Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 18, 2020

A reply to John Molyneux and Michael Lowy on degrowth

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 11:44 pm
John Molyneux
Michael Lowy

Generally speaking, my defense of degrowth is mounted against the ecomodernists at Jacobin/Catalyst: Leigh Phillips and Matt Huber, who both stand on Marxist orthodoxy, at least in their view. Although I’ve never answered him specifically, Neo-Keynesian Robert Pollin has staked a position against degrowth in the July-August 2018 NLR. If you’re interested in this debate, I recommend tracking down the NLR and to look for articles by Phillips and Huber on Jacobin and Catalyst.

This is the first time I will be responding to people much closer to me ideologically, John Molyneux, an ex-member of the British SWP, and Michael Lowy, a longtime member of the Mandelista Fourth International. Molyneux’s article is titled “Growth and De-growth: What should ecosocialists say” and can be read on the Global Ecosocialist Network. Lowy’s article is titled “Ecosocialism: A Vital Synthesis” and appears on Ian Angus’s Climate and Capitalism website.

Let me turn to Molyneux first, if for no other reason that the title of his article indicates a willingness to take on his ideological adversaries head-on.

Unfortunately, Molyneux cherry-picks an intellectual exercise from leading degrowth theorist Giorgos Kallis and proceeds to trash what amounts to a straw-man. In an article that appeared in “The Internationalist”, Kallis wrote:

The Left has to liberate itself from the imaginary of growth. Perpetual growth is an absurd idea (consider the absurdity of this: if the Egyptians had started with one cubic metre of stuff and grew it by 4.5% per year, by the end of their 3,000-year civilization, they would have occupied 2.5 billion solar systems.). Even if we could substitute capitalist growth, with a nicer, angelic socialist growth, why would we want to occupy 2.5 billion solar systems with it?

This is what they call a hypothetical and it is foolish to use it to represent degrowth analysis, which is completely steeped in the actual ecological limits we are dealing with. Kallis is an ecological economist by profession and is involved in studies of water development and urbanization, so turning him into a promoter of specious theories based on Egypt’s alternative history does not do him justice.

The remainder of Molyneux’s article is a rehash of the arguments I’ve heard and made about the anarchy of capitalist production for the past 53 years. For example, “If the productive forces constitute society’s general capacity to produce then their development or advance need not necessarily result in more production of things at all but might equally result in producing the same amount in less time. Marx, himself, put a lot of emphasis on this economy of labour time as he saw it has having the potential to free human beings from necessary labour, reduce the working week and enhance human freedom.”

Well, who can argue with that? Unquestionably, socialism will be a more rational system. Commodity production based on profit is the number one cause of environmental despoliation. If the economy is based on the production of use-values, you can finally use science and humanism to create a livable world.

Molyneux proceeds to define some of the norms we can expect under world ecosocialism. This one stuck out for me: “The extensive retrofitting of homes”. I am not sure what this means exactly but it would point to the banning of any house or apartment over 3,000 square feet for a family of four. I’m definitely for that but within such an advanced new way of sheltering, how do we create the furniture that people need for a modicum of comfort? We certainly need chairs, tables, beds, desks, and bookshelves, don’t we? Can we have a socialist Ikea that supplies such basics?

Over the past four decades, China has tried to make sure that its citizenry can live a comfortable middle-class existence. That has meant becoming the world’s largest importer of wood. (The United States is second.) It is also the largest exporter — turning much of the wood it imports into products headed to Home Depots and Ikeas around the world.

The irony is that Ikea brags about its environmentalist values. Its website states: “We’re also working towards 100% renewable energy – producing as much as we consume in our operations – and sourcing all of our wood from more sustainable sources by 2020.” All that is well and good but the inexhaustible demand for cheap furniture will simply lead other corporations to rely on Chinese suppliers. That’s how capitalism works, after all—supply and demand. So efficient at reducing forests to toothpicks.

Now, under world ecosocialism, how could you continue to provide the wood needed for the average household without encroaching on the forests and hence the risk of a new pandemic? For pete’s sake, Marxism is a powerful tool but it cannot produce wood out of thin air. That’s the purview of the sorcerer’s apprentice and you saw how much trouble Mickey Mouse got into.

