- Taschenbuch: 352 Seiten
- Verlag: Monthly Review Press,U.S. (Oktober 2010)
- Sprache: Englisch
- ISBN-10: 1583672184
- ISBN-13: 978-1583672181
- Größe und/oder Gewicht: 15,2 x 3,8 x 22,6 cm
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- Amazon Bestseller-Rang: Nr. 272.115 in Fremdsprachige Bücher (Siehe Top 100 in Fremdsprachige Bücher)
The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth (Englisch) Taschenbuch – Oktober 2010
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Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende
John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review. He is professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and author of The Ecological Revolution, The Great Financial Crisis (with Fred Magdoff), Critique of Intelligent Design (with Brett Clark and Richard York), Ecology Against Capitalism, Marx's Ecology, and The Vulnerable Planet.
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“the transformations of the human relation to the environment since the Industrial Revolution but particularly since 1945 … have so transformed our relation to the planet to raise the question of the Anthropocene. In all of this, capitalism has remained essentially … an enormous engine for the ceaseless accumulation of capital, compelled by the competitive drive of individuals and groups seeking their own self-interest in the form of private gain. Such a system recognizes no absolute limits to its own advance”.
From the outset the authors explicitly state that their analyses are based on Marxist ecology, and so much of their arguments devolve from and evolve upon the works of Marx and Engels, and the solutions they proffer echo the work of Istvan Meszaros. What emerges is that Marx and Engels were both well-aware that the prevalent economic system not only exploited the working-class, but also the natural resources, most particularly the soils of the agricultural lands.
What is fully realised by Foster, Clark & York is that “man lives in nature”, but that the self-imposed demands of capitalism has provoked a rift, a metabolic rift between humanity and the natural environment. This rift means that the planet’s ecosystems are in dire straits, to support this claim they (often) cite James Hansen:
“Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world that we know with climate patterns and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril … and the timetable is shorter than we thought”.
Humanity now stands on the edge of nature, heading in a direction where it will be estranged from the natural world.
It is imperative to understand when reading this work that Foster & Co. consider nature, as we know it today, to be a product of both natural and human history; when one considers the modifications and alterations humanity has made to landscapes, the species it has exterminated, and the threatening emergence of climate change this is not a contentious issue. Ecological and social metabolism are strategic to the impact that humanity has had on the biosphere. Metabolism is defined as the chemical reaction that takes place between the constituent elements and beings of the planet; when humans labour, as they must do to remain alive, their efforts form part of the wider natural metabolism, but these labours also impact on those around them – both within their immediate and distant communities. The metabolism between the elements of nature and between humanity and nature is described as the ‘ecological metabolism’, whilst the interactions between humans is the ‘social metabolism’. The authors see a substantial fracture occurring in both, furthermore, without addressing and repairing the rift in both there is bugger-all chance to avert the impending climate catastrophies.
The dialectic of wealth verses value is also discussed at length. Value is something that has worth beyond its exchange value in capital terms, an intrinsic value upon which life depends. Wealth is an accumulation of capital engineered by commandeering resources, creating scarcity in the markets, and increasing one’s wealth via that wealth itself; this mindset presupposes that everything has a capital value, indeed the sun would be shut off if it could be managed until a dollar-value and ownership could be arranged and managed.
The irrelevancy of the social sciences in their current guise means that the issues relating to ecological problems are inadequately addressed if at all. The authors state that this “quiescence” amongst social scientists is because they are hamstrung due to their objective being “exclusively social, and hence both its analysis and what is deemed acceptable/unacceptable tends to be filtered through the dominant institutions and structures of the prevailing hierarchical order”. One example of this is the recent massive tome by pop-historian, Niall Fergusson, who reflects the confusion referred to by Foster & Co. Fergusson makes only four references when discussing climate change: firstly, that “western elites are beset by almost millenarian fears of a coming environmental catastrophe”; secondly, because most people are not “scientifically qualified to weigh the evidence we are attracted to the notion of an apocalypse that has permeated western civilizations, especially those affected by the Judeo-Christian” sects; thirdly, he correctly acknowledges that the IPCC mantra of “saving the planet” for future generations has had little impact; and lastly, he fails to question the historical rise in GHG emissions, merely commenting that there is “some evidence that has caused an increase in average temperatures … [but] what is less clear is how a continuation of these trends will impact the earth’s weather” - Obvious his main concern re climate change is whether or not he can sunbake. This is the sum of Fergusson’s treatment of climate change, no reference as to its genesis in the civilisation he lauds without apology, no mention that climate change and ecological exploitation has gone hand in hand with the spread of colonialism (aka Civilization).
