The emergence of interdisciplinary animal studies during recent decades challenges sociologists to critically reflect upon anthropocentric ontology and to paint a more comprehensive picture of the social. This article focuses on the recent emergence of the sociology of climate change during the last twenty years, with a warning that it may have proceeded without critical interrogation of residual humanism evidenced by the exclusion of nonhuman animals. The inclusion of these nonhuman animals in the discussion of human/animal relations is vital in the societal discourse of climate change. After surveying key texts and leading journal literature, it is clear that this discussion of human/animal relations is lacking or altogether omitted. It is then worth considering how animalized environmental sociology could contribute to redefining the discipline of sociology as a whole.
No other word comes close to expressing the strangeness of what is unfolding around us. For these changes are not merely strange in the sense of being unknown or alien; their uncanniness lies precisely in the fact that in these encounters we recognize something we had turned away from: that is to say, the presence and proximity of non-human interlocutors.Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement—Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016, p. 30)
In this article, noting the emergence of a sociology of climate change (SCC hereafter) during the last twenty years, it is argued that SCC may be limited by a general exclusion of human/nonhuman animal relations. Moreover, it is contended that this exclusion could constitute an uncritical ontological framing which has a detrimental effect upon the ability to properly grasp the phenomenon of climate change. Given the relevance of diverse human/animal relations to the emergence of climate change, to its impacts, and to mitigative sustainable practices, it is argued that sociologists need to be attentive to earlier disciplinary ontological baggage in order to be effective in making a more credible and critical contribution to climate change knowledge.
Human social life is inextricably bound to the lives of other animals: This has been the contention of sociologists of human/animal relations over the last four decades (Bryant, 1979; Tester, 1991; Franklin, 1999; Kruse, 2002; Tovey, 2003; Irvine, 2008; Peggs, 2012; Wilkie, 2015; Carter & Charles, 2018). The emergence of interdisciplinary animal studies (Kalof & Fitzgerald, 2007), of which sociological interest is just one part, further challenges social scientists to critically reflect upon anthropocentric ontology and to paint a more comprehensive picture of social lives. Researchers concerned with the later development of a more self-consciously critical animal studies (Best, 2009; Taylor & Twine, 2014) argue that sociologists should extend intersectionality to include animals, and that the historical relation sociology has with progressive social movements should be used to further acknowledge and resist violent human/animal relations.
The SCC (Giddens, 2009; Urry, 2011; Dunlap & Brulle, 2015) emerged during the past 20 years; its origins are in environmental sociology, science and technology studies, and the sociology of consumption. The development period of the SCC directly overlaps with that of the sociology of human/animal relations, though scholars show little awareness of this parallel. Climate social science ought to be on an equal footing with, and included in, climate science because mitigation and adaptation responses are inescapably also social science questions concerned with complex social and political practices. This echoes longstanding calls for the necessity of interdisciplinarity to address contemporary systemic problems, while acknowledging issues of paradigm difference and incommensurability even within the social sciences (Shove, 2011).
Sociology is vital for framing an understanding of the emergence of climate change as a systematic problem of contemporary life that also, affectively, shapes our social futures. Bringing sociology into discussions of climate change is also crucial to avoid crude scientism; to better understand the intersection of gender, class, and race with climate change impacts and policy (Kaijser & Kronsell, 2014); and, vitally, to construct responses to climate change that avoid individualism (Webb, 2012) and empower progressive social change. However, effective advocacy for climate social science requires an understanding of social science as inclusive, rather than leaving other animals to the “natural sciences.”
This article addresses whether the emergence of the SCC has proceeded without a critical interrogation of residual humanism evidenced by the exclusion of other animals. There are at least four ways in which this exclusion is difficult to defend, all serving to highlight the importance of addressing nonhuman animals in the SCC. Firstly, agricultural human/animal relations significantly contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Gerber et al., 2013; Poore & Nemecek, 2018). In other words, large-scale commodification of animals has radically changed ecosystems and helped cause anthropogenic climate change. Secondly, the impacts of climate change affect other animals through extinction (Fulton, 2017), habitat threat, the mismatch between life cycles and availability of food, and climate-related disasters. Unless these connections are made clear, climate change will continue to be falsely represented as only affecting humans.
