Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Review of "Reclaiming Nature: Environmental Justice and Ecological Restoration"

I recently reviewed this book edited by James Boyce, Sunita Narain and Elizabeth Stanton (Anthem Press, 2007) for the Heterodox Economics Newsletter. The review is available here.

RECLAIMING NATURE: ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION, edited by James Boyce, Sunita Narain, and Elizabeth Stanton, Anthem Press, 2007. ISBN: 9781843312352; 439 pages.

Reviewed by Amit Basole, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

In recent years the debate over global climate change has tended to become polarized into two camps, those who continue to maintain a sang-froid born of technological optimism (Boyce calls them “see-no-evil optimists”) and those who take an excessively pessimistic, “doomsday” view of the human-nature relationship. Reclaiming Nature: Environmental Justice and Ecological Restoration edited by Jim Boyce, Sunita Narain and Elizabeth Stanton (hereafter Reclaiming Nature), tried to steer clear of both and largely succeeds in doing so. I first situate the book in its historical context, then review its major contributions and shortcomings, and finally present a brief overview of some representative articles.

The ecological consciousness born in the industrialized Global North in the later part of the 20th century was marked by three fundamental features. First, faced with the obvious correlation between material prosperity and accompanying ecological degradation, a general conclusion was reached that social goals are in direct conflict with environmental goals. A second related belief was that “nature” needed to be protected from “man.” This conservationist position tended to view human impact as uniformly negative and in need of minimization. The third feature of this environmentalism was the belief that those residing in the Global South are less “environmentally conscious” or are more destructive of their environments than the rich or those living in the Global North (the so-called environmental Kuznets curve).

The present volume brings together 16 essays, each a case study or a compilation of case studies from South and East Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, West and Southern Africa, Latin America and the United States, that taken together mount a serious challenge to these fundamental beliefs that have dominated mainstream environmentalism. The new environmentalism that it wishes to articulate is based in part on lessons learned from grassroots movements all over the world.

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