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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Environmental risk and policy development in the British Columbia salmon farming industry Pechlaner, Gabriela


Two competing perspectives of society's relationship to nature have risen to prominence, both in environmental social theory, and, in modified form, in current political discourse. Risk society theory proposes that society is shifting from one organized around the distribution of wealth to one organized around the distribution of risk, and that our current industrial society is unsustainable as currently structured. Ecological modernization theory proposes that as environmental issues increase in importance, ecological criteria will be incorporated into industrial production through a continuous process of adaptation and re-integration of nature. Ecological modernization, then, is offered as an alternative to a descent into a risk society, as described by Ulrich Beck. While there has been much debate between ecological modernization and risk society theorists as to industrial society's potential for ecological reform, few empirical studies exist that test the strength of ecological modernization theory in practice. Salmon farming in British Columbia has been subject to rigorous environmental debate in its short history. This thesis investigates the development of salmon farming policy in B. C. as a test case for the propositions of ecological modernization theory. Through an examination of theoretical literature, indicators of ecological modernization and risk society processes were derived. Salmon farming policy developments were analyzed for evidence of ecological reform and for the processes that accompanied these reforms. The results of the analysis revealed increasing evidence of certain ecological modernization processes, primarily ones associated with scientific and technological developments. Other indicators were consistently absent. Still others, such as stakeholder incorporation processes, were found to be in evidence in fact but not in spirit. The ecological modernization process described by theorists was not occurring in whole, but in part. However, economic interests persisted in dominating ecological ones. Counter interpretations found institutional and interest group factors, as well as changes in background conditions, to be highly influential on ecological reforms. The greatest weakness of ecological modernization as an explanatory theory was found to be its inability to incorporate issues of power and inequality into its framework. This, and ecological modernization theory's assumptions of consensus towards its goals, are the greatest impediments to its translation from a social theory into a political program.

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