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Hardcover | $11.75 Short | £9.95 | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014366
Paperback | $6.75 Short | £5.95 | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262514361
eBook | $26.00 Short | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262290128
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The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice


The idea of sacrifice is the unspoken issue of environmental politics. Politicians, the media, and many environmentalists assume that well-off populations won’t make sacrifices now for future environmental benefits and won’t change their patterns and perceptions of consumption to make ecological room for the world’s three billion or so poor eager to improve their standard of living. The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice challenges these assumptions, arguing that they limit our policy options, weaken our ability to imagine bold action for change, and blind us to the ways sacrifice already figures in everyday life. The concept of sacrifice has been curiously unexamined in both activist and academic conversations about environmental politics, and this book is the first to confront it directly. The chapters bring a variety of disciplinary perspectives to the topic. Contributors offer alternatives to the conventional wisdom on sacrifice; identify connections between sacrifice and human fulfillment in everyday life, finding such concrete examples as parents’ sacrifices in raising children, religious practice, artists’ pursuit of their art, and soldiers and policemen who risk their lives to do their jobs; and examine particular policies and practices that shape our understanding of environmental problems, including the carbon tax, incentives for cyclists, and the perils of green consumption. The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice puts “sacrifice” firmly into the conversation about effective environmental politics and policies, insisting that activists and scholars do more than change the subject when the idea is introduced.

Peter Cannavò, Shane Gunster, Cheryl Hall, Karen Litfin, Michael Maniates, John M. Meyer, Simon Nicholson, Anna Peterson, Thomas Princen, Sudhir Chella Rajan, Paul Wapner, Justin Williams

About the Editors

Michael Maniates is Professor of Political Science and Environmental Science at Allegheny College. He is the coeditor, with Thomas Princen and Ken Conca, of Confronting Consumption (MIT Press, 2002).

John M. Meyer is Professor in the Department of Politics and a Faculty Member in Environmental Studies and the Environment and Community Graduate Program at Humboldt State University. He is the author of Political Nature: Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought and the coeditor of The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice (both published by the MIT Press).

Table of Contents

  • The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice
  • The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice
  • Edited by Michael Maniates and John M. Meyer
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email
  • This book was set in 10/14 pt Sabon by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • The environmental politics of sacrifice / edited by Michael Maniates and John M. Meyer.
  •  p. cm.
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01436-6 (hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-262-51436-1 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Environmental policy. 2. Sacrifice. I. Maniates, Michael. II. Meyer, John M.
  • GE170.E5774 2010
  • 363.7'0561—dc22
  • 2009045912
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • vii
  • 1 Must We Sacrifice?
  • :
  • Confronting the Politics of Sacrifice in an Ecologically Full World
  • 1
  • John M. Meyer and Michael Maniates
  • I Asking the Right Questions
  • 9
  • 2 A Democratic Politics of Sacrifice?
  • 13
  • John M. Meyer
  • 3 Sacrifice in an Age of Comfort
  • 33
  • Paul Wapner
  • 4 Freedom, Values, and Sacrifice
  • :
  • Overcoming Obstacles to Environmentally Sustainable Behavior
  • 61
  • Cheryl Hall
  • II Seeing Sacrifice in Everyday Life
  • 87
  • 5 Ordinary and Extraordinary Sacrifices
  • :
  • Religion, Everyday Life, and Environmental Practice
  • 91
  • Anna Peterson
  • 6 The Sacred and the Profane in the Ecological Politics of Sacrifice
  • 117
  • Karen Litfin
  • 7 Consumer Sovereignty, Heroic Sacrifice
  • :
  • Two Insidious Concepts in an Endlessly Expansionist Economy
  • 145
  • Thomas Princen
  • 8 Parental Sacrifice as Atonement for Future Climate Change
  • 165
  • Sudhir Chella Rajan
  • III Obstacles and Opportunities
  • 185
  • 9 Self-Interest, Sacrifice, and Climate Change
  • :
  • (Re-)Framing the British Columbia Carbon Tax
  • 187
  • Shane Gunster
  • 10 Civic Virtue and Sacrifice in a Suburban Nation
  • 217
  • Peter F. Cannavò
  • 11 Bikes, Sticks, Carrots
  • 247
  • Justin Williams
  • 12 Intelligent Design?
  • :
  • Unpacking Geoengineering’s Hidden Sacrifices
  • 271
  • Simon Nicholson
  • 13 Struggling with Sacrifice
  • :
  • Take Back Your Time and
  • 293
  • Michael Maniates
  • 14 Conclusion
  • :
  • Sacrifice and a New Environmental Politics
  • 313
  • Michael Maniates and John M. Meyer
  • List of Contributors
  • 321
  • Index
  • 323
  • Acknowledgments
  • This book has been a long time coming. While, as editors, we are primarily responsible for the drawn-out timeline, we could never have finished without the support, hard work, and encouragement of a great many people. Foremost among these, of course, are the contributors themselves. Far more than mere chapter authors; they were also crucial to the definition and contours of the book itself. This was especially the case for those who participated in a workshop we facilitated on “The Politics of Sacrifice,” held at Allegheny College in September 2007: Peter F. Cannavò, Cheryl Hall, Karen Litfin, Simon Nicholson, Anna Peterson, Thomas Princen, Paul Wapner, and Justin Williams. Hans Bruyninckx was also a participant, and although he did not ultimately contribute a chapter, he shaped our conversations in important ways. Shane Gunster and Sudhir Chella Rajan joined the project at later points (in Shane’s case,
  • much
  • later!) and have immeasurably enriched the volume. Clay Morgan of the MIT Press attended the first panel discussion on these themes at the annual meetings of the International Studies Association in San Diego in 2006 and has been an enthusiastic and patient supporter ever since. Three anonymous reviewers for the press also provided very valuable suggestions to us and to many of the chapter authors.
  • One thing we have learned to count on is that every public presentation of the themes in this book—at professional conferences and on numerous university campuses—has led to passionate, thoughtful, and provocative questions from, and discussion with, audience members. This was especially true of the public forum held at Allegheny as part of our workshop. While we cannot individually thank each of our interlocutors, they have deeply influenced our thinking. As editors, we have returned, time and again, to questions raised in these venues while crafting elements of the book. Such vibrant and insightful discussion gives us hope for the sort of public confrontation with sacrifice called for in these pages.
  • In addition to those listed previously, Michael writes: I wish to thank David Orr and Adam Joseph Lewis for making possible a teaching leave during a critical point in this project. The rich collaboration and wide-ranging conversation around sacrifice, environmental politics, and climate change fostered by the work on this book would not be happening without the foresight of these two individuals. Thanks are also due to my friends at Allegheny College for their encouragement and support, especially Terry Bensel, Richard Cook, Linda DeMeritt, Scott Friedhoff, David Miller, Kathy Roos, Josh Searle-White, Shannan Mattiace, Barry Shapiro, Dan Shea, Ben Slote, Bruce Smith, Barb Steadman, Howard Tamashiro, and Sharon Wesoky. For the opportunity to field test the evolving arguments of this project on their students and colleagues, I thank Beth Conklin and Michael Vandenbergh (Vanderbilt University), Monty Hempel (University of Redlands), John Petersen (Oberlin College), Anna Peterson (University of Florida), Rocky Rohwedder and Sascha von Meier (Sonoma State University), David Swerdlow (Westminter College), Richard Wallace (Ursinus College), Michael Williams (St. Bonaventure University), and Richard Cameron and Jennifer Everett (DePauw University). They were more helpful to my thinking than they could ever know. Of course, none of this would have gotten off the ground without the initial, unceasing prodding of Tom Princen, who saw the potential of this project well before I appreciated its true power.
  • John writes: I thank my Humboldt colleagues in the Department of Politics and in the Environment and Community Program for their continued support and fellowship. Invitations to present ideas from the book in public talks at Ohio University and at Humboldt proved invaluable; thanks to Wendy Parker at Ohio and Mark Baker and Arne Jacobson at Humboldt for these opportunities. Thanks also to Kirsten Jerch and Jonas Siegel of the
  • Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
  • , whose invitation to write for their magazine, and pointed and insightful queries, forced me to think more carefully about how these arguments can be heard outside the academy. On a personal note, I thank Carolyn Benson, without whom none of this work would be possible. Nothing I write here could be sufficient to express my abiding gratitude and love. Finally, I thank our children, Jake and Emelia, for their patience (at times) and their insistence that I stop working and get off the computer (at others).


“[Maniates and Meyer] offer a series of treasurable essays that should be required reading for any Westerner contemplating the demands of a present in which climate uncertainty and resource scarcity are daily facts of life for the vast majority of humanity.”—Canadian Journal of Political Science
“An essential contribution to the literature on environmental political theory, environmental politics, and political theory...”—Elisabeth Ellis, Texas A&M University Perspectives on Politics


“This book takes head-on one of the biggest obstacles to making change: the idea that Americans will never sacrifice for environmental goals. The stubbornness of that one idea has discouraged individuals, environmental organizations, and governments from taking the bold steps necessary to address today’s ecological crisis. With that false roadblock deconstructed and out of the way, the road to real change is wide open! A must-read for anyone who has been discouraged by the 'Americans will never sacrifice' myth.”
Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff and Director, The Story of Stuff Project
“This is an excellent, thoughtful, and original book. I came to the material skeptically and came away from it convinced that this is indeed an important area to explore, and that much more can be made of the idea of sacrifice than would generally be assumed.”
Andrew Dobson, Keele University
“This is not your usual academic book! Innovative in its themes and fun to read, it challenges us to a new environmental politics that avoids the dead ends of both 'sacrifice isn't needed' and 'sacrifice isn't possible.' I highly recommend it.”
James Gustave Speth, author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
“This lively and highly imaginative volume demonstrates how the controversial notion of environmental sacrifice can provide an exceptionally fruitful way of reflecting on many of the burning questions associated with the transition to a sustainable society. Essential reading for anyone interested in environmental politics.”
Robyn Eckersley, University of Melbourne