Sociology’s engagement with the environment (Part II)


♪ Music ♪ In the second of two presentations on sociology’s engagement with the environment, Dr. Dana Fisher first highlights a theoretical distinction between environmental sociology and the environmental state. She defines key concepts in environmental sociology – the treadmill of production, overshoot, and metabolic rift, all of which the environmental degradation as related to economic growth. She then defines key concepts in the environmental state approach – ecological modernization, ecological reflexivity, and the world polity perspective and notes that the environmental state approach sees environmental protection as a source of economic growth. She concludes by highlighting the differences in focus, assumptions, and research approaches between the two paradigms. Hi, I’m Dana Fisher, I’m professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. So in contrast to the way I’ve been framed by others, let me tell you a little about what I’m going to do today. I am going to talk about ecological modernization cause I know everybody’s just dying to hear about it, so I will talk about that, but I’m actually framing it within this; I’m going to present the current with mainstream debate that plagues most environmental sociology pieces that are being written today and just go through the theoretical argument with the main theories that are there just because I know many of you haven’t read all of them much to your sadness perhaps and then what I’m actually going to do is I’m going to present a conceptual framework that Andrew Jorgenson and I’ve been working on to go beyond the debate. So it’s going to be a work in progress, I’m going to be the only one who does that today, but I thought it would be a nice way to end, but let’s see, I’m going to talk, start, and focus here on this debate that I would say started in the mid-90s and although I presented or assigned or whatever included a paper that was written in early 2000s this debate has continued to rage on and so I’m just going to update it and give you more detail on the theories, but the main question in the debate right now is environmental protection possible? What characteristics of a society determine environmental political outcomes and material outcomes in terms of environmental degradation? And scholars working within environmental sociology tend to see environmental degradation to be associated with economic growth and the question of the relationship there and the strength of the association tends to be where a lot of the debate is focused, but they also tend to, you know, a lot of ways this goes back to Giddens whom I spoke very briefly about earlier who talks about how environment protection could be seen as a source of economic growth rather than its opposite. So I like to and Bill and I did in this paper break the debate into two schools rather than, or literatures rather than saying it’s one theory against another because there’re a bunch of theories that have the same kind of themes and it depends on who’s writing what, who’s included in the debate, but the debate tends to be, you can break it out this way, the term, you know, some people will not like that I called it environmental sociology versus environmental state, but it’s just what I was throwing out there as a way of thinking about the distinction, so on the one side we have the treadmill of production, overshoot, and the metabolic rift and then on the other side we have ecological modernization, reflexive modernization, and the world polity or world state perspectives, but basically what we have on the, it’s your left-hand side is work that all tends to see capitalism as driving growth, but also being associated with environmental degradation and then for the people on the right there is this is expectation that environmental regulation is possible and therefore environmental protection is possible within the context of environmental, or of economic growth, but let me dig in more deeply. So I’m going to give just, I should just say, so I teach environmental sociology, I just finished teaching last semester environmental sociology for advanced undergrads and beginning grad students and so each of these slides I’m going to present is actually a lecture or two lectures, so I did, this is the condensed version again, so if there are questions we can come back to it. I know, we’ve already talked a little about treadmill of production, so perhaps there may be more questions on theories that haven’t been discussed at all, but I just, as I said, I’m trying here to distill and also, you know, get us to drinks. So treadmill of production, so basically this is Alan Schnaiberg and his colleagues work and they tended to situate the work within the basic, there’s the first and second laws of thermodynamics, but the overarching theme was that there’s this enduring conflict between economic growth and environmental quality. The treadmill of production is built around two processes and the first as Schnaiberg said was the expansion of technological capacity and the other is the increased necessity of using this capacity in order to provide economic support for the population and basically they focus on this notion of the speeding up of society through the industrialization process which basically means that industrialization will drive further industrialization and the way that they conceptualize this is by talking about there being additions and withdrawals, so society is adding environmental bads to the environment while withdrawing environmental goods and it’s this content and that’s where you see the treadmill there, so there’s this treadmill and the faster society or the more society grows and the faster industrialization goes, the more additions and withdrawals there are and the goal of the treadmill is basically to expand production and ecological extraction or expanding additions and withdrawals. Competition is seen as driving the treadmill and while they move forward in work that was written around the treadmill production to talk about it being a transnational treadmill that connects people all over the world and production processes all over the world which does provide some opportunities for connection with the world systems approaches, but hasn’t, that hasn’t been done I think very, you know, in-depth at this point, but I think one of the big themes in kind of the conclusions of the treadmill of production work is that while you can expand the pie, so that there’s more resources for everybody, the pie can’t stop and the treadmill can’t stop and so there is no way to stop