The Ecological Rift defines nine planetary boundaries are currently under siege and/or being breached. These include: climate change, ocean accidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, nitrogen and phosphorus cycle depletion, global fresh water, change in landuse, biodiversity loss, atmospheric and aerosol loading, and chemical pollution. It is the combination of all these problems that concerns the authors, their canvas is wider than merely climate change, moreover they acknowledge that these nine dilemmas are intrinsically interwoven. In congregating these issues together a ”better sense of the real threat to the earth’s systems” is conveyed, such that “the burdens on a fixed earth system to the point of planetary overload” cannot be underappreciated nor misunderstood.
The authors dispute the relevance of capitalism to the ecological-social metabolism of civilisation and refute its ability to solve the aforementioned numerous environmental problems.
James Maitland, (1759-1839), the eighth Earl of Lauderdale, wrote that any increase in private wealth leads to diminishment in public wealth (ie the appropriation of the commons, the scoffing of miners to paying a resource tax a country’s natural resources) and that scarcity, at times manipulated by the wealthy, deprived those without capital to suffer due to inflated prices. The so-called Lauderdale Paradox explains the voraciousness of capitalism and its inability to acknowledge that limitations exist on all resources and that the planet’s gifts are far from inexhaustible. Contemporary voices, apart from Foster and his colleagues, have written about the insatiable appetite of capitalism; Joe Bageant: “capitalism is like a wine press. It squeezes the masses for the money representing their productivity, in a process otherwise known as the virtual economy. A few people in the virtual economy become multi-millionaires. The rest of us pay the freight financially, socially and ecologically”, furthermore, “it is not in capitalism's DNA to care about the death of the earth”.
Colonisation Of The Commons
John Maynard Keynes noted that if it were possible entrepreneurs would put a price on the sun, this is not such a new concept, in some circles his sarcasm would go unnoticed. For “when the Germans improved the windmill (in the form to be taken over by the Dutch) , one of the first concerns, vainly fought over by the emperor Frederick I, the nobility, and the clergy, was who was the “owner” of the wind”. The modern equivalents to the privatisation of the earth’s life-support-systems is the dual headed monster of carbon-taxes/emissions-trading scams.
In the nineteenth century the German chemist Justus von Leibig described the British agricultural system as one of “robbery”: nutrients were being mined from rural soils to create produce that was then transported to the cities, the waste created from the consumption of these products became pollution that was dispelled into the rivers and waterways, but what was waste were in fact nutrients that needed to be returned to the soils from where they originated. As English soils were gradually depleted of all nutrients a new source of fertiliser was urgently required.
Guano is bird excreta deposited over hundreds of years that formed mountains on the islands off the coast of Peru. At the time it was recognised as one of the best fertilisers in the world. As European nations, specifically Britain and Germany, alongwith the USA moved into the region a number of crises occurred. Disputes arose on two levels: Peru and Bolivia were engaged in a war with Chile, and Britain and Germany embarked upon a road that became world war 1; secondly, a slave trade was also established to import Chinese ‘coolies” into the region. Peruvian farmers had long utilised guano for their own crops, in 1803 the first samples arrived in Europe courtesy of Alexander Humboldt, by 1835 the first cases of experimental guano arrived in Britain. Mining on the islands then went into overdrive, millions of tons were transported to the nutrient-deficient soils of the old world and what had once been mountains of guano was virtually non-existent a decade and a half into the twentieth century.
The work of Leibig had a profound influence on Marx and Engels, and underscored their philosophy on the natural environment.
The World Can Get Along Without Natural Resources
“Growth is like crack cocaine for bankers and economists, both of which see the world purely in terms if wealth accumulation and production” and “economists have jobs only by serving the economic regime in power as court eunuchs".
Whilst not as straight forward in their language as Joe Bageant, Foster and his cohorts display little sympathy for not only the economic system but also its apologists and purveyors. They accuse economists of the following
• Being ignorant of scientific laws;
• Being unable to respond to the planetary crisis;
• Of 'unquestionably accepting the capitalist status quo’;
• Merely valuing “the natural world in terms of how much short-term profit can be generated by its exploitation”;
• Failing to recognise that an evergrowing economy is biophysically impossible;
• Of having too much influence on the economic, social and political realms of life;
• Resorting to placing a value on ecosystems only when they become a luxury item that will then warrant protection.
This is a truncated list. Note that the authors do not hold economics, nor its high-priests, in high esteem.
