Global Environmental Politics 3.4 (2003) 87-91
Teaching in most subject areas is advanced with texts that inform, challenge, enlighten, and engage the student reader. Writing such a text is not an easy task for the author needs to provide the necessary information to the generally uninitiated, but must take care not to inundate with too many "facts" and details that may leave the reader drowning in a sea of confusion and/or boredom.
My purpose here is to present and summarize the main points and perspectives of each of these texts, and evaluate in terms of the extent to which they meet the criteria introduced above. Hopefully, this review will assist in the book adoption process. Let me begin with two general comments and then move on with a review of each in turn. First, all four books are appropriate for upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses. I would hesitate to assign any of them to a lower-division class where students know little about the field of international politics. Second, each of these texts, in different ways and to varying degrees, enriches the body of material available for courses on international politics and global environmental politics. The DeSombre volume is discussed first, followed by Bryner, Steel, Clinton and Lovrich, and then Broadhead.
Elizabeth DeSombre's text may prove to be a direct competitor to the widely used Global Environmental Politics by Gareth Porter, Janet Welsh Brown and Pamela Chasek. Although organized differently, DeSombre sets out to provide an investigation into the "problems that face the environment internationally..." through consideration of "theoretical concerns and case studies" (p.2). Unlike Porter, Brown and Chasek, who review ten cases, DeSombre chooses a more in-depth exploration of five substantive issues in four chapters: ozone depletion and climate change, whaling, Amazonian biodiversity, and acid rain. These issues present the reader with different types of structural problems, which could provide for an interesting classroom discussion. The four theoretical issues, grounded in international relations theory, are international environmental cooperation, environment and security, the role of science, uncertainty and risk, and the role of nonstate actors.
These latter four chapters will provide students with a solid understanding of the major debates in the field. There are, however, several points where a more extensive discussion of the theoretical material would have helped clarify the issues for students. For example, DeSombre writes that environmental issues challenge conventional wisdom about what makes cooperation possible. How and why this is the case is not made clear. Similarly, she does not explain why, according to international relations theory, the heterogeneity of actors makes cooperation more likely than if they were homogeneous (p.15). A fuller discussion of coordination and collaboration problems, and prisoner's dilemma would also have aided the student reader. Beyond the presentation of the many factors that may impact the course and outcome of environmental negotiations, such as number of actors, power of actors, etc., an analysis of the extent to which these factors played a role in each of the cases would have strengthened the text. In the end, this text should inform, enlighten and, to some extent, challenge students, although engagement may be limited.
What of Gary Bryner's Gaia's Wager? This is not a standard introduction to the field of global environmental politics; rather it is an "inquiry into the politics of the shift from environmentalism as currently practiced to sustainability" (p. xi). Bryner joins the debate over the relative influence and power of environmental groups with a focus on three issues. "First, what are the nature, strength, resources, and capacity of environmentalism? Second, how well is it positioned to deal with...environmental issues? Third, how can its capacity be enhanced...to more effectively respond to the challenges posed by the goal of...