- Global Environmentalism and Local Politics: Transnational Advocacy Networks in Brazil, Ecuador, and India
This book makes an important contribution to a burgeoning field of study: the growth of global civil society, and transnational activism in particular. Moog Rodrigues questions and ultimately challenges two basic assumptions in this literature: that transnational advocacy networks always benefit and empower the local groups affiliated with them, and that the most important actors in these networks are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the national and international levels, with those at the grassroots playing a secondary or supportive role.
As the author notes in the introduction, scholarly literature on transnational advocacy networks (an area of study spearheaded by Keck and Sikkink 1998) has tended to focus on networks' abilities to influence political actors and policies at the national and international levels or to bring about shifts in international or domestic public opinion. This book, by contrast, seeks to evaluate the impact that involvement in transnational networks has on participating grassroots member organizations, particularly how much they are empowered through the relationship. The author describes her enterprise as examining these networks "from the inside out," seeking to open up--to borrow a concept from international relations theory--the "black box" by scrutinizing their internal politics and distribution of power.
The core case study around which the book revolves is that of the international network that formed to challenge the Brazilian government's development plans for the Amazonian state of Rondônia. The Polonoroeste megaproject, conceived by the Brazilian military government in the late 1970s and implemented during the 1980s, contemplated major road construction, further colonization of the rainforest, and the development of the region's purported agricultural potential. The World Bank was a major source of outside funding for the project and, as such, was intimately involved in its design and execution. The impact of Polonoroeste on the region's environment and the human populations that resided there, including Amerindians and rubber tappers, was devastating.
The Rondônia network was initiated by concerned activists and academics from outside the region who anticipated the negative implications of the project and sought to challenge and detain its implementation. The network grew to include both national and international human rights and environmental NGOs, as well as Brazilian and foreign academics. At the time of the network's formation, not much local organization existed to speak of; the network was instrumental in helping [End Page 176] to organize local populations that would be directly affected by the project, so that they could respond to the government's initiatives. Largely as a result of the network's successful organizing, the Brazilian government, together with the World Bank, designed the Planafloro project in the late 1980s, which sought to remedy some of the damage done by Polonoroeste. The network participated in negotiations over the planning and implementation of this second project, and because of this the Planafloro project, while by no means perfect, ended up being far less damaging to the local environment and the human populations dependent on it than the Polonoroeste project had been.
Moog Rodrigues apparently did most of her primary research on the Rondônia case, with four of the eight chapters devoted to analyzing its evolution and internal dynamics. In the final two chapters (not including the conclusion), the findings derived from this case are compared and contrasted with the trajectories of two other transnational environmental movements: ongoing efforts to protect the Ecuadorian Amazon from the negative effects of oil drilling, and the campaign to halt the construction of the massive Sardar Sarovar hydroelectric dam on India's Narmada River.
Moog Rodrigues does not dispute the assertion, by other scholars of transnational advocacy networks, that international and, to a lesser extent, domestic NGOs are the primary providers of material and technical resources within said networks. However, she gives pride of place to grassroots groups by arguing that their strength and cohesion is key to any network's...