Chapter 20. Population, Urbanization, and the Environment

Chapter 20 Resources and Activities

Key Terms

Anthropocene: The current geologic era of the planet initiated by the impact of human activity on the biosphere.

appropriate technology: A technology suited and fit to its ecological and social context.

automobility: A self-perpetuating system encompassing actors, materials, technologies, policies and practices that make up and reinforce private vehicle usage.

bioregion: A geographical area that is determined not by political or administrative boundaries but by ecological systems, such as a watershed, a river estuary, a coastal environment, a mountain range or plain.

capital accumulation: The reinvestment of profit in order to increase private capital assets and future profits.

carrying capacity: How many people can live in a given area considering the amount of available resources.

climate change: Long-term shifts in temperature and climate due to human activity.

commons: Collective resources that humans share in common.

concentric zone model: A model of human ecology that views cities as a series of circular rings or zones.

cornucopian theory: Theory which asserts that human ingenuity will rise to the challenge of providing adequate resources for a growing population.

corporate city: A city form based economically on corporate management and financial services.

deep ecology: An environmental social movement based on the principle that the eco-system and members of the natural world are not resources to be used because all beings have intrinsic value.

demographic transition theory: Theory that describes four stages of population growth, following patterns that connect birth and death rates with stages of industrial development.

demography: The study of population dynamics.

dual city: Cities that are divided into wealthy, high-tech, information-based zones of urban development and poorer, run-down, marginalized zones of urban underdevelopment and informal economic activity.

ecological modernization theory: Theoretical framework that describes human pressure on environmental systems as temporary because, as society modernizes, the ecological rationality underpinning the need to protect the environment from the strains of human development will become evident, leading to necessary reforms, innovations and environmental sustainability.

edge city: Urban formations based on clusters of shopping malls, entertainment complexes, and office towers at major transportation intersections.

emigration: The movement of people out of an area to another place of permanent residence.

environmental inequality: The condition in which low-income and marginalized people are disproportionately likely to experience various environmental problems.

environmental racism: The unequal access to a clean environment and basic environmental resources based on racialized distinctions.

environmental sociology: The sociological subfield that addresses the relationship between humans and the environment.

environmental sustainability: The degree to which a human activity can be sustained without damaging or undermining basic ecological support systems.

extractivism: The accelerated extraction of natural resources to satisfy a global demand for minerals and energy with the idea that this sustains national economic growth.

exurbs: Communities that arise farther out than the suburbs and are typically populated by residents of high socioeconomic status.

fantasy city: Cities that choose to transform themselves into Disneyland-like theme parks or sites of mega-events to draw international tourists.

fertility rate: A measure noting the actual number of children born.

gentrification: When upper- and middle-class residents renovate and live in properties in certain city areas or communities that have been historically less affluent.

global city: A unique development based on the new role of cities in the circuits of global information and global capital circulation and accumulation.

growth machine: Coalitions of politicians, real estate investors, corporations, property owners, urban planners, architects, sports teams, and cultural institutions, for example, who work together to intensify land usage, attract private capital to the city and lobby government for subsidies and tax breaks for investors.

growth rate: How much the population of a defined area grows or shrinks in a specific time period, calculated as the current population minus the initial population divided by the initial population.

human ecology: A functional perspective that looks at the relationship between people and their built and natural environment.

immigration: The movement of people into an area to take up permanent residence.

industrial city: A city in which the major business and employment activities revolve around manufacturing, building, and machining.

Malthusian theory: Theory which asserts that population is controlled through positive checks (war, famine, disease) and preventive checks (measures to reduce fertility).

megalopolis: A large urban corridor that encompasses several cities and their surrounding suburbs and exurbs.

metropolis: The area that includes a city and its suburbs and exurbs.

metropolitan way of life: A form of social life distinguished from rural life and produced by the effect of the external features of the metropolis (population size, density, anonymity, and diversity, for example) on the psyche or subjective experience of the urban dweller.

migration: The movement of people into and out of an area.

mortality rate: A measure of the number of people who die.

