Global Environmental Politics: From Person to Planet, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Global Environmental Politics

From Person to Planet, 1st Edition

By Simon Nicholson, Paul Wapner


355 pages

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Today's students want to understand not only the causes and character of global environmental problems like climate change, species extinction, and freshwater scarcity, but also what to do about them. This book offers the most comprehensive, fair-minded, accessible, and forward-looking text for introducing students to the challenge of global environmental protection. Drawing on a diverse range of voices, the book sequentially explains our current predicament, examines what is being done to respond at a variety of levels from the international to the local, and outlines different, relevant strategic choices for genuine political engagement. Developed by two top researchers and master teachers of global environmental politics, the book brings together sharply written introductory essays with tightly edited selections from a broad cross section of thinkers to provide a text that will excite and educate students of global environmental affairs. In addition, the book introduces a series of exercises designed specifically to help students draw connections between their own lives and the broader challenge of global sustainability. Global Environmental Politics: From Person to Planet finally answers the question of how to teach students about environmental harm with a sober sense of ecological reality, a firm grasp on politics, and an optimistic look toward the future.

Features of This Innovative Text Reader:

  • Original section introductions by the volume editors cover key topics such as the four major planetary challenges (climate, extinction, water, and food); leading causes of environmental harm; the role of states, markets, and civil society; race, class, and geopolitical difference; and the value of thinking strategically and using a broad political imagination.
  • Carefully selected and judiciously edited readings from a wide range of sources feature high-profile authors from popular as well as specialist media.
  • Action-oriented exercises engage students in being part of the solution.


Praise for Global Environmental Politics

“The book creates an atypical walk through familiar readings and links one to another in an insightful way, enabling students to fain more than the sum of the parts…In sum, Global Environmental Politics has a place in any introductory-level undergraduate class on the subject.”

—Global Governance

“This remarkable collection ties together the work of writers, activists, and scholars to reveal the complexities of the world in which we live and the challenges facing the planet that supports us. Wapner and Nicholson confront readers with provocative ideas and realistic appraisals, but also with paths forward that cut across scales, from individual to global. I can’t wait to see how my students respond to the ideas and perspectives presented in this exciting volume!”

—Kate O’Neill, University of California at Berkeley

“More than a textbook, Nicholson and Wapner’s collection of readings combines the responsibilities of sound scholarship and civic action with the possibilities of informed, meaningful action. Highly recommended.”

—Thomas Princen, University of Michigan, author of The Logic of Sufficiency

“An excellent primary or complementary text for an introductory Global Environmental Politics course. The organization of topics is logical, the introductory comments are useful for putting the readings into context, and the student exercises are perhaps my favorite part—an excellent idea! I like the balance of mixing popular readings with more scholarly readings and find that students like the mix as well. There is a need for a new reader in this area, and I really like this approach!”

—Pamela Chasek, Manhattan College

“If you want to teach a course on environmental politics that forces students to engage the subject in relation to their daily lives, then Nicholson and Wapner’s volume cannot be beaten. They have curated and carefully edited an array of fantastic texts, both scholarly and popular, and provided readers with succinct, thoughtful overviews of the themes these texts introduce. This book will profoundly enrich the learning experience of all those students lucky enough to be required to read it.”

—Matthew Paterson, University of Ottawa

“Global Environmental Politics: From Person to Planet gives us all signals to inspire positive behaviors as we collectively design a beneficial future for all the children of all species for all time.”

—William McDonough, Architect and co-author of Cradle to Cradle

Table of Contents

Introduction: Living in an Environmental Age


Section 1: Species Unbound: Humanity's Environmental Impact


1. Enter the Anthropocene, Elizabeth Kolbert

2. State of the Species, Charles C. Mann

3. Humanity's Potential, Alex Steffen

Section 1 Exercise: "The Time Machine"

Section 2: Four Planetary Challenges: Climate, Extinction, Water, and Food


4. Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, Bill McKibben

5. End of the Wild, Stephen M. Meyer

6. Where Has All the Water Gone? Maude Barlow

7. The Global Food Crisis, Lester Brown

Section 2 Exercise: "Fries with That? Tracing Personal Consumption"

Section 3: Causes of Environmental Harm


8. Too Many Americans? Thomas Friedman

9. A Finite Earth? Bill McKibben

10. Consequences of Consumerism, Erik Assadourian

11. Use Energy, Get Rich, and Save the Planet, John Tierney

Section 3 Exercise: "Where do Babies Come From? The Causes of Population Growth"


Section 4: International State System


12. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development

13. Brief History of International Environmental Cooperation, Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne

14. What's Wrong with Climate Politics? Paul Harris

15. State Sovereignty Endangers the Planet, Richard Falk

Section 4 Exercise: "Talking with the United Nations"

Section 5: Economy


16. The Promise of Corporate Environmentalism, Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister

17. Environmental Economics 101: Overcoming Market Failures, Paul Krugman

18. Capitalism vs. Climate, Naomi Klein

Section 5 Exercise: "What's for Dinner?"

Section 6: Civil Society


19. The Power of Environmental Activism, Paul Hawken

20. Forcing Cultural Change, Paul Wapner

21. The Wrong Kind of Green, Johann Hari

Section 6 Exercise: "Unpacking the NGO World and Taking Action"

Section 7: Race, Class, and Geopolitical Difference


22. The Delusion of Sustainable Growth, Herman E. Daly

23. Who is an Economy For? Rethinking GDP, Jonathan Rowe

24. One Atmosphere, Two Worlds, Peter Singer

25. Environmental Colonialism: The Perverse Politics of Climate Change, Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain

26. Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement, Robert Bullard

Section 7 Exercise: "A Toxic Thank You"


Section 8: Thinking Strategically


27. Leverage Points Toward a Sustainable World, Donella H. Meadows

28. Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World? Michael F. Maniates

29. The Poverty of Lifestyle Change, Paul Wapner and John Willoughby

30. Why Bother? Michael Pollan

Section 8 Exercise: "Two Minutes to Sustainability: Moving Governments, the Economy, and Public"

Section 9: Political Imagination


31. Island Civilization: 1,000 Years into the Future, Roderick Frazier Nash

32. A is for Acid Rain, B is for Bee, Joanne Harris

33. The Future is Local, Wendell Berry

34. Technological Salvation, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

35. Geoengineering: Reformatting the Planet for Climate Protection? Simon Nicholson

36. Humility in a Climate Age, Paul Wapner

37. How to be Hopeful, Barbara Kingsolver

Section 9 Exercise: "Calling All Earthlings: Self and Planetary Stewardship"

About the Authors

Simon Nicholson is Assistant Professor and Director of the Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University. His research, teaching, and public engagement center on global food politics and the politics of emerging technologies, with a focus most recently on climate geoengineering technologies.

Paul Wapner is Professor of Global Environmental Politics in the School of International Service at American University and author of Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism and Environmental Activism and World Civic Politics. His research focuses on Environmental Thought, Transnational Environmental Activism, Environmental Ethics, and Global Environmental Politics.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General