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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid case for ecological radicalism
"What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism" is Magdoff and Foster's attempt to convince environmentalists that the radical ecologist position is correct. Because of the enormity of ocean acidification, overpopulation, and climate change, drastic measures will be necessary in the near future in order to avoid the undoing of earth as a livable planet...
Published on November 17, 2011 by Donald A. Planey

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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars many words, few thoughts
The title is factual but misleading. A more accurate title would have been "What we think every environmentalist needs to know about capitalism". The premise, that the environment and capitalism are fundamentally incompatible, is presented through a series of examples that show clearly that the environment has suffered from the Industrial Revolution. On this we...
Published 23 months ago by Richard Brandlin


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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid case for ecological radicalism, November 17, 2011
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This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
"What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism" is Magdoff and Foster's attempt to convince environmentalists that the radical ecologist position is correct. Because of the enormity of ocean acidification, overpopulation, and climate change, drastic measures will be necessary in the near future in order to avoid the undoing of earth as a livable planet. According to the authors though, the problem environmentalists face is even larger than the directly visible aspects of ecological degradation. Rates of resource consumption between nations are generally deeply unequal, with nations such as the U.S. representing the bulk of humanity's resource consumption. And yet, governments and international corporations in ALL parts of the world, not just the first world, enthusiastically participate in ecological destruction through the production of pollutants and insane rates of material extraction + consumption. Working-class and indigenous people usually bear the brunt of capitalism's anti-ecological effects. Plenty of corporations pay lip service to the idea of being "green," but their efforts are usually paltry, or in the case of BP, once considered to be at the forefront of corporate green activism, a ruse that covers up their role in destroying food supplies and ecosystems. These phenomena may appear to be disparate in origin, but Magdoff and Foster argue that they are undoubtedly connected, and that they all spring from the capitalist relation to nature. Their argument can be summed up as follows:

1. Capitalism is a system of profit. The goal of capitalism is to take limited resources and limited labor-time and transform them into maximum profit.

2. Capitalism always grows in size. In order to maintain "economic health," capitalist economies need to grow at a significant rate so that they become larger and larger as part of a continual process.

3. 3. The need for economic growth and profit-creation trumps all other concerns within a capitalist society. All other possible societal concerns, such as ecological sustainability and social justice, if they are to be pursued within the confines of capitalist logic, must be subsumed under the profit-motive. They cannot exist "alongside" the profit-motive, or change the nature of the profit-motive in any meaningful way. All other societal needs are forced to obey the profit-motive in order to ensure that they are not destroyed by it.

4. Technological solutions to ecological problems are usually invalidated by the capitalist system. Improvements in technological efficiency usually, in the eyes of corporations, represent a means by which to increase production and gain a competitive edge.

5. Organic and Green capitalist firms will never change the ecologically destructive nature of capitalism. They are small by nature. They can only be green as far as they can cater to a niche market. In every instance a green or organic firm has grown to a national or multi-national level, they have been forced to abandon their ethical vision in order to stay competitive.

Because of these traits, capitalism will ruin the earth as we know it- that is, unless we choose to oppose the logic of capitalist accumulation entirely. Magdoff and Foster spend the first part of the book sharing statistics and observations about the accelerating rate of ecological decline across the world. This information is probably familiar to most environmentally conscious people, but the conclusions that the authors draw are highly unorthodox, even amongst hard-line environmentalists. The middle section explains the contradictions of capitalism that cause ecological destruction, and why social inequality and imperialism stem from the same laws of capitalist accumulation. These sections also assess and critique writings by other ecological thinkers.

The final section is the most explicitly Marxist in content. Here, the authors discuss Marx, Engels, Lebowitz, Harvey, Sweezy, Mike Davis, Evo Morales, and other writers in order to provide a sketch of what an eco-socialist revolution would look like. An eco-socialist revolution will involve state planning, which will be necessary in order to overcome the tremendously powerful and dexterous nature of accumulationist logic. Capitalists will need to be dispossessed of their power, and the citizenry will control how wealth is distributed and created. Many aspects of the economy will become localized, and one of the major challenges of a possible eco-socialist society lies in its ability to balance local democratic control and local economies with centralized planning.

As is usually the case with Magdoff-Foster books, this one covers a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of space. Because this book focuses on anti-capitalist ecologism in relation to modern politics, I would highly recommend that it be read alongside Foster's The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment (Cornerstone Books) which is also a brief argument for radical ecologism, but focuses on the history of capitalist development. Together, these books make for a powerful case for the importance of Marxian economics for the political ecologism movement.

