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In Memory of Eugene Rosa, 1941-2013

Boeing Professor of Environmental Sociology,
Regents Professor, Department of Sociology,
Affiliated Professor of Fine Arts, Washington State University,
and Collaborating Scientist, Center for Conservation Biology,
Stanford University

Written by

Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University,
Aaron McCright, Michigan State University
and Richard York, University of Oregon.

Eugene A. Rosa, a pioneer in environmental sociology, died February 21, 2013 at age 71. Gene was committed to linking the leading edge of the social sciences to the ecological and earth systems sciences as well as to engineering. His work was truly interdisciplinary and was influential among scholars spanning the social, ecological, and physical sciences. At the same time, his work is foundational to contemporary thinking in structural human ecology, the sociology of risk, and the sociology of energy.

Gene began his sociological career with his graduate work at the prestigious Maxwell School at Syracuse University, where he studied with Allan Mazur. Gene’s dissertation work was in what he termed “biosociology” to emphasize that he was studying the influence of the social on the biological, in contrast to the genetic reductionism of sociobiology (Barchas et al. 1984; Mazur et al. 1980; Rosa 1979). This work presaged the current interest in neurosociology.

Allan and Gene published one of the first articles to demonstrate that for the industrial economies, energy consumption was decoupled from quality of life.  It may be the first macro-comparative analysis in environmental social science (Mazur and Rosa 1974). It spawned further analysis and started to shift our understanding of energy consumption in contemporary societies. Gene continued to publish extensively on energy (Rosa 1983; Rosa 1997; Rosa et al. 1981; Rosa et al. 1988), work that led to three other major themes in his work: nuclear power, risk, and structural human ecology.

After completing graduate school and spending two years in a postdoctoral position at Stanford, Gene moved to Washington State University as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and research associate in the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center. At the time, the sociology department had an amazing cluster of sociologists working on environment and closely related issues: Bill Catton, Riley Dunlap, Lee Freese, Bill Freudenburg, and Jim Short. Gene thrived in this environment and engaged in collaborations with these colleagues, particularly on nuclear power and risk. Nuclear power has been a contentious issue since the 1970s. Gene and his colleagues were pioneers in developing a sociology of nuclear power through a series of influential articles and edited books (Dunlap et al. 1993; Rosa 2007; Rosa and Dunlap 1994; Rosa and Clark 1999; Stern et al. 2009). Recently, Gene led a distinguished collaboration of scholars who raised the importance of social science perspectives in assessing the nuclear waste issue (Rosa et al. 2010). As a result he was asked to testify before the President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Although his health prevented him from testifying, colleagues from the team he led did speak and, as a result, the reports of the Commission were much more attentive to social science than would otherwise have been the case.

His interest in nuclear power led naturally to his foundational work in the sociology of risk, where he made immense and wide-ranging contributions.  His cross-cultural comparisons of risk perceptions have been cited as an exemplar of comparative research methods and his U.S.-based work on risk perceptions have been highly influential in both scholarship and policy (Hinman et al. 1993; Kleinhesselink and Rosa 1991; Kleinhesselink and Rosa 1994; Rosa 1978; Rosa and Dunlap 1994; Rosa and Matsuda 2005; Rosa et al. 2000a; Rosa et al. 2000b; Whitfield et al. 2009).

Perhaps his most important contributions to the sociology of risk were through engaging our basic conceptualizations of risk and risk policy.  His famous article on the ontology and epistemology of risk, “Metatheoretical Foundations of Post-Normal Risk” (Rosa 1998a) continues to spark discussion (Aven and Renn 2009; Aven and Renn 2010; Ravetz and Functowicz 1998; Rosa 1998b; Rosa 2010; Rosa and Clarke 2012). One of his monographs, Risk, Uncertainty, and Rational Action won the 2000-2002 Outstanding Publication Award from the Section (Jaeger et al. 2001). His last book engages current thinking on societal risk and offers both theoretical advances and suggestions about risk governance (Rosa et al. 2013), while one of his last papers lays out a logic for broad comparisons of some the most important risks facing society, including climate change and terrorism (Rosa et al. 2012). Overall, Gene published more than 40 articles and book chapters on various aspects of risk, so this summary touches only a few of the themes he engaged.

