored in economic models, as were the costs of disposing wastes (Pellow 2007, cited under Culture-Structure Nexus: Environmental Justice). These ignored costs (often noneconomic, such as the loss of a healthy environment) were rolled into what economists refer to as “externalities.” This externalization of the true costs of production, commerce, and consumption became a central feature of standard business practices. This propensity to externalize and hence to off-lay social problems to the natural environment, in connection with the growing tendency to make significant aspects of the production and consumption chains of increasingly larger scale, has proven to be a potent combination indeed. Even though ecosystems can handle the natural metabolic cycles of production and consumption, growth, and death within certain natural ranges of tolerance, when those limits are exceeded many times over the ability of the land and local ecosystem to handle the feeding and waste is overwhelmed (Foster 1999 and Clark and Foster 2009). In such instances, otherwise healthy and life-sustaining operations become toxic and dangerous. Put succinctly, in ecological systems what has been characterized by Schumacher 2010 and others as the “small is beautiful principle” is vital. Changes in magnitude can be sustained up to a tipping point, after which additional increases become part of the problem (Hawken, et al. 1999). This work seeks to marry sustainability with capitalism. It points out that markets actually work best within limits and need government oversight (Speth 2008). Prices should be adjusted to reflect the true costs of resources and consumption: this implies that costs should reflect often-ignored “externalities” such as the toll a given enterprise places on the environment health (Daly 1996). This in turn would necessitate an increased focus on feedback loops at a number of levels of analysis (Hawken, et al. 1999) for perversities in the system. A huge source of those perversities comes by way of governments subsidizing ecologically unsustainable practices and industries at the expense of others (Myers and Kent 2001). As a general rule of thumb, while seeing things only economically (with its tendency to externalize problems), bigger may seem necessarily better. With ecological systems, this is not necessarily the case. Further, with an emphasis on economics, a broader perspective on the natural ecology often gets lost (Cobb 1991, Daily and Ellison 2002, Brown 2001).

                                  • Brown, Lester. 2001. Eco-economics: Building and economics for the earth. New York: W. W. Norton.

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                                    Discusses the need to refocus on the environment when it comes to economic issues. Brown emphasizes alternate renewable energy sources and suggests using wind and solar power to improve the economy.

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                                    • Clark, Brett, and John Bellamy Foster. 2009. Ecological imperialism and the global metabolic rift: Unequal exchange and the guano/nitrate trade. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 50:311–334.

                                      DOI: 10.1177/0020715209105144Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      The authors study metabolic rift from a Marxist perspective. They discuss how the economy and the environment affect each other and how this combination can create inequalities and eventually a metabolic rift. They also address the various negative effects that follow.

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                                      • Cobb, John B. Jr. 1991. Economics of planetism: The coming choice. Earth Ethics 3.1: 1–3.

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                                        Discusses the economy and how we must focus on the environment in order to ensure the future of the world. They also introduce the idea of a “planetist” economy and how it could change the economy and earth if it was widely adopted.

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                                        • Daily, Gretchen, and Katherine Ellison. 2002. The new economy of nature: The quest to make conservation profitable. Washington, DC: Island.

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                                          Seeks to research different ways conservation could become possible. These writers include different projects in areas that have implemented successful efforts to make conservation financially rewarding.

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                                          • Daly, Herman E. 1996. Beyond growth: The economics of sustainable development. Boston: Beacon.

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                                            Focuses on economic analysis to give a complete overview of the relationship between growth and sustainability. Considers other national policies to compare and contrast the requirements of sustainability.

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                                            • Foster, John Bellamy. 1999. Marx’s theory of metabolic rift: Classical foundations for environmental society. American Journal of Sociology 105:366–405.

                                              DOI: 10.1086/210315Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Examines the idea that environmental sociology has no basis in classical sociology and compares it to classical theorists. Particularly in the work of Marx, he finds the discussion of “metabolic rift” (i.e., transferring the natural surplus from one geographic area to another) a process that ties ecological concerns directly to the capitalist world economy.

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                                              • Hawken, Paul, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. 1999. Natural capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution. Boston: Little, Brown.

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                                                The authors argue that a transition to a sustainable capitalism is possible and necessary for long term sustainability. Such a capitalism more local production and consumption in scales that ecosystems can handle.

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                                                • Myers, Norman, and Jennifer Kent. 2001. Perverse subsidies: How tax dollars can undercut the environment and the economy. Washington, DC: Island.

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                                                  Delivers an outline for the evaluation of perverse subsidies, along with a vivid explanation of the issues that come with it. A good read for those concerned with the relations between policymaking and ecology.

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                                                  • Schumacher, E. F. 2010. Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper.

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                                                    This book calls for the end of excessive consumption. The author opposes “casino capitalism” and argues for building economies around the needs of communities rather than for the needs of corporations. Additionally, the author examines the inherent mismatch between small-scale ecologies and large-scale economies, particularly capitalism. Originally published in 1973.

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                                                    • Speth, James G. 2008. Bridge at the end of the world: Capitalism, the environment, and crossing the bridge from crisis to sustainability. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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                                                      Assesses that the environment has continued to decline to the edge of catastrophe, despite growth in strength and sophistication in the environmental community. The author argues that this situation is a repercussion of modern capitalism and offers suggestions on how to change the operating instructions for today’s economy.

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                                                      Macro-Structural Environmental Sociology

                                                      Many of the contemporary ways of thinking about the environment build on aspects of classical theories. However, because classical theories did not have an adequately complex view of the natural environment, contemporary theories that stem from these tend to be somewhat piecemeal. In the critical tradition of Karl Marx and (to a slightly lesser extent) Max Weber, there are now separate but related lines of research focused around a number of given aspects of the overall system. For example, there is research and theorizing about metabolic rift, the treadmill of production and consumption, recursive resource exploitation, the ecological footprint and environmental justice theories. Each of these lines of research in the critical tradition has a common focus around inequality, particularly as it pertains to access to resources and exposure to risk. Work in metabolic rift emphasizes how resources are taken from one place and consumed in another. In an increasingly globalized economy, this process that had previously separated town and country often involves moving resources around the world. Recent research on the ecological footprint phenomenon emphasizes not so much environmental degradation in a given place as it does how consumption patterns in one place (typically a richer one) cause ecological degradation in another place (often a poorer one).

