Choking on Modernity : A Human Ecology of Air Pollution

  • York R
  • Rosa E
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Abstract

Ground-level air pollution has serious effects on the natural environment and human health, but it has not received the same attention in the sociological literature as the greenhouse gases polluting the upper atmosphere. To address questions about the effects of social structural forces on environmental impacts, we analyze cross-national time-series data (1990–2000) to assess influences on the emission of ground-level air pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitro- gen oxides, carbon monoxide, and non-methane volatile organic compounds. Drawing on human ecological theory, we move beyond previous analyses by assessing demographic effects on pollution emissions in a nuanced way by di- viding population into the number of households and average household size. We found that the number of house- holds has a greater effect on SO2 emissions than average household size. This suggests that the effect of population on the environment is not simply due to its size and growth, but also to its distribution across households. The differ- ence we found has important implications, since the global growth rate in the number of households is greater than the growth rate in population. Furthermore, while the population growth rate in less developed nations is over four times that in developed nations, the household growth rate is only double. This finding suggests that developed nations will contribute more to air pollution in the coming years than would be assumed based on population growth alone. Keywords: air pollution; structural human ecology; households; environmental demography; STIRPAT.

Author-supplied keywords

  • air pollution
  • among other problems
  • and chemical toxins
  • biodiversity loss
  • challenges facing societies around
  • environmental demography
  • global climate change
  • have emerged during the
  • households
  • modern era are some
  • nuclear
  • of the greatest
  • represent severe threats to
  • societal well-
  • stirpat
  • structural human ecology
  • the environmental crises that
  • the world
  • waste

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Authors

  • Richard York

  • Eugene a Rosa

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