Human Exemptionalism Paradigm (HEP)

Environmental Sociology
Catton and Dunlap have criticized sociological
theory - in general - for not giving enough
attention to critical feedback linkages between
natural and built environments and society.
They argue that there is a need in sociology to
shift paradigms, or take on a new world view
that incorporates linkages between ecosystems
and social systems.
C and D begin by noting that the development of
environmental problems, especially in the past
three decades, has changed attitudes and
expectations amongst the general public and
sociologists alike.
There has been a dramatic shift from the 1950's
when the North American dreams of social
progress, upward mobility, and societal stability
seemed secure.
Before we begin a discussion of the development
of the "new ecological paradigm" we must first
review what is meant by the term paradigm.
According to Ritzer, a paradigm is a fundamental
image of the subject matter within a science.
It serves to define what should be studied, what
questions should be asked, how they should be
asked, and what rules should be followed in
interpreting the answer obtained.
The paradigm is the broadest unit of consensus
within a science and serves to differentiate one
scientific community (or sub-community) from
It subsumes, defines and inter-relates the
exemplars, theories, methods, and instruments
that exist within it.
Catton and Dunlap argue that the numerous
competing theoretical perspectives in
contemporary sociology (for instance structural
functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic
interactionism to name a few) tend to
exaggerate their differences from each other.
C and D argue that their diversity is not as
important as the fundamental
anthropocentricism which underlies all of them.
This mutual anthropocentricism is part of a basic
sociological world view.
C & D label this view, the "Human
Exceptionalism Paradigm" (HEP).
Catton and Dunlap argue that acceptance of the
assumption of the HEP has made it difficult for
most sociologists to deal meaningfully with the
social implications of ecological problems and
"The HEP comprises several assumptions that
have either been challenged by recent additions
to knowledge, or have had their optimistic
implications contradicted by events of the
seventies. Accepted explicitly or implicitly by
all existing theoretical persuasions, they include:
1. Human are unique among the earth's creatures, for
they have culture.
2. Culture can vary almost infinitely and can change
much more rapidly than biological traits.
3. Thus man human differences are socially induced
rather than inborn, they can be social altered, and
inconvenient differences can be eliminated.
4. Thus, also, cultural accumulation means that
progress can continue without limit, making all
social problems ultimately solvable."
Catton and Dunlap state that sociological
acceptance of this optimistic world view was
shaped by the doctrine of progress inherent in
Western culture.
They argue that the majority of the public (until
recently) maintained a strong belief that the
present was better than the past and the future
would improve upon the present.
Catton and Dunlap state that neglect of the
ecosystem-dependence of human society has
been particularly evident in sociological
literature on economic development, which has
failed to recognize biogeochemical limits to
material progress.
When the public started to become concerned
about newly visible environmental problems, it
was biologists who served as opinion leaders
not sociologists.
Sociologists began to read the work of these
"opinion leaders" and assumption and
perceptions changed.
Sociologists began to recognize that the reality of
ecological constraints posed serious problems
for human societies as well as for the discipline
of sociology.
At the beginning of the 70's concern with the
environment as a social problem led to
numerous studies of public attitudes toward
environmental issues and of the "Environmental
Links developed between sociologists concerned
with a range of issues, including the build
environment, natural hazards, resource
management, outdoor recreation, and "social
impact assessment".
After the energy crisis of 1973 numerous
sociologists began to study the effects of energy
shortages in particular, and resource constraints
in general, on society.
For example, the effects of resource constraints on
the stratification system, the political order, and
the family
"Conceptions of "environment" range from the
"manmade" (or "built") environment to the
"natural" environment, with an array of "humanaltered environments -e.g., air, water, noise, and
visual pollution-in between.
Catton and Dunlap go on to describe the
development of environmental sociology, which
rests on a different set of assumptions.
1. Human beings are but one species among the
many that are interdependently involved in the
biotic communities that shape our social life.
2.Intricate linkages of cause and effect and
feedback in the web of nature produce many
unintended consequences from purposive
human action.
3.The world is finite, so there are potent physical
and biological limits constraining economic
growth social progress, and other societal
A Comparison of Major Assumptions in the
Dominant Western Worldview, Sociology’s
Human Exemptionalism Paradigm, and the
Proposed New Ecological Paradigm
about the nature
of human beings
social causation
Dominant Western
Worldview (DWW)
Human Exemptionalism
Paradigm (HEP)
People are
different from all
other creatures on
Earth, over which
they have dominion
Human have cultural
heritage in addition
to (and distinct from)
their genetic inheritance,
and thus are quite unlike
all other animal species.
People are masters
of their destiny; they
choose their goals
and learn to do whatever is necessary to do.
Social and cultural
factors (including
technology) are the major
determinants of human
Dominant Western
Worldview (DWW)
The world is vast,
about the context and thus provides
of human society unlimited
opportunities for
about constraints
on human society
The history of
humanity is one of
progress; for every
problem there is a
solution, and thus
progress need
never cease.
Human Exemptionalism
Paradigm (HEP)
Social and cultural
environments are
the crucial context for
human affairs, and the
biophysical environment
is largely irrelevant.
Culture is cumulative;
thus technological
progress can continue
indefinitely, making all
social problems
ultimately soluble.