                                                      Historical Materialism and the Environment

                                                      Karl Marx articulated a number of ideas relevant to environmental sociology. His view of modernity included a thorough critique of the problems of large-scale production and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, juxtaposed with the poverty and misery of the many. Marx also theorized about metabolic rift, in which the primary production of one place was taken to another. In Marx’s time as in our own, this typically was from rural to urban areas. Increasingly in the contemporary era of global economies, this includes taking goods or natural resources from one place—typically a poorer, less developed area—and consuming them in another area, which would typically be a more affluent area and perhaps on the other side of the world (for recent reviews, see Freudenburg 2006 and Freudenburg and Frickell 1995). Additionally, there is increasingly the phenomenon of so-called commodity chains, in which natural resources are taken from one place, assembled somewhere else, and consumed yet elsewhere. This in turn is connected with an alienation of consumers from the productive process. The ready availability of chicken at a cheap price seems like a “natural” aspect of the world, becoming more real than the myriad ecological abuses that went into making that chicken available at the local superstore or fast-food establishment. Marx attributed these problems primarily to capitalism, in which inequalities of distributions of resources hardened themselves into class differences. These problems on the macro level profoundly influenced individuals as well—Marx saw that in class-based societies (and coming to a boiling point under modern capitalism) there were rampant problems of alienation. This included a separation from the product as well as from the process of one’s labor, from other people in the society, and ultimately from our own human potential. In contemporary society we can see problems with alienation from the natural environment more than ever. Marx’s insights have inspired an array of theoretical and empirical work in environmental sociology. Highlights include studies on metabolic rift (Foster 1999 and Clark and Foster 2009, discussed in Externalities and Scale; Moore 2003; and Bunker 1984), the contradictions between modern capitalist economies and the natural ecology (O’Connor 1998 and Spence 2000); empirical studies of linkages between the modern capitalist world-system and environmental outcomes such as greenhouse gas emissions, ecological footprints, and deforestation (Jorgenson and Kick 2006 and Burns, et al. 2003).

                                                      • Bunker, Stephen G. 1984. Modes of extraction, unequal exchange, and the progressive underdevelopment of the extreme periphery: The Brazilian Amazon, 1600–1980. American Journal of Sociology 89:1017–1064.

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                                                        Examines how extractive economies are negatively affected because of the detrimental consequences they have on their ecology. Although it benefits the economy of developed regions, the Amazon suffers because it eventually becomes impoverished. The author intends to create awareness about this problem.

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                                                        • Burns, Thomas J., Edward L. Kick, and Byron Davis. 2003. Theorizing and rethinking linkages between the natural environment and the modern world-system: Deforestation in the late 20th century. Journal of World-Systems Research 9:357–392.

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                                                          Study of deforestation and how its prominence is determined by location in the world. They study how the hierarchy of the world-system relates to deforestation. The authors also discuss the phenomenon of “recursive exploitation,” or how the natural environment is affected by the capitalist world-system at all levels, from the largest to the smallest of scales.

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                                                          • Freudenburg, William R. 2006. Environmental degradation, disproportionality, and the double diversion: Reaching out, reaching ahead, and reaching beyond. Rural Sociology 71:3–32.

                                                            DOI: 10.1526/003601106777789792Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Offers a clear disposition on how diversion of resources to a small number of relevant areas is causing disproportionate findings in relation to environmental harm. Disproportionality is also due to the ongoing belief that environmental harm is actually benefiting people.

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                                                            • Freudenburg, William R., and Scott Frickell. 1995. Beyond the nature/society divide: Learning to think about a mountain. Sociological Forum 10:361–392.

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                                                              Makes the connection between the environment and society. Examining how physical and social characteristics are not mutually exclusive within the human environment, they focus on the biophysical and social characteristics of human involvement within the environment.

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                                                              • Jorgenson, Andrew K., and Edward L. Kick, eds. 2006. Globalization and the environment. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.

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                                                                Examines how the economy affects the environment and the living conditions of different people. Using the world-systems approach, vastly different areas are compared to get a better view of how the effects are the same for otherwise diverse areas.

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                                                                • Moore, Jason W. 2003. Capitalism as world ecology: Braudel and Marx on environmental history. Organization and Environment 16:431–458.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/1086026603259091Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  This text is based on Fernand Braudel’s idea that society and ecology construct one another over time. Braudel’s most significant perception is the indication that global economies are based on societal values as well as ecological developments. This dovetails particularly well with Marx’s insights about the inherent contradictions in capitalism.

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                                                                  • O’Connor, James W. 1998. Natural causes: Essays in ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford.

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                                                                    Included herein are essays that discuss the ways that big business and government affect ecological and societal change, as well as how capitalism is susceptible to predicaments involving the environment and society.

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                                                                    • Spence, Martin. 2000. Capital against nature: James O’Connor’s theory of second contradiction of capitalism. Capital and Class 24:81–109.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1177/030981680007200105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      The author rejects the framework of James O’Connor’s theory (which attempts to reconcile Marxism with environmentalism and other social movements), yet seeks to combine his most valuable insights with a renewed emphasis on class, in order to develop an alternative approach to a Marxist understanding of environmental crisis.

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                                                                      The Rise and Trajectory of Human Ecology

                                                                      Largely in parallel with sociology, the discipline of human ecology was developed as a way of looking at the interfaces between humans and the natural environment (e.g., Hawley 1981 and Catton 1980). This movement was born in no small part out of the frustration with the discipline of sociology’s tendency to ignore or minimize interactions between humankind and the natural environments it was a part of. Human ecologists developed a theoretical framework around four major variables: population, (human social) organization, environment, and technology. The model, which went by the “POET” acronym, was helpful in organizing ways of thinking about human-environmental interactions. Yet one of the chief criticisms was that it did not specify an outcome and did not make specific predictions (Dietz and Rosa 1994). The POET model moved toward making specific predictions about environmental impacts such as the ecological footprint, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions. In the newly emerging framework, environmental came to be modeled as a function of population, technology, and human consumption levels (which came to be referred to in many of the models as “affluence” because of the high correlation in many societies between levels of wealth and patterns of consumption). The new framework came to be known as the IPAT model, in which (Environmental) Impact = Population Affluence Technology (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1981 and Dietz and Rosa 1994). Each of the four terms can and have been modeled in a number of ways. Impact, for example, has been modeled as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and the ecological footprint, to name but a few. Each of these can be modeled in various ways (e.g., deforestation as change in forest cover or loss in biomass; or greenhouse gas emissions in terms of carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide, each of which generate sometimes quite different predictor equations). Comparable distinctions occur with the predictor variables as well. For instance, even though population dynamics are important to consider in predicting environmental impact, specifics about population distributions (e.g., rural/urban, age- and sex-specific ratios) are often more informative than overall levels of population, particularly as they experience differential impacts of technology and resource distributions (Rudel and Roper 1997). As such, the IPAT model should be seen as a general framework that is still in development (Dietz and Rosa 1994). In more recent work, researchers have reformulated the IPAT approach into the “Stirpat” model—an acronym for “stochastic impacts by regression on population, affluence, and technology” (e.g., York, et al. 2003 and York and Rosa 2012). For a recent review of the IPAT/Stirpat framework and a stochastic model of the social causes of air pollution, see York and Rosa 2012.

