What Is Political Ecology?
From Practice to Theory and Strategy
Tatiana Romanova is Associate Professor at the European Studies Department, Saint-Petersburg State University; and Head of Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence, Russia.
Resume: Political ecology is an extremely interesting and promising area of research – both theoretical and applied. However, further probes are required, that would make it possible to move on from the accumulation of empirical data to the required level of theorizing, and also to devise a comprehensive strategy for the state to follow in practice. Delays in this field would keep Russia in a second-rate position in the world for decades to come.
Tags: global climate changes, global economy, ecology
A monograph by Sergei Yakutseni and Andrei Burovsky, entitled Political Ecology (Russ. Ed.), came out of print recently. The book has many weaknesses: too much empiricism, too few theoretical generalizations, the propaganda-like style of presentation lacking sufficient argument, and eclecticism. Yet the authors have identified a new guideline of interdisciplinary research and practice which will increasingly manifest itself in the coming years. This is a link between politics and environmental protection. Burovsky and Yakutseni define political ecology as “part of the history of humankind inherent in the nature of people,” because environmental decisions “have always had their immediate and long-term political consequences.”
China turns to ecology in search of ‘civilisation’
BY James Oswald
From obscure origins, China’s ecological civilisation model has grown into an international movement
In 2007, then Premier Hu Jintao announced that China would become an ‘ecological civilisation’, eschewing the previous development model that had seen economic growth take priority over environmental health.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a history of using the concept of civilisation, or wenming, as part of its moralistic methods of governance: material civilisation, spiritual civilisation, and political civilisation have all been invoked.
In the Deng era, material civilisation set an ideal material standard of living and spiritual civilisation guided the moral decisions of these Chinese nouveau riche. Later, Jiang Zemin introduced political civilisation that focused on regulation, law, governance and institution-building. This Chinese notion of civilisation is best understood as a process, of ‘becoming civilised,’ rather than the Western conception of civilisation that has its roots in the notion of the city.
Though these civilising discourses are a response to real or perceived problems arising from China’s development and incorporation into the global market economy, they differ from ecological civilisation in an important way. The previous civilisations are inward-looking attempts by the CCP to address issues arising from its development and modernisation. Ecological civilisation, in contrast, has international implications— after all, the present environmental crisis, while it may see a particularly severe expression in mainland China, is international in nature and its causes and manifestations are global.
‘Promote ecological civilisation, build a beautiful China’. From the Central Propaganda Department’s magazine, Current Affairs
Ecological civilisation is distinct from its predecessors in another important way—it arose from an already existing academic debate, with Chinese academics developing the idea after reading about it in a Russian article from 1984.
The original publication describes ecological civilisation as a system that synthesises concepts from social science (in the Marxist-Leninist tradition) with ecological studies, so as to mitigate the negative effects that development has on the environment, and to advocate the frugal use of resources to promote ‘harmonious development.’ A summary of this original publication appeared in the Guangming Daily in 1985. The idea caught the attention of Liu Zongchao, then a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and inspired him to begin writing on the topic.
A Marxist Ecological Vision
— Nicholas Davenport
[The following article is adapted from a presentation at the Solidarity summer school in August 2012. Nicholas Davenport is a member of the newly formed Ecosocialism Working Group of Solidarity. The editors of Against the Current view this contribution as part of an urgently needed discussion.
The questions facing environmental activists, and socialists in particular, range from the sheer scale of the environmental disasters already underway to the problems of beginning a transition from a system organized around massive consumption of fossil fuels, vast megacities and global agribusiness.
In the process of doing so, how will an ecosocialist movement and society address the crisis of global inequality and the need to “develop the productive forces” without pushing the planet and human civilization over the environmental cliff? We look forward to explorations of these questions from a variety of angles and viewpoints. — David Finkel, for the ATC editors]
THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS presents the starkest possible example of both the necessity of and opportunity for revolutionary change. Nothing but a radical transformation of basic social relations can prevent the worst possible outcomes of the crisis. In spite of its overwhelming and frightening magnitude, the ecological crisis presents a moment to revitalize the world revolutionary movement.
