Books on environmental subjects tend to be progressive by the nature of their topic. The collection of essays in the World Watch Reader drift somewhat more into academic agendas of the writers' fancies than some other essays and books in the field. For that reason, this book is not our favorite of books on the environment that came out in 1998.
Idealism and academic agendas
The peoples of the imperialist countries desperately need to use some of their vast quantities of leisure time to learn speed-reading. Then they need to study foreign cultures. When it comes to the environment, the typical Amerikan ends up reaching consciously and unconsciously for mystic ideas to justify a break with bourgeois economics and non-green thinking. Alan Thein Durning talks about that and unlike other authors admits that what the environmentalists want is impossible through their pseudo-environmentalist strategies.(p. 248)
It will be useful to contrast idealism in the book through two essays--"Dying Seas" by Anne Platt McGinn and "Bio-Invasions" by Chris Bright. Anne Platt describes how the Black Sea has become overloaded with humyn wastes that have contributed to algae and bacteria growth. The result is "eutrophication." Then as the algae consume all the oxygen, the sea becomes "anoxic."(pp. 96-7) The algae also block all the sunlight from reaching deep into the water. All this is supposedly the result of an unnatural "human assault."
To her credit, Platt turns around and says that the pollution of the Black Sea is a loss of fish to eat and tourism. Thus, she returns to a humyn focus. She ends the essay talking about economic losses.
The result of not taking a humyn focus is siding with one species over another for no reason. The evil species in the Black Sea according to Platt is the "Mnemiopis leidyi," which is jelly-fish like and becomes 95 percent of the biomass in the Black Sea at times. (p. 97) Without a humyn focus, there is no reason to side with oxygen breathers or non-oxygen-using species. To say the Black Sea is dead only has meaning to fishers.
In contrast, Chris Bright is clearly mired in conservative idealism. The first evil species to appear in the essay is the "melaleuca," because it manages to displace "virtually all other vegetation."(p. 115)
Can we help ourselves when we snicker at "Perhaps the most insidious form of damage occurs when exotic and native merge. Interbreeding can swamp a native gene pool in foreign genes, thereby eliminating its distinctiveness and eroding the species' genetic diversity."(p. 119) In the first place, we doubt this point factually speaking. Yet it is consistent with the whole approach of seeing the status quo and native as good.
Next we learn that ragweeds, rats and starling are all "weeds." Other invaders called "fire ants" have wiped out many other ants in the United $tates.
Along the same lines, Bright paints European diseases as "invaders" that killed millions of indigenous people in North America.
He paints a picture of ships or other humyn traveling devices as carrying new species to far off lands and then conquering. As a remedy he suggests that people who import new species should pay the price of the impact of those species.(p. 131)
Some species are more useful to humyns than others; although at this time, our scientific knowledge limited by capitalism is far from complete, so we are not able to say with certainty what the consequences of favoring one species over another will be. Bright favors some species over others, but the underlying reasons appear to be religious or unconscious religious reverence for the status quo. He resists change of all sorts, including those that would happen in Nature.
Molly O'Meara in "The Risks of Disrupting Climate" describes the risks of global climate change caused by humyn activities. She correctly points out that even if the percentage chance that what the environmentalists are saying is true is low, the cost is simply too great to ignore. A one percent chance to lose $100 quadrillion is worth $1 quadrillion after all.
The United $tates disrupted the Kyoto summit on the question in 1997. The U.S. Senate required that the developing countries take action or it would not ratify the treaty.
The Kyoto problem was a sharp expression of the "principal contradiction." The U.S. Government essentially failed to recognize that one imperialist country citizen pollutes as much as 20 oppressed nations citizens. Furthermore, the imperialist countries are more easily able to afford cleanup efforts.
With a dictatorship of the international proletariat allied with the oppressed nations over imperialism, such problems as Kyoto will be easily resolved. Without such a dictatorship, narrow-minded imperialists will risk destroying the environment for their short-term luxury.
The article on the subject is highly informative, but contains nothing of the real political problems connected and mentioned above.
The most famous essay in the collection is one that forced the Chinese social-fascist regime into responding. "Who Will Feed China?" by Lester Brown is about population growth and shrinking arable land in China.
In the Cultural Revolution, the Maoists stressed "grain as the key link" in agriculture. In the midst of capitalist restoration after 1976, Maoists in China continued to focus on this question and pointed out that arable land in China is decreasing. Peasants under "reform" we call capitalist counterrevolution started to build houses, cemeteries and roads on farming land. The Maoists pointed out that we cannot just bow to religious mysticism (cemeteries) and the free market if the result is starvation.
The Chinese government knew all this going back to the 1970s and 1980s, and wrote about it extensively. However, just as Christopher Colombus "discovered" North America, Lester R. Brown "discovered" the food supply problem in China. The Associated Press, Reuters and 6,000 radio and TV broadcasts picked up on the Brown article.(p. 196)
Unlike others, Brown notes with approval China's attempts to limit population both during and after Mao. We will only add that China under Mao had just seen the Soviet Union lose the most economically and politically able 10 percent of its population to the Nazi invaders as casualties. The U.$.A. dropped the A-Bomb on Japan and threatened China with it too. In the Korean War, China suffered heavy losses and U.$. generals spoke in public of invading China. Then in Vietnam, the United States killed 2 million Vietnamese at the very minimum.
