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 7: Indicators of Urban Unsustainability as Indicators of Social Conflict

Joan Martinez-Alier

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


7. Indicators of urban unsustainability as indicators of social conflict Urbanization increases because of productivity increase in agriculture, coupled with low income elasticity of demand for agricultural produce as a whole. Therefore agriculture expells active population. As we have seen, the ecological critique is that increases in agricultural productivity (which today depend on increasing inputs into agriculture and on the externalization of environmental costs) are not well measured because they do not take into account the decreased energy efficiency of modern agriculture, the genetic erosion that takes place and the effluents produced. So both cities and countryside nowadays tend to push environmental problems to higher spatial scales and longer temporal scales. But, while it would technically be possible to return to a pattern of ‘organic’ agriculture, large prosperous cities are irremediably based on fossil fuels and on the externalization of environmental costs. A world where urbanization is increasing fast is consequently a more unsustainable world. Cities are not environmentally sustainable; by definition, their territory is too densely populated with humans to be self-supporting. Do cities produce anything of commensurable or comparable value in return for the energy and materials they import, and for the residues they excrete? What are the internal environmental conflicts in cities, and are they sometimes successfully pushed outwards to larger geographical scales? These are the points of departure for the present chapter. THE CENTURY OF THE MOTOR CAR? Among the interpretations of the 20th century published in the last days of...

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