                                                                      • Catton, William R. Jr. 1980. Overshoot: The ecological basis of revolutionary change. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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                                                                        Presents the idea that the world is already past its carrying capacity and how that idea relates to ecology. Catton discusses how overpopulation has already affected the earth. The author also critiques prior solutions to this problem and explains how they are actually detrimental.

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                                                                        • Dietz, Thomas, and Eugene A. Rosa. 1994. Rethinking the environmental impacts of population, affluence, and technology. Human Ecology Review 1:277–300.

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                                                                          Reviews how the environment is affecting population, affluence, and technology. Also describes into detail how research should be developed to understand these links and the strengths and weaknesses of the purposed ideas.

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                                                                          • Ehrlich, Paul R., and Anne H. Ehrlich. 1981. Extinction: The causes and consequences of the disappearance of species. New York: Random House.

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                                                                            Goes into depth about the detrimental effect that extinction is having on the earth, and how humans are the main cause. Also gives examples of how humans can reverse this and protect endangered species.

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                                                                            • Hawley, Amos. 1981. Urban society: An ecological approach. New York: John Wiley.

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                                                                              Uses a combination of history, anthropology, and economics to help explain the concepts of a community and how ecology has helped shape it. Uses precise analytical tactics to view the steps in which the origins of a community comes.

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                                                                              • Laska, Shirley, and Betty Hearn Morrow. 2006. Social vulnerabilities and Hurricane Katrina: An unnatural disaster in New Orleans. Marine Technology Society Journal 40.4: 16–26.

                                                                                DOI: 10.4031/002533206787353123Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                An overview of past research findings on the relationship between citizen vulnerability and poverty, minority status, age and disability, gender and tenancy is followed by evidence of the extent to which each risk factor was present in the pre-Katrina New Orleans population. The authors then cite evidence of how social vulnerability influenced outcomes at various stages of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, including mitigation, preparation, evacuation, storm impacts, and recovery.

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                                                                                • Rudel, Thomas K., and Jill Roper. 1997. The paths to rainforest destruction. World Development 25:53–65.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1016/S0305-750X(96)00086-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Cross-national data is used to assess major explanations for tropical deforestation during the period 1975–1990. The authors use frontier theory and immiseration theory to describe deforestation in terms of population distribution. The authors suggest that policies to reduce deforestation should be implemented based upon population characteristics for a given area.

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                                                                                  • York, Richard, and Eugene A. Rosa. 2012. Choking on modernity: A human ecology of air pollution. Social Problems 59:282–300.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1525/sp.2012.59.2.282Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Examines the effects of ground-level air pollution and analyzes cross-national time-series data (from 1990 to 2000) to assess influences on the emissions of ground-level air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and nonmethane volatile organic compounds.

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                                                                                    • York, Richard, Eugene A. Rosa, and Thomas Dietz. 2003. Footprints on the Earth: The environmental consequences of modernity. American Sociological Review 68:279–300.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/1519769Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      The authors assess the environmental impacts of societies using the ecological footprint. Population, economic production, urbanization, and geographical factors affect the environment and explain the majority of cross-national variation in environmental impact. Their findings suggest that societies cannot achieve sustainability by continuing current trends in economic growth and institutional change.

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                                                                                      World-Systems Analysis and the Environment

                                                                                      Over the last several centuries, there have arisen increasing interconnections among markets and institutions, intermeshed with the widespread control and consumption of natural resources. (Wallerstein 2012). These patterns of transnational commerce and the advent of a global economy have led to increasing concentrations of both wealth and poverty, and each has effects on the natural environment. There is an interaction between economic and geo-political networks on the one hand, and the use of environmental resources on the other (Chase-Dunn and Jorgenson 2003). With processes of globalization, those networks become larger, as well as more powerful and encompassing, gaining greater control over natural resources (Bunker and Ciccantell 2005; Podobnik 2002; Burns, et al. 1994). There are increasing scales of production and the advent of assembly processes that involve resources and labor from disparate parts of the world. Sometimes characterized as global commodity chains, the process is controlled primarily by transnational companies. More affluent countries tend to consume resources at significantly higher rates than poor countries, and in recent years the disparity is widening (Jorgenson and Burns 2007). The ecological footprint of nations accounts for how much their consumption of key resources causes the depletion of the natural environment. Affluent “core” countries tend to have large ecological footprints, while poorer countries tend to have smaller ones. Paradoxically though, this leads to a situation in which countries causing much of the most significant environmental degradation do not experience the brunt of the degradation themselves. Corporations have incentives to invest in countries with more lax environmental controls than those found in more affluent countries. Governments manifest similar patterns, with the more affluent countries consuming greater amounts of resources, while the cost of degraded environments and health risk fall heavily on poor nations. As a general rule, global economic processes influence distributions within countries, and this affects how resources are used on a number of levels. Inequality and political repression often combine to influence how resources are used. Roberts, et al. 2003, for example, finds this combination has a significant effect on how fossil fuels are used—and thus an effect on the pattern of greenhouse gas emissions produced. In sum, there is often a mismatch between the logic of global economics, which rewards larger scales of production and concentrates resources, while the ecology of the earth tends to work on smaller scales (Bergesen and Bartley 2000).

                                                                                      • Bergesen, Alber, and Tim Bartley. 2000. World-system and ecosystem. In A world-systems reader: New perspectives on gender, urbanism, cultures, indigenous peoples, and ecology. Edited by Thomas D. Hall, 307–320. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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                                                                                        Discusses the relationship between the world-system and the environment. The authors present the idea that environment greatly affects politics as well the economy. In addition, a common way the world-system affects the environment is through degradation. This article uses deforestation and global warming as examples.

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                                                                                        • Bunker, Stephen G., and Paul S. Ciccantell. 2005. Globalization and the race for resources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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                                                                                          Covers globalization and how dominant societies use the environment to grow economically. The authors cover a history of strong countries that have used their resources to become dominant in order to exemplify these theories. They discuss the importance of power over natural resources to a nation’s growth.

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                                                                                          • Burns, Thomas J., Edward L. Kick, David A. Murray, and Dixie A. Murray. 1994. Demography, development, and deforestation in a world-system perspective. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 32:221–239.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/002071529403500304Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Examines deforestation and the effects it has on the economy using a world-systems framework. The authors’ research reveals that deforestation is dependent on location in the world and that it is most prominent in semi-periphery countries. They also put forth the idea that it can be ameliorated by an increase in education but is made worse by demographic pressures such as rural encroachment.

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                                                                                            • Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and Andrew Jorgenson. 2003. Regions and interaction networks: An institutional materialist perspective. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 44.1: 1–18.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1177/002071520304400101Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Covers the study of interaction networks and how they relate to society in comparison with regional aspects using world-systems theory. The authors study the history of human cultures, the relationship between humans and their environments, and new technology that makes these studies possible.

