Ecological Debt - Second Edition: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations Paperback – 20 Feb 2009
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A master at joined-up progressive thinking. (New Scientist)
'An ebullient driving force,' listed as one of the UK's top environmentalists by the Independent on Sunday (Independent on Sunday)
(A) leading industry observer (Financial Times)
Creative and compelling (Larry Elliott, Economics Editor, Guardian)
Essential reading (R K Pachauri, Ph.D, Director-General, TERI, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
A new phrase has entered the language (Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop)
This book describes the world as it really is. ... Read it, find out who really owes what to whom. (Tony Juniper, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth)
This is the second edition of Andrew Simm's highly regarded guide to ecological debt. Simms shows how millions of us in the West are running up huge ecological debts: from the amount of oil and coal that we burn to heat our houses and run our cars, to what we consume and the waste that we create, the impact of our lifestyles is felt worldwide. Whilst these debts go unpaid, millions more living in poverty in the majority world suffer the burden of paying dubious foreign financial debts.The book explores a great paradox of our age: how the global wealth gap was built on ecological debts, which the world's poorest are now having to pay for. Highlighting how and why this has happened, he also shows what can be done differently in the future. Now updated throughout, this is a clear and passionate account of the steps we can take to stop pushing the planet to the point of environmental bankruptcy.See all Product description
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The author tackles the most important subject facing civilization, and if I was judging this book on message alone, it would be five stars without a doubt. But there's a problem with the writing, especially in the final chapters, which were tacked on for the second edition. (The book was originally published 2005 and updated in 2009).
For the first part of the book, the writing is generally quite good, though it can be heavy going and sometimes preaches to the reader, a common problem with such 'worthy' books. But when we get to those later chapters, the garbled syntax that occasionally intrudes early on becomes too much. Mangled metaphors and confusing sentences become more intrusive (I pick one at random: "... the environmental and economic carpet-bombing of large parts of Asia with palm oil plantations.") If the book had started like that I'd have given up. I can only assume that the first edition was edited a lot more thoroughly than the later chapters.
So not an easy read, but overall this book represents an important addition to the principal debate of our age, with a vital message and some interesting ideas.
Ecological debt is basically taking out an environmental overdraft, either on the earth itself or on somebody else. If we assume that everyone has an equal right to emit carbon, for example, then some countries and individuals are using more than their fair share of the atmosphere. That creates climate debtors and climate creditors, and the usual roles of debt are reversed. We are used to thinking of poor countries as heavily indebted, but "it is the inescapable debts of the rich that threaten our collective future".
That's the radical notion that Simms explores here. The richest countries in the world owe both an environmental debt to poorer countries, and a historical one, through colonialism and conquest. Considering that future development is constrained by limited resources and the climate, he argues that we should re-consider the idea of economic growth in rich countries, and start sharing the wealth better: "There is no more fundamental issue than the distribution of wealth in a climate constrained world economy".
That is of course a pretty unwelcome conclusion, but the idea of 'ecological debt' allows Simms to repackage a message that would otherwise be freighted with unhelpful ideology. Economic rebalancing is a moral imperative, neither charity nor socialist idealism - it would be righting a wrong, and repaying a debt.
The book does pack a little too much in - this is the updated 2009 edition, and the last few chapters lose focus a little. Overall however, this is a powerful and creative exercise in joining the dots between the several converging crises of the 21st century.