Environmental Science Environmental Sociology
by
Kyle W. Knight
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0100

Introduction

Having emerged in the 1970s as public awareness of and concern for environmental problems increased, environmental sociology’s main goal is to understand the interconnections between human societies and the natural (or biophysical) environment. Environmental sociology has been described as comprising four major areas of research. First, environmental sociologists study the social causes of environmental problems. Along these lines, scholars have developed an array of theoretical frameworks to explain how various social factors, including demographic, social, cultural, political, economic, and technological dynamics, generate environmental impacts and problems, and they have conducted many empirical studies on a wide range of environmental indicators to assess hypotheses derived from these theories. Second, environmental sociology is concerned with how the natural environment influences and impacts society. Early environmental sociologists strongly emphasized the dependence of human societies on the natural environment and stressed that the field should consider how the environment shapes society in addition to how society impacts the environment. Research in this area tackles issues such as the social consequences of natural disasters and the inequitable distribution of environmental hazards along racial and socioeconomic lines. Third, environmental sociology examines social reactions and responses to environmental threats and problems. Research in this area focuses on understanding patterns and trends in environmental attitudes and behaviors (e.g., recycling) as well as various aspects of the environmental movement. Fourth, environmental sociologists are concerned with understanding social processes and dynamics that could advance environmental reform and sustainability. In general, environmental sociology has tended to focus more on explaining how society causes environmental problems while paying less attention to potential solutions, but a shift has taken place in recent decades. The development, discussion, and empirical assessment of theories of environmental reform, analyses of potential solutions to environmental crises, and drafting of conceptual frameworks for sustainability have become important foci of scholarly activity in environmental sociology. Another major area of research, one that cuts across the preceding four, is the human dimensions of global climate change, which has become one of the main substantive issues studied by environmental sociologists. In this article, important scholarly works in each of these five areas are highlighted and briefly discussed, along with a selection of the most relevant textbooks, handbooks and collections, encyclopedia and review articles that provide general overviews of the field, and academic journals that publish environmental sociology research.

General Overviews

A number of encyclopedia articles offer up-to-date, accessible, and relatively concise overviews of research in environmental sociology. Two relatively recent articles that were authored by prominent scholars are cited here (Jorgenson, et al. 2014; York and Dunlap 2012). Review articles are another source of overviews of the field; compared to encyclopedia articles these are generally more in-depth, technical, and comprehensive, and they often highlight emerging trends and point out underexamined issues or unresolved questions in the research literature. Four review articles are included here, two classic works (Buttel 1987, Dunlap and Catton 1979) and two contemporary pieces (Pellow and Nyseth Brehm 2013; Rudel, et al. 2011).

  • Buttel, F. H. 1987. New directions in environmental sociology. Annual Review of Sociology 13:465–488.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.so.13.080187.002341Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This review article provides an overview and assessment of research in environmental sociology in its first decade as an established subdiscipline of sociology and identifies the main areas of inquiry during this period.

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    • Dunlap, R. E., and W. R. Catton Jr. 1979. Environmental sociology. Annual Review of Sociology 5:243–273.

      DOI: 10.1146/annurev.so.05.080179.001331Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A foundational work in the field. This classic review article describes the emergence and early development of environmental sociology, distinguishes it from mainstream sociology, and defines its core focus as the study of society-environment interactions.

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      • Jorgenson, A. K., R. E. Dunlap, and B. Clark. 2014. Ecology and environment. In Concise encyclopedia of comparative sociology. Edited by M. Sasaki, J. Goldstone, E. Zimmerman, and S. K. Sanderson, 457–464. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

        DOI: 10.1163/9789004266179_048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        A brief review of the major theoretical and methodological approaches in comparative international environmental sociology research.

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        • Pellow, D. N., and H. Nyseth Brehm. 2013. An environmental sociology for the twenty-first century. Annual Review of Sociology 39:229–250.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145558Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          This review article provides the most up-to-date overview of the field; it describes the origins of environmental sociology, reviews major theories, topics, and issues, highlights related areas of inquiry, and discusses future directions for research.

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          • Rudel, T. K., J. T. Roberts, and J. Carmin. 2011. Political economy of the environment. Annual Review of Sociology 37:221–238.

            DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102639Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            This article provides a chronological review of substantive and theoretical issues in sociological research on the political-economic dynamics of environmental problems, social responses to them, and efforts to address them.

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            • York, R., and R. E. Dunlap. 2012. Environmental sociology. In The Wiley-Blackwell companion to sociology. Edited by G. Ritzer, 504–521. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.

