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Ecology

On Nuclear Power

Response to John W. Farley’s ‘Our Last Chance to Save Humanity’

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.… | more…

The grave food crisis

Just 11 days ago, January 19, under the title “The time has come to do something,” I wrote:

“The worst is that, to a large degree, their solutions will depend on the richest and most developed countries, which will reach a situation that they really are not in a position to confront, unless the world which they have been trying to mold… collapses around them.”… | more…

The Time Has Come To Do Something

I shall relate a bit of history.

When the Spanish “discovered” us five hundred years ago, the estimated population on the Island was no more than 200,000 inhabitants who were living in harmony with nature. Their main sources of food came from the rivers, lakes and seas rich in protein; they were also carrying out a rudimentary form of agriculture that supplied them with calories, vitamins, mineral salts and fibre.… | more…

The Crime Against the Democratic Congresswoman

As it is well-known, the state of Arizona, a territory that was taken from Mexico by the United States along with much more territory, has been the scene of painful events for hundreds of Latin Americans who die trying to immigrate to the US in search of work or to join their parents, spouses or other kinfolk who are there.

In that country, these are the people who work at the toughest jobs and live under the constant fear of arrest and forced deportation. Despite the drastic measures, every year the number of those dying in the attempt grows

Ecological Civilization

Given the overwhelming harm being done to the world’s environment and to its people, it is essential today to consider how we might organize a truly ecological civilization—one that exists in harmony with natural systems—instead of trying to overwhelm and dominate nature. This is not just an ethical issue; it is essential for our survival as a species and the survival of many other species that we reverse the degradation of the earth’s life support systems that once provided dependable climate, clean air, clean water (fresh and ocean), bountiful oceans, and healthy and productive soils.… There are numerous ways to approach and think about the enormous harm that has been done to the environment. I will discuss the following: (1) the critical characteristics that underlie strong ecosystems; (2) why societies are not adequately implementing ecological approaches; and (3) how we might use characteristics of strong natural ecosystems as a framework to consider a future ecological civilization… | more…

Capitalism and Degrowth: An Impossibility Theorem

[A]lmost four decades after the Club of Rome raised the issue of “the limits to growth,” the economic growth idol of modern society is once again facing a formidable challenge. What is known as “degrowth economics,” associated with the work of Serge Latouche in particular, emerged as a major European intellectual movement in 2008 with the historic conference in Paris on “Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity,” and has since inspired a revival of radical Green thought, as epitomized by the 2010 “Degrowth Declaration” in Barcelona.… Ironically, the meteoric rise of degrowth (décroissance in French) as a concept has coincided over the last three years with the reappearance of economic crisis and stagnation on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The degrowth concept therefore forces us to confront the questions: Is degrowth feasible in a capitalist grow-or-die society—and if not, what does this say about the transition to a new society?… | more…

Water—On Women’s Burdens, Humans’ Rights, and Companies’ Profits

How is it possible that a person living in a water-rich region uses more water by flushing the toilet than a person in a water-scarce region has available for drinking, food-preparation, hygiene, and cleaning—for a whole day? How is it possible that a woman living in a water-rich region only needs to open the tap to get enough water for herself and her family, while a woman in a water-scarce region has to…walk for miles and miles to get far less water of much worse quality? Why is that so? Is it bad fortune? Unfair? Destiny? Undeserved? Is it unjust? It is all these, but also much more. Water is the essence of life. It is the precondition of life.… This article has two parts. The first deals with dominant positions concerning water: the neoliberal agenda, consequences of water privatization, and the UN stance. The second part looks at what is missing in this picture and ignored by the dominant perspectives—namely, global inequalities and gender discrimination.… | more…

Heinberg’s New Coal Question

Richard Heinberg, Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2009), 208 pages, $18.95, paperback.

Coal today lies at the very center of the world predicament over the future of energy and the climate. An indication of this can be found in the November 18, 2010, issue (vol. 468) of the leading scientific journal Nature, which includes an article by Richard Heinberg and David Fridley entitled “The End of Cheap Coal.” The article opens with the startling words: “World energy policy is gripped by a fallacy—the idea that coal is destined to stay cheap for decades to come.” What follows is a short, dramatic discussion of problems (geological, economic, and environmental) constraining future coal production and consumption. Heinberg and Fridley’s argument here has been developed more extensively in Heinberg’s recent book Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis, which provides us with yet another indication of the momentous challenge and burden of our historical time.… | more…

The Indiscreet Banality of the Bourgeoisie

The Church of LEED, Passive House, and the Dangers of Going Green

Pat Murphy, The Green Tragedy: LEED’s Lost Decade (Yellow Springs, OH: The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, 2009), 96 pages, $12.95, paperback.

Pat Murphy’s new book, The Green Tragedy: LEED’s Lost Decade, is a dry but worthwhile effort to debunk the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) claims regarding its flagship LEED program. Anyone interested in solid accounting of the shortcomings of the LEED rating system and the buildings it certifies will find his book compelling.… While his critique of LEED is valid, Murphy alternatively advocates for the hyper-rationality of the Passive House as a response to the ecological crisis, failing to understand that the crisis is social in origin.… | more…

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…

The Humanization of the Cosmos—To What End?

Society is increasingly humanizing the cosmos. Satellites have for some time been central to the flow of information, to surveillance, and to the conduct of warfare. As these examples suggest, however, the humanization of the cosmos is primarily benefiting the powerful. These include major economic and military institutions. Furthermore, the forthcoming commodification and colonization of the cosmos is again likely to enhance the interests of the powerful, the major aerospace companies in particular. The time has come to consider alternative forms of cosmic humanization. These would enhance the prospects of the socially marginalized. They would also allow humanity to develop a better understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it… | more…

The Guilt of Capitalism

Though it is neither written nor marketed as such, Who Owns the Sun? by researcher/activists Daniel Berman and John O’Connor, is a devastating indictment of capitalism. As it has developed in the last two centuries, this system is an enormous user of energy, most of it derived from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). An additional—and in some parts of the world increasing—source is nuclear fission. Both of these forms of energy are dangerous and environmentally destructive to life on the planet. Burning fossil fuels generates almost all of the greenhouse gasses that have already begun to change the planet’s climate and, if continued at anywhere near the present rates, will trigger a chain reaction of lethal disasters, not in some vaguely distant future but in the next century or so—historically a relatively short span of time. Nuclear fission leaves a legacy of radioactive waste that cannot now, or perhaps ever, be safely disposed of. Clearly if humanity, not to speak of other forms of life, is to have a future, nothing could be more important than phasing out these sources of energy. So much, I believe, is what can be appropriately called ecological common sense… | more…

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