'Sustainable development' and green diplomacy; a myth?

'Sustainable development' and green diplomacy; a myth?

Review of
International Environmental Politics: The Limits of Green Diplomacy.
By Broadhead, Lee-Anne.
Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, Colorado, USA. 2002
223 pages. Paper: $19.95 (U.S.)
ISBN 1588260682.

IN A STRONG, ENLIGHTENING, concise, yet often disheartening voice, political science professor Dr. Lee-Anne Broadhead, director, Centre for International Studies at the University College of Cape Breton, takes to task the people and most importantly the regimes that champion sustainable development as the savior of the world's environmental woes. The green diplomat, according to Broadhead, is a managerial style politician who negotiates solutions to world problems from a "point of view solidly based in Enlightenment thought" (x). The green diplomat divides nature and its ills into component parts and studies them in "splendid isolation" (x). Broadhead views the green diplomat as someone who believes "all issues are suitable for management and control; nature is considered instrumentally" (x); and humans by virtue of standing outside of nature can fix any problem with their advanced technologies.

Drawing heavily, and noting so, from the earlier works of Max Horkheimer (Frankfurt School), Theodor Adorno, and the less than one dimensional man himself Herbert Marcuse, Broadhead mounts an aggressive attack against the major global green diplomats of the past thirty years. Most of the world's environmental, social and economic problems are exacerbated, not solved or even lessened, by green diplomacy, she argues.

Broadhead claims the green diplomacy period began in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (often referred to as the Stockholm Conference). She credits the Stockholm Conference with "notable successes in the subsequent years" (39) and also with the establishment of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), which "has managed at times to live up to its mandate of facilitating environmental activities"(35). The self-propagating, self-congratulatory and environmentally unfriendly concept of "regime formation" (39), Broadhead believes, also began with this conference.

Regimes began with "international agreements designed to pool energies and resources in the common fight against environmental degradation" (39). The regime itself is a set of principles, standards, rules and decision-making procedures that green diplomats live within and rely upon. Broadhead sees regimes as separate from organizations and from the international agreements that helped create them. If one is to use the parlance of Hollywood, regimes are a dark force, behind the shadows, menacing and foreboding.

Throughout four well-written, well-documented chapters (over 300 references), Broadhead paints a dismal, yet convincing picture of the state of environmental politics today. The role of global entities, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, free trade agreements and transnational corporations, in maintaining regimes based more on economic prosperity than environmental consideration, is well argued. The text is full of relevant examples that not only enlighten the reader but also increase the validity of the author's case.

The regime of biotechnology as a savior of the world's poor and starving is best exemplified by the advertising of monolithic chemical giant Monsanto. In literature aimed at pushing herbicide resistant (also known as genetically modified or, perhaps more appropriately, chemically dependent) crops on farmers, Monsanto declares their plants "prevent weeds from stealing the sunshine" (85). Through its control of chemicals, copyrights, and most unfortunately, seeds, a regime that preaches biotechnological salvation may in the end lead to humankind's greatest downfall, the vicarious loss of food through the initial loss of biodiversity.

Using numerous examples Broadhead argues that regimes lacking a holistic world view and labouring under the false assumption that humankind is beyond nature (and therefore can solve any problem) have led to the destruction of the same environmental systems the regimes are meant to protect. In addition to providing a detailed argument over policies as they are today, the book offers alternatives, especially those espoused by the Hemispheric Social Alliance. Some key points among many are: include environmental costs in the production of goods, choose the precautionary principle rather than risk assessment as a guiding light, recognize forests as homes for indigenous people, reject intellectual property rights on life forms, eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel energy thereby encouraging green energy, and allow citizen participation in decision making processes. In her two concluding chapters, Broadhead presents a number of examples of movements from the grassroots aimed at restoring to the indigenous people of India, Mexico, Nigeria and Canada's Artic some control over their environmental futures.

This is a thoughtful and provocative book but it would be amiss to discredit all diplomatic efforts to protect the environment. As an example of a regime failure, Broadhead decries the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC's) as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's). She acknowledges HCFC's are on the order of one-tenth less harmful to the ozone layer than CFC's but that means they'll still deplete the ozone layerthe process will only take longer. CFC's were invented in 1931 in good will to replace flammable, toxic gases previously used in refrigeration, solvents and propellants. In 1974, when the warning signs of ozone depletion were first documented, sales of aerosol cans dropped by 60 per cent in the United States. By the time of the 1987 Montreal Protocol to curtail ozone use, replacements such as hydrofluorcarbons and HCFC's were in use.

There is no doubting the harmful and deadly effects caused to life on Earth by the thinning of stratospheric ozone. Broadhead's analysis of the science and the policies used to keep ozone depletion in check are essentially correct. A decrease in usage of ozone depleting CFC's to a tenth of their levels just a scant thirty years ago, though, is not nearly enough for Broadhead, while others, and not just the green diplomats, view it as a triumph.

Anyone with an interest in recent environmental issues and policies will gain from this book. Teachers, students and practitioners of environmental management or politics will find International Environmental Politics useful. It offers an informative and articulate viewpoint, in an easily readable style, of the problems of environmental politics and outlines interesting suggestions for improvement.

*Paul MacDougall is a freelance writer, microbiology technologist, and instructor in the UCCB Engineering Dept-Public Health program. His short story PEG was recently published in the inaugural issue of Ars Medica. He may be reached at p.macdougall@excite.com

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