Thirdly, the unintended consequences of these impacts on other animals generate new human/animal relationalities (for example, the impact of climate change on agriculture or insects changes patterns of human health and illness). Failure to make these ontological interdependencies clear is not only poor social science; it can also have real effects. Finally, if the SCC will be useful to its publics (e.g., sustainable transition-related researchers, Shove & Spurling, 2013), then advocates should research and campaign for alternative forms of human/animal relations that do not contribute to, or contribute far less to, GHG emissions (Twine, 2018). At the moment, sustainable transition researchers pay a lot of attention to energy and transport, but less to food and human/animal relations.
This survey of key texts and journal literature validates the claim that the SCC excludes nonhuman animals. Further, it is argued that sociology as a discipline needs to move beyond humanism in order to more effectively contribute to the analysis of climate change and its mitigation. This critique is not new; it is a hallmark of the animal sociologists cited earlier (Tovey, 2003; Irvine, 2008). The ability of social scientists to remain aloof to such ontological criticism is impressive obduracy. By having SCC’s ontology include other species, it will be better positioned for not only making stronger interdisciplinary connections, but for emphasizing SCC’s importance to climate science overall. In other words, if we better address human/animal dualism in the SCC, we can also better address entrenched divides between “natural” and “social” science in this area.
Failing to See Human/Nonhuman Animal Relations in Capitalism
In terms of the four areas that were highlighted, there are several directions one could go in order to illustrate the pertinence of human/animal relations to the SCC. For example, less obviously, one could focus on certain arthropodal human/animal relations indicated in the third area (i.e., new human/animal relationalities), which would also serve to improve the sociological and animal studies focus on insects generally. The impact of climate change on insect populations, which threatens to persist in the future, is of considerable research focus by biologists and ecologists (Johnson & Jones, 2017). Insects are incredibly important for biodiversity, for example, as food sources for birds and many vertebrate animals.
Consequences of climate change, such as changing temperature patterns, varying precipitation, and altered food sources for insects, are exerting considerable pressure upon ecosystems. Apprehending how climate change will affect the insect vectors of human pathogens is of paramount importance to health provision around the world. For example, as Chaves (2017) reminds us, vector-borne diseases account for 17% of the total burden of infectious diseases affecting humans (p. 127), and climate change has the capacity to introduce this risk to new countries lacking the experience and infrastructure to address it.
Arguably, the interdisciplinarity of scientists working in this area is considerably more advanced than that displayed by sociologists of climate change. Parham et al. (2015) argue that it is “important to view climate-driven disease systems as complex socio-ecological dynamical systems” (p. 2). Thus, although we might point to increased temperatures, up to a certain point, by encouraging vector spread, social and economic practices can increase the likelihood of disease transmission.
While such points imply the need for sociologies of health, the environment, and nonhuman animals to work together (the more obvious direction to proceed), most SCC authors still ignore another possible approach: addressing the impact of mass commodification of “livestock” animals on climate change. If SCC approaches do not include such human/animal relations in the emergences of climate change, it is far less likely that they will appear in plans for institutional and individual changes to mitigate GHG emissions.
Many popular and sociological approaches to understanding such emergences posit, in various ways, that the rise of capitalism is crucial to understanding the growth of GHG emissions. Indeed, one important argument in the social scientific approach to climate change explicates historical social (including economic) relations that produce emissions, rather than over-focusing on the emission (most often CO2) itself (Swyngedouw, 2010). Such fetishization of CO2 is one regretful consequence of natural scientific knowledge dominating the discussion of climate change, which serves to occlude the relational and political components. Recent approaches which combine political economy and social history, such as Malm’s Fossil Capital (2016), specify some economic, social, and political circumstances under which the use of fossil fuels (e.g., coal) initially became dominant in the British industrial revolution. However, this does not suffice as the whole history of climate change.