              DOI: 10.1002/9781444347388.ch27Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              This excellent encyclopedia article offers a broad but detailed discussion of the major areas of research and theoretical debates within contemporary environmental sociology.

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              Textbooks

              Several textbooks provide broad introductions to environmental sociology. Gould and Lewis 2015 and King and Auriffeille 2013 are edited volumes composed of contributions by environmental sociologists that examine a wide array of issues from diverse perspectives. Bell and Ashwood 2016 and Carolan 2016 both offer an accessible and wide-ranging synthesis of social scientific research on environmental problems as well as a focus on solutions.

              • Bell, M. M., and L. Ashwood. 2016. An invitation to environmental sociology. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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                An undergraduate textbook that focuses on theoretical and conceptual approaches to studying environmental issues from a sociological perspective, with an emphasis on the interrelations between materialist and idealist perspectives.

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                • Carolan, M. 2016. Society and the environment: Pragmatic solutions to ecological issues. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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                  An undergraduate textbook that offers a solid introduction to important environmental issues while also demonstrating how social scientists study them; the concept of “pragmatic environmentalism” provides a useful framework and optimistic perspective.

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                  • Gould, K. A., and T. L. Lewis, eds. 2015. Twenty lessons in environmental sociology. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                    This undergraduate textbook is a collection of chapters written by leading environmental sociologists; it provides an excellent overview of the field of environmental sociology with an emphasis on core topics and theories and covers issues ranging from the environmental movement to disaster vulnerability.

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                    • King, L., and D. M. Auriffeille, eds. 2013. Environmental sociology: From analysis to action. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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                      This undergraduate textbook is an anthology composed of recent scholarly journal articles that the editors selected for accessibility and shortened for readability; the chapters include a range of topics from food justice activism to the environmental consequences of globalization.

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                      Handbooks and Collections

                      Three major edited volumes provide in-depth scholarly introductions and overviews of the field of environmental sociology. These volumes feature discussions of the history and development of this field, important topics of concern, emerging areas of interest, and issues of debate. The great benefit of these handbooks and collections is that they feature essays written by pioneering and leading environmental sociologists who offer their insights regarding the purpose and trajectory of the field. Dunlap and Michelson 2002 has a more North American focus, while Redclift and Woodgate 2010 has a much more international perspective. Dunlap, et al. 2002 focuses less on empirical research and more on theoretical frameworks and perspectives.

                      • Dunlap, R. E., F. H. Buttel, P. Dickens, and A. Gijswijt, eds. 2002. Sociological theory and the environment: Classical foundations, contemporary insights. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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                        This edited volume emerged from an international workshop sponsored by the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Society and Environment and focuses on the theoretical bases of environmental sociology and connections to mainstream social theory. The essays collected here provide an excellent overview of the diverse theoretical traditions and perspectives in environmental sociology.

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                        • Dunlap, R. E., and W. Michelson, eds. 2002. Handbook of environmental sociology. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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                          This handbook brings together contributions from many pioneers and leaders in the field of environmental sociology, particularly those in North America. The chapters cover topics ranging from natural hazards and disasters to the measurement of environmental concern.

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                          • Redclift, M. R., and G. Woodgate, eds. 2010. International handbook of environmental sociology. 2d ed. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

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                            This handbook provides a more diverse, international perspective on environmental sociology than Dunlap, et al. 2002 and Dunlap and Michelson 2002. The twenty-six chapters in this collection are organized into three main sections: major concepts and theories, substantive issues, and international perspectives.

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                            Journals

                            Environmental sociologists publish research in a variety of academic journals. Environmental Sociology, the first journal explicitly aiming to be an outlet for work in this field, began publication in 2015. Many other journals, both interdisciplinary and sociological, publish environmental sociology research. Interdisciplinary journals focused on the social dimensions of environmental issues include: Environment and Behavior, Human Ecology Review, Organization & Environment, and Population and Environment. Specialty journals in various subfields of sociology that regularly publish environmental sociology research include: Journal of World-Systems Research and Rural Sociology. Given the relevance of environmental sociology to the broader discipline of sociology, much of this research can also be found in the following generalist sociology and social science journals: American Sociological Review, Social Problems, and Social Science Research. These journals provide a starting point for locating environmental sociology research, but given the field’s interdisciplinary perspective and wide range of approaches and topics, research by environmental sociologists can be found in many different sociological, environmental, and interdisciplinary journals.

