Sunday April 20th, 2014, 9:21 am (EDT)

Environment/Science

Environment & Science

The Urban Agriculture of Havana

Over the last fifteen years, Cuba has developed one of the most successful examples of urban agriculture in the world. Havana, the capital of Cuba, with a population of over two million people, has played a prominent, if not dominant role, in the evolution and revolution of this type of agriculture. The phrase “urban agriculture in Cuba” has a somewhat different meaning, simultaneously more and less restrictive than might appear at a first glance. It is more inclusive, as it allows for large expanses, urban fringes, and suburban lands. For example, the entire cultivated area of the Province of the City of Havana belongs to urban agriculture. … | more |

Rifts and Shifts: Getting to the Root of Environmental Crises

Humans depend on functioning ecosystems to sustain themselves, and their actions affect those same ecosystems. As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic interaction” between humans and the earth, which influences both natural and social history. Increasingly, the state of nature is being defined by the operations of the capitalist system, as anthropogenic forces are altering the global environment on a scale that is unprecedented. The global climate is rapidly changing due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. No area of the world’s ocean is unaffected by human influence, as the accumulation of carbon, fertilizer runoff, and overfishing undermine biodiversity and the natural services that it provides. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment documents how over two-thirds of the world’s ecosystems are overexploited and polluted. Environmental problems are increasingly interrelated. James Hansen, the leading climatologist in the United States, warns that we are dangerously close to pushing the planet past its tipping point, setting off cascading environmental problems that will radically alter the conditions of nature… | more |

Liquefied Natural Gas and Fossil Capitalism

The contemporary ecological crisis places a new spin on the notion of the “resource curse,” evoking widespread concerns regarding hydrocarbon dependency. Whether environmental, in the form of global warming, or socio-political, through wars over oil, “fossil capitalism” is now understood as a global problem. The development of a global market in natural gas, heavily dependent on the development of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, offers an example of a corporate-endorsed solution to the simultaneous ecological and economic “crises” associated with fossil capitalism. Yet, since 2004 a cross-continental mobilization against the development of LNG terminals in North America has successfully challenged the installation of some LNG infrastructure on the West Coast. These movements stress that the investment required to build the global gas industry displaces investment in renewables.… | more |

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… | more |

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.”1 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.2 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… | more |

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 supplies1. 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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

The World Food Crisis: Sources and Solutions

An acute food crisis has struck the world in 2008. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished. In order to understand the full, dire implications of what is happening today it is necessary to look at the interaction between these short-term and long-term crises. Both crises arise primarily from the for-profit production of food, fiber, and now biofuels, and the rift between food and people that this inevitably generates…… | more |

Rachel Carson’s Ecological Critique

Rachel Carson was born just over 100 years ago in 1907. Her most famous book Silent Spring, published in 1962, is often seen as marking the birth of the modern environmental movement. Although an immense amount has been written about Carson and her work, the fact that she was objectively a “woman of the left” has often been downplayed. Today the rapidly accelerating planetary ecological crisis, which she more than anyone else alerted us to, calls for an exploration of the full critical nature of her thought and its relation to the larger revolt within science with which she was associated.… | more |

The Future of Nuclear Power

Regardless of how attractive it may seem or how hard the Bush administration promotes the interests of his nuclear power industry supporters, electricity from nuclear fission is still so hampered by the problem of high-level waste disposal, that any building of new plants would be a serious mistake.…Recent technical advances are still grossly inadequate, and the future of nuclear power, as we know it, is very poor at best.… | more |

No Nukes!

Considerations of Environmental Protection Criteria for Radioactive Waste, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation Programs, Waste Environmental Standards Program, Washington, D.C. 20460, February 1978.

Most government reports make dull reading, and this one is no exception. But it contains a message which needs to be taken in by everyone even minimally concerned about the future of the human race. That message, quite simply, is that there is not and cannot be a safe program for disposing of radioactive wastes. The reasons are basically simple, do not depend on any complicated scientific arguments, and cannot be refuted or made irrelevant by any conceivable increase in scientific knowledge or technological capability. They can be summed up in a series of quotations from the report.… | more |

Living the 11th Thesis

When I was a boy I always assumed that I would grow up to be both a scientist and a Red. Rather than face a problem of combining activism and scholarship, I would have had a very difficult time trying to separate them.… | more |

The Nabi Papers

Isador Nabi is widely believed to have emerged from the swamps of southern Vermont some time in the 1970s. The first written record of him was a short-lived biography in American Men of Science. Then he seems to have dissolved. But it is said that he is a sort of academic Golem and that whenever greed, obscurantism, careerism, reductionism, and opportunism afflict science, that is, most of the time, he condenses again out of hypothetico-deductive dust in some obscure vault in that library where they bury unread dissertations, and he lurks in and around academia spending his rage in jest. An unsuccessful obituary appeared in Nature in 1981. Since then he has been nominated (by himself) eleven times for the Grammy and his works have been retranslated into English from 116 foreign languages that didn’t want them. … | more |

Healing the Rift

As John Bellamy Foster explained in “The Ecology of Destruction” (Monthly Review, February 2007), Marx explored the ecological contradictions of capitalist society as they were revealed in the nineteenth century with the help of the two concepts of metabolic rift and metabolic restoration. The metabolic rift describes how the logic of accumulation severs basic processes of natural reproduction leading to the deterioration of ecological sustainability. Moreover, “by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism,” Marx went on to argue, “it [capitalist production] compels its systematic restoration as a regulating law of social reproduction”—a restoration, however, that can only be fully achieved outside of capitalist relations of production … | more |

Socialism and the Knowledge Economy: Cuban Biotechnology

As authoritatively stated in an editorial in Nature, vol. 436, issue 7049 (July 2005), “Cuba has developed a considerable [scientific] research capability—perhaps more so than any other developing country outside of Southeast Asia.” Cuba has been especially successful in establishing a biotechnology industry that has effectively introduced drugs and vaccines of its own, along with a nascent pharmaceutical industry that has achieved considerable success in exports. Its agriculture and health sectors have been strong beneficiaries of its scientific research. As Nature observed: “It is worth asking how Cuba did it, and what lessons other countries might draw from it.” Indeed, the Cuban case is all the more surprising since it is not only a poor country, but one that has been confronted for decades by a ruthless embargo imposed by the United States, which has been extended to scientific knowledge. Moreover, much of Cuba’s scientific progress has occurred in the decade and a half since the fall of the Soviet Union, which previously had aided it economically and technologically… | more |