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                                                                                              • Jorgenson, Andrew, and Thomas J. Burns. 2007. The political-economic causes of change in the ecological footprints of nations, 1991–2001: A quantitative investigation. Social Science Research 36:834–853.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2006.06.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Looks at and compares the economic development of a country and compares it to their ecological footprint. Proves multiple hypotheses of the treadmill production theory.

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                                                                                                • Podobnik, Bruce. 2002. Global energy inequalities: Exploring the long-term implications. Journal of World-Systems Research 8.2: 251–274.

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                                                                                                  This text examines global energy inequalities, specifically during the last fifty years of the 20th century. Podobnik explains that these inequalities are present because of the unequal consumption level of resources, which can be fixed by setting a standard emission rate and penalizing nations that exceed the rate.

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                                                                                                  • Roberts, J. Timmons, Peter E. Grimes, and Jodie L. Manale. 2003. Social roots of global environmental change: A world-systems analysis of carbon dioxide emissions. Journal of World-Systems Research 9.2: 277–317.

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                                                                                                    Based on world-systems theory, this analysis examines how a nation’s carbon dioxide intensity is determined by position in world economy and internal class, in addition to political forces. The authors identify and discuss distribution of carbon dioxide intensity across a range of 154 countries in the global stratification system.

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                                                                                                    • Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2012. Land, space, and people: Constraints of the capitalist world economy. Journal of World-Systems Research 18.1: 6–14.

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                                                                                                      Discusses the significance of title to the land as a resulting constraint of the capitalist world-economy. The author elaborates on how extensive growth and intensive growth are causing a dilemma in modern world-systems.

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                                                                                                      Structural Human Ecology

                                                                                                      Structural human ecology builds on prior work in sociology and human ecology and organizes its efforts around three interrelated areas of scholarly inquiry. The first is in developing an overarching theoretical framework for the study of the interrelations between humans and their biophysical environments. The second focus is on how to perceive and respond to uncertainty and risk. The third area of focus is on quantitative, macro-comparative research on human stressors on the natural environment, particularly in terms of environmental degradation, pollution, and unequal ecological exchange (Dietz and Jorgenson 2013). Much of the work in this area now goes beyond the study of human influences on the natural environment and seeks to address questions regarding the impacts of environmental change on outcomes, such as health and well-being. In work on the metatheoretical foundations of structural human ecology, York 2013 points out the importance of comparative and historical context. This is a particular problem in empirical research, when there is a tendency to extrapolate beyond the range of what was measured. Metatheorizing encourages a look at the bigger picture as a corrective to this tendency. York builds on prior work (Rosa 1998), which points out many of the pitfalls of normal science to grapple with issues related to the environment—particularly low-incidence phenomena and key variables which empirical researchers fail to account for. Recent work shows complex relationships among the economy, the polity, and environmental outcomes. When looking at effects of world trade on the environment, Jorgenson and Clark 2012 finds that while there is a decrease in the tight relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation in developed countries (for convergent findings, see Fisher and Freudenburg 2004), the already strong relationship is increasing over time in developing countries. This pattern is consistent with the predictions of unequal ecological exchange theory, which sees these coupling patterns as intertwined with patterns of changes in the ecological footprints of nation-states (Jorgenson and Clark 2009). Wealthy nations are able to reduce portions of their toxic emissions by importing goods, the manufacture of which places a strain on the natural environment. In addition to importing the natural resources of trade partners, wealthier nations often are able to export much of the waste and degradation associated with production to its poorer trading partners, thus co-opting its “environmental space” (Rice 2007). In sum, economic growth in these poorer and developing countries comes at more significant environmental costs than those experienced in wealthier, more developed countries.

                                                                                                      • Dietz, Thomas, and Andrew K. Jorgenson. 2013. Introduction to structural human ecology. In Structural human ecology: New essays in risk, energy and sustainability. Edited by Thomas Dietz and Andrew K. Jorgenson, 3–18. Pullman: Washington State Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                        This work builds on the definition of human ecology as the study of interrelations between humans and their biophysical environment. It focuses on the areas of building metatheory, examining how humans perceive and identify the risks attendant to modern society, and doing quantitative, macro-comparative research to model how humans affect, and are constrained by, their natural environments.

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                                                                                                        • Fisher, Dana R., and William R. Freudenburg. 2004. Post-industrialization and environmental quality: An empirical analysis of the environmental state. Social Forces 83:157–188.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1353/sof.2004.0108Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Looking particularly at developed countries, there is a dwindling relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation. In the political realm, there is little or no evidence that the passage of environmental laws actually leads to action that is beneficial for the environment.

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                                                                                                          • Jorgenson, Andrew, and Brett Clark. 2009. The economy, military, and unequal ecological relationships in comparative perspective: A panel study of the ecological footprints of nations, 1975–2000. Social Problems 56:621–646.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1525/sp.2009.56.4.621Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Nations with large ecological footprints are developing even larger footprints over time, and these processes largely parallel the transfer of wealth from poorer to wealthier nations over time. This is exacerbated by global military involvement.

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                                                                                                            • Jorgenson, Andrew, and Brett Clark. 2012. Are the economy and the environment decoupling? A comparative international study, 1960–2005. American Journal of Sociology 118.1: 1–44.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1086/665990Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              Jorgenson and Clark find mixed evidence for decoupling between economic development and toxic emissions. While they do find a slight lessening over forty-five years of the correlation between the economy and emissions in developed countries, they find an intensification of that relationship over the same period in developing countries.

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                                                                                                              • Longhofer, Wesley, and Evan Schofer. 2010. National and global origins of environmental association. American Sociological Review 75:505–533.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/0003122410374084Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Membership in Environmental International Non-Governmental Organizations (EINGOs) influences environmental policy within nation-states. This in turn has a tendency to redound in national policies that over time are moving toward environmental protection, including the passage of pro-environmental laws and the establishment of environmental ministries.

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                                                                                                                • Rice, James. 2007. Ecological unequal exchange: International trade and uneven utilization of environmental space in the world system. Social Forces 85.3: 1369–1392.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1353/sof.2007.0054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Rice defines the environmental space of a nation as the combination of its stocks of natural resources and its sinks for waste assimilation. International trade has the effect of increasing unequal ecological exchange, as wealthier and more powerful trade partners are able to co-opt a poorer country’s environmental space.

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                                                                                                                  • Rosa, Eugene A. 1998. Metatheoretical foundations for post-normal risk. Journal of Risk Research 1:15–44.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/136698798377303Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    This essay sets much of the stage for metatheoretical work in structural human ecology. Rosa advocates a “HERO” approach, which is an acronym for “hierarchical epistemology with a realist ontology.” This looks not only at what is “known” but how it is known, and how well it is understood; levels of understanding and risk in turn need to be weighed along with scientific findings.

