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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Chapter 4: Political Ecology: The Study of Ecological Distribution Conflicts

Joan Martinez-Alier


4. Political ecology: the study of ecological distribution conflicts The preliminaries of this book are now almost completed. The clash between economy and environment cannot be convincingly solved by pious invocations to ‘internalize the externalities’ into the price system, spreading the gospel of ‘sustainable development’, ‘ecological modernization’ and ‘eco-efficiency’. Studies of social metabolism show that the economy is not ‘dematerializing’. The environment is under threat because of population growth and overconsumption. Although we lack a synthetic index of overall environmental performance, we can assess this threat through physical indicators of (un)sustainability. This is one of the main tasks for the new ecological economics. The unequal incidence of environmental harm gives birth to environmental movements of the poor. We enter now into the description of their actions and idioms. There is already a long list of martyrs of environmentalism. Martyrdom does not prove that their cause was right, but that they had a cause. This book argues that the cause itself is not new. In this chapter I consider some cases of environmentalism from the late 19th century and early 20th century related to copper mining, and then go on to explain the birth of political ecology in the 1980s as the study of ecological distribution conflicts. I have chosen copper mining as a starting point, for two reasons. First, it provides historical examples, as could be found also in forest or water conflicts. By looking at historical cases of environmental conflict which were not...

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