For the last two decades Gene has been a leader of the structural human ecology research program, an effort intended to bridge the social and ecological sciences in the analysis of human drivers of environmental change. With collaborators Richard York and Tom Dietz, Gene established an analytical logic that evaluated the contribution of population, affluence, technology, institutions, culture, and other factors in shaping environmental stress (Dietz and Rosa 1997a; Dietz et al. 2007; Dietz and Rosa 1997b; Knight and Rosa 2012; Rosa and Dietz 2012; Rosa et al. 2004; York et al. 2011; York and Rosa 2012; York et al. 2003a; York et al. 2005; York et al. 2009; York et al. 2003b; York et al. 2002; York et al. 2003c). The work was a continuation of his pioneering analysis of energy consumption and quality of life, and was germinal in advancing a new macro-sociology of the environment. Gene’s work in structural human ecology has been published in journals across the social and ecological sciences. An edited volume Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability (MIT Press, 2010) examines structural human ecology and related approaches to global environmental change and won the Gerald R Young Book Award from the Society for Human Ecology. The most recent thread in this work—examining the efficiency with which societies produce human well-being relative to the stress placed on the environment—is deeply resonant with his pioneering work on energy and quality of life (Dietz et al. 2009; Dietz et al. 2012; Knight and Rosa 2010). Gene considered it a new way of thinking about sustainability.

It is not surprising that so accomplished a scholar won many accolades.  He was the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy in the Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, where he also was the Boeing Distinguished Professor of Environmental Sociology and Regents Professor. He served as chair of the Department of Sociology from 1996 to 2001. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was one of only two people to twice win the Outstanding Publication Award of the Section on Environment and Technology of the American Sociological Association. The other two time winner is his student, Richard York. On the award of the Boeing Professorship, the Foley Institute and the Sociology Department held a symposium to celebrate Gene’s work. A book of papers from that Symposium, Structural Human Ecology: Risk, Energy and Sustainability will be published by WSU Press in Fall 2013.

In addition to his scholarship, Gene was an accomplished artist and was very proud of his appointment as an affiliated professor of fine arts at WSU. His sculptures, which he described as “Ecolage,” have appeared regularly in the annual Faculty of Fine Arts Exhibition and were the subject of a solo exhibition at WSU. Images can be found at: Gene also was an avid collector; he had converted the top floor of his home in Moscow, Idaho, into a gallery for his collection of contemporary art.

Gene was an extraordinary friend and colleague. Whether it was new ideas for research, sage advice about professional life and ethics, or his gourmet cooking and incredible collection of wines, his generosity was unfailing. Every conversation with Gene would sparkle with new ideas and his unflagging good humor.

Coming from a working-class family in the Finger Lakes/Lake Erie region of New York, he always had a sense of wonder at the social and intellectual journey he was on.  And he was proud of his family and heritage. He established the Luigi Gastaldo and Flora Brevette Rosa Endowment, named for his parents, at the WSU Museum of Art to fund transportation to the museum for children who might otherwise not experience an art museum.


Aven, Terje and Ortwin Renn. 2009. “On risk defined as an event where the outcome is uncertain.” Journal of Risk Research 12:1-11.

—. 2010. “Response to Professor Eugene Rosa’s viewpoint to our paper.” Journal of Risk Research 13:255-259.

Barchas, Patricia R, William A Harris, William S Jose II, and Eugene A Rosa. 1984. “Social Interaction and Hemispheric Laterality.” Pp. 139-150 in Social Cohesion:  Essays Toward A Sociophysiological Perspective, edited by P. R. Barchas and S. P. Mendoza. New York: Greenwood Press.

Dietz, Thomas and Eugene A Rosa. 1997a. “Environmental Impacts of Population and Consumption.” Pp. 92-99 in Environmentally Significant Consumption:  Research Directions, edited by P. C. Stern, T. Dietz, V. Ruttan, R. H. Socolow, and J. Sweeney. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Dietz, Thomas, Eugene A Rosa, and Richard York. 2007. “Driving the Human Ecological Footprint.” Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 5:13-18.

—. 2009. “Environmentally Efficient Well-Being: Rethinking Sustainability as the Relationship between Human Well-being and Environmental Impacts.” Human Ecology Review 16:113-122.