Promulgators of so-called ‘green capitalism’ don’t fare any better; they are accused of failing to recognise that economic accumulation is being acquired on the basis of the destruction of ecosystems, and that promoters of ‘green capitalism’ are more concerned with saving capitalism than preserving and protecting the earth’s systems that provide and support life in all its forms. Because capitalism exists only to accumulate and exploit both the natural and social structures, even ‘green capitalism’ further disturbs the metabolism of and between the natural and social spheres. A number of prominent culprits are mentioned, specifically Al Gore, David Pearce, Hunter Lovins, Amory Lovins and Hawken.
Al Gore’s promotion of green capitalism goes back along way, to the original negotiations at Kyoto; so it is not surprising that Foster, Clark & York are not alone in their criticism of the “former next president of the USA”. In 2007, George Monbiot wrote the following:
“The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto Protocol. George W Bush was innocent; he was busy executing prisoners in Texas. Its climate negotiators we led by Albert Arnold Gore”.
“The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore’s team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then it did something worse: it destroyed the whole agreement. Most of the other governments insisted that the cuts be made at home. But Gore demanded a series of loopholes big enough to drive a Hummer through. The rich nations, he said, should be allowed to buy their cuts from other countries. When he won, the protocol created an exuberant global market in fake emissions cuts. The western nations could buy “hot air” from the former Soviet Union. Because the cuts were made against emissions in 1990, and because industry in that bloc had subsequently collapsed, the FSU countries would pass well below the bar. Gore’s scam allowed them to sell the gases they weren’t producing to other nations. He also insisted that rich nations could buy nominal cuts from poor ones. Factories in India and China have made billions by raising their production of potent greenhouse gases, so that carbon traders in the rich world will pay to clean them up.”
Deep Gaia Green
The theories of Arne Naess, Deep Ecology, and James Lovelock, Gaia, are considered by the authors to be similar in their attitudes toward the rift in the ecological and social metabolisms, and are, therefore treated as part of the one section in this volume. There is no dispute from Foster & Co. that both Naess and Lovelock have accurately described the problems facing the biosphere and and as a consequence the impacts on humanity, they concur that the ecological rift is truly evident. What perturbs Foster, Clark & York most is that both Deep Ecology and the Gaia theories fail to give sufficient attention and credence to the breakdown of the social metabolism as precipitated by capitalism, and the imperative that a new attitude and dealings with ecology with only fail if a new social realism is not included. According to the authors of Ecological Rift neither Naess nor Lovelock acknowledge the co-evolutionary perspective operating between humanity and nature and the effects of the economic system in operation. Both Naess and Lovelock are criticised for having an “idealised harmony” perspective of the planet and its lifeforms. In fairness to Deep Ecology and Gaia, they both perceive the planet as an entity that has survived without humanity, and at some stage may continue to operate long after any memory of humans has dissipated, whereas the authors of this book are, in part, sociologists whose primary subject of study is indeed humanity itself.
Neither are environment groups and environmental lobbyists immune from criticism. The authors write that:
“The central issue we have to confront is devising social strategies to address the world ecological crisis. Not only do the solutions have to be large enough to deal with the problem, but also all of this must take place on a world scale within a generation or so. The speed and scale of change necessary means that what is required is an ecological revolution that would also need to be a social revolution. However, rather than addressing the real roots of the crisis and drawing the appropriate conclusion, the dominant response is to avoid all questions about the nature of our society and turn to technological fixes or market mechanisms of one sort or another. In this respect there is a certain continuity of thought between those who deny the climate change problem altogether, and those who, while acknowledging the severity of the problem at one level, nevertheless deny that it requires revolution in our social system”.
Australian activist and climate change lobbyists are not immune from this criticism; e-mails regularly circulate encouraging subscribers to phone your local Member of Parliament demanding that they get off their backsides and respond in a meaningful way to limit/avert climate change; one recent example was to urge MPs to facilitate the installation of more wind farms, as per February 2012 just prior to the commencement of the parliamentary year. Another instance: ‘young people’ who saw themselves as future leaders were encouraged to travel to Brisbane to participate in corporate-commando team-building exercises and leadership modules. Keeping busy, maintaining denial, not questioning what is at the very core of the problem, and never questioning the sanctity of capital. On February 9th, 2012, GetUp! ran a full page advertisement taunting the mining industry for allegedly seeking editorial control over Fairfax newspapers, they refrained from mentioning names. At the foot of the advertisement was a pronouncement of naivety: “independent journalism must be protected from commercial interests”. Independence for journalists in Australia is extremely difficult, firstly they generally will only find employment at one of two major corporations; secondly, to develop a detrimental reputation at one paper basically exempts the offender from working in the Australian industry again. The other point raised by the GetUp! homily is that print-media be protected from commercial interests, but newspapers are commercial interests, they are businesses that make their money from selling advertisements and employ ‘news’ and ‘analysis’ to entice the consumer to purchase the paper, the amount of news and depth of coverage and analysis is determined by how many advertisements the sales department can sell, and they do this in accord with the economic system. What neither Australian Youth Climate Coalition or GetUp! confront is that the social metabolic rift has caused a massive rupture in the ecological metabolism, and that as per Foster, Clark and York, one cannot be resolved without addressing the other.
