What are your nominations for the environmental problems sociologists should study?

Printer-friendly version

Folks, it had been my intention to write tonight about the challenge to the feds' plans for Snake-Columbia river operations filed today by salmon advocates. But instead I got wrapped up in a discussion on the Society of Environmental Journalists' listserv about what sociologists should be studying in our realm. Here's what I told my fellow SEJers:

"Sewage disposal: What is our big hangup with composting toilets? Think of the infrastucture repair and construction costs we could save merely by figuring out what to do with our pee and our poop. Night soils were the answer in ancient China -- why not today, here?"

"Stormwater (Our #1 water pollution source! You people listening? Hello? Hello? Is this microphone working?): 1) What is the deal with lawns? Why do we have to have these green expanses surrounding our little castles-sans-moats-and-palace-walls? 2) And why will we not require Low Impact Development, which controls stormwater, costs about the same as regular development, and actually injects some greenery and soft lines into hard urban landscapes? Seriously, think about it: Farmers are the target of a lot of abuse by enviros, and deservedly so in many cases when you experience the foul smells of CAFOs and see the runoff that taints adjacent streams. But if you look at what our urban and suburban lawns and our urban and suburban roads contribute to water pollution, it has to overwhelm the farmers' contribution to water pollution."
Readers: The comment section is open for your nominations on this important subject. I was just chewing the fat yesterday with Bill Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who now serves as head of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council. We were discussing how sociologists really need to be brought into the solving of environmental problems in a much bigger way than they currently are. Dateline Earth is privileged to enjoy some erudite readers. I'd love to hear your suggestions about how sociology could contribute to a cleaner, safer and more wildlife-friendly world.
-- Robert McClure


A few years ago I was in Sonoma County, California. The local papers had lots of ads for composting toilets. I have seen these advertised in McClendons hardware ads locally. Think about how much a sewage connection is going to cost when Brightwater goes online, and the amount this adds to a typical house or condo or apartment's cost, making housing less affordable. Here's one big opportunity to help the environment, make housing more affordable and reduce the amount of debt taxpayers are backing. Maybe sociologists could look at "what does it take to get people to consider new alternatives in housing construction?" "Danish earth saving toilets" sounds a lot better than "night soil" so the brand/ image is definitely a part of the solution.
I agree completely about Low Impact Development with rain gardens and have used Composting toilets in public parks. We need to reduce habit of moving human waste, storm water, and compostable yard waste to other locations and use existing techniques to treat them on-site.
My nomination is Consumerism. Recommended viewing: Anne Leonard's 20-minute animation, "The Story of Stuff", an eye-opening explanation of the impacts of this behavior on the planet.