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Not all environmental problems cause the same concern. Some, such as sewage overflow into urban waterways, remain well out of the public eye although steadily increasing in severity. Others, notably the new "global environmental problems" (biodiversity loss, global warming, ozone depletion, tropical deforestation) achieve international prominence despite conflicting scientific opinion. In Environmental Sociology John Hannigan demonstrates that society's willingness to recognize and solve environmental problems rests primarily upon the claims-making activities of a handful of "issue entrepreneurs" in science, the mass media, and politics.
Drawing on a broad array of disciplines from international politics to conservation biology, Hannigan identifies three key tasks in the definition of any environmental problem--assembling, presenting and contesting--each of which carries its own activities, opportunites and pitfalls. This model is applied empirically through a trio of case histories of acid rain, biodiversity loss and biotechnology in agriculture. In the concluding chapter, the author considers the construction of environmental risks and knowledge within the context of the more general sociological debate over modernity and postmodernity. Critically assessing both the postmodern current and "late modern" theories of "risk society" and "ecological modernization", Hannigan suggests a future course for environmental sociology which would view the environment as the site of various definitional and contestatory activities especially those which take place in the context of global consumerism.