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The Environmentalism of the Poor

Joan-Martinez Alier, 1 September 2014

[English] [français]

Ecology, a luxury reserved for rich countries? Wrong, retorts Joan Martínez Alier. Through this book, he proves that social justice and environmental preservation, far from competing against each other, go together. Eschewing the belief that one must reach a certain level of comfort to be able to "afford" being an ecologist, the author shows that it is often a matter of life or death for the most deprived.

Thus, just as there is an environmentalism of abundance (trash recycling can only be implemented in areas where trash cans overflow), everywhere exists an environmentalism of the poor. For not only do the poor depend heavily on their environment to survive, but it is also to them that were transferred the most polluting activities. In this book, which has become a classic of political ecology, Joan Martínez Alier examines the possible calculations necessary to determine an "ecologically correct" price tag that integrates environmental and social damages. However, well beyond this, he emphasizes certain incommensurable values: what price tag for a human life? What price tag for "sacred land” destroyed by a copper mine or for an entire community exposed to toxic waste?

Today, little by little, the concept of environmental justice is gaining ground. The concept of ecological debt also: are those that use fewer resources not the creditors of those who waste them? In other words, do the rich not have an ecological debt towards the poor?

This book is available in French.

L’écologisme des pauvres, une étude des conflits environnementaux dans le monde, Joan-Martinez Alier, Institut Veblen-Les petits matins, septembre 2014.

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