Book Review: Globalization and Environmental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume 3 Number 1(Summer 2002)
Peer-reviewed Article

Book Review "Globalization and Environmental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy" by Arthur P. J. Mol, Professor, Environmental Sociology and Policy at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
Publisher information: Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001.
ISBN: 0-262-13395-4, 273 pp., U.S.$ 37.95 (hbk).

Reviewer: Takashi Matsumura, Sub Project Leader, Senior Research Fellow, IGES Long-Term Perspective and Policy Integration Project, Japan

Ten years have passed since an epoch-making conference-the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When leaders meet next at the Johannesburg Summit 2002 (the World Summit on Sustainable Development) in South Africa, they will confront a world situation markedly different in many ways. Globalization, fueled by the liberalization of trade and capital markets and the rapid development of information and communication technologies, has dramatically changed the world's socio-economic landscape.

The 1990s was a time of increasing prosperity for countries and enterprises, when the average annual rate of growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of developing countries as a whole increased to 4.3 percent and the overall rate of absolute income poverty declined from 29 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1998.

At the dawn of a new century and a new millennium, however, people have been recognizing a dark side of globalization-that the economic benefits brought by globalization of the world economy have been distributed unevenly. According to factsheets prepared by the United Nations for the Johannesburg Summit, the poorest 10 percent of the world's population have only 1.6 percent of the income of the richest 10 percent, and the richest 1 percent receive as much income as the poorest 57 percent. In terms of equity, these disparities cannot be interpreted as being healthy. Furthermore, several financial crises that have recently occurred bring the benefits of globalization into question-globalization can take away as much as it gives. Thus, globalization of the world economy has become one of the most pressing threats to implementing sustainable development for the present and future generations.

This book is very useful for those who are not yet familiar with the current debate on globalization and its environmental implications. Chapter 1 briefly reviews the current anti-globalization movements and the existing literature on globalization and the environment. This short literature survey provides readers with a clear picture of the intellectual achievements to date and a point of departure for the further analysis explored in this book.

The author quotes the following three points as the views held by a majority of sociologists on globalization itself: (1) globalization is concentrated in the interlinked economies of Europe, North America, Japan, and Southeast Asia; (2) the North-South gap is narrowing for some high-performance economies, but widening for others; and (3) delinking has lost much of its appeal as a means of escaping the devastating consequences of economic globalization, particularly for developing countries or regions.

In a review of analytical papers on globalization and the environment, the author concludes that there are only a few studies that provide an overall view of how globalization is related to the environment, and that the majority of these contributions analyze the relationship between globalization and the environment in rather negative terms, highlighting the environmental threats of globalization.

Chapters 2 to 5 provide the theoretical background on the issues. Chapter 2 contains a detailed review and interpretation of the theories of globalization itself, which the author emphasizes is a multi-dimensional phenomenon and that no single cause and factor can be identified accordingly. The author also stresses that the globalization process has both homogenizing and heterogenizing aspects. In chapter 3, the theory of ecological modernization of production and consumption is briefly explained. In this regard, this book is very useful for those unfamiliar with the theory. Chapters 4 and 5 are devoted to addressing both the positive and negative sides of globalization.

Chapters 6 to 8 are more empirical parts of the book, based on three case studies: the economic triad of Europe, North America, and Japan; the relationship between the triad and developing countries; and a case study of three developing countries. In these chapters, the author attempts to expand on the theory, which originated from observations of Western Europe, to one applicable to wider perspectives that includes other regions. In the opinion of this reviewer, his attempt is partly successful, but still needs to be further tested, particularly with the Asian cases that suffered financial crises and are now recovering.

Chapter 9 concludes the book with an emphasis on the importance of the role of actors in civil society, such as non-governmental organizations, and on characteristics of the non-hierarchical manner of interactions among them. The author offers no policy prescriptions; this is clearly out of the scope of this book. The chapter provides several academic insights, however, including those for creating future global governance.

In this book, the author attempts to "provide a better and more balanced understanding of the relationship between globalization and environmental quality." The "better and more balanced understanding" of the relationship offered is, in short, that although processes of modernization and globalization often result in environmental degradation, they can also encourage policies and programs designed to arrest degradation and improve environmental quality.

This conclusion is stimulating but not fully persuasive to the reviewer, because, as stated above, the author's analysis on Asian cases is limited-particularly regarding the impacts of the recent financial crises in the region on environmental reforms; these are not adequately discussed. In this regard, the book is somewhat frustrating. The reviewer is not fully convinced that the author's "balanced" understanding can be perceived as "balanced" by those involved in the current debate on globalization and the environment.

These shortcomings do not, however, diminish the importance of this book. The reviewer shares the author's view that analytical studies that take an overall view of the relationship between globalization and the environment are very limited in number. Thus, this book is recommended reading for all researchers involved in or interested in the current debate on globalization and the environment.

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