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A climate change conversion
(a moral and spritual issue)
Mark Vernon, Guardian
We cannot tackle global warming by technology alone: we will need ethics, as individuals and as a society

Can the climate change crisis be answered purely by science and technology, or does it need to be understood as a moral and spiritual issue too? In a lecture for the Christian climate change agency, Operation Noah today, Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth Abbey that featured on the TV series The Monastery, will make a compelling case that it is very much the latter.

An abbot would say that, wouldn’t he. But read on. At root, Jamison is calling for a more serious engagement with ethics in public life. This means not just overcoming the fear of appearing to be merely moralizing.

… Rather, ethics is about the shape of life taken as a whole, and the direction in which a society is headed; it is about your vision of the good life, as the ancient Greek philosophers used to put it.

More particularly, when it comes to climate change, the argument is that rules and laws will not be enough, any more than they were enough to curtail the worst excesses of the City.
(11 November 2008)

Dmitry Orlov’s “Reinventing Collapse”: Thom Hartmann ‘Independent Thinker’ Review

Thom Hartmann, BuzzFlash

I read two books yesterday. The first was Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” a dense, profound, and insightful academic/archeological discussion of why civilizations have a stubborn habit of crashing. Following that, I read Dmitry Orlov’s “Reinventing Collapse,” about how the USSR collapsed and how the US is on the verge of doing the same – for many of the same reasons – any day now. What Tainter did for academics and archeology wonks (I confess I’m one), Orlov did for you, me, and Joe The Plumber.

“Reinventing Collapse” is a short 160-page, story-rich, and wonderfully readable book about how and why societies collapse. Orlov’s insights are necessary for all of us, and startling. His conclusions and suggestions seem at first overstated, but as somebody who was in Russia during its collapse, I think, if anything, they may be conservative.

For example, in the second week of June, 1996, I sat in the living room of a Russian family in Kaliningrad, watching TV. The man on television, a politician by the name of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, was waving his hands about like a demagogue, alternating between pointing at the screen and pounding the table with his fist. The wife of the family, Olga, a German married to a Russian, broke into laughter while her husband blinked, unsure what was so funny.

It was Russia’s first democratic election in its 1000-year history. My Russian being limited to a few words and phrases, I hadn’t been able to follow what Zhirinovsky was saying, so I asked Olga.

“He just said that if we voted for him,” she told me in German, “then he’d send me a turkey and a liter of vodka.”
(11 November 2008)

Ecology and the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism

John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review
The transition from capitalism to socialism is the most difficult problem of socialist theory and practice. To add to this the question of ecology might therefore be seen as unnecessarily complicating an already intractable issue. I shall argue here, however, that the human relation to nature lies at the heart of the transition to socialism. An ecological perspective is pivotal to our understanding of capitalism’s limits, the failures of the early socialist experiments, and the overall struggle for egalitarian and sustainable human development.

My argument has three parts. First, it is crucial to understand the intimate connection between classical Marxism and ecological analysis. Far from being an anomaly for socialism, as we are often led to believe, ecology was an essential component of the socialist project from its inception—notwithstanding the numerous later shortcomings of Soviet-type societies in this respect. Second, the global ecological crisis that now confronts us is deeply rooted in the “world-alienating” logic of capital accumulation, traceable to the historical origins of capitalism as a system. Third, the transition from capitalism to socialism is a struggle for sustainable human development in which societies on the periphery of the capitalist world system have been leading the way.

Classical Marxism and Ecology

Research carried out over the last two decades has demonstrated that there was a powerful ecological perspective in classical Marxism. Just as a transformation of the human relation to the earth was, in Marx’s view, an essential presupposition for the transition from feudalism to capitalism, so the rational regulation of the metabolic relation to nature was understood as an essential presupposition for the transition from capitalism to socialism.1 Marx and Engels wrote extensively about ecological problems arising from capitalism and class society in general, and the need to transcend these under socialism.
(November 2008)