December 17, 2008

an invitation to environmental sociology: community.

i'm taking my environmental sociology final in 2 hours - so naturally, i'm reading the material the exam covers for the first time right now: chapters 10 and 11 in "an invitation to environmental sociology - 2nd edition" by michael mayerfield bell.

unlike the course material in my other 4 classes this semester - i've read almost every page of this book. i slacked around chapters 7 and 8 due to time constraints and just skimmed it, but chapters 1-6 and 9-11 i have read word for word. interesting that my grade will reflect my dedication to the reading. i currently have a 94% in the class and have to pull a 78% on the final to keep my A. banner day - i'm proud of my grades today.

it's rare to develop a perspective on life via a textbook. well, at least it is for me. i guess a lot of people could read history texts or something and formulate their world view accordingly, but this is not something i take part in regularly. the word "text" in front of the word "book" is typically something i shy away from. perhaps i've been conditioned to avoid them by the textbook monopoly created by varney's in manhattan - overpriced and no where else to go. or it's probably just their relation to school - an institution for which i've developed a great discomfort over the last 17 years.

but i'm really excited that i spent the time to read this text. chapters 10 and 11 have taken this 350 page textbook in an extremely interesting direction. the book's early chapters center around consumption, production, and the interconnectivity of society and the environment - put simply: we shapes the environment and the environment shapes us in return.

chapter 10 centers on the idea of the "tragedy of commons" - a theory by garret hardin. a quick overview of this idea: if there are a bunch of herdsmen who share a pasture who each have a bunch of sheep and they want to maximize productivity they might do it by adding a sheep or two to their flock. but if all the herdsmen add some sheep then there will be too many sheep for the pasture and there wont be enough grass for the sheep to eat and the land will die and so will the sheep. therefore, by adding a few sheep each herdsman has now lost sheep and, in turn, productivity.

this translates over to things like pollution and hunting/fishing. lets say theres a community by a lake. one individual has some waste product that they decide to throw in the lake cause its the cheapest way to dispose of it. it's not a huge deal - just a little pollution. but when everyone does it in small portions it has drastic effects and ruins the lake. likewise in hunting and fishing, if everyone catches and kills more than they need then there will very quickly be nothing to shoot or catch. its a "you killed 589 lbs but were only able to carry 200 lbs back to the wagon" type of situation. if everyone wastes half a buffalo then there wont be any buffalo left to shoot. this is a true story. love oregon trail.

none of this probably sounds exciting to you. but what came next is why i loved it: common ownership (which we all have in sharing the environment) relies heavily on community. there is a relationship between interest and sentiment between one another. this is how hardin's "tragedy" is avoided - through communication, common interest, participation and an avoidance of individualism.

individualism versus community. that is what environmental sociology ultimately centers on? it was surprising to hear, but really awesome to hear. dialogue between people is how any sort of effective social and environmental change takes place. when we take each others interests into account we can easily avoid the destruction so imminent in hardin's theory.

the interesting thing for me reading this is how central to christianity this sounds. in terms of taking care of "God's green earth" but also in terms of life in general. the idea of change and growth through community is something that America has lost sight of almost entirely. urban sprawl has us driving a car by ourself every day to work and having very little interaction outside our home. and when home becomes work - as it does for most everyone through taking care of kids, paying bills, cleaning and fixing things, etc - then it increases this disparity even more. but that through communication and interaction we can not only increase our own growth and achieve our own interests, but also assist in the growth and interests of others. the fact that production and consumption culminate to an ultimate emphasis on community is something very cool about society and how it functions.

it paints a really cool picture about what really matters in life. typically there is the phrase "you can't take it with you" when we talk about material-related topics like production and consumerism. but this trust-based and community-centered relationship between sentiments and interests boils material success and personal gain down to the importance of community anyway. which is what is really matters in life.

success is more effectively achieved through relationships and communication. what an awesome idea. one that ought to be focused on more in this success-driven (yet completely individualistic) society we live in today. very interesting.


1 comment:

Sara said...

Hey Mr. Cooper--great post.