                            Social Causes of Environmental Problems

                            Research on the social causes of environmental degradation generally falls into two broad theoretical perspectives. The human ecology approach focuses on the interrelated effects of population characteristics, social organization, and technology on the environment (Catton 1980). The STIRPAT model was developed out of this approach and has become a common methodology for empirically examining the effects of population, affluence, and technology on indicators of environmental impacts; quantitative cross-national research employing STIRPAT has yielded important insights regarding the social causes of environmental unsustainability and has provided support for core propositions in human ecology theory (York, et al. 2003). The political economy approach focuses on the dynamics of capitalist economies, especially economic growth, that tend to escalate environmental impacts (for an overview, see Rudel, et al. 2011, cited under General Overviews). The most prominent theory in this perspective is the “treadmill of production” theory, which identifies the organization of production and the economic growth imperative of capitalist economies as principal drivers of escalating resource consumption and waste production (Schnaiberg 1980; for an empirical evaluation of this theory, see Jorgenson and Clark 2012, cited under Human Dimensions of Climate Change). Foster 1999 provides another theory in this perspective, the “metabolic rift theory,” which is based on Marx’s analysis of capitalist agriculture, and identifies the logic of the capitalist system as the prime source of environmental disruption. Political economy theories with a focus on the world economy include “ecologically unequal exchange theory,” which developed out of world-systems theory in sociology and argues that unequal power relations in the world economy shape international patterns of resource consumption and environmental degradation (Jorgenson 2010). Several recent developments in environmental sociology theory and research have opened up new areas of inquiry regarding the social sources of environmental problems. Hooks and Smith 2004 introduces the “treadmill of destruction,” which examines the environmental impacts of militarization and arms races. Downey 2015 provides a synthesis of political economy theories in the “inequality, democracy, and environment model,” which highlights inequality as a root cause of environmental problems. Rudel 2009 offers a comparative historical sociological approach to understanding landscape change (e.g., deforestation). Freudenburg 2005 highlights the role of power in society-environment relations and questions the economic necessity of much environmental degradation; the author argues there is a “double diversion” in which much environmental harm is committed by a few actors with disproportionate environmental access, which they protect by making taken-for-granted arguments about the necessity or unavoidability of pollution. Grant, et al. 2002 shifts attention from the macro level of countries and the world economy to the meso level of organizations in a study of the organizational characteristics (e.g., size, corporate structure) that are associated with higher rates of pollution.

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

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                              Applies an ecological framework to understand the causes and consequences of overuse of the environment. A foundational work in the human ecology tradition in environmental sociology, it highlights the ecological embeddedness of societies and the interconnected roles of population, culture, social organization, and technology in shaping demands on the environment.

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                              • Downey, L. 2015. Inequality, democracy, and the environment. New York: New York Univ. Press.

                                DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479850723.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Builds on political economy theories to develop a new theoretical model of the structural causes of environmental degradation. Argues that social and economic inequality creates conditions that allow elites to pursue environmentally destructive goals through undemocratic means.

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                                • Foster, J. B. 1999. Marx’s theory of metabolic rift: Classical foundations for environmental sociology. American Journal of Sociology 105.2: 366–405.

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

                                  Presents and develops Karl Marx’s theory of metabolic rift, which argues that the dynamics of capitalism disrupt natural cycles and processes.

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                                  • Freudenburg, W. 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 »

                                    Introduces the concepts of “double diversion” and “disproportionality.” Uses an analysis of toxic emissions in the United States to demonstrate how much environmental degradation results from privileged (or disproportionate) access to resources bolstered by privileged (i.e., generally unquestioned) accounts of powerful actors who benefit from environmental degradation (e.g., that it is economically necessary).

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                                    • Grant, D. S., A. J. Bergesen, and A. W. Jones. 2002. Organizational size and pollution: The case of the US chemical industry. American Sociological Review 67.3: 389–407.

                                      DOI: 10.2307/3088963Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Highlights the role of organizations in causing environmental damage. Analyzes data on organizational characteristics of chemical plants in the United States, finding that larger facilities emit more pollution, especially when they are part of a larger corporate structure. This meso-level framework provides a useful complement to the more common macro-level explanations of how society impacts the environment.

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                                      • Hooks, G., and C. L. Smith. 2004. The treadmill of destruction: National sacrifice areas and Native Americans. American Sociological Review 69.4: 558–575.

