This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cultural Demography of Environmental Activism

Not everyone views the environment in the same way, as we famously know in the differences between those who believe that climate change is occurring and is a consequence of human activities, and those who either choose to ignore the evidence of climate change and/or think that humans have nothing to do with it. These cultural views of the environment are more complex than that example suggests, however, and the linkages between world views--expressed especially through religion--and the way people perceive the environment is the subject of a week-long cyberseminar from 15 May through 19 May hosted by the Population Environment Resource Network at Columbia University. Even if you don't have time to join the cyberseminar, I encourage you to download the background paper on "Religious belief and environmental challenges in the 21st century." There's a lot in there, but this passage jumped out at me:
Acknowledging the absence of a sociological theory accounting for White’s (1967) link between belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible and low levels of environmental concern, (Greeley 1993) found that this correlation is driven by denomination-specific beliefs such as belief in a gracious God and shows that this relationship does not hold for Catholics. Thus, it is not necessarily religious belief per se which causes individuals to be less likely to engage in environmentally-friendly behaviour, but a rigid mind set (exemplified by a literal biblical interpretation) characteristic among more conservative Christian traditions which drives these results. Differences in theology also make a significant difference in beliefs vis-à-vis personal responsibility for environmental issues and environmental outcomes (Bookless 2008). Testing White’s hypothesis that the Christian tradition breeds a belief in human domination over nature, Chuvieco et al. (2016) find that predominantly Christian countries perform better across a range of environmental indicators when controlling for per capita income and Human Development Index scores. However, it could be argued that more affluent Christian nations “export” their environmental problems by importing goods from more polluting (and secular) countries such as China.  
These are themes that you will find in Chapter 11 of my text, and, if you are a user of my text and have downloaded the Powerpoint slides that go with the book, you will recognize the following slide, drawing upon a seminal paper by James Proctor at Lewis & Clark University in Oregon:

When I put this slide up, I can always see light bulbs going on. Difference in religion and related cultural views permeate this slide, and you really can't understand approaches to the environmental issues of our time without working your way through all of these paths.

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