The Need for Ecological Restoration

By Clausen, Rebecca; Foster, John Bellamy | Monthly Review, September 2017 | Go to article overview

The Need for Ecological Restoration


Clausen, Rebecca, Foster, John Bellamy, Monthly Review


The Need for Ecological Restoration Del Weston, The Political Economy of Global Warming: The Terminal Crisis (New York: Routledge, 2014), 230 pages, paperback, $53.95.

Although the Australian scholar Del Weston died shortly after finishing The Political Economy of Global Warming, her authentic voice and intellectual courage shine through in the book's opening pages: "I am writing this book," she begins, "in the belief that it is not too late, that we still have a small window of opportunity to change the current course of human history, and that we have a moral imperative, given the potential scale of suffering, to act" (3). She retains this strong sense of conviction throughout the impressive analysis that follows, reflecting her remarkable ability to combine political-economic and ecological inquiry with a vision of a future society based on equality and justice. She insists on the need to understand climate change not as an isolated environmental issue, but rather as the product of interrelated problems and crises arising from the capitalist economic system.

Weston notes that "it has become contentious to acknowledge that we live in a capitalist system, as if society has been whitewashed and depoliticized and 'just is'" (9). Against this depoliticizing trend, she takes the system head on, with a confidence based on a firm foundation in Marxian theory and a sound understanding of scientific sources. This insightful book should be considered alongside recent works such as Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, Ian Angus's Facing the Anthropocene, and Andreas Malm's Fossil Capital, all of which recognize climate change as a historical and material symptom of a political-economic system in crisis.1 Weston breaks new ground, however, by extending Marx's theory of "metabolic rift," making novel connections between social and ecological alienation. Furthermore, she applies these frameworks to study concrete conditions in South Africa, and outlines a possible path toward "metabolic restoration"-a closing of capitalism's rift between society and nature.

The first part of the book surveys both the contemporary global political economy and the latest science on global warming. The second part analyzes the political situation and social movements in South Africa, where Weston lived and studied from 2008 to 2010, and the last section maps out a new direction for the global struggle for ecological justice.

Weston's analysis gains much of its power from her brilliant use of the concept of metabolic rift. "In a general sense," she writes,

the metabolic rift refers to a disruption between social and natural systems, leading to ecological crisis. In Marxist ecological theory, humans exist in a "metabolic" relation with nature that is fundamental for survival.... The metabolic rift thus refers to a rupture in the metabolism of the whole system, including humans' part in that system. The concept is built around how the logic of accumulation severs basic processes of natural reproduction, leading to the deterioration of the environment and ecological sustainability and disrupting the basic operations of nature. It neatly captures the lack of balance between "expenditure and income" in the Earth's metabolism under the capitalist system. (65-66)

However, it is in relating the metabolic rift to human alienation that Weston develops some of her most original insights. Here she writes:

The human-social relationship to nature is central to the metabolic rift and it is at this very point that alienated labour mediates the relationship within the capitalist relations of production. [Istvan] Mészáros's Marx's Theory of Alienation (1970) describes the double alienation of humans in the complex relationship between humanity, labour, and nature. Marx, and Hegel before him, treated human labour as fundamental. [seeing] the particular labouring relationship of humans under the capitalist system as the basis of class relations and the source of alienation of humans from one another (as alienated labour) and from nature. …

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