1 December, 2009 — MRZine-Monthly Review
John Bellamy Foster is the editor of the socialist magazine Monthly Review and teaches sociology at the University of Oregon. He has written on numerous subjects, from political economy to Marxist theory. This year Foster published The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace With the Planet.
Max van Lingen is a student of political philosophy and modern history at the University of Amsterdam and a journalist for the Dutch monthly The Socialist. A shortened version of this interview appeared in Dutch in the December issue of The Socialist. The entire interview appeared in Dutch on the website of the International Socialists: http://www.socialisme.nu.
Consciousness about climate change has increased enormously; however, it also seems as if there is a lack of criticism of business and government actions. Instead it appears as if people are thinking: it doesn’t really matter why people act, as long as they act.
I think people on the left often try to be “practical,” which they interpret as somehow trying to accommodate themselves to the status quo, so as to make minor improvements. Often this is a kind of desperation to effect change. However, Copenhagen is already a dead deal before it begins. The United States and the other leading powers have indicated that there will be no binding agreements, no significant changes, and no non-market solutions.
James Hansen, arguably the world’s greatest climate scientist, has called the latest U.S. climate legislation passed by the House “worse than nothing” in that it locks in a “temple of doom.” The changes, if we are to avoid planetary collapse, need to be much more massive and need to come from below. Hansen himself has called for mass “civil resistance” and has been arrested while protesting mountain top removal coal mining.
The climate justice movement, which tends to be more radical, is where to take one’s stand at present. The truth is that we need some extremely strong, short-term solutions to be followed by a long-term strategy of ecological and social revolution. I have written about this in my new book Ecological Revolution and in an article to appear in the January 2010 Monthly Review.
At the same time people are making ‘green’ choices, which are sometimes much more expensive. There is a lot of criticism from this group towards people who are opposed to environmental measures because they are afraid they are going to lose their jobs. Does this contradiction stand in the way of a solution?
There is no doubt that the growing need to make lifestyle changes is important and critical. A great deal is being learned in this process, which could play into an ecological revolution of the whole society — as part of a total revolutionary dialectic. Seeking to have a smaller ecological footprint is important on an individual as well as a social level. But divorced from fundamental economic and political change, such individual, voluntaristic changes, primarily in the realm of consumption, are limited. We cannot shop our way out of these problems.