Saturday, April 28, 2012

The End of Suburbia: Death By Sprawl Parts I & II

I recommend this urban design series by architect Vanessa Quirk, "Saving Suburbia Part 1: Bursting the Bubble" and "Saving Suburbia Part II: Getting the Soccer Moms On Your Side". What's coming to light now are the cold, hard statistics: poverty in suburban America has increased by 53% in the last ten years, and the suburbs now have a higher percentage of the nation's poor than cities do. And this was true before the economic collapse of 2008. Furthermore, the average miles driven by people aged 16 to 34 has dropped by 23%, from over 10,000 miles per capita to 7,600 per capita.

"But, these are just facts and figures. It’s hard to imagine what it really means to be poor in Suburbia, especially when the ‘burbs persist in seeming so darn idyllic.
So let’s think about that idyllic suburban lay-out for a second: consider how it was designed, and for who (Commuters and Soccer Moms, ostensibly), and how it has grown along long, linear corridors. The suburbs are almost perfectly designed to make the lives of the “disencarchised” poor as miserable as possible."
My own experience in the suburbs was that it's nice to have a walkable/bikeable downtown shopping district, but if you don't have a bus system that connects you to a job, in a reasonable amount of time, you are totally screwed as a worker. Social critics like James Howard Kunstler have been predicting the death of the suburbs for a decade or more. Some urban planners are advocating for a redesign of the suburbs into small-plot garden developments that provide local food for residents. I'm putting my bet on the 'death by sprawl' camp: rising gasoline prices will take more cars off the road, while jobs migrate to urban peripheries where their workers can take public transportation to work. Some architects are predicting that mega-cities, like New York City, will also prove to be uneconomic in the coming decade of shrinking resources. Perhaps what we are witnessing now is an evolution in the relationship between society and environment: finding the ideal size and density of an urban centre.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mash up: Joseph Steiglitz, Edward Wilson and Bicycles

A miscellany of links:

Joseph Steiglitz, Thomas Kuhn and the state of economic theory

One of the central ideas in Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions was the recognition that scientific knowledge changes by evolving away from failed theories rather than toward truth. A large portion of the book is devoted to describing the processes whereby anomalies that are recognized (but largely ignored by the discipline) are transformed into central problems that can't be fixed through the puzzle solving process of normal science and, hence, necessitate a paradigm shift. In a recent interview, Joseph Steiglitz unleashes a devastating critique of economists, noting that discipline as a whole has failed to internalize the events of 08 in a manner that would serve as a stimulus for the reformulation of economic thinking.
Academic economists played a big role in causing the crisis. Their models were overly simplified, distorted, and left out the most important aspects. Those faulty models then encouraged policy-makers to believe that the markets would solve all the problems. ... After the crisis, you would have hoped that the academic profession had changed and that policy-making had changed with it and would become more skeptical and cautious. You would have expected that after all the wrong predictions of the past, politics would have demanded from academics a rethinking of their theories. I am broadly disappointed on all accounts. .... Within academia, those who believed in free markets before the crisis still do so today. A few people have shifted, and I want to give credit to them for saying: “We were wrong. We underestimated this or that aspect of our models.” But for the most part, the response was different. Believers in the free market have not revised their beliefs.
In the longer view, Steiglitz sees changes in economic thinking coming, potentially, from a generational shift in economists:
I think that change is really occurring with the young people. My young students overwhelmingly don’t understand how people could have believed in the old models. That is good. But on the other hand, many of them say that if you want to be an economist, you still have to deal with all the old guys who believe in their wrong theories, who teach those theories, and expect you to believe in them as well. So they choose not to go into those branches of economics.
Or, more ominously, from yet another crisis:
If my forecast about the consequences of austerity is correct, you will see a new round of protest movements. We had a crisis in 2008. We are now in the fifth year of crisis, and we haven’t solved it. There’s not even a light at the end of the tunnel. When we come to that conclusion, the discourse will change.
The European: The situation needs to be really bad before it will get better?
Stiglitz: Yes, I fear.

