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Economic systems and environmental justice

By Martin Söderberg.

Achieving Environmental Justice: a cross-national analysis (Policy Press, Bristol, 2014) is a new book by Karen Bell about the transition to a sustainable society. It contains case studies about the current state of environmental justice in seven countries: USA, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Sweden, China, Bolivia and Cuba. The book focuses on the link between economic systems and environmental concerns, drawing the conclusion that a more liberal market economy almost inevitably leads to ecological distribution conflicts and greater environmental injustice.

Bell argues that capitalism is in direct contradiction with environmental protection: “Because the system requires constant growth, excessive natural resources are depleted and unsustainable levels of waste are created. Moreover, the drive for profit encourages cost-cutting, putting pressure on corporations to choose the cheapest, rather than the most sustainable, processes.” She also points out that the inequalities of wealth created by this economic system often determine access to resources and amount of exposure to environmental harms.

The switch to green growth occurring in some wealthy countries is not a sufficient solution, according to Bell: “It intends to use the same tools i.e. market, technology and peripheral regulation that resulted in the current environmental, economic and social problems. This lack of radicalism would suggest, as other critics have argued, that it will not bring about the fundamental shift that appears to be necessary.” She claims that a fine-tuning of the current system is not enough: a drastic overhaul is needed, to a system where economic interests are not given priority over social and environmental concerns. Evidence for this is the relative failure of current environmental policies, designed to minimize negative short-term economic effects by focusing on restricting pollution instead of restricting the use of resources.

An in-depth review of the book can be found at:

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