[Marxism] Ecological revolution
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 7 14:07:18 MDT 2005
Organizing Ecological Revolution
John Bellamy Foster
This is a revised version of a keynote address delivered to the Critical
Management Studies section of the Academy of Management in Honolulu, Hawaii
on August 8, 2005.
My subjectorganizing ecological revolutionhas as its initial premise that
we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis of such enormity that
the web of life of the entire planet is threatened and with it the future
This is no longer a very controversial proposition. To be sure, there are
different perceptions about the extent of the challenge that this raises.
At one extreme there are those who believe that since these are human
problems arising from human causes they are easily solvable. All we need
are ingenuity and the will to act. At the other extreme there are those who
believe that the world ecology is deteriorating on a scale and with a
rapidity beyond our means to control, giving rise to the gloomiest forebodings.
Although often seen as polar opposites these views nonetheless share a
common basis. As Paul Sweezy observed they each reflect the belief that if
present trends continue to operate, it is only a matter of time until the
human species irredeemably fouls its own nest (Monthly Review, June 1989).
The more we learn about current environmental trends the more the
unsustainability of our present course is brought home to us. Among the
* There is now a virtual certainty that the critical threshold of a 2°
C (3.6° F) increase in average world temperature above the preindustrial
level will soon be crossed due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere. Scientists believe that climate change at this level will have
portentous implications for the worlds ecosystems. The question is no
longer whether significant climate change will occur but how great it will
be (International Climate Change Task Force, Meeting the Climate Challenge,
January 2005, http://www.americanprogress.org).
* There are growing worries in the scientific community that the
estimates of the rate of global warming provided by the United Nations
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in its worst case
scenario projected increases in average global temperature of up to 5.8° C
(10.4° F) by 2100, may prove to be too low. For example, results from the
worlds largest climate modeling experiment based in Oxford University in
Britain indicate that global warming could increase almost twice as fast as
the IPCC has estimated (London Times, January 27, 2005).
* Experiments at the International Rice Institute and elsewhere have
led scientists to conclude that with each 1° C (1.8° F) increase in
temperature, rice, wheat, and corn yields could drop 10 percent
(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 6, 2004; Lester
Brown, Outgrowing the Earth).
* It is now clear that the world is within a few years of its peak oil
production (known as Hubberts Peak). The world economy is therefore
confronting diminishing and ever more difficult to obtain oil supplies,
despite a rapidly increasing demand (Ken Deffeyes, Hubberts Peak; David
Goodstein, Out of Gas). All of this points to a growing world energy crisis
and mounting resource wars.
* The planet is facing global water shortages due to the drawing down
of irreplaceable aquifers, which make up the bulk of the worlds fresh
water supplies. This poses a threat to global agriculture, which has become
a bubble economy based on the unsustainable exploitation of groundwater.
One in four people in the world today do not have access to safe water
(Bill McKibben, New York Review of Books, September 25, 2003).
* Two thirds of the worlds major fish stocks are currently being
fished at or above their capacity. Over the last half-century 90 percent of
large predatory fish in the worlds oceans have been eliminated
(Worldwatch, Vital Signs 2005).
* The species extinction rate is the highest in 65 million years with
the prospect of cascading extinctions as the last remnants of intact
ecosystems are removed. Already the extinction rate is approaching 1,000
times the benchmark or natural rate (Scientific American, September
2005). Scientists have pinpointed twenty-five hot spots on land that
account for 44 percent of all vascular plant species and 35 percent of all
species in four vertebrate groups, while taking up only 1.4 percent of the
worlds land surface. All of these hot spots are now threatened with rapid
annihilation due to human causes (Nature, February 24, 2000).
* According to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences
in 2002, the world economy exceeded the earths regenerative capacity in
1980 and by 1999 had gone beyond it by as much as 20 percent. This means,
according to the studys authors, that it would require 1.2 earths, or one
earth for 1.2 years, to regenerate what humanity used in 1999 (Matthis
Wackernagel, et. al, Tracking the Ecological Overshoot of the Human
Economy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 9, 2002).
* The question of the ecological collapse of past civilizations from
Easter Island to the Mayans is now increasingly seen as extending to
todays world capitalist system. This view, long held by environmentalists,
has recently been popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse.
These and other warning bells indicate that the present human relation to
the environment is no longer supportable. The most developed capitalist
countries have the largest per capita ecological footprints, demonstrating
that the entire course of world capitalist development at present
represents a dead end.
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