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  • From Precaution to Profit: Contemporary Challenges to Environmental Protection in the Montreal Protocol by Brian J. Gareau
  • David L. Downie
Gareau, Brian J. 2013. From Precaution to Profit: Contemporary Challenges to Environmental Protection in the Montreal Protocol. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

This interesting and well-researched book provides in-depth analysis of the ongoing attempt to phase out methyl bromide (MeBr) under the Montreal Protocol. It demonstrates how allowable exemptions, the influence of large and predominantly California-based agricultural businesses, and expanding influence of neo-liberal economic and political paradigms have frustrated efforts to eliminate this toxic and ozone-depleting substance (ODS). Gareau argues that the success of economic interests in significantly delaying the elimination of methyl bromide in the United States and in the ozone regime is a worrisome example of the threat that neoliberalism poses for achieving the ultimate goal of the ozone regime and for effective global environmental politics in general.

The book helps to fill several important gaps in the secondary literature on the ozone regime. MeBr is a powerful ODS used as a pesticide, as a fumigant in shipping containers and to sterilize soil, especially in commercial large-scale monoculture settings. Its uses are different from, and have received far less attention than, other ozone-depleting substances. The exemptions for MeBr are far broader and subject to far less review than for other substances within the Montreal Protocol process. These include a permissive “critical use exemption” for agriculture.

Gareau provides the most detailed treatment to date of the political economy of the MeBr issue and how agricultural lobbyists and their political allies, especially in the United States, have exploited the broader exemptions to keep [End Page 147] using MeBr in relatively large quantities despite the availability of effective but sometimes more costly substitutes. This analysis not only helps us understand the ongoing evolution of global ozone policy but also provides insights regarding how to structure exemptions in international environmental treaties.

From Precaution to Profit also provides detailed discussions of other important but understudied aspects of the ozone regime, including the domestic debates that produced the US’ negotiating positions in the 1990s and 2000s; attempts by global civil society groups to influence policy in the US and EU; and the often-important roles of technical committees within the ozone regime in framing policy debates. As a sociologist, Gareau brings a different theoretical lens than most who have examined global environmental politics. Also, the book provides a useful counterpoint to the uniformly positive evaluations of the ozone regime. It is a valuable addition to the literature.

The only potential issue is whether the book would benefit from a better understanding of the history of the ozone regime and global environmental politics in general. Gareau argues that the ability of economic interests to exploit the MeBr exemptions shows that the ozone regime is less effective now than in the past, and that it has moved from an emphasis on precaution to one on profit. He views this shift as evidence of increasing acceptance of neoliberal ideology, which threatens the ability of international actors to effectively manage global problems and explains why the early ozone regime was more environmentally focused and effective than it has become or than the climate regime is now.

These observations have elements of truth, but they are sometimes presented in what some might regard as an exaggerated fashion. Economic interests have always compromised protection of the ozone layer, and there is really no difference between how and why they do so now than they did in the past. European states essentially refused to discuss the possibility of coordinating domestic controls of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) at the first international meetings on the issue in the late 1970s. Europe (supported by Japan and Russia) prevented the 1985 Vienna Convention from including any control measures, rejecting arguments for taking precautionary action and stating that the lack of scientific certainty did not warrant the cost to their domestic industries.1 The heralded 50-percent cuts in the “precautionary” 1987 Montreal Protocol actually required only modest adjustment costs by the EU and Japan industries, as their governments could meet much of the requirement through controls on...