Online Exclusive: On the Distinction between Resource Use and Industrial Pollution

May 1, 2006

Introduction to the chapter
(The following is drawn from the introductory chapter to Forging Environmentalism)

The country studies of the book each include at least one case surrounding the environmental impacts of industrial development and at least one case of natural resource use. (The full criteria for case selection are described in “How Shall We Study Environmental Values?” ) The researchers’ decision to distinguish two case types—resource use and industrial pollution—had its basis in the environmental studies literature, where this distinction is widely encountered.

We reasoned that drawing upon cases related to development and upon cases related to nature protection would enable us to capture different interactions between humans and nature as well as the experiences of both rural and urban areas. Furthermore, we expected that the ways in which conflicts develop and are resolved would differ in significant ways in the two case types. In resource use cases, the resource is always seen to be a public good; the conflict involves a competition of values over how the resource should be used. Pollution, on the other hand, except in its commodification through tradeable permit or recycling schemes, is always a public bad, but one that is sometimes ignored. When part of a community ignores pollution and part tries to eliminate it, value differences emerge, and conflict often erupts.

Thus, whereas solutions to the resource use cases involve resolving a competition over values, we hypothesized that environmentalist solutions to industrial pollution would require facilitating a convergence of values over time by raising awareness of the pollution and its consequences. Still, we recognized that the distinction between the two kinds of cases may not in fact be the most analytically important distinction, and thus we endeavored to examine its usefulness in the study.

This web exclusive by Steven Yearly addresses this question.

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Annotated Resources

Steven Yearley. Sociology, Environmentalism, Globalization. London: Sage, 1996.
A critical examination of the ways in which ‘global’ environmental problems have been identified and prioritized, often at the expense of environmental problems commonly associated with poverty.

Steven R Brechin and Willett Kempton. ‘Global Environmentalism: A challenge to the postmaterialism thesis?’ Social Science Quarterly 75 (1994): 245-269.
An early review of the sociological significance of international responsiveness to environmental issues; previous theoretical predictions had often implied that environmental concern was a ‘luxury’ available only to the relatively well off.

Ulrich Beck. Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk. Cambridge: Polity, 1995.
Possibly the clearest statement of the position of one of Europe’s leading sociological interpreters of environmental anxieties.

William R. Freudenburg. ‘Social constructions and social constrictions: toward analyzing the social construction of “the naturalized” as well as “the natural” in Gert Spaargaren, Arthur P. J. Mol and Fred H. Buttel, eds. Environment and Global Modernity. London: Sage, 2000, pp. 103-119.
A leading US commentator’s reflections on the senses in which environmental issues are ‘socially constructed’ and on the dangers that inhere in taking this notion too literally.

Riley E Dunlap and William Michelson, eds. Handbook of Environmental Sociology. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2002.
An ambitious attempt to review the state of environmental sociology, although largely from a US or North American perspective.