—. 2012. “Environmentally Efficient Well-Being:  Is There a Kuznets Curve?” Journal of Applied Geography 32:21-28.

Dietz, Thomas and Eugene A. Rosa. 1997b. “Effects of Population and Affluence on CO2 Emissions.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 94:175-179.

Dunlap, Riley E., Michael E. Kraft, and Eugene A. Rosa. 1993. The Public and Nuclear Waste:  Citizen’s Views of Repository Siting. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

>Hinman, George W, Eugene A Rosa, Randall R Kleinhesselink, and Thomas C Lowinger. 1993. “Perceptions of Nuclear and Other Risks in the U.S. and Japan.” Risk Analysis 13.

Jaeger, Carlo, Ortwin Renn, Eugene A. Rosa, and Thomas Webler. 2001. Risk, Uncertainly and Rational Action. London: Earthscan.

Kleinhesselink, Randall R and Eugene A Rosa. 1991. “Cognitive Representation of Risk Perceptions:  A Comparision of Japan and The United States.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 22:11-28.

—. 1994. “Nuclear Trees in a Forest of Hazards: A Comparison of Risk Perceptions Between  American and Japanese University Students.” in Nuclear Power at the Crossroads, edited by G. W. Hinman, S. Kondo, T. C. Lowinger, and K. Matsui. Boulder, Colorado: International Research Center for Energy and Economic Development.

Knight, Kyle and Eugene A Rosa. 2010. “The Environmental Efficiency of Well-Being: A Cross-National Analysis.” Social Science Research 40:931-949.

—. 2012. “Household Dynamics and Fuelwood Consumption in Developing Countries: A Cross-National Analysis.” Population and Environment 33:365-378.

Mazur, Allan and Eugene Rosa. 1974. “Energy and Life-Style:  Massive Energy Consumption May Not Be Neccessary to Maintain Current Living Standards in American.” Science 186:607-610.

Mazur, Allan, Eugene A Rosa, Mark Faupel, Joshua Heller, Russell Lean, and Blake Thurman. 1980. “Physiological Aspects of Communication via Mutual Gaze.” American Journal of Sociology 86.

Ravetz, Jerry and Silvio Functowicz. 1998. “Commentary.” Journal of Risk Research 1:45-48.

Rosa, Eugene. 1998a. “Metatheoretical Foundations for Post-Normal Risk.” Journal of Risk Research 1:15-44.

Rosa, Eugene A. 1978. “Public Concern Over the Energy Problem.” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 34:5-7.

—. 1979. “Sociobiology, Biosociology, or Vulgar Biologizing?” Sociological Symposium Summer.

—. 1983. “Energetic Theories of Society: An Evaluative Review.” Sociological Inquiry 53:152-178.

—. 1997. “Cross National Trends in Fossil Fuel Consumption, Societal Well-Being and Carbon Releases.” Pp. 100-109 in Environmentally Significant Consumption:  Research Directions, edited by P. C. Stern, T. Dietz, V. W. Ruttan, R. H. Socolow, and J. L. Sweeney. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

—. 1998b. “Comments on commentary by Ravetz and Funtowicz: ‘Old fashioned hypertext’.” Journal of Risk Research 1:111-115.

—. 2007. “Long-Term Stewardship and Risk Management:  Analytic and Policy Challenges.” Pp. 227-255 in Long-Term Management of Contaminated Sites, edited by T. Leschine. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

—. 2010. “The logical status of risk – to burnish or to dull.” Journal of Risk Research 13:239-253.

Rosa, Eugene A and Lee Clarke. 2012. “Collective Hunch?: Risk as the Real and the Elusive.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Science 2:39-52.

Rosa, Eugene A and Thomas Dietz. 2012. “Human Drivers of National Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Nature Climate Change 2:581-586.

Rosa, Eugene A, Thomas Dietz, Richard H Moss, Scott Atran, and Susanne Moser. 2012. “Risk and Sustainability: A Look at two Global Threats.” Solutions 3:59-65.

Rosa, Eugene A and Riley E Dunlap. 1994. “The Polls-Poll Trends:  Nuclear Energy:  Three Decades of Public Opinion.” Public Opinion Quarterly 58:295-325.

