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Social Sci LibreTexts

20: Population, Urbanization, and the Environment

How do sociologists study population and urbanization issues? Functionalist sociologists might focus on the way all aspects of population, urbanization, and the environment serve as vital and cohesive elements, ensuring the continuing stability of society. They might study how the growth of the global population encourages emigration and immigration, and how emigration and immigration serve to strengthen ties between nations. Or they might research the way migration affects environmental issues; for example, how have forced migrations, and the resulting changes in a region’s ability to support a new group, affected both the displaced people and the area of relocation? Another topic a functionalist might research is the way various urban neighborhoods specialize to serve cultural and financial needs.

  • 20.0: Prelude to Population, Urbanization, and the Environment
    As you read this chapter, consider how an increasing global population can balance environmental concerns with opportunities for industrial and economic growth. Think about how much water pollution can be justified by the need to lower U.S. dependence of foreign energy supplies. Is the potential employment and economic growth associated with fracking worth some environmental degradation?
  • 20.1: Demography and Population
    In 2012, we reached a population of 7 billion humans on the earth’s surface. The rapidity with which this happened demonstrated an exponential increase from the time it took to grow from 5 billion to 6 billion people. How quickly will we go from 7 billion to 8 billion? How will that population be distributed? Where is population the highest? Where is it slowing down? Where will people live? To explore these questions, we turn to demography, or the study of populations.
  • 20.2: Urbanization
    Urbanization is the study of the social, political, and economic relationships in cities, and someone specializing in urban sociology studies those relationships. In some ways, cities can be microcosms of universal human behavior, while in others they provide a unique environment that yields its own brand of human behavior. There is no strict dividing line between rural and urban; rather, there is a continuum where one bleeds into the other.
  • 20.3: The Environment and Society
    The subfield of environmental sociology studies the way humans interact with their environments. This field is closely related to human ecology, which focuses on the relationship between people and their built and natural environment. This is an area that is garnering more attention as extreme weather patterns and policy battles over climate change dominate the news. A key factor of environmental sociology is the concept of carrying capacity.
  • 20.E: Population, Urbanization, and the Environment (Exercises)

Thumbnail: Sights like this are common for anyone who lives near the water, creating problems not only for the residents but also for the health of ecosystems. (Photo courtesy of Jim Linwood/flickr).