Jun 24 2013


Reviewed by Jessica Debats, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices edited by JoAnn Carmin and Julian Agyeman, MIT Press, 2011, 320pp.

Globalization is transforming not only the environment, but the way environmental justice is pursued. Previous environmental justice studies focus on the distribution of local adverse impacts. However, distance can entrench inequalities, as remote communities receive the short-end of increasingly long supply chains. Through studies ranging from climate adaptation in South Africa, to mining investment in Fiji, to Chinese oil exploration in Africa, Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders provides an insightful portrait of the ways in which globalization enables environmental injustice and provides new means of challenging it.

The authors examine how spatial separation of consumption and production makes impacts less visible and responsibility more tenuous for environmental problems ranging from industrial waste to climate change. They show how international organizations inadvertently amplify inequities by prioritizing their own agendas rather than local concerns or indigenous values. Finally, they explore how globalization allows civil society to use international networks and multilevel governance to strengthen local responses to global pressures.

The authors go beyond the list of the “usual suspects.” Divisions are not just between North and South, but between developing nations. For instance, China, in its race to develop its economy, perpetuates environmental inequalities in other developing nations. While corporations and extractive industries are typically the “bad guys,” many of the studies in this volume show that NGOs are also guilty of perpetuating inequalities themselves.

While the authors demonstrate how communities tend to respond to present injustices, it would be helpful to know which policies might help developing countries prevent future injustices by generating more “good globalization” and less “bad globalization.” Since it is almost impossible to opt out of the global economy, we need to know how developing nations might pursue development pathways that will put them in a more advantageous global position. Zooming out would offer a useful companion to the fine-grained analysis of globalization’s local effects provided by Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders.

Jun 24 2013


Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Water, Ecosystems and Society: A Confluence of Disciplines by Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, Sage, 2009 (2nd ed.), 212 pp.

Jayanta Bandyopadhyay was the head of the Centre for Development and Environment Policy at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta. He has also been the President of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, and held other academic and policy-making roles during his 35 year career as a senior water professional. In his recent book, he makes a strong case for changing the way water is managed in India, urging that basic ecosystem services be protected even as increasing amounts of fresh water are extracted from rivers and streams to meet growing agricultural, industrial and residential needs. It will not be easy to move away from the long-standing paradigm that puts development needs first.

His initial premise is that additional disciplinary diversity is crucial to generating the knowledge needed to achieve a better balance between human requirements and natural ecosystem needs. He is firmly convinced a new water systems management paradigm (that will take on-going ecological sustainability more seriously) will require a shift in the way economic analysis is used to value water and ecological services. Whether traditional economists will cooperate is unclear.

Dr. Bandyopadhyay devotes special attention to the river-link project developed by India’s National Water Development Agency. He names this the largest civil engineering project in the world. A more complete interdisciplinary analysis, and a more open scientific dialogue, he believes, would raise doubts about the social desirability and the ecological sustainability of the project. Moreover, it is not likely, he believes, to achieve the flood control objectives its proponents have in mind. Although Water, Ecosystems and Society is a small book, it raises large questions in a very compelling way.

The disconnect between water systems knowledge and water resource development is certainly not limited to India. And, interdisciplinary efforts to fill gaps in our eco-hydrological understanding of groundwater and surface water dynamics, as well as ways that the ecosystem services provided by water resources should be valued, ought to be at the top of our global research agenda. I would also agree that we need a much a clearer understanding of the ecological effects of extreme events like flooding, draught, and climate change, before the paradigm shift that Dr. Bandyopadhyay and others are advocating can succeed.

Jun 24 2013


Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-Based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs by Jonathan Koomey, Analytics Press, 2012, 222pp.

Cold Cash, Cool Climate begins with a novel, concise, and easy-to-read explanation of current climate science, as if pitching a green startup to an investor. It is a useful presentation for a society burdened by what a recent New York Times article called “climate fatigue.” It offers what could be a practical response to the unnecessary stalemate between industrial competition and sustainability noted by Michael Porter. Koomey summarizes decades of climate science, positing unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases already in the earth’s atmosphere. From there, he illustrates how entrepreneurs, would-be investors, and startups interested in turning a profit can make money while addressing the challenges posed by climate change. The book reads like the kind of policy report a consulting firm might turn out. Non-business and non-technical readers will remain engaged as he makes connections between impending crises and market-driven change possibilities. Most of this change, according to Koomey, should occur in industries prepared to develop infrastructure for renewables. He makes a surprising assertion, though, when he alleges that the Apollo Program is an inadequate analogy for the role government might play to bring about systemic change, since it is too myopic. I would argue that Congressional politics are also too polarized for government to take the steps necessary to support relevant entrepreneurial efforts. Nevertheless, Koomey argues that newer areas of innovation like connectivity and social media will allow for a more cohesive institutional overhaul of what is possible, setting the stage for would-be investors and startups looking to profit from helping to “solve” the climate problem. In Koomey’s book, the entrepreneur is both the protagonist and the target audience, cast as a convincing bringer-of-change, where slow moving institutions have failed in the past.

Jun 24 2013


Review by Matto Mildenberger, Yale University

Eco-Business: A Big-Brand Takeover of Sustainability by Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister, MIT Press, 2013, 208pp.

The last decade has seen global brands, including Walmart, General Electric, and Coca-Cola, proliferate corporate sustainability initiatives. But can these initiatives deliver global sustainability? In a compact volume, Dauvergne and Lister elaborate the theoretical reasons for being skeptical of this approach. Unlike earlier multinational corporate environmental programs, described as little more than greenwashing, the authors argue that recent corporate actions reflect a major, strategic shift in business operations. However, these efforts are motivated more by profit imperatives than by environmental or social goals. The authors argue that sustainability initiatives help moderate the risks associated with complex, global supply-chains, increase global competitiveness and enhance brand loyalty. They assert these initiatives herald a shift in governance power away from the state towards private retail and manufacturing interests. While big-brand sustainability programs can produce some concrete environmental change, they also facilitate consumer growth and stabilize current economic structures. This leaves them unlikely to trigger the transformative change necessary for a sustainability transition.

Eco-Business is brimming with more thought-provoking ideas than many texts twice its length, raising critical questions about corporate sustainability efforts that it does not always give itself time to answer. For example, the reader is left wanting further elaboration of the conditions under which big business sustainability efforts can still generate meaningful environmental change. Nonetheless, Dauvergne and Lister have outlined a fascinating new research agenda that should spark needed debate about business’ ability to drive positive environmental change.