It now became a commonplace assumption among many social scientists that the issue of environmental protection does not only relate to sociological discourses’ subject matter, but that this issue is being embedded into the very matrix of sociology’s theoretical framework.
This simply could not be otherwise, especially given the fact the realities of modern living create objective preconditions for the ‘green’ issues to contribute to the sheer acuteness of a number of purely sociological dilemmas.
Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the emergence of Environmental Sociology, as we know it. As it was noted by White (2004): “Sociology is about understanding and dealing with social problems… Sociology is about… three important tasks: see, judge, act. Environmental sociology is about translating these tasks into analysis and action around environmental issues” (p. 3).
In its turn, the theoretical framework of Environmental Sociology makes it possible to assess the environmental significance of a number of seemingly unrelated sociological and legal concepts. In this paper, I will aim to do just that, while exposing how the enactment of 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Supefund) is being consistent with the process of Western societies becoming increasingly secularized.
One of the reasons why the concept of industrialization, closely associated with Western civilization, has traditionally been perceived as being essentially synonymous to the notion of environmental pollution is that, up until comparatively recent times, Western industrial activities were emanating a strong spirit of anthropocentrism.
That is, these activities used to be based upon an irrational premise that the representatives of Homo Sapiens specie are being in position to treat the nature in just about any way they consider it appropriate. After all, according to the advocates of anthropocentrism, people enjoy a natural right to explore their superiority over the representatives of other species, simply because people happened to be on the leading edge of biological evolution, which is being often perceived as the sign of humans being in favor with God.
Such point of view, however, cannot be referred to as ‘thing in itself’, because people’s tendency to go about exploiting nature, without considering the whole scope of possible consequences, is nothing but a byproduct of their affiliation with the dogmas of monotheistic morality, even if such an affiliation realizes itself on subconscious level.
To put it plainly – the more a particular individual shares the moral values of one of world’s major monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), the more she or he would be tempted to adopt an arrogant attitude towards the nature.
As it was pointed out by Ezzy (2004): “It is the Christian tradition and its secularized descendant ‘consumerist capitalism’ that are the religious traditions that have typically devalued the natural world by ignoring it. This world is of little significance if salvation is primarily in the next world” (p. 8). Such Ezzy’s idea correlates with that of McFague (2000): “For the past several hundred years, Christians have not had a practice of loving nature; we have not practiced justice toward nature, nor cared for it” (p. 18).
Therefore, the fact that the ‘green movement’ started to gain a momentum during the course of 20th century’s sixties and seventies, makes a perfectly good sense, as it was specifically during the course of this historical period that Christianity’s ideological grip of people’s minds has weakened rather drastically.
The earlier suggestion helps us to gain a better understanding of Superfund enactment’s metaphysical significance, as a legislature that could only be adopted in a rationale-driven secular society.
Superfund’s foremost purpose was to impose legal obligations upon America’s major industrial contributors to environmental pollution to be put in charge of cleaning hazardous waste-sites: “The Superfund Act of 1980, was intended to clean up some of the nation’s worst uncontrolled hazardous waste sites…The logic of the Superfund Act suggests that an aggressive application of enforcement powers is essential if the program is to achieve a level of funding commensurate with cleanup goals” (Barnett 1993, p.121).
According to Superfund’s provisions, America’s corporate contributors to natural environment’s pollution are being legally bounded to invest into proper handling of hazardous wastes. In its turn, this exposes the Superfund’s enactment as having been dialectically predetermined by the process of American society growing progressively less anthropocentric.
Moreover, Superfund’s enactment established a qualitatively new approach towards ensuring environment’s preservation. This approach is being observant of the fact that the very exponential course of a technological progress in Western countries makes it possible for the continuation of a number of industrial activities to be fully consistent with the provisions of a ‘green’ discourse.
As it was noted by Eckersley (2004): “Economic competition and constant technological innovation produce economic growth that uses less energy and resources and produces less waste per unit of gross domestic product” (p. 254). Apparently, the less a particular society appears being anthropocentric – the more it is being technologically advanced. And, the more such a society is being technologically advanced – the more it is being environmentally friendly.