Even taking the most conservative estimate (Gerber et al., 2013), global livestock production contributes to 14.5% of GHG emissions, or approximately 1 in 7 of all emissions. Perhaps a lack of awareness of the historical and present scale of livestock production contributes to its exclusion from the SCC discourse. This can be quantified in various ways. For example, each year in excess of 70 billion land animals are killed for human consumption (Taylor & Twine, 2014). Over 38% of habitable land on the planet (50 million km2), or 27% of all land on the planet, is used for livestock and animal feed production.1 For just the United Kingdom, in 2014 meat and dairy production was worth £12.6 billion.2 Globally, over the past approximately 50 years, meat production has more than quadrupled from 78 million tons in 1963 to a total of 315 million tons in 2014.3 Given that in 1960 the world human population reached 3 billion, and then 7 billion in 2011, we can note that meat production far exceeds overall population growth, reflecting a “meatification” of many diets.
This sector is clearly a significant part of global capitalism and its emergence. However, one would not know this from reading the SCC analyses of climate change and capitalism that I survey below (Koch, 2012; Gough, 2017). Through this exclusion, such texts are oddly silent about what has been termed the “animal-industrial complex” (Noske, 1989; Twine, 2012) as both a significant dimension of global capitalism and as a source of GHG emissions. Although the political economy of the transition to coal during the industrial revolution is a vital part of the historical context of climate change (Malm, 2016), so too is the emergence of the industrialization of animal production in the early twentieth century and the subsequent global meatification of diets. An SCC is inadequate if researchers discount the social forces behind these changes, or view the contemporary eating practices they have engendered as ahistorical, or not open to change.
This article is divided into two sections. Firstly, a sample of 12 key texts within the SCC are surveyed, followed by the academic journal literature. To locate the critiques in works produced by the SCC sub-field, several questions are examined. These include the extent to which these texts factor human/animal relations into their analyses of climate change, their understanding of what practices have shaped it, how impacts are framed, and what practices might help to address it.
Survey of SCC Texts
Methodology of Text Survey
A number of issues arose when constructing a sample of SCC texts. It is challenging to demarcate a field, let alone a relatively recent disciplinary sub-field. Boundaries are, to an extent, arbitrary and constantly shifting. SCC has roots in older sociological sub-fields, notably, environmental sociology, the sociology of consumption, and science and technology studies. It also overlaps with other disciplines such as anthropology, geography, urban studies, psychology, media studies, and politics. In order to construct the sample, the emphasis was shifted from older environmental sociology “classics” that may have mentioned climate change in passing but pre-date the SCC, and away from kindred disciplinary treatments of climate change by, for example, anthropologists and geographers.
There is also a growing popular literature of critical texts about climate change aimed at a general audience. Many of these (Berners-Lee & Clark, 2013; Klein, 2014) are insightful and include analysis of the relevance of a sociological focus. However, these are excluded from the present survey to focus upon more obviously academic authors who, for the most part, self-consciously construct their work as part of an SCC endeavor, or are sociologists. The selection was also guided by prominent sociologists who have written in this field—notably Elizabeth Shove, John Urry, Riley Dunlap, Anthony Giddens, and Bruno Latour. This led to a sample that better represented the labor of sociologists in this area and revealed most accurately how climate change is being constructed by this academic community since its emergence.
To garner further suggestions and improve robustness, I sought input from fellow subscribers to the Climate Change Study Group e-mail list of the British Sociological Association (BSA); I have been a member since its formation in 2010. This revealed some new texts as well as a broader sample of over 20 texts, though several did not fully satisfy the aforementioned conditions of selection (such as not being sufficiently sociological).
The selection was narrowed down to 12 texts which can be viewed in Table 1. On the one hand, the sample contains a degree of arbitrariness. However, it is fair to argue that many of these texts would be agreed upon for inclusion by most knowledgeable researchers in the field. This sample and those samples of the journal articles which follow are also limited in the sense of being disproportionately white, male, and Western, which is a current reflection of the sub-field. This is significant given arguments that climate change is gendered (Dankelman, 2010; Gaard, 2015) and bound up in colonialism (Botzen et al., 2008; Ghosh, 2016). The gender dimension may be significant since the social construction of hegemonic masculinity tends to disavow the moral consideration of nonhuman animals, which could make it more likely for men, more generally, to have a conceptual blind spot regarding their inclusion.
