The Heart of “Global Environmental Politics”

The seventh section of Global Environmental Politics felt to me to be the most important part of this book: “Race, Class, and Geopolitical Difference.” In five concise chapters the oxymoronic ideal of “sustainable growth” and the insanity of basing the well-being of a nation on the numbers of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) were debunked, and environmental colonialism and racism were brought forward as the darkest shadows of the global economic and social systems. Without addressing ecological justice issues humanity cannot change our destructive impact on Earth’s systems—ecology and justice are inseparably intertwined.

Global Environmental PoliticsHerman Daly lays out in plain terms how the delusional myth of economic growth is simply not possible on a finite planet, whether we label it sustainable or not. This perspective ties in with Jonathan Rowe’s explanation of GDP, and how this worshipped number counts as positive the most destructive aspects of society. He writes,

Cooking at home, talking with kids, walking instead of driving, involve less expenditure of money than do their commercial counterparts. Solid marriages involve less expenditure for counseling and divorce. Thus they are threats to the economy as portrayed in the GDP. By that standard, the best kids are the ones that eat the most junk food and exercise the least, because they will run up the biggest medical bills for obesity and diabetes.[1]

Is it any wonder that the human relationship with the Earth’s ecosystems is broken when our own society is so fractured by a misplacement of values? How can we continue to appeal to the economy as the highest good when it is destroying the very fabric of relationship between humans and within ecosystems?

The latter half of the book’s seventh section portrays the blatant injustice done upon the populations of the global South in the distribution of the costs and accountability for climate change and pollution. Colonialism is as much alive today as it was under the British Empire, but it is disguised by other names and economic ideologies that allow egregious injustices to be perpetrated upon the world’s poor. The final chapter by Robert Bullard, “Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement,” shows not only how internationally toxic waste is foisted upon those with no political power to protect themselves, but even how the U.S. is a microcosm of this international situation as pollutants are outsourced to minority communities that lack the political voice to speak in their own defense. What shocked me most was how consciously this location of toxic materials is chosen by those in power, whether the majority white zoning boards and planning commissions or top officials in the World Bank. Bullard concludes by saying,

The crux of the problem is that the mainstream environmental movement has not sufficiently addressed the fact that social inequality and imbalances of social power are at the heart of environmental degradation, resource depletion, pollution, and even overpopulation. The environmental crisis can simply not be solved effectively without social justice.[2]

As a white person living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, one of the wealthiest locations on the planet, I can feel my tremendous privilege and social position as I read these words. I have to ask myself—stripped of naive idealism—what real power do I have to make changes on behalf of social justice that are in responsible allyship, that do not perpetuate the systemic injustice that stratifies this world? Simply put, as one individual, how can I help?

Work Cited

Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.

[1] Jonathan Rowe, “Who is an Economy For?: Rethinking gdp,” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 222.

[2] Robert Bullard, “Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement,” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 245.

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