York, Richard, Eugene A. Rosa and Thomas Dietz. 2003. "Footprints on the Earth: The Environmental Consequences of Modernity." American Sociological Review. 68:279-300.
Growing evidence demonstrating clear threats to the sustainability of the ecosystems supporting human societies has given rise to a variety of sociological theories of human-environment interactions. These environmental impact theories fall into three general perspectives: human ecology, modernization, and political economy. None, however, has been disciplined with empirical tests within a common analytic framework. We undertake the first step in that disciplining here. We adopt and modify a framework that relies on ecological principles. Using a revised stochastic formulation of that framework and the most comprehensive measure of environmental impact to date, the ecological footprint, we assess the factors driving the environmental impacts of societies. Our overall findings are supportive of the claims of human ecologists, are partially supportive of the claims of political economists and contradict the claims of modernization theorists. Basic material conditions, such as population, economic production, urbanization, and geographical factors, all contribute to environmental impacts and explain the vast majority of cross-national variation in impacts. Factors derived from neo-liberal modernization theory, such as political freedom, civil liberties, and state environmentalism have no effect on impacts. Taken together, these findings suggest we cannot be sanguine about achieving sustainability via a continuation of current trends in economic growth and institutional change.