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The Ecological Rift reviewed in Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research

Book Review

The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010. $17.95 U.S., paper. ISBN-13: 978-1-58367-218-1. Pages 1-544.

The Politics of Climate Change: second edition, by Anthony Giddens. Cambridge, London: Polity Press, 2011. $ 21.95 CDN., paper. ISBN: 978-0-7456-5515-4. Pages: 1-256

Reviewed by Samantha Wilson

The maintenance of an earth system in which humanity can safely exist hangs in a delicate balance. Recent evidence suggests that society has exceeded the regenerative capacity of the planet by 30 percent (Foster, Clark and York, p.18). What’s more, if we continue down this path we risk irreversible environmental damage which stands to threaten humanity and the biodiversity of future generations. Despite increasing precariousness of our social and natural environments, governments in advanced capitalist countries have yet to implement policies which adequately address the climate crisis. The Harper Conservatives’ cancellation of the Kyoto Protocol is just one example of this. This raises a few important questions: what policies can adequately address the severity of the climate crisis? What is required to bring about a more egalitarian and sustainable society? In this review I will compare and contrast two recent contributions that address the above questions: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, and The Politics of Climate Change by Anthony Giddens. For reasons that will be explored, I contend that the arguments made by Foster et al., provide not only a stronger analysis of the climate crisis but proposes stronger remedies for rectifying ongoing ecological degradation.

At the core of The Ecological Rift is an analysis of the fundamentally antagonistic relationship between capitalism and the environment. The authors explore “various radical ecologies that challenge the treadmill of capitalist accumulation, with the object of generating a new relation to the earth” (Foster, Clark and York, p.8). Foster et al., argue that humanity has become alienated from its natural environment. Drawing on Marx’s ecology, they argue that the separation of one’s inorganic from organic nature poses a serious threat to both the basis of life and society as a whole. Foster, Clark and York make the case that, despite the severity of the environmental crisis, mainstream social science has become all the more removed from radical, even critical approaches that might offer substantive alternatives. Rather, in their view, much environmental social science is premised on what they refer to as ‘ecological modernization’.

This approach champions technological fixes and market-based solutions as providing a way out of the crisis, rather than addressing the structural and systemic roots of capitalism – that is to say, unequal forces and relations of production. Foster et al., stress that the ecological and social crises humanity faces are one and the same. In their view, a solution to the ecological rift will necessarily require an anti-capitalist project: one that transcends “a society based in class, inequality, and acquisition without end” (Foster, Clark and York, p.47)…

Read the entire review in Alternate Routes

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