Environmental Problems Policies

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Environmental Problems Policies

Environmental Problems Policies

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 (e.g., Albrecht 1975), 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. 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.”

Environmental Problems

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” (Morrison and Dunlap 1986).

Besides describing and analyzing the organizational complexity and dynamics of contemporary environmentalism, sociologists have conducted long-term historical analyses of the growth of conservation/environmental organizations, both nationally (McLaughlin and Khawaja 2000) and locally (Andrews and Edwards 2005), and of the increasingly diverse set of environmentally relevant discourses to document the evolution of modern environmentalism out of traditional conservation concerns (Brulle 2000).

Also receiving a good deal of attention has been the emergence of environmental movements and Green parties in Europe (Rootes 2003) and, more recently, in Asia and Latin America (see Redclift and Woodgate 1997:pt. III). Transnational environmental activism is receiving increasing attention, including studies on topics such as how environmentalism in less-developed nations is influenced by international pressures (Barbosa 2000), how relations between transnational environmental organizations are influenced by ties to international governmental organizations such UN agencies (Caniglia 2001), and the factors that affect transnational environmental organizations' decisions to fund debt-for-nature “swaps” in less-developed nations (Lewis 2000). Some studies suggest that environmentalism is becoming a potent political force within many nations as well as at the international level (Shandra et al. 2004), whereas others are more cautious in their assessment of the potential influence of environmentalism at the global level (Frickel and Davidson 2004).

Within the United States, the increasing mobilization of the conservative movement as an antienvironmental countermovement has begun to receive some attention (Austin 2002), particularly the degree to which conservative ...
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