E.O. Wilson  On the Origin of the Arts

Among many interesting nuggets, Wilson argues the following:
Substantial evidence now exists that human social behavior arose genetically by multilevel evolution. If this interpretation is correct, and a growing number of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists believe it is, we can expect a continuing conflict between components of behavior favored by individual selection and those favored by group selection. Selection at the individual level tends to create competitiveness and selfish behavior among group members—in status, mating, and the securing of resources. In opposition, selection between groups tends to create selfless behavior, expressed in greater generosity and altruism, which in turn promote stronger cohesion and strength of the group as a whole.

An inevitable result of the mutually offsetting forces of multilevel selection is permanent ambiguity in the individual human mind, leading to countless scenarios among people in the way they bond, love, affiliate, betray, share, sacrifice, steal, deceive, redeem, punish, appeal, and adjudicate. The struggle endemic to each person’s brain, mirrored in the vast superstructure of cultural evolution, is the fountainhead of the humanities. A Shakespeare in the world of ants, untroubled by any such war between honor and treachery, and chained by the rigid commands of instinct to a tiny repertory of feeling, would be able to write only one drama of triumph and one of tragedy. Ordinary people, on the other hand, can invent an endless variety of such stories, and compose an infinite symphony of ambience and mood.
Steiglitz, in the earlier article, makes a parallel observation about the ambiguity the individual versus the collective within economic theory:
The European: What do you say to someone who argues thus: Demographic change and the end of the industrial age have made the welfare state financially unsustainable. We cannot expect to cut down on our debt without fundamentally reducing welfare costs in the long run.

Stiglitz: That is absurd. The question of social protection does not have to do with the structure of production. It has to do with social cohesion or solidarity. That is why I am also very critical of Draghi’s argument at the European Central Bank that social protection has to be undone. There are no grounds upon which to base that argument. The countries that are doing very well in Europe are the Scandinavian countries. Denmark is different from Sweden, Sweden is different from Norway – but they all have strong social protection and they are all growing. The argument that the response to the current crisis has to be a lessening of social protection is really an argument by the 1%


After all the doom and gloom of the above, you need to check out the uplifting history of bicycle transportation in the Netherlands which explains how the Dutch got their cycle paths

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brian Walker's 2012 Krebs Lecture

What follows is a summary and time guide to Brian Walker's 2012 Krebs Lecture Learning how to change in order not to change: Lessons from ecology for an uncertain world (video available here).

Walker begins by asking his audience the following question: How much can you change and still be the same person? After how much change would you have a new identity? Walker's question aims to draw attention to the notion of 'dominant organizing principals' -- the central aspects responsible for maintaining the identity of a system. He illustrates the point with research connecting place, identity and resilience among Eritrean refugees: individuals who had spent their whole life in one location have a much harder time coping with being a refugee forced from their land than individuals who had lived a nomadic life.

Walker then turns to a brief description of four key elements of resilience thinking:
  1. feedback: resilient systems are self-organizing systems governed by feedback (illustrated by the relation between the invasive fern salvinia molesta and a wevil used as a biological control): from around the 5:15 mark -  9:15
  2. change: resilience is only maintained by disturbance and change (e.g., the forest that becomes less resilient as a result of being protected from fire): 9:15-10:15
  3. scale: you cannot understand or manage a system at one scale: 10:15-11:25
  4. tradeoffs: efforts to maintain resilience at one level often lead to declines in resilience at another scale (e.g., efforts to maintain the resilience of global scale economies and industries often has adverse effects on national level economies and industries): 11:25-12:40
Which he uses to describe the ball in a basin metaphor of resilience (with changes in the size and shape of the basin and resulting threshold effects, initially in terms of a simple system and then in systems with multiple organizing principals and multiple threshold effects): 12:40- 19:30

Walker then turns to adaptive capacity or the issue of how one maximizes the resilience of the system as a whole (19:30-20:40) as a means to introduce the central focus of the topic -- transformational change, that is change in the system such that it operates with different dominant organizing principals and has a different identity (e.g., the shift from feudalism to capitalism).

