Christoff and Eckersley write as one throughout Globalization and the Environment. The book presents a comprehensive inquiry into the complicated, and often deleterious, relationship between globalization and the environment, contextualized by two in-depth case studies on climate change and biodiversity loss. The authors deliver a well-balanced critique of capitalism and the processes of modernization and development, taking care to steer away from wide-ranging condemnation of a system that has made possible a better quality of life for many in disparate areas of the globe. This book, in many ways, synthesizes the most renowned critical scholarship that has been done at the intersection of economy and environment, as various strands of globalization become ever more acutely realized in terms of social and environmental consequences for the most vulnerable among us.
Although the discourse around globalization and its discontents is well documented, Christoff and Eckersley go beyond lamenting negative consequences to expose underlying political and economic conditions that have resulted in the exploitation and alienation of the Earth’s natural and human resources. The authors recognize factors to which many others would turn a blind eye: co-opted discourses around sustainability, justice, and security, as well as the problematics of liberalism and democracy, the drawbacks of localism, and the appropriation and equation of GDP to development, to name a few. They appeal for a “rechanneling” of globalization rather than a “reversal” in order for its inherent transformative potential to be possible (p. 16). In this way, then, Globalization and the Environment attempts to reclaim co-opted connotations of justice, growth, and accountability, and it calls for reform of the processes and outcomes of globalization. This reform requires a new mode of accountability, especially in terms of governance.
Throughout the book, this reader sensed that Christoff and Eckersley would ultimately succeed in untangling the Gordian knot of globalization and reveal the systemic causes of global environmental degradation. Although they do not succeed in this, the conceptual framework they deliver is useful for both students of environmental politics and seasoned scholars. Indeed, the book could work well as a primer on the ugly social and environmental contradictions that result from the processes of globalization. However, to understand the book’s nuanced arguments, it is necessary to be well read in environmental history, theory, and politics. Those who are will quickly recognize the ideas of Garrett Hardin, Barry Commoner, Ulrich Beck, Andrew Dobson, and many others, even though they are not always appropriately attributed.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the book is its fresh take on environmental crisis, a topic that has been a predominant feature of environmental and social theory. Rather than indicting globalization as the sole contributor to environmental degradation, the authors argue that a crisis of accountability runs throughout the body politic, aiding the degeneracy of governance and the environment. Apathy among individuals striving for a better life, irresponsibility of those elected to govern, and corporate insistence of profit over people have all coalesced into a crisis that is expressed through ecological turmoil. This manufactured crisis is most sharply expressed through climate change and biodiversity loss. Climate change is a revelation of a long history of injustice and unequal burdens, a competition for resources, and a struggle for fair and effective governance. In much the same way, biodiversity loss results from ecological imperialism. Both case studies similarly expose modernization/industrialization/globalization—used, apparently, by the authors as code-words for capitalism—as the self-destructive yet resilient perpetrators of environmental destruction. Readers are meant to understand that the lived experience of crisis manifested through climate change and biodiversity loss necessitates a critical shift in global consciousness and requires a disruption of current modes of governance.
Globalization and the Environment does not set out to prescribe an alternative politics that resists the forces of globalization. Nonetheless, the authors weave strands of activism throughout the pages, and they clearly believe that private capital will continue to resist counterhegemonic contestations of current discourses of risk and responsibility and will deter attempts to reform government. Any effort to upend the current system of privatizing gains and socializing costs will likely be thwarted. The crisis of accountability that Globalization and the Environment highlights will oblige extended responsibility:
Climate change, biodiversity loss and other forms of global environmental change demand a new, postliberal account of accountability that moves beyond a focus on responsibility for particular events in the context of existing rules and toward a critical understanding of the historical conditions and social structures that systemically produce environmental injustices across space and time (p. 191).
Globalization and the Environment is exhaustive in its categorizations, definitions, and illustrations of the ways in which different domains of globalization have produced an array of outcomes—from environmental protection to environmental destruction. This well-researched book provides a sophisticated and nuanced analysis of an enormously complex relationship between globalization and the environment, a relationship that is unfortunately all too often oversimplified. Ultimately, the critical aim of the book—“to expose various forms of power” (p. 29)—is realized. However, the normative task of exploring “how and to what extent the process of modernization and globalization need to be transformed in ways that promote environmental protection and environmental justice” (p. 29) remains elusive in the face of multinational “corpocracy.”