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Marx & Mother NatureMarx & Mother Nature
Toward an Eco-Materialist Conception of HistoryToward an Eco-Materialist Concepti...
Can Marxism Be Recycled?
• For many people, the last 150
years of capitalist growth & the
demise of one “socialist”
experi...
Some Perplexing Questions
• To be of value, Marx’s materialist method must be
used to critically re-examine Marxism’s own ...
Can Mother Earth ProvideCan Mother Earth Provide
Some Answers?Some Answers?
• When Marx’s materialist
analysis is reformul...
Marx’s Materialism: A Review
The central insights of Marx’s theory of
history were reached by asking:
What activities & re...
The Mode of Production
• The skills, tools & work
relationships that keep
any society alive Marx
called the economic base,...
Forces of Production
The Nexus Between Society & Nature
Marx called the tools &
skills needed to extract
resources from na...
Relations of Production
The way society organized
itself to produce, exchange,
& distribute resources Marx
called the rela...
Forces & Relations of Production:
The Economic Base of Society
• Together, forces &
relations of production
constitute the...
The Base-Superstructure Relationship
Forces & relations of production are
society’s economic base.
This base has a dominan...
The Productive Forces:
Dynamo of Social Change
“In acquiring new productive
forces men change their
mode of production.”
•...
Forces of Production
Relations of
Production
Superstructure
MARX’S MODE of PRODUCTION
Marx’s view of society
focused on differences
in production
relations:
Tribal Society
• Primitive Communism
Asiatic Societ...
But This Framework Sidelines
Humanity’s Relationship with Nature
• Over history, this
relationship has taken 3
basic forms...
All Social Systems Need An Energy Base
History’s major modes of
production are distinguished
by the energy base, or niche,...
History’s 3 Major Modes of Production Have
Metabolized Their Own Unique Energy Base
• Hunting/Gathering
– The native plant...
Energy Base
Forces of Production
Relations of Production
Superstructure
ENERGY BASE SHAPES MODE of PRODUCTIONENERGY BASE S...
Updating Marx’s Insight
At times, Marx acknowledged this
energy exchange by referring to
production as “metabolism”…
– The...
Adding Energy Base Alters the Picture
Marx’s view of history
focused on society’s
production relations:
– Tribal Society
•...
Eco-Materialism’s
First Insight
Modes of productionModes of production
must adapt themselvesmust adapt themselves
to metab...
Productive Forces Conform To Energy Base
• To metabolize an energy base
of undomesticated plants &
animals, foragers desig...
Fossil Fuels: Globalized Industrialization
• Worldwide chains of extraction,
production, distribution,
consumption & coerc...
Production Relations Adapt to
Technology & Energy Base
• Small, mobile cultures with minimal
diversification & no ruling e...
Industrial Forces Require
Hierarchical Centralization
• Hydrocarbon powered industrial modes
of production require working...
Can Industrial Society Be Socialist?
• Time after time, efforts
to establish real
working class control
over industrial
pr...
Reframing the Picture
• If we recall Marx’s premise that
productive forces shape production
relations in light of this his...
Superstructure Reflects & Reinforces
Society’s Metabolic Relationships
• Cultural beliefs, values,
& norms of behavior
ref...
Hunter-Gatherers Were Animists
• Spiritual beliefs tendedSpiritual beliefs tended
to integrate humans withto integrate hum...
Class-Divided Societies:
Gods That Rule “Heaven” & Earth
• Priest-kings claimed they were closely
related to omniscient Go...
Industrialism: Media Managed ConformityIndustrialism: Media Managed Conformity
• Impersonal market forces, vastImpersonal ...
Industrial Civilization’s Ideologies:Industrial Civilization’s Ideologies:
The Gospel of Growth & ProsperityThe Gospel of ...
Eco-Materialism’s 2nd
Insight
• A society whose energyA society whose energy
base can no longerbase can no longer
sustain ...
Collapse or Transformation?
• No society adopts a new energy
base & mode of production until
its old energy base no longer...
Eco-materialism’s Next InsightEco-materialism’s Next Insight
Metabolic Leaps Require 3 Conditions
• Necessity: People don’...
Hunting & Gathering
Over 90% of Human History
• Climate change,
demographic pressure,
geographical expansion
& technologic...
The Transition to Agriculture
• When climate changes &
demographic pressure depleted
wild sources of food, many
foraging c...
Agriculture: Necessity + Opportunity
Agriculture appeared
first where:
• Habitats became depleted
of wild stores of plants...
The Rise & Fall of
Agricultural Civilizations
Competitive exclusion works against long
term environmental balance.
Energy ...
