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Earth Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Saving the Ranch: Conservation Easement Design in the American West by Anthony Anella, John B. Wright, photographs by Edward Ranney  (Island Press) (Hardcover) Conservation easement design ranges from protecting the entire ranch to creating a limited, protective development. (This is explained in more detail in the following chapters.) In all cases, conservation easement design is based on protecting ranchland as a natural resource. "Success" is the long-term stewardship of the earth, which translates into the appreciation of land value over time. It honors one of America's great strengths—private property rights—while respecting the rights of future generations. More

Nature Across Cultures: Views of Nature and the Environment in Non-Western Cultures edited by Helaine Selin (Science Across Cultures, 4: Kluwer Academic Publishers) consists of 23 essays dealing with the environmental knowledge and beliefs of cultures outside of the United States and Europe . In addition to articles surveying Islamic, Chinese, Native American, Aboriginal Australian, Indian, Thai, and Andean views of nature and the environment, among others, the book includes essays on Environmentalism and Images of the Other, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Worldviews and Ecology, Rethinking the Western/non-Western Divide, and Landscape, Nature, and Culture. Edited by Helaine Selin, Science Librarian and Faculty Associate, Hampshire College , Amherst , Massachusetts , the essays address the connections between nature and culture and relate the environmental practices to the cultures, which produced them. Each essay contains an extensive bibliography.

The central core of Nature Across Cultures explores nature and the environment in eleven different places, from Native America to Aboriginal Australia. Susan M. Darlington, in The Spirit(s) of Conservation in Buddhist Thailand, shows how the Thai government was able to use Buddhism both to promote develop­ment and later to promote conservation, when the deleterious effects of develop­ment began to emerge. She also illustrates the mix of spirit belief and Buddhism, a hybrid form of religious belief common to many cultures. D.P. Chattopadhyaya talks about the long Indian tradition of naturalism in India . He draws a distinction between naturalism in terms of materialism, within the framework of naturalism without God, and as a complement to spiritualism. John A. Tucker provides an exploration of the diversity in understandings, positive and negative, of nature and the environment in works of Japanese literature, religion, philosophy, and political and legal thought, from earliest time to the present. Graham Parkes does much the same with Fengshui, the Chinese art of siting graves and houses and creating a peaceful space – a set of sensible recommendations grounded in sensitivity to the natural environ­ment. John Kesby takes on sub‑Saharan Africa in his essay, condensing the views of a vast continent. J.L. Kohen discusses Australian Aboriginal people, focusing especially on uses of fire and the negative results of banning controlled burns. In his overview of the vast region of Oceania , Edvard Hviding turns our attention to how the people of coral atolls and volcanic islands view, know, use and manage their tropical environments. Hviding shows how Pacific island­ers' worldviews emphasize connections of ecological character, between land and sea, and of social and cultural character.

There are four articles on the American part of the non‑Western world. William Balee's entry on Native Views of the Environment in Amazonia explores how local peoples from across a cultural and linguistic spectrum recognize, name, classify, and manipulate the biotic and environmental diversity of the Amazon region. David Browman looks at Andean folklore regarding the weather and planting, and shows how modern scientific techniques validate the folk beliefs. He focuses particularly on the Lake Titicaca basin, and the use of stars, winds, and water colors and how they accurately predict future climatic events. Ellen Bielawski, in Nature Doesn't Come as Clean as We Can Think It: Dene, Inuit, Scientists, Nature and Environment in the Canadian North, shows how native knowledge differs from western science and how research based on combining indigenous knowledge and science might yield rich results. Annie L. Booth talks about Native North America south of the area covered by Bielawski, separating myth from reality and presenting a clear picture of native relations to the land.

The final section of Nature Across Cultures is devoted to the study of different religions and how they view nature. Of course, religious beliefs are not ecologi­cal ones, but there are connections between the two that may be used to encourage sensible, sustainable policies. Leslie Sponsel and Poranee Natadecha­Sponsel provide a systematic survey of the relationships between Buddhism and nature through their discussion of the life and teachings of the Buddha, the monastic and lay communities, Buddhism in the West, problems and limitations, and the future. John Berthrong traces the historical development of Confucian theories of nature by showing how various authoritative texts and individuals addressed the question of understanding how human beings live in the context of the cosmos. He treats Confucian theories of nature as part of a living, changing discourse of natural philosophy that stretches from the time of Master Kong (Confucius) to modern Confucian intellectuals today. James Miller examines classic Daoist attitudes towards nature, focusing on the sky, the earth and the body as the three important fields in which Daoism operates. Harold Coward discusses how Hindu principles and practices keep humans and their environment in harmony. S. Parvez Manzoor shows how Islam's vision of nature and culture emanates from its belief in the divine transcendence. The article describes the Islamic perception of nature as a symbolic phenomenon rather than an autonomous and self‑subsistent reality. Finally, Jeanne Kay Guelke addresses the themes of water resources, crop production, climate, range management, and heritage resource preservation in both biblical and modern Israel .

