The Ecological Revolution

Issue section: 
(338)

John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review; £13.95

If there was ever a case not to judge a book by its cover, this is it. Despite the rather garish and vaguely confusing cover image, this is possibly the most coherent and fundamentally serious book on the issues facing the planet that I have had the pleasure to read.

Structured in three parts, it outlines the environmental problem we face, the social causes of climate change, and finally the necessity of revolution. John Bellamy Foster's collection of essays encompasses writings on global warming, peak oil, species extinction, world water shortages, global hunger, alternative energy sources, sustainable development and environmental justice.

This is not a book about convincing people that we face a serious problem in terms of climate change - that's an argument already won with all but the deliberately obtuse. You can no longer turn on the television without some multinational corporation attempting to sell you their green wares, and a desire to be seen as "green" is now central to mainstream politics. But the resultant "green capitalism" struggles with its inherent contradiction.

Breaking the link between human beings and nature was a fundamental building block in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Restoring that link would require a revolutionary movement, not simply amending the current system.

The book highlights how, for example, the 2007 Stern report was seen by many as a major step forward with its admission that climate change could be regarded as "market failure of the greatest scale the world has ever seen". But this report - perfectly in line with mainstream economists - offers little. Despite the environmental promises - and the noise about reducing carbon emissions - the reductions discussed are widely acknowledged to result in a catastrophic rise in global temperatures of up to six degrees. Taking action to prevent this would threaten the economy - a price that will not be paid.

Karl Marx wrote, "Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not the owners of the earth. They are simply the possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias (good heads of the household)." Marxists are often seen as lacking when it comes to environmentalism. This book clearly shows, through the writings of Marx, Engels and others, that ecology is central to our tradition.

As Foster writes, "Ecological and socialist revolutions, if carried out to their logical conclusions, are necessary and sufficient conditions of each other... Socialism is ecological, ecologism is socialist, or neither can truly exist."