Degrowth is completely focused on the question of how humanity can not only survive into the 22nd century but how can civilization continue until the planet dies due to astrophysical realities. It poses solutions based on the needs of a modest life-style that while giving up on SUV’s and all the other crap can allow the full development of the human being, who might have to work 10 hours a week while painting landscapes or growing orchids the rest of the time. That means addressing the population question that people like Molyneux recoils from. There is scant attention to that in his article, with this being typical:

In particular we should also challenge the idea, implicit in the arguments of many ‘degrowthers’, especially those that favour population control , that all human activity, indeed all human existence, is inherently damaging to nature.

I don’t know about “many” degrowthers. I do want to know, however, whether Molyneux has engaged at all with the numbers that both Kallis and Jason Hickel have crunched. Let me direct him to something that Hickel wrote to get started. This is the heart and soul of degrowth scholarship, not Kallis’s intellectual exercise about Egypt:

Adopting a higher poverty line makes it more difficult to end poverty while remaining within planetary boundaries. At the US$7.40 line, Belarus is the most promising, with minimal social shortfall (a score of 0.98) excluding qualitative indicators, but its average biophysical score is 1.64. Of the nations that achieve all non-qualitative social thresholds, the most biophysically efficient is Oman, which has an average biophysical score of 2.66. In other words, given the existing best-case relationship between resource use and income, achieving a good life for all with an income threshold of US$7.40 per day would require that poor nations overshoot planetary boundaries by at least 64% to 166%.

Of course, Hickel could have just said that ecosocialism will solve these problems with scarcely a need to figure out the desperately important balance between humanity and nature under conditions of declining water, soil and climate. I hope he continues on his current trajectory.

Turning now to Lowy’s article, it is closely related to Molyneux’s with the idea of socialism replacing capitalism on a world-scale being the solution to our problems. He writes:

The issue of economic growth has divided socialists and environmentalists. Ecosocialism, however, rejects the dualistic frame of growth versus degrowth, development versus anti-development, because both positions share a purely quantitative conception of productive forces. A third position resonates more with the task ahead: the qualitative transformation of development.

A new development paradigm means putting an end to the egregious waste of resources under capitalism, driven by large-scale production of useless and harmful products. The arms industry is, of course, a dramatic example, but, more generally, the primary purpose of many of the “goods” produced — with their planned obsolescence — is to generate profit for large corporations. The issue is not excessive consumption in the abstract, but the prevalent type of consumption, based as it is on massive waste and the conspicuous and compulsive pursuit of novelties promoted by “fashion.” A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, including water, food, clothing, housing, and such basic services as health, education, transport, and culture.

So,  “A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, including water, food, clothing, housing, and such basic services as health, education, transport, and culture.” Let’s start with water.

Okay, how is ecosocialism going to generate groundwater that is the key to sustainable agriculture? Will making the Ogallala Aquifer people’s property somehow overcome the ecological limits on a resource that took thousands of years to accrue? Natural forces produced it and it was used to grow the wheat that is a necessity for urban life. You can take the position that cattle and wheat have to go but any foodstuff is going to have to rely on water. Even under the best of conditions, water can become scarce because it is serving a population that far exceeded the numbers that lived in North America 30,000 years ago. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall. (Wikipedia) Instead of bad-mouthing Giorgos Kallis’s speculation on Egypt, Molyneux and Lowy could both benefit from his work on water conservation.

I consider Molyneux and Lowy’s attempt to debunk degrowth feeble at best. I have been following debates within the left on ecology for the past 30 years and have been shocked by the way that long-time Marxists just skate over the surface of degrowth scholarship. My advice to them and others is to put the Marxist verities on the back burner, roll up their sleeves, and begin to delve into the details of how the human race can continue with the current set-up. Socialism can do many things but it cannot produce wood and water out of thin air.

