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 6: The Environmentalism of the Poor: Gold, Oil, Forests, Rivers, Biopiracy

Joan Martinez-Alier


6. The environmentalism of the poor: gold, oil, forests, rivers, biopiracy GOLD MINING One leitmotif of the present book is that consumption drives the economy. Several objections arise. Are not profits made in production rather than consumption, and is it not the profit rate that is the essential driver of capitalism? Are not investments essential as outlets for capital, whether in resource extraction, in the production of capital goods or in consumer goods? Are not changes of techniques the real drivers of capitalism, and are they not introduced in production, rather than consumption, because of the pressures of competition on profits? Moreover, could not enough consumption to maintain production levels be secured already by the incomes gained in relatively dematerialized activities – a Seattle economy without Boeing? These are interesting but premature questions, because the economy is not dematerializing and because consumption has a life of its own; it is not determined by the necessity to sell production. If the economy is driven by the profit rate, by investments and technical change, it is also driven by conspicuous consumption or the wish to obtain positional goods (Hirsch, 1976), which is more a cultural than a biological trait. Hence the use of increased incomes in order to buy more and more gold, a habit of the human species in which the east and the west truly meet. Gold mining is similar in a way to shrimp farming, or to the extraction of tropical wood like mahogany or to...

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