The following is an interview with John Bellamy Foster, one of the world’s preeminent Marxist ecologists and writers on the subject. The interview was published on MRZine website in Dec. 2013.
The interview closely parallels Foster’s ideas set out in an article he wrote for the December, 2013 issue of Monthly Review. That article is here: Marx and the Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature.
John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review and a Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon. He is the author of Marx’s Ecology (2000), The Ecological Rift (2010, with Brett Clark and Richard York); and What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (2011, with Fred Magdoff) all published by Monthly Review Press.
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Climate change and socialism: An interview with John Bellamy Foster
Interview by Steve da Silva, published on MRZine, Dec 18, 2013
Steve da Silva (SD): Over the last decade you have emerged as a leading thinker in synthesizing radical ecology with the Marxist tradition. From Marx’s Ecology (2000) to The Ecological Rift (2010) and everything in between, you’ve carried out the much needed intellectual work of recovering the overlooked ecological content of Marx’s original thought, presenting us with a side of Marx that many Marxists may not have been aware of. You have also developed a 21st century dialectical materialism, particularly as it pertains to ecology and the unprecedented ecological crises that confront our species and earth. Could you briefly summarize the ecological crises that we confront, perhaps by explaining the concept of the “metabolic rift” and the various “planetary boundaries” that capitalism threatens to surpass or has already surpassed?
John Bellamy Foster: Scientists led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Center now refer to nine “planetary boundaries” defined by the Holocene geological epoch in which civilization arose. These nine boundaries, all of which we have crossed or are in the process of crossing, relate to: climate change, ocean acidification, the destruction of the ozone layer, the loss of biological diversity (or species extinction), the disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, the loss of land cover, the loss of fresh water, aerosol loading, and chemical pollution. We can see this as the development of various rifts in the biogeochemical cycles governing the earth system. The notion of a rift in the metabolism between nature and society (or in the universal metabolism of nature) goes back to Marx’s Capital, where he constructed a theory of how the labour and production process under capitalism, which he defined as the metabolic interaction between human beings and nature, was disrupted by capitalist agriculture through the shipment of soil nutrients in the form of food and fiber to the cities where they could no longer be returned to the soil, and where they contributed to urban pollution. Marx’s approach here, in which he introduced the concept of social metabolism and connected this to the earth metabolism, anticipated the structure of all subsequent ecological systems theory and our understanding of ecological crisis. It is basically in such terms that science has come to understand our present global ecological predicament.
… Read the full interview here.