John Gray

  • The Fading of the Greens: The Decline of Environmental Politics in the West by Anna Bramwell
    Yale, 224 pp, £18.95, September 1994, ISBN 0 300 06040 8
  • The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature’s Debt to Society by Andrew Ross
    Verso, 308 pp, £18.95, October 1994, ISBN 0 86091 429 1
  • Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism by Martin Lewis
    Duke, 288 pp, $12.95, February 1994, ISBN 0 8223 1474 6

The new conventional wisdom has it that environmentalist movements emerge in post-materialist cultures, along with a sense of economic satiety. They are creatures of economic growth, conceived in urban environments in the wake of consumer affluence; in peasant economies, or in the newly industrialising countries, we don’t find anything resembling Western concern with the integrity of the environment. On this view, environmental concern is akin to a ‘positional good’, dependent for its existence on the prosperity generated by long periods of economic growth, and so cannot be expected to flourish in times of economic uncertainty or hardship. It is the ultimate luxury of rich societies. Western governments which attempt to impose it on developing countries only reveal its positional character. The effect of policies which inhibit economic growth in poor countries in the name of environmental concern will in no sense be to improve the protection of the environment, since that depends on a level of wealth which such policies will prevent ever being reached. If they achieve anything, it will only be to shelter the environments of the rich countries that are the beneiciaries of generations of industrialism and economic growth.

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