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Ecology

Fusing Red and Green

James O’Connor, Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism (New York: Guilford, 1998), 350 pp., $19.95, paper.

One of the foremost Marxist social scientists in the United States, James O’Connor has produced many original insights into the political economy of the United States, and global capitalism. His Fiscal Crisis of the State (1973) revealed the structural roots of government deficit problems, and his subsequent work has focused on the development of a general theory of capitalist crisis. In Accumulation Crisis (1984) and The Meaning of Crisis (1987), he surveyed and synthesized alternative viewpoints on the economic, political, cultural and psychological crisis tendencies of late-twentieth century capitalism. Since 1988, when he co-founded the innovative “eco-Marxist” quarterly Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, O’Connor has expanded his vision of capitalist crisis and socialist movements to incorporate natural conditions more fully. Natural Causes gathers together O’Connor’s major writings over this last period, providing an excellent opportunity to assess his considerable contribution to eco-Marxist theory and practice  | more…

Killing Me Softly: Toxic Waste, Corporate Profit, and the Struggle for Environmental Justice

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…

Introduction to Hungry for Profit

The conventional view that agriculture was displaced by industry in two stages—by the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century, and as a result of the rise of the agribusiness system in the mid-twentieth century—has left many observers of the contemporary political economy with the impression that to deal with agriculture is essentially to focus on political-economic history rather than contemporary political economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of this special issue of MR is to help compensate for the neglect that agriculture has often suffered in political-economic literature of the late twentieth century. In so doing we will continue with a line of argument that was introduced in MR more than a decade ago in the July-August 1986 special issue Science, Technology, and Capitalism, edited by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, which included landmark essays on U.S. agriculture and agricultural research by Richard Lewontin and Jean-Pierre Berlan  | more…

Science in a Skeptical Age

John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18.

We live in a skeptical age. All of the basic concepts of the Enlightenment, including progress, science and reason are now under attack. At the center of this skepticism lie persistent doubts about science itself, emanating both from within and from without the scientific community. Recent titles by scientists give an idea of the extent of the crisis in confidence within science: Science: The End of the Frontier? (1991) by Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman; The End of Certainty (1996) by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine; and The End of Science (1996) by Scientific American writer John Horgan. | more…

The Scale of Our Ecological Crisis

One of the problems that has most troubled analysts of global ecological crisis is the question of scale. How momentous is the ecological crisis? Is the survival of the human species in question? What about life in general? Are the basic biogeochemical cycles of the planet vulnerable? Although few now deny that there is such a thing as an environmental crisis, or that it is in some sense global in character, some rational scientists insist that it is wrong to say that life itself, much less the planet, is seriously threatened. Even the mass extinction of species, it is pointed out, has previously occurred in evolutionary history. Critics of environmentalism (often themselves claiming to be environmentalists) have frequently used these rational reservations on the part of scientists to brand the environmental movement as “apocalyptic.” | more…

Marxism, Metaphors, and Ecological Politics

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  | 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…

May 1997 (Volume 49, Number 1)

May 1997 (Volume 49, Number 1)

Notes from the Editors

In this space in last summer’s double issue of MR, we directed attention to the work of a worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., especially its annual State of the World, the first issue of which was published in 1984. The latest (1997) of these reports came out in February. By now this series is being translated into all the world’s major languages and constitutes what is probably the most comprehensive and available source of information on the global environment. | more…

Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment

Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment

The agribusiness/food sector is the second most profitable industry in the United States — following pharmaceuticals — with annual sales over $400 billion. Contributing to its profitability are the breathtaking strides in biotechnology coupled with the growing concentration of ownership and control by food’s largest corporations. Everything, from decisions on which foods are produced, to how they are processed, distributed, and marketed is, remarkably, dictated by a select few giants wielding enormous power. More and more farmers are forced to adopt new technologies and strategies with consequences potentially harmful to the environment, our health, and the quality of our lives. The role played by trade institutions like the World Trade Organization, serves only to make matters worse. | more…

Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature

Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature

Marx, it is often assumed, cared only about industrial growth and the development of economic forces. John Bellamy Foster examines Marx’s neglected writings on capitalist agriculture and soil ecology, philosophical naturalism, and evolutionary theory. He shows that Marx, known as a powerful critic of capitalist society, was also deeply concerned with the changing human relationship to nature. | more…

The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment

The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment

In this clearly written and accessible book, John Bellamy Foster grounds his discussion of the global environmental crisis in the inherently destructive nature of our world economic system. Rejecting both individualistic solutions and policies that tinker at the margins, Foster calls for a fundamental reorganization of production on a social basis so as to make possible a sustainable and ecological economy. | more…