The validity of this statement can be explored in regards to such European countries as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. As recent sociological studies indicate, the overwhelming majority of these countries’ citizens are non-religious.
Moreover, according to these studies, there is a positive correlation between the extent of people’s non-religiousness and the quality of their living standards: “Examining the impact of CNP per capita, as a context variable, on church commitment for the eleven European countries… we found a significant and negative relationship: the higher the country’s GUP per capita the lower individual church commitment was” (Dobbelaere 2004, p.167).
Why is it that secularized societies feature world’s highest standards of living? This is because; in these societies, there are no obstacles on the way of people expanding their intellectual horizons, which in turn provide a propelling momentum to the pace of technological progress. In its turn, the incorporation of technology into the very matrix of a particular society’s functioning, dramatically increases such functioning’s efficiency.
This is also the reason why it is specifically highly secularized Western countries that have traditionally been considered the most environmentally friendly – the incorporation of technology into economy naturally causes the latter to be less depended on the exploitation of natural resources. And, the less a particular economy is being depended on the exploitation of natural resources, the more there are objective reasons to consider it environmentally friendly – pure and simple.
For example, as of today, the environmental sector of Denmark’s economy alone is fully capable of providing enough fresh fruits and vegetables to the whole population of Europe, throughout the year round. Therefore, it is utterly inappropriate to suggest that the concept of technological progress, on the one hand, and the concept of environment’s preservation, on the other, are incompatible – both of them stem out of the notion of people’s intellectual liberation.
Therefore, the foremost significance of Superfund’s enactment should not be discussed in strictly utilitarian terms. Apparently, this enactment symbolizes the process of American society becoming ever-more secularized, which naturally prompts America’s policy-makers to think of preservation of the natural environment as an essentially ‘civil’ subject matter.
This is exactly the reason why a number of currently enacted environmental initiatives in Western countries are now being discussed within the context of: “(Secular) states’ increased capacity to address a myriad of policy problems, including those embodied in environmental policy” (Cline 2003, p. 66).
In its turn, this exposes the inconsistency of an idea that it was Western civilization’s innate ‘euro-centrism’ that, up until comparatively recent times, was causing Westerners to think of the surrounding environment from a strongly defined anthropocentric perspective.
The reason for this is simple – given the fact that the notion of ‘euro-centrism’ is being inseparably fused with the notion of ‘technological progress’, it cannot possibly be referred to as such that has necessarily negative connotations, in regards to the natural environment.
Therefore, it is quite impossible to agree with suggestions that imply the sheer ‘evilness’ of technology, in general, and of technology-driven industrialization, in particular: “The traditional scientific project of technological control is justified by continuing to think of humans as a special superior species, set apart and entitled to manipulate and commodity the earth for their own benefit” (Plumwood 2004, p. 44).
After all, Superfund’s enactment would have been deemed impossible, if America’s largest industrial manufactures were not in position of utilizing the latest technology, while addressing the problem of waste’s accumulation.
The common logic suggests that the process of secularization, concerned with people ceasing to perceive world through the lenses of anthropocentrism (which in turn causes them to adopt a friendly stance towards the nature), should also be affecting Muslim societies.
After all, the difference between Christianity and Islam is merely superficial – both religions imply that there are ‘chosen people’, who are being favored by God, and ‘unbelievers’, who will end up being cast into the ‘lake of fire’; both religions treat non-human life forms as ‘inferior’; both religions encourage its affiliates to regard nature as merely the subject of exploitation. This, however, is far from being the case.
In fact, the available sociological data indicate that, contrary to what it is being the case with Western societies, non-Western societies in general, and Muslim societies in particular, are growing increasingly religious – hence, the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism. As it was noted by Philpott (2007): “Defying the erstwhile dominance of the secularization thesis among Westerners, religion has waxed in its political influence over the past generation in every region of the globe except perhaps Western Europe” (p. 505).
In its turn, this naturally predisposes the countries where Muslims enjoy an undisputable social and political dominance, such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, to be continually referred to as the most environmentally unsustainable (D’Monte 2000, p. 2960).
