Saturday October 25th, 2014, 12:16 am (EDT)

Ecology

Marx’s Vision of Sustainable Human Development

In developed capitalist countries, debates over the economics of socialism have mostly concentrated on questions of information, incentives, and efficiency in resource allocation. This focus on “socialist calculation” reflects the mainly academic context of these discussions. By contrast, for anti-capitalist movements and post-revolutionary regimes on the capitalist periphery, socialism as a form of human development has been a prime concern. A notable example is Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s work on “Man and Socialism in Cuba,” which rebutted the argument that “the period of building socialism…is characterized by the extinction of the individual for the sake of the state.” For Che, socialist revolution is a process in which “large numbers of people are developing themselves,” and “the material possibilities of the integral development of each and every one of its members make the task ever more fruitful.” … | more |

Dialectical Nature

Reflections in Honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of Levins and Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist

Richard Levins wrote in these pages (July-August 1986) that an appreciation of history and science is necessary to understand the world, challenge bourgeois ideological monopoly, and transcend religious obscurantism. Knowledge of science and history is needed in order not only to comprehend how the world came to be, but also to understand how the world can be changed. Marx and Engels remained committed students of the natural sciences throughout their lives, filling notebooks with detailed comments, quotes, and analyses of the scientific work of their time. Marx, through his studies of Greek natural philosophy-in particular Epicurus-and the development of the natural sciences, arrived at a materialist conception of nature to which his materialist conception of history was organically and inextricably linked. Marx and Engels, however, rejected mechanical materialism and reductionism, insisting on the necessity of a dialectical analysis of the world. Engels’s Dialectics of Nature serves as an early, unfinished attempt to push this project forward. A materialist dialectic recognizes that humans and nature exist in a coevolutionary relationship. Human beings are conditioned by their historical, structural environment; yet they are also able to affect that environment and their own relationship to it through conscious human intervention… | more |

Homo Floresiensis and Human Equality

The discovery by a team of Indonesian and Australian researchers of the remains of a previously unknown species of hominid, Homo floresiensis, on the Indonesian island of Flores was characterized by some scholars as the greatest discovery in anthropology in a half-century and was selected by Science magazine as the leading runner-up for the 2004 “breakthrough of the year” (first place went to the discoveries of the Mars Exploration Rovers that indicate Mars was once wetter than it is today and potentially capable of supporting life). The discoverers of the new species note that it was a particularly small hominid, with an adult stature of approximately one meter and an endocranial volume of about 380 cm3, less than one-third that of the typical modern human and even small relative to its body size. They argue that it is most likely a descendant of Homo erectus that evolved in long-term isolation, with subsequent endemic dwarfing. Another interesting aspect of the find is that Homo floresiensis apparently lived until at least 18,000 years ago and was, therefore, a contemporary of anatomically modern humans. Many scholars where shocked by both the small stature of and late date attributed to the new hominid, with some moved to question whether the remains were not merely those of a deformed modern human, a suggestion that its discoverers reject as unsupported by the evidence… | more |

The Ghosts of Karl Marx and Edward Abbey

My wife Karen and I were on the road, traveling around the United States, for 150 days. We left Portland, Oregon on April 30, 2004, and over the next five months, we drove about 9,000 miles, through sixteen states. We visited thirteen national parks, seven national monuments, and towns large and small. We walked on streets and hiked on trails; we talked to people; we read local newspapers and watched local television stations; we shopped in local markets; and we observed as much as we could the economics, politics, and ecology in the places we stayed. What follows are some of my impressions… | more |

Ecology, Capitalism, and the Socialization of Nature: An Interview with John Bellamy Foster

DENNIS SORON: Many environmentalists came away from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 with a great deal of optimism, believing that the cause of global environmental reform had finally been seriously placed on the political agenda. Today, with environmental conditions continuing to worsen and governments refusing to take effective action, it seems that little of this optimism remains. Why did the hopes spawned at Rio turn out to be so misplaced? … | more |