NIMBY: A “not in my back yard” movement or protest, describing the tendency of people to protest development when it impacts them directly.

petro-masculinity: An exaggerated expression of masculinity tied to a backlash against climate change discourse.

population composition: A snapshot of the demographic profile of a population based on fertility, mortality, and migration rates.

population pyramid: Graphic representation that depicts population distribution according to age and sex.

postmodern city: A city defined by its orientation to circuits of global consumption, the fragmentation of previously homogeneous cultures, and the emergence of multiple centres or cores.

sex ratio: The ratio of men to women in a given population.

slum city: The development on the outskirts of cities of unplanned shantytowns or squats with no access to clean water, sanitation, or other municipal services.

social ecology: A sociological model in which human communities, like biotic communities, are bound together by complex relations of competition for resources and mutual dependence.

sprawl: The uncontrolled growth of urban areas with a low population density, high dependence on automobiles, and poor planning.

suburbs: The communities surrounding cities, typically close enough for a daily commute.

tragedy of the commons: The collective destruction of collective or shared resources as a product of individual cost/benefit decision making.

treadmill of production theory: Theoretical framework that describes human pressure on environmental systems as a product of capitalism, which prioritizes economic growth over social inequality and environmental protection.

urban sociology: The subfield of sociology that focuses on the study of urbanization.

urbanism: The way of life characteristic of cities and towns.

urbanization: The process of the formation of cities.

zero population growth: A theoretical goal in which the number of people entering a population through birth or immigration is equal to the number of people leaving it via death or emigration.

zones of transition: Transitional, economically deprived zones within a city, where there is a high rate of flux in population as different groups of people move in and out.

Section Summary

20.1 Demography and Population
Scholars understand demography, or the study of population dynamics, through various analyses. Factors that impact the growth rate of a population include birth rates, mortality rates, and migration, including immigration and emigration. Earth’s human population is growing and projected to reach over 10 billion by the end of the century, but growth is uneven between the global north and south. Malthusian, zero population growth, cornucopian theory, and demographic transition theories all help sociologists study demography. There are numerous potential outcomes of the growing population, and sociological perspectives vary on the potential effect of these increased numbers. The growth will pressure the carrying capacity of the already taxed planet and its natural resources.

20.2 Urbanization
Urban sociology studies the distinctive qualities of cities. Once a geographically concentrated population has reached approximately 100,000 people, it typically behaves like a city. Urbanization in North America has passed through many urban forms from the development of industrial cities, to corporate cities, postmodern cities, exurbs and suburbs, and megalopolises. The growth in global urbanization in the 20th and 21st centuries is following the blueprint of North American cities, but is occurring much more quickly and at larger scales, especially in peripheral and semi-peripheral countries. Sociological explanations for the nature of urban growth and transformation range from structural functionalism and social ecology, to critical sociology and “growth machines,” to interpretive sociology and the metropolitan way of life.

20.3 The Environment and Society
Environmental sociology studies how humans interact with their environments. Two key concepts in environmental sociology are the concepts of carrying capacity and the tragedy of the commons, both of which have been growing in significance as societies cope with extreme weather patterns and concerns over climate change. A central dynamic is the conflict between environmental sustainability and strategies of capital accumulation focused on extractivism. While everyone is at risk from pollution and climate change, poor and disadvantaged communities and peripheral nations bear a greater burden of these social-ecological issues.


