Who Rules the Earth?: How Social Rules Shape Our Planet and Our Lives

ISBN : 9780199896615

Paul F. Steinberg
352 Pages
162 x 240 mm
Pub date
Apr 2015
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Humanity is confronted with an alarming number of environmental problems that seem to grow worse by the day. We hear a steady stream of news reports about climate change, water shortages, and rampant deforestation. We learn of toxic chemicals in our food supply and garbage filling our oceans, and wonder: Why do these problems persist, and what can be done to set society on a more sustainable course? In Who Rules the Earth?, Paul F. Steinberg, one of America's leading scholars on the politics of environmentalism, explains that there is room for hope, and draws from the latest social science research to explain why. Green consumer choices and changes in personal lifestyles are important, but they are not nearly enough. Lasting social change requires modifying the very rules that guide human behavior and shape the ways we interact with the Earth. We know these rules by familiar names like city ordinances, product design standards, purchasing agreements, public policies, cultural norms, or national constitutions. Though these rules are largely invisible to us, their impact across the world has been dramatic. By changing the rules, the Canadian province of Ontario cut the levels of pesticides in its waterways in half. The city of Copenhagen has adopted new planning codes that will reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2025. In the United States, a handful of industry mavericks designed new rules to promote greener buildings, and transformed the world's largest industry into a more sustainable enterprise. Steinberg takes the reader on a series of journeys, from a familiar walk on the beach to a remote village deep in the jungles of Peru, helping the reader to 'see' the social rules that pattern our physical reality and showing why these are the big levers that will ultimately determine the health of our planet. By unveiling the influence of social rules at all levels of society-from private property to government policy, and from the rules governing our oceans to the dynamics of innovation and change within corporations and communities, Who Rules the Earth? will be essential reading for anyone interested in bringing about real environmental change.


I. Searching for Solutions
1 Recycling Is Not Enough
2 Strings Attached
3 Feasible Worlds
II. Who Owns the Earth?
4 A Perilous Journey
5 The Big Trade
6 A Planet of Nations
III. Transformations
7 Scaling Up
8 Scaling Down
9 Keep the Change
IV. Leverage
10 Super Rules
11 Paper, Plastic, or Politics?

About the author: 

Paul Steinberg is the Malcolm Lewis Professor of Sustainability and Society and Professor of Political Science and Environmental Policy at Harvey Mudd College. He has spent the past 20 years studying biodiversity conservation and the human dimensions of global environmental problems. He is the author of three books: Who Rules the Earth? (Oxford University Press), Comparative Environmental Politics (MIT Press), and Environmental Leadership in Developing Countries (MIT Press), which won the Harold and Margaret Sprout Award for the best book in international environmental affairs. He is the director of the Social Rules Project, a multi-media initiative designed to raise public awareness about the importance of changing policies and other binding rules to promote sustainability.

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