At the 23:15 point, Walker begins a discussion of three factors necessary for the transformation of a system and the complication of a rapidly changing environment:
  1. getting beyond a state of denial
  2. the existence or creation of options for change
  3. the capacity to change (typically some source of higher level support or resources such as government financial resources)
At 27:00 Walker turns to a discussion of the Planetary Boundaries analysis. Particularly interesting is the discussion of the Arctic and the way the melting of ice is changing the alkalinity of the water leading to a scale decline in the size of plankton with potential implications for the entire food chain.
At 34:15 a discussion of the distinction between rapid and abrupt transformations of identity with slow and gradual transformations begins. Specifically, Walker contrasts the abrupt and cataclysmic change of the French and Russian revolutions with the enclosure movement in Britain. Walker uses it as an example of a fine grained change occurring at the level of the individual farm over a period of two generations that led to a gradual transformation of the entire British agricultural system.

The topic of combined bottom-up and top-down transformation begins at 37:30. In particular, Walker notes the need for transformation of both the energy system and the economic system at the global scale as a facilitating factor for necessary transformations at other levels.

At 39:00 the lecture turns back to the first factor necessary for transformation, getting past denial, with particular reference to the way risks are framed and perceived (as discussed by Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow).

At the 40:00 mark, Walker reprises the central point of the lecture: "We need to learn how to put in place continuing transformational change in order for us not to be subjected to the painful catastrophic change that will otherwise inevitably occur."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Battle of the Continental Titans: Harrison White takes on Niklas Luhman

In the 1960's, faced with a dramatic period of social change and a dominant Parsonian structural-functionalist view of social systems that emphasized stability, American sociology went through a theoretical crisis. Simplistically speaking, there were three major consequences: a rejection of functionalism (and, for the most part, systems theorizing), a re-emergence of Marxist political-economy, and an enhanced emphasis on the importance of meaning (evident in both symbolic interactionism and Garfinkel's ethnomethodology).

Percolating under the radar of these larger and more evident changes, was the work of Harrison White, a sociologist initially trained in physics, who combined a) Simmel's insight that social structure is based on patterns of relations instead of the attributes and attitudes of individuals with b) his ability to analyze those structural networks using highly sophisticated maths. Opaque to much of the discipline, White's work achieved cultish admiration among the cognoscenti and was, until comparatively recently, ignored by the bulk of American sociology.

Meanwhile, over in Europe,  Parson's student Niklas Luhmann continued the tradition of grand systems theorizing. His approach has been summarized as follows:
Luhmann's systems theory focuses on three topics, which are interconnected in his entire work.
  1. Systems theory as societal theory
  2. Communication theory and
  3. Evolution theory
The core element of Luhmann's theory is communication. Social systems are systems of communication, and society is the most encompassing social system. Being the social system that comprises all (and only) communication, today's society is a world society. A system is defined by a boundary between itself and its environment, dividing it from an infinitely complex, or (colloquially) chaotic, exterior. The interior of the system is thus a zone of reduced complexity: Communication within a system operates by selecting only a limited amount of all information available outside. This process is also called "reduction of complexity." The criterion according to which information is selected and processed is meaning (in German, Sinn). Both social systems and psychical or personal systems operate by processing meaning.
Thus, Luhmann not only kept alive the grand tradition of social system theorizing, he did so in a manner that incorporated the emerging emphasis on meaning. In the recent "Order at the Edge of Chaos: Meanings from Netdom Switchings Across Functional Systems" (Sociological Theory, September 2011, 29(3): 178-198), White and his co-authors take direct aim at Luhmann's theory, arguing that it fails to recognize the indexical character of meaning identified by Garfinkel.

