Over the last fifty years, environmentalism has emerged as a clear counterforce to the environmental destruction caused by industrialization, colonialism, and globalization. Activists and policymakers have fought hard to make the earth a better place to live. But has the environmental movement actually brought about meaningful progress toward global sustainability? Signs of global "unsustainability" are everywhere, from decreasing biodiversity to scarcity of fresh water to steadily rising greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, as Peter Dauvergne points out in this provocative book, the environmental movement is increasingly dominated by the environmentalism of the rich – diverted into eco-business, eco-consumption, wilderness preservation, energy efficiency, and recycling. While it's good that, for example, Barbie dolls' packaging no longer depletes Indonesian rainforest, and that Toyota Highlanders are available as hybrids, none of this gets at the source of the current sustainability crisis. More eco-products can just mean more corporate profits, consumption, and waste.
Dauvergne examines extraction booms that leave developing countries poor and environmentally devastated – with the ruination of the South Pacific island of Nauru a case in point; the struggles against consumption inequities of courageous activists like Bruno Manser, who worked with indigenous people to try to save the rainforests of Borneo; and the manufacturing of vast markets for nondurable goods – for example, convincing parents in China that disposable diapers made for healthier and smarter babies.
Dauvergne reveals why a global political economy of ever more – more growth, more sales, more consumption – is swamping environmental gains. Environmentalism of the rich does little to bring about the sweeping institutional change necessary to make progress toward global sustainability.
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Peter Dauvergne is Professor of International Relations at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment and Eco-Business: A Big-Brand Takeover of Sustainability (with Jane Lister), both published by the MIT Press.