Economics and Environmental Change: The Challenges We Face by Clement Tisdell.

AuthorHirsch, Michael L.
PositionBook review

Tisdell, Clement A. Economics and Environmental Change: The Challenges We Face. Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2017. xii + 235 pages. Hardcover, $125.00.

In the Preface to Economics and Environmental Change: The Challenges We Face, Clement Tisdell tells us he plans to provide the reader with a "holistic approach" of the "environmental challenges we now face" (p. x). His holistic approach includes an understanding of history, biophysical, and social factors. All of this woven together provides a focus on "the relationship between economics and environmental change" (p. x).

Tisdell begins the text with a history of our species that reaches back 200,000 years and moves up to modern times. This history includes a discussion of frameworks that break human development into different economic epochs and a discussion of how religion frames human engagement with the environment, how economists monetize natural resources and environmental conditions, and how humans respond to environmental change (e.g., through migration).

Tisdell moves to a discussion of sustainability in general and what economic sustainability entails in particular. Tisdell reviews multiple dimensions of social sustainability including community writ large, social cohesion, and social capital. Of particular interest to me was his discussion of the environmental poverty trap, where near term gains lead to long term impoverishment and environmental destruction. This is smartly illustrated with his discussion of the Australian Aborigines.

How environmental change can be valuated is the next major issue addressed. This discussion weighs deontological ethical concerns (i.e., "a search for moral imperatives or obligations that should apply to all human beings" p. 53) and individual preferences. It also considers the ways in which economic operations generate and sustain inequality. All of these factors influence if or how conservations efforts are undertaken and/or succeed.

A key to Tisdell's analysis is the concept social embedding which stresses the importance of context in influencing the behaviors of individuals, groups, and societies. Social embedding includes structural, cultural, and economic dimensions. Similar to the approach of sociologists such as Durkheim (who examine society as an organism within which humans are subsumed), the concept social embedding suggests we exist within "superorganisms" (p. 85) or experience life within "ultrasocial" (p. 89) societies that delimit our...

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