ANTONIO GRAMSCI by Antonio A. Santucci
THE ECOLOGICAL RIFT:
Capitalism's War on the Earth
by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
THE ECOLOGICAL REVOLUTION: Making Peace with the Planet by John Bellamy Foster
MARX'S ECOLOGY: Materialism and Nature by John Bellamy Foster
ECOLOGY AGAINST CAPITALISM: by John Bellamy Foster
THE VULNERABLE PLANET: A Short Economic History of the Environment by John Bellamy Foster
THE SCIENCE AND HUMANISM OF STEPHEN JAY GOULD
by Richard York and Brett Clark
BIOLOGY UNDER THE INFLUENCE: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health
by Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins
THE DEVIL'S MILK: A Social History of Rubber by John Tully
AGRICULTURE AND FOOD IN CRISIS: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal by Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar
HUNGRY FOR PROFIT: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment edited by Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel
THE INVISIBLE HANDCUFFS OF CAPITALISM: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers by Michael Perelman
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF GROWTH by Paul A. Baran
THE LAW OF WORLDWIDE VALUE by Samir Amin
DEPENDENT ACCUMULATION AND UNDER-
DEVELOPMENT by Andre Gunder Frank
FANSHEN: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village by William Hinton, new preface by Fred Magdoff
THE UNKNOWN CULTURAL REVOLUTION
Life and Change in a Chinese Village by Dongping Han
CHINA AND SOCIALISM: Market Reforms and Class Struggle
by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett
THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
THE ROSA LUXEMBURG READER edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson
THE SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE by Michael A. Lebowitz
BUILD IT NOW: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century by Michael A. Lebowitz
THE STRUCTURAL CRISIS OF CAPITAL by István Mészáros
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND FORMS OF CONSCIOUS-
NESS by István Mészáros
CHE GUEVARA: His Revolutionary Legacy by Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy
ING THE VENEZUELAN REVOLUTION: Hugo Chavez Talks to Marta Harnecker by Hugo Chavez and Marta Harnecker
The Ecological Rift: A Radical Response to Capitalism's War on the Planet
by Simon Butler
Climate change is often called the greatest environment threat facing humanity. The threat is very real. Unless we cut carbon pollution fast, runaway climate change will worsen existing environmental and social problems, and create new ones of its own. But it's no longer enough to simply refer to the climate crisis. Climate change is one part of a broader ecological disaster, brought about by an economic system that relies on constant growth, endless accumulation, and ever-deepening human alienation.
A 2009 study published in Nature revealed some of the extent of this ecological crisis. The study, which was led by Sweden's Johan Rockstrom and included US climate scientist James Hansen, identified nine "planetary boundaries" that are critical for human life on the planet. Along with climate change, these boundaries are: global freshwater use, chemical pollution, ocean acidification, land use change, biodiversity (the extinction rate), ozone levels in the stratosphere, aerosol (or small particle) levels in the atmosphere, and the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles that regulate soil fertility (and hence food production). The study said three of these critical planetary boundaries -- climate, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss -- had already been crossed. A further four -- land use change, the phosphorus cycle, ocean acidification, and freshwater use -- are emerging problems. The scientists said these boundaries had not yet been breached but could be soon if nothing was done. The state of the ozone layer, which regulates the ultraviolet radiation from the sun hitting the Earth, was the only good news. A global treaty to phase out ozone-depleting gasses, such as chlorofluorocarbons, seems to have made a difference. The study's authors said they didn't yet know enough to measure the planetary boundaries for chemical pollution and aerosol levels.
In their 2010 book, The Ecological Rift, US Marxists John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York remark on this study:
Capitalism, a grow-or-die system, must ignore the planet's boundaries. But we cannot afford to -- not if we are to secure a safe planet that can sustain human civilisation. As Foster, Clark and York conclude: "No solution to the world's ecological problem can be arrived at that does not take the surmounting of capitalism, as an imperialist world system, as its object. It is time to take the planet back for sustainable human development."
The Ecological Rift deserves – and needs -- to become a classic in its field. Dozens and dozens of new books, and many thousands of papers and articles, are published about the ecological crisis each year. The literature on the Earth's growing environmental problems has become a minor growth industry in itself. But despite the scale of the crisis, surprisingly few environmentalists in the global North are challenging their own preconceptions about the present social and economic system, the causal role it plays in driving ecological decay, and the ways in which the system can be challenged, overcome, and replaced. Curtis White zoomed in on this persistent trend in a 2009 article in Orion magazine:
The Ecological Rift is an exception to this norm. Its starting point is a frank assessment of the problems, but it focuses on a sustained critique of the mainstream ecological theories, solutions, and proposals that do not address the root cause of the dilemma and that do not deeply investigate why the ecological crisis has reached such dire proportions.
A big issue for those concerned with climate change and other environmental ills is to get a better understanding of the capitalist system, who benefits most from it, and how it works to undermine stable ecosystems. The authors describe capitalism as a system of rifts and shifts. Rifts, because its reliance on short-term profit and endless growth means it must drive an ever-deepening wedge between human society and the natural conditions needed to sustain all life. Shifts, because when it's confronted with environmental degradation the system tends to simply move it elsewhere. These shifts are often geographical -- toxic, polluting industries are moved out of urban areas or from the rich nations to the global South. Another example is how the depletion of natural resources in one region merely drives capital to expand its reach somewhere else in the globe. The oil industry, which has expanded offshore drilling operations in the past few decades (think the Gulf of Mexico) and now wants to drill for oil in the relatively untouched Arctic Ocean, is a classic example of this kind of geographical shifting characteristic of capitalism.