The book concludes that the division between East and West or South and North, when discussing environmental knowledge and practice, is an essentialist fallacy. The linkages are more compelling than the divide, and the boundary between East and West is more meaningful as a metaphor than as a geographic fact.

Because the geographic range is global, Nature Across Cultures fills a gap in both environmental history and in cultural studies. It should find a place on the bookshelves of advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars, as well as in libraries serving those groups.

Eating in the Dark: America 's Experiment With Genetically Engineered Food by Kathleen Hart (Pantheon) Most Americans eat genetically modified food on a daily basis. Yet many of us are barely aware that we’re eating something that has been altered; food labels do not include information on ingredients that have been genetically modified, and the subject has received surprisingly little media coverage.

Even as genetically engineered foods spread throughout America , most consumers abroad have refused to eat them. Opposition to genetically engineered food is now beginning to surface in the United States , where biotechnology is becoming a major issue for the new century.

Eating in the Dark tells the story of how these new foods, most of which are engineered either to produce or to withstand heavy doses of pesticides, quietly entered America ’s food supply. Kathleen Hart explores the potential of this new technology to enhance nutrition and cut farmers’ expenses. She also reveals the process by which regulatory agencies decided to allow the biotechnology industry to sell its products without first submitting them to thorough testing for possible long-term threats to consumer health and the environment.

Hart has talked to scientists, farmers, industry members, and activists, and she has gained unprecedented access to the inner chambers of the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration, where the crucial decisions have been made to allow these foods into our stores. Combining a balanced perspective with a sense of urgency, Eating in the Dark is a revelatory guide to a subject of paramount importance.

Natural Assets: Democratizing Environmental Ownership by James K. Boyce (Editor), Barry G. Shelley (Editor) (Island Press) Low-income communities frequently suffer from a lack of control over the natural resources that surround them. In many cases, their local environment has been degraded by years of resource extraction and pollution by distant corporations or government agencies.

Natural Assets is composed of essays that explore strategies for expanding the quantity and enhancing the quality of natural assets in the hands of low-income communities and evaluate their potential to reduce poverty and protect the environment. They propose various methods of ecological restoration, the repairing of past damage done to the environment, and coevolution, whereby human interactions with the environment add to nature’s wealth. The contributors argue that poverty reduction and environmental protection not only can go together, but must go together. One reason is obvious: sustainable advances in human well-being and reduction in poverty are undermined by environmental degradation. The second reason is perhaps less apparent, but no less important: environmental quality is undermined by large disparities of wealth and power.

Natural Assets:

·        Examines the social construction of rights to natural resources and the environment

·        Describes efforts to curtail pollution of the air, land, and water and to reclaim resources that have been appropriated and abused by polluters

·        Considers sustainable agricultural practices that not only maintain but actually increase the stock of natural capital

·        Explores strategies to promote sustainable forest management while reducing rural poverty

·        Examines the prospects for building natural assets in urban areas

Drawing on evidence from across the United States , the editors, James Boyce and Barry Shelly, professor and doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts , Amherst , demonstrate that safeguarding the environment and improving the well-being of the poor can be mutually reinforcing goals. They do not give a blanket endorsement to any single form of environmental ownership, nor do they categorically embrace either market-based incentives or government regulation as the best way to protect the environment. Instead, they suggest a variety of institutional arrangements, and argue that, above all, success depends on a democratic distribution of wealth and power.

The environmental justice movement argues that clean air, land and water is a basic human right, but Natural Assets, using clear-eyed research methodology, goes a step further and shows that putting natural assets in the hands of the poor can play a role in poverty-fighting efforts and at the same time actually increase our natural capital.

Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese (Perseus Publishing) Part history and part environmental argument, Freese's elegant book teaches an important lesson about the interdependence of humans and their natural environment both for good and ill. In this remarkable book, Freese takes us on a rich historical journey that begins three hundred million years ago and spans the globe. From the Great Stinking Fogs of London to the rat-infested coal mines of Pennsylvania , from the impoverished slums of Manchester to the toxic city streets of Beijing, Coal is a captivating narrative about an ordinary substance that has done extraordinary things – a simple black rock that could well determine our fate as a species.

Prized as "the best stone in Britain" by Roman invaders who carved jewelry out of it, coal has transformed societies, powered navies, fueled economies, and expanded frontiers. As early as 1306, King Edward I tried unsuccessfully to ban coal because its smoke became so obnoxious. It played a critical role in sparking the Industrial Revolution, whose side effects included underground confinement for miners and suffocating fogs for Manchester and London . It made China a twelfth-century superpower and inspired the writing of the Communist Manifesto. America was seduced by coal & it helped the northern states win the American Civil War. Yet the mundane mineral that built our global economy – and even today powers our electrical plants – has also caused death, disease, and environmental destruction. And it has recently been identified as a primary cause of global warming, giving its understanding new importance.
Coal, her first book, Freese, an assistant attorney general of Minnesota , where she has helped enforce environmental laws, offers an exquisite chronicle of the rise and fall of this mineral. An expert in energy policy, climate change, and pollution, it was coal’s fascinating history – with all its lessons for our future – that made her resign from state government to write this book. Using EPA studies, Freese shows that coal emissions kill about 30,000 people a year, causing nearly as many deaths as traffic accidents and more than homicides and AIDS. The author contends that alternate energy sources must be found to ensure a healthier environment for future generations.  
Coal is the remarkable story of how this fossil fuel has shaped – and shortened – untold thousands of lives. A masterful piece of writing by a strong storyteller, engrossing and sometimes stunning, Coal is a badly needed, strongly argued and thoroughly researched warning for our time.

The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation by Juan Martinez-Alier (Edward Elgar) has the explicit intention of helping to establish two emerging fields of study - political ecology and ecological economics - and also investigating the relations between them.

The author analyzes several manifestations of the growing ‘environmental justice movement’, and also of ‘popular environmentalism’ and the ‘environmentalism of the poor’, which will be seen in the coming decades as driving forces in the process to achieve an ecologically sustainable society. He studies, in detail, many ecological distribution conflicts in history and at present, in urban and rural settings, showing how poor people often favor resource conservation. The environment is thus not so much a luxury of the rich as a necessity of the poor. The book concludes with the fundamental questions: who has the right to impose a language of valuation and who has the power to simplify complexity?

Joan Martinez-Alier combines the study of ecological conflicts and the study of environmental valuation in a totally original approach

Excerpt: There is a new tide in global environmentalism. It arises from social conflicts on environmental entitlements, on the burdens of pollution, on the sharing of uncertain environmental risks and on the loss of access to natural resources and environmental services. There is a boom in mining and oil extraction in tropical countries. Is compensation paid for reversible and irreversible damage? Is restitution possible? Mangrove forests are sacrificed for commercial shrimp farming. Who has title to the mangroves, who wins and who loses by their destruction? Many ecological conflicts, whether they take place inside or outside markets, whether they are local or global, come about because economic growth means an increased use of the environment. Environmental impacts will be felt by future generations of humans, and they are abundantly felt already by other species. Some impacts fall now disproportionately on some human groups. They would be felt even without economic growth, since many resources and sinks are already exhausted at the present level of use. For instance, the carbon sinks and reservoirs are already overflowing, so to speak. The question is, who is entitled to use them, and in which proportion?

Ecological distribution conflicts are studied by political ecology, a field created by geographers, anthropologists and environmental sociologists. The unrelenting clash between economy and environment, with its ups and downs, its new frontiers, its urgencies and uncertainties, is analysed by eco­logical economics, another new field of study created mainly by ecologists and economists who endeavour to `take Nature into account', not only in money terms but also in physical and social terms. Ecological economics puts incommensurability of values at the centre of its analysis. Thus the book has the explicit intention of helping to establish two new fields of study, political ecology and ecological economics, investigating the rela­tions between them.