The Pentagon and Climate Change

Abrupt climate change has been a growing topic of concern for about a decade for climate scientists, who fear that global warming could shut down the ocean conveyer that warms the North Atlantic, plunging Europe and parts of North America into Siberian-like conditions within a few decades or even years. But it was only with the recent appearance of a Pentagon report on the possible social effects-in terms of instability and war-of abrupt climate change that it riveted public attention. As the Observer (February 22) put it, “Climate change over the next 20 years could result in global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.” … | more |

March 2004 (Volume 55, Number 10)

March 2004 (Volume 55, Number 10)

We were enormously pleased to publish in the November 2002 issue of MR Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins’s “Stephen Jay Gould: What Does it Mean to Be a Radical?” commemorating the life of their great Harvard colleague who had died earlier that year. Gould, as Lewontin and Levins explained, was, in addition to being one of the foremost evolutionary biologists and paleontologists of his time, “by far, the most widely known and influential expositor of science who has ever written for a lay public.” Their article has recently been reprinted as the concluding essay in Oliver Sacks, ed., The Best American Science Writing, 2003. This important series, with Jesse Cohen as the series editor, is published each year by HarperCollins, each time under the editorship of a different guest editor—in this instance Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and many other works. In preparing this year’s volume Sacks chose to dedicate the book to Stephen Jay Gould, who he sees as the exemplary figure in modern science writing… | more |

Food Security in Cuba

In 1996, Via Campesina, the recently formed international umbrella organization of grassroots peasant groups, introduced the term “food sovereignty”: the right of peoples and states to democratically decide their own food and agricultural policies and to produce needed foods in their own territories in a manner reinforcing the cultural values of the people while protecting the environment… | more |

A Planetary Defeat: The Failure of Global Environmental Reform

The first Earth Summit in Rio de janeiro, Brazil in 1992 generated hopes that the world would at long last address its global ecological prob- lems and introduce a process of sustainable development. Now, with a second summit being held ten years later in johannesburg, that dream has to a large extent faded. Even the principal supporters of this process have made it clear that they do not expect much to be achieved as a result of the johannesburg summit, which is likely to go down in history as an absolute failure. We need to ask ourselves why.
The first reason is perhaps the most obvious, at least to environmen- talists. The decade between Rio and johannesburg has seen the almost complete failure of the Rio Earth Summit and its Agenda 21 to produce meaningful results. This has highlighted the weaknesses of global envi- ronmental summitry… | more |

Stephen Jay Gould—What Does It Mean To Be a Radical?

What Does it Mean to Be a Radical?

Early this year, Stephen Gould developed lung cancer, which spread so quickly that there was no hope of survival. He died on May 20, 2002, at the age of sixty. Twenty years ago, he had escaped death from mesothelioma, induced, we all supposed, by some exposure to asbestos. Although his cure was complete, he never lost the consciousness of his mortality and gave the impression, at least to his friends, of an almost cheerful acceptance of the inevitable. Having survived one cancer that was probably the consequence of an environmental poison, he succumbed to another… | more |

Killing Me Softly

Killing Me Softly

Toxic Waste, Corporate Profit, and the Struggle for Environmental Justice

The political economy of toxic waste was summed up by Lawrence Summers—then chief economist at the World Bank, later U.S. Treasury Secretary—in his notorious claim that poor people live in environments that are, from an economic point of view, not sufficiently polluted. In its ceaseless search for profit, the toxic waste industry now routinely endangers the health of people around the worlds and the planet itself.… | more |

I. Capitalism’s Twin Crises: Economic and Environmental

Economic & Environmental

History has provided us with numerous examples of economic stagnation and breakdown, as well as environmental degradation caused by human activity, even before capitalism existed. But capitalism’s central characteristic—the incessant drive to invest and accumulate wealth—gives birth to never-ending economic and environmental crises… | more |

II. Capitalism and Ecology

The Nature of the Contradiction

The social relation of capital, as we all know, is a contradictory one. These contradictions, though stemming from capitalism’s internal laws of motion, extend out to phenomena that are usually conceived as external to the system, threatening the integrity of the entire biosphere and everything within it as a result of capital’s relentless expansion. How to understand capitalism’s ecological contradictions has therefore become a subject of heated debate among socialists. Two crucial issues in this debate are: (1) must ecological crisis lead to economic crisis under capitalism?, and (2) to what extent is there an ecological contradiction at the heart of capitalist society? … | more |

