Climate Change and Poverty: A new agenda for developed nations, by Tony Fitzpatrick

Policy Press, 2014, x + 259 pp, hbk, 1 44730 087 8, £70, pbk, 1 44730 086 1, £24.99

Tony Fitzpatrick’s claim in this book is that climate change turns the tackling of poverty into a new agenda, for developed countries as well as for developing ones, because in developed countries such as the UK climate change exacerbates poverty and poverty has an impact on climate change.

The author defines poverty as

a form of injustice, denoting a relative lack of those resources needed to ensure a minimal standard of living, equal opportunities, mutual social respect and participative inclusion in a society’s way of life, and without which it is difficult to flourish, to fulfil one’s potential and to achieve or sustain a decent level of wellbeing. Poverty is characterised by socioeconomic conditions that empower those who monopolise key resources at the expense of those who do not, such that poor individuals are disrespected by, for instance, being held responsible for social circumstances they did not create and over which they have limited control. (pp.11-12)

Fitzpatrick therefore parts company with a ‘capabilities’ approach to poverty, which regards as context-specific the capabilities required by someone if they are to experience such basic ‘functionings’ as sufficient food, shelter and health. Fitzpatrick’s argument is that both social and natural environments require a ‘just distribution of material and economic resources’ (pp.25, 34). It is adequate resources that make capabilities possible.

Fitzpatrick again links the natural with the social when he defines ‘ecosocial poverty’ as

falling below some decent minimum access to, ownership of and control over key socionatural resources due to malfunctioning social institutions and systems. (p.53)

Socionatural resources, such as land, take up space, so

ecosocial poverty implies an ecospatial deprivation, that is, an alienation and exclusion from (1) the socionatural resources dispersed across space, and (2) space as a distinct resource that shapes the life course of individuals and the value and distributions of those socionatural resources. (p.73)

Similarly, ecosocial poverty is time poverty: time overcontrolled by others, or time of poor quality, characterised by enforced inactivity or by lousy jobs. Fragmented space and time are at the heart of the ecosocial poverty that Fitzpatrick is discussing.

The second part of the book tackles particular ecosocial policies: energy and fuel poverty (both transitions to renewable energy sources and the protection of poor people’s access to energy are essential); food and food poverty (health-promoting regulation of the food industry is required, not denigration of the poor for unhealthy eating habits); land, housing, urban density, transport, flooding, and waste (rent-seeking in the property market has created both urban sprawl and housing poverty, and land value tax could be part of the solution); air and water quality ( – complex issues: any expansion of water-metering will require that poor people should be protected; and both air pollution and climate change can and should be tackled together).

Fitzpatrick’s conclusion is that ecosocial poverty

is something that can only be addressed through new forms of economic organisation and growth which are socially inclusive and egalitarian, deriving from renewable, low carbon sources of energy and dedicated to the restoration of natural environments that have been destroyed or eroded in the modern era. (p.214)

While Fitzpatrick’s agenda in this book is the resources that take up space, our access to those resources is mediated through a financial system, the characteristics of which influence the different levels and types of access to those resources that different people enjoy or suffer.

Any readers who wish to pursue that related agenda might with profit refer to the same author’s Freedom and Security: An introduction to the Basic Income debate (Macmillan, 1999), where he recommends ‘a Green policy package’ that would ‘include not only [a Citizen’s Income] but also land and energy taxes, working-time reductions and the expansion of informal exchanges in the third sector’, with the Citizen’s Income seen not as one of a number of ingredients, but as ‘the instrument by which that package is constructed in the first place’ (Freedom and Security, p.201).

Readers might also appreciate a recent essay by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: A Convenient Truth: A better society for us and the planet (Fabian Society, 2014) in which they connect environmental sustainability and greater economic equality. In their view the required sustained increases in equality could be generated by greater workplace democracy, but they also recommend both a Citizen’s Income and a land value tax.

Both social justice and environmental sustainability are essential. Both deserve more discussion, and they deserve to be discussed together. Both Fitzpatrick’s and Wilkinson’s and Pickett’s recent books will help us to do that.