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                                                                                                                    • York, Richard. 2013. Metatheoretical foundations of post-normal predications. In Structural human ecology: New essays in risk, energy and sustainability. Edited by Thomas Dietz and Andrew K. Jorgenson, 19–29. Pullman: Washington State Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                      York articulates a number of problems with normal science, particularly as it pertains to human-environmental interactions in an age in when the scope and magnitude of many risks are largely unknown. Normal science works best when it can observe and measure repeated outcomes in controlled conditions with a limited set of variables. Much of the human environment goes beyond this normal range, involving singular phenomena (e.g., human impact on the environment in industrial and post-industrial times).

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                                                                                                                      Micro-level Environmental Sociology

                                                                                                                      Early environmental sociology emphasized individual attitudes, values, and behaviors as drivers of conservation and environmental degradation (Dunlap 2010, in General Overviews; York and Dunlap 2012, in Sociology and Modernity). In this section, however, we focus on the broader cultural tropes that frame the options people pursue to solve environmental problems or to justify their perpetuation. Selfishness, for example, is a trope that influences the development of attitudes and beliefs regarding the environment. As the processes of late modernity have further alienated people from direct experience of the natural world, cultural tropes related to technological advancement, progress, efficiency, and the ability of consumption to satisfy our every need have dominated. Calls for the inclusion of ecological and more collectivist ethics to balance the drives of individualism have failed, because the forces of self-interest are enmeshed in the minds of individuals, the desires of those in power, as well as in the institutions of society.

                                                                                                                      Culture and the Sociology of Knowledge

                                                                                                                      Much of the work in the sociology of knowledge is built around the ways people see the world, collectively and individually. These stocks of knowledge are arranged in networks of embedded ideas, with the most central receiving priority (Swidler and Arditi 1994 and Caniglia 2001). Much of culture is built around how people interface with their environments. People from mountainous regions or the desert tend to build adaptations to the local terrain into their practices and interpretations of the world (Burns 2009). Historically, culture has been identified closely with place. However, with globalization, the connections between culture and place are weakened, often mediated by technology and economics rather than place (Borgmann 1984 and Cobb 1991). Broadly speaking, we can think of these changes as interconnected parts of the processes of modernity. There is at least a rough correspondence between the ideas of powerful actors and institutions in a society, and the centrality of their most salient ideas (Swidler and Arditi 1994). An integral part of the process of modernity is that a large majority of people becomes less obviously dependent upon the natural environment. This perception becomes increasingly embedded in culture so that now much of human culture has lost sight of the natural ecology of which it is necessarily a part (Borgmann 1984). Sociologists with a cultural focus tend to take seriously the influences of large material forces such as population, power dynamics, and technology have on people. The role of technology is profound, particularly because as societies develop technologically, there is an increasing tendency toward alienation from nature (Borgmann 1984). A more ecological view sees the planet itself as a living organism, involving countless interdependencies. When environmental imbalances are ignored, this can lead to tremendous problems as the planetary organism seeks to adapt in ways that that are not necessarily conducive to the human condition, such as runaway global warming and catastrophic collapse of ecosystems (Lovelock 2007). From a human perspective, the corrective to these problems is to move to a culture that is centered on an ethic of understanding and respect for the environment (Primavesi 2003 and Tucker 2007). Such a cultural ethic would necessarily inform the respective institutions such as the economy and the polity (Burns 2009) and help serve as a milieu in which actions stemming from those institutions and from people in the culture could move toward ecological sustainability.

                                                                                                                      • Borgmann, Albert. 1984. Technology and the character of contemporary life. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                                                                                                                        Discusses the dependence on technology in modern society and ways it has changed daily life as well as global interconnectedness. Borgmann encourages the reader to limit the use of technology in order to refocus on what he considers to be more important.

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                                                                                                                        • Burns, Thomas J. 2009. Culture and the natural environment. In Current trends in human ecology. Edited by Priscila Lopes and Alpina Begossi, 56–72. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars.

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                                                                                                                          Details the relationship between culture and the environment in this article. Culture is a product of the environment in which it is created because people are influenced by their surroundings. They must adapt to the area in which they live, but they also have an impact on it.

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                                                                                                                          • Caniglia, Beth Schaefer. 2001. Informal alliances vs. institutional ties: The effects of elite alliances on environmental TSMO network positions. Mobilization 6.1: 37–54.

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                                                                                                                            The author examines how transnational social movement organizations operate, both formally and informally. In many cases, relationships among key actors serve as the basis for coalition building across traditional political boundaries.

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                                                                                                                            • Cobb, John B. Jr. 1991. Economics of planetism: The coming choice. Earth Ethics 3.1: 1–3.

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                                                                                                                              Discusses the economy and how we must focus on the environment in order to ensure the future of the world. They also introduce the idea of a planetist economy and how it could change the economy and earth if it was widely adopted.

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                                                                                                                              • Lovelock, James. 2007. The revenge of Gaia: Earth’s climate crisis and the fate of humanity. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

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                                                                                                                                The Gaia theory, created by James Lovelock, states that inorganic and organic elements of the earth function together, making the earth a single system in itself. This text illustrates the idea that earth is slowly shutting down due to harmful human activity and provides solutions on how to prevent this shutdown.

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                                                                                                                                • Primavesi, Anne. 2003. Gaia’s gift. New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                                                                  In her second book about the relationship between humans and earth, Primavesi seeks to finish Copernicus and Darwin’s revolution on human significance. This text seeks to illustrate the understanding that humans do not have sole control of the earth, but instead they depend on it.

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                                                                                                                                  • Swidler, Ann, and Jorge Arditi. 1994. The new sociology of knowledge. Annual Review of Sociology 20:305–328.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.so.20.080194.001513Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    Examines how kinds of social organization make whole orderings of knowledge possible. The authors analyze how the content and structure of knowledge is shaped, collected, preserved, organized, and transmitted. They examine how knowledge reinforces social hierarchies and how the boundaries and categories of systems of knowledge are constituted.

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                                                                                                                                    • Tucker, Mary Evelyn. 2007. Ethics and ecology: A primary challenge of the dialogue of civilizations. In Ecospirit: Religions and philosophies for the earth. Edited by Laurel Kearns and Katherine Keller, 495–503. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823227457.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Tucker discusses the need for a dialogue of civilizations, without which humans, entire ecosystems, and life forms are being compromised. She argues that the primary aim of such dialogue should be a sustainable future for the planet grounded in shared yet differentiated ethical values and respect for cultural and religious differences.