Ecology Against Capitalism

Ecology Against Capitalism

In recent years John Bellamy Foster has emerged as a leading theorist of the Marxist perspective on ecology. His seminal book Marx’s Ecology (Monthly Review Press, 2000) discusses the place of ecological issues within the intellectual history of Marxism and on the philosophical foundations of a Marxist ecology, and has become a major point of reference in ecological debates. This historical and philosophical focus is now supplemented by more direct political engagement in his new book, Ecology Against Capitalism. In a broad-ranging treatment of contemporary ecological politics, Foster deals with such issues as pollution, sustainable development, technological responses to environmental crisis, population growth, soil fertility, the preservation of ancient forests, and the “new economy” of the Internet age.… | more |

The Challenge of Sustainable Development and the Culture of Substantive Equality

Two closely connected propositions are at the center of this intervention: If development in the future is not sustainable development, there will be no significant development at all, no matter how badly needed; only frustrated attempts to square the circle, as in the last few decades, marked by ever more elusive “modernizing” theories and practices, condescendingly prescribed for the so-called Third World by the spokesmen of former colonial powers. The corollary to this is that the pursuit of sustainable development is inseparable from the progressive realization of substantive equality. It must also be stressed in this context that the obstacles to be overcome could hardly be greater. For up to our own days the culture of substantive inequality remains dominant, despite the usually half-hearted efforts to counter the damaging impact of social inequality by instituting some mechanism of strictly formal equality in the political sphere… | more |

Ecology Against Capitalism

In a 1963 talk on “The Pollution of Our Environment” Rachel Carson drew a close comparison between the reluctance of society in the late twentieth century to embrace the full implications of ecological theory and the resistance in the Victorian era to Darwin’s theory of evolution:… | more |

Does Ecology Need Marx?

Does ecology need Marx? I wonder, at this point, what ecology is, for it seems to be an umbrella term, like sexism or racism, which covers a variety of macrolevel and microlevel phenomena produced by different causes and lends itself to the development of a wide variety of conflicting ideologies and theoretical frameworks. I would prefer to change the question to the following: Are Marx and Marxism contingent or essential in the struggles against environmental degradation and all forms of exploitation and oppression? … | more |

Capitalism’s Environmental Crisis—Is Technology the Answer?

The standard solution offered to the environmental problem in advanced capitalist economies is to shift technology in a more benign direction: more energy-efficient production, cars that get better mileage, replacement of fossil fuels with solar power, and recycling of resources. Other environmental reforms, such as reductions in population growth and even cuts in consumption, are often advocated as well. The magic bullet of technology, however, is by far the favorite, seeming to hold out the possibility of environmental improvement with the least effect on the smooth working of the capitalist machine. The 1997 International Kyoto Protocol on global warming, designed to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions of nations, has only reinforced this attitude, encouraging many environmental advocates in the United States (including Al Gore in his presidential campaign) to advocate technological improvement in energy efficiency as the main escape from the environmental mess … | more |

Ecological Roots

Which Go Deepest?

Foster, John Bellamy, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 300pp., $18, paperback

“Oh no, not another great, thick, fat book on Marx!” thought Richard Lewontin when he saw this new book by John Bellamy Foster. I have to confess (despite the fact that I, too, have written a big book on Marxism) to a similar reaction. However, as he goes on to say in the book’s blurb, “as soon as I started to read, I found it hard to put down.” With this, too, I concur … | more |

Marx’s Ecological Value Analysis

Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 312 pp., $45, hardcover.

If there is a single charge that has served to unify all criticism of Marx in recent decades, it is the charge of “Prometheanism.” Although Marx’s admiration for Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and his attraction to Prometheus as a revolutionary figure of Greek mythology has long been known, the accusation that Marx’s work contained at its heart a “Promethean motif,” and that this constituted the principal weakness of his entire analysis, seems to have derived its contemporary influence mainly from Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism. The first volume of this work was drafted in Polish in 1968 and appeared in English in 1978. For Kolakowski: … | more |

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