13 Comments »

  1. Maybe this might help with he debate by including Marx and Engels ideas about the relationship between man and nature and the alienation not only the product from the producer but the deeper alienation of man from nature through the capitalist relationship that can only survive by maintaining those alienations.
    Maybe you have this addressed before, as the writings date a while back

    https://monthlyreview.org/product/marxs_ecology/

    https://socialistworker.org/2013/06/04/karl-marxs-environmentalism

    Comment by peter moritz — December 19, 2020 @ 1:29 am

  2.   THIS IS NOT A COMMENT  Dear Louis,

    I sent you this on 10th December 2020 via Messenger:

    „thank you for your e-mail. It seems that there are problems with the e-mail traffic. That’s why I’m using Messenger. I explicitly didn’t make a comment to your text. I sent you an e-mail, which you simply placed on your blog, where it doesn’t make any sense (to make matters worse), because you disappeared the following two sentences: > > ‚Unfortunately, the paperback is out of print and the Kindle or hardcover is pretty expensive. Contact me privately if you’d like a copy, as long as you promise not to share it with anybody else.‘ >

    So, because I don’t want to look like an idiot, I call on you to remove my ‚comment‘ from your blog at once.

    Thanks in advance and have a nice day

    Bernhard“

    Unfortunately, I see that the “comment” is still on your blog. Please, remove it now!

    Thanks and have a good weekend

    Bernhard

    PS Concerning your new piece „A reply to John Molyneux and Michael Lowy [recte: Löwy] on degrowth” you quote Kallis from “The Internationalist”. In fact it is “New Internationalist”.

    Von meinem iPhone gesendet

    >

    Comment by Bernhard — December 19, 2020 @ 7:21 am

  3. Perhaps too much attention is being focused on climate change alone these days. There appears to be a genuine spurt in “green energy” and It seems that a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions might actually be possible under capitalism. I’m not sure what effect this would have on the problems involved in growth-degrowth but perhaps a whole range of resource limitations and environmental damage concerns would not be impacted so much. Agriculture presents environmental destruction issues that would certainly be somewhat affected by a reduction in greenhouse emissions from machinery, if not from cattle–but the destruction entailed by current agricultural practices, without which it might not be possible to produce food for large populations, may only grow, even with some offsets. I have the impression that even if “green energy” can be made real, there are mountain ranges of even more serious further problems to be solved.

    Cuban organoponics seems to offer some hope, but it is not clear what the issues of scale or the environmental impact might be if this became the main food resource. In the bigger picture, perhaps this is a mere detail.

    It is all very distressing. One thing seems clear: these massive problems can’t be resolved by some form of as it were dialectical laissez faire. A great many cookshop menus or equivalent may be required, thanks to the superior power of modern computing. The main benefit of socialism here would be the ability to focus attention on these problems without the distraction of the wasteful and inefficient “free market”–action could be concerted at the social level.

    On the other hand, the history of socialist “leaps” is not encouraging–what would be needed is a Leap Forward on an unprecedented, indeed worldwide, scale. In some respects, I am glad to have reached the age of 72–how much longer can I last? My mind is already going. I might as well burn up or starve or die of thirst. But I feel sorry for my much-loved great-nieces and nephews: they may not be lucky enough to die before the worst happens, and their children may fare even worse.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 19, 2020 @ 9:28 am

  4. Actively managed forestry, along with reforestation, both mixed forests and “fast” growing varieties for harvest, alongside agro forestry on a large scale, say up to 40% of land mass in developed countries, would improve soil quality, fix carbon, increase atmospheric moisture, this increasing rain fall and produce wood.

    Comment by Pete Shield — December 19, 2020 @ 12:39 pm

  5. Forestry is a means of taking productive areas out of crop production long term. There is the old concept of crop rotation between grains, legumes of any kind, root crops like sugar beets, and of course short term non field crop use as pasture.
    Which of course means an integrated approach of field crop and livestock production and using manure as an organic fertilizer.

    Comment by peter moritz — December 19, 2020 @ 1:34 pm

  6. Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Malthusian

    Comment by Pat Contri — December 20, 2020 @ 11:10 am

  7. I don’t mind being called a Malthusian as a smear since the shithead who made it never read Malthus and has no idea that Malthus was nothing like today’s rightwing environmentalists. Check my review of Kallis’s book to see why:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/12/27/whats-wrong-with-malthus/

    Comment by louisproyect — December 20, 2020 @ 1:13 pm

  8. We need the planned degrowth of the human population in order to increase everyone’s living standards.
    This isn’t “Malthusianism”, it’s the only way to avoid ecological catastrophe and achieve socialism without rationing.

