Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

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Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche # Posted on March 5, 2014 at 09:35

Reply to Yu Wang’s reflection
Dear Yu,
If I understood your reflections correctly, you suggest that the nation-state is not a correct unit of analysis for global environmental history because we live in a world divided into three different regions based on the division of labor. This is an interesting way to analyze the way commodities fluctuate as well as environmental degradation.
I surely agree that some people provide the resources and the cheap labor for producing new products, other people enjoy the high-tech gadgets, and then the waste accumulates to the detriment of other groups of people, but I believe that your representation of three different world regions is way too simplistic and does not represent the reality. The world is not divided in three regions, I think it’s much more complex. In every part of the world, there are people who pay the cost of land degradation and environmental pollution. Even in the United States, the wealthiest state of the world and the holy temple of consumerism, communities of immigrants and lower class workers pay the price of pollution with their own health while they can’t afford the latest I-pad.
Besides, in your reflection you do not really seem to answer the question “What is wrong with the nation-state as a unit of analysis for GEH?”. In the beginning of the year we read a brilliant essay by American historian Richard White “The Nationalization of Nature” in which he clearly explained that since nature knows no frontiers, the nation-state appears as a flawed scale of analysis for environmental history. The nation-state conception of history is inherited from a certain vision of history that emerged in Western Europe during the modern era.
It appears that in a world where everything is connected, considering history through the lens of the nation-state scale does not make sense. As Hornborg argued on Monday afternoon, environmental history should be about connections and not comparisons. I certainly agree with his advocacy of a world-system analysis instead of a nation-state analysis when it comes to understanding environmental history.