But the shifts are also technological. Capitalism has typically responded to environmental problems and resource depletion with technical changes in the methods of production: wood-burning substituted for coal-burning, natural fertiliser for synthetic fertiliser, paper for plastic, conventional oil for biofuels, and fossil fuel power plants for nuclear power plants. These changes have opened up new profitable markets but have also created new, and more pressing, ecological rifts. The authors explain:
Yet the nearness of this crash won't prompt the system's rulers to change course. Environmental destruction is part of capitalism's DNA.
Mainstream environmental commentators and groups resist this conclusion. Although they may be harshly critical of the environmental destruction, they limit their proposals to what is feasible within the framework of the capitalist system. Sometimes this is justified on pragmatic grounds that the ecological crisis is so advanced that we don't have time to change the system, and so we need to work within the flawed system we've got. Others have been convinced by the neoliberal argument that capitalism can be made green and serve ecologically sensible outcomes -- the idea that once environmental goods are adequately priced, preserving ecosystems can be made profitable and the market could become the saviour, rather than the destroyer, of the planet. Yet others still may acknowledge capitalism's anti-ecological features, but are either pessimistic about the potential to change society or think that any other social system would be even worse.
But Foster, Clark, and York argue that these outlooks actually serve to play down the gravity of the crisis and condemn environmentalists to pursing strategies that are doomed to fail. They say:
The Ecological Rift devotes a lot of space to a critique of the various green capitalist theories, which contend market-based solutions to climate change and other environmental problems are the most efficient and realistic options available. Advocates of these theories say capitalism is well placed to deliver the technological advances and release the ingenuity required to restore ecosystems, especially if governments help out by subsidising new green markets to give them an advantage.
The most ambitious of these "ecological modernisation" theorists suggest the capitalism could eventually be dematerialised: that is, transformed from a system dominated by the production of commodities for profit to a system based on the exchange of ecologically sound services. Others have argued that capitalism, which relies on the constant growth and accumulation of capital, could be reformed into a steady-state economy -- an economy that has ceased to grow.
The authors reply that a serious failing with these ideas is that they do not understand, downplay, or disregard the fact that any serious challenge to capitalism's anti-ecological course would necessarily take the form of a serious class conflict, a struggle for social and economic power against the powerful minority that benefit most from the status quo.
"Ecological modernization theory is", Foster, Clark and York say, "a functionalist theory in that that it does not see the emergence of ecological rationality as coming primarily from social conflict but rather from ecological enlightenment within the key institutions in societies. Ecological modernization theorists contend, then, that radical ecological reform does not require social reform -- that is, the institutions of capitalist modernity can avert a global environment crisis without a fundamental restructuring of the social order, with gradual change in its operations."
A highlight of The Ecological Rift is its chapter on consumers and consumerism. The most dispirited environmentalists and activists tend to elevate the high personal consumption and endemic waste of ordinary working people in the global North as the most intransigent ecological problem of all. Meanwhile, the most naive environmentalists argue that enlightened consumer choices are the solution and that consumer behaviour has the power to determine how the capitalist market operates.
There is no question that mass consumption, and the alienating consumer culture it has given rise to, has a very serious ecological impact. But Foster, Clark, and York discuss the rise of the mass consumer society in its proper context. Consumerism is not so much the cause of ecological decay but is another symptom of capitalism's drive to expand itself at all costs. And before anyone rushes to blame the shoppers crowding the supermarket aisles or the commuters idling in traffic jams for heedlessly pushing the planet's ecology towards oblivion, the authors ask us to take deeper look at who the real mega-consumers are.
And it's next to meaningless to discuss the ecological impacts of consumerism without paying attention to advertising (easily the most far-reaching, manipulative, and successful mass propaganda system devised in world history) and its evil twin, planned obsolescence.
The final section of The Ecological Rift, titled "Ways Out", includes some interesting conjecture on what groups and social forces might be the main agents of the ecological revolution that the authors call for.
Of course, this passage amounts to a thoughtful speculation, not a prediction. The first decisive breaks with capitalism and imperialism may well occur in Latin America or the Middle East, regions that have also borne the impacts of colonialism and imperialism, which are also arguably already in the ecological front line. But Foster, Clark, and York's emphasis on "a new environmental proletariat" reflects their belief that environmental concerns will play a crucial role in future revolutionary upheavals against the system.
The authors insist, however, that "the planetary crisis we are now caught up in . . . requires a world uprising transcending all geographical boundaries", including the advanced capitalist nations. They say:
How exactly such a "universal revolt" against capitalism can be brought into being cannot be answered by any book. It can only be discovered through struggle. And engaging in a struggle aimed at ecological revolution is, it itself, no guarantee of success. But if people-centred solutions to the ecological crisis are sidelined we can guarantee that the capitalist elites will impose their own barbaric solutions, solutions that will have even greater human and ecological costs. This means, in a sense, that we've all got our backs to the wall. The Ecological Rift makes clear that the world's workers and poor are left with no other option -- we've got to fight.
Simon Butler is a Sydney-based climate activist, a member of the Socialist Alliance, and co-editor of Green Left Weekly. This article was first published in LINKS: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.