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New Left Review 102, November-December 2016


Kate Stevens

AN ECO-CONTRARIAN

‘The environmental movement has had less historical awareness of itself than any of the other major movements of our times.’ Despite the enormous literature on us environmentalism, and the still vaster one on the ecosphere itself, it would be hard to dispute Joachim Radkau’s judgement for the world as a whole. To date, the only single-authored account has been Ramachandra Guha’s Environmentalism: A Global History (2000). Though elegantly structured, Guha’s slim volume—foregrounding Gandhi as the greatest twentieth-century environmentalist: his name, complete with saintly honorific, occurs on 24 of the book’s 145 pages—hardly exhausts the subject. And while multi-author essay collections abound, of their nature these don’t grapple with the problems of conceptualization, topology and narrative that confront a historian of the whole. Nor are they obliged to test their propositions against such a range of terrains or socio-economic conditions. With The Age of Ecology, Radkau aims to situate global environmentalism in world-historical terms, and thereby to characterize it, too. [1] Joachim Radkau, The Age of Ecology: A Global History, Polity Press: Cambridge 2014, £30, hardback 546 pp, 978 0 7456 6216 9 Importantly, Age of Ecology turns out to be a critical history, which is just what radical movements need if they are to gain from a better understanding of their own cursus. The historiography of feminism, for example—not to mention that of the labour movement—has been blighted by celebratory boosterism.

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