"Looking Beyond Technological Fixes: A Sociological Perspective on Climate Change"
Richard York, professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Oregon
Many popular approaches to curtailing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and thereby reducing the effect of humanity on the global climate, focus on the development and application of “green” technologies, such as those that improve energy efficiency or those that utilize alternative energy sources (e.g., solar, wind). While, in principle, green technologies can help reduce GHG emissions, for a variety of reasons they often have not in many nations. Professor York presents results from analyses of cross-national time-series data which show that increases in non-fossil-fuel energy sources have typically not proven to proportionately displace fossil-fuel use. He will also show, with similar data, that improvements in macroeconomic energy efficiency typically have been associated with rising GHG emissions. He will use sociological theory to help explain these findings. These analyses imply that for green technologies to be of greater help in addressing environmental problems, changes may need to be made to social, political and economic contexts.
Richard York is the 2013-14 Friends of the Institute for Advanced Study Member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study and the chair of the Environment and Technology Section (ETS) of the American Sociological Association (ASA). His research focuses on environmental sociology, ecological economics, animal studies and the sociology of science. He has published several dozen articles, including ones in American Sociological Review, Ecological Economics, Conservation Biology, Nature Climate Change, Social Problems, Sociological Theory, and Theory and Society. He has published three books with Monthly Review Press: "The Critique of Intelligent Design" and "The Ecological Rift," both with John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, and "The Science and Humanism of Stephen Jay Gould," with Brett Clark. In recognition of his research, York has twice (2004 and 2007) received the Outstanding Publication Award and once (2011) the Honorable Mention for the same award from the ETS of the ASA, and the Rural Sociology Best Paper Award (2011) from the Rural Sociological Society. He has also received the Teaching and Mentorship Award (2011) from the ETS of the ASA, the Thomas F. Herman Faculty Achievement Award for Distinguished Teaching (2013) and the Faculty Excellence Award (2013) from the University of Oregon.