What further exacerbates this problem is that environment groups have elevated some of their (apparent) leaders to guru-status, and very few of these individuals ever raise the issue that the economic system is essentially at fault, indeed some of these leaders publish books which reinforce the capitalist system and advocate that all it requires is an Oprah-style make-over.
A Little More Than Techo-Trousers
The fixation on solving environmental problems with technologies is deemed by the authors to be a technological fixation that reflects the attitude that humanity now envisages itself as being “beyond nature” and in denial with regards to the reality of the situation it faces.
The notion that technology can ‘save the planet’ is often little more than the promotion of a fix centered upon spending our way out of trouble, that market-forces and pressure will rescue the planet from what ails it. But of course one of the driving factors behind the ecological crises confronting humanity is its unquenchable desire to spend on trinkets and accessories, and much of what is promoted as ‘good for the planet’ is merely trinkets and accessories targeting the environmentally aware. We can ‘save the planet’ by being even more integrated into the capitalist system. We live in a culture that “leads people to find meaning, contentment and acceptance through what they consume”, and this is no different for those who are conscientious of ecological problems and genuinely desire to be proactive in doing their bit, so likewise they find meaning also in defining who they are by purchasing ‘green/eco-friendly’ products, whilst failing to recognise that the production/consumption cycle is the cause of the problem.
The enormity of a project to convert the world to ‘clean energy’ is rarely fully appreciated. Calculations done by Saul Griffith “estimates that if we are to tackle climate change, we need to be annually generating 110,000 TWH of clean energy in twenty-five years’ time”. Griffith has postulated his estimates on a mix of ‘clean energy’ sources and calculated that an area greater than the size of New South Wales would be required. This would then need to be augmented by transmission lines, energy storage, and support infrastructure. Also to be considered is the natural resources required to manufacture and install such facilities. From even a basic understanding of how capital flows, the dream of rescuing nature by converting to ‘clean energy’ lies beyond what governments, industries and the economy are prepared to accommodate.
The Jevons Paradox
The Jevons Paradox is “where improvements in efficiency actually increase the use of natural resources under capitalist relations, therefore, diminishing the potential for developing ecological sustainability based on technological fixes”. So, increased energy efficiency results in cheaper power, which increases production of goods, accompanied by an increase in energy use, resource exploitation and increased consumer accumulation. To substantiate the Jevons Paradox the authors produce a table based on data – collected over a period of 20 years - comparing improved energy efficiency with changes on CO2 emissions:
USA had a Carbon Efficiency of +34.0%, whilst total CO2 emissions rose by 29.7%, as did per capita emissions (5.9%);
the Netherlands managed a 30.0% improvement in CO2 efficiency, that was accompanied by a 24.3% rise in total emissions, being a rise of 9.1% per capita;
similarly in Japan: 64.0% improvement in CO2 efficiency, a 25.9% rise in total CO2 emissions, with a rise of 12.0% per capita; and lastly
Austria, with figures of 50.2% improvement in CO2 efficiency; a rise of 11.6% in total carbon emissions equating to a per capita increase of 4.9%.
The explanation provided is that “capitalism prevents the truly rational application of new science and technologies because they are simply used to expand the operations of capital”; this is facilitated by governments that are only too eager to allow the market-place to establish and control how new technologies are introduced into society, we even find this policy being imposed on not-for-profit community groups who are expected to conform and compete with cashed-up professionals.
THE AUTHORS’ POSITION
Realist v Constructionist
Because the authors of this volume are primarily theorists, there is a lengthy portion pertaining to the development of environmental sociology during the twentieth century, which culminated in the emergence of two basic positions: realist versus constructionist. Foster and his mates provide an historical analysis of these two predominant philosophies and their most prominent purveyors, including the effect on social structures and attitudes towards ecology.