Here is the abstract:
The great German theorist Niklas Luhmann argued long ago that meaning is the central construct of sociology. We agree, but our scheme of stochastic processes—evolved over many years as identity and control—argues for switchings of intercalated bits of social network and interpretive domain (i.e., netdom switchings) as the core of meaning processes. We thus challenge Luhmann’s central claim that modern society’s subsystems are based on communicative self-closure. We assert that there is refuting evidence from sociolinguistics, from how languages are put together and how languages’ indexical and reflexive devices (e.g., metapragmatics, heteroglossia, genres) are used in social action. Communication is about managing indexicalities, which entail great ambiguity and openness as they are anchored in myriad netdom switchings across social times and spreads. In contrast, Luhmann’s concept of communication revolves around binary codes governed recursively and algorithmically within systems in efforts to reduce complexity from the environment. We conclude that systems closure does not solve the problem of uncertainty in social life. In fact, lack of uncertainty is itself a problem. Order is necessary, but order at the edge of chaos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Island Time, the Resilience Alliance and Scientific Change

Individuals with an interest in the Resilience Alliance will want to check out the recent ASR article by two sociologists of science, John Parker and Edward Hackett, Hot Spots and Hot Moments in Scientific Collaborations and Social Movements. (American Sociological Review 77(1) 21–44. DOI: 10.1177/0003122411433763). The article uses the Resilience Alliance as a case study to understand the dynamics of scientific practice and, in particular, the spread of ideas (see below).

For individuals unfamiliar with the origins and growth of the RA, the article gives a detailed social history of the origins of the Resilience Network, its growth and expansion into the Resilience Alliance, the Maltese crisis that threatened to break up the Alliance, and the Alliance's aims for transforming the discipline of ecology.

A central trope in the analysis is the group's concept of 'island time' -- the holding of small, intense meetings in isolated environs with invitations limited to a small group as a mechanism to build shared identity, solidarity and emotional energy as well as discuss ideas. The analysis then proceeds to document the manner in which these social resources were deployed in order to produce novel scientific knowledge.Once the network had developed novel claims, they faced two essential tensions. First, originality is a necessary but insufficient condition for transforming science. The group also has to persuade a wider community that is less sympathetic, perhaps even antagonistic to their claims; a community that will test their claims of originality against traditional theories and results. Moreover, the network members have to manage the negative emotions resulting from the skepticism present in the wider discipline. Second, once the results are widely accepted and disseminated, the challenge of getting-big-while-remaining-small emerges.
In other words, how does the group enlarge its membership and influence without compromising the intimacy and intensity that brought success.

As the above summary makes clear, the bulk of the article focuses on the dynamics of small scale interpersonal interaction, particularly emotions, and their role in both the emergence of novel science and the scaling of acceptance of that knowledge within the scientific community. It is in that latter sense, as a contribution to understanding the role of emotions in the transformation of a system (in this case, scientific knowledge), that other Resilience scholars will find the article to be less about themselves and more about an analytic resource they can deploy in their own work. Here is the abstract:
Emotions are essential but little understood components of research; they catalyze and sustain creative scientific work and fuel the scientific and intellectual social movements (SIMs) that propel scientific change. Adopting a micro-sociological focus, we examine how emotions shape two intellectual processes central to all scientific work: conceiving creative ideas and managing skepticism. We illustrate these processes through a longitudinal study of the Resilience Alliance, a tightly networked coherent group collaborating at the center of a burgeoning scientific social movement in the environmental sciences. We show how emotions structured and were structured by the group’s growth and development, and how socio-emotive processes facilitated the rapid production of highly creative science and helped overcome skepticism by outsiders. Hot spots and hot moments—that is, brief but intense periods of collaboration undertaken in remote and isolated settings—fueled the group’s scientific performance and drove the SIM. Paradoxically, however, the same socio-emotive processes that ignited and sustained creative scientific research also made skepticism more likely to occur and more difficult to manage. Similarly, emotions and social bonding were essential for the group’s growth and development, but increased size and diversity have the potential to erode the affective culture that generated initial successes.