This sample of 12 texts provided a sound basis for analysis. All published during the last 10 years, they constitute important contributions to the SCC and provide a valuable snapshot. Three texts (6, 7, and 8) are edited volumes and therefore offered even further depth and variety. The 12 texts had 16 authors in total, 12 male and 4 female. As previously mentioned, all texts were read for framings of climate change which included human/animal relations as relevant to either the emergence of anthropogenic climate change or the impacts of climate change, or as bound up in mitigative responses to climate change. Relatedly, any references to animal agriculture, meat/dairy consumption, vegetarianism/veganism, animal conservation, threats to biodiversity, or extended ranges for disease vectors were sought.
All texts that were considered provided valuable reflections and analysis of climate change. The sample constitutes key reading on the emergence of the SCC. However, in terms of the specific focus of this article, the key findings of the survey can be summarized, for the most part, in terms of omission and paucity. In terms of data presentation, it is simpler to refer to the few examples of texts from Table 1 which did make significant references to human/animal relations.
Two texts out of the twelve stood out in this regard (Adams, 2016; Doyle, 2011). Adams (2016) provides a broad-reaching text which also overlaps with critical psychology and psycho-social approaches to climate change. The text conveys a critique of anthropocentrism and is embedded within important key areas including posthumanism, animal studies, and ecofeminism. The author reflects upon the issue of valuing the more-than-human as well as devoting some discussion to birds within climate change, and challenging human/animal relations that are taken for granted. In this way, the text reflects a viewpoint that is both ontologically sensitive to the foregrounding of nonhuman animals in sociological approaches to climate change and reflexive to the role of changing dominant human-animal relations as a response.
Doyle (2011) focuses on the mediation of climate change and devotes an entire chapter to the topic of meat and dairy consumption. There is an examination of how different campaign groups frame sustainable consumption in relation to the industries. In a nuanced approach, Doyle is critical of campaigns which reinforce dominant consumerist framings of action focused on the individual, and those which focus on more structural regulatory approaches without questioning the commodification of animals (p. 156).
The contribution of global meat and dairy production to GHG emissions is acknowledged with a quote that the industries are responsible for 18% of all emissions (p. 136); this figure is used in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) report Livestock’s Long Shadow (2006). Moreover, the reluctance of governments to act on this dimension of climate change is noted, and well-known texts are cited from (critical) animal studies (Adams, 1990). As Doyle (2011) makes clear, changing food practices also involves questioning dominant symbolic meanings of meat and dairy consumption.
After promising framings in these first two texts, examples become much sparser in the remaining ten. Due to their wider breadth of coverage, edited volumes might be expected to provide good scope for representing human/animal relations as part of a social science focus on climate change. However, Dryzek et al. (2013), which has 47 chapters; Dunlap and Brulle (2015), which has 13; and Shove and Spurling (2014), which has 12, do not devote any to this subject. What we find instead are fleeting mentions of nonhuman animals in a small number of the chapters. In Dryzek et. al (2013), we see passing mentions of the threats of species extinction and climate change impacts on farmed animals (Mendelsohn, 2013), insects as vectors of human disease (Hanna, 2013), meat having high emissions (Szasz, 2013), and the impact on human coastal communities as rising sea temperatures alter fish distribution (Adger et al., 2013).
In most cases, animals are being included through an anthropocentric frame in the sense of threats to human health or economic livelihoods. Dunlap and Brulle (2015) feature a similar number of mentions. In the second chapter, which focuses on the “human driving factors of climate change,” there is only a brief note on the rise in global meat consumption and mentions of the link between agricultural expansion and deforestation (Rosa et al., 2015).
Two chapters later, meat consumption is noted as a cause of climate change (Ehrhardt-Martinez et al., 2015), and the subsequent chapter addresses the field of animal studies and extending the analysis of hierarchy to nonhuman animals (Harlan et al., 2015). The third and final edited volume of the sample (Shove & Spurling, 2013) is even sparser. Despite containing a chapter focusing on food practices (Warde, 2013), the only relevant mentions in the whole book are two very brief references to vegetarianism.
