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Monthly Review on ecological catastrophism

Editors, Monthly Review
…should we then follow Panitch and Leys in dismissing “anxiety-driven ecological catastrophism” as “parallel” to earlier crude theories of mechanical economic breakdown, and equally indefensible? Here we differ with our friends in our understanding of the environmental problem.

The very fact that capitalism is not likely to collapse of itself and may “prevail” for some time to come is precisely why the planet is in such absolute peril. Today’s global ecological crisis is principally a product of the logic of capital, which treats the environment as an “externality” that does not enter directly into its system of valuation.

Consequently, the global economy is increasingly on a collision course with the biosphere. An ecological collapse of life as we know it induced by present-day “business as usual” (that is, capitalism) is a threat that is increasingly imminent, inevitable if the world doesn’t change course, and irreversible. It represents a historic problem for which capitalism itself has no possible answer (see “The Ecology of Destruction,” MR, February 2007).

Faced with immense and growing environmental, economic, and social problems, capitalism, as Panitch and Leys rightly suggest, is showing signs of shifting towards increased authoritarianism. However, the advent of a more barbaric system is no longer the worst of our worries. It is the threat to the planet itself that constitutes our most dire challenge.
(March 2007)

Coming to Terms with Nature (new book)

Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, Monthly Review Books
Since 1964, the Socialist Register has brought together leading writers on the left to investigate aspects of a common theme. Coming to Terms with Nature: Socialist Register 2007 examines whether capitalism can come to terms with today’s ecological challenges and whether socialist thought has developed sufficiently to help us do so.

Topics include: the ecological contradictions of capitalist accumulation and the growing social conflicts they create; the relationship between imperialism, markets, oil politics, and renewable energy; the significance of the impasse over the Kyoto protocol; and how technology can overcome the “limits to growth” and yet preserve the biosphere.

These essays also analyze how deeply consumerism affects working class politics and the shortcomings of Green parties and “green commerce.” In addition, they address the need to redefine standards of living chiefly in the countries of the North, in order to allow for the global redistribution of wealth and income necessary for development in the South. They also call for eco-socialist strategies that can marry democracy with the planning needed to come to terms with nature.

The international roster of contributors includes Mike Davis and Neil Smith (USA), Enrique Leff (Mexico), Joan Martinez-Alier (Spain), Elmar Altvater (Germany), and Michael Löwy (France).
(March 2007)

Deceitful Solutions To America’s Energy Dependence
The Issues That Dennis Kucinich Should Address

Gilles d’Aymery, Swans Commentary
Of all the US presidential hopefuls and not-so-hopefuls, only Representative Dennis Kucinich — a less than not-so-hopeful candidate — has clearly stated time and again what this Iraqi adventure is all about. A single word: Oil. He says it and repeats it with no “strings attached.” Kucinich is his own man; a man of principles, religious and otherwise; a man of peace; a man of strong beliefs in the betterment of our human construct. What he repetitively fails to address is the American gluttonous addiction to petroleum products, and he remains silent on the much heralded clean and renewable energies that are nothing but a charade whose only purpose is to throw the wool over the eyes of the American people as mega-corporations, agribusiness, and investors through land speculation are swallowing immense profits, while there is literally no chance that ethanol can ever substitute gasoline to power motor vehicles. Kucinich could do a great service to his fellow citizens if he spoke frankly about the tremendous energy challenges that the country faces.

…So America’s consumption of energy keeps growing unabated. Ethanol alternative is a pipe dream that generates a heck of a lot of money for a happy few. We have yet to address the issue of energy consumption head on. We do not know of any serious alternatives yet (beside nuclear energy). No politician is addressing these issues with a remote amount of seriousness.

Dennis Kucinich is an honorable man. He “believes” in his God-given destiny (like Mr. Bush, in some uncanny ways). He wants to speak the “truth.” He prays. He wants us all to rise to the occasion. A better world is for us to take, he says. He is right.

Yet, he does not address what is possibly the most potent issue of our times — how to power down. He has the unique opportunity to take this message out to the American people, but he remains deadly silent.
(12 March 2007)

Climate and Capitalism
EcoSocialism or Barbarism: There is no third way

Ian Angus, Climate and Capitalism
CLIMATE AND CAPITALISM aims to present Marxist perspectives on climate change, and to provide socialists with the information and analysis they need to understand and respond to the crisis. For the editor’s views on the subject, see Confronting the Climate Change Crisis. [From the author’s essay…]

…Any reasonable person must eventually ask why capitalists and their governments seek to avoid effective action on climate change. Everyone, including capitalists and politicians, will be affected. Nicholas Stern estimates that the world economy will shrink by 20% if we don’t act. So why don’t the people in power do something?

The answer is that the problem is rooted in the very nature of capitalist society, which is made up of thousands of corporations, all competing for investment and for profits. There is no “social interest” in capitalism – only thousands of separate interests that compete with each other.

If a company decides to invest heavily in cutting emissions, its profits will go down. Investors will move their capital into more profitable investments. Eventually the green company will go out of business.

The fundamental law of capitalism is “Grow or Die.” Anarchic, unplanned growth isn’t an accident, or an externality, or a market failure. It is the nature of the beast.

Experts believe that stabilizing climate change will require a 70% or greater reduction in CO2 emissions in the next 20 to 30 years – and that will require a radical reduction in the use of fossil fuels. At least three major barriers militate against capitalism achieving that goal.
(March 2007)