Climate change from a Sociological perspective

The World Health Organization calculated as early as 2000 that over 150,000 deaths are caused each year by climate change, such changes being global, cross-generational, and highly unequal around the world. The planet will endure but many forms of human habitation will not (Nagel et al, 2008). In the context of sociology, climate change is projected to worsen social inequality, and create greater divides between wealthier and poorer countries (Nagel et al, 2008). Moreover, through the perspective of loss, Elliot (2018), describes disappearances and limitations as consequences of a disrupted environment, which has the capacity to threaten social contact and social cohesion. Climate change is considered to disrupt individual and collective identity, social networks, and emotional bonds (Elliot, 2018). One of the causes of climate change could be tracked by how we consume things. Capitalism, which traditionally exists to distribute capital and provide opportunities to a large number of laborers, has now created consequences to the environment, and to the people themselves. Free trade and globalization have accelerated the mass production of affordable goods, thus driving consumerism, and producing waste that is harmful to the environment.

Climate change and the sociology of loss

Loss has both quantitative and qualitative meaning, as the implication of climate change. It implies having less of something, i.e less money at the household level when families have to spend more on disaster recovery; less money at the national level when the productivity of industries declines; less biodiversity (Elliot, 2018). The loss also encompasses the qualitatively distinct, disappearance of ways of life, landscapes, places, and cultures, which can be memorialized but not recovered, recouped, or compensated (Barnett, et al. 2016; Adger, et al. 2011; Elliot, 2018). As Beck (2010) argues, climate change both “exacerbates existing inequalities of poor and rich, center and periphery — but simultaneously dissolves them”. The greater the planetary threat, the less the possibility to avoid it, including those of the wealthiest and most powerful. Though the distribution of and ability to cope with loss varies in predictable ways, we are all somewhat vulnerable to loss.

In 2008, WWF International had already observed an increase of annual mean annual temperature by about 0.3°C in Indonesia. In addition, the seasonality of precipitation (wet and dry seasons) is also observed to have changed; with increasing rainfall during the wet season in the southern region of Indonesia, and decreased the dry season rainfall in the northern region (WWF International, 2008). These two abnormalities have impacted the water availability; rising sea levels; threat to biodiversity — with around 50% of the species at risk; and human health. Elliot (2018) highlighted the ‘loss of place’, in which communities experience the disappearance of the land beneath their feet and, with it, the built and non-human environments that make social life possible and predictable (i.e concrete jungle). The materiality of loss here refers to disappearances caused by shifting coastlines, denuded forests, and flood-wrecked cities. Along this material dimension, the sociology of loss examines which people become stranded or displaced, how, and with what effects; how loss can be designed by social actors and institutions; and the contradictions that may arise from abandoning pieces of land that can no longer be defended. Thus, loss of place is the result of social processes of displacement that work to push people out of their homes, communities, and lands. Researchers have also found that the loss of place disrupts individual and collective identity, social networks, and emotional bonds. The environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht has coined the term “solastalgia” to describe the melancholy of seeing a beloved home environment undergo negative transformations: “the homesickness you have when you are still at home” (Albrecht 2012; Elliot, 2018). Being born and raised in Jakarta, I can truly feel this premise in experiencing the current daily life of the city.

Social dimension and adaptation to climate change

In brief, the social dimension is defined as the capacity of the society to implement practices to ensure social justice. In the context of climate change, it is also a matter of bridging the inequality gap as the result of losses. Some of the questions to be asked are: Where are local and national programs created to forge sustainable communities and change consumption habits — of individuals, local communities, or national economies? It is also important to ensure fundings and capital are allocated to support the continuation of the environment, instead of destructing them. For instance, more capital should be directed for innovations and enterprising projects. Ideally, this capital should also impact people in the vulnerable group, thus minimizing inequality problems caused by climate change.

In addition, cultural and meaning systems are also important factors that shape responses to mitigate or adapt to climate change. According to some sociological research, consumerism has documented its intimate relationship to economic production and advertising, creating global circulation of popular culture (Nagel et al, 2008). Urry (2010) identified the state of the current world to be in excess capitalism and increasing the freedom of addiction. According to Giddens (2007); Urry (2010) people are offered more varied forms of activities, which involves the freedom to become ‘addicted’, and to be emotionally or physically dependent upon excessive consumption of certain products and services of global capitalism. Furthermore, Giddens suggests that compulsive behavior is common in modern society because it is linked to lifestyle choices (Urry, 2010). Thus, policies designed to change consumption as a mitigation to climate change must take into account the cultural and social realms of human life. In addition to analyzing social and cultural efforts that encourage consumers to “go green,” it is also useful to gain a better understanding of the benefits, obstacles, and feasibility of creating more sustainable consumption habits and lifestyle choices in a consumer society; alternative modes of consumption, sustainability, and lifestyle behaviors of individuals and eco-friendly communities (Nagel et al, 2008; Urry 2010). As individuals, this requires us to compensate and be more responsible as consumers. This would serve as a form of action in adapting to climate change. In other words, the loss of unsustainable consumption patterns would in return give space for the environment to rebuild, thus continuing to provide a safe and balanced place for us to live in.


Case, Michael, et al, 2008. Climate Change in Indonesia Implications for Humans and Nature. WWF International

Elliot, Rebecca. 2018. The Sociology of Climate Change as a Sociology of Loss. European Journal of Sociology 59, 3 : pp. 301–337

Nagel, Joane, et al. 2008. Workshop on Sociological Perspectives on Global Climate Change. American Sociological Association

Urry, John. 2010. Sociology and climate change. The Editorial Board of the Sociological Review

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