Jan 11 2017

Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The emergence of and reactions to environmental litigation in China.

Environmental Litigation in China

 

by Rachel Stern Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 314 pp.

What happens when tons of industrial waste are dumped in a Chinese river? Rachel Stern’s insightful book Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence explores the shifting conditions under which the Chinese legal system is being used to address pollution issues. While the book is written in clear and accessible prose, it complicates common narratives around the Chinese legal system and exposes its many contradictions. The first half of the book provides a nuanced picture of environmental litigation including exploring specific pollution cases with different approaches and outcomes and is fascinating as it reveals the strengths, limitations and creativity within environmental litigation. The second half of the book analyzes the issue from the perspectives of judges, lawyers and NGOs. While the voices of state actors are notably absent, given the limitations of research in China this is understandable. Stern rallies a range of evidence to support her argument.

She demonstrates how actors are reacting to a state that sees the advantages of using the law to control pollution, but also recognizes how the law could undermine the state itself. Stern terms these conflicting state signals political ambivalence and analyzes how they provide space for bottom-up experimentation and incremental change. It is, however, also clear that the legal system alone will not be enough to address the variety of forces that allow pollution to continue.

The book focuses on the Hu period and should be taken as a slice in time. The legal landscape is changing as the new environmental law makes it easier for some groups to sue polluting industries. The first public interest case under the new law in 2016 was successful. Most cases, though, are still not making it to the court. The book would be a great choice for an undergraduate or graduate course on environmental politics. It is also likely to engage anyone interested in the intersection of law and the environment.


Jun 24 2013

COLD CASH, COOL CLIMATE: SCIENCE-BASED ADVICE FOR ECOLOGICAL ENTREPRENEURS by Jonathan Koomey

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-Based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs by Jonathan Koomey, Analytics Press, 2012, 222pp.

Cold Cash, Cool Climate begins with a novel, concise, and easy-to-read explanation of current climate science, as if pitching a green startup to an investor. It is a useful presentation for a society burdened by what a recent New York Times article called “climate fatigue.” It offers what could be a practical response to the unnecessary stalemate between industrial competition and sustainability noted by Michael Porter. Koomey summarizes decades of climate science, positing unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases already in the earth’s atmosphere. From there, he illustrates how entrepreneurs, would-be investors, and startups interested in turning a profit can make money while addressing the challenges posed by climate change. The book reads like the kind of policy report a consulting firm might turn out. Non-business and non-technical readers will remain engaged as he makes connections between impending crises and market-driven change possibilities. Most of this change, according to Koomey, should occur in industries prepared to develop infrastructure for renewables. He makes a surprising assertion, though, when he alleges that the Apollo Program is an inadequate analogy for the role government might play to bring about systemic change, since it is too myopic. I would argue that Congressional politics are also too polarized for government to take the steps necessary to support relevant entrepreneurial efforts. Nevertheless, Koomey argues that newer areas of innovation like connectivity and social media will allow for a more cohesive institutional overhaul of what is possible, setting the stage for would-be investors and startups looking to profit from helping to “solve” the climate problem. In Koomey’s book, the entrepreneur is both the protagonist and the target audience, cast as a convincing bringer-of-change, where slow moving institutions have failed in the past.


Dec 21 2012

THE SLUMS OF ASPEN: IMMIGRANTS VS THE ENVIRONMENT IN AMERICA’S EDEN by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Pellow

Review by Isabelle Anguelovski, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

In this book Park and Pellow explore environmental privilege in relation to the international flow of goods, services, and people and to the exacerbation of poverty and exclusion.

The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants Vs the Environment in America’s Eden, by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Pellow, New York University Press, 275pp

Much of the extensive literature on environmental justice has examined inequities in exposure to contamination. Historically, minorities and low-income populations have suffered from greater environmental harm from waste sites, incinerators, refineries, transportation, and small-area sources than white and well-off communities. However, inequalities exist not only in the distribution of environmental ills. They are also manifested in the territorial allocation of environmental goods and services, including parks, coasts, and open spaces, which scholars have recently started to pay more attention to.