The outline of the book is as follows. Chapter 1 delineates the main cur­rents of environmentalism with emphasis on the environmentalism of the poor. Today, the environmental movement worldwide continues to be dom­inated by two main currents, the cult of wilderness and (increasingly) the gospel of eco-efficiency. However, a third current, called `environmental justice', `popular environmentalism', or `environmentalism of the poor', is growing, and it is increasingly aware of itself. Chapters 2 and 3 consider the

Chapter 7 deals with conflicts over urban planning, and over urban pol­lution and traffic. Do cities produce anything of commensurable or com­parable value in return for the energy and materials they import, and for the residues they excrete? Do they contribute in a way which is sustainable to the increasing complexity of the system of which they are a part? Are cities to be seen as `parasites', or rather (to use another metaphor) as `brains' that, with their higher metabolism, dominate and organize the whole system? Are indicators of urban unsustainability simultaneously indicators of social conflicts? On which geographical scales should urban unsustainability be assessed?

South Africa and the United States are two contrasting countries with some elements in common. Chapter 8 considers the organized 'environ­mental justice' movements which fight against `environmental racism' in both countries (including the distribution -in the USA on the sitting of waste dumps and urban incinerators, and the disputes about nuclear waste dispo­sal in Native American territories). The environmental justice movement was impressively successful in getting President Clinton to enact an Executive Order ( 11 February 1994 ) by which all federal agencies must identify and address disproportionately high and adverse health or environ­mental effects of their policies and activities. The explicit use of 'environ­mental justice' also by activists in South Africa is an exciting harbinger of a wider international movement. Chapter 9 looks at the roles of the state and other actors (corporations, NGOs, international networks). I try to dis­entangle the different roles played by different state organs in different conflicts. Which resources are mobilized, which alliances are formed, which leaderships evolve? Why are environmental conflicts described in the lan­guages of human rights and of indigenous territorial rights? Some small­scale sustainable alternatives have grown out of resistance movements, sometimes with state help, sometimes without. This chapter also considers the feminist approaches to ecological distribution conflicts, overcoming the opposition between essentialist eco-feminism and social eco-feminism.

Chapter 10 deals with international trade, also with `greenhouse poli­tics', and with recent conflicts over the export of genetically modified crops. Instead of looking at so-called `green protectionism' (northern envi­ronmental standards as non-tariff barriers), I emphasize the opposite case, explaining the theory of ecologically unequal exchange. This chapter develops the notion of the ecological debt which the North owes the South because of resource plundering and the disproportionate occupa­tion of environmental space, and it also brings in the language of environ­mental security. Chapter 11 summarizes the relations between ecological distribution conflicts, sustainability and valuation. It gives our list of eco­logical distribution conflicts, and it explains why the failures of economic valuation open up a large social space for environmental movements. Prices depend on the outcomes of local or global ecological distribution conflicts, we cannot know a priori what the `ecologically correct' prices would be. Thus the purpose of the present book is to explain how the unavoidable clash between economy and environment (which is studied by ecological economics) gives rise to the `environmentalism of the poor' (which is studied by political ecology). This is potentially the most powerful current of environmentalism, and it is becoming a strong force for sustainability (`sustainability' is a concept discussed in Chapters 2 and 3). Which are the languages of the environmentalism of the poor? Who has the proced­ural power to determine the bottom line in an environmental discussion? Who has the capacity to simplify complexity, ruling some points of view out of order?

The geographical reach of this book is wider than anything I have written until now, unearthing historical and present-day conflicts from Japan to Nigeria , from Spain to South Africa , from Thailand and Papua New Guinea to Ecuador and Peru , from India to the United States and Brazil . There are here drillbits, nuggets and tailings from conflicts in the South and in the North, rural and urban, in highlands and wetlands, such as preser­vation of mangroves against shrimp farming, resistance to dams and dis­putes over underground water, movements against oil or gas extraction in tropical areas, struggles against the import of toxic waste, conflicts over appropriation of genetic resources, conservation of fisheries against exter­nal use, complaints against tree plantations (whether oil palms or eucalyp­tus), labour conflicts over health and safety in mines, factories or plantations, and also urban environmental conflicts over land use, water availability, transport systems, refuse disposal and air pollution. The issue of corporate liability appears often in this book, whether in Superfund cases or in the case of Union Carbide or other international court cases under the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA).

