Jun 29 2015

DEGROWTH: A VOCABULARY FOR A NEW ERA

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma

Will everyone get a Ferrari one day?

9781138000773

Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, edited by Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria & Giorgos Kallis, Routledge, 2014

It is tough to imagine ‘de-growth’ as an idea of our times. Resisting growth is to risk economic and social collapse. But to pursue it relentlessly is not without risk either – it endangers the ecosystems on which we depend. Despite the classical idea of development being declared dead several times in the past, it continues to persist because a ‘Ferrari for all’ is the dream everyone has been urged to strive for. Will the world be able to produce enough Ferraris for everyone, including those who are yet to be born? The truth is, we just don’t know.

Even if everyone were to get a Ferrari, in the future it would only be the Fiat of its generation. In the future, market managers will seek to get people to yearn for something more, without any let down in the growth of unending materialistic desires. The reach of markets into aspects of everyday life traditionally governed by non-market values and norms, will only rob us of the individual meaning of life. Isn’t unending desire the reason for growing anxiety?

De-growth, an idea that has been around for a long time, has been rechristened by a group of academicians at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. They are trying to pull society out of its current abyss. Since the movement was launched at an international conference in Paris in 2008, de-growth has engaged researchers in elaborating the idea from many perspectives. De-growth advocates shrinking production and consumption with the aim of achieving social justice and ecological continuity.

Spread over four sections, the book is a compilation of easy-to-read essays which argue that the ‘shift’ is indeed possible. It in no way advocates a return to the past, but it does suggest learning from indigenous cultures and techniques for paving an autonomous, close-to-nature, and ecological way of life.

To help de-growth ideas like frugality, sobriety, dematerialization and digital commons sink in, the editors have assembled keywords and concepts to construct a language that will move the discourse on de-growth forward. The book is not prescriptive but rather suggestive: inviting readers to devise their own sense of what de-growth means. It is a valuable book for all those who firmly believe that the modern economy has reached a dead-end.


Jun 29 2015

HUMAN SECURITY AND NATURAL DISASTERS

Reviewed by Tarique Niazi, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Natural disasters have claimed more fatalities than armed conflicts.

9780415737999

Human Security and Natural Disasters, edited by Christopher Hobson, Paul Bacon and Robin Cameron, Routledge, 2014

The United Nations is credited with seeding the intellectual world with the concept of human security in the mid-1990s. The concept has since bloomed into a potential rival to such conventional doctrines as state security. Human security envisions freedom from want and fear. More importantly, it implies security embedded in everyday life. In contrast, state security prioritizes state interests over those of citizens. Hobson et al., in their edited volume, Human Security and Natural Disasters, expand this concept to include environmental security, more specifically “natural disasters.” They contend that natural disasters have been underexplored as an integral part of environmental security.

In arguing that natural disasters have claimed more fatalities than armed conflicts, the editors challenge the long-standing exclusive focus on state security. Additionally, they discuss how natural disasters are not equal in whom they strike and with what impact. Women, children and the elderly, who are already more likely to be destitute, are natural disasters’ choice victims. Natural calamities are not gender-neutral because they impact men and women differently. “Fukushima Fifty,” a reference to the daring band of Japanese men who made a last stand of sorts in the face of nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, was the production of socially constructed machismo or “man being the savior” syndrome. Similarly, Lankan women were disproportionate victims of the raging fury of the Indian Ocean during the 2004 tsunami, due to their gendered attire which hampered their flight to safety.

Contributors to this volume do a stupendous job of demonstrating how natural disasters threaten human security by worsening the pre-existing vulnerabilities of their victims. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Vietnamese-American community in New Orleans made a much faster recovery than the African-American community. The concept of human security engages such vulnerabilities and capabilities. One of the key contributions of this volume is accentuating of the “humanness” of natural disasters, i.e., the human and human institutional behaviors that drive them. Social scientists, including Dr. Freudenburg, reveal the role of the “human hand” in the making “natural disasters,” and thus, question their “naturalness.”

Contributors to this volume are sensitive to these distinctions when they argue that natural disasters are “natural hazards” that humans convert into disasters. Yet their insistence on describing such events as “natural” is puzzling. Climate change is conspicuous by its absence in their theoretical discussion. However, the editors compensate for these omissions (and their troubling conceptualization of disasters) with the originality of the debate, analytical sophistication, the persuasiveness of their arguments, intellectual rigor, and highly readable prose.



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