Dominant Western
Worldview (DWW)
People are
about the nature different from all
of human beings other creatures on
Earth, over which
they have dominion
New Ecological
Paradigm (NEP)
NEP1: While humans have
exceptional characteristics
(culture, technology, etc.),
they remain one among
many species that are
interdependently involved
in the global ecosystem.
NEP2: Human affairs are
influenced not only by social
People are masters
and cultural factors, but also
of their destiny; they by intricate linkages of cause,
social causation choose their goals
effect, and feedback in the web
and learn to do what- of nature; thus purposive human
ever is necessary to do. actions have many unintended
Dominant Western
Worldview (DWW)
The world is vast,
about the context and thus provides
of human society unlimited
opportunities for
about constraints
on human society
The history of
humanity is one of
progress; for every
problem there is a
solution, and thus
progress need
never cease.
New Ecological
Paradigm (NEP)
NEP3: Humans live in
and are dependent upon
a finite biophysical
environment which
imposes potent physical
and biological restraints
on human affairs.
NEP4: Although the
inventiveness of humans
and the powers derived
therefrom may seem for
a while to extend carrying
capacity limits, ecological
laws cannot be repealed
Schnaiberg, working within the tradition of
political economy, has developed a theoretical
model for analyzing the causes and
consequences of production for the natural
In his theoretical model, entitled the treadmill of
production, ecosystem elements are converted
by capitalists through market exchanges into
Capitalists then reinvest some of these profits in
more productive physical capital.
This requires still greater ecosystem access in
order to keep equipment operating at an
economically efficient rate.
(This process is what has led to the depletion of
B.C. salmon fishing stocks; see Pearse 1982).
The implementation of advanced equipment
inevitably leads to changes in the structure of an
industry because it raises the capitalintensification of production and hence requires
a growing share of national production in order
to remunerate capital owners.
These increased costs require greater production
and in turn necessitates expanded ecosystem
According to the treadmill model, there are further
demands on production besides the need to
cover capital costs (and profits).
Enough surplus must be generated to supply an
adequate level of wages to maintain consumer
demand (for the capitalist system to function)
and to generate enough tax revenue to cover the
social expenditures of the state.
The need for increasing exchange value tends to
accelerate "the environmental demands of
modern treadmills".
Schnaiberg and other political economists
consciously working within the "new ecological
paradigm" argue that it is the commitment of the
dominant institutions (as well as ideological
commitment) to growth that is the root of
alienation of humans from natural ecological
George Bush ironically reinforces this notion with
his comments at the Rio Earth Summit.
Criticized for refusing to sign important accords
on global warming and endangered species,
Bush responded by stating:
"Twenty years ago, some spoke of limits to
growth. Today we realize that growth is the
engine of change and the friend of the
Schnaiberg discusses various structural theories
of the state. He argues that modern western
states have experienced serious internal
conflicts regarding environmental issues.
On the one hand the state serves as a facilitator of
capital accumulation and economic growth.
On the other, it acts as a social legitimator of the
socioeconomic structure for its citizens (see
O'Connor 1973).
The former role commits the state to looking at
environmental resources for their exchangevalues.
Conversely, the latter leads the state to view
ecosystems' capacities to produce the use-values
(as habitat and/or biosocial resources) of various
constituents, who are among the political
constituencies of state actions.
The “Treadmill of Production”.
In More
Need for Adequate
Wages to Maintain
Consumer Demand
and Generate
Tax Revenue
The Societal-Environmental Dialectic
Schnaiberg, drawing upon the intellectual tool of
dialectical analysis (developed by Hegel, and
Marx), proposes the condition of a societalenvironmental dialectic. He argues that
economic growth (the thesis) is a basic value of
contemporary western societies, while
"ecological disruption" (the antithesis) "is a
necessary consequence of economic expansion.
A tension emerges between these two forces
because while economic growth is valued,
"ecological disruption is harmful to human
The “Societal-Environmental Dialectic”.
(the thesis)
(the antithesis)
1. An “Economic” Synthesis.
2. A “Managed Scarcity” Synthesis.
3. An “Ecological” Synthesis.
Schnaiberg notes that there are three possible
resolutions (or syntheses) of this dialectic:
(1) an economic synthesis which ignores
ecological disruptions and attempts to maximize
(2) a managed scarcity synthesis which deals
with the most obvious and harmful
consequences of resource-utilization by
imposing controls over selected industries and
(3) an ecological synthesis in which "substantial
control over both production and effective
demand for goods" is used to minimize
ecological disruptions and maintain a "sustained
yield" of resources.
Schaniberg (1975, 1980, forthcoming) argues that
which of these outcomes emerges depends upon
the economic structure of a society
Schnaiberg argues that the modern treadmill of
production produces an enduring systemic bias
towards the economic synthesis, and against the
ecological synthesis because major social
institutions continue to maintain and transmit
the dominant belief: the necessity of economic
Schnaiberg states that there are two central
questions that arise for the dominant classes and
economic institutions: (1) how to generate more
surplus, and (2) how to allocate the surplus that
is generated.
At the level of the state, "regressive" (inequalitymagnifying) societies are likely to continue the
"economic" synthesis while "progressive"
(equality-fostering) societies are least resistive
to the "ecological" synthesis
Schnaiberg notes that the U.S., with its "nonredistributive" ideology, has tended to engage in
the "managed scarcity solution to environmental
and resource problems