ABSTRACT

In the introduction to this book an article was quoted which spoke of massive injury to the earth’s environment and claimed that humanity is in a war for survival, a war in which all nations must be allies. This implies that gaining universal recognition of a global environmental crisis is straightforward, and that there should be little difficulty in achieving universal consensus about its severity and significance. However the notion of a global environmental crisis is a social construct. To talk of ‘massive injury to the environment’, holes in the ozone layer, the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the possible effects of this on average global temperatures, to consider the total amount of land devoted to agriculture or covered by closed forests and to calculate the rate at which these are decreasing, to talk of resources and to measure the rate at which stocks are being depleted, is to invoke complex frameworks of concepts based on metaphors negotiated and sustained by practices of investigation which are themselves sustained by a large number of institutions of research, communication and administration, which are in turn sustained by political and economic institutions and processes of different kinds at local, national and global levels. As yet, there is no definitive social construct of the environmental crisis. The mass media presents one image of the global environmental crisis, scientific journals another, while economics journals scarcely recognize any but minor problems which can be solved by the proper functioning of the market. Scientists, economists and business leaders in the USA have dismissed environmentalists as cranks, while many political leaders in Third World countries see the claims of environmentalists as nothing more than an effort to prevent Third World countries sharing the benefits of industrialization. The majority of the world’s population have no conception of a global environmental crisis at all. So how does one evaluate and respond to the claim that there is massive injury to the earth’s environment and that humanity is in a war for survival, a war in which all nations must be allies?