It was an honor to have my essay “A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis,” from the summer 2013 issue of Dissent, “read with interest” by the editors of Monthly Review, even if the editors took issue with my argument that the timeframe of climate science indicates that getting off fossil fuels must happen starting immediately and be completed in only a few decades.… As Marxists, the editors of MR should be as radical as reality itself, even when that offends intellectual sensibilities and requires a new flexibility. Anyone literate in climate science must admit that the short-term struggle to mitigate carbon emissions is an essential precondition for achieving any other larger, longer-term goal. The science on this is clear: there is no time left to wait, carbon emissions must come down as soon as possible and as fast as possible.
Our friend and MR author Christian Parenti misunderstood our brief comments (“Notes from the Editors,” MR, November 2013) on his article in the summer issue of Dissent. We did not challenge the science of climate change, which tells us that carbon emissions must cease before one trillion metric tons of carbon have been emitted—a tipping point that will be reached in about 2040 under business as usual. There is no question that the fossil-fuel industry must go. In fact the reality that the world is confronted by a planetary emergency with respect to climate change (and the global ecological problem as a whole) and that the critical threshold will likely be approached by around 2040 (or even sooner) under capitalist economics as usual, is one that has been insisted upon by Monthly Review for twenty years.
Ian Angus constructs a strawperson in his article “The Myth of ‘Environmental Catastrophism’” (MR, September 2013), which discusses Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, which consists of essays by myself, as well as Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and James Davis. The book is concerned with the political uses of catastrophe and whether actual catastrophes or catastrophic rhetoric can spur people to action. At the heart of Catastrophism is the question of politicization. My essay, which Angus primarily focuses upon, looks at the indisputably catastrophic and urgent devastation of the environment…and asks why environmental movements in the global North have not been effective at moving people to action by simply evoking the calamity of the situation.
Zhihe Wang’s article “Ecological Marxism in China,” which appeared in the February 2012 Monthly Review, demonstrated that Chinese interest in ecological Marxism has grown rapidly over the past two decades…. The practical, political, and theoretical reasons for its success include: pressing environmental issues facing China; the government’s call for ecological civilization; the many characteristics that ecological Marxism shares with traditional Chinese Marxism; and the support it has provided for China’s environmental movement. Numerous works by Western scholars, including Ben Agger, John Bellamy Foster, William Leiss, and James O’Connor, have recently been translated into Chinese. …In comparison [to the others], John Bellamy Foster’s ecological Marxism was introduced relatively late. But recently it has drawn the greatest attention from Chinese Marxist scholars…. Our purpose here is to elicit a response from Foster on some of these developments in Chinese thought.
I would like to thank Zhihe Wang, Meijun Fan, Hui Dong, Dezhong Sun, and Lichun Li for doing so much to promote a global dialogue on ecological Marxism by summarizing some of the insights and concerns of Chinese scholars in this area, focusing in this case on my work in particular. The various questions, challenges, and critiques raised in relation to my work and that of related scholars are all, I believe, of great importance to the development of theory and practice in this area. I am therefore providing a brief set of responses to the problems raised, which I hope will be helpful in the further promotion of this global dialogue on ecology and Marxism.
I am a regular reader of Monthly Review. I read with interest the recent articles on ecology and Marxism…. It is true that Marx and Engels conceived that capitalism engenders a “metabolic rift” in nature and society. But both of them emphasized that the industrial growth that socialism would produce is beyond imagination under capitalism…. In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was impossible for Marx and Engels to envisage the ecological catastrophe that a constantly expanding industrial society can ensue.
Monthly Review has long been on record as opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy. Most recently, some of the dangers of nuclear power, both in its present form and with continuing new technological developments, were spelled out by Robert D. Furber, James C. Warf, and Sheldon C. Plotkin of the Southern California Federation of Scientists, in their article on “The Future of Nuclear Power” (MR, February 2008).… The following correspondence consists of a letter from Brian Lindquist, Walt McCarron, Robert D. Furber, and Sheldon C. Plotkin associated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists, writing in response to John W. Farley’s review, in the September 2010 issue of MR, of James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren. This letter and Farley’s response offer two widely divergent perspectives on this critical issue.
In his illuminating survey, “The Imperialist World System: Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth After Fifty Years” (Monthly Review, May 2007), John Bellamy Foster remarks that “The concept of the imperialist world system in today’s predominant sense of the extreme economic exploitation of periphery by center, creating a widening gap between rich and poor countries….had its genesis in the 1950s, especially with the publication fifty years ago of Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth.” While acknowledging that traces of such a concept could be found in Marx and Lenin, he feels that “The classical Marxist approach to the worldwide spread of capitalist relations has often been characterized as a crude theory of linear stages of development” whereby the less developed countries would necessarily traverse the same path as the more developed ones. Among the adherents to this view Foster includes Marxists in the Second and Third Internationals
The Research Unit for Political Economy’s (RUPE’s) brief historical account here of the origins of the Marxist theory of imperialism constitutes a crucial corrective to common errors regarding that history. In my article, “The Imperialist World System: Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth After Fifty Years” (Monthly Review, May 2007), I began by pointing out that Baran’s book was an outgrowth of classical Marxist thought—the ideas of Marx, Lenin, and Luxemburg. At the same time it represented a sharp departure from the rigid orthodoxy of linear development that had come to characterize so much of socialist (as well as bourgeois) thought—often presented in terms of Horace’s phrase, quoted by Marx, “the tale is told of you.” Baran’s treatment of the imperialist world system was a startling contribution at the time that his book appeared, challenging the conventional assumptions of both the right and an increasingly calcified left.
It has, unfortunately, taken far too long for Marxists to take environmental issues seriously. There are some good reasons for this, including the undoubtedly “bourgeois” flavor of many of the issues politicized under that heading (such as “quality of life” for the relatively affluent, romanticism of nature, and sentimentality about animals) and the middle class domination of environmental movements. Against this, it must also be recognised that communist/socialist government have often ignored environmental issues to their own detriment (the pollution of Lake Baikal, the destruction of the Aral Sea, deforestation in China, being environmental disasters commensurate with many of those attributable to capitalism). Environmental issues must be taken seriously. The only interesting question is how to do it