this treadmill. Now Schnaiberg and Gould did in their 1994 book suggest one possible way to move forward beyond the treadmill of production and I’m just going to read the, they basically said here from page 53 “the greatest thread of the treadmill may not lie in deficient technologies that pollute, but in the competitive logic of maximization of shared values with, without limits.” And they said the only way to move beyond this is to basically mobilize politically with the idea that that and then in other pieces that they’ve written talking about alliances between labor and the environmental movement may be able to move forward, but in the end when pushed, they always come back to this saying well the logic of the treadmill means that the treadmill will continue and so that is my summary of the treadmill. So overshoot wasn’t really talked about here, but I think it’s just such a great piece of work that I thought it was worth mentioning. Overshoot comes to similar conclusions, but basically embraces a lot of more ecological terminology to talk about the same type of processes and they basically, Catton and his work based, basically talked about the notion that humans have sustained society and population group growth through consuming more than their carrying capacity that we have overshot our carrying capacity and we’ve done it through multiple processes. One is this takeover method of stealing from what he called elsewhere and elsewhere can be stealing from colonial, you know, colonial places or more recently from developing countries or what he called the drawdown method which is stealing what, from what he called else when and that’s obviously particularly a reference towards fossil fuel consumption and relying on what he called phantom carrying capacity which is, this is a quote from his book from ’82, “the portion of the population that cannot be permanently supported when temporally available resources become unavailable.” And in the end basically he also concludes that there really is no way to move past overshoot without what he calls a die-off which could be a world war, could be famine, but in general until there are fewer people on the planet who are consuming resources, we are having problems or we will continue to have problems and there would be challenges. The metabolic rift is part of what I like to think of as the ecological Marxist kind of mainstream perspective. A lot of people have talked about this already today, but I just wanted to put it in here and in a lot of ways it’s similar to the treadmill of production although I, Alan Schnaiberg once yelled at me for calling him a Marxist, so I know that I would never say that, it’s the same, but that there are a lot of similarities, but basically it says that capitalism tries to find ways around rising environmental costs and let’s see, the perspective here argues that modern capitalism drives the growth imperative and it is a social metabolic system that operates in accord with its own logic reducing nature and labor to serve capital accumulation. My, one of my favorite pieces of the metabolic rift or the ecological Marxism literature is on the contradiction its capitalism which focus on two components of, or two contradictions. The first would be what Bellamy Foster and O’Connor have called the demand side crisis which is basically focusing on the alienation of labor that labor as labor becomes part of this production process no longer is connected to the resources that are being consumed or processed and at the same time labor is also squeezed to the point where it can no longer afford to purchase the products that are being produced and then on the, at the same time there’s this second contradiction which is seen as the more environmental of the two and that’s the supply-side crisis focusing on the exploitation of the natural environment which is not infinite and it’s basically Foster calls this absolute general law of environmental degradation under capitalism. I’d like to, if we had more time, I’d do a nice little anecdote about using a piano process and how people used to produce pianos through like, through craftspeople and how it’s become much more industrialized and the production process has gone into factories and no longer people realize that the ivory is coming from an endangered species which I would do if we had more time, but instead just imagine I gave you a really great anecdote about how these two contradictions capitalism can be seen within making pianos and industrial processes. So that’s, those are the theories that fall into this traditional environmental sociology side and I’ll talk about the commonalities in a minute, but I thought I’d go through all of the theories first. The next one is the one that has come up a bunch of times, but we haven’t really spoken about in detail which is ecological modernization and I wanted to just say here, so the ecological modernist manifesto that just came out I guess this was less than a year ago now and got a lot of attention leading up to Paris and the climate negotiations is seen as very much kind of an alternative perspective, a more popularized perspective on ecological modernization that does not that, that’s like a public reinterpretation and I actually had emailed with the proponents of ecological modernization Gert Spaargaren and Arthur Mol when it came out asking them what their thoughts were because I was, I assigned the manifesto to my class and I wanted to know what they thought of it and they were like oh we’re not really speaking on that, but it’s very, it’s very, very different. So this is ecological modernization within the sociological literature and within ecological modernization there is this focus on super industrialization that’s driven by hybrid arrangements among multiple social actors that will be state, mark, and civil society actors to bring around environmentally, a more environmentally sustainable future. Some people have considered this overly optimistic; it sees science and technology as central institutions and in a lot of ways I think, one way of thinking about this is that ecological modernization is talking about going from end of pipe solutions where all, you know, you have all the nasties that get pumped out of the water and then you decide to clean up the water and instead ecological modernization says the processes become changed, you know, and all of a sudden either citizens complain or policies maker, policymakers recognize that, you know, a watershed is about to die because of all the pollution and for some reason there’s a decision made to clean up the process and instead of cleaning up