The field of environmental sociology emerged in the 1970s. This was as a result an increasing concern of how human societies were increasingly damaging the environment (Woodwell, 1978). The legislation of National Environment Policy Act of 1969 and events such as the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 and the international Earth Day expressed their concerns on the human activities on the environment upon which their existence depended on (Dunlap & Catton, 1979).
Previously, sociologists were restricted by traditional sociological conventions such as sociological taboos. This included taboos such as geographical determinism (Choldin, 1978), and biologism (Burch, 1971) that hindered them from viewing the environment from a sociological perspective. Most sociologists found it difficult to differentiate between the biological and physical environment from the social and cultural environment (Moos, 1973). However, factors such as the development of organizations and further research of sociologists on the environment and people attitudes towards it made sociologists develop a new outlook on the environment.
Environmental sociology involved acknowledging that people have an influence on the environment and similarly, the environment has an impact on people. Therefore, organizations such as Rural Sociological Societies (RSS) became interested with people's use of forests, rivers and other natural resources. Other organizations included the Society for the Study of social Problems (SSSP) which formed the branch of Environmental Problems Division that specifically dealt with the environment (Dunlap et al, 1979). All these factors drew the attention of sociologists leading to the emergence of a new field of enquiry termed as Environmental sociology.
Burch, W. R. Jr. (1971). Daydreams and Nightmares: A Sociological Essay on the American Environment. NY: Harper and Row. 175.
Choldin, H. M. (1978). Social life and the physical environment. In Handbook of Contemporary Urban Life, 352-84.
Dunlap, R. E., & Catton Jr, W. R. (1979). Environmental sociology. Annual review of sociology, 5(1), 243-273.
Moos, R. H. (1973). Systems for the assessment and classification of human environments: An overview.
Woodwell, G. M. (1978). The carbon dioxide question. Scientific American, 238(1), 34-43.