Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism
Reviewed by Bryan Walker for Celsias: Green News and Opinion
A couple of months ago when the publishers sent me a review copy I’d requested of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth they enclosed another shorter book in case I might like to review it as well. I thought from the title it was possibly too similar to The Ecological Rift to warrant a further review.
And it is similar in its broad thesis. But it’s also short and punchy, and encouraged by Naomi Klein’s recommendation of it as “relentlessly persuasive” and “indispensable” I read it through and decided to give it mention on its own account. The title is What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism. It’s written by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and John Bellamy Foster, one of the authors of The Ecological Rift.
Why aren’t we responding rationally to the enormous threat of climate change and other major environmental warnings? Why do we persist in behaviours which are clearly dangerous to the human future and already impinging negatively on the welfare of some populations? Why does reckless disregard mark so much of our economic activity? Magdoff and Foster reply that capitalism, “so much part of our lives that it is invisible, like the air we breathe”, is unable to pursue any course other than relentless growth. Nor in its drive for profit and accumulation is it able to take into account the human and environmental cost of its exploitation of natural resources. The phenomenon of “cheap” coal is one example offered. “There is nothing in the nature of the current system … that will allow it to pull back before it is too late.” They hold out scant hope for the green capitalism that some see developing.
My heart sinks when I read such analyses. Not that I want to quarrel with the perception that the capitalist economy is unsustainable ecologically, slanted heavily in favour of the rich and simply unjust in what it provides for the poor. It’s just that waiting until it is replaced by something else is not feasible in the face of the urgent problems confronting us. It was therefore with some relief that I discovered in the final chapter that the authors recommend struggling here and now, within the existing system, to address urgent environmental problems, while at the same time creating an expectation for bigger changes to follow….
Read the entire review on Celsias