Foreclosing the Future (Hardcover)

The World Bank and the Politics of Environmental Destruction

By Bruce Rich

Island Press, 9781610911849, 320pp.

Publication Date: September 30, 2013

List Price: 35.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has vowed that his institution will fight poverty and climate change, a claim that World Bank presidents have made for two decades. But if worldwide protests and reams of damning internal reports are any indication, too often it does just the opposite. By funding development projects and programs that warm the planet and destroy critical natural resources on which the poor depend, the Bank has been hurting the very people it claims to serve. What explains this blatant contradiction?

If anyone has the answer, it is arguably Bruce Rich—a lawyer and expert in public international finance who has for the last three decades studied the Bank’s institutional contortions, the real-world consequences of its lending, and the politics of the global environmental crisis. What emerges from the bureaucratic dust is a disturbing and gripping story of corruption, larger-than-life personalities, perverse incentives, and institutional amnesia. The World Bank is the Vatican of development finance, and its dysfunction plays out as a reflection of the political hypocrisies and failures of governance of its 188 member countries.

Foreclosing the Future shows how the Bank’s failure to address the challenges of the 21st Century has implications for everyone in an increasingly interdependent world. Rich depicts how the World Bank is a microcosm of global political and economic trends—powerful forces that threaten both environmental and social ruin. Rich shows how the Bank has reinforced these  forces, undercutting the most idealistic attempts at alleviating poverty and sustaining the environment, and damaging the lives of millions. Readers will see global politics on an increasingly crowded planet as they never have before—and come to understand the changes necessary if the World Bank is ever to achieve its mission.

To review the references and notes with links to articles, please click on the "Resources" tab at

About the Author

Bruce Rich is an attorney and writer who has published extensively on the environment in developing countries and development in general. He is the author of a major critique and history of the World Bank, Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development  (Beacon Press 1994,1995; Island Press 2013). Mortgaging was widely acclaimed in reviews ranging from the New York Times to Le Monde Diplomatique. More recently, Foreclosing the Future: The World Bank and the Politics of Environmental Destruction (Island Press 2013) recounts, through the prism of the World Bank, the geopolitics of the global environment and examines the worldwide challenges of governance, climate change, corruption, and the tension between political economy and ecology.

Rich was awarded the United Nations Global 500 Award for environmental achievement for his research and advocacy concerning international financial institutions. He worked for three decades as an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, and has testified in numerous congressional hearings on U.S. participation in international financial institution and international organizations. He has written articles and opeds for a number of publications, including The Financial Times, Open Democracy, The Nation, The Ecologist, and he is a regular columnist to The Environmental Forum, the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute, for which he has also contributed feature cover stories. He has written an historical and philosophical work on the need for a shared environmental and social ethic for our economically globalized era, To Uphold the World: A Call for a New Global Ethic from Ancient India (Beacon Press 2010). To Uphold the World garnered high praise from the Dalai Lama and Nobel Economics Laureate Amartya Sen, who contributed an afterword and a foreword. An expanded paperback version was recently published by Penguin South Asia as Ashoka in Our Time: The Question of  Dharma for a Globalized World (Penguin/Random House/Viking 2017), also available in the United States. His analysis of Ashoka also appeared in a collection of the Best Buddhist writing in America 2012.
For more information, visit Bruce's website.


Praise For Foreclosing the Future: The World Bank and the Politics of Environmental Destruction

"deeply-researched and filled with heretofore publicly unavailable Bank documents.... His book argues thoroughly and methodically that the Bank's permissive attitude towards environmental destruction has continued, if not worsened, in the past decade."

— New Republic

"Rich's most valuable insights concern how often the World Bank has been informed – by its own internal review boards, no less – that its policies have not reduced poverty so much as hastened environmental destruction and enabled corruption by public officials in developing nations. Nevertheless, the bank has gone on 'pushing money out the door'—giving large loans that make it appear to be moving heaven and earth on behalf of the poor but in practice often do the opposite."

— OnEarth

"...offers a passionate and sharp-tongued but well-informed analysis. Rich doesn't spare the World Bank management with critique, but is aware that the buck doesn't stop there."

— Huffington Post

"A compelling account of the past two decades of global environmental politics as played out in the world's leading development institution. Foreclosing the Future underscores that the need for public scrutiny of international financial institutions is as great as ever."

— Senator Tom Udall, NM, Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere & Global Narcotics Affairs

"Foreclosing the Future carefully documents the World Bank's adherence to 'pushing the money out the door,' refusing to learn from past mistakes, tolerating corruption, trashing the planet, and evicting the poor—all in devout service to a mismeasure of wealth. Bruce Rich gives a tragic, honest, and well-argued account of the decline of a once-promising institution."

— Herman Daly, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

"Bruch Rich paints a vivid picture of the environmental damage that civic groups, governments, corporations, and the multinational lending sector have all grappled with over the past years."

— Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley

"The strength of the book, however, is its dissection of the Bank's approach to climate change."

— Financial Times

"As well as presenting powerful arguments for reform, the book is crammed full of facts about the Bank and international development nance. It also documents two decades of civil society campaigns to hold the Bank accountable and promote reform. For these reasons, it will be of great interest to civil society activists and campaigners in the North and South."

— Forest Peoples Programme

"...this book offers an important pooling of evidence that should guide both scholars and practitioners in their understanding of and work with development in general and the World Bank specifically. Rich's volume is an important addition to the conversation on the role and impact of the World Bank and should receive careful and serious attention in efforts to reform the Bank and truly alleviate global poverty while preserving the world in which all people must live."

— Poverty & Public Policy

"Based on his expertise and numerous case studies, as well as internal and external reports and evaluations, Rich gives a compelling account of the past 20 years of global of global environmental politics played out in the world's leading developmental institutions."

— Choice