David Holmgren on Permaculture as Response to Decline

This is an excellent video by David Holmgren on permaculture as a response to the decline of societies (over the next few generations), to climate change and extreme weather events, and as a design for rethinking suburban living. He discusses extreme weather events as 'tipping points' in climate change vs. rise in global average temperature. He discusses the probability that before we reach critical stages in both peak oil and climate change, societies will experience financial and socio-political collapse. At the end he lists the 12 principles of permaculture. Throughout he stresses that societies will have to be in a posture of continuous adaptation, rather than trying to achieve a fixed state of 'sustainability', that opportunities for adaptation are found at the margins of society, not at the centre, and that many such adaptations will be 'small and slow' responses.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Trust in Science

The current issue of the American Sociological Review has an interesting article by Gordon Gauchat, Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010. The abstract provides a nice summary of the content:
This study explores time trends in public trust in science in the United States from 1974 to 2010. More precisely, I test Mooney’s (2005) claim that conservatives in the United States have become increasingly distrustful of science. Using data from the 1974 to 2010 General Social Survey, I examine group differences in trust in science and group-specific change in these attitudes over time. Results show that group differences in trust in science are largely stable over the period, except for respondents identifying as conservative. Conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest. The patterns for science are also unique when compared to public trust in other secular institutions. Results show enduring differences in trust in science by social class, ethnicity, gender, church attendance, and region. I explore the implications of these findings, specifically, the potential for political divisions to emerge over the cultural authority of science and the social role of experts in the formation of public policy.
Gauchat contextualizes his findings in relation to three different hypotheses present in the existing literature:
  • "The cultural ascendency thesis predicts a uniform increase in public trust in science across all social groups. In other words, the special congruence of science and modern institutions increases the need for scientific knowledge and public education, which, in turn, encourages public trust in science"
  • "By contrast, scholars have predicted a uniform decline in public trust across all social groups, or the alienation thesis. This decline in public trust is associated with a cultural backlash against technocratic authority and science’s inability to defend itself against its own standards in public discourse"
  • "Finally, the politicization thesis predicts that ideological conservatives will experience group-specific declines in trust in science over time. Conservatives’ distrust is attributable to the political philosophy and intellectual culture accompanying the [new right] and the increased connection between scientific knowledge and regulatory regimes in the United States, the latter of which conservatives generally oppose."
Here is the summary of his findings as it relates to the three hypotheses:
(T)his study shows that public trust in science has not declined since the 1970s except among conservatives and those who frequently attend church. Accordingly, the analysis provides negligible evidence for the cultural ascendency thesis, which suggests that trust in science will increase over time. Nor do results support the alienation thesis that predicts a uniform decline in public trust in science. In general, results are consistent with claims of the politicization thesis and show that conservatives experienced long-term group-specific declines rather than an abrupt cultural break.
The study's findings also have interesting implications for the 'deficit model' which predicts that individuals with higher levels of education will possess greater trust in science.
Additionally, one of the key findings here involves the relationship between education and trust in science. In essence, this study greatly complicates claims of the deficit model, which predicts that individuals with higher levels of education will possess greater trust in science, by showing that educated conservatives uniquely experienced the decline in trust. This interesting result may indicate that educated conservatives have been most affected by the NR’s (New Right's) identity work. Moreover, it suggests that scientific literacy and education are unlikely to have uniform effects on various publics, especially when ideology and identity intervene to create social ontologies in opposition to established cultures of knowledge (e.g., the scientific community, intelligentsia, and mainstream media).
While Gauchat's analysis does little to explain precisely why conservatives, and not other groups, have disproportionately lost their trust in science, he does report several tantalizing suggestions:
  • One way of thinking about science is as one form of knowledge among others such as common sense and religious tradition. Gauchat found that "conservatives were far more likely to define science as knowledge that should conform to common sense and religious tradition."
  • Secondly, "conservatives’ unfavorable attitudes are most acute in relation to government funding of science and the use of scientific knowledge to influence social policy (see Gauchat 2010). Conservatives thus appear especially averse to regulatory science, defined here as the mutual dependence of organized science and government policy."
This latter pattern leads to a speculation about the process responsible for the historical change:
Paradoxically, it is possible that science’s cultural authority engendered politicization, particularly its role in policy formation and regulation of private interests. This assumes that science’s cultural authority has grown—especially among legal, political, and economic institutions (see Jasanoff 2004)—to the point that the scientific community inevitably becomes entangled in polarized conflicts (e.g., economic growth versus environmental sustainability). As a result, science is “increasingly seen as being politicized and not disinterested” (Yearley 2005:121).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

US Oil Imports: Canada up, Middle East down

Robert Rapier has put together an interesting table documenting the changing dynamics of US crude oil imports over the past decade.

