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Original Essays | September 18, 2014

Lin Enger: IMG Knowing vs. Knowing

On a hot July evening years ago, my Toyota Tercel overheated on a flat stretch of highway north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A steam geyser shot up from... Continue »
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    The High Divide

    Lin Enger 9781616203757


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The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment by Peter Dauvergne
The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment

unionkatehall, December 19, 2008

I posted a review of this excellent book on one other site but thought I would also list it here because I used to live in Portland and LOVE Powell's books...Happy reading.

Consumer culture and environmentalism make strange bedfellows -- is it oxymoronic to simultaneously love shopping and love the planet? Must The West end its love affair with consumer culture -SUVs, KFC, and "I want my MTV"? Can `greening' corporations really help prevent environmental collapse? These were some of the many questions I had on my mind when I read Peter Dauvergne's "The Shadows Of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment."

General readers, political economists, and anyone looking for a fresh take on environmentalism will find Dauvergne's work clearly articulated, provocative, and non-preachy. He does an excellent job of providing investigative analysis linking consumption with the ensuing, and often unseen, global repercussions. This information was of great help to me. I often wonder how to make sense of international trade patterns, global warming, biodiversity and other complex environmental factors when faced with mundane decisions at the grocery store. The consequences of our purchases often seem foggy, distant, and difficult to grasp. In succinct chapters, Dauvergne makes these complex relationships concrete by bringing to light such factors as governance structures, political economy, geography, and corporate power. The author roots his argument about the hidden costs of consumption using five clear examples: cars, gasoline, refrigerators, beef, and seals.

The author succeeds in linking these five disparate cases in support of his overarching argument about the global shadows of consumption. I learned that rising consumption patterns are increasing everywhere, at the same time, the distance between producers and consumers is lengthening so that it's more difficult to comprehend negative spillover effects (Often to the detriment of the environment, poorer countries, and indigenous communities which end up bearing the costs.) This "shadow" concept allows the reader to move beyond individualized solutions to environmental problems to examine the roles of multinational corporations, trade, finance, globalization, and governing bodies.

Sweeping reforms will be needed to create balance. Understanding why ecological shadows form, how they drift, and occasionally, why they fade away will be key in crafting effective environmental strategies on a global context. I enjoyed the way the author seamlessly weaves together these multiple dimensions of trade, governance, health, and corporate power. This book made me think twice about the broader consequences of my purchasing power. The stomach-turning details about "advanced meat recovery systems" combined with the statistics about the rise of meat consumption, rapid loss of rainforests, and broader ecological effects made me vow to "vote with my fork" and cut beef out of my diet entirely. The other chapters are equally hard hitting.

Thanks to Dauvergne, I have a new appreciation for the urgency of drastic structural reforms on a global level including greener technologies, tougher environmental standards, and ways for products to reflect their true environmental costs. At the same time, I have a more realistic understanding of consequences. I understand environmental spillover and link my individualized consumption practices to collective shadows forming in distant communities. While I'm committed to curtailing consumption as a whole, and think others should do so too, I strongly recommend purchasing this book.
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