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

                                        Introduces the treadmill of destruction theory, which argues that geopolitical competition leads to military intensification and expansion that entails heightened resource use and waste production. Brought attention to militarization as an important cause of environmental degradation.

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                                        • Jorgenson, A. K. 2010. World-economic integration, supply depots, and environmental degradation: A study of ecologically unequal exchange, foreign investment dependence, and deforestation in less developed countries. Critical Sociology 36.3: 453–477.

                                          DOI: 10.1177/0896920510365204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Provides an excellent overview of ecologically unequal exchange theory. Demonstrates how globalization and the structure of the world economy shape international patterns of resource consumption and environmental degradation. Makes the argument, supported with an empirical analysis of deforestation, that the environmental costs of overconsumption in developed countries are externalized to less-developed countries through trade and foreign investment.

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                                          • Rudel, T. K. 2009. How do people transform landscapes? A sociological perspective on suburban sprawl and tropical deforestation. American Journal of Sociology 115.1: 129–154.

                                            DOI: 10.1086/597794Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Develops a comparative historical sociological approach to understanding land use (or landscape) change. Uses case studies of suburban sprawl and tropical deforestation to argue that landscape change results from dynamics among central governments, growth coalitions composed of actors who stand to benefit from landscape change, and countercoalitions of actors who seek to preserve the existing landscape. Good example of how sociology can complement environmental science research.

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                                            • Schnaiberg, A. 1980. The environment: From surplus to scarcity. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                              This foundational work introduced treadmill of production theory. This theory identifies institutional, economic, and technological dynamics within capitalist economies that result in the endless pursuit of economic growth, which entails higher rates of resource consumption and pollution.

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                                              • York, R., E. A. Rosa, and T. Dietz. 2003. Footprints on the earth: The environmental consequences of modernity. American Sociological Review 68.2: 279–300.

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

                                                Evaluates competing theoretical claims regarding the effect of human societies on the environment by conducting an in-depth cross-national statistical analysis. Employs the now well-known STIRPAT methodology as well as the ecological footprint as an indicator of the overall environmental demands of societies. Findings indicate support for political economy and human ecology theories. Population size and affluence are identified as the main drivers of environmental impacts.

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                                                Environmental Impacts on Society

                                                The natural environment can impact and influence society in many ways. Environmental sociologists have studied how such impacts are not equally distributed; rather, they tend to disproportionately affect the groups in society with the least status and power. This literature on environmental (in)justice has detailed these patterns of inequality by race and class, their consequences, and activist efforts to address them (Bullard 2000; Mohai, et al. 2009; Taylor 2014). Recent research has also demonstrated the importance of considering such environmental inequalities as a source of the perpetuation of social and economic inequalities via “environmental ascription” (Legot, et al. 2010). Another topic in this area of research is how the natural environment shapes conditions that give rise to certain social patterns and dynamics. Bunker and Ciccantell 2005 demonstrates the importance of the spatial distribution of natural resources for understanding the dynamics and consequences of economic globalization, Hunter, et al. 2015 discusses how environmental conditions shape human migration patterns and trends, and Shandra, et al. 2003 illustrates these dynamics with regard to overurbanization in less-developed countries. Natural hazards and disasters also impact society; for example, Schultz and Elliott 2013 finds that natural disasters in the United States tend to result in local population growth and increased socioeconomic inequality within affected communities. Klinenberg 2015 stresses that the harmful consequences of natural disasters are mediated by social structure and relationships. Freudenburg 1997 illustrates how the social consequences of technological environmental disasters (e.g., oil spills) differ from those of natural disasters (e.g., tornadoes).

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

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                                                  First published in 1990, this now classic work shows how institutionalized racism results in environmental degradation having a disproportionate impact on African American communities in the southern United States and how these communities have responded to these environmental threats.

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

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                                                    Presents an ecologically grounded analysis of the world economy. The “new historical materialism” approach developed here argues that to understand the dynamics of globalization and its unequal outcomes it is necessary to first consider the uneven spatial distribution of the type, quantity, and quality of raw materials around the world.

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                                                    • Freudenburg, W. R. 1997. Contamination, corrosion and the social order: An overview. Current Sociology 45.3: 19–39.

                                                      DOI: 10.1177/001139297045003002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Explains how and why the social consequences of technological disasters, especially those involving toxic contamination, differ from those of natural disasters.

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                                                      • Hunter, L. M., J. K. Luna, and R. M. Norton. 2015. Environmental dimensions of migration. Annual Review of Sociology 41:377–397.