The science of climate change and human responsibility, the economics of addressing the problem, the justice dimension and, even, implications for North-South relations have all received substantial exposure in public debate and specialized technical, policy, and academic literatures. We also hear about the imperative to “climate-proof” society, the poor, and even the state. Occasionally we are told the “right political framework” is needed, usually meaning an improvement on the Kyoto Protocol and national legislation for regulating energy use.
A surprising omission is a balanced inquiry into what climate change and its effects mean for democratization, and what democratization could mean for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and climate adaptation. Democratization here means movement toward something like actually existing liberal democracy, present in many countries, not theoretical models of deliberative democracy, radical participatory democracy, or “eco-democracy”. Just as global warming has become headline news, so another but more celebrated phenomenon of recent times has been a wave of democratization, starting in southern Europe in the 1970s, subsequently embracing Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and sizeable parts of Africa and Asia, too. Hardly less eye-catching, however, is the wave’s recent slowing to a halt and, by some accounts, partial retreat.
Joel Kovel fired from Bard College for anti-Zionism
STATEMENT OF JOEL KOVEL REGARDING HIS TERMINATION BY BARD COLLEGE
In January, 1988, I was appointed to the Alger Hiss Chair of Social Studies at Bard College. As this was a Presidential appointment outside the tenure system, I have served under a series of contracts. The last of these was half-time (one semester on, one off, with half salary and full benefits year-round), effective from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2009. On February 7 I received a letter from Michèle Dominy, Dean of the College, informing me that my contract would not be renewed this July 1 and that I would be moved to emeritus status as of that day. She wrote that this decision was made by President Botstein, Executive Vice-President Papadimitriou and herself, in consultation with members of the Faculty Senate.
This document argues that this termination of service is prejudicial and motivated neither by intellectual nor pedagogic considerations, but by political values, principally stemming from differences between myself and the Bard administration on the issue of Zionism. There is of course much more to my years at Bard than this, including another controversial subject, my work on ecosocialism (The Enemy of Nature). However, the evidence shows a pattern of conflict over Zionism only too reminiscent of innumerable instances in this country in which critics of Israel have been made to pay, often with their careers, for speaking out. In this instance the process culminated in a deeply flawed evaluation process which was used to justify my termination from the faculty.
Science & Equality demand Climate Socialism for Climate Crisis
Science and equality in the face of a worsening Climate Emergency dictate Eco-Socialism, Climate Socialism and Green Socialism to save Humanity and the Biosphere. Unaddressed man-made climate change is set to kill 10 billion people this century. Already the species extinction rate is 100-1000 times greater than normal. Sloppy, non-scientist arguments about the asserted greater economic efficiency of capitalism fall flat in the face of capitalism’s failure to address the acute problem of man-made climate change that is increasingly impacting a global avoidable mortality holocaust in which 18 million people die avoidably each year in the Developing World (excluding China).
The purpose of a "society" is surely the common good, but capitalists justify the increasing proportion of the cake taken by the wealthy since the 1960s by the claim that capitalism is superior to socialism in wealth creation (for a discussion of the increasing proportion of the cake taken by the rich see Gavin Kelly, “Wanted: a new purpose for British capitalism” (New Statesman, 16 February 2011).
However man-made climate change has radically changed the equation even if the politicians, media, voters and Capitalist Establishment of the Western Murdochracies and Lobbyocracies haven't yet got the message due to Mainstream lying by omission, lying by commission and remorseless obfuscation (for details see “Mainstream media censorship” and “Mainstream media lying” websites).
Thus top climate scientists argue for drastic economic decarburization if the world is to avoid a disastrous 2C temperature rise (EU policy). According to Professor Schellnhuber (Potsdam Institute, Germany) the World must achieve zero (0) carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050 and (all men being equal with equal shares in atmospheric pollution) that means that high per capita polluters such as the US and Australia must reach zero by 2020 with India able to increase pollution before finally ceasing by 2050.