Quiz: Population, Urbanization, and the Environment

20.1 Demography and Population

  1. The population of the planet is projected to peak at                        in the 2080s?
    1. 10.4 billion
    2. 8 billion
    3. 25 billion
    4. 9.7 billion
  2. Which of the following issues is framed as a functionalist analysis?
    1. The way that fertility rates are the product of individual choices
    2. The way that societies adapt to ecological conditions
    3. The way racism and homophobia impact the population composition of rural communities
    4. The way that humans interact with environmental resources on a daily basis
  3. What does carrying capacity refer to?
    1. The ability of a community to absorb and house new immigrants
    2. The amount of water a single person can carry on their head
    3. The amount of life that can be supported sustainably in a particular environment
    4. The amount of weight that urban centres can bear if vertical growth is mandated
  4. What three factors did Malthus believe would limit human population?
    1. Nasty, brutish and short
    2. Natural cycles, maximum biological lifespan, and agricultural productivity
    3. Birth control, family planning, female education
    4. War, famine, and disease
  5. What does cornucopian theory state?
    1. That human ingenuity will solve any issues that overpopulation creates
    2. That new diseases will always keep populations stable
    3. That Earth will naturally provide enough for whatever number of humans exist
    4. That the greatest risk is population reduction, not population growth

20.2 Urbanization

  1. What, in Burgess’s concentric zone model, is Zone C likely to house?
    1. The city’s industrial factory zone
    2. Railyards, ports and parking lots
    3. Formerly wealthy homes split into cheap apartments
    4. Established ethnic enclaves
  2. What are the historical prerequisites for the development of a city?
    1. Good environment with water and a favourable climate
    2. Agricultural surpluses
    3. Strong social organization to ensure social stability and a stable economy.
    4. All of the above
  3. To what aspect of contemporary urban development does the term “fantasy city” refer?
    1. Red-light districts
    2. Land speculation and value of real estate decoupled from local labour markets
    3. The recreational zones of cities constructed as theme parks for international tourists
    4. A megalopolis
  4. What led to the creation of the exurbs?
    1. Urban sprawl and crowds moving into the suburbs
    2. The high cost of suburban living
    3. Inner-city resettlement by elites
    4. The voluntary simplicity movement
  5. How are the suburbs of Paris different from those of most Canadian cities?
    1. They are connected by public transportation.
    2. There are more industrial and business opportunities there.
    3. They are synonymous with housing projects and urban poor.
    4. They are less densely populated.
  6. What mental quality is common in Simmel’s “metropolitan way of life”?
    1. Crowding
    2. Blasé attitude
    3. Emotionality
    4. All of the above
  7. What does human ecology theory address?
    1. The relationship between humans and their natural and built environments
    2. The inhabitation of cities by opportunistic wild species like rats, racoons annd coyotes
    3. Global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions
    4. The relationship between humans and other species
  8. What is the focus of the critical sociological study of urbanization?
    1. Growth machines
    2. Land speculation and value of real estate decoupled from local labour markets
    3. NIMBY and other urban social movements
    4. All of the above

20.3 The Environment and Society

  1. To what does the “commons” in the “tragedy of the commons” refer?
    1. The commonly owned livestock in the early communal soviets
    2. The aggregated private greenspaces in a city
    3. The common grazing lands in pre-industrial England
    4. The common market that sets global prices for natural resources
  2. Climate scientists have shown human induced climate change has already increased average global temperatures by                        degrees and without sufficient emissions reductions there is a 50% chance that                        degrees of global warming will be reached or passed by 2040.
    1. 3.3 C; 5.7 C
    2. 0.4 C; 1.1 C
    3. 1.1 C; 5.7 C
    4. 1.1 C; 1.5 C
  3. The difference between the treadmill of production theory and ecological modernization theory on the causes of climate change is:
    1. Treadmill theory focuses on habitual routines of social life whereas ecological modernization focuses on environmental engineering strategies
    2. Treadmill theory focuses on pollution and greenhouse gas issues whereas ecological modernization focuses on environmental mitigation strategies
    3. Treadmill theory focuses on examining the causes and impacts of climate change whereas ecological modernization focuses on exploring equitable mitigation, adaptation and just transition strategies
    4. Treadmill theory focuses on the unsustainable logic of capital accumulation whereas ecological modernization focuses on the idea that continued development and sustainability can be balanced
  4. Automobility is a term that describes:
    1. The social policies and practices that reinforce private vehicle usage
    2. The increasing impact of transportation technologies on human movement
    3. An exaggerated expression of masculinity tied to a backlash against climate change discourse
    4. Policies to lower carbon emissions
  5. The mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows that poisoned many people in the Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation and Wabaseemoong First Nation communities in the 1960s and 1970s is best described as an example of:
    1. Environmental inequality
    2. Environmental racism
    3. The human exemptionalist paradigm
    4. Extractivism

