THE ECOLOGICAL RIFT
by BRYAN WALKER on OCTOBER 25, 2011
Why do we continue with business as usual when we know that it is leading us to disastrous climate change? According to the authors of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth it is because our capitalist economic system is driven by forces which cannot stand back and weigh the consequences of their drive. The blind accumulation of private wealth at the expense of the environment has enormous momentum which the system is not geared to control.
The authors, John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York are all sociology professors. They write from the broadly Marxist standpoint exemplified by the Monthly Review magazine of which Foster is the current editor. As might be expected, their attack on capitalism is not limited to its environmental devastation but also takes in its exploitation of human labour for private profit. One of the interests of the book, for me with only a superficial acquaintance with Marx’s thought, was its explanation of the unity which Marx saw in nature and society and which western Marxism failed to sustain. The authors point, for example, to Marx’s interest in soil science and awareness of the nutrient depletion accompanying a more industrialised agriculture. Nature as well as human society needed to be protected from the capitalist juggernaut.
The first thing I always look for in social science writing on climate change is whether there is a full recognition of the seriousness of the physical science. There is in this book. James Hansen is the climate scientist the authors most frequently refer to when facing up to the dangers ahead, and they accept 350 ppm concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere as the threshold beyond which it is unwise to allow the build-up to continue. Early in the book they acknowledge the “planetary boundaries” project of the multi-disciplinary team led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and what it portends for the human future. There is no glossing over of the peril in which we stand if business as usual continues….
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