                                                        DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-073014-112223Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        This review article provides an overview of the existing research literature on the complex relationship between environmental conditions and human migration, and how this connection is shaped by various social factors.

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                                                        • Klinenberg, E. 2015. Heat wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                                                          Providing an in-depth analysis of the 1995 heat wave in Chicago, Illinois, this book shows how social factors shape the consequences of natural disasters.

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                                                          • Legot, C., B. London, and J. Shandra. 2010. Environmental ascription: High-volume polluters, schools, and human capital. Organization & Environment 23.3: 271–290.

                                                            DOI: 10.1177/1086026610382620Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Introduces the concept of environmental ascription, which describes how the disproportionate exposure of disadvantaged groups to environmental hazards, particularly neurological and developmental toxins, contributes to the reproduction of social inequality. Conducts an exploratory spatial analysis of the location of polluting facilities relative to schools in predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods.

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                                                            • Mohai, P., D. Pellow, and J. T. Roberts. 2009. Environmental justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 34:405–430.

                                                              DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-082508-094348Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Provides a rather comprehensive overview of theoretical, methodological, and substantive issues in the research literature on environmental justice, which examines how environmental threats and hazards are unevenly distributed by race and class.

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                                                              • Schultz, J., and J. R. Elliott. 2013. Natural disasters and local demographic change in the United States. Population and Environment 34.3: 293–312.

                                                                DOI: 10.1007/s11111-012-0171-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Conducts a longitudinal county-level analysis of the social consequences of natural disasters in the United States. Finds that natural disasters (specifically hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods) and associated recoveries tend to result in increased population growth and socioeconomic inequality.

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                                                                • Shandra, J. M., B. London, and J. B. Williamson. 2003. Environmental degradation, environmental sustainability, and overurbanization in the developing world: A quantitative, cross-national analysis. Sociological Perspectives 46.3: 309–329.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1525/sop.2003.46.3.309Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  This cross-national study examines how rural-urban migration triggered by environmental degradation causes overurbanization (relative to economic development) in less-developed countries.

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                                                                  • Taylor, D. E. 2014. Toxic communities: Environmental racism, industrial pollution, and residential mobility. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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                                                                    Provides perhaps the most comprehensive and in-depth book-length treatment of the causes of the unequal distribution of environmental hazards in the United States. Reviews and synthesizes many different topics and lines of research related to environmental justice.

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                                                                    Environmental Attitudes, Behaviors, and Activism

                                                                    Given the emergence of environmental sociology alongside the modern environmental movement in the United States, a consistent major focus of the field has been the study of the social response to environmental threats in terms of perception, concern, and behavior. Sociologists have studied many aspects of environmental attitudes over the last several decades, refining the measurement of environmental concern (Dunlap and Jones 2002); developing a nuanced understanding of the nature of environmental attitudes and their connections to pro-environmental behavior (Heberlein 2012); investigating the effects of individual and contextual factors on beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes (Hamilton, et al. 2010; Marquart-Pyatt 2012; see also McCright, et al. 2016, cited under Human Dimensions of Climate Change). For example, recent research has shed light on the social sources of public skepticism of the causes and severity of environmental problems (Zhou 2015) and called into question the notion that public concern for environmental quality is most prevalent in wealthy countries (Dunlap and York 2008). The environmental movement and environmental activism have been prominent topics of study, with a large body of research examining the development, dynamics, and consequences of these topics, including Brulle 2000 and Johnson and Frickel 2011. Hadler and Haller 2011 and Szasz 2007 investigate the differences in, and the connections between, the private environmental behavior of individuals and their public environmental activism.

                                                                    • Brulle, R. J. 2000. Agency, democracy, and nature: The US environmental movement from a critical theory perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                      Offers a sophisticated theoretical and empirical analysis of the development, dynamics, and effectiveness of the environmental movement in the United States, with a focus on the diversity of views and goals of organizations within the movement.

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                                                                      • Dunlap, R. E., and R. E. Jones. 2002. Environmental concern: Conceptual and measurement issues. In Handbook of environmental sociology. Edited by R. E. Dunlap and W. Michelson, 482–524. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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                                                                        Provides an authoritative definition of the concept of “environmental concern,” explains the difficulties in measuring attitudes toward the environment, and evaluates different approaches for measurement.

