Environmental Issue In American Community

Read Complete Research Material

Environmental Issue in American Community

Societal Awareness of Environmental Problems

The emergence of “the environment” on the U.S. national agenda in the late 1960s and early 1970s led sociologists to study factors that contributed to societal awareness of environmental degradation. While there were a few early efforts to analyze the overall processes involved, most studies focused on specific factors such as environmentalism. The environmental movement played the major role in placing environmental issues on the nation's agenda, and studies of environmentalism were a primary emphasis of early sociological work not only in North America but also subsequently in Europe, South America, and Asia. The growth of public awareness and concern stimulated by environmental activists and personal experience with degradation also received a good deal of attention. (York, 355-62) These two emphases have continued over time, while in recent decades attention to the roles played by the media and especially science in generating societal attention to environmental problems has increased. These strands of research have contributed to a broader concern with understanding how environmental problems are “socially constructed.” (Shandra, 520-45)


In the United States, the modern environmental movement evolved out of the older conservation movement and the social activism of the 1960s, and sociologists helped document this evolution. Early studies focused heavily on the characteristics of people who joined national environmental organizations, finding that organizations such as the Sierra Club drew members who were above average in socioeconomic status, predominately white, and primarily urban. While this pattern led to charges of “elitism,” it was noted that most voluntary and political organizations have similar membership profiles and that environmental activists were hardly economic “elites. (Mertig, 482-524)

Sociologists also studied the organizational characteristics of large national organizations such as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. Attention was given to their strategies and tactics, especially their efforts to influence national policy making via lobbying and litigation and their successful use of direct mail advertising to recruit a large but only nominally involved membership base. (Freudenburg, 88-114) These organizations grew rapidly in the late 1960s and early 1970s and ended up following a typical pattern observed for social movement organizations: As they became larger and more successful in the political arena, they also became more bureaucratic, professionalized, unresponsive to their memberships, willing to compromise, and conservative in their tactics. (Frey, 317-54)

Environmental Awareness and Concern

As environmental problems gained a foothold on the public agenda, both public opinion pollsters and social scientists began conducting surveys to examine levels of public awareness of environmental problems and support for environmental protection efforts. Initial efforts were confined to documenting growing levels of public awareness and concern for the environment among residents of the United States and other wealthy nations and to examining variation in “environmental concern” across differing sectors of society—by levels of education, age, and residence, for example. Syntheses of available findings indicated that age, education, and political ideology were the best predictors, with young adults, the well-educated and political liberals being more concerned about the environment than their counterparts. Urban residents ...
Related Ads