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Volume 60, Issue 03 (July-August)

July-August 2008 (Volume 60, Number 3)

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

Ecology: The Moment of Truth—An Introduction

It is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century. Nearly fifteen years ago one of us observed: “We have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline.” Today, with a quarter-century still remaining in this projected time line, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrevocable “tipping point” with respect to climate change within a mere decade. Other crises such as species extinction (percentages of bird, mammal, and fish species “vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction” are “now measured in double digits”);3 the rapid depletion of the oceans’ bounty; desertification; deforestation; air pollution; water shortages/pollution; soil degradation; the imminent peaking of world oil production (creating new geopolitical tensions); and a chronic world food crisis—all point to the fact that the planet as we know it and its ecosystems are stretched to the breaking point. The moment of truth for the earth and human civilization has arrived

Peak Oil and Energy Imperialism

The rise in overt militarism and imperialism at the outset of the twenty-first century can plausibly be attributed largely to attempts by the dominant interests of the world economy to gain control over diminishing world oil supplies. Beginning in 1998 a series of strategic energy initiatives were launched in national security circles in the United States in response to: (1) the crossing of the 50 percent threshold in U.S. importation of foreign oil; (2) the disappearance of spare world oil production capacity; (3) concentration of an increasing percentage of all remaining conventional oil resources in the Persian Gulf; and (4) looming fears of peak oil

The Political Economy and Ecology of Biofuels

The huge increase in oil and other fuel prices over the last few years and a concern that we have reached (or will soon reach) peak oil—after which oil extraction begins to decrease—have created renewed interest in alternative sources of energy. These include solar, wind, ocean wave and tidal flow, geothermal, and biofuels. Sometimes lip service is given to the need for greater energy efficiency, changes in lifestyles (including the ecologically irrational over-reliance on automobiles and living far from one’s job), the need to redesign economic activity from the factory floor to office buildings and homes, and the need for affluent societies to move away from ever higher levels of consumption. However, a radical analysis of actually putting these into effect would lead to questioning the very basics of how capitalism works

Climate Change, Limits to Growth, and the Imperative for Socialism

The 2007 assessment report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that it is virtually certain that human activities (mainly through the use of fossil fuels and land development) have been responsible for the global warming that has taken place since the industrial revolution. Under current economic and social trends, the world is on a path to unprecedented ecological catastrophes. 1 As the IPCC report was being released, new evidence emerged suggesting that climate change is taking place at a much faster pace and the potential consequences are likely to be far more dreadful than is suggested by the IPCC report

The Scientific Case for Modern Anthropogenic Global Warming

Most Americans today believe that the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming, but not everybody agrees. Climate contrarians proclaim that global warming is not occurring at all, or that it is occurring but is entirely natural, i.e., that the anthropogenic (human) contribution to global warming is negligible. The contrarian ranks include the well-known radical journalist Alexander Cockburn, who forcefully proclaimed anthropogenic global warming to be a myth in three articles published in 2007 on the CounterPunch Web site and in The Nation

The Oceanic Crisis: Capitalism and the Degradation of Marine Ecosystem

The world ocean covers approximately 70 percent of the earth. It has been an integral part of human history, providing food and ecological services. Yet conservation efforts and concerns with environmental degradation have mostly focused on terrestrial issues. Marine scientists and oceanographers have recently made remarkable discoveries in regard to the intricacies of marine food webs and the richness of oceanic biodiversity. However, the excitement over these discoveries is dampened due to an awareness of the rapidly accelerating threat to the biological integrity of marine ecosystems

Framing India’s Hydraulic Crisis: The Politics of the Modern Large Dam

For several decades following 1947, the modern large dam in India presented itself as a political conundrum, often voiced in strange, contradictory tones. In an oft-quoted speech in July 1954 Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister (1947–64), likened the large dam to a “modern temple.” Later, in a less remembered speech before a gathering of engineers and technocrats in 1958, Nehru, as if in contrition, bemoaned the quest for big dams as a “disease of gigantism

Blue Covenant: The Alternative Water Future

The three water crises—dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to water, and the corporate control of water—pose the greatest threat of our time to the planet and to our survival. Together with impending climate change from fossil fuel emissions, the water crises impose some life-or-death decisions on us all. Unless we collectively change our behavior, we are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of freshwater— between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing needs of the natural world and industrialized humans

Bill Livant (May 24, 1932-June 2, 2008)

Bill Livant was an independent Marxist intellectual whose main purpose was to provide theoretical tools to people engaged in revolutionary struggles. The Red Scare after the Second World War did not diminish the admiration he had felt for the Soviet Union during the war. The subsequent execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was an ideological turning point for him. While working on his PhD in psychology at the University of Michigan, Bill stood out as a prominent radical. He was part of the Students for a Democratic Society movement that produced the Port Huron Statement