In This Review

Troubled Lands: The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction
Troubled Lands: The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction
By D. J. Peterson
276 pp, Westview Press/Washington: rand, 1993

Drawing mainly on interviews and Soviet official papers and press reports, the author documents thoroughly the extensive and depressing environmental degradation of the Soviet Union. Environmentalists can take some comfort about their impact in the West and the improvements there of recent decades, when they survey this dismal picture. One of the few theoretical justifications for central planning in an industrial society, as compared to a decentralized economy based on private enterprise, is that it is able to take into account the "externalities" of waste disposal and thereby reduce air and water pollution. We see here the sharp contrast between theory and reality. The Soviet central planners basically ignored the externalities altogether except when public health was directly threatened (and often half-heartedly even then). The author also discusses the role of Soviet environmentalists in reducing the wholesale corruption of the environment and indirectly bringing down the communist system. The book is a very useful source of information.