Conceptualizing Global Environmental Politics

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This essay will respond to the central problem facing global environmental politics insofar as the resolution of such problems as global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, the loss of biodiversity, and many other transnational environmental issues rests upon some sort of consensus among extremely diverse groups. These are considered global problems not only because of their apocalyptic potential but they are also unique in that the “terrain where they occur [is] property that could be claimed by everyone or by no one. They [are] global also in that no nation [is] fortunate enough to be insulated from their effects”(Guha 139). From this worrisome background, the starting point of this essay begins with the question that Ramachandra Guha leaves the reader in his conclusion of the global history of environmentalism: he asks “one world or two?” In other words, Guha challenges the reader to wonder whether humanity will be able to cooperate on a global scale to avert environmental disaster, or if we will be forever mired in the North vs. South debate with “the industrialized and mainly affluent countries of the North [on one side] and… the industrializing and mostly still-poor countries of the South [on the other side]”(Guha141). This essay will examine the ways that Guha has already worked towards constructing a theoretical consensus among global environmentalists with an aim towards conceptualizing what global cooperation might look like.

Take, for example, Guha’s pairing of the environmentalism of India’s Mahatma Ghandi with the “back-to-the-land” movement in the “North.” This is significant for two reasons. First, Guha argues that Ghandi and the earliest of modern environmentalists in 19th century Britain are united by their shared disgust of the Industrial Revolution and a corresponding “ focus on manual labor, [an] elevation of the village as the supreme form of human society, [and] a… rejection of industrial culture as violent”(Guha 24). Ghandi sums up the “back-to-the-land” critique of both North and South nicely as he “thought the distinguishing characteristic of modern civilization is a multiplication of wants…[and] wholeheartedly detest[ed] this mad desire to destroy distance and time, to increase animal appetites, and go to the ends of the earth in search of their satisfaction”(Guha 20). Thus, Guha establishes a linkage between environmentalists t...

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...s themselves. Yet, due to Guha’s rigor he has shown the opportunities for reciprocal learning between Mahatma Ghandi and the “back-to-the-landers”, between “scientific conservationists” and the purveyors of the “wilderness ideal”, and ultimately between all humans regardless of their stage of environmental consciousness. His cause should not be taken for granted. At the start of the twentieth century, Freud warned humanity that “the fateful question for the human species seems to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction”(Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents). In the start of the twenty-first century Guha shows how relevant Freud’s hypothesis still is. Even as the resolution of this powerful question still remains uncertain, Guha stands as one of the guides who help lead humanity through the labyrinth of conflicts that threaten to avert the common journey towards a just equilibrium between human freedom and the long-term sustainability of the world.

Work Cited

Brown, Michael P., Replacing Citizenship. New York: The Guilford Press, 1997.

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