Rosa, Eugene A, Kenneth M Keating, and Clifford L Staples. 1981. “Energy, Economic Growth and Quality of Life:  A Cross-National Trend Analysis.” in International Congress on Applied Systems Research and Cybernetics, edited by G. E. Lasker.

Rosa, Eugene A, Gary E Machlis, and Kenneth M Keating. 1988. “Energy and Society.” Annual Review of Sociology 14:149-172.

Rosa, Eugene A and Noriyuki Matsuda. 2005. “Risk Perceptions in the Risk Society: The Cognitive Architecture of Risk Between Americans and Japanese.” Pp. 113-130 in Peace, Security, and Kyosei, edited by Y. Murakami, N. Kawamura, and S. Chiba. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press.

Rosa, Eugene A, Noriyuki Matsuda, and Randall R Kleinhesselink. 2000a. “The Cognitive Architecture of Risk:  Pancultural Unity or Cultural Shaping?” Pp. 185-210 in Comparative Risk Perception, edited by O. Renn and B. Rohrmann. Dordrecth, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

—. 2000b. “The Cognitive Architecture of Risk: Pancultural Unity or Cultural Shaping?” in Comparative Risk Perception, edited by O. Renn and B. Rohrmann. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Rosa, Eugene A, Ortwin Renn, and Aaron M. McCright. 2013. The Risk Society Revisited: Social Theory and Governance. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Rosa, Eugene A, Seth P Tuler, Baruch Fischhoff, Thomas Webler, Sharon M Friedman, Richard E Sclove, Kristin Shrader-Frachette, Mary R English, Roger E Kasperson, Robert L Goble, Thomas M Leschine, William  Freudenburg, Caron Chess, Charles Perrow, Kai Erikson, and James F Short. 2010. “Nuclear Waste: Knowledge Waste?” Science 329:762-763.

Rosa, Eugene A. and Donald L. Clark, Jr. 1999. “Historical Routes to Technological Gridlock:  Nuclear Technology as Prototypical Vehicle.” Research in Social Problems and Public Policy 7.

Rosa, Eugene, Richard York, and Thomas Dietz. 2004. “Tracking the Anthropogenic Drivers of Ecological Impacts.” AMBIO:  A Journal of the Human Environment 33:509-512.

>Stern, Paul C, Thomas J Wilbanks, Susa Cozzens, and Eugene Rosa. 2009. “Generic Lessons Learned about Societal Responoses to Emerging Technologies Perceived as Involving Risks.” Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Whitfield, Stephen, Eugene A Rosa, Thomas Dietz, and Amy Dan. 2009. “The Future of Nuclear Power:  Value Orientations and Risk Perceptions.” Risk Analysis 29:425-437.

York, Richard, Christina Ergas, Eugene A Rosa, and Thomas Dietz. 2011. “It’s a Material World:  Trends in Material Extraction in China, India, Indonesia and Japan.” Nature and Culture 6:103-122.

York, Richard and Eugene A Rosa. 2012. “Choking on Modernity: A Human Ecology of Air Pollution.” Social Problems 59:282-300.

York, Richard, Eugene A Rosa, and Thomas Dietz. 2003a. “A Rift in Modernity? Assessing the Antrhropogenic Sources of Global Climate Change with the STIRPAT Model.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 23:31-51.

—. 2005. “The Ecological Footprint Intensity of National Economies.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 8:139-145.

—. 2009. “A Tale of Contrasting Trends: Three Measures of the Ecological Footprint  in China, India, Japan, and the United States, 1961-2003.” Journal of World Systems Research 15:134-146.

York, Richard, Eugene A. Rosa, and Thomas Dietz. 2003b. “Footprints on the Earth:  The Environmental Consequences of Modernity.” American Sociological Review 68:279-300.

York, Richard, Eugene Rosa, and Thomas Dietz. 2002. “Bridging Environmental Science with Environmental Policy:  Plasticity of Population, Affluence and Technology.” Social Science Quarterly 83:18-34.

—. 2003c. “STIRPAT, IPAT and ImPACT: analytic tools for unpacking the driving forces of environmental impact.” Ecological Economics 46:351-365.