The seven remaining texts in the sample are similarly sparse in terms of their references to human/animal relations. Gough (2017) has a few cursory mentions of meat consumption. Koch (2012), like Gough, focuses on capitalism and climate change, and has no mentions at all. Norgaard (2011) focuses on climate change, emotions, and everyday life but, apart from a mention of milk and cultural homogeneity in Norway, does not include material pertaining to human/animal relations. Shaw (2016) offers an insightful examination of the social construction of the two degrees dangerous limit for climate change and, while he briefly mentions threats to animal extinction, he does not mention aspects of human/animal relations.
The final samples are works from three well-known sociologists (Latour, 2017; Giddens, 2009; Urry, 2011). Latour has an intellectual history of considering the agency of the more-than-human, which is reflected in this recent text, a series of lectures on climate change. For example, Latour includes an interesting discussion on theorizing non-state (and non-human) delegations that have interests in relation to a changing climate (pp. 259-264) and briefly affords a causal role to meat consumption (p. 254). However, despite this ontological affinity, the text is surprisingly exclusionary of discussion of human/animal relations, which become lost within a general understanding of the notion of “Gaia.”
Although this notion is intended to transcend human/animal dualism, the text overall can be seen as a missed opportunity to animalize the SCC. Giddens (2009) makes brief references to meat and emissions (p. 99) and biodiversity (p. 168). He also makes a brief reference to vegetarianism, but only in the context of a discussion on “ecofascism” (p. 51). Apart from a few references to impacts on human and animal life, Urry’s landmark Climate Change and Society (2011) does not refer to human/animal relations.
The results of this survey of a sample of SCC texts have produced a picture where nonhuman animals are generally backgrounded from sociological concern, albeit with some exceptions, most notably Adams (2016) and Doyle (2011). The concern here is that sociologists could be approaching climate change uncritically using a traditional humanist lens, which adopts the very anthropocentric focus that (one can reasonably assume) has contributed to the problem of climate change in the first place. We might ask, is it really viable to approach the problem of climate change, which we can partly understand as a denial of the impacts of human practices on the more-than-human, via a similarly anthropocentric lens?
In the majority of these texts, there is downplaying of human/animal relations across the theorization of the emergences of climatic change; an understanding of impacts mostly in the sense of how they play out for the human; and a lack of theorization regarding how to shift institutions, social norms, and practices away from nonhuman animal consumption. It is as if sociologists, who are more than willing to apply the tools of social constructionism to most phenomena, are unwilling to countenance both the historical specificity of animal consumption and to consider the potential openness of people to practice changes in food habits.
Advancing SCC in this way entails not only an ontological readjustment to more comprehensively understand the emergences of climatic change, but also one which reflexively subverts anthropocentric thinking in order to adequately capture the broad range of impacts now unfolding upon multiple forms of life. Such an SCC allows for a critical interrogation of our naturalized dominant social practices that are bound up in the prosaic reiteration of human superiority. This would align an SCC with not only a more “scientifically accurate” analysis of climate change, but it would also embed it within a critical understanding of climate change as emerging, in part, out of hubristic social relations which have disavowed both the value of other lifeforms and our interconnection with them.
Methodology of Journal Article Survey
It would be insufficient to base an argument about exclusion on leading texts alone. It was important to augment the analysis with the SCC academic journal literature. This served to broaden the timespan of research under examination. The journal literature was approached in two ways. Firstly, a database of 24 journal articles (Table 2) from the SCC was created using a combination of the Edge Hill University Discover More and Google Scholar search engines. As in the aforementioned text sample, this journal article database was used to select work that was most clearly a sociological reflection on, or analysis of, climate change to determine how sociologists have framed the topic. All but two articles (22 and 23 in Table 2) appeared in sociology journals. The majority were full-length articles, although a small number of position statements and one review article were included due to their relevance (9, 12, 16, and 20 in Table 2).
Secondly, to add further rigor, the publication history of the journal Environmental Sociology was examined. This expanded the analysis to include research conducted by those authors with less of a sub-disciplinary/disciplinary profile. Since emerging in 2015, this journal has become an important publication site for the sub-discipline research. While other journals could have been selected, this was the least ambiguously sociological. As of early 2019, it had published 21 issues and 139 articles. Of these, 38 (or 27.3%) were explicitly about climate change, which was defined by both keyword and content.
