Book Review: ‘Green Backlash’

Economic interests predominate

‘Green Backlash’, by Andrew Rowell, Routledge, London, 1996.

If you have any doubts about the strength of the economic tide the world environmental movement are attempting to swim against, this book is worth looking at. Again, it is the environmental movement themselves who best illustrate the quagmire in which capitalism leaves them.

This is an intensely factual, encyclopaedic book, with all the accompanying pros and cons. Rowell sets the scene well, describing the “political influence” the environmental movement expected to enjoy as Clinton took power in the US. Of course this all seems like a bad joke four years later: “By the end of the 103rd Congress, the Clinton administration had a worse environmental record than either the Bush or Reagan administration”.

This political anti-climax is not itself what Rowell means by a “green backlash”. Specifically, he is referring to the large network of anti-environmental organisations and campaigns which have sprung up to combat the environmental movement (most notably in the USA although Rowell looks at examples from around the globe). These often come in the guise of grass-roots campaigns yet are set up by the interests of big business or politicians.

From Nigeria to Newbury and from Greenpeace to Gingrich. Rowell has unearthed no end of facts. The main weakness of this comprehensive survey is the almost complete absence of any historical context. Yes, economic interests may predominate now but wasn’t this also the case one hundred years ago? Rowell very briefly mentions the fight-back of business against the gains made by workers earlier in the century but there is no meaningful comparison drawn.

Rowell does show how the “green backlash” arose spontaneously as a reaction to threatened business interests. So successful is he that (perhaps unwittingly) he removes the need for a theory of centrally-planned conspiracy. This again leaves us to question whether the book is not just rehearsing a familiar story, rather than exposing a new, 1990s phenomenon.

Dan Greenwood

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