If the environmentalists had iced imperialism instead of whining about being apolitical, would China have ended up with over one billion people? Ending economic insecurity and the insecurity caused by imperialist militarism are essential to environmental well-being.
Attack on bourgeois economics
Perhaps the best article is one that also attacks the nub of the problem in environmentalist thinking. Janet M. Abromovitz wrote "Nature's 'Free' Services."
"Ironically, by undervaluing natural services, economies unwittingly provide incentives to misuse and destroy the very systems that produce those services; rather than protecting their assets, they squander them. Nature, in turn becomes increasingly less able to supply the prolific range [of] services that the earth's expanding population and economy demand."(p. 153)
An example would be the following: "Eighty percent of the world's 1,330 cultivated crop species (including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, coffee and tea, coca, and spices) are pollinated by wild and semi-wild pollinators. One-third of U.S. agricultural output is from insect-pollinated plants (the remainder is from wind-pollinated grain plants such as wheat, rice, and corn). In dollars, honeybee pollination services are 60 to 100 times more valuable than the honey they produce. The value of wild blueberry bees is so great, with each bee pollinating 15 to 19 liters (about 40 pints) of blueberries in its life, that they are viewed by farmers as 'flying $50 bills.' . . . In Europe, the contribution of honey bee pollination to agriculture was estimated to be worth $100 billion in 1989."(p. 161)
Prices in the "free market" do not account for damage done to Nature's "free services" like pollination. Abromovitz is undertaking a scientific effort to figure out what those prices should be to reflect an environmentally sustainable economy. Her effort whether she knows it or not is part of socialist economic planning and represents a sharp criticism of bourgeois economic thought.
Recycling: admissions of a pseudo-environmentalist
Because of anti-communist individualism rooted in the extent of the middle-classes in the U$A, the U.$. environmental movement shies away from political discussion. As a result many of the actions undertaken by the movement are ineffective or outright detours created by the ruling class.
As MIM has argued for over a decade now, recycling under capitalism may be more harm than good for environmentalist goals. Recycling was a pseudo-environmentalist invention to distract attention from real environmental problems and solutions.
The pseudo-environmentalist approach lays the blame for environmental problems at the feet of the individual and recommends individual lifestyle changes instead of confronting concentrated economic and political power head-on. By blaming all individuals, the pseudo-environmentalist movement bailed out the ruling class. Now there is proof in "The Sudden New Strength of Recycling" by John Young.
The article is about the rise in prices for recycled material collected by municipalities in the mid-1990s. The rise in corporate demand in the mid-1990s finally made municipal efforts at collecting recyclable newspapers, cans and bottles a reasonable enterprise. Leading the way was a fluke increase in paper prices for non-recycled paper that also increased demand for recycled paper as a substitute.
Only now do we learn from the pseudo-environmentalists that for decades when individuals were making recycling efforts part of their daily chores their efforts were for naught. Many cities collected recycled goods separately, but ended up taking them to the same dumps with the garbage. Fortunately, other cities paid to have their goods recycled in what amounted to a subsidy to corporate Amerika paid for by taxpayers.
"The number of U.S. curbside pickup programs for recyclables grew from 1,042 in 1988 to 6,678 in 1993. This growth, and similar growth in drop-off and commercial-waste recycling programs, led to an extraordinary increase in the overall tonnage of recycled materials collected, from some 16 million tons in the United States in 1985 to 45 million tons in 1993. . . . growth created a glut of materials."(p. 260)
Young does not anywhere deal with the implications of what he is saying, but we read his work as an admission of sorts: "Cities were offering a few dollars per ton to anyone who would haul away their newsprint."(p. 262)
Young even admits that prices are likely to fall again!(p. 258) Hence, there will be no demand for recycled goods and they will end up in the dump again. In fact, by using more paper and materials more wastefully, people will boost the prices of paper and other materials and that will increase the demand for recycled materials. Also increasing the price of recycled goods under capitalism is the effort of those of us who throw away our recycled goods. That is the nature of capitalism, an irrational economic system from the proletariat's point of view.
MIM does not oppose recycling under capitalism. We do it just as we do many other things with the masses, so that the masses can see for themselves that it does not work.
In contrast, with socialist economic planning, it is in the interest of the proletariat to recycle. Formerly privately owned corporations will be required by the dictatorship of the proletariat to use recycled materials. Currently, environmentalists are only now pushing the government to require purchases of recycled paper. Some of the thoughts along those lines are inklings of scientific socialist planning.
Under socialism, recycling will be required across-the-board, not just in government agencies. The demand problem will be solved and the environment will be protected, not just when prices dictated by the "Invisible Hand" of the "free market" happen to say so, as in after 1994 in the United $tates. The "right" to a non-toxic environment is non-negotiable, so socialist industry will have to use recycled goods as extensively and efficiently as humynly possible.
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