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For a few weeks late last year, the ecological interdependence of nation-states was on dramatic display as a fifty-mile-long benzene spill steadily worked its way through the Songhua River in northeastern China, eventually crossing the Russian border and threatening the primary water supply of some 500,000 residents of Khabarovsk. When global environmental disasters of this nature occur, the problems are not merely epistemological—those of determining scientifically whether and how much the chemicals endanger human and ecosystem health. The problems are also political and legal—those of sorting out where, by whom, and according to what standards the chemical spill can be challenged. And they are also deeply moral—those of somehow comparing the values at stake when individuals and groups claim the entitlement, or the desperate need, to pursue economic activities that may pose risks of harm to others downstream. Given these challenges, it is hardly surprising that most debates over globalization and the environment tend to become embroiled in misunderstanding and overheated exchange.

Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment by Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne provides a welcome break from such dynamics. Their book seeks to offer the first extensive effort “to concentrate exclusively on the political economy of the global environment, striving to integrate the debates of the ‘real world’ of global policy and the ‘academic world’ of theory”.The authors hope not only to provide an essential resource for academics and students in the underserved field of global environmental political economy, but also “to help scholars, bureaucrats, industrialists, and activists communicate in a common language” by carefully and dispassionately laying out the key positions that one finds in global environmental debates.

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