Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the 2009 Gerald L. Young Book Award in Human Ecology given by the Society for Human Ecology.
The Shadows of Consumption gives a hard-hitting diagnosis: many of the earth's ecosystems and billions of its people are at risk from the consequences of rising consumption. Products ranging from cars to hamburgers offer conveniences and pleasures; but, as Peter Dauvergne makes clear, global political and economic processes displace the real costs of consumer goods into distant ecosystems, communities, and timelines, tipping into crisis people and places without the power to resist.
In The Shadows of Consumption, Peter Dauvergne maps the costs of consumption that remain hidden in the shadows cast by globalized corporations, trade, and finance. He traces the environmental consequences of five commodities: automobiles, gasoline, refrigerators, beef, and harp seals. In these fascinating histories we learn, for example, that American officials ignored warnings about the dangers of lead in gasoline in the 1920s; why China is now a leading producer of CFC-free refrigerators; and how activists were able to stop Canada's commercial seal hunt in the 1980s (but are unable to do so now).
Dauvergne's innovative analysis allows us to see why so many efforts to manage the global environment are failing even as environmentalism is slowly strengthening. He proposes a guiding principle of "balanced consumption" for both consumers and corporations. We know that we can make things better by driving a fuel-efficient car, eating locally grown food, and buying energy-efficient appliances; but these improvements are incremental, local, and insufficient. More crucial than our individual efforts to reuse and recycle will be reforms in the global political economy to reduce the inequalities of consumption and correct the imbalance between growing economies and environmental sustainability.
"Dauvergne (Paths to the Green World) takes a look at five industries to see what consequences they have on local and global environments, showing 'the environmental spillovers from the corporate, trade, and financing chains that supply and replace consumer goods.' He points out that 'cumulative progress is not keeping pace with the impact of rising consumption in a globalizing economy' and higher environmental standards in first world countries often means transferring ecological degradation to poorer regions. The author's examinations of the ecological effects of automobiles, leaded gasoline and CFCs reveal that industries usually undermine efforts toward safety and sustainability until they find a salable substitute, thus ensuring more profits. An analysis of the harp seal hunt demonstrates that although activists saved seals from near extinction in the 1970s 1980s, their publicity campaigns will be unlikely to make an impact in markets like Russia and China. Dauvergne proposes 'balanced consumption,' but his solutions range from the unlikely that 'international donors... serve the interests of people and ecosystems in developing states more than the financial interests at home' to the fanciful that 'the World Trade Organization... guide global trade with anticipatory strategies to prevent ecological shadows.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With The Shadows of Consumption, we have at last an elegant elucidation of the often hidden environmental and social costs of today's consumption. Dauvergne has described the problem brilliantly and provided an analysis that should spur far-reaching change, including change in contemporary environmentalism. I hope this book finds a wide audience—soon."
—James Gustave Speth, Dean, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World
"The ecological and social consequences of modern patterns of consumption are often overlooked, underestimated, and poorly theorized. Engaging, convincing, and nuanced, Peter Dauvergne's book masterfully excavates and politicizes the shadows of consumption that modern life casts, from the consumption of beef to the use of cars and fridges. Wide-ranging and superbly written, this book is sure to be widely read."
—Peter Newell, Professor of Development Studies, University of East Anglia
"In The Shadows of Consumption, Peter Dauvergne tackles the often hidden consequences of globalization and consumption for the environment and for human health and well-being. He demonstrates how the worst of these consequences are displaced, often to the most marginalized sectors of global society, and discusses ways to cast light into the shadows of global economic development. This book will be essential reading for students and scholars, indeed anyone interested in understanding more about globalization and its impacts."
—Kate O'Neill, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley
"Dauvergne's brilliant investigation will show you the 'other side' of the coin and that we must all incorporate a deeper awareness and take the 'long view' into our efforts to make a positive difference for human well-being near and far – immediately in your neighborhood and incrementally on the other side of the planet."
— Scott D. Wright, Human Ecology Review
An environmentalist maps the hidden costs of overconsumption in a globalized world by tracing the environmental consequences of five commodities.
About the Author
Peter Dauvergne is Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Politics at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of the award-winning Shadows in the Forest: Japan and the Politics of Timber in Southeast Asia (MIT Press, 1997), and the coauthor (with Jennifer Clapp) of Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment (MIT Press, 2005).