Overall, I would say that this book is a good place for curious environmentalists to investigate what Marxist theory has to offer ecological activism. However, this book does not really familiarize the reader with Marxism as a social-scientific approach to political analysis, instead of just as a political position. They argue for socialism using arguments tailored for an environmentalist audience, but they do not really show how the Marxist perspective works. Don't get me wrong though- Given its objective and persuasiveness, this is an important book for environmentalists to read. I just personally suspect that political ecologists could also benefit from fostering an understanding of Marxian analysis itself. For this reason, I would also recommend reading The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism by David Harvey in order to gain a better understanding of Marxism as a means to interpret political, ecological, and social problems.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ecology and the Common Good: How do We Get There? This book is a good place to Start., October 17, 2011
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This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism is an important book for seasoned environmental activists and scholars as well as newcomers to the realization that we are facing historical crises. It is also a great book for teachers to consider assigning in high school and college courses, or to recommend for student groups and book clubs, because the issues raised in an approachable way here are so central to the preparation all students need to understand the world they are inheriting and the kinds of problems they confront. Activists for social justice causes will find this a prime source for understanding why the poor, women, and people of color globally have the most to lose as a result of the crisis and many of the proposed solutions, which will exacerbate inequalities. The book offers a strong but succinct overview of the central conflict of our times: that between global economic growth and both the sustainability of our planet's ecology and social justice.

While challenging Capitalism may seem a daunting, impossible, or utopian task to those for whom it is the only system they have ever known or can imagine, an honest assessment of the systemic causes of our social and environmental problems requires it. This book shows why there are increasing numbers of environmental reforms and technological developments while the scale of the environmental crisis only increases. At the same time, the authors explain that without focusing on immediate threats, like climate change, things will be even worse. In sum, the point of the What Can Be Done Now? section starting on page 124 is to explain clearly why immediate environmental reform must be a priority, but must be part of a larger struggle for an end to the system that makes real solutions impossible.

The book also explains the relationship between politics and economics, which is crucial to understand and develop strategies that can achieve stated environmental goals. For example, expecting the U.S. Congress to pass reforms based on scientific evidence and sound argument, versus those drawn up by highly paid lobbyists, is a mis-guided expectation, given the evidence of our historical record, unless there is a strategy to make the political stakes for politicians very high if they refuse. We can remember the abolitionist movement and the good Frederick Douglass's analysis of what was required to end slavery in the West Indies:

"What Wilberforce was endeavoring to win from the British senate by his magic eloquence the slaves themselves were endeavoring to gain by outbreaks and violence. The combined action of one and the other wrought out the final result. While one showed that slavery was wrong, the other showed that it was dangerous as well as wrong. Mr. Wilberforce, peace man though he was, and a model of piety, availed himself of this element to strengthen his case before the British Parliament, and warned the British government of the danger of continuing slavery in the West Indies. There is no doubt that the fear of the consequences, acting with a sense of the moral evil of slavery, led to its abolition."~Douglass, August 3, 1857

Because effective environmental activism requires a study not only ecology, but politics, social movement history and economics, given they are inherent aspects of the problem, this book is a great starting place. If you are a veteran student of these issues, this book offers a great compendium of relevant and up-to-date scientific research that will provide you examples and concise arguments to help you discuss the ecological crisis and potential solutions with others. You could use this book to start a local reading group in your community, inviting neighbors, activists and your local politicians. It's approachable format and shorter length make it ideal reading for even the busiest soul and for people with diverse concerns and background knowledge. In the end, I think it's one of the best books I've ever read on this subject, better than many books out there attempting to address the environmental crisis. I will use it in courses I teach and I recommend it enthusiastically as perfect fall reading for all concerned, and a perfect Christmas present. Even if you know someone who has yet to be interested in these issues, you can give them this book and let them know that we are all affected whether we like it or not, and we're all better off if we are gathering our numbers and seeking real solutions. There is hope yet.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Citizen's Guide to Capitalism and the Environment, September 22, 2014
This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
In book "What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism: A Citizen's Guide to Capitalism and the Environment" by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, authors narrate journeys of capitalists toward environmental catastrophes across the world. Authors also explore concept of 'green capitalism' in this book and describe failure of green capitalism in climate change adaptation and mitigation. The sources of global warming are always attributed to capitalism.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going to the Root, August 9, 2012
By 
Douglas Doepke (Claremont CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
The authors pose one of the most vital questions of our time or perhaps any time, viz. Is capitalism compatible with the planet's survival. Considering that the motive force of capital is unending growth, while the environment's is ecological limits, the terms could not be much starker. Global warming presents one of the mounting environmental crises the authors discuss. There are in fact many.