Much can be said, and much was written in outlining and defining the two philosophical concepts. But, essentially constructionists propose that nature is given its reality and definition via human thought and that peculiar human act of naming objects. For realists, nature has an ontological independence distinct and separate of human actions and conceptions. The two major protagonists of this debate were, in the constructionist corner Arthur Tansley (UK) who represented a tradition of materialism and the relatively new concept of ecosystem ecology. In the realist corner was Jan Christian Smuts (South Africa) whose ideas “arose out of a tradition of idealism and organisms. A battle of reductionism v holism.
A middle path between these two predominant schools of thought is preferred by Foster, Clark and York, defining themselves to hold a “realist-constructionist outlook”, “taking into account the human construction of knowledge that is tempered by the materialist principle”; underlying their viewpoint is “the fact that people are themselves material, animal and part of nature such that they are subject to certain of its causal laws and conditions”.
What must be recognised, before any solutions or remedies, purgatives or alternatives be proffered, is that the planets’ resources are limited; not only tangible and production-valued resources – oil, coal, iron, uranium – but also those resources crucial to life that are currently being utilised as a sewerage: the atmosphere, the water-cycle, the oceans. These resources are fixed, their ability to sustain life, even humanity, are limited. Contrary to the suggestion by Robert Solow, an economist, who suggested that the world – in his case solely humanity constitutes ‘the world’ – could get along without natural resources; yet all creatures need to drink water and breath air. Even economists need to breathe.
The authors advocate a number of means by which to encourage a social-ecological revolution; for that, according to them is the only means available by which humanity can retrieve control of the planet, control of how it is managed-and-respected from the few who use it merely as a means of personal benefit and the even greater accumulation of personal wealth.
Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) has had a prolonged and durable effect on the societies and cultures of South America. He is respected as a hero who fought and died for the idea of a South America independent of European and US social and financial domination. The memory of Bolivar has inspired a number of current South American leaders to form an alliance they refer to as ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of South America. Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador constitute their current membership. Evo Morales, the first democratically elected indigenous leader of a South American nation – Bolivia – has openly declared that “competition and the thirst for profits without limits of the capitalist system are destroying the planet. Under capitalism we are not human beings but consumers. Under capitalism mother earth does not exist”. What Morales and the other leaders of ALBA are attempting to implement in their region is an “elementary triangle of socialism, as delineated by the natural laws of life, (which entails) 1) social use, not ownership, of nature, 2) rational regulation by the associated producers of the metabolism between human beings and nature, and 3) the satisfaction of communal needs – not only of the present but also future generations”. No wonder Hugo Chavez is mocked and belittled by western media and leaders, the philosophy and aims of ALBA do not find accommodation within the confines of Wall Street or the London Stock Exchange.
One powerful example of Bolivarian initiatives are the following articles recently added to Ecuador’s Constitution, what these articles mean is that Constitutional Rights were granted to Nature. They read, in part:
“Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.
Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.
The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.
Nature has the right to restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.”
So perhaps the member nations of ALBA aren’t so crazy after all. Imagining this happening in Australia, especially with the option for citizens to sue on behalf of nature. What the leaders of ALBA are instigating, as envisaged by Foster and his cohorts, are new ways of thinking that have not found seed in western cultures for a longtime, they have initiated a culture of inter-regional co-operation based on paradigms other than the prevailing capitalist model. Academic Barbara Tuchman has addressed the issue as to why western leaders are so intractable when it comes to moving beyond their culturally comfortable paradigms, she writes “wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably significant role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs … it is also the refusal to benefit from experience”. The woodenheads can be readily lined up.
The authors are inspired by James Hansen, for his scientific work and the uncompromising manner in which he has tried to alert the world to the dangers of climate change for three decades, and also his role as a social and environmental activist. Hansen has referred to carbon cap-and-trade as “the temple of doom” locking in “disasters for our children and grandchildren”, and he slammed the, ultimately unsuccessful, US climate bill as “worse than nothing”. Foster, Clark and York have grounded the solutions they offer firmly on the role-model provided by Hansen in both his work and his life.
As often stressed throughout this book, the authors are of the strong opinion that any attempts to preserve the natural environment and prevent exacerbating climate change must go hand-in-hand with social justice and real equity: embarking on a new social order that is not dictated to by the catechisms of capitalism and it priesthood of economists, bankers, magnates and entrepreneurs.
This review originally appeared on the Ballarat Renewable Energy And Zero Emissions webpages: http://breaze.org.au/forum/38-climate-change-general/851-foster-clark-york-the-e
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