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                                                                        • Dunlap, R. E., and R. York. 2008. The globalization of environmental concern and the limits of the postmaterialist values explanation: Evidence from four multinational surveys. The Sociological Quarterly 49.3: 529–563.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2008.00127.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          This cross-national study of multiple international surveys questions the claim that public concern for the environment is greatest in wealthy countries. Contradicting postmaterialism theory, the analysis shows that economic affluence is not consistently associated with a variety of measures of environmental concern, suggesting that environmental problems are a global concern not limited to the wealthy of the world.

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                                                                          • Hadler, M., and M. Haller. 2011. Global activism and nationally driven recycling: The influence of world society and national contexts on public and private environmental behavior. International Sociology 26.3: 315–345.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/0268580910392258Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Using cross-national data, the authors of this study distinguish between private environmental behaviors (e.g., recycling) and public environmental behaviors (e.g., activism) and examine how social context shapes the propensity of individuals to engage in each.

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                                                                            • Hamilton, L. C., C. R. Colocousis, and C. M. Duncan. 2010. Place effects on environmental views. Rural Sociology 75.2: 326–347.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1549-0831.2010.00013.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Examines how local social, economic, and physical characteristics of a place affect residents’ views on environmental issues. Based on surveys of residents in nineteen rural counties in the United States.

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                                                                              • Heberlein, T. A. 2012. Navigating environmental attitudes. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199773329.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                A comprehensive and detailed treatment of the nature of environmental attitudes, how they change, their links to behavior, and their role in solving environmental problems. Draws on the author’s experience conducting research on this topic over the last several decades.

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                                                                                • Johnson, E. W., and S. Frickel. 2011. Ecological threat and the founding of US national environmental movement organizations, 1962–1998. Social Problems 58.3: 305–329.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1525/sp.2011.58.3.305Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  This study provides evidence that the rise of the environmental movement occurred not only because of cultural and political change, but also because of increase environmental degradation. Also demonstrates that different types of environmental degradation lead to different types of environmental mobilization.

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                                                                                  • Marquart-Pyatt, S. T. 2012. Contextual influences on environmental concerns cross-nationally: A multilevel investigation. Social Science Research 41.5: 1085–1099.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.04.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This study is a sophisticated statistical analysis of national-level and individual-level survey data that examines the various ways that the environmental attitudes of individuals are shaped by the political, economic, social, and environmental context of the country in which they live.

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                                                                                    • Szasz, A. 2007. Shopping our way to safety: How we changed from protecting the environment to protecting ourselves. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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                                                                                      This important book illustrates how individualistic, consumeristic actions to protect oneself (“inverted quarantine”) in response to environmental threats undermine the ability to collectively address these problems.

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                                                                                      • Zhou, M. 2015. Public environmental skepticism: A cross-national and multilevel analysis. International Sociology 30.1: 61–85.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/0268580914558285Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        This study uses international survey data to examine the individual-level and national-level factors associated with skepticism of the existence and severity of environmental problems.

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                                                                                        Environmental Reform and Sustainability

                                                                                        Beginning in the 1990s, environmental sociologists began to pay greater attention to social processes and dynamics that could bring about environmental reform and sustainability, identified in Buttel 2003. The development and spread of ecological modernization theory, which argues that technological development, economic growth (and associated social change), and free market capitalism are drivers of environmental improvement, prompted a long-running debate in the field about the potential roles of economic growth, institutional change, and technology in achieving sustainability (Ehrhardt-Martinez, et al. 2002; Mol, et al. 2009; see also Jorgenson and Clark 2012, cited under Human Dimensions of Climate Change). Along related lines, sociologists have questioned and critiqued technological solutions that do not address the social structural roots of environmental problems; one example of this is the analysis of the limited impact of renewable energy on reducing fossil fuel use presented in York 2012. Debates also emerged regarding the potential of globalization to mitigate environmental harms; Mol 2001 concludes, from the perspective of ecological modernization theory, that globalization is a force for both environmental degradation and reform. Another prominent theory of environmental reform is world society (or polity) theory, which argues that pro-environmental concerns, actions, and policies within countries are the result of a “world environmental regime” embodied in international organizations and treaties (Frank, et al. 2000). Hironaka 2014 describes this theory, which suggests that countries that are more integrated in the world society via treaties and memberships in international governmental and nongovernmental organizations are most likely to implement pro-environmental policies and achieve environmental improvement. The broader issue of sustainability has also become a key topic in environmental sociology. Sociologists have contributed to this topic in a number of ways, including developing theoretical frameworks and visions for sustainability that integrate environmental and social concerns (Agyeman, et al. 2003; Schor 2010) as well as introducing innovative conceptualizations and indicators of sustainability (Dietz, et al. 2009).