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                                                                                                                                      Selfishness and the Environment

                                                                                                                                      Arising as part of the intellectual framework of modernity was the theoretical idea of utilitarianism, or the promotion of the “greatest good” for the greatest number of people. These ideas have several contemporary derivatives, which have distilled self-interest as the central motivating human characteristic. Most notable are “rational choice” and related “game” theories. Theories based on self-interest have spawned huge literatures (Pincione and Teson 2006). As Hardin 1968 has noted, there is a tendency for individuals acting in their own self-interest to cause damage to larger collective and environmental resources. With the influence of power and money, political and economic incentives can be built around these ideas of self-interest, often with disastrous results for the environment (e.g., Myers and Kent 2001). Selfishness, combined with a sense of entitlement and need for instant gratification, feeds into a culture of mass consumption, with increasing rates of production and consumption. Environmental sociologists have characterized it as a “treadmill of production” (Gould, et al. 2008). The title of the seminal article Ridley and Low 1994 asks the provocative question: “Can Selfishness Save the Environment?” They build a case that selfishness is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Ridley and Low’s lead article in Human Ecology Review was followed by a number of rebuttals (e.g., see Catton 1994). Several themes emerged in the rebuttals. Without a common ethic with a set of norms in which the environment is valued, it is too easy for free riders to beat the system. Another criticism has to do with equity and environmental justice—a fine or tax is not felt equally by all, with the rich in a better position to pay than the poor. The result is not necessarily a reduction in polluting activity but rather a burden shift to those who can least afford it. Catton 1994 sees some advantages to incentives and disincentives yet warns that in order for perversities to be avoided they must be tempered by other social processes. Advocates hold that the best way to build such an overarching ethic is through transforming education systems such that they more fully acknowledge the connections between people and the natural environment (e.g., Orr 1996). Some theorists (e.g., Ostrom 1990) have argued for a “drama of the commons,” in which a people see it in their collective self-interest to steward and guard environmental resources. In such situations, there typically is a strong normative system in place, undergirded by closed networks of people with common interests (McCright and Dunlap 2011).

                                                                                                                                      • Catton, William. 1994. Let’s not replace one set of unwisdoms with another. Human Ecology Review 1.1: 33–38.

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                                                                                                                                        Discusses incentives and disincentives. The authors cover the ethics of environmental crimes and how people must be deterred by more than economic consequences and influenced by ethics instead.

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                                                                                                                                        • Gould, Kenneth A., David N. Pellow, and Allan Schnailberg. 2008. The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

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                                                                                                                                          Sociological theory pertaining to environmental sociology most hailed for its correct predictions of the political-economic changes in the global economy. A model of conflict that pertains to “political capitalism,” which encourages the destruction of the environment but is not always for capitalism per se.

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                                                                                                                                          • Hardin, Garret. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162 (13 December): 1243–1248.

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                                                                                                                                            Investigation of how self-interest and greed has shaped the depletion of shared resources. Focuses on how the welfare state allows overbreeding, which in turn supports the depletion of resources and the competition for ones own resources.

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                                                                                                                                            • McCright, Aaron M., and Riley E. Dunlap. 2011. The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s view of global warming, 2001–2010. Sociological Quarterly 52.2: 155–194.

                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2011.01198.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                              The authors see a “bifurcated flow of competing information” (p. 175), in which orientation toward the environment has become what amounts to a litmus test for politicians in the United States. Republicans, particularly as they are goaded from the right by Tea Party and other conservative groups, have largely abdicated environmental responsibility. Democrats, while more likely than Republicans to perceive the seriousness of environmental problems, do not necessarily place a top priority on environmentally friendly action.

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                                                                                                                                              • Myers, Norman, and Jennifer Kent. 2001. Perverse subsidies: How tax dollars can undercut the environment and the economy. Washington, DC: Island.

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                                                                                                                                                Delivers an outline for the evaluation of perverse subsidies, along with a vivid explanation of the issues that come with it. A good read for those concerned with the relations between policymaking and ecology.

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                                                                                                                                                • Orr, David. 1996. Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island.

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                                                                                                                                                  This text seeks to inform people on the problems related to education from an ecological perspective. Orr argues that insufficient and misguided education is directly connected with the environmental problems in the world.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511807763Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Provides three models that are commonly used to suggest solutions on solving problems associated with the command of natural resources. Ostrom lays out the models to show the alternatives of the models in order to show a range of other possible solutions.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Pincione, Guido, and Fernando R. Teson. 2006. Rational choice theory and democratic deliberation: A theory of discourse failure. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511720178Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Seeks to lower the possibility of political agendas that declare majoritarianism and amplify market size in order to reduce communication failure during democratic deliberation.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Ridley, Matt, and Bobbi Low. 1994. Can selfishness save the environment? Human Ecology Review 1.1: 1–13.

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                                                                                                                                                        The authors challenge the conventional perspective that persuading people to use self-restraint is key to saving the environment. They argue that the collective interest can be served by the pursuit of selfish interests. They suggest giving people incentives to reduce pollution is the most effective method for saving the environment.

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                                                                                                                                                        The Culture-Structure Nexus

                                                                                                                                                        This section focuses on segments of environmental sociology that bridge cultural forces with macro-structural change. In these fields of study, the hearts and minds of people converge to form a tipping point: that is, a point where simple ideas gain the power to change institutions of power. In studies of environmental justice and environmental movements we observe clear clashes between the institutions of capitalism and those who perceive their rights and livelihoods threatened by those institutions. In world polity theory, we observe the aggregation of global norms inside of social movement organizations, NGOs, and intergovernmental agencies in ways that pressure nation-states to comply with emerging ethics. Similarly, ecological modernization studies argue that environmental ethics have gained such a central place in global culture that corporations and nation-states are compelled toward sustainability.

                                                                                                                                                        Environmental Justice

                                                                                                                                                        In a related vein, work in environmental justice gives close consideration to how environmental risk tends to be disproportionately borne by the marginalized—people of color, poor, indigenous peoples (Bullard 2000 and Pellow and Brulle 2005). Toxic waste dumps tend to be sited in places with large proportions of marginalized people who are not politically connected enough to be effective at keeping such projects at bay (Pellow 2007, Bullard 2000, Brown 2007, Hooks and Smith 2004). Those who are more politically influential can off-lay environmental risk to someone else in what has been characterized as the “not in my back yard” (or NIMBY) phenomenon (Mix 2009). On the most macro level, well-connected and politically powerful nations enjoy a high ecological footprint at the expense of the poorer, less-connected, and dependent nations. Yet these processes replicate themselves at virtually all levels of social organization. Building on prior work in environmental justice, newer studies emphasize demography and unequal ecological exchange, grounded in the premise that the preponderance of human interactions with the natural environment has built-in social inequalities. Minority groups, particularly blacks and Latinos, are more likely than whites to live in close proximity to environmental hazards (Crowder and Downey 2010). Whenever there is environmental degradation, there are also processes of social inequality going along with it. Much environmental degradation, rather than being “necessary” for the economy to function smoothly, is attributable to the actions of individuals with privileged access to the environment that is closed to the majority of people (Freudenburg 2005). US manufacturers report the dumping of more than three billion pounds of hazardous waste every year (Elliott and Frickel 2013). Differential exposure to and risk from these toxins tends to vary dramatically between individuals and groups, based on historical patterns and demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Grant, et al. 2010 makes the case that although these demographics have a significant influence on plant sightings and the amounts of toxins, the effects are nonlinear and often hard to measure with precision.