The idea for this ecosocialist manifesto was jointly launched by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy, at a September, 2001, workshop on ecology and socialism held at Vincennes, near Paris. We all suffer from a chronic case of Gramsci's paradox, of living in a time whose old order is dying (and taking civilization with it) while the new one does not seem able to be born. But at least it can be announced. The deepest shadow that hangs over us is neither terror, environmental collapse, nor global recession. It is the internalized fatalism that holds there is no possible alternative to capital’s world order. And so we wished to set an example of a kind of speech that deliberately negates the current mood of anxious compromise and passive acquiescence.
This manifesto nevertheless lacks the audacity of that of 1848, for ecosocialism is not yet a spectre, nor is it grounded in any concrete party or movement. It is only a line of reasoning, based on a reading of the present crisis and the necessary conditions for overcoming it. We make no claims of omniscience. Far from it, our goal is to invite dialogue, debate, emendation, above all, a sense of how this notion can be further realized. Innumerable points of resistance arise spontaneously across the chaotic ecumene of global capital. Many are immanently ecosocialist in content. How can these be gathered? Can we envision an "ecosocialist international?" Can the spectre be brought into being?
The twenty-first century opens on a catastrophic note, with an unprecedented degree of ecological breakdown and a chaotic world order beset with terror and clusters of low-grade, disintegrative warfare that spread like gangrene across great swathes of the planet--viz., central Africa, the Middle East, Northwestern South America--and reverberate throughout the nations.
In our view, the crises of ecology and those of societal breakdown are profoundly interrelated and should be seen as different manifestations of the same structural forces. The former broadly stems from rampant industrialization that overwhelms the earth's capacity to buffer and contain ecological destabilization. The latter stems from the form of imperialism known as globalization, with its disintegrative effects on societies that stand in its path. Moreover, these underlying forces are essentially different aspects of the same drive, which must be identified as the central dynamic that moves the whole: the expansion of the world capitalist system.
We reject all euphemisms or propagandistic softening of the brutality of this regime: all greenwashing of its ecological costs, all mystification of the human costs under the names of democracy and human rights. We insist instead upon looking at capital from the standpoint of what it has really done.
Ecological Revolution for Our Time
by Simon Butler
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels famously urged the world's workers to unite because they had a world to win, and nothing to lose but their chains. Today, the reality of climate change and worsening environmental breakdowns globally adds a further vital dimension to this vision of human liberation. We still have a world to win -- but we also have a world to lose.
The ecological crisis is not simply the result of poor planning or bad decisions. Nor is it an unforeseeable accident. It's the inevitable outcome of an unjust economic and social system that puts business profits before all else -- even as it undermines the natural basis of life itself.
With his previous books, such as Marx's Ecology and The Vulnerable Planet, and as the editor of the US-based Marxist journal Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster has established a well-earned reputation as one of the world's most persuasive voices arguing for fundamental social change to tackle the looming ecological catastrophe.
His new book, The Ecological Revolution, could not have been published at a more timely moment. It argues a solution to the ecological crisis "is now either revolutionary or it is false."
Foster draws on the warnings from leading environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, James Hansen, and Lester Brown among others.
McKibben has said we have now entered the "Oh Shit" era of global warming -- it's already too late to stop the harsh impacts of climate change entirely. NASA scientist Hansen has said the rapid pace of climate change amounts to a "planetary emergency."
In his 2008 book Plan B 3.0, Brown said: "We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize. Nature is the time keeper, but we cannot see the clock. . . . We are in a race between tipping points in the earth's natural systems and those in the world's political systems. Which will tip first?"
The Ecological Revolution is a call for urgent action and an intervention into the debates about the kind of action needed to win this "race."
The dwindling band of climate change deniers aside, general awareness of the extent of environmental decay is more widespread than ever -- even among the world's elites. The upshot is that two distinct visions of ecological revolution have emerged.
The first tries to paint business as usual economics green. The second, following Che Guevara's maxim, holds it must be a genuine eco-social revolution or it's a make-believe revolution.
"The conflict between these two opposing approaches to ecological revolution," writes Foster, "can now be considered the central problem facing environmental social science today."