Wednesday April 16th, 2014, 9:07 am (EDT)

Marxist Ecology

Marxist Ecology

Capitalism and the Curse of Energy Efficiency

The Return of the Jevons Paradox

The curse of energy efficiency, better known as the Jevons Paradox—the idea that increased energy (and material-resource) efficiency leads not to conservation but increased use—was first raised by William Stanley Jevons in the nineteenth century. Although forgotten for most of the twentieth century, the Jevons Paradox has been rediscovered in recent decades and stands squarely at the center of today’s environmental dispute… | more |

Time to Pay the Piper

Ariel Salleh, ed., Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology (New York: Pluto Press, 2009), 324 pages, $34.00, paperback.

In 2001, Wilma Dunaway wrote that the “tentacles of the world-system are entwined around the bodies of women.” Yet her literary analysis revealed a profound silence about the role of women in reproductive labor, subsistence households, and commodity chain analysis. Dunaway characterized this omission as, “the greatest intellectual and political blunder” in her field.…Nearly ten years later, Ariel Salleh has answered this unspoken call with the resounding voices of seventeen feminist scholars who address transdisciplinary issues of global political ecology.… | more |

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

For those concerned with the fate of the earth, the time has come to face facts: not simply the dire reality of climate change but also the pressing need for social-system change. The failure to arrive at a world climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 was not simply an abdication of world leadership, as is often suggested, but had deeper roots in the inability of the capitalist system to address the accelerating threat to life on the planet. Knowledge of the nature and limits of capitalism, and the means of transcending it, has therefore become a matter of survival. In the words of Fidel Castro in December 2009: “Until very recently, the discussion [on the future of world society] revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centers on whether human society will survive.”… | more |

Why Ecological Revolution?

It is now universally recognized within science that humanity is confronting the prospect—if we do not soon change course—of a planetary ecological collapse. Not only is the global ecological crisis becoming more and more severe, with the time in which to address it fast running out, but the dominant environmental strategies are also forms of denial, demonstrably doomed to fail, judging by their own limited objectives. This tragic failure, I will argue, can be attributed to the refusal of the powers that be to address the roots of the ecological problem in capitalist production and the resulting necessity of ecological and social revolution.… | more |

Capitalism in Wonderland

In a recent essay, “Economics Needs a Scientific Revolution,” in one of the leading scientific journals, Nature, physicist Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, a researcher for an investment management company, asked rhetorically, “What is the flagship achievement of economics?” Bouchaud’s answer: “Only its recurrent inability to predict and avert crises.”1 Although his discussion is focused on the current worldwide financial crisis, his comment applies equally well to mainstream economic approaches to the environment — where, for example, ancient forests are seen as non-performing assets to be liquidated, and clean air and water are luxury goods for the affluent to purchase at their discretion. The field of economics in the United States has long been dominated by thinkers who unquestioningly accept the capitalist status quo and, accordingly, value the natural world only in terms of how much short-term profit can be generated by its exploitation. As a result, the inability of received economics to cope with or even perceive the global ecological crisis is alarming in its scope and implications.… | more |

Ecology and the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism

The transition from capitalism to socialism is the most difficult problem of socialist theory and practice. To add to this the question of ecology might therefore be seen as unnecessarily complicating an already intractable issue. I shall argue here, however, that the human relation to nature lies at the heart of the transition to socialism. An ecological perspective is pivotal to our understanding of capitalism’s limits, the failures of the early socialist experiments, and the overall struggle for egalitarian and sustainable human development… | 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 |

Capitalist and Socialist Responses to the Ecological Crisis

The global ecological crisis sprang forth full-blown at roughly the same historical moment that global capital—welcoming the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the decay of the revolutionary process in China—was claiming a definitive victory over socialism. The irony of this historic convergence lies in the fact that there could be no more decisive a refutation of capitalist precepts than their long-term incompatibility with species-survival… | more |

Ecological Crises and the Agrarian Question in World-Historical Perspective

We are here to talk about the Agrarian Question, or rather, Agrarian Questions. The plural is important. We live in a modern world-system of unprecedented unevenness and complexity. This much, we all know. At the same time, it is no less important, I should add, to see this diversity from what Lukács once called the “point of view of totality.”1 The Agrarian Questions are not exclusive but rather mutually constitutive. However, they are not constitutive of each other in the fashion that has gained such widespread circulation these days within critical social science—that the local shapes the global no less than the other way around. Yes, local-regional transformations have always generated powerful contradictions that shaped in decisive ways the geography and timing of world accumulation and world power. The parts shape the whole. The whole shapes the parts. But never equally so… | 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 |

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 |

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 |

A New Stage in Capitalism’s War on the Planet

The introduction to this book, the last part to be completed, was sent to the printer in New York City only days before the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and was first published in October 2001 in Monthly Review. Since then the world has witnessed a continuing war by the United States for control of the oil-rich Middle East and an acceleration of the global ecological crisis—symbolized above all by global warming. The opening years of the twenty-first century can therefore be viewed as marking a new stage in the war of capitalism on the planet… | more |

March 2007, Volume 58, Number 10

March 2007, Volume 58, Number 10

» Notes from the Editors

Our friends Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, editors of the Socialist Register, have recently published Coming to Terms with Nature: Socialist Register, 2007 (Monthly Review Press, 2006), which includes contributions by a distinguished group of analysts addressing crucial environmental issues—dealing with everything from “fossil capitalism” to eco-localism… | more |

The Ecology of Destruction

I would like to begin my analysis of what I am calling here “the ecology of destruction” by referring to Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1969 film Burn!. Pontecorvo’s epic film can be seen as a political and ecological allegory intended for our time. It is set in the early nineteenth century on an imaginary Caribbean island called “Burn.” Burn is a Portuguese slave colony with a sugar production monoculture dependent on the export of sugar as a cash crop to the world economy. In the opening scene we are informed that the island got its name from the fact that the only way that the original Portuguese colonizers were able to vanquish the indigenous population was by setting fire to the entire island and killing everyone on it, after which slaves were imported from Africa to cut the newly planted sugar cane… | more |

January 2007, Volume 58, Number 8

January 2007, Volume 58, Number 8

» Notes from the Editors

In late November 2006 John Bellamy Foster traveled to Brazil where he delivered addresses on the global ecological devastation of capitalism, and the need for worldwide ecosocialist resistance, at two universities in the state of Santa Catarina: the Regional University of Blumenau and the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianópolis. These talks were part of the third annual Bolivarian Days Conference organized by the Institute of Latin American Studies in Brazil. The theme this year was “Social Theory and Eurocentrism in Latin America: The Insurgency of Critical Thought.” The conference provided ample evidence of the vitality of socialist and anti-imperialist critiques both in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole in what is clearly a new era of revolt… | more |

A Marxist Ecological Economics

Paul Burkett, Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy (Boston: Brill, 2006), 355 pages, hardcover, $89.00.

Paul Burkett’s new book, Marxism and Ecological Economics, offers in an outstanding manner evidence of the treasures in Marx’s “Critique of Political Economy” and of the riches of Marxist theory accumulated in more than a hundred years of theoretical reasoning. It is an attempt to bring Marx into the new economic subdiscipline of ecological economics…, and at the same time to reexamine Marxist theory from the perspective of ecological economics.… Burkett’s book aims at correcting…widespread, if not altogether dominant interpretations, which are fundamentally flawed—in both their theoretical understandings of Marxism and their attempts to reduce its influence to certain failed historical experiments.… | more |

Organizing Ecological Revolution

My subject—organizing ecological revolution—has as its initial premise that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis of such enormity that the web of life of the entire planet is threatened and with it the future of civilization… | more |