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Comparative Environmental Politics: Theory, Practice and Prospects.

P. Steinberg and S. Van Deveer (eds.) Comparative Environmental Politics: Theory, Practice and Prospects Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012 ISBN 978-026219585-0 (HB) [pounds sterling]38.95, 978-026269368-4 (PB) [pounds sterling]19.95. 424 pp.

This edited volume on comparative environmental politics needs to be read at two levels. The first, more straightforward reading centres on demonstrating how comparative research on environmental politics can yield richer theoretical and ontological insights on the political challenges facing states, international organisations, multi-level governance systems, non-state actors and citizens in managing environmental issues, and is a welcome standalone addition to the literature. The second, somewhat more contentious reading seeks to address what the editors see as a mutual lack of engagement between comparative politics scholars and their environmental politics colleagues that has, in their opinion, created a need to build bridges between these two archipelagos of political study through an increased emphasis on theoretically rigorous comparative environmental politics to identify general patterns and drivers among the myriad ways environmental issues have been addressed in different national, regional and sectoral contexts.

The editors provide some evidence to support this claim of non-engagement via a census of articles on environmental issues in selected politics journals and it clearly speaks to the cause of interdisciplinary social-science research. However, some readers may be left wondering whether they cast their net too narrowly and, particularly about the paucity of reference to the abundant comparative geographical literature on environmental governance. Speaking as a geographer with a longstanding interest in this field, this omission does also raise disconcerting questions about whether it is more of a reflection on the more introspective theoretical channels pursued by some geographers involved in environmental studies than a deficit in this volume. The strong North American bias in the authorship (less evident in the case examples) and rather self-evident claims about the need to appreciate complexity in environmental governance and to use theoretical tools to make sense of this complexity suggest that greater efforts might have been made to probe the full range of interactions between comparative and environmental politics research.

The book is divided into six sections. The first surveys existing theoretical and empirical foci within comparative and environmental politics and introduces the editors' approach for closing the gap. The second section explores the evolution and variations in state and societal perceptions of environmental issues, while the third, fourth and fifth sections provide comparative analyses of the mobilisation of non-state actors, national institutions, and multi-level governance systems in response to environmental issues. In the final section, the authors re-examine directions in which 'doubly engaged' research combining the traditions of comparative and environmental politics might be advanced.

The main body of the book combines some very germane analysis with more modest contributions. Among the former, James Meadowcroft flexes his experience in a fascinating analysis of factors driving the globalisation of environmental concern, and Paul Steinberg provides a compelling examination of the causes and consequences of political instability for attempts by states and non-state actors in developing and post-communist countries to bring about political and social responses to environmental problems. In contrast, the chapter on European Union and United States approaches to climate change struggles to finesse theoretical understandings of the two polities' contrasting engagements with the climate issue, and offers a largely descriptive account of their differing trajectories. Similarly, the chapter interrogating putative North-South divisions on environmental concerns contains interesting analysis but yields up few surprises to seasoned followers of international environmental negotiations.

If one restricts oneself to the first reading mentioned above, this book provides a highly useful analysis of how different governmental and societal actors have responded to environmental challenges, and should be of interest to a broad range of scholars, students, decision-makers and activists. The second reading leaves rather more unanswered questions but still provides some helpful glimpses into how 'doubly engaged' comparative research on environmental politics might proceed in the coming years.


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Author:Bailey, Ian
Publication:Environmental Values
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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