Deciding the world’s future: Environmental politics’ story and scope (Book Review)

Title: Environmental Politics – A Very Short Introduction; Author: Andrew Dobson ; Publisher: Oxford University Press; Pages: 152; Price: Rs.225

Global warming and COP-21, or specifically at home in India, the ‘odd-even’ car scheme and the row over Art of Living festival on the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi, or protests against people’s displacement for dams, nuclear plants or other projects – are these just normal politics with an environmental focus or a new branch altogether?

Environmental politics is indubitably a new branch, and one – given what we have done to our world (and are doing) – that is set to increase in importance in the times ahead. But is it simply the sum of the two words or does it mean more?

Or in other words, what actually does it entail, what is its provenance, what forms does it take, what principles does it embody, how does it relate to other political ideologies, how successful has it been, and what is the way ahead? These questions, and others, are answered very succinctly but very comprehensively lucidly in this slim volume by an internationally-recognized authority on the subject.

Andrew Dobson, a former professor of politics, political theory, and environmental politics at Britain’s Keele and Open Universities, begins with six vignettes – the activities of a COP-21 negotiator to a Chinese economic migrant engaged in basic recycling to a displaced Indian farmer ruminating over the life he was forced to leave behind – which vividly demonstrate the varied scope of environmental politics – and its challenges.

Though only one is true – the case of the resettled Indian farmer, Dobson holds that “all of them are recognizable” but “up until quite recently these stories would have been literally unthinkable” for “environmental politics is a new politics, and still finding its feet” though having a history (but not very long).

But the significance is brought out through the curious correspondence between a climbing rope’s length (45 metres) and our planet’s age (4.5 billion years) to provide an vivid perspective of the extent of human existence and its activities, especially in the last 200 years or so, which necessitate a specific politics.

Dobson then moves on to the ideas behind environmental politics, including moral and ethical considerations, the disputes it bears, including regarding purpose, reasons and scope, such as the difference between ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ ecologies. Then comes the question of its relations and differences with other types of politics, or “what is it about the environmental politics message that makes it stand out in today’s political market place, and how have other type of politics reacted?”

Here the comparison with four political streams: conservatism, liberalism, socialism and feminism – throws up some interesting – and counter-intuitive – findings on their policies on environment.

An account of environmental politics so far, the movement and the different forms it has taken, as well as the genesis, activities and performances of ‘Green’ parties around the world precedes an outline of the range of policy options available to a government in dealing with “complex” and seemingly “intractable” environmental problems, which frequently take an international aspect.

Dobson also discusses globalization’s nature and environmental impact, multilateral environmental diplomacy, including analysis of why negotiations for some pacts are successful (ozone), and not for others (climate change) and how the division into the global ‘North’ and ‘South’ is not such a simple affair.

But this work, the latest in a series that seeks to cover almost all facets of human activity, as well of our world we live in, not only provides an acquaintance with an issue which is crucial to us (and will prove to be more for coming generations), but also a framework for understanding what is happening – and what we need do.

(29.04.2016 – Vikas Datta can be contacted at )



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