The data, taken from the US Energy Information Agency, document a dramatic shift away from dependence on Middle Eastern oil: 2011 imports were down substantially from their 2001 levels for Saudi Arabia (-32%), Iraq (-41% -- though there was a bit of a war there that affected capacity!) and Kuwait (-38%).

The big increases in US imports have come from Canada, particularly the Tar Sands (up 58% and now nearly twice the volume of imports from Saudi Arabia) and a variety of previously relatively small producers (Algeria, Brazil and Cameroon).

Particularly interesting is the differing trends among the US's NAFTA partners. Canada, which is bound by NAFTA's controversial proportionality clause, has seen exports to the US increase dramatically while Mexico, which is exempt from this clause, has slightly lowered its level of exports to the US over the 10 year period.

The construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will exacerbate the already existing trends and further entrench the US reliance on Canadian sources of crude.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Crisis Migration: City to Country? Country to City?

Helena Smith of the Guardian UK is reporting that, following the collapse of the Greece economy, young people in Greece have started a mass exodus from the cities to the countryside, where they are taking over abandoned farms.

11.22am: Moving to the Greek countryside from the city, though (see last post) is no picnic.

George Andrianakis, 56,poses with a goat in the yard of his farm in the village of Stafania, Greece.Photograph: Cathal Mcnaughton/Reuters

This picture shows 56-year-old farmer George Andrianakis, and goat, at his farm in the village of Stafania in the Peloponesse area of Greece. As he told Reuters, profits at the farm (which includes orange and olive trees, sheep and goats) are down by over 50% this year while costs are almost 30% higher.

11.11am: News in from Athens, where our correspondent Helena Smithsays newspapers and television channels this morning all reporting that young Greeks hit hard by the financial crisis are fleeing from the cities to the countryside.

Some commentators are describing it as a mass exodus. Helena writes:

It's official: Greece is undergoing a mass internal migration as a result of the economic crisis that has engulfed the nation since December 2009.

After years of being spurned for the bright lights of big cities, rural areas are making a comeback as unprecedented numbers of unemployed young Greeks move en masse to the countryside encouraged by government stipends to cultivate tracts of land that have been left untended for years. A survey conducted at the behest of the Agricultural Development Ministry by the polling firm Kapa Research found that more than 1.5 million Greeks were considering relocating to rural areas with one in five already having made the move. Around 75 % were under the age of 44 – the group worst hit by joblessness in a nation where more are now out of work than employed.

A €60bn state-funded program offering plots of land at cheap rates to would-be farmers had been snapped up, said the agriculture minister Costas Skandalides, announcing the findings. The survey showed that the vast majority were willing to earn less for a better quality of life. "More than one million Greeks, most with university and even post graduate degrees, are rejecting prototypes to go back to their roots convinced that it will lead to a better quality of life even if there are less trappings," he averred. "We are witnessing a profound shift in Greek society and lifestyles the extent to which we have yet to grasp."

In the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, more than 4,000 trained agronomists have rushed to sign up to an initiate that has seen the town's main university rent out plots of land for cultivation at affordable prices. "I will go and grow rice and cotton," Alexandra Terzidou, one of the graduates, told Skai news. "It's a great opportunity."

Prior to the research academics had poured over anecdotal evidence of the migration but had been unable to pin point just how big it was.

Another story in the NY Times (Jan. 9 2012) confirms this trend in Greece.

The Greek case seems to set up the supposition that "in the face of economic and political collapse, people will migrate from the city to the countryside to farm."

Yet we are also seeing a mass migration from the countryside to the city, right here in New Brunswick, and all over the United States. Data from the 2010 US census shows that growth in urban centres has exceeded growth in the suburbs for the first time in 20 years:

WASHINGTON — Stung by high gasoline costs, outlying suburbs that sprouted in the heady 2000s are now seeing their growth fizzle to historic lows, halting American city dwellers’ decades-long exodus to sprawling homes in distant towns.