the yuck that comes out at the end of the pipe, they start to change the production process, so it makes less yuck to begin with. And so there are lots of examples of when these types of ecological switches, switchovers have taken place and the, part of what’s happened with this debate in sociology is a question of whether that really means that capitalism no longer is driving environmental degradation long-term and whether or not we’re basically just doomed anyway and there you can talk, you can think about it within the context of thinking about recycling, thinking about alternative energy, many in the room have talked about different components of this or thinking more broadly about the differences between developing and developed nation states and the ways that they produce carbon, the ways that they consume resources, etc., so forth. But the idea is that in ecological modernization they argue that continued economic growth increases both technological advancement and environmental governance which serves as a basis to mediate the environmental outcomes of development over time. Now some people have said this is basically just identical to an environmental Kuznets curve, and so I figured I would talk for the economist before the economists decided to speak up to say that, well there are similarities there in the predictions and the expectations and some of the analyses, what ecological modernization does is it starts to break apart and think through the relationships across these different social actors pulling apart how those are determining these social changes or changes in the production process and that’s why it’s slightly different whereas some parts of it are very similar to you the Kuznets curve. You know, and basically the idea is to highlight the relationship between modernization processes in the environment and industrial societies. Now some people also could say that this is very much consistent with Julian Simon’s work and in some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t and we can talk about that more later cause I know I’m supposed to be done soon, so the next theory that I wanted to touch on which hasn’t been mentioned I think really at all today is reflexive modernization and the risk society and this one is really tough to do in a, in my, in like a 3 minute summary, but I’m going to try. Okay, so reflexive modernization really focuses on risk as the driving force for social change, okay, and basically we got a bunch of quotes from Ulrich Beck here; he’s a German and he likes to talk like a German, so you’ll see that he likes to talk about radicalization, some modernity and I’m not sure that it helps as much to think through what he talks about, but basically the idea of reflexive modernization is that society goes through two stages; the first stage is called a risk society and the idea behind it is that change is unintended and unpolitical and basically because its unintended and unpolitical, it passes through all the normal forms for political decisions, the lines of conflict and the partisan controversies and instead change contradicts democratic self-understanding because it comes through the notion of risk and Beck is famous for saying that it arrives on cat’s paws because it’s very sneaky and you don’t know that it’s coming. So risk society is this underlying assumption and it comes first and basically Beck and his colleagues say risk is not an option, it is the unintended consequences of industrial society and one of the best ways to think about it, and Fred Buttel used to talk about this when he taught reflexive modernization he would say, you know, if you think about it it’s the reason that the insurance companies are just booming right now because what are they doing, but rather they’re basically estimating your risk of getting flooded out or hit with some other disaster and there is never the chance of zero on any of those and so these are the kinds of industries that are going to drive risk society, so risk is an unintended consequence of industrial society and it’s the next step and Beck talks about it and Giddens spoke about it as being something that we don’t even know is coming and it’s not the thing that you expect to happen that’s going to drive the risk society, but rather it’s the things that we don’t expect, that’s the whole cat’s paws part, but basically risks are the side effects of modernization and industrialization it is impossible to take those to zero as long as we live in an industrial society. Let’s see and he also talks about within the risk society that risks tell us what should not be done not what should be done, so it’s not that we can talk about, oh if you just do X, you no longer are at risk of cancer, it’s rather well if you drink organic milk and you don’t spray roundup on your lawn, you’ll have less of a chance of getting cancer and that’s the best you can talk about within the context of risk here. So because of that ecological crisis becomes central and risk society happens when risk permeates so much that people start to just feel the effects it every day and there have been glimpses of it – Katrina, obviously, hurricane Sandy. I, you know, I was living in New York City right after 9/11 – no question we were in a risk society there and the politics, their political became unpolitical and the unpolitical became political because all of a sudden people were fighting over water. I know after Sandy, people, I have friends in New York who were saying they had to drive into the, you know, they had to drive up to Westchester just so they could fill up their gas tanks, right, because you just couldn’t get gas and if you went to a gas, you know, to the pumps, people would start fighting with you. So anyway in this process towards reflexive modernization, you get to the risk society and then basically things start to fall apart because risk permeates and out of that we end up with reflexive modernization which is when enough people are harmed by risk or at, so their lives are so affected by risk that people start to mobilize in new ways and it’s not just citizens taking arms and protesting and, you know, a revolution in the form that Marx might predict, but rather it’s the industries that are going to make money on it like the insurance companies and others as well as, you know, the businesses as well as the other types of individuals and, you know, market actors and government actors who want to deal with risk and try to move forward, so they’re these interesting coalitions that form, they call them eco-profiteers and as a process of that we basically have this self-confrontation with