    It requires education and freely available birth control, as advocated by many early socialists.

    Whereas the International Socialist Molyneux’s programme is a list of pink-green reformist cliches:-

    “…reduction of carbon emissions, nationally and internationally, to zero by 2030”
    Utopian. This just isn’t going to happen.

    “Rapid transition to renewable sources of energy.”
    Who disagrees?
    What are they and can they supply the energy that people need?
    “The extensive retrofitting of homes”

    Big deal. Lots of companies try to sell me home insulation……
    What’s needed is state investment in zero carbon public housing.
    “Massive reduction in dependence on beef and cattle farming.”

    I always wonder why people who call for a “massive reduction in cattle farming” don’t call also call for massive reduction in the human population, since their environmental effects are so similar.

    It depends on where you live.
    Grazing cattle to produce Big Macs on deforested land in Brazil is bad, but there’s nothing wrong with Dairy farming in the West of England, or raising grass fed cattle in Ireland.
    I doubt if the farmers in Ireland will flock to his programme.
    “Massive programmes of aforestation”
    Same issue.

    What land will you plant the forests on and where will people grow their food crops?

    Comment by prianikoff — December 20, 2020 @ 1:31 pm

  9. You literally prophesize a Malthusian Catastrophe but claim it’s not Malthusian. LOL!

    In 1848 Marx called Malthus “a shameless sycophant of the ruling classes” and “a bought advocate” of those who opposed a better life for the poor workers of England. By calling for a “necessary check on growing numbers”, Malthus was selling scientific and moral arguments to selfish opponents of reform. The real problem wasn’t too many people or too little food, but that capitalists owned the means of production.

    In 2020 middle class “Marxists” living comfortable lives in developed countries want to condemn billions of poor around the world to every lasting backwardness. Second time as farce, as many of these aren’t even “bought advocates.” They are volunteers! Funniest thing about it is that most are living in apartments in huge metro areas and couldn’t grow a fucking carrot. But they’d have poor people knee deep in pig shit just to survive. The champagne socialists would blush.

    Malthus’s claim of an impending doomsday based on human consumption going beyond “natural limits” in 1798 was no more accurate then than it is now. The problem is still the private ownership of the means of production and organization thereof. Marx knew that. “Marxists” should too.

    Comment by Pat Contri — December 20, 2020 @ 5:28 pm

  10. You are just as stupid as the anonymous #6. Maybe the same person, who knows? In any case, this is for you and any other motherfucker who has not read Giorgos Kallis’s explanation of what Malthus really wrote:

    COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 27, 2019
    What’s Wrong With Malthus
    BY LOUIS PROYECT

    In the recently published “Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care,” Giorgos Kallis tackles weighty and expansive topics in merely 156 pages. One cannot help but wonder if his brevity (the soul of wit, after all) was in keeping with the book’s theme—how humanity can live an abundant life within material limits.

    Kallis is a research professor at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), who has made both theoretical and practical contributions to environmentalism. In addition to writing articles in defense of “degrowth,” he worked for the European Parliament’s Science and Technological Options Assessment Unit for the preparation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

    “Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong” is a critique of Malthusianism, as put forward in the 1798 “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” It also refutes the “neo-Malthusian” writings of Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome. Since the Club of Rome issued a report titled “The Limits to Growth” in 1972, one has to wonder why a degrowth advocate would be its critic. The answer is that Malthus and neo-Malthusianism are entirely different animals.

    When I first began writing in defense of ecological limits on the Marxism mailing list in the early 90s, I had to put up with the jibes of James Heartfield, who was then part of Frank Furedi’s Living Marxism collective. For Heartfield, nuclear power, GMO crops, DDT, and massive hydroelectric dams were the cutting edge of capitalist progress that could serve the interests of working people but only under socialism. To oppose such questionable technologies marked you as a “neo-Malthusian.” Somewhere along the line, Furedi, Heartfield and company forgot about the possibility of a socialist future and now defend such technology as partisans of the Brexit Party in England. For Kallis, this evolution probably makes sense since he sees the questions of limits as transcending political economy. Toward the end of the chapter “The Limit of Limits,” he writes:

    A further problem with the idea that socialism would face no limit is that it reproduces the dream of limitless growth. The need for a culture of limits holds independently of the organization of society. Ancient Athens or the hunter-gatherers were not capitalists, but they did put limits on themselves. No system, socialist or otherwise, can exist without limits; the question is what limits it will have, and how such limits will be set. Those who think they have found the secret to a society of eternal luxury that will know no limits can only be fooling themselves.