                                                                                        • Agyeman, J., R. D. Bullard, and B. Evans, eds. 2003. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                          This edited volume presents a variety of perspectives on the importance of, and challenges to, incorporating concerns for environmental justice and social equity into frameworks for sustainability.

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                                                                                          • Buttel, F. H. 2003. Environmental sociology and the explanation of environmental reform. Organization & Environment 16.3: 306–344.

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

                                                                                            Identifies a shift in the field of environmental sociology, beginning in the 1990s, from focusing only on explaining environmental degradation to also investigating social processes of environmental reform. Evaluates the efficacy of several potential societal mechanisms for achieving environmental improvements.

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                                                                                            • Dietz, T., E. A. Rosa, and R. York. 2009. Environmentally efficient well-being: Rethinking sustainability as the relationship between human well-being and environmental impacts. Human Ecology Review 16.1: 114–123.

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                                                                                              Introduces the concept of “environmentally efficient well-being” as a means of conceptualizing sustainability. Argues that sustainability can be understood as maximizing human well-being while minimizing environmental impacts and demonstrates with a cross-national analysis that high levels of well-being are not dependent on high levels of environmental exploitation.

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                                                                                              • Ehrhardt-Martinez, K., E. M. York, and J. C. Jenkins. 2002. Deforestation and the environmental Kuznets curve: A cross‐national investigation of intervening mechanisms. Social Science Quarterly 83.1: 226–243.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/1540-6237.00080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Evaluates ecological modernization and political economy theories with regard to the social drivers of deforestation in less-developed countries. Finds evidence for an environmental Kuznets curve (i.e., an inverted U-shaped relationship between economic development and environmental degradation) driven by ecological modernization processes.

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                                                                                                • Frank, D. J., A. Hironaka, and E. Schofer. 2000. The nation-state and the natural environment over the twentieth century. American Sociological Review 65.1: 96–116.

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

                                                                                                  This study argues that the institutionalization of environmental protection by national governments is driven largely by global-level cultural frameworks embodied in international organizations and treaties rather than domestic factors and occurs at a faster rate in countries more integrated in this world society.

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                                                                                                  • Hironaka, A. 2014. Greening the globe: World society and environmental change. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139381833Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Presents an in-depth and well-documented case for the world society theory of environmental reform. Develops the “bee swarm model of social change” to explain how the global institutionalization of environmental concern results in positive environmental change in countries around the world.

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

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                                                                                                      Argues that while economic globalization might exacerbate some forms of environmental degradation, it also encourages environmental reform through a variety of mechanisms. A key work in the literature in ecological modernization theory.

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                                                                                                      • Mol, A. P. J., D. Sonnenfeld, and G. Spaargaren, eds. 2009. The ecological modernization reader: Environmental reform in theory and practice. New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                                        This edited volume brings together original essays and previously published work to provide an excellent overview of ecological modernization theory. It includes examples of how it has been applied to various issues and contexts.

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                                                                                                        • Schor, J. B. 2010. Plenitude: The new economics of true wealth. New York: Penguin.

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                                                                                                          Presents a framework for sustainability, based on research in the environmental social sciences, that would entail shifting socioeconomic systems toward an orientation that pursues social well-being rather than economic growth.

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                                                                                                          • York, R. 2012. Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels? Nature Climate Change 2.6: 441–443.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1451Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Evaluates the efficacy of attempting to mitigate climate change by promoting the use of alternative energy sources. Statistical analysis of cross-national data finds that increases in non-fossil fuel energy sources do not proportionately decrease fossil fuel use, suggesting that addressing climate change will require more than a technological solution substituting one energy source for another.

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                                                                                                            Human Dimensions of Climate Change