In The Slums of Aspen, sociologists Lisa Park and David Pellow examine the flip side of environmental burden: environmental privilege. In Aspen, Colorado, the authors show how a municipal resolution from 1999—under the discourse of environmental protection and embodying nativist claims of population growth through immigration being responsible for environmental degradation—attempted to limit immigration and eliminate Latino immigrants from the seemingly serene and pristine landscape of Aspen. The power of Pellow and Park’s fine, in-depth and nuanced qualitative study is to show that wealthier and white groups are actually able to enjoy natural areas like Aspen thanks to the invisible work of immigrant and poor workers, whom they in turn accuse of damaging natural resources and attempt to exclude from spaces of environmental privilege.

In this book, Pellow and Park portray two different worlds: the world of Saudi princes and American millionaires living in their 6,000 square foot mansions with heated driveways and consuming an absurd amount of resources and energy, and the one of Latino immigrants hidden in small trailers 100 miles away from the exclusive resort, but working daily to maintain the lifestyle of Aspen’s residents and visitors. The Slums of Aspen thus raises two fundamental questions: who is actually responsible for environmental damage and resource depletion? And how does the international flow of goods, services, and people contribute to this environmental state and to the exacerbation of poverty and exclusion?


Dec 21 2012

POWER AND WATER IN THE MIDDLE EAST: THE HIDDEN POLITICS OF THE PALESTINIAN–ISRAELI WATER CONFLICT by Mark Zeitoun

Review by Professor Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Zeitoun’s work argues that attempts to monopolize control of the water supply in the Middle East is seriously undermining hopes for peace in the region.

Power and Water in the Middle East: The Hidden Politics of the Palestinian–Israeli Water Conflict, by Mark Zeitoun, IB Tauris, 224pp

Mark Zeitoun is an experienced water engineering affiliated with the Center of Environmental Policy and Governance at the London Science of Economics and Political Science. His focus is on the ‘hidden politics’ behind the Israeli–Palestinian water conflict. As Elon Tal says in his long review of this book, “Zeitoun argues that Israel has successfully made its domination of water resources part of the subconscious paradigm that drives the decisions and menu of policy options held by Palestinian water managers and politicians. In so doing, it has turned the pragmatic Palestinian professional community into accomplices in Israel’s post-colonial larceny of its neighbors’ hydrological resources.”

I take Zeitoun’s analysis very seriously, but I also find parts of Tal’s defense compelling. Having interacted with a number of Palestinian water professionals, I don’t think Zeitoun’s charge is fair. The water professionals in Palestine know exactly what is going on at every level. And, having talked with a number of senior Israeli water policy analysts, I don’t find Tal’s defense entirely convincing. Israel is preoccupied with its long-term security (what country wouldn’t be?). It won’t agree to sort out questions of fundamental rights to water on a permanent basis until all the details of a stable two-state solution are clarified. Palestinian water professionals don’t want to wait, and who would blame them, given that the small share of the region’s water that goes to the Palestinians is unacceptable.

What if Israel offers to sell the Palestinians (and Jordanians) all the water they could possibly want? The National Water Plan for 2040 calls for Israel to provide 70% of its water from desalination. If this happens, there should be more naturally occurring water available for the Palestinians. If Israel agrees to sell unlimited amounts of water (generated through multiple use of the same water supplies, more efficient agricultural production, reductions in the loss of ‘virtual water’ by cutting back shipments of fruits and vegetables out of the region, and massive investment in desalination), at modest prices, is it further evidence of hydro-hegemony? Or, is it a step toward economic interdependence? While future attacks on Israel might be met by turning off the water spigot, Palestinian investment in independent desalination facilities—and Israel’s willingness to share new low energy desalination technology—might be jointly planned moves toward peace.



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