THIS SITE IS LIVE WHILE UNDER DEVELOPMENT with new content being added daily. As a draft, forgive current typos and incomplete pages.
We know that the persistence of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere generates global warming and climate change but what are the underlying causes? Why does modern human society behave in ways that generates global warming? Why haven’t we done more to avert disaster? What will the consequences be to humans and other species? What role does power and the system of global capitalism play? How do the social constructs of race, class, and gender influence the effects of climate change that people experience? What drives many societies to consume beyond our needs? We can understand the chemistry and physics of climate change through the natural sciences, but they tells us little about the real driving force — the complexities of human society.
This site is written and designed to be widely accessible and focuses on the sociological perspective of climate change. I rely on scientific research from sociologists, political scientists, and some from economists and psychologists, as well as climatologists and other natural scientists. I try to balance readability with the inclusion of citations. Often, I will link directly to the peer-reviewed academic articles (primary sources), sometimes I will link to a journalism article (secondary sources) that references peer-reviewed research. I often pull graphs, images, and videos from the sites of scientific and environmental organizations; most should be linked to the original source. This site can be used similarly to a textbook or supplemental reading in the classroom for courses like environmental sociology, the sociology of climate change, or environmental studies. Think about using this site to add a section on the sociology of climate change or environmental sociology to your introduction to sociology course. Or simply learn more about the sociological perspective of climate change.
CLIMATE CHANGE IS FUNDAMENTALLY A SOCIAL ISSUE
People, society, and institutions are causing and are experiencing the consequences of climate change. How we have organized our society/-ies, the values and beliefs of our cultures, the power expressed in our politics, and the way we distribute the benefits of our economic system all have influenced the emergence of human-caused climate change and how people will continue to experience the consequences. Below, I introduce some of the most basic sociological concepts and approaches to climate change. The menu to the left connects to in-depth chapters.
Some basic sociological concepts
Fully understanding climate change requires using one’s sociological imagination – what C. Wright Mills argued was the ability to see the relationship between individual lives and the effects of larger social forces.
THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION: Mills refers to this as a way of seeing, a way to think sociologically – seeing the intersections between personal troubles and public issues, between biography and history, between the individual and the social. If just one person was experiencing climate change it would be a personal trouble, but the fact that climate change is experienced, in some way, by all means that it is a public issue. For the foreseeable future, our individual biographies will be heavily influenced, guided, and structured by the historical era we are living in — one involving unprecedented human-caused climate change. To read more on Mill’s sociological imagination click here for a pdf of the text and here and here for more examples of the concept.
Sociology does not argue that we are all robots, replicating the “programming” we have been given by our social context. Sociology acknowledges individual choices — we would look like fools if we didn’t. Sociology refers to individual choices as “agency.” But sociology argues that social context and social facts guide us, sometimes with greater force than others (law versus social customs). We are all born into particular social structures that we are socialized to adopt, accept, and even embrace.
When we say “structure” sociologists mean…
“Social construction” refers to the idea that much of what we know and think of as “real” is not necessarily inherent or fixed. Rather it is constructed or created by the social context we live in. For example, the gender you present yourself as does not have to be aligned with the biological aspects of your sex. When we see someone we look for social cues to identify their gender (dress, hair, voice, mannerisms). We actually know very few people’s sex, we just most often assume we do based on their gender presentation. Read more about “doing gender” here. What it means to present yourself as a man or woman has changed throughout history and across cultures depending on the social context. For more on the idea of social construction, see here and here.