    I tend to agree.

    Malthus had a pretty simple idea, namely that since population growth is geometrical and food production growth is arithmetical, the result is suffering, hunger and death. If we are to avoid such a calamity, we need to have fewer babies. That’s the conventional view, anyhow.

    In the first chapter titled “Why Malthus Was Wrong,” Kallis takes the conventional view and smashes it into smithereens. Drawing liberally from Malthus’s “An Essay on the Principle of Population” and citing scholars who have scrutinized it carefully, Kallis builds an air-tight case that Malthus favored population growth. He also saw capitalism as the best way to satisfy its needs.

    Despite his reputation, Malthus opposed “artificial modes of checking population…for their tendency to remove a necessary stimulus to growth.” Also, unlike Paul Erlich, who famously bet Julian Simon that resources like metal would grow scarcer, Malthus claimed that “for commodities, the raw materials are in great plenty.” He added that “a demand for these will not fail to create them in as great a quantity as they are wanted.”

    Instead of projecting the fears of Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome into Malthus’s writings, it makes more sense to ask what they advocated. It turns out that they were a warning against providing aid to the poor who might grow lazy if hunger did not gnaw at them. Despite being an ordained priest, Malthus had much in common with Ayn Rand. Despite her atheism, she was just as hostile to the weak and the defenseless. Furthermore, like today’s neoliberals, he was an advocate of growth. The only way to reduce misery was to grow more food. Yet, the only way to grow more food was to be “industrious” both in factories and in the fields. And what better way to foster industriousness is there than the threat of being fired? Sounding like a Trump administration official cutting off food stamps, Malthus proposed a “total abolition of all the present parish-laws” to “give liberty and freedom of action to the peasantry of England… to be able to settle without interruption, wherever there was a prospect of a greater plenty of work and a higher price for labour.”

    This Scrooge-like meanness does not seem to connect with Paul Ehrlich, the author of “The Population Bomb” or the Club of Rome. They did not fret over the shiftless poor. Instead, they theorized a world in which population growth would outstrip food production. Despite being a misreading of Malthus, it was one very much geared to the times when liberals in wealthy countries grew fearful of violent revolutions fueled by hunger. They also feared immigration from such countries since it would jeopardize “Green” values. That is why a small minority of Sierra Club members voted in favor of putting a limit on immigration—the kind of limit at odds with Kallis’s worldview.

    To develop this worldview, Kallis draws from a wide variety of sources. Among them are Emma Goldman, Cornelius Castoriadis, Michel Foucault, and two novelists: Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula Le Guin. Such a breadth of knowledge is commendable in a field often dominated by nit-picking whether nuclear power might be part of the solution alongside windmills.

    Ultimately, Kallis is in search of a philosophical worldview that can make limits an expression of freedom rather than bondage. Drawing upon his heritage, he holds up the Greek republic as an exemplary model even if you take into account the retrograde treatment of women and slaves. As an analogy, Marx and Engels (as well as Ben Franklin) admired the Iroquois confederacy even as it exhibited the same sort of brutality toward its enemies. What they all had in common was an understanding of the need for equality, living modestly, and having respect for the natural world.

    As a discipline, ecosocialist theory tends to face the need for an underlying philosophy since its concerns go to the heart of humanity’s relationship to nature. In his “Justice, Nature & The Geography of Difference”, David Harvey settled on Gottfried Leibniz as the philosopher best equipped to provide the tools for ecosocialist theory. His theory of monads as hubs of living activity suggested a world where everything is always evolving. More recently, Jason Moore, like Harvey, grappled with the world of classical European philosophy. He was in search of an “ontology for understanding and resolving the environmental crisis. The result of that search bore fruit in his “Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital”, where he took exception to a Cartesian dualism that divided humanity from nature in the work of Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster.

