Nature, Choice and Social Power
Routledge – 2015 – 224 pages
We are at an environmental impasse. Many blame our personal choices about the things we consume and the way we live. This is only part of the problem. Different forms of social power - political, economic and ideological - structure the choices we have available. This book analyses how we make social and environmental history and why we end up where we do.
Using case studies from different environmental domains – earth and water, air and fire – Nature, Choice and Social Power examines the form that social power takes and how it can harm the environment and hinder our efforts to act in our own best interests. The case studies challenge conventional wisdoms about why gold is valuable, why the internal combustion engine triumphed, and when and why suburbs sprawled. The book shows how the power of individuals, the power of classes, the power of the market and the power of the state at different times and in different ways were critical to setting us on a path to environmental degradation. It also challenges conventional wisdoms about what we need to do now. Rather than reducing consumption and shrinking from outcomes we don’t want, it proposes growing towards outcomes we do want. We invested massive resources in creating our problems; it will take equally large investments to fix them.
Written in a clear and engaging style, the book is underpinned with a political economy framework and addresses how we should understand our responsibility to the environment and to each other as individuals within a large and impersonal system.
"A thoughtful, measured and ultimately compelling analysis of our collective inability to take the obvious measures needed to prevent the downward spiral of environmental degradation that currently threatens so much of the world around us. Beautifully written, this text is thoroughly recommended for student audiences at all levels as well as for general readers." –David Harvey, City University of New York Graduate Center, USA
"Utterly original, always provocative, never predictable, Erica Schoenberger rethinks the environmental crisis here as a deeply sedimented social problem, and as a problem of social power. Nature, Choice, and Social Power takes a fresh look at the underlying causes and consequences of the environmental impasse, matched with refreshing responses to a host of stubborn questions. Schoenberger argues that getting by in a different, and less environmentally damaging way is a challenge too big for environmentalism-as-we-know-it on its own; moving forward must involve the renovation of democracy and the taming of markets too." –Jamie Peck, University of British Columbia, Canada
"Erica Schoenberger has produced a truly stimulating and provocative book. Through detailed historical analyses she shows how environmental problems are the product of the configurations of social power and that our choices are constrained by such configurations. The wonderfully clear writing style makes her argument highly accessible to all. Invaluable." –Peter Dicken, University of Manchester, UK
Introduction: Nature, Choice and Social Power Part 1: Mining: Earth and Water 2. Mining Nature 3. Miners 4. Why is Gold Valuable? Part 2: The Car and Suburban Sprawl: Aie and Fire 5. Henry Ford's Car 6. Sprawl 7. Los Angeles: A brief biography Conclusion: Power, choice and nature
Erica Schoenberger is Professor of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, USA.