                                                                                                                                                        • Brown, Phil. 2007. Toxic exposures: Contested illnesses and the environmental health movement. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                          Discusses the relationship between health and the environment as well as the environmental health movement. This movement has recently changed the availability of important information for people affected by certain diseases. The author also discusses the effects of power and health through environmental justice.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Bullard, Robert. 2000. Dumping in Dixie: Race, class, and environmental quality. 3d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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                                                                                                                                                            The author discusses the issue of environmental equality and how it affects African American communities. African American communities are more likely to be affected by pollution because of the lower socioeconomic status—and thus diminished political power—of these areas. The author encourages the reader to fight against this inequality.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Crowder, Kyle, and Liam Downey. 2010. Interneighborhood migration, race, and environmental hazards: Modeling microlevel processes of environmental inequality. American Journal of Sociology 115.4: 1110–1149.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1086/649576Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Examining patterns of migration and residence in the United States, Crowder and Downey find that black and Latino households are significantly more likely than whites to live near sites of hazardous industrial pollution. This is true, even when controlling for a number of other individual and household level characteristics such as education and income.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Elliott, James R., and Scott Frickel. 2013. The historical nature of cities: A study of accumulation and hazardous waste accumulation. American Sociological Review 78:521–543.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/0003122413493285Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                The uncertainty and risk associated with current or former industrial waste sites, particularly in urban areas, has increased dramatically in recent years. Historical patterns of hazardous remains are often not fully understood (or are ignored entirely) as new residential development proliferates around them.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Freudenburg, William R. 2005. Privileged access, privileged accounts: Toward a socially structured theory of resources and discourses. Social Forces 84.1: 89–114.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1353/sof.2005.0096Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Environmental degradation involves two distinct aspects of social inequality. One is disproportional access to resources, while the other is the privileged ability to define the processes involved.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Grant, Don, Mary Nell Trautner, Liam Downey, and Lisa Thiebaud. 2010. Bringing the polluters back in: Environmental inequality and the organization of chemical production. American Sociological Review 75.4: 479–504.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/0003122410374822Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    Although community characteristics such as race and income do influence where polluting companies are likely to put their plants, the relationships are nonlinear and complex. Chemical companies often experiment with ways to externalize pollution costs, settling on strategies that meet the least resistance: this is perhaps because they are not fully understood by the people most affected.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Hooks, Gregory, and Chad Smith. 2004. The treadmill of destruction: National sacrifice areas and Native Americans. American Sociological Review 69 (4 August): 558–575.

                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1177/000312240406900405Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      Examines the experience of Native Americans within the context of environmental justice and injustice. Specially looks at the inequality that Native Americans have endured at the hands of the US military.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Mix, Tamara L. 2009. The greening of white separatism: Use of environmental themes to elaborate and legitimize extremist disclosure. Nature and Culture 4.2: 138–166.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.3167/nc.2009.040203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        This text examines how the US white separatist movement uses environmental matters to gain validity and a broader range of support.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Pellow, David N. 2007. Resisting global toxics: Transnational movements for environmental justice. MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Examines the practice of dumping toxic waste in low-income minority communities. Pellow argues that this dumping is a type of transnational environmental inequality that must be examined with ethnicity, class, and ecology in mind.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Pellow, David N., and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, justice, and the environment: A critical appraisal of the environmental justice movement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Critically examines the structure, roles, and actions of the environmental justice movement. The chapters provide writings from broth scholars and activists who hope to see more success with the movement.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Ecological Modernization and World Polity Theories

                                                                                                                                                                            Theories of ecological modernization and world polity follow in the functionalist tradition. World polity theory focuses on a growing uniformity of institutions across cultures and nations (Meyer, et al. 1997; Boli and Thomas 1997; Boli and Thomas 1999). With this uniformity comes a rise in bureaucratic structures that should ideally protect the environment (Frank, et al. 1999; Frank, et al. 2000). Ecological modernization theory does see the inevitability of the processes of modernity and advanced industrialization (Mol 2001). It seeks to make the best of that situation by stressing environmentally responsible action (from overall environmental reform to more focused initiatives such as, i.e., recycling in an age of mass consumption). Through the lenses of ecological modernization, the solution lies in a hypermodern and rational use of technology, in which societies move beyond the heavily polluting stages inherent in earlier industrialization and come to a post-material stage in which people tread more lightly on the earth (Spaargaren, et al. 2000). These theories are not without serious critics. Any thoughtful consideration of them would necessarily take account of their drawbacks. Although ecological modernization theory does, as its name implies, look at certain aspects of modernity, its thrust is quite different from a more encompassing socio-ecological examination of the complexities and perversities of modernity (Buttel 2000a and 2000b; Carolan 2004). Ecological modernization theory should not be confused with the larger project of environmental sociology, as it strives to make sense of a number of large, otherwise seemingly unrelated phenomena. More generally, as environmental sociology matures as a discipline, it will be important to continue to focus on the large social and ecological processes that comprise modernity.

                                                                                                                                                                            • Boli, John, and George M. Thomas. 1997. World culture in the world polity: A century of international non-governmental organization. American Sociological Review 62:171–190.

                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/2657298Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                              This article covers world polity theory. The authors study this theory by researching almost six thousand nongovernmental organizations outside the United States. The author’s research contributes to a greater understanding of world culture and different organizations in the United States throughout history.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Boli, John, and George M. Thomas. 1999. Constructing world culture: International nongovernmental organizations since 1875. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Uses world polity theory to examine the history of international nongovernmental organizations starting in 1875. These organizations are used to study global culture as well as the impacts they have on the government and globalization. The authors compare their approach to other popular theories.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Buttel, Frederick H. 2000a. World society, the nation-state, and environmental protection. American Sociological Review 65.1: 117–121.

                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2657292Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                  Discusses and critiques a previous article written over environmental protection. This article covers the state’s responsibility to protect the government and whether or not it should be a global responsibility instead.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Buttel, Frederick H. 2000b. Ecological modernization as a social theory. Geoforum 31:57–65.

