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Ecology

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. | more…

Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Politics of Rachel Carson

Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited and with an introduction by Linda Lear (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 288 pp., $16, paperback.

Lost Woods brings Rachel Carson back into the public realm. This collection of her writings, selected by her biographer, Linda Lear, reminds us yet again of the extraordinary range of her talents and the equally extraordinary use to which she put them. The book offers, in one modest volume, a taste of all the pleasures to be found in Carson’s longer works. Through a careful choice of speeches, articles, field notes, and letters, presented in chronological order, Lear allows us to witness, in Carson’s own words, her transformation from a natural scientist to a political advocate for the environment  | more…

Restoring Memory

Eileen Welsome, The Plutonium Files (New York: Dial Press, 1999), 564 pp., $26.95.

It is fitting that the “Atomic Century” draw to a close with the publication of The Plutonium Files. A decade in the making, Eileen Welsome’s book explores the secret human radiation experiments that grew out of the U. S. atom bomb program. Carried out under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the Department of Energy’s predecessor, the experiments were designed to help determine atom bomb plant safety standards and to replicate nuclear battlefield conditions. As a result, thousands of hospital patients and servicemen were unknowingly exposed to dangerous levels of radiation  | more…

December 1999 (Volume 51, Number 7)

Notes from the Editors

Recently, we were talking about the environment to a well-known sociologist and got into a fairly heated debate about the ecological effects of capitalism. He insisted that capitalism has nothing to do with it. All human practices, he said, inevitably affect the natural environment and have done so since the dawn of history. This seemed to us a pretty simplistic and ahistorical argument  | more…

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…