    Should we be searching for answers in Leibniz or Descartes? Can philosophy help arm us against a crisis that might lead to the extinction of the human race? Granted, our disappearance as a species will make understanding its connection to the natural world unnecessary. Given the dynamics of capitalism in decline, the natural world will consist only of cockroaches, rats, pigeons and bedbugs a thousand years from now, after all. So why worry? With that in mind, does Kallis’s identification with the ancient Greeks serve as a useful guide for overcoming the crisis and leading to a more just and freer world?

    Kallis makes a case for Hellenic-style moderation in a chapter titled “A Culture of Limits.” Solon, the father of Greek democracy, said there was a need for “a hidden measure (of intelligence) that holds the limits of all things.” For the ancient Greeks, the key was avoiding hubris. This term comes to mind when looking at the lifestyle of the rich and famous today, starting with the occupant of the White House. Unlike other philosophers of the modern era like Leibniz or Descartes, philosophers were often writing guides to living better lives. They even made recommendations about diet and exercise, as well as the best time to have sex. Kallis writes:

    If I may be allowed a diversion here, this aspect of Greek ontology and culture has features in common with the egalitarian societies of hunter-gatherers studied by anthropologists. These hunter-gatherers, too, live in a world of limits within limitlessness. They see nature as unlimited, but they respond to it with limits. Like the Greeks, they create institutions to curb the accumulation of resources and power—from reprimanding successful hunters to sharing and consuming all bounty, without allowing themselves to accumulate. Though I may risk overdrawing parallels, they also share an animistic view of the universe. In Greek myth, nature is humanized: gods become animals, copulate with humans, and the like. In older traditional societies, there is no boundary between the human and the nonhuman, a point that we moderns have realized only recently in our theories about the Anthropocene and the end of nature. Interestingly, for the ancients, this unity of the socionatural world was seen not as an invitation to endlessly exploit but as a reason for prudence, given the risk of hubris.

    As an exponent of degrowth, Kallis differs from many of his colleagues who harp on ecological limits rather than self-control. For example, in chapter three, titled “The Limits of Environmentalism,” he takes exception to the notion of ecological footprints and planetary boundaries since they put the focus on nature rather than human beings. When he reads statements like humanity using the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, he sees them as concessions to a Malthusian vision of a limited earth. Calling attention to this type of disjunction struck me as being a veiled critique of Jason Hickel, another degrowth advocate, whose articles revolve around statistical analysis about the over-exploitation of natural resources. What differentiates Hickel from Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome is his sharp attack on how imperialism is at fault for such wanton practices in the Amazon rainforest rather than the poor people they victimize.

    As made clear in my CounterPunch article “Ecological Limits and the Working Class,” I am a degrowth advocate and even come down on the side of emphasizing footprints and over-exploitation. I cite Hickel’s article “Is it Possible to Achieve a Good Life for All Within Planetary Boundaries?” that violates Kallis’s strictures even though I am deeply sympathetic to his call for returning to the ethos of self-control and moderation.

    What worries me, however, about the degrowth literature in totality is its usefulness to a revolutionary movement. Unlike the Green New Deal, what are the political implications of degrowth? What is a possible slogan? Stop building new factories? Or ground all Boeing 737’s, Max or not? Unlike the Green New Deal, degrowth only makes sense in a post-capitalist society. If social and economic equality were universal, it would not generate opposition since a sacrifice would be shared equally. You can see a foreshadowing of such a social compact from an article titled in the December 14th Globe and Mail titled, “The climate crisis is like a world war. So let’s talk about rationing”. Eleanor Boyle, the author of the op-ed, also wrote “High Steaks: Why and How to Eat Less Meat.” Such a book is necessary even if it is mostly irrelevant to people making $8 per hour who can barely afford a Big Mac. Under socialism, we should develop the kind of egalitarian ethic that allows everybody to enjoy a steak as long as it doesn’t compete with land dedicated to quinoa cultivation.