                                                                                                            Environmental sociologists contribute to the study of human dimensions of climate change in a variety of ways. Dunlap and Brulle 2015, the result of work undertaken by the American Sociological Association’s Task Force on Sociology and Global Climate Change, provides an excellent overview of sociological research on climate change. A key topic of interest is identifying the social drivers of climate change. Sociologists have developed theoretical frameworks for understanding the root causes of climate change (e.g., Clark and York 2005). They also empirically investigate the social structural factors associated with greenhouse gas emissions; Rosa and Dietz 2012 provides a review of this research and Jorgenson and Clark 2012 empirically assess competing claims about economic growth as a driver of carbon emissions using cross-national data. Sociologists also study the factors that shape awareness of, belief in, and concern for anthropogenic climate change. Brulle, et al. 2012 identifies the political and economic conditions that influence aggregate climate change public opinion, while McCright, et al. 2016 reviews the literature on individual-level factors associated with climate change views and develops a theoretical framework to account for the patterns observed. Concerning climate skepticism, Norgaard 2011 examines the social processes behind climate denial beliefs, while Farrell 2016 investigates the political-economic dynamics behind the concerted effort of the climate contrarian movement to sow doubts about the causes and consequences of climate change. Environmental sociologists are also concerned with the impacts of climate change on society, how vulnerability is shaped by social structure, and how to adapt. Harlan, et al. 2006, a study on inequalities in vulnerability to heat stress, is one example of this work. Finally, Roberts and Parks 2007 provides an example of how environmental sociologists critically examine climate policy and politics. Similarly, sociologists have questioned the efficacy of proposed solutions to climate change that focus only on technological change and neglect social structural context (see York 2012, cited under Environmental Reform and Sustainability).

                                                                                                            • Brulle, R. J., J. Carmichael, and J. C. Carmichael. 2012. Shifting public opinion on climate change: An empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the US, 2002–2010. Climatic Change 114.2: 169–188.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0403-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              This study shows that aggregate public concern for climate change in the United States shifts according to political dynamics and economic conditions more so than any other factors, including extreme weather.

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                                                                                                              • Clark, B., and R. York. 2005. Carbon metabolism: Global capitalism, climate change, and the biospheric rift. Theory and Society 34.4: 391–428.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/s11186-005-1993-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Applies the metabolic rift theory to illustrate the role of capitalism in causing climate change.

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                                                                                                                • Dunlap, R. E., and R. J. Brulle, eds. 2015. Climate change and society: Sociological perspectives. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                  This landmark edited volume brings together contributions by many prominent environmental sociologists to provide a comprehensive overview of sociological contributions to understanding the various human dimensions of climate change.

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                                                                                                                  • Farrell, J. 2016. Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113.1: 92–97.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509433112Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    This study employs a sophisticated computational analysis to identify the structural and network dynamics behind the production of polarizing climate change messaging.

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                                                                                                                    • Harlan, S. L., A. J. Brazel, L. Prashad, W. L. Stefanov, and L. Larsen. 2006. Neighborhood microclimates and vulnerability to heat stress. Social Science & Medicine 63.11: 2847–2863.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.07.030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Demonstrates how vulnerability to extreme heat is socially structured by socioeconomic inequality. An analysis of neighborhoods in Phoenix, Arizona, shows how the poor and ethnic minorities are at greater risk of heat stress due to structural disadvantages.

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                                                                                                                      • Jorgenson, A. K., and B. 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 »

                                                                                                                        This cross-national study finds that while economic growth has become less carbon-intensive in developed countries over the last several decades, it has become more so in less-developed countries, which suggests that “decoupling” between growth and emissions in the developed countries may be due to the shifting of carbon-intensive production to less-developed countries via trade and foreign investment.

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                                                                                                                        • McCright, A. M., S. T. Marquart-Pyatt, R. L. Shwom, S. R. Brechin, and S. Allen. 2016. Ideology, capitalism, and climate: Explaining public views about climate change in the United States. Energy Research & Social Science 21:180–189.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1016/j.erss.2016.08.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Reviews the research literature on predictors of climate change views and introduces a theoretical framework that explains how individual and contextual factors aligned with defending the current capitalist industrial system tend to be associated with less concern for and greater skepticism of climate change.

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                                                                                                                          • Norgaard, K. M. 2011. Living in denial: Climate change, emotions, and everyday life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262015448.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Examines, with a case study of a Norwegian community, how and why individuals engage in the “social organization of denial” in response to the threat of climate change.

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                                                                                                                            • Roberts, J. T., and B. C. Parks. 2007. A climate of injustice: Global inequality, north-south politics, and climate policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                                                                                                              This important book illustrates how global economic inequality and the legacies of colonialism have resulted in a mismatch between vulnerability to and responsibility for climate change among the countries of the world, while also undermining the global cooperation needed to mitigate this crisis.

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                                                                                                                              • Rosa, E. A., and T. Dietz. 2012. Human drivers of national greenhouse-gas emissions. Nature Climate Change 2.8: 581–586.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1506Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                Provides a relatively brief but comprehensive overview of findings from environmental social science research on the social factors associated with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

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