In This Review

Environment, Scarcity, and Violence
Environment, Scarcity, and Violence
By Thomas F. Homer-Dixon
Princeton University Press, 1999, 280 pp

This book examines how the environmental degradation of renewable resources -- such as fresh water, productive soils, forests, and fisheries -- influences relations between and within poor societies. Although many wars have been fought over natural resources, the author resists the simple notion that environmental pressures inexorably lead to violent conflict. Rather, he takes a more nuanced view: sometimes environmental degradation can promote constructive, even ingenious, social responses. True, it can also lead to greater marginalization and poverty for the affected population, or to migration elsewhere. But only on occasion does violence erupt -- and when it does, significant external factors, not diminishing resources for a strapped population, are often to blame. Environmental degradation does alter economic opportunity, but how people respond depends on their ideology, traditions, social conventions, and even leadership. Unfortunately, the book is marred by a somewhat ponderous style aimed at political scientists rather than a broad audience, but it nevertheless offers salient examples of environmental deterioration and social responses from around the world.