The authors' real challenge is to show how in the face of this fundamental conflict, reform is not and cannot be enough. This sets them boldly against America's national religion, capitalism, in both its liberal and conservative versions. More topically, they must show why widely popular green measures will not be enough unless the framework of production for profit itself is addressed. Needless to say, such inquiries will not win popularity contests among either the chamber of commerce or mainstream greens. But it is a problematic that must be pressed given the urgency of the challenge.

The book also presents two levels of remedial measures. Firstly are those measures that can be taken short of wholesale change-- e.g. a carbon tax, no new coal plants, more mass transit et. al. Secondly, are those that establish both a sustainable economic base and a more equitable society. This second level pushes in the direction of socialist type frameworks where profit motive and wealth hierarchy are replaced by production for need and community ownership, respectively. I like the way the authors' look toward socialist models such as Chavez's innovative "bottom-up" model, plus Cuba's genuine social accomplishments.

Naturally our ownership class does everything it can to prevent the capitalist framework from being put into question. As a result, the challenge amounts to a terrific uphill battle, especially in America. But meanwhile the big rock is rolling downhill and getting bigger all the time. Thus, it's time to ask basic questions, secular religion or no.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very Informative, a Little Repetitive, April 3, 2014
This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
I enjoyed reading this book and received lots of insight into why capitalism is a non-sustainable social structure. The book gives lots of great examples and is very critical of many movements in "green business" and other business structures. The book was very thorough, but at times I felt like I was being told the same thing 4 different ways.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What every PERSON needs to know about capitalism, January 13, 2014
This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
We need more books like these that so accessibly explain the relationship between the way we live and everything else. A nice read, to the point, jargon-free, and persuasive. If you think we can continue living with capitalism, challenge yourself to this read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not groundbreaking (has flaws), but paves the way, January 9, 2014
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This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
Oh what would happen If everyone living in a capitalist economy read this book... oh how different things would be today and for the future.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Technology within Capitalist System Won't Save Environment, November 17, 2013
This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
This is an excellent book in which the authors clearly and succinctly demonstrate that the capitalist economic system is inherently incompatible with the long-term sustainability of the environment. Most environmentalists will have a hard time swallowing this inconvenient truth since they are made to believe that green or ecologically friendly technologies will come to the rescue and business as usual, i.e., capitalism and profit accumulation as usual, can continue unabatedly (see, for example: Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution). But, as the authors convincingly show, technological efficiency improvements (e.g., more energy efficient cars) are used by corporations to gain a competitive advantage, to increase sales and profits, rather than to protect the environment.

To strengthen the case against the belief that capitalism, i.e., infinite economic growth and profit maximization, can be compatible with a clean environment, I recommend Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us Or the Environment. The authors show that technological innovation within the current capitalistic economic system will lead to more resource use and pollution, and that a paradigm shift, including a change to a no-growth steady-state economic system, is needed to achieve sustainability. The concept of a steady-state economy has been pioneered by Herman Daly for decades. If not familiar with this concept, Ecological Economics, Second Edition: Principles and Applications is a very rigorous treatise to consider.

Clearly, there is no shortage of ideas regarding alternatives to our current capitalistic system that is on collision course with the environment and many cherished human values.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I finally made the connections and changed my actual behaviors after reading this book!, May 17, 2013
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This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know About Capitalism swirled my head so much an with such depth that I ended up writing a new keynote. Seriously - all that I kept thinking was Einstein's quote, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity." This makes sense to me- If Capitalism is the philosophy or way of living that we have embraced that then has played any role in destroying the planet - how or why would more of it help fix the problem? Even scarier is that we can take this superior skill set and destroy Mars next... really?

Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster (professors from University of Vermont and Oregon respectively) very clearly and realistically explain environmental impacts and disasters (man made and natural) and our collective consumerism in a way that even this Texan that didn't grow up recycling can "get it." The urgency in which something MUST change has forced me to really look at my waste, purchases, and growth desires to replace the mantra of MORE MORE MORE with Enough Enough Enough.

I feel that the accessibility and practical nature of the science, demographics, statistics, and data allowed me to face my personal responsibility of environmental impact in a way that doesn't lead me to buying a Starbucks and pretending not to notice. Literally, it doesn't matter what I do - in some ways it is what I stop doing that helps the most.

Living Better creates this competition that is rooted in growth and consumption. Living Well is about enough get to everyone as a personal responsibility. It isn't just about buying more recycled products, are placing old light bulbs with new ones, but leaving the lights on longer. Living Well is about doing less with less. Literally - think smaller - bigger has only caused us problems.

