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In Review

Capital Offense

The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth
By John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
Monthly Review Press, 2010, 544 pages

There are more factors than climate change that threaten our existence on Earth. Scientists warn that it is only one of nine “planetary life-support systems” vital for human survival. The other boundaries are: global freshwater use, chemical pollution, ocean acidification, land use change, loss of biodiversity and the increasing extinction rate, ozone and aerosol levels in the atmosphere, and the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles that regulate soil fertility. We’ve already crossed three of these critical boundaries – climate, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss. We are close to breaching the boundaries of the rest.

How did we get to this point? In The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth, environmental sociologists John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York argue that the culprit is modern capitalism and its incessant drive to expand. Yes, that 800-pound gorilla also called “the market.” They critique this grow-or-die system of production, distribution and consumption – which began in Western Europe more than two centuries ago – from a Marxist perspective.

Marx wasn’t just an economist; he also studied ecology. Over time, the German scholar came to understand how capitalist society capitalist society forced a breach in how people live and work to create the world around them. The authors refer to Marx’s understanding of the ecological disruption caused by capitalism to coin the term “metabolic rift.” This is the drive for private profit that upends one of the most basic relations we have with our environment – our relationship with land. They posit that we can only avert the planetary crisis we are facing if we fundamentally change how society functions.

In a wrap-up survey of post-capitalist ways forward from the current worsening of the economy and ecology they call for “universal revolts again imperialism, the destruction of the planet, and the treadmill of accumulation.” The change, they hope, will spring from “those most alienated from the existing systems of power and wealth” and from youth across the world who are “emerging as a considerable force” in the climate justice movement.


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