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03 Oct

John Bellamy Foster- Radical change is coming – part 2

Professor John Bellamy Foster of the University of Oregon, USA, started the conference with a statement: It is often said ecology was invented in Mauritius.

The discussion on climate change saw day light within the scientist community during the 18th century. England and France made use of their advanced technologies to analyse the nexus between the local level of rainfall registered and deforestation. Acknowledging thisJ linkage, the colonial governments, developed sophisticated climate policies while spreading in parallel their economic ideologies based on slavery, one of the most barbaric forms of exploitation. Whilst introducing slavery to Mauritius, the French imperialist saw the island as an Eden and maintained their mode of exploitative productions via extensive deforestation activities.

Nature and material necessity

Richard Walker in his book titled … used Mauritius as a case study. He advanced on the necessity to recognise the importance of natural conservation to meet material necessities.  There cannot be an ecological evolution if the struggle for ecological justice does not align itself it with the struggle for social justice.  In Marxism, Engels spoke about the freedom of material necessity. Freedom in itself is not in dissociation with necessity. They are two conditions meeting each other.

The metaphor of coral reefs and social structures

In his book entitled the modern world system published in 1975, Immanuel Wallerstein explained in a metaphorical way how coral reefs have long been the essence of the development of social life. The social dominant structure under capitalism however, have reversed the process. It is killing what has been since immemorial time the key factor supporting life conditions. “The latest report published by the IPCC on the 21 September 2019 has much to say on the state of the coral reefs,” said Professor Foster.

There is a strong correlation between the world economic structure and the integrity of our planet, just as there is a direct relationship between culture and individual values. The liberal tradition however has propelled the idea that social science and natural science are distinct and incommensurable.

The economy is not autonomous

According to the liberal ideology, economic growth will only know a deceleration of 1% by the end of this century; as such there is no reason to worry much about it. The ecological crisis only has a minor effect on the economy; there is no such urgency to hurry for a change. In response to this reductionist perspective of capitalism, natural scientists argued that we will all be dead by this time.

Classical Marxism on the other hand, viewed it through a different lens. Engels long discussed how the concept historical materialism conforms to modern science. The necessary condition to sustain the exisance of human being within this physical world is the production of food. Our life therefore coincide with the modes and means of production for material necessity.

Social metabolism

Marx developed his theory on capital accumulation by analysing the relationship between labour and production. All species he said has a metabolism with nature; they draw in nutrients for growth. Likewise human being also has a social metabolism with nature. Capitalism however by alienating human being from nature has created a rift in this social metabolism. “We usually talked about labour alienation,” said Professor Foster, “there cannot be labour alienation without nature alienation.”

The whole economic system prone alienation. It demands that people are removed from the means of production for subsistence need like the land. By appropriating the land which is the basic needs for people to live in dignity, capitalism has expropriated both nature and people without reciprocity. This form of robbery based on free labour is one of the principle drivers for sustaining its existence.

The theory of capital accumulation emerged from the concept on how production relates to nature.  According to Marx, capitalism is creating an irreparable rift in the existing social metabolism. The degradation of soil in urban areas has necessitated that nutrients be shipped to cities to enrich the soil. The production of nutrients is causing a disruption in the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle to ultimately contributing to urban waste. In this way capitalism converts used value necessary to sustain life conditions into exchanged or abstract value needed to maintain the exigency of the market. This system of robbery as Liebig called it has disrupted the biological cycle on which life depends.

According to Professor Foster, Marx defined socialism as socio-economic system establishing the most rational form human and nature metabolism by promoting energy conservation and sustainable human development. The struggle of freedom which is at the heart of socialism is marked by the ways we relate to the earth.

Accumulation of capital based on the monopolisation of resources has produced enormous waste. “They say that capitalism is the most efficient form of economy of the world,” said Professor Foster. “Open your eyes, you will see how this economic system is based on useless labour and produces waste at the benefits of a few.” This mode of economic development perpetuates social inequalities.

A warming planet

The IPCC has marked a 2oC rise in the average temperature global warming as the point of no return. There are more than 50% chances, under business as usual, the world will be out of control and we will not be able to revert back. The melting of the permafrost will trigger the emissions of methane which in turn accentuate the global warming. Crossing the tipping of 2oc global temperature rise, the world could rapidly spin to 3oC and 4oC. According to Professor Foster, a 3oc average temperature increase could happen in this century itself. By the time 4oC is reached the human civilisation could disappear.

“The IPCC has defined a trillion ton emission of CO2 as the marker for a 2oC increase,” went on Professor Foster. “It is only 50 years away. The landmark IPCC report of 2018 distinguishing between the impacts of a 1.5oC to a 2oC temperature rise, recommended that we stay within a 1.5oC global warming if we wish to avoid irreversible damages.”

At a 2oC temperature rise, the coral reefs will not survive. The temperature-induced effects of coral bleaching would aggravate the existing problems of rise in sea level affecting people of island coastal regions thereby triggering in a near future waves of climate refugees. “We should have been below a concentration of CO2 emission within 350ppm,” said Professor Foster “We have exceeded this safe threshold and today we are at more than 410ppm.”  “The likelihood that we reach the peak of the concentration of CO2 emission tantamount to crossing the boundary for a 1.5oC temperature rise, in 2020 is real.” To avoid such catastrophes to occur, we would need to reduce the global CO2 emission by 45% and reach a net zero carbon emission by 2050. “The IPCC is good at natural science,” said Professor Foster, “but terrible on social science. Embedded in the dominate ideology, they proposed mitigation methodologies based on the market economy to maintain rapid economic growth.”  “ The IPCC is of the point of view that some miracle technologies would save us.” These technologies enabling carbon sequestration often need lands as extensive as two subcontinents like India and water consumption equivalent to what the world is actually consuming. Building Energy Efficiency Codes (BEECs) projects are dangerous solutions that perpetuates business-as-usual.

A state of climate emergency

Climate change is only one of the global ecological crisis. We are crossing all sorts of planetary global boundaries including the reduction of freshwater, increasing ocean acidification and species mass extinction with a rate of 1000 times higher than it should have normally been. “Gimmick solutions proposed by the dominant ideologies institutions will not address the problem,” said Professor Foster “The problem is a systemic one; it has one source: the nature of our economic production system.” This exponential production to respond to the economies of scale benefit only a few.

The struggle for freedom

All over the world, the climate movement is shifting to climate justice. That the capitalist economic mode of production is responsible for both ecological crisis and social crisis is becoming an increasingly worldwide acknowledgement. The radicals are connecting the social and ecological justice to work towards concrete changes for an ecosocialist society. The movement is no more dealing with the question of climate crisis in isolation, but is viewing it with the lens of social justice. For Engels the struggle for natural necessity is the  motive behind the urge of building a new society. “Let us see what could neoliberal governments and corporations do if 100 millions people decide to take the street and act radically?”


The drivers of change

Women has since immemorial time play a key role as drivers of change for social emancipation against oppressions. Their relationship with nature is essentially different, for they understand at the very existential level what it means for regeneration and reproductions of the components of the earth system.

We need the youth to carry out the ecological revolution. “The generations of old and youth have to speak to each other,” went on Professor Foster “we need an environmental proletariat, and this is more likely to happen in the global south.”

“You do not persuade people to change their perspectives by talking to them, this is what liberals exactly do; rather we should move them through direct and radical actions. Now that you know, what are you going to do?,” concluded Professor Foster as he challenged the audience.


Reporter: Kashmira Banee






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