New census estimates as of July 2011 highlight a shift in population trends following an extended housing bust and renewed spike in oil prices. Two years after the recession technically ended, and despite faint signs of a rebound, Americans again are shunning moves at record levels and staying put in big cities.

That is posing longer-term consequences for residential “exurbs” on the edge of metropolitan areas.

Construction of gleaming new schools and mega-malls built in anticipation of a continued population boom is cutting back. Spacious McMansions offering the promise of homeownership to middle-class families sit abandoned or half-built. Once an escape from urban problems, suburban regions hit by foreclosures are posting bigger jumps in poverty than cities.

The result: The annual rate of growth in American cities and surrounding urban areas has now surpassed that of exurbs for the first time in at least 20 years, spanning the modern era of sprawling suburban development.

Read more:

So this begs the question: under the pressure of economic decline, job loss and rising fuel prices, which way will people tend to migrate? from cities to the countryside to grow food? or from the suburbs to the cities to find jobs? The answers are obviously complex and it will very much depend on local conditions.

The case of Greece seems to indicate that catastrophic economic collapse might see people migrating to the countryside in order to grow food. This does not mean that they will be successful at procuring even a subsistence living, as farm production is as much affected by the price of oil, and general market conditions, as the urban job sector.

The case of the US cities (and New Brunswick) seems to indicate that in the case moderate to severe economic stress, high oil prices, higher property taxes, and the loss of jobs and services in suburban areas, people will tend to migrate to the cities to reduce expenses and find jobs.

It should be noted that both trends are affected by local and federal government policies that change taxation and economic sector subsidies, creating incentives for people to move in one direction or the other.

One thing is for certain: under severe economic stress, high food and fuel prices, job loss and climate change, people are going to move.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter and the Environment: Chicks vs. Bilby

A brief look at two different frames for linking Easter and the environment.

 In the US, The NYTimes has an interesting story describing the emerging trend of coloring the chick rather than the Easter egg.

"The dye is either injected in the incubating egg or sprayed on the hatchling, and while poultry farmers say it is harmless, many people object, saying it turns live birds into holiday playthings that are quickly discarded."

The Guardian weighs in with the view from Australia:
"Instead of rabbits to represent Easter, conservationists in Australia aim to replace the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby. This rare native marsupial is on the threatened species list, with as few as 600 of the animals left in the wild. Its habitat is being destroyed by rabbits, which were introduced to Australia and are now seen as a pest."


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Freudenburg's Legacy

 One of the major figures in environmental sociology, William Freudenburg, passed away in December 2010.

The current issue (Volume 2, Number 1, March 2012) of the Journal for Environmental Studies and Sciences (JESS) is devoted entirely to an assessment of his legacy. Its available for free during the month of April at

Here's a rundown of the Table of Contents for the volume which has been
edited by Debra J. Davidson and Riley E. Dunlap

  • Introduction: Building on the legacy contributions of William R. Freudenburg in environmental studies and sociology by Debra J. Davidson and Riley E. Dunlap

  • Beyond the society/nature divide: building on the sociology of William Freudenburg by Raymond Murphy and Riley E. Dunlap

  • Social change in natural resource-based rural communities: the evolution of sociological research and knowledge as influenced by William R. Freudenburg by Richard S. Krannich

  • Dependence, diversity, and the well-being of rural community: building on the Freudenburg legacy by Richard C. Stedman, Mike N. Patriquin and John R. Parkins

  • A collective hunch? Risk as the real and the elusive by Eugene A Rosa and Lee Clarke

  • Freudenburg on technological risks: transcendent or titanic? by Margarita V. Alario

  • A bridge to somewhere: William Freudenburg, environmental sociology, and disaster research by Kathleen Tierney

  • The double diversion: mapping its roots and projecting its future in environmental studies by Debra J. Davidson and Don Grant

  • William R. Freudenburg as student by Kai Erikson

  • Bill Freudenburg as a colleague by Robert Gramling

  • William R. Freudenburg and interdisciplinary innovation by Walter Rosenbaum

  • William R. Freudenburg as a teacher and mentor by Dana R. Fisher

  • Publications of William R. Freudenburg: books, articles, and book chapters compiled by Riley E. Dunlap