Monday, September 15, 2008

Monthly Review - Ecology, Moment of Truth

I don’t normally carry reviews of journals that I read on this blog, as they don’t really fit the general theme of the site. However the July/August edition of the Monthly Review magazine is simply to important to not record here.

The general theme of this journal’s edition is “Ecology, moment of truth” and in a number of articles, the editors have put together a coherent argument about the centrality of capitalism to the current environmental crisis. There are a couple of general articles that do this, revisiting some of the work that John Bellamy Foster has examined in other books and articles. Several other articles look at more nuanced aspects of the debates – one examining the economics of biofuels (Fred Magdoff) and a fascinating article looking at the problems related to the degradation of Marine ecosystems (Brett Clark & Rebecca Clausen).

There is an excellent article refuting the arguments of the climate change deniers, written by John Farley in response to articles made by journalist Alexander Cockburn. This article is well worth reading, it concludes that while it is important that science is constantly scrutinised, “it is also important to recognize a truth when it has been established…. and to do something about [global warming], while there is still time.”

Other articles examine the “Politics of Large Dams” in India – some 40 million people have been forced from their homes since 1947 in that country and at least 36 “major” dams are planned, though they bring many problems, as well as offering few solutions.

John Bellamy Foster’s article on “Peak Oil and Energy Imperialism” locates the problems of the environment on the centrality of fossil fuels to capitalism and argues for an alternative to capitalism as a solution to long-term ecological problems.

In fact this is the theme of most of the articles – that on Marine eco-systems making some of the points excellently. The intensive production techniques used by modern industrial fishing doesn’t simply deplete whole species, but it impacts on fish that feed on these creatures and those that they feed on in turn. This destablises the whole oceanic eco-system.

Attempts to solve the problem by reducing the consumption of one or other fish, either lead to other animals being hunted to extinction or often, don’t solve the problem because of new imbalances in the eco-system. These problems then link in to other environmental concerns such as the damage to coral reefs by global warming.

Capitalism’s attempts to fix the problem only displace it. Factory farming of salmon for instance requires “four pounds of fishmeal to produce every one pound of salmon” – “aquaculture” thus shifts the problem of fishing onto other wild species elsewhere in the oceans.

While I might have some disagreements with slight nuances of the arguments presented here, I found that all the articles had something to offer Marxists and radicals grappling with the issues thrown up by the environmental crisis. You can read the articles online at Monthly Reviews website, or order the journal here if you want to support the journal.

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