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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…

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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…

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Continuing Sources of Marxism

In 1913 Lenin identified three intellectual sources of Marxism: German philosophy, English political economy, and French utopian socialism—each in turn created in the social conditions of their societies. But the process did not end there. Marxism continues to grow and to learn from the most advanced, liberating ideas of each period. (It is also influenced in negative ways, narrowing its horizons and getting dragged along by fashion in times of defeat). Here, I want to identify four contemporary sources of enrichment of Marxism: ecology, feminism, national/racial struggles, and pacifism. It is important to recognize them as sources of ideas, not only as allies in political struggles. Their interaction with Marxism is, of course, different from the pre-Marxist sources. They come to Marxism from the outside, but from an outside already influenced in part by Marxism, and they are both welcomed and resisted.… | more…

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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…

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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…

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December 2010, Volume 62, Number 7

December 2010 (Volume 62, Number 7)

On October 16, MR editor John Bellamy Foster attended a lecture in Eugene, Oregon given by James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen is the leading U.S. climatologist and the world’s foremost voice for carbon emissions reductions. According to Hansen, we are facing two major tipping points associated with climate change: (1) ice sheet disintegration in Antarctica and Greenland, leading to a massive global sea level rise; and (2) a sudden acceleration in species extinction rates (already 100 to 1,000 times the preindustrial “background rate”), as climate zones begin to move much faster than species can move in response.… Hansen’s message was clear: the future of the planet will be in many ways determined by what we do “in the next several years.” This, he insists, is not a problem to be left to the next generation, since we “could create a situation out of the control of young people by the time they become adults.”… | more…

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ALBA and the Promise of Cooperative Development

Existing international economic institutions and relations operate in ways detrimental to third world development. That is why eight Latin American and Caribbean countries—led by Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia—are working to build the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a regional initiative designed to promote new, nonmarket-shaped structures and patterns of economic cooperation.… In response to worsening international economic conditions, ALBA has recently stepped up efforts to promote a full-blown regional development process.… Although the precise terms of the agreement are still to be negotiated, official statements point to the creation of an integrated trade and monetary zone, with a new regionally created currency, the sucre.… | more…

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Blood on the Path of Love

The government and the bosses go hand-in-hand; more often than not, the bosses are the government.…today’s Pakistani elite are incestuously interconnected via family relations and marriages with a large patronage network of squabbling, but self-serving, interest groups. Their rationale is to keep the country and its resources for themselves: they negotiate among themselves and take the spoils from any sales to the international elite.… Against these latter-day pharaohs stand the conscious and spirited workers.… Mian Qayyum, Bawa Lalif Ansari, and Muhammad Rana [are contemporary narrators of their struggle].… | more…

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer

Standardized testing has become central to education policy in the United States. After dramatically expanding in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, testing has been further enshrined by the Obama administration’s $3.4 billion “Race to the Top” grants. Given the ongoing debate over these policies, it might be useful to hear about the experiences of a hidden sector of the education workforce: those of us who make our living scoring these tests.… | more…

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Two Letters on Monopoly Capital Theory

Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s voluminous correspondence in the 1950s and early 1960s ranks as one of the crucial exchanges of letters between Marxist political economists in the second half of the twentieth century, and, indeed, in the entire history of Marxist thought.… Only a few letters in their extensive correspondence have been published so far.… We have thus chosen to publish two additional letters here in recognition of the joint centennial of the births of the two Pauls: Paul Baran (1910-1964) and Paul Sweezy (1910-2004).… | more…

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The Indiscreet Banality of the Bourgeoisie

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…

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