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Learning Objectives

2.Statistical data and demographics

The Second Component.City-building

Chapter 2.Societies and the Environment


Introduction to Population, Urbanization, and the Environment

The tar sands (bituminous sands) of the northeastern part of Alberta have been recognized as an important petroleum resource since the early 19th century when the first detailed surveys were carried out.They cover about 140,000 square kilometers of boreal forest and muskeg in the Athabasca River basin.Petroleum is a tar-like substance called bitumen, which is a dense, sand-and-clay mixture. .At the time when Suncor developed the tar sands for the first time, oil was just over $3 a barrel, and the high cost of production severely slowed its development.Suncor produced 15,000 barrels per day in 1967.Today, at prices exceeding $100 a barrel, the oil industry expects to double its production from 1.9 million barrels/day to 4 million barrels/day by 2023.The industry estimates that 9 million barrels of bitumen will be produced daily eventually (Gosselin et al. 2010; Grant, Angen, and Dyer 2013).

There are two core logics at play in the dispute over developing tar sands: environmental sustainability and capital accumulation.The sustainability of an environmental activity is measured by its ability to be sustained without harming or undermining the basic ecological support systems. .In addition, local aboriginal groups experience a 30 percent higher cancer rate than expected since 1998 (Droitsch and Simieritsch 2010).Furthermore, they involve human dependence on fossil fuels in light of potentially catastrophic climate change in addition to the basic sustainability issue.

.Since 1996, when the capital investment exceeded $1 billion per year for the first time, the investment has increased steadily, reaching $4.2 billion/year in 2000 and $16 billion/year between 2006 and 2008.The net earnings of the industry increased from $3.1 billion to $37.8 billion between 1998 and 2008.Over the same period, the number of workers directly involved in tar sands operations rose from 6,000 to 12,000, without counting jobs in construction and maintenance.In 2008, the government of Alberta received $3.8 billion in royalties and land-related payments (Gosselin et al. 2010).The economy of the Alberta tar sands is booming, so much so that industry representatives argue that building refineries to refine raw bitumen in Alberta, rather than pipe it to distant refineries, would "overheat" the economy (i.e., create too many jobs). .Regardless, the overall analysis from the point of view of capital accumulation argues that the benefits to the Canadian economy outweigh the drawbacks.

How does sociological research help to understand and respond to these issues?

.This story is true and Hinkley, California, is an example of a cancer cluster, an area with a proportionately higher cancer rate (in the case of Erin Brokovich, it was caused by a contaminant leaking into the groundwater).The Hinkley case is an inspiring example of overcoming powerful interests, although the harm wrought on the residents of that area cannot be undone.

Alberta's tar sands and Hinkley illustrate important social issues relating to the environment as well as where and how people reside. .An environmental sociologist examines how humans interact with their environs.Currently, we are at a point in history, as at many other points, where we are in conflict.The world's population now exceeds 7 billion.(UN 2013) Estimates indicate it will reach 8 billion by 2025.What consequences will such a population have on our planet?.Currently, we generate more trash than ever, from takeout coffee cups to cell phones that contain toxic chemicals and food waste that could be composted.How is this waste disposed of?.When Toronto developed the Green Lane landfill, it sent up to 140 trash trucks a day to Michigan State.When the site fills up in 2027, it is not clear where the garbage will be disposed (Hasham 2013).

In what ways do sociologists examine these issues?.Adaptation to the environment is one of the most important functions a society must perform to ensure its survival.The first of Talcott Parsons' five "needs" that a society has to fulfill is adaptation (see Chapter 1).Human society relies on the economic system to meet its needs by adapting to the natural environment.According to a functionalist analysis, when norms of one system, like the economic system, become detached from or unresponsive to the norms of other systems, such as the ecological system upon which society depends, the entire social system is thrown into disequilibrium.During the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, this point was illustrated with images contrasting images of living in balance with nature with images of living out of balance with nature.The scenes illustrating fast-paced, urban, consumer society depict people passing by in fast motion like sausages on an assembly line.The film shows that not only is the economy disconnected from nature, but a meaningful relationship with nature has been lost to individual lives as well.

A critical sociologist will not pass over the fact that disequilibrium in society's relationship with the environment does not come about by accident.Various vested interests promote unrestricted extraction of natural resources for short-term private gain.Capitalism is a system in which non-economic values-community life, ecological values, and long-term sustainability-do not enter into economic calculations of return on investment.Critical sociologists examine changes in the human/nature relationship in terms of power relations and capital investment patterns.Consequently, environmental issues are not distributed equally throughout the world.Globally, the mode of production is changing, causing unsustainable population increases, the creation of slums, and lax controls on toxic waste in some areas, while in others, people consume resources, discard surpluses, and contribute to global warming at equally unsustainable rates.

Interactionists interested in the day-to-day interaction between groups and individuals might study topics like how the environment has changed attitudes toward it, how individuals are negotiating contradictory messages about industrial development and the environment, or how new practices emerge (e.g., recycling, smoking, bicycling, the "100 mile" diet, and protest activities) under environmental pressures.What I find fascinating is how discredited theories that challenge global warming research continue to circulate and cast doubt on the effects of greenhouse gases.There may be no premier of Alberta today who can state that climate science is a hoax, but the divide between what is a publicly credible theory and what is not remains more of a symbolic interaction than pure science per se.

20.1. Demography and Population

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7 billion people live on Earth today.The growth from 6 billion to 7 billion people took approximately 12 years (United Nations Population Fund, 2011).So, the world is growing to capacity.We are projected to reach 8 billion people by 2025.Who will make up that population?.Where does the biggest population concentration occur?

In a society, the fertility rate refers to the number of children born each year.Generally, fertility numbers are lower than fecundity numbers, which measure the possibility of a woman giving birth to a child.Sociologists assess fertility by calculating the crude birthrate (the number of live births per thousand people per year).Mortality rates are measures of the number of people who die, just as fertility rates measure childbearing.Death per 1,000 people per year is what is known as the crude death rate.When fertility and mortality rates are combined, they provide a more detailed picture of population growth.

The movement of people into and out of a given area is another key aspect of studying populations.We call this migration.Those who move may do so either as immigrants, who take up permanent residence in an area, or as emigrants, who depart for another area where they will be permanent residents.Depending on the circumstances, migration can be voluntary (as when college students study abroad), involuntary (as when Somalians leave the drought-stricken portion of their nation to go to refugee camps), or forced (as when many First Nations people were forced to leave their ancestral lands).

Population Growth

The total population composition, which is a snapshot of a population's demographic profile, changes due to changing fertility, mortality, and migration rates.One can use this number when measuring societies, nations, world regions, or any other group.(Figure 20.4) shows the distribution of the population by gender and age, as well as the sex ratio (the number of men for every 100 women).

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Figure 20.1.Rates of fertility and mortality by country.Information provided by the CIA World Factbook 2014.