Rio plus Ten: Politics, Poverty, and Environment.

Author:Natarajan, Tara
Position:Book Review

Rio plus Ten: Politics, Poverty, and Environment, by Neil Middleton and Phil O'Keefe. London: Pluto Press. 2003. Paper, ISBN 0745319548, $22.50; hardback, ISBN 0745319556202, $75.00. 216 pages.

Rio plus Ten: Politics, Poverty, and the Environment by Neil Middleton and Phil O'Keefe is an analysis of various international commissions, conferences, and summits on sustainable development, particularly in relation to the prioritization of two central and inseparable issues: the environment and poverty. They argue that a purely environmental agenda frequently ignores the needs and rights of the poor. Since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) held in Stockholm in 1972, both the environment and poverty have received a great deal of attention. However, most of the efforts have been devoted to attacking the causes of environmental damage, which are often also the causes of poverty. The two principal summits with which the book concerns itself are the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the original earth summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the UN's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002. The chapters examine the effectiveness of the policies as seen in the principal documents emerging from these two summits which are fundamentally designed to address a host of contemporary issues related to the politics and economics of pursuing poverty alleviation through sustainable means. They also examine the role of hegemonic relationships and politics of power play particularly that of the United States and large corporations in the energy sector which shape various agreements reached at these summits.

The authors begin with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which drew national and international attention to environmental degradation. Poverty and its connection to the environment began drawing attention with the UNCHE in 1972. While this vital link was forged, the means to overcome the problems are considered to be the problem. That is, the authors fault the international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) for buying into the notion that economic growth pursued by structurally transforming societies into market-led economies is a necessary precondition to alleviating poverty, which leads to the subsequent condemnation of the WSSD by the INGOs. The book tries to make the case that it is in fact these "demands of finance capital" that are directly responsible for...

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