Similarly, these articles (see Table 3) were examined for framings that included a consideration of nonhuman animals in the emergences, impacts, and mitigations of climate change. While they are not exhaustive, these two sub-samples of the SCC journal literature constituted a robust total of 62 articles for analysis. The 62 articles examined involved 92 authors: 62 were male and 30 female. Taken together with the aforementioned text sample, the gender split was 74 male authors (69%) and 34 female authors (31%).
SCC Journal Articles
All articles were published between 1996 and 2018, with the majority (19/24) published since 2008. Several authors (Dunlap, Norgaard, Shove, and Urry) recurred within the text sample. None of the 24 articles included a significant consideration of nonhuman animals or human/animal relations in the emergences, impacts, or mitigations of climate change. No authors mentioned meat or dairy. No authors mentioned alternative food practices, such as vegetarianism or veganism, that could mitigate emissions. Only two articles-8.3% of the sample (York et. al., 2003; Molnar, 2010)—briefly recognized the emissions impact of animal agriculture. The main way in which animals were visible in the sample was through very brief recognitions that climate change impacts other animals alongside humans (9 articles-37.5% of the sample: Rosa & Dietz, 1998; Rosa, 2001; Clark & York, 2005; Lever-Tracy, 2008; Urry, 2009; Molnar, 2010; Webb, 2012; Foster, 2015; Elliott, 2018).
Shove (2010) alluded to the “increasing recognition of the importance of human and animal relationships within social theory” (p. 279) but does not carry that over into her analysis of climate change. Zehr (2015) comments that urbanization is accompanied with increased demand for processed foods and animal products (p. 131). No articles devoted any sections or paragraphs to considering how human/animal relations figure in the emergences, impacts, or mitigations of climate change.
Environmental Sociology Articles
As the journal was formed in 2015, the sampled literature was very recent. As mentioned, 38 of the 139 articles which the journal has published have had an explicit climate change focus (as evidenced by both keywords and content). Only 1 of these articles (2.6% of the sample or 0.7% of the whole journal’s output) contained any significant framings or sections considering how human/animal relations figure in the emergences, impacts, or mitigations of climate change. Tucker (2019) focused on the food practices of environmentally conscientious New Zealanders and discusses meat reduction and vegetarianism.
Overall, however, the pattern of exclusion and fleeting mentions was repeated. The latter were present in a further 4 of the 38 articles, or 10.5% of the sample. Bonds (2016) mentions the impacts of climate change on animals in the Arctic. Both Macias (2016) and McGee et al. (2015) mention emissions from animal agriculture, and Widener and Rowe (2018) briefly mention veganism and argue that historically the concept of environmental justice has been human-centered.
Two other articles from the journal, outside the sample of 38, deserve mention. Ollinaho (2016) acknowledges the environmental impact of meat-eating cultures and asks, “How to disrupt meat-eating habits that have massive environmental impacts?” (p. 61). Perz et al. (2018) prioritize a reflection on future directions in environmental sociology and are noteworthy because they argue that the political economy approaches of environmental sociologists ought to entail engaging more closely with the field of critical animal studies, concurring with the arguments of this article. The overall lack of engagement with human/animal relations in SCC research in Environmental Sociology is arguably at odds with the views of the journal’s editor who has stated, “we must treat ecosystem processes, non-human species and machines as objects of sociological inquiry and theory building alongside people and institutions. We cannot treat the non-human either as self-evident or as the exclusive domain of the natural sciences” (Lockie, 2016, p. 2).
These results from two samples of SCC journal literature underline the assertion that SCC texts which include human/animal relations in discussion with the emergences, impacts, or mitigations of climate change are very few and far between. This is surprising because the first high-profile report clarifying the role of animal agriculture in the emergences of climate change pre-dates the majority of literature sampled in this article (Steinfeld et al., 2006), and because environmental sociology emerged at the same time as the sociological interest in nonhuman animals.
