The Environmentalism of the Poor

The Environmentalism of the Poor

A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation

Joan Martinez-Alier

The Environmentalism of the Poor has the explicit intention of helping to establish two emerging fields of study – political ecology and ecological economics – whilst also investigating the relations between them.

Chapter 2: Ecological Economics: ‘Taking Nature into Account’

Joan Martinez-Alier

Subjects: economics and finance, valuation, environment, ecological economics, valuation


In modern industrialized and industrializing societies there has been a strongly argued view that enlarging the economic pie (GNP growth) represents the best way of alleviating economic distribution conflicts between social groups. The environment came in, if at all, as an afterthought, as a preoccupation arising out of deeply held values on the sacredness of Nature, or as a luxury (environmental ‘amenities’ rather than necessities). The poor were ‘too poor to be green’. They must ‘develop’ to get out of poverty and, as a by-product, they could then acquire the taste and the means to improve the environment. ‘You claim [wrote after Seattle the executive director of Greenpeace, Thilo Bode, to The Economist, 11 December 1999] that greater prosperity is the best way to improve the environment. On what economy’s performance in what millennium do you base this conclusion? . . . To claim that a massive increase in global production and consumption will be good for the environment is preposterous. The audacity to make such a claim with a straight face accounts for much of the heated opposition to the World Trade Organisation.’ Economic growth can go together with increasing international or national inequality, a topic which the original ‘Kuznets curve’ explored. In the debate on the purported ‘trickle-down’ effects of economic growth, it is generally accepted that the rising tide of economic prosperity may indeed raise all boats, but maintaining their hierarchical positions. In other words, economic growth is good for the poor but only in proportion (statistically speaking)...

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