December 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 9

to print a pagePrint This Page

Climate Change and the Sociological Imagination

by Kari Marie Norgaard, Whitman College, and Alan Rudy, Central Michigan University

Global climate change is an enormous ecological problem with widespread social implications. The changing climate influences numerous aspects of social life: Through intensifying climatic events (e.g., hurricanes and drought), accelerating the spread of contagious diseases and invasive species, generating new patterns of international migration, or inducing additional forms of economic and social conflict. Climate change exacerbates existing social inequality, affects political opportunities, changes community and family structures, and more. As sociologists we know that the poor and people of color are likely to bear a disproportionate brunt of climate change in the United States and abroad. Climate change is remaking the ecological and social worlds simultaneously, yet for most people the impacts of climate change are currently invisible. We lack the necessary sociological imagination to see the connections between climate change and daily life.

Climate Change Teach-In

As sociologists we also know that global climate change encompasses all the areas that we study, not just those defined as "environment and technology." This is a time for us to use our sociological imaginations and unite to address the issue with students and colleagues with diverse concentrations. In order to make the connections between climate change and social impacts visible—both to our students and ourselves as sociologists—we are organizing the second Climate Change Teach-In, which will take place February 5, 2009, in conjunction with the National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions (see

Last year’s Teach-In, which was endorsed by the ASA Council and the Section on Teaching and Learning, was highly successful. Sociology professors from across the country taught about climate change in courses ranging from Social Problems and Sociology of Agriculture to Women in the Global Economy, Sociology of Religion, and Research Methods. Numerous climate change teaching resources were made available online on the Environment and Technology Section’s website, and a wiki ( has been developed where faculty, after requesting to become an author, can post links to web-based lessons, materials and/or references to non-electronic resources of all kinds. Existing materials include human ecological analyses of greenhouse gas emissions; constructionist studies of climate science; attitudinal surveys of sustainable consumption; studies on political economy of petroleum, climate justice, and environmental public health; and eco-rock music videos. We hope to increase the range of materials from which sociologists participating in the teach-in can select. At the first teach-in, sociologists taught about climate change within their sociology classes and across the educational landscape, by connecting with Focus the Nation. More than 1,900 colleges, universities, public schools, and other organizations participated, and we expect more this year.

What You Can Do:

For more information or questions, contact Alan Rudy at, (517) 881-6319 or visit the Environment and Technology Section’s website ( or Focus the Nation ( green_small


Back to Front Page of Footnotes