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July-August 2008 (Volume 60, Number 3)

Notes from the Editors

This number of Monthly Review is a special issue on “Ecology: The Moment of Truth,” edited by Brett Clark, John Bellamy Foster, and Richard York. In the present issue we concentrate on the planetary environmental emergency. In a later special issue, to appear this fall, the magazine will address the social and economic regime change that is necessary to save the earth as we know it.

In May, global warming, species extinction, and growing fears of peaking global oil production all combined to make the Arctic a focus of world attention. On May 14, the U.S. Interior Department listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to the rapid melting of Arctic ice. At the same time it declared that the listing should not be used as a “back door” to combat global warming, indicating that the listing would provide polar bears no more protection than before from oil drilling in Arctic waters. This caused some environmental groups to denounce the listing as “in name only” and a fraud (Associated Press, “U.S. Lists Polar Bear as a Threatened Species,” May 15, 2008).

Meanwhile, the rapid melting of the Arctic combined with peak oil fears is generating what Scott Borgerson, a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, has called “An Ice Cold War” between the five countries with Arctic coastlines: Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), and Norway, each of which have made claims to disputed portions of the Arctic (New York Times, August 8, 2007).

The thawing of the Arctic (discussed in a number of articles in this issue) is occurring at such a pace that some scientists now believe that it could be mostly or even completely ice free in the summer of 2013. Last August, Russia dispatched a nuclear-powered icebreaker and a research vessel to the North Pole and left its flag encased in titanium in the seafloor more than 13,200 feet below the frozen surface ice. This was a symbolic attempt to establish Russia’s territorial claim to a vast area of the Arctic on the premise that the Arctic’s 1,200 mile long underwater formation, the Lomonosov Ridge, is a geological extension of Russia’s continental shelf. The United States, Canada, Denmark, and Norway are also increasing their claims to portions of the Arctic Ocean and all five Arctic powers are in the process of moving military forces and bases to the North. The U.S. Navy views the United States as having a critical icebreaker gap in relation to the Russians, who have six times the number of polar icebreakers. The United States, it is said, needs enough icebreakers to maintain a strong presence at both poles. If an agreement on the Arctic is not worked out, Borgerson has stated, it could “descend into armed conflict” (“The Race to Own the Arctic,” Parade, June 1, 2008; Alex Shoumatoff, “The Arctic Oil Rush,” Vanity Fair, May 2008).

The main reason? Oil. The Arctic could hold, it is estimated, as much as a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil (and natural gas) reserves. And thanks to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels it may be possible within a decade or so to get at the oil. (Another issue is the opening of the Arctic to commercial traffic. Canada has declared its Northwest Passage an internal waterway, while the United States insists that it belongs to international waters).

At the end of May representatives from the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, and Norway met in a two-day conference to discuss Arctic territorial claims. It was agreed that the United Nations would rule on the respective ownership claims on the basis of the Law of the Sea Convention. The five countries, it was decided, will provide scientific data to the United Nations until 2014 (about the time the Arctic is expected by some to be largely ice free in the summer months) and it will then decide on ownership. If there is any area of agreement in all of this, amongst the various nations concerned, it is that the Arctic oil rush is on. Environmentalists, meanwhile, claim that exploitation of Arctic oil and gas would simply add new fuel to the present planetary emergency associated with global warming. All of this then comes down in the end to a case of capitalism versus the planet. (“Russia, Denmark, U.S. Meet in Greenland to Discuss Oil Claims,”, May 27, 2008; “UN to Rule on Arctic Seabed Ownership,” Telegraph [London], May 29, 2008).

The Monthly Review community includes an increasing number of friends all over the world who translate our articles for publication, both online and in print. A new exclusively online Portuguese edition commenced in June as a subscription venture. If you would like to take a look at “Monthly Review—edição portuguesa,” number 1, it is available for free download at This month the first issue will appear of the Hindi edition of Monthly Review, “Troi Masik Samiksha (A Selection from Monthly Review, Founded by Paul Sweezy),” based in Lucknow. Our warmest welcome to these new members of the Monthly Review family, which also includes: an Indian English-language edition, and editions in Bengali, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, and Korean.

Our friend and long-time MR author, Bill Tabb, reported on a colloquium he attended in April in Cape Town, South Africa, entitled “Continuity and Discontinuity in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Bill came back full of admiration for Amandla Publishers, the sponsor of the event (“amandla” is Zulu for “power”), and for the collective of socialists and activists based in Cape Town, Durban, and Gautteng. The magazine, Amandla!, he says, is “exciting, well-written, and politically sophisticated.” “The main conclusion I drew from the experience,” he told us, “was that the declining legitimacy of the post-Apartheid state is the result of its inability to deliver changed socioeconomic conditions countering the misery that characterized Apartheid. Such misery remains in most respects unchanged in the post-Apartheid era and is responsible for the anti-immigrant violence recently witnessed. The key question is one of agency, i.e., the capacity of the popular forces in South Africa to articulate, organize, and struggle on a different plane for an alternative South Africa based on social justice.” MR readers may want to visit the Amandla! Web site and subscribe to this important new publication at

We are sad to report that our good friend and indefatigable supporter of Monthly Review,Bill Livant, died at the age of seventy-six in his home city of Victoria, British Colombia on Monday June 2, after suffering a stroke the previous week. It is impossible to explain the brilliance and wit that Bill brought to the understanding of dialectics and a wide range of issues from Darwinian evolution to political economy. Bill had called each of the editors of this special issue individually within the past few weeks (at this writing) to provide his thoughts on various projects they were engaged in: this special issue, their forthcoming Monthly Review Press book, Critique of Intelligent Design, and the question of stagnation/financialization. He will be deeply missed. (See the box on Bill in this issue.)

For those interested in looking at Bill Livant’s work, three of his short articles (“I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse,” “The Dialectics of Walking on Two Legs,” and “Livant’s Cure for Baldness,” previously published in Science & Society) appear in a new book edited by Bertell Ollman and Tony Smith, Dialectics for the New Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). (Other contributors to the book, besides Bill and the book’s editors, include: Richard Levins, John Bellamy Foster, Lucien Sève, David Harvey, Frederick Jameson, István Mészáros, Michael Löwy, Thomas T. Sekine, Christopher J. Arthur, Nancy Hartsock, Joel Kovel, and Ira Gollobin.)

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