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.

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