The exceptions in the journal literature, not included in the aforementioned research, emanate from those already working at the interface of critical animal studies and environmental sociology (Gunderson, 2011; Whitley & Kalof, 2014; Twine, 2018). Although the focus here has been research, there may be additional value in an analysis of SCC syllabi.
In constructing a hypothesis to explain the overall omission of human/animal relations from the SCC, one possible explanation is based on the gendering of knowledge and care. Men constituted more than two-thirds (69%) of the authors of the works sampled, and the sub-discipline of environmental sociology may have been shaped by the social construction of masculinity which has traditionally been less attentive to including or considering nonhuman animals. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that environmental sociology emerged out of an insistence upon the absurdity of excluding human-environmental intersections and impacts.
Yet it is surely equally absurd, in terms of ecology, to exclude nonhuman animals from sociological understandings of the “environment.” It may be argued that sociology has not always been served well by its perhaps excessive processes of sub-disciplinary expansion, because they may have promoted disconnected silo thinking. An overly rigid separation between environmental sociology and the sociology of human/animal relations may mirror similar issues in other disciplines, such as the at times fraught distinction in philosophy between environmental and animal ethics. That mainstream environmental groups have also been slow to incorporate human/animal relations into their framings and campaigns could further suggest that this phenomenon exceeds the boundary of the academy.
It matters that nonhuman animals are being omitted from the SCC, because our myriad animal relations have a significant presence in the emergences, impacts, and mitigations of the climate crisis. Social scientists should be critically attentive to scientific evidence and not exclude certain aspects of climate change arbitrarily. Sociologists have a responsibility to their publics to ensure the research is robust and to recognize nonhuman animals as part of the everyday social lives of humans. The SCC matters to the lives of nonhuman animals themselves, as in many cases, climate breakdown undermines the conditions of their very survival.
Reframing the SCC so that it affords, inclusively, research space for and critical analysis of the salience of human/animal relations in the emergences and impacts of climatic change, and in mitigative reorientations of social practice, would constitute a more accurate sociological apprehension of the problem of climate change. In line with recent arguments (Perz et al., 2018), this would instigate a more integrated environmental sociology and (critical) animal studies. Moreover, this would be a significant contribution to animalizing sociology generally and contesting its anthropocentric heritage.
Reframing the SCC offers an alternative sociological diagnosis of climate change and simultaneously reconfigures sociology. It is readily possible to posit climate change as a crisis in the unsustainable growth imperatives of the industrial revolution and contemporary consumer capitalism. However, that also partly obfuscates the relations at play within an overly monolithic understanding of capitalism. Reframed in this way, climate change, contra economic reductionism, is as much a crisis of human/animal relations (and indeed of gender and colonial relations). Consequently, it forces the animal-industrial complex to become far more overtly an object of critical sociological scrutiny, akin to, and alongside, practice complexes of, for example, automobility. This shift is not only within the SCC but within sociological work on food, agriculture, and political economy broadly construed.
Just as sociologists of climate change have considered roadmaps and transitions beyond practices of high energy demand (Shove, 2018) and automobile use (Dennis & Urry, 2009; Shove et al., 2015), it would be consistent to include analysis of lower carbon eating practices, beyond the normalization of animal consumption toward a more critical interrogation of “meat culture” (Potts, 2016), as part of an SCC (see Twine, 2018). In this way, the examination of human/animal relations comes into relief for not only an understanding of the emergences and impacts of climate change, but also in the familiar sociological territory of envisaging alternative societies, and by implication, more sustainable food cultures.
The omissions of nonhuman animals in SCC texts and journal articles highlighted here may be embedded in the broader failure of mainstream sociology to take onboard calls for animal-inclusive ontological change over the past forty years (Alger & Alger, 2003). Ultimately, however, an impoverished sociological framing of climate change inhibits sociological conceptual strengths in the deconstruction of dominant social norms (in this case, most obviously, those that embed and naturalize animal consumption). Therefore, the framing sells the discipline short in terms of what it can contribute to the social innovation of alternative, more sustainable, (food) cultures, as part of broader urgent endeavors to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate breakdown.
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See https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat-and-animal-feed.html (data is from FAO). Site accessed 03/20/2019.