Years ago, I heard a lecture on the Laws of Ecology by Barry Commoner. When I opened Prof Mayerfeld Bell’s book on environmental sociology, this line leapt out, “Everything we do has environmental implications, as responsible citizens recognize today". However, it is not enough for citizens alone to recognize this – it has to be recognized at the policy level too. The biggest problem is probably the strong dividing line between sociology and natural sciences (and engineering sciences too) and the complaints about hiding behind jargon which must be overcome if we are to succeed in our plans for sustainable development.

The book is composed of eleven chapters in three parts. The first part, The Material, looks at how consumption, the economy, technology, development, population and the health of our bodies shape our environmental conditions. We find it difficult to see connections between the human body and the environment, but they become obvious once pointed out, says the author giving examples of our global cuisine and the problems of living downstream. In the second part, “The Ideal”, how culture, ideology, moral values, risk and social experience influence the way we think and act about the environment, there is a special focus on risk assessment and the sociology of disasters. The author quotes Kai Erikson, authority on the social consequences of disasters who says that the human-induced disasters have resulted in a sense of betrayal. While ‘natural’ disasters suggest a lack of control over processes beyond the reach of humans, technological disasters suggest a perceived loss of control over processes thought to be within reach of humans and our commitment to care for one another. This is something that we need to study deeper with the kind of development that is going on in India. The last part is “The Practical”: how we can bring about a more ecological society, taking the relations of the material and the ideal into account. Here he talks about the three “cons”: conceptions, connections and contestations being the three foundations of ecological mobilization; i.e. to mobilize the ecological society we need ecological knowledge – conceptions. We need the solidarity of community ties – connections and we need political strategy – contestations. We need a good foundation of ecological and environmental concepts, we need to network and partner with a wider variety of stakeholders of this one earth and most important, we need political will to ensure that the move towards sustainable development is not mere rhetoric but reality.

Ahana Lakshmi