While the current mode of thought expressed in environmental sociology was not prevalent until the 1970s, its application is now used in analysis of ancient peoples. Societies including Easter Island, the Anaszi, and the Mayans were argued to have ended abruptly, largely due to poor environmental management. This has been challenged in later work however as the exclusive cause (biologically trained Jared Diamond's Collapse (2005); or more modern work on Easter Island). The collapse of the Mayans sent a historic message that even advanced cultures are vulnerable to ecological suicide—though Diamond argues now it was less of a suicide than an environmental climate change that led to a lack of an ability to adapt—and a lack of elite willingness to adapt even when faced with the signs much earlier of nearing ecological problems. At the same time, societal successes for Diamond included New Guinea and Tikopia island whose inhabitants have lived sustainably for 46,000 years.
John Dryzek et al. argue in Green States and Social Movements: Environmentalism in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway (2003) that there may be a common global green environmental social movement, though its specific outcomes are nationalist, falling into four 'ideal types' of interaction between environmental movements and state power. They use as their case studies environmental social movements and state interaction from Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany. They analyze the past 30 years of environmentalism and the different outcomes that the green movement has taken in different state contexts and cultures.
Recently and roughly in temporal order below, much longer-term comparative historical studies of environmental degradation are found by sociologists. There are two general trends: many employ world systems theory—analyzing environmental issues over long periods of time and space; and others employ comparative historical methods. Some utilize both methods simultaneously, sometimes without reference to world systems theory (like Whitaker, see below).
Stephen G. Bunker (d. 2005) and Paul S. Ciccantell collaborated on two books from a world-systems theory view, following commodity chains through history of the modern world system, charting the changing importance of space, time, and scale of extraction and how these variables influenced the shape and location of the main nodes of the world economy over the past 500 years. Their view of the world was grounded in extraction economies and the politics of different states that seek to dominate the world's resources and each other through gaining hegemonic control of major resources or restructuring global flows in them to benefit their locations.
The three volume work of environmental world-systems theory by Sing C. Chew analyzed how "Nature and Culture" interact over long periods of time, starting with World Ecological Degradation (2001) In later books, Chew argued that there were three "Dark Ages" in world environmental history characterized by periods of state collapse and reorientation in the world economy associated with more localist frameworks of community, economy, and identity coming to dominate the nature/culture relationships after state-facilitated environmental destruction delegitimized other forms. Thus recreated communities were founded in these so called 'Dark Ages,' novel religions were popularized, and perhaps most importantly to him the environment had several centuries to recover from previous destruction. Chew argues that modern green politics and bioregionalism is the start of a similar movement of the present day potentially leading to wholesale system transformation. Therefore, we may be on the edge of yet another global "dark age" which is bright instead of dark on many levels since he argues for human community returning with environmental healing as empires collapse.
More case oriented studies were conducted by historical environmental sociologist Mark D. Whitaker analyzing China, Japan, and Europe over 2,500 years in his book Ecological Revolution (2009). He argued that instead of environmental movements being "New Social Movements" peculiar to current societies, environmental movements are very old—being expressed via religious movements in the past (or in the present like in ecotheology) that begin to focus on material concerns of health, local ecology, and economic protest against state policy and its extractions. He argues past or present is very similar: that we have participated with a tragic common civilizational process of environmental degradation, economic consolidation, and lack of political representation for many millennia which has predictable outcomes. He argues that a form of bioregionalism, the bioregional state, is required to deal with political corruption in present or in past societies connected to environmental degradation.
Interestingly, after looking at the world history of environmental degradation from very different methods, both sociologists Sing Chew and Mark D. Whitaker came to similar conclusions and are proponents of (different forms of) bioregionalism.
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