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The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment

Winner of the 2009 Gerald L. Young Book Award in Human Ecology given by the Society for Human Ecology.

By: Peter Dauvergne (Author)

MIT Press

Paperback | Sep 2010 | #211944 | ISBN-13: 9780262514927
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NHBS Price: £8.95 $11/€10 approx
Hardback | Oct 2008 | #179903 | ISBN-13: 9780262042468
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NHBS Price: £17.95 $22/€20 approx

About this book

The Shadows of Consumption gives a hard-hitting diagnosis: many of the earth's ecosystems and billions of its people are at risk from the consequences of rising consumption. Products ranging from cars to hamburgers offer conveniences and pleasures; but, as Peter Dauvergne makes clear, global political and economic processes displace the real costs of consumer goods into distant ecosystems, communities, and timelines, tipping into crisis people and places without the power to resist.

In The Shadows of Consumption, Dauvergne maps the costs of consumption that remain hidden in the shadows cast by globalized corporations, trade, and finance. He traces the environmental consequences of five commodities: automobiles, gasoline, refrigerators, beef, and harp seals. In these fascinating histories we learn, for example, that American officials ignored warnings about the dangers of lead in gasoline in the 1920s; why China is now a leading producer of CFC-free refrigerators; and how activists were able to stop Canada's commercial seal hunt in the 1980s but are unable to do so now.

Dauvergne's innovative analysis allows us to see why so many efforts to manage the global environment are failing even as environmentalism is slowly strengthening. He proposes a guiding principle of "balanced consumption" for both consumers and corporations. We know that we can make things better by driving a fuel-efficient car, eating locally grown food, and buying energy-efficient appliances; but these improvements are incremental, local, and insufficient. More crucial than our individual efforts to reuse and recycle will be reforms in the global political economy to reduce the inequalities of consumption and correct the imbalance between growing economies and environmental sustainability.

"In The Shadows of Consumption, Peter Dauvergne tackles the often hidden consequences of globalization and consumption for the environment and for human health and well-being. He demonstrates how the worst of these consequences are displaced, often to the most marginalized sectors of global society, and discusses ways to cast light into the shadows of global economic development. This book will be essential reading for students and scholars, indeed anyone interested in understanding more about globalization and its impacts."
– Kate O'Neill, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley

"The ecological and social consequences of modern patterns ofconsumption are often overlooked, underestimated, and poorly theorized. Engaging, convincing, and nuanced, Peter Dauvergne's book masterfully excavates and politicizes the shadows of consumption that modern life casts, from the consumption of beef to the use of cars and fridges. Wide-ranging and superbly written, this book is sure to be widely read."
– Peter Newell, Professor of Development Studies, University of East Anglia

"With The Shadows of Consumption, we have at last an elegant elucidation of the often hidden environmental and social costs of today's consumption. Dauvergne has described the problem brilliantly and provided an analysis that should spur far-reaching change, including change in contemporary environmentalism. I hope this book finds a wide audience – soon."
– James Gustave Speth, Dean, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World


1 An Unbalanced Global Political Economy
2 Dying of Consumption

I Automobiles
3 Accidental Dependency? The Road to an Auto World
4 A Better Ride: Selling Safe and Clean
5 The Road Tolls
6 The Globalization of Accidents and Emissions

II Leaded Gasoline
7 Leaded Science: Pumping Out Profits and Risks
8 Lead Must Go
9 Taking the Lead Out of Africa
10 The Globalization of Risk

III Refrigerators
11 Refrigerating the Ozone Layer
12 Phasing Out CFC Refrigerators
13 Selling the "Superior" Refrigerator
14 The Globalization of Plugging In

IV Beef
15 The Efficient Steer: Fast, Fat, and Cheap
16 The Ecology of Big Beef
17 Sustainable Beef? Chasing a Stampede of "Regular" Steers
18 The Globalization of More Meat

V The Harp Seal Hunt
19 To the Red Ice: Heroes and Overharvesting
20 The Brutes! Killing Markets with Activism
21 Hunting Beaters for Globalizing Markets
22 The Globalization of Slippery Markets

Conclusion: Transforming Global Consumption
23 The Illusions of Environmentalism
24 A Brighter World Order of Balanced Consumption

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Peter Dauvergne is Professor of Political Science, Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Politics, and Associate Dean of Arts at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of the award-winning Shadows in the Forest: Japan and the Politics of Timber in Southeast Asia (MIT Press) and the coauthor (with Jennifer Clapp) of Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment (MIT Press).

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