Clapp and Dauvergne
Paths to a Green World
Prepared by Michael Marien, Director



May 2011


Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment (Second Edition).  Jennifer Clapp (CIGI Chair in Global Environmental Governance and Prof of Env Studies, U of Waterloo) and Peter Dauvergne (Prof of Pol Sci and Director, Institute for Global Issues, U of British Columbia).  Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, May 2011, 354p, $27pb.

First published in 2005, this unique book seeks to integrate the debates within the “real world” of global policy and the “academic world” of theory, centered on four environmental worldviews, none of which is seen by the authors as “correct.”  Rather, each contains insights into the sources of today’s environmental problems, as well as into potential solutions.  “Each view has its own logic, which fits with its assumptions.”
Market Liberals are grounded in neoclassical economics and view the main drivers of environmental degradation as poverty, lack of economic growth, distortions of the market, and bad policies such as subsidies and unclear property rights.  They see economic growth as the source of progress that will improve the environment in the long run.  The way forward is best pursued with globalization and enhanced efficiency, with market-based incentives to encourage clean technologies and voluntary corporate greening, which shifts the burden of regulation from the state to the firm.  Some market liberals draw on moderate estimates of environmental damage, but all reject the idea of the world headed toward catastrophic ecological crash.  Population growth and resource scarcity are not major concerns, and human ingenuity is seen to have no limits.  Examples include The Economist, the late Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg, Jagdish Bhagwati, the WTO, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Institutionalists are grounded in the fields of political science and international relations, and also believe in economic growth, globalization, trade, foreign investment, and technology.  Unlike market liberals, they emphasize the need for stronger global institutions and norms, as well as sufficient state and local capacity to direct the global economy.  They see a lack of global cooperation as a key source of environmental degradation, and promote strong global regimes that manage the global environment, distribute funds and technology more effectively to developing countries, and build state capacity.  Many support a precautionary approach in the face of some scientific uncertainty.  Examples include Gro Harlem Brundtland, Maurice Strong, the World Bank, and the UN Environment Programme.  [Also see the OECD Green Growth Strategy,]


Bioenvironmentalists focus on ecosystems, are inspired by the laws of physical science, and stress the biological limits of earth and carrying capacity.  Many stress that the assumption of infinite economic growth is a key source of environmental problems, and that rising population and consumption are drawing down earth’s limited resources.  Globalization is seen as contribution to further unsustainable growth and environmental degradation.  The way forward is to limit population, reduce consumption, internalize the value of nonhuman life into institutions and policies, and create a new economy based on a new ethic of sustainability and new measures of progress.  Examples include the Worldwatch Institute, the WWF Network (formerly the World Wildlife Fund), Paul Ehrlich, Herman Daly, William Rees, and other ecological economists.  [Also see the many publications of Earthscan and Island Press.]


Social Greens draw primarily on racial social and economic thought, viewing large-scale industrial life leading to grossly unequal patterns of consumption, and exploitation of labor, women, the poor, indigenous peoples, and the environment.  More academic social greens draw on Marxist thought, pointing to capitalism as a primary driver of injustice in a globalized world, and First World overconsumption as a far greater problem that overpopulation.  The way forward is to restore local community autonomy, promote ecological justice, and empower those who have been marginalized.  Examples include The Ecologist, the International Forum on Globalization, Greenpeace, the Third World Network, Vandana Shiva, Wolfgang Sachs, and Edward Goldsmith.  [Also see publications of New Society Publishers and Chelsea Green, many of them strongly based on the premise that “peak oil” has arrived.]


As seen through these four worldviews, chapters go on to discuss the ecological consequences of globalization (favored by the first two views, scorned by the other two), the globalization of environmentalism over the past 50 years (a complex process with no neat beginning or end), economic growth in a world of wealth and poverty (Bioenvironmentalists and Social Greens argue that economic growth harms the environment, and call for a total rethink of consumption, “growth,” and the good life), global trade and the environment (a consensus is growing that trade and environment are mutually compatible, and that both are essential for the health of the other; Bioenvironmentals and Social Greens remain skeptical about managed trade), international voluntary environmental initiatives (the UN Global Compact with >5,300 firms participating by 2010, reporting and disclosure schemes followed by >1,000 firms, ISO 14000 standards, and eco-efficiency efforts; critics label much of this as “greenwash”), and global financing (all perspectives agree that global financing alone via the World Bank, etc. will not be enough to solve global environmental problems.


Concludes that “there is no trouble-free path to a green world.”  However, there is a trend toward institutionalist thought in the global policy community, which means that, for the moment, Institutionalists have managed to muster the broadest base of political support by proposing compromise solutions to very difficult problems.  Bioenvironmentalists and Social Greens continue to fret that these actions will only slow down the current crisis, while the more extreme Market Liberals find these efforts to be constraining.


Understanding the complexity of the political economy of global environmental change leads to “the most important lesson of this book: the need to comprehend, tolerate, and even respect the views of others as each of us develops our own vision of how to best move forward to create a health and prosperous planet.”  Embracing such diversity of knowledge with many “correct” answers” and no “absolute” certainties ought to empower environmentalists of all types to probe their own beliefs and understand the arguments and evidence of others.


Comment.  The framework describing four contrasting visions of sustainability is very useful in sorting out much of the burgeoning literature on sustainability and the future in general, which seldom acknowledges the views of others.  Despite a bibliography of some 750 items, this heroic effort could still use further updating to flesh out the current major players among Market Liberals (World Economic Forum; see GFB Book of the Month for April 2011), Institutionalists (OECD), Bioenvironmentalists (Lester Brown—see Book of the Month for Jan 2011, James Gustave Speth, Robert Costanza, Earthscan publishers, IUCN, various climate scientists), and Social Greens (Bill McKibbon, New Society Publishers, Green Party political groups).


Also, arguably, there is a fifth worldview of “Urban Greens,” important enough to be considered with the other four.  Whereas Market Liberals, Institutionalists, and Bioenvironmentalists are all “top-down” globalists in various degrees, Social Greens are strongly “bottom-up” and often anti-globalist.  Urban Greens are also bottom-up insofar as the locus of action, but largely ignore issues of globalization and justice.  Rather, the Urban Green view, which seems to have overtaken much recent city planning literature, focuses strictly on sustainability and design concerns for large cities (energy, transport, water/sewage, green areas, brownfields, buildings), whereas Social Greens focus only on small and often idealized communities or neighborhoods.  A sampling of the recent Urban Green literature is surveyed in the May 2011 “GFB Update” newsletter.  Clapp and Dauvergne do give some notice to the importance of “subnational actors” who are increasingly “leaders and innovators in environmental governance” (pp83-85), but more emphasis is needed. 
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