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Inequality, Democracy, and the Environment, Liam Downey

Reviewed by Raoul S. Liévanos



Environmental sociologist Liam Downey reminds us of the following worldwide social and environmental crises: “economic underdevelopment, widespread poverty and hunger, lack of safe drinking water for one-sixth of the world’s population, deforestation, desertification, rapidly increasing levels of pollution and waste, dramatic declines in biodiversity and soil fertility, and climate change” (p. 1). Four popular explanations of these crises, Downey maintains, obscure our ability to recognize how the crises are systematically interconnected to social relations of inequality and power that may be susceptible to change by egalitarian movements for democracy and justice.

First, mainstream environmentalists narrowly address environmental issues in a piecemeal fashion through reforming “specific [environmental] laws, regulations, treaties, organizations, and behaviors” (p. 3). Second, “sovereign consumer” advocates overestimate the extent to which strategic changes in consumption practices  make businesses, markets, and public policies more environmentally friendly. Third, environmental economists argue that increasing market reforms, decreasing ineffective government interventions, and expanding the breadth of social and environmental costs included in the valuation of goods and services will help address the crisis situa

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