From the New Scientist, reviews of twelve recent books on consumption and sustainability:
- Common Wealth: Economics for a crowded planet
- Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development
- The Dominant Animal: Human evolution and the environment
- The Bridge at the Edge of the World
- Earth in the Balance
- The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the global environment
- How the Rich are Destroying the Earth
- Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?
- Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet
- Blubberland: The dangers of happiness
- Enough: Breaking free from the world of more
- The Big Earth Book
- The Sustainability Project
How the Rich are Destroying the Earth, by Hervé Kempf
Refreshingly, this slim, searing, openly political essay on environmental degradation points the finger of blame at the left for ignoring ecology, as well as the rich for over-consuming and creating damaging role models for society to follow.
Kempf walks in the long shadow of one of industrial society’s most quietly influential political economists, Thorstein Veblen. Kempf, though, is much angrier and less nuanced.
Whereas Veblen, who coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class, wrote about economics from an almost anthropological point of view, Kempf writes more as a campaigning journalist. His target is the social strata he terms the “predatory oligarchy”, whom he accuses of having “no drive other than greed, no ideal other than conservatism, no dream other than technology.”
The book’s coverage of environmental issues will be very familiar to many audiences, but it is well-written nevertheless. At times his turns of phrase are philosophically enigmatic in the tradition of the French footballer, Eric Cantona: for example, there is a section headed “We are all Salmon” (a tale concerning polychlorinated biphenyls).
Where Kempf adds value is in highlighting the threat to democracy at the heart of the oligarchy’s response to the very environmental crises that they, he argues, are themselves largely responsible for creating.
Reviewed by Andrew Simms