Sociological theories about the political economy of the environment have appeared in two waves. The first wave has a productivist orientation, showing how the normal workings of industrial production damage the environment. It includes impact theories (IPAT and STIRPAT), the treadmill of production, growth machine theories, and resource extraction/ecologically unequal exchange theories. A second wave of theories focuses on environmental destruction and the social movements that challenge the agents of destruction. To accommodate popular unrest over environmental declines, states have typically created corporatist policymaking circles that include long-established, moderate environmental nongovernmental organizations and exclude disadvantaged and unorganized peoples. Advocates for environmental justice and sustainable consumption have attempted to mobilize the excluded, articulating a just sustainability theory that addresses both concerns. Current controversies in the field focus on the predictive power of first- and second-wave theories. This theoretical focus may shift toward the political economy of disasters as climate change intensifies.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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