The Environmentalism of the Poor
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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.
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Joan Martinez-Alier


There is a new tide in global environmentalism. It arises from social conflicts on environmental entitlements, on the burdens of pollution, on the sharing of uncertain environmental risks and on the loss of access to natural resources and environmental services. There is a boom in mining and oil extraction in tropical countries. Is compensation paid for reversible and irreversible damage? Is restitution possible? Mangrove forests are sacrificed for commercial shrimp farming. Who has title to the mangroves, who wins and who loses by their destruction? Many ecological conflicts, whether they take place inside or outside markets, whether they are local or global, come about because economic growth means an increased use of the environment. Environmental impacts will be felt by future generations of humans, and they are abundantly felt already by other species. Some impacts fall now disproportionately on some human groups. They would be felt even without economic growth, since many resources and sinks are already exhausted at the present level of use. For instance, the carbon sinks and reservoirs are already overflowing, so to speak. The question is, who is entitled to use them, and in which proportion? Ecological distribution conflicts are studied by political ecology, a field created by geographers, anthropologists and environmental sociologists. The unrelenting clash between economy and environment, with its ups and downs, its new frontiers, its urgencies and uncertainties, is analysed by ecological economics, another new field of study created mainly by ecologists and economists who endeavour to...

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