This simply could not be otherwise – as it was shown earlier, people’s endowment with a strong sense of anthropocentric religiosity creates a number of objective prerequisites for these people to proceed with strongly defined environmentally unfriendly existential modes. After all, it does not represent much of a secret, after having spent some time in ‘culturally rich’ Muslim countries of the
Third World; Western tourists get an impression that these countries being nothing short of huge garbage-dumps. One of the reasons for this is that, contrary to what it is being the case in America, due to Superfund’s enactment, the industrial manufactures in these countries are not being held responsible for cleaning up hazardous waste-sites.
Given the fact that, as it was mentioned earlier, the notion of religion is being conceptually incompatible with the notion of environment-benefiting technological progress, this poses us with a peculiar question. Why is it that; whereas, Westerners continue to grow ever more secularized, the majority of people in non-Western (particularly Muslim) countries seem to become ever more religious, which in turn causes (although indirectly) the citizens of these countries to never cease suffering from an environmental pollution?
In order to be able to answer this question, we will need to resort to the methodology of a sociological research. Before we do it, however, we would have to expose what accounts for the dialectically predetermined link between the varying strength of people’s sense of religiosity and the rate of their Intellectual Quotidian (IQ).
As of today, just about all sociological studies, conducted for the purpose of defining the qualitative aspects of an interrelationship between religion and intelligence, point out to an undeniable fact that people’s strong sense of religiosity necessarily correlate with low intelligence, and vice versa.
According to Barber (2001): “Scientific views are most appealing to bright and educated people – a view that is empirically supported by strong correlations between IQ scores and disbelief in God both across individuals and across countries” (p. 320).
This could not be otherwise, simply because; whereas the extent of one’s intelligence if being reflective of his or her ability to proceed with expanding its intellectual horizons, the measure of one’s religiosity is being reflective of his or her tendency to refrain from expanding its intellectual horizons – hence, proving the strength of its faith.
In its turn, this explains the phenomenon of ‘desecularization’ in most non-Western countries. After all, the available sociological data, in regards to the average rates of people’s IQ in ‘traditional/religious’ countries, suggests that these people are being genetically predetermined to preoccupy themselves with exploring the full potential of their sense of religiosity.
For example, according to Lynn and Vanhanen (2002), the average rate of citizens’ IQ in such Islamic countries as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is estimated within a range of 70-80; whereas, citizens’ average rate of IQ in Western countries, Japan and China, is estimated within a range of 100-115. (p. 64).
In its turn, this suggests that; whereas, it is fully appropriate to think of anthropocentric religions (Christianity and Islam) as such that do contribute towards endowing its affiliates with environmentally unfriendly attitudes, it would be inappropriate to imply these religions’ etiological sameness.
The reason for this is simple – whereas; contemporary Westerners’ affiliation with Christianity appears merely superficial (the phenomenon of secularization), contemporary Muslims’ affiliation with Islam appears utterly organic/real (the phenomenon of desecularization) – the very subtleties of these people’s ‘mental wiring’ cause them to address life’s challenges from a strongly religious perspective.
Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that the countries with ‘spiritually rich’ populations have long ago ceased contributing to the pace of technological progress. This, however, does not prevent these countries from contributing to the process of Earth becoming overpopulated. After all, it represents another well-established sociological notion that, besides being correlative with their strong sense of religiosity, people’s low intelligence is also being correlative with their talent in ‘making babies’ (high fertility).
And, as sociologists are being well aware of – people’s high fertility, on the one hand, and their technological backwardness, on the other, are the foremost contributing factors to the process of natural environment’s destruction (Caldwell, J. & Schindlmayr, T. 2003, p. 55). What we know about the actual causes of a current environmental disaster in Haiti, confirms the full legitimacy of this statement.
I believe that the line of argumentation, deployed throughout this paper’s analytical part, is being fully consistent with the initial thesis as to the fact that the very laws of history, which presuppose the objectiveness of a process of Western societies becoming ever more secularized, predetermined Superfund’s enactment in 1980. This confirms once again that it is indeed being fully appropriate to assess environmental issue through the conceptual lenses of sociology.
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