By Agnes Heller
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1972) and on built environments by urban sociologists (see Michelson, 1970), it is generally agreed that the field of environmental sociology developed largely in response to the emergence of widespread societal attention to environmental problems in the early 1970s (Buttel, 1987; Dunlap and Catton, 1979; Freudenburg and Gramling, 1989; Humphrey and Buttel, 1982). Not surprisingly, the bulk of this early work focused on the environmental movement, public attitudes towards environmental issues, environmental policy making and the development of environmental quality as a social problem.
Similarly, the rush to develop domestic sources of energy such as coal in the 1970s led to numerous studies of the social impacts of rapid growth in western US ‘energy boomtowns’ and findings useful for predicting the effects of rapid growth in rural areas regardless of its source (Freudenburg and Jones, 1991). Another body of research suggests that environmentally hazardous facilities such as landfills tend to be located disproportionately in lower-income and especially minorities communities, leading to charges of ‘environmental racism’ and pleas for ‘environmental justice’ (Bryant and Mohai, 1992).
Time went so far as to name the ‘Endangered Earth’ as ‘Planet of the Year’ in lieu of its ‘man of the year’ for 1988. The exceptionally hot summer of 1988 appeared to validate the notion of global warming in the eyes of the public, much as the 1973-4 energy crisis had done for limits to growth (Ungar, 1992). Thus, although the threat of energy (and other resource) shortages had receded during the 1980s, the quality of the environment was widely seen as worsening. The renewed salience of environmental problems in the USA was given great impetus by the mobilization of public support for the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, 22 April 1990, an event that attracted unprecedented public involvement and also helped swell the memberships of environmental organizations (Dunlap and Mertig, 1992).