    For now, the books and articles of Kallis and Hickel will appeal to those who have already concluded that the capitalist system is an ongoing disaster. With that in mind, within a year or two, their books might be on a NY Times best-seller’s list at the rate things are going.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 20, 2020 @ 5:41 pm

  11. I see your “What’s Wrong With Malthus”, and raise you a “Green Malthusians”.

    Decked out in corduroy blazers and mom jeans, looking like geography teachers, never losing sleep over sex in Nigeria, these greenies seem almost a different species to old-world Malthusians. They say things like ‘it is not the black and brown babies of the developing world that most threaten our planet’, and some, such as Fred Pearce, even argue that population growth per se is not a problem. These people are best understood as Malthusians-in-denial. They say they hate Malthus, yet they adhere to the central tenets of Malthusianism: namely that the Earth’s resources are limited and too many human gobs threaten to use them up. They rehabilitate Malthusianism in PC lingo, arguing that it’s not little black babies but big fat Americans whose numbers need to be curbed; using terms such as ‘fragile biodiversity’ rather than ‘nature’s bounty’ to describe what they see as nature’s fundamentally limited resources; claiming that humanity’s overconsumption of stuff will lead to the ‘wrecking of Earth’s life-support systems’ where Malthus preferred to say it would lead to ‘hunger and disease’.

    At root, these anti-Malthus Malthusians share with the Revd Malthus a tendency to naturalise social limits, to present problems like poverty and destitution as the inevitable products of mankind and his offspring demanding too much of ‘nature’s bounty’. What are in truth social failings – in this instance the failure of human society to spread the benefits of progress and liberate all seven billion of its members from economic need – are repackaged as nature’s punishments of mankind for going too far. As the Russian revolutionary Isaac Ilyich Rubin said, the problem with Malthus is that he thought the true cause of poverty was not the inadequacy of the social system but the ‘natural, inexorable contradiction between man’s unbounded yearning to multiply and the limits to the increase in the means of subsistence’. It’s the same with greens today.

    Now, ‘man’s unbounded yearning to multiply’ has led to a situation where we’ll soon number seven billion. We should inform the old-style, celebrity, psycho, feministic and green Malthusians who overpopulate public debate that Human Being No. 7,000,000,000 won’t just be a carbon emission, a user of resources, a wrecker of biodiversity; he or she will be a potential creator too; a producer; a contributor to the project of bettering the life of every one of the swelling billions.

    Comment by Pat Contri — December 20, 2020 @ 6:25 pm

  12. Whatever. Just take the time to understand what Malthus stood for. As for the shit you posted above, why don’t you deal with what I wrote rather than putting words in my mouth.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 20, 2020 @ 6:28 pm

  13. Both Pat’s stats and ideology are past their sell-buy date. .

    Human No. 7 billion was actually born 9 years ago.
    Describing them as a “Creator” is a strangely religious term for someone who faces a lifetime of alienated labour under capitalism.

    The world’s current population is actually 7.8 billion and is predicted to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, before passing 10 billion in 2057.

    On hearing this Pat cries :-
    “Yippie Ki Yay – all population growth increases human well being and should be welcomed.”

    Pat should therefore condemn as reactionary the falling rate of population growth since 1960 (from 2% to 1.1%) , along with all forms of birth control.
    For Pat, neither the increasing productivity of labour, improving soil fertility, nor medical advances have led to rising living standards since Marx’s time.
    It must be down to the growth in human population, which doubled between 1850 to 1950 and has trebled since then.
    Evidently the rise in the human population has counteracted the tendency for the rate of profit to fall!

    The reality is that the international growth of Capitalism led to the increase in world population.
    Like every quantitative process, this one has qualitative limits.
    In this case, the likelihood of runaway global warming, declining soil fertility and the increasing spillover of zoonotic diseases caused by rapid urbanisation.

    We’re in that situation right now.
    There are short term answers the field of day-to-day politics.
    But the long term answer is to scale down the human operation to something that’s manageable within the earth’s limits.
    Yes limits…..

    This can be achieved within a timescale of 50 years by using economic incentives, education, making birth control freely available and by democratic planning. If we don’t do it voluntarily, nature will do it for us by the usual means.

    Comment by prianikoff — December 21, 2020 @ 3:29 pm


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