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

20.1 Demography and Population

  1. Do some additional research on the effects of public policy on population. What have been some of the effects of China’s one-child policy (1979-2015) that limited the number of children a family can have? Quebec on the other hand has been trying to increase fertility rates. What have been the effects of Quebec’s pronatal and family assistance policies? Are these types of policy interventions a good idea?
  2. Immigration policy in Canada has been focused on addressing economic needs for labour. Why do you think Canada has one of the highest immigration rates among G7 countries? What is the effect of relying on immigration to satisfy labour needs?
  3. Look at trends in birth rates from Stage 4 countries (like those in Europe) versus those from Stage 2 countries (like the Democratic Republic of Congo). How does the population makeup impact the political climate, issues and economics of the different countries? What factors lead to a sex ratio in which men outnumber women? What factors lead to higher fertility rates?

20.2 Urbanization

  1. What are the differences between the suburbs and the exurbs? Do these exist in the city you live in or in a city you are familiar with? Are they distinct? Who is most likely to live in each?
  2. Most major cities in core countries are to some degree postmodern and decentred. What elements of edge city, dual city and/or fantasy city characterize a city you are familiar with? In what sense is life in this cities still centered on a downtown core, and in what sense is it not?
  3. Considering the concentric zone model, does it apply to the city you grew up in or are familiar with? If you grew up in a city, what type of zone were you raised in? Is this the same or different from that of earlier generations in your family? If you live in a city, what type of zone do you reside in now? Do you find that people from one zone stereotype those from another? If so, how?
  4. Close your eyes and take a second to think about some recent situation in which you were in a city. Take a second to think about what was specifically “city-ish” about that situation. On a piece of paper write about it without stopping to think for two minutes. Look at what you’ve written and circle two or three things that surprise you or interest you. On a fresh sheet of paper, use these to compose an opening sentence or two about what is distictive about city life. How does what you have selected compare to Simmel’s description of the metropolitan way of life?

20.3 The Environment and Society

  1. What steps need to be taken to address climate change?
  2. Can you think of a modern example of the tragedy of the commons, where public use without accountability has created a negative outcome?
  3. Canadian politics often seems divided over questions of environmental sustainability and capital accumulation. Describe how the sociological imagination can provide a useful, evidence based framework for addressing these issues.

Further Research

20.1 Demography and Population

Research data on global population through the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division) World Population Prospects databases.

20.2 Urbanization

Check out Robert Neuwirth’s work on Shadow Cities to explore the world’s squatter sites where a billion people now make their homes. He describes them as thriving centers of ingenuity and innovation.

Ellen Dunham-Jones discusses the fate of underperforming suburbs and shares a vision of dying malls rehabilitated, dead “big box” stores re-inhabited, and endless parking lots transformed into thriving wetlands.

Ed Soja’s exploration of Los Angeles describes postmodern urbanism as a new type of urban form. Is Soja’s analysis of Los Angeles and the Bonaventure Hotel still useful for urban sociologists today?

20.3 The Environment and Society

Interested in learning more about the latest research in the field of human ecology? Visit the Society for Human Ecology website to discover what’s emerging in this field.

What is your carbon footprint? Find out using the carbon footprint calculator.

Find out more about the deep ecology movement through The Trumpeter, an environmental humanities journal dedicated to the development of an ecosophy, or wisdom born of ecological understanding and insight.


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Solutions to Section Quiz

1 A, | 2 B, | 3 C, | 4 D, | 5 A, | 6 C, | 7 D, | 8 C, | 9 A, | 10 C, | 11 B, | 12 A, | 13 D, | 14 C, | 15 D, | 16 D, | 17 A, | 18 B, [Return to Quiz]


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Introduction to Sociology – 3rd Canadian Edition by William Little is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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