I have created a few simple steps to help make this change in my own life.

1) BUY LESS S***... I mean s*** here on purpose. In 2012, I vowed to not buy anything. I don't mean food or office supplies, I mean s***. Stuff - meaningless stuff. In 2012, I have purchased a few things that were not necessary - but I actually can name thme - I remember them. I never noticed how mindless I spend money. I have purchased 2 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shoes, some clothes, and a necklace. That is pretty much it. For the records, I sold 3 pairs of shoes to buy those 2 pairs so I consider that a draw.

2) DON'T UPGRADE... You don't need the new gizmo just because their is a new gizmo. I kept my crappy cell phone for a year longer than I needed to. I am still typing this on a 3 year old lap top that is covered in duct tape. My color print prints in one color now - black seems to work. If you keep everything one year longer than you think you need to - you just left a small footprint.

3) WORK IT OUT... Repair, tape up, glue, fix, whatever is broken instead of just buying a new one. Make it work for as long as possible. If that doesn't work - make it work for a little bit longer that you usually would. This really matters.

4) SHARE... Donate items to others and borrow or share what you have with others. Even with the Do It Yourself movement, we don't all need our own table saw - borrow a neighbors, rent one, share yours, etc. Warning - this may involve communicating with other humans in a live manner and could lead to more personal relationships and community building.

5) TALK... What if we actually had conversations with each other about how much waste or how little waste we produce. We could talk about window shopping, or repair tips; we could talk about books we have checked out from the library or lent to a friend. We could reuse tote bags, cups, utensils. We could take one napkin or replace unused ketchup packets.

It is the little things - Little things got us where we are today and little things turn into big things. This is just as true now as it has always been. What little things can you do today that are different? Doing something different will lead to a different result.

Jessica Pettitt is the "diversity educator" your family warned you about. Through teaching, writing, and facilitating tough conversations, she has figured out how to BE the change she wants to BE. Now it is your turn!
As she travels around the country, you can catch up with Jessica on:
Facebook: [...]
YouTube:[...]
LinkedIn: [...]
Twitter: [...]
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Introduction to eco-socialism, April 11, 2012
This review is from: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Paperback)
It should be clear to any rational person that our natural environment is being destroyed. Foster and Magdoff describe the myriad ways in the first chapter of this short volume. Importantly, the problems are not limited to greenhouse gas emissions, but include ocean acidification, freshwater usage, chemical pollution, resource depletion, deforestation, and resulting mass extinction. The problem, of course, is that our political economy is not dictated by rationality, but by the relentless pursuit of short-term profit - that is, by capital. Thus, Foster and Magdoff are to be commended for offering this introduction for environmentalists to the root of the problem. Chapters three and four serve as this introduction, with Foster and Magdoff explaining how the capitalist system is predicated on short-term growth, causing it to steamroll through any attempts at prudent management. My main disappointment with this book is that this section was not as strong as it could have been. Rather than really driving home the absurdities that capitalist society will resort to for growth at all costs, Foster and Magdoff get sidetracked on a discussion of mature monopoly capitalism. This a view of capitalist development that has been propounded by Monthly Review, its editor Foster, and his predecessor Paul Sweezy. In my view it was out of place in this introduction, as whether or not capitalism results in monopolies is irrelevant to whether it destroys the environment. At worst, a liberal might mistakenly conclude from this view that the problem is not capitalism itself, but rather the too-big-to-fail aspect of late capitalism. However, chapter four does nicely demonstrate how capitalist short-term profit results in the aforementioned ecological destruction.

After introducing the problem, Foster and Magdoff critique the insufficiency of various eco-capitalist 'solutions', such as cap-and-trade, green technology, and eco-engineering. These are fairly short critiques, and I doubt they would be enough to convince the firm green capitalist, but this is only an introduction. The final chapter then attempts to answer the age-old question: 'what is to be done?' Foster and Magdoff distinguish between what must be done immediately (reforms), and what must be the medium-term goal (there is no longer a long-term in such ecological discussions), which is full-scale political economic change. This requires a democratically planned economy, often referred to as eco-socialism. Many left-libertarians might find Foster and Magdoff lean a little too much in favor of centralization (they appear to draw some inspiration from Chavez and Morales), but they provide only a brief sketch of what eco-socialism might look like, so it is difficult to say.

What is needed in these critical times is for more people to stop talking about symptoms, and start talking about the actual problem: capitalism. This is a welcome introductory attempt at doing just that.
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What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism
What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism by Fred Magdoff (Paperback - June 1, 2011)
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