[Marxism] Ecological revolution

Louis Proyect 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 subject—organizing ecological revolution—has 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 
of civilization.

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 
warning signs:

     * 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 world’s 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 
world’s 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 Hubbert’s Peak). The world economy is therefore 
confronting diminishing and ever more difficult to obtain oil supplies, 
despite a rapidly increasing demand (Ken Deffeyes, Hubbert’s 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 world’s 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 world’s 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 world’s 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 
world’s 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 earth’s regenerative capacity in 
1980 and by 1999 had gone beyond it by as much as 20 percent. This means, 
according to the study’s 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 
today’s 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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