the effects of risk society that lead to a new modernization which is called reflexive modernization and I guess the last thing I would say about that is that conflicts over goods turn into conflicts over bads because historically war has been waged, you know, because people are trying to get access to goods, right, oil, you know, timber in the past, but eventually wars will be waged over getting away from whatever risk it is whether it be tainted water or drought or, you know, whatever else it is. Alright and the last one I wanted to talk about is the, I call it the world polity perspective; I learned that they actually call it world society, there’s world society, world polity. So anyway here called world policy perspective, so this is this broad literature that has been spoken about a little bit here that tends to argue that the environmental state has emerged. This is the ASR paper, it’s a quote from the Frank, Hironaka, and Schofer article that says “environmental protection is a basic purpose of the nation-state,” but in contrast to ecological modernization and reflexive modernization there are different processes seen as causing the environmental change, and in this case they talk about this isomorphism coming from the top down globally, so the blueprints for the state are drawn at the global level and then individual countries respond to them. One really good example is when the European Union required that any country that entered the Union have certain environmental regulations, or like NAFTA to the degree that NAFTA actually did that. Let’s see, so Buttel’s response to this work argued that there’s this growing degree of global cultural homogenization in social structure and this isomorphism organizational forms across world societies that’s more significant than just functional necessity or task demands, but I think what’s really important here and Anne Hironaka published her book this summer I think it was, that’s, you know, a newer version of this is that the idea here is that there’s, that it’s this notion that states are all working with us in this global system where environmental regulation and environmental response comes from the top down, top meaning the international level down rather than coming from trickling up from communities for like, for example the opposite of reflexive modernization cause it’s not coming from people feeling risk, it’s rather coming from nation states are saying it; if power at the Paris accord is successful and all of a sudden everybody has to do something because the international governing body of the UNFCCC has declared it, that would mean they are correct, so these are all the theories and basically, let me just give you a kind of, the comparison here is, so there’s similarities and differences across the school, so there are lots of differences obviously and way more than I even put up in each of those slides, but just to say that here are the similarities that I think are worth noting. For those in the environmental sociology literature whatever we want to call them, there’s this focus on environmental degradation and crisis, there’s this notion that the economy is leading social change, and there’s no clear way out and, you know, there’s some discussion of social movements having a potential, I suppose if there were a bloody overthrow, you know, revolution, it could solve the problem potentially in the context of the treadmill, but really there’s this, you know, hope potentially. They look at countries in the developing or developed stages and they’re very pessimistic; I said relatively here, but I think they’re, I feel very pessimistic this time of the day on a Monday. On the other side, the environmental state literature focuses more on regulation and protection, so in some ways the object of inquiry for these literatures is very different, right, they focus on these coalitions coming from hybrid arrangements, so they’re not just looking at one social actor at a time and they think about development as leading to the way out in terms of leading to more environmentally possible futures for industrialization. They tend to focus only on countries that are in the post-industrial stage and they tend to be relatively optimistic, so what I wanted to do is just provide, present one potential framework for thinking about bringing these guys together. Alright and this is something that as I said Andrew and I are starting to play with, so I think that one could make an argument that these theories are all part of this same dynamic process with the idea here being that if you start, you know, you start at the top where you have a treadmill of production or ecological Marxism, if you get to an extreme form of treadmill and metabolic rift, you may have so many environmental bads that you tip over into a risk society, right, where all of a sudden risk has permeated so much that people are going to start to mobilize and there has been this discussion within the treadmill of production and within ecological Marxists that there could be possibilities for these kinds of mobilizations to happen to make social change, so risk would be the pivot that leads to that and risk society itself is, inherent to risk society is this notion that risk society leads to reflexive modernization where there is a successive capitalism where the conflicts over goods turn into conflicts over bads and if it actually is successful, if reflexive modernization could be successful at dealing with environmental problems, you could end up looking like something that looks like ecological modernization and a world society where all of a sudden we have this kind of global, you know, isomorphic forms that are all taking place around the world because there’s this super industrialization where the industrial processes that are dealing with risk are embracing the change, but this is not seen it, it’s a cycle where, you know, and, you know, things can happen that can make something, some state or community that’s at the ecologically modern point yet, you know, bounced back and I would argue that there could be these extreme events, state failure, other processes. I think that we could argue that disasters can take states or communities that are relatively ecologically modern and push them backwards; I think that you could see that in Paris after the terrorist attacks recently, you could see it after September 11th in New York City, I would guess that you could see it after Katrina, but I am not an expert and Lori would be able to speak better to that, but that’s the idea. ♪ Music ♪

Michael Martin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment