Tony Fitzpatrick (ed.), Understanding the Environment and Social Policy, Policy Press, 2011, xviii + 366 pp, hbk, 1 847 42380 1, £65, pbk, 1 847 42379 5, £21.99

This is an exploration of the complex relationship between social policy and the environmental challenges which we all face, with social policy here defined as ‘systematic public interventions relating to social needs, well-being and problems’ (p.2) – and the relationship really is complex because, whereas in the short term there might be a trade-off between money spent on protecting the environment and money spent on health, housing and education, in the longer term money not spent on protecting the environment will impact on health, housing and education. In the other direction, social policies in areas such as fuel poverty will have an impact positively or negatively on the environment; social policies have often been designed to promote economic growth, and this has an impact on the environment; and to redirect the aims of social policy will have an impact, too, and preferably one which will steer us away from the worst of the possible climate change outcomes.

In the first chapter Hodgson and Phillips describe the causes and implications of climate change and the depletion of non-renewable resources, and they discuss the different solutions available: mitigation, adaptation, geoengineering, and conservation. In chapter 2 Hannigan asks how ecologically valid solutions can be politically feasible when economic growth appears to be the political imperative. Any useful solution will therefore need to moderate consumption by the wealthy and provide a basic level of security for the poor so that they don’t need to destroy the forests. In chapter 3 Fitzpatrick discusses environmentalists’ criticisms of social policy’s current presuppositions, and outlines a ‘green economy’ and the social policy agenda to which it would give rise (for instance: ‘How can social insurance systems be adapted to cope with collective uncertainties?’ (p.84))

Chapters follow on the state’s (historically understood) role in environmental protection, environmental (consequentialist) ethics, philosophies (of environmental justice), and environmental policy (markets, regulation, and education); and then chapters on particular social policy fields: health, urban planning, transport, employment, citizenship and care, and international development and global poverty.

Fitzpatrick’s concluding chapter is an eloquent description of the options facing us: a sustainable global society, the human race clinging to survival at the Earth’s poles, and something between the two.

In Fitzpatrick’s chapter on environmental justice there is a discussion of a Citizen’s Income’s complex relationship to environmentally sustainable social policy, and at various points social insurance and taxation are discussed, but there is no chapter on income maintenance. This policy area is discussed in his Freedom and Security (Macmillan 1999) and in his Environment and Welfare (Palgrave 2002), but a chapter here would have aided our ‘understanding [of] the environment and social policy’.

The proof reading is poor in places. A particularly nice error is Fitzpatrick’s ‘I promised to void complexities’ (p.77).

This book does exactly what it sets out to do. It offers us understanding of the environment and social policy, and it does it well.

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