How to change the world - or find out why you can't 1

The Politics of the Environment

November 23, 2007

By its very nature, the issue of the environment reaches into almost every feature of social and economic life. It is the sheer interconnectedness of the subject area that dramatises its actual and potential significance but at the same time generates extraordinary difficulties over delineating any sense of its boundaries as an object of analysis. Neil Carter's text provides an elegant and convincing framework for turning the politics of the environment into an accessible, coherent and incisive matrix of organised thought and commentary. It makes a convincing case for dividing the field into three manageable thematic sections covering philosophy and thought; parties and movements; and policy issues within local, national, regional and international contexts. Within this scheme, the study moves with pace, precision and authority across wide horizons of political reflection and action.

The scope of the book's ambition is immense, but it has the organisational savvy to succeed where many others would quickly lose focus and disintegrate into the subject's own interior vastness. Carter has a keen eye for perspective, which allows the text to roam into the kind of insurgent ideas and grand themes that not only attend to the pre-existing interest of many contemporary students but also draws others in through an array of arresting propositions and by evidence of an ecological crisis.

The author also has something of a compound eye that is highly adept at picking out individual points of interest and signs of movement. The provision of boxes, tables and figures continually sharpens the text with an impressive supply of supplementary information and thought pieces. The information is varied and lucid, ranging from anthropocentrism and ecological citizenship to new social movements, genetically modified crops and the World Summit on Sustainable Development; and from environmental non-governmental organisations, ecological footprints and climate change to discourse coalitions, survivalism and eco-taxes.

It is difficult to fault the coherence and rigour of the book. Perhaps some measure of the various corporate responses to climate change (for example, protecting the integrity of brand names) would have been worthy of note. However, it is unfair to cavil over what has been left out. The scale and sweep of what has been incorporated into one text is a monumental achievement.

Who is it for? The book is primarily aimed at students on courses in environmental politics, green politics, international environmental politics, environmental policy and sustainable development. How-ever, it is a publication that would be of great value to those with an interest in many other related areas (for example, political theory, international political economy, social movements).

Presentation: The sequencing and presentation of the subject matter is of a high technical order. This makes the book very appealing to students and to all those who may be strangers to the area. Apart from the wide margins and good section headings that allow the text to breathe, each chapter features "key issues" and "critical questions" strands as well as further reading notes. There is also a glossary and an effective index.

Changes since last edition: This second edition builds on the first with the addition of a new chapter on globalisation, trade and the environment, which allows for greater analysis of regional integration (for example, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the European Union) and regulatory entities such as the World Trade Organisation. Other chapters have been updated and revised to take account of new developments and changing priorities.

Would you recommend it? It is an excellent addition to the literature.

Michael Foley is professor of international politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The Politics of the Environment: Ideas, Activism, Policy. Second Edition

Author - Neil Carter
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 432
Price - £45.00 and £17.99 and $28.00 (e-book)
ISBN - 9780521868020 and 687454 and 97805116477 (e-book)

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