Catton & Dunlap’s HEP v. NEP

In their article on environmental sociology, Catton and Dunlap look at two different paradigms in which to analyze the relationship between humans and the environment. The “Human Exceptionalism Paradigm” or “HEP” basically states that humans are superior to the environment, thus, the physical environment is irrelevant in helping to understand social behavior (250). In contrast, the “New Environmental Paradigm” also known as “NEP” stresses the ecosystem-dependence of human societies (250). According to Catton and Dunlap, “environmental sociologists deny the strange assumption that humans have exceptional characteristics such as culture, technology, language and elaborate social organization that somehow exempts us from ecological principles and from environmental influences and restraints” (250).

After spending these 14 weeks with Edgar and through taking this class on environmental sociology, I have learned that the “New Environmental Paradigm” is the paradigm that reflects our relationship with the environment, whether we like it or not. Humans are in no way superior to the environment. This is especially evident after seeing the devastating effects of massive hurricanes, tornados, heat waves, snow storms, tsunamis and earthquakes that have wreaked havoc on human society. We take from the environment as much as we want, and in turn, the environment in all its power, fights back. As a tree, Edgar sees firsthand the effects humans have on the ecological system that they inhabit. He says that he is lucky to be able to live on a campus as environmentally savvy as Dickinson. But he knows that other trees are suffering the effects of deforestation and massive storms that tear them down. He believes that more people need to recognize NEP has a reality.


Catton, William, R. and Riley E. Dunlap. Environmental Sociology. Washington State University: 1979.

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