There should be no confusion about the central theme: the resistance (local and global) expressed in many idioms to the abuse of natural envi­ronments and the loss of livelihoods. Therefore I am trying to bring into the open the contested social perceptions of environmental damage, but this book could not even be conceived without the solid ground provided by the environmental sciences - the reader is assumed to have a working knowledge of concepts invented by humans in the course of history, such as `joules and calories', `heavy metals', `greenhouse effect', `second law of thermodynamics', `genetic distance', and `sulphur dioxide', which are not easy objects of deconstruction in seminars on cultural theory.

In my book of 1987 (with Klaus Schliipmann) on the history of the ecological critiques against economics, I showed the contradictions between economic accounting and energy accounting, and I introduced the ques­tion of incommensurability of values which has been the focus of later work with Giuseppe Munda and John O'Neill. My research on the links between ecological distribution conflicts and value system contests has built upon ideas first clearly put forward by Martin O'Connor, shared and developed by a coherent group of ecological economists including Silvio Funtowicz and Jerry Ravetz, the theorists of postnormal science. My work also owes much to Ramachandra Guha, who has written several books and essays on environmental movements of the North and the South, and at whose home and library in Bangalore this book was finished in August 2001. I am also indebted to other friends, among them Bina Agarwal, Maite Cabeza, Arturo Escobar, Miren Etxezarreta, Enrique Leff, James O'Connor, Ariel Salleh and Victor Toledo. The first draft of this book was Yale University under Jim Scott's guidance, where I profited from the company of Enrique Mayer, Richard Grove, Rohan D'Souza, Arun Agrawal and other colleagues. I also remember several well-travelled doctoral students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I am grateful to the Spanish Direccifin General de Ciencia y Tecnologia (DGCYT) (project PB98-0868) and the Social Ecology group in Vienna (project on South-East Asia ) for research funds.

I have been one of the midwives at the protracted births over the last 20 years of ecological economics and political ecology. I have a vested interest in their rapid consolidation, equipped with journals, chairs, doctoral programmes, institutes, research grants and even textbooks. Beyond university territorial disputes, which are important, looking now towards a more distant and optimistic future, I am interested in reflective activism and par­ticipatory research in ecological conflicts, whether this helps academic advancement or not, whether it fits into any academic discipline or not. We are witnessing the growth of a worldwide movement for environmental justice which might become a powerful factor in forcing the economy into ecological adjustment and social justice. I am glad to be part of this movement. This book is dedicated to the members of Accion Ecologica ( Ecuador ).

Economic convergence is a hot topic for at least three clearly distinct reasons. The first is that it has become obvious, now also to the lowest form of politi­cal intelligence, that on the planetary level the gap between the rich and the poor is not getting smaller, and that this not only is an insult to the human race but, after the events of 11 September 2001, is also a threat to world peace.

On a smaller and less dramatic scale, convergence - secondly - is a big is­sue within that part of the rich world that is the European Union. It is at the same time a necessity for the Union to survive and grow, but also - in the eyes of a majority of commentators, economists and politicians - an expected outcome of the creation of the internal market and its ultimate expression, monetary union. If convergence does not come about and a two- or multi­speed Europe unfolds, then the most ambitious political project in Europe since the French Revolution will have failed.

Thirdly, on a still more modest scale, the convergence issue is at the centre of the discussion between the supporters of the traditional neo-classical growth theory based on the Solow-Swan model and the advocates of the the­ory of endogenous growth. Although Kaldor had already mentioned the di­vergent growth rates of output per capita across countries as one of his 'stylised facts', most economists, including growth theorists, using the traditional growth model, seemed largely to have taken economic conver­gence for granted as a natural consequence of this model. The underlying, usually silent, assumption was that knowledge and therefore technology have the characteristics of public goods that are freely available to all countries. The mechanisms that, at least in the long-run, are responsible for this are so­called knowledge spillovers. Unless these are sufficiently important, models of the Solow-Swan type, as is now well understood, only predict 'conditional' convergence. That is, the lower the actual level of income per effi­ciency unit of labour, relative to the particular steady-state value of the economy, the faster the economy will be moving towards this position. Con­ditional convergence therefore only means convergence in the formal, not the actual, sense of the word. Since the equilibrium value of per capita income (expressed in efficiency units) depends on the savings rate, the growth rate of the population and the form of the production function (the technology), rich and poor countries converge to different steady states. If, on top of this, the rates of Harrod-neutral technological progress are not equal in the different countries or regions of the world, the equilibrium positions themselves may diverge.

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