                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7185(99)00044-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                    In this article the author discusses the theory of ecological modernization and talks about why it has become such a popular theory in the field of environmental social sciences. The author also introduces ways the theory could be stronger if it incorporated other popular theories.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Carolan, Michael S. 2004. Ecological modernization theory: What about consumption? Society and Natural Resources 17:247–260.

                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/0894120490270294Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                      The author discusses ecological modernization theory and critiques what he considers to be the downfalls of the theory. In the article he explains the theory and its focus on the effects of production and suggests that it would be stronger if it also focused on the effects of consumption.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Frank, David John, Ann Hironaka, John W. Meyer, Evan Schofer, and Nancy Brandon Tuma. 1999. The rationalization and organization of nature in the world culture. In Constructing world culture: International nongovernmental organizations since 1875. Edited by John Boli and George M. Thomas, 81–99. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        This is the first book to examine the comprehensive history of nongovernmental organizations. The book’s main argument is that the abundance of these organizations helped with the growth and development of a world polity of globalization.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Frank, David John, Ann Hironaka, and Evan Schofer. 2000. The nation-state and the natural environment over the twentieth century. American Sociological Review 65 (February): 96–116.

                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/2657291Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                          The definition of “nation-state” is worded so that environmental protection is seen as an essential function of the government. This is different from the traditional view that environmental protection occurs because of degradation of the environment.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Meyer, John, John Boli, George M. Thomas, and Francisco O. Ramirez. 1997. World society and the nation-state. American Journal of Sociology 103:144–181.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1086/231174Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            This text’s analysis develops four main topics on the idea that the nation-state is a global construction.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Mol, Arthur P. J. 2001. Globalization and environmental reform: The ecological modernization of the global economy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Provides an argument based on the idea that modern globalization issues can inspire environmental programs and supporters to solve problems and improve the environment on a global scale.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Spaargaren, Gert, Arthur P. J. Mol, and Frederick H. Buttel, eds. 2000. Environment and global modernity. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                The authors argue that environmental issues should be considered as part of a more encompassing process of social transformation. They review central themes in environmental sociology and seek to enlarge the scope of ecological modernization theory by discussing environmental social change from a global perspective.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                Environmental Movements

                                                                                                                                                                                                In all approaches to the culture-structure nexis, social movements are one of the primary actors thought to possess the power to move the relationship between humans and nature toward a better balance (Buttel 2003; Caniglia 2001; Caniglia and Carmin 2005; Pellow 2007). Social movements affect culture by changing the hearts and minds of individuals and by inserting ethical frameworks into governance institutions (Caniglia and Carmin 2005). The environmental movement is one of the largest and most diverse movements (Brulle 2000), operating at the local (Andrews and Edwards 2005), state (Brulle 2000), and international levels (Broadbent 1999; Caniglia 2010; Dryzek 1997). The environmental movement has proven to be effective in moving policy toward increased environmental protection, particularly in the areas of conservation and preservation (Brulle 2000, Dunlap and Mertig 1992), environmental justice (Agyeman, et al. 2003; Pellow 2007; Mix 2009, discussed in Environmental Justice), international environmental policies such as sustainable development (Caniglia 2010, Caniglia 2012, Dryzek 1997), and climate change (Broadbent 1999, Fisher and Freudenburg 2004, cited under Structural Human Ecology).

                                                                                                                                                                                                • Agyeman, Julian, Robert D. Bullard, and Bob Evans, eds. 2003. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  This collection examines theories and cases related to environmental justice and uneven development under contemporary neo-liberal globalization. There is a particular emphasis on natural resource extraction in developing countries.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Andrews, Kenneth, and Bob Edwards. 2005. The organizational structure of local environmentalism. Mobilization 10:213–234.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    Examines the environmental movement organization field in North Carolina. Particular environmental geographies emerge that mimic SES and environmental justice patterns.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Broadbent, Jeffrey. 1999. Environmental politics in Japan: Networks of power and protest. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Examines citizen-worker organizations that work to address environmental problems in Japan. Special attention is given to the conflict between economic interests and the resolution of environmental problems. Network analysis is a featured methodology.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Brulle, Robert. 2000. Agency, democracy and nature: The U.S. environmental movement from a critical theory perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Brulle uses frame analysis to demarcate sectors within the US environmental movement. Each sector of the movement is discussed in its historical context and examined in terms of the ways each sector articulates environmental problems, those responsible for them, and their relative solutions.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Buttel, Frederick. 2003. Environmental sociology and the explanation of environmental reform. Organization and Environment 16.3: 356–400.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1177/1086026603256279Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                          In this article, Buttel examines various approaches to environmental reform, most importantly ecological modernization and the environmental movement. Buttel concludes that the environmental movement has the greatest potential to bring about positive environmental change.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Caniglia, Beth Schaefer. 2001. Informal Alliances vs. Institutional Ties: The Effects of Elite Alliances on Environmental TSMO Network Positions. Mobilization 6.1: 37–54.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            This article examines the role of formal and informal networks on environmental transnational social movement organizations. Of particular importance is the role of linkages among elite actors.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Caniglia, Beth Schaefer. 2010. Global environmental governance and pathways for the achievement of environmental justice. In Environmental injustice beyond borders: Local perspectives on global inequalities, pp. 129–155 Edited by Julian Agyeman and JoAnn Carmin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              Compares the UN Commission on Sustainable Development to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as leverage points for the accomplishment of environmental justice. Each governance body is described historically and examined according to the avenues NGOs and SMOs can use to effect change.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Caniglia, Beth Schaefer. 2012. The environmental conservation Movement. In The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization. Edited by George Ritzer, 536–541. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1002/9780470670590Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                The author sketches out major trends in environmental conservation. She examines the role of conservation relative to other aspects of the overall environmental movement.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Caniglia, Beth Schaefer, and JoAnn Carmin. 2005. Scholarship on social movement organizations: Classic views and emerging trends. Mobilization: An International Journal 10.2: 201–212.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Examines social movement organization literature through the lenses of the central social movement theories, particularly resource mobilization, political process models, and cultural models (e.g., framing).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Dryzek, John. 1997. The politics of the earth: Environmental discourses. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dryzek examines diversity within the international environmental movement. Dryzek’s schema categorizes environmental discourses into four categories: problem solving, sustainability, survivalism, and green radicalism.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Dunlap, Riley, and Angela Mertig. 1992. American environmentalism: The US environmental movement, 1970–1990. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      An assembly of articles that reviews the progress of the American environmental movement during the period 1970–1990.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pellow, David N. 2007. Resisting global toxics: Transnational movements for environmental justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Pellow describes the processes surrounding the disposal of toxic wastes in the developing world. These wastes are produced in industrialized nations by multinational corporations. The local protest movements that have arisen to fight the disposal of toxic waste are reviewed.

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