The Industrial Transformation
• The industrial revolution
came only after
demographic pressure,
soil exhaustion, timber
sc...
Class Struggle Made Way for Industrialism
• European society’s
CAPACITY to adopt a new
energy base couldn’t
succeed until ...
When Does Class Conflict Become Revolutionary?
• Marx’s study revealed that
feudalism collapsed because it
could not accom...
Coal Powered Factories
Made Industrial Capitalism King
• European capitalism was
starving on a diet of renewable
energy.
•...
Why England?
• England was the most timber
scarce, energy desperate nation in
Europe.
• But it had vast, accessible coal
d...
Coal & Class Conflict & Colonization
• Coal-powered industrialism allowed
European capitalism to evade the
cataclysmic pre...
Capitalism’s Productive Limits?
• Marx asserted that the
socialized nature of the
industrial forces unleashed by
capitalis...
Would Capitalism Block Growth?
• Marx did not apply the logic he derived
from his analysis of feudalism’s demise
to his vi...
The Working Class:
Revolutionary or Rebel Force?
• BUT, unlike the bourgeoisie
under feudalism, the
working class has not
...
Underestimating Capitalism
• Looking back, we now know
that Marx’s assumption that
capitalism would soon arrest
the develo...
Fatal Contradictions?
• So far, the serious
contradictions Marx identified
have not proven fatal.
• Capitalism has survive...
— Fossil Fuels —
Not Just Another Resource
• Without fossil fuels,
industrial capitalism
would have hits it
metabolic limi...
Black Gold: A Gift From Nature
The work needed to
create fossil fuels was
done by the sun & the
Earth’s geological forces
...
Why Are Fossil Fuels Special?
• Fossil fuels are a source ofFossil fuels are a source of
tremendous wealthtremendous wealt...
Fossil Fuels--The Energy Base of
Industrial Civilization
• With plenty of petroleum,
industrial growth appeared
unstoppabl...
Industrial
Agriculture:
We’re Eating Oil!
• It takes 10 calories of
fossil fuels to produce 1
calorie of food.
• Petroleum...
Farming on Fossil Fuels
The So-Called “Green Revolution”The So-Called “Green Revolution”
Crops Bred To Grow on a Life-Supp...
Fossil Fuels Feed the World
Energy & Labor Exploitation
• Petroleum powered machines are
the essential for:
– Replacing wage labor (automation).
– Inc...
Industrialism & “Free” Labor
Commodified (wage) labor is well
suited to rapidly changing, high-
energy production because ...
Malignant Metabolic Accelerators
Motivators of exponential growth:
• Maximizing the rate of return on
invested capital. (a...
Economic Growth & Fossil Fuels
Capitalism’s exponential growthCapitalism’s exponential growth
metabolism relies on carboni...
Industrialism: The Mother of All Bubbles!
——World Production—World Production—
Agricultural Era Industrial Era
A Tunnel With No Exit
This rapid pace of energy use is ultimately incompatible
with the system’s non-renewable, finite ene...
Dual Limits of Industrial Capitalism
• Energy Base Depletion:
– There are no known substitutes
for fossil fuels that will ...
Running on Empty--The Symptoms
• Diminishing Returns
Rising extraction costs & declining
returns (EROEI*--net energy)
• Be...
Can Solar Energy Sustain Capitalism?
• There is no doubt that
capitalism can & will use solar
power as a supplement to
fos...
Fighting for the Future:
Crash or Crash Landing?
The future will be shaped by who’sThe future will be shaped by who’s
in p...
Is the Dying Industrial Order Pregnant
With a New One?
NECESSITY
• Industrialism capitalism would have to
be exhausting it...
The Seeds of a New Society
• A diverse movement toward an
ecological society is emerging.
• It includes: organic farmers,
...
Capitalism Without Growth?
• Most of these emerging
movements have been
resisting economic
globalization & mindless
growth...
Capitalism’s Catabolic End Times:
The Decline of Industrial Civilization
As expansive capitalist relations of
production &...
The Center Won’t Hold:
Disintegrating Globalization Paradigm
• A stagnant & shrinking
economic pie will create a
corrupt f...
Catabolic Capitalism’s Axis of Evil
The Petro-Military-Catabolic Alliance
As growth stagnates, a
powerful reactionary
alli...
Fighting for the Future
• The next phase in this
growing conflict will pit
those who wish to move
toward a more peaceful,
...
On the Horizon…
• Rebounding energy
prices, stagnant
consumption,
ballooning consumer
& government debt
will trigger a ser...
Another World IsAnother World Is Inevitable…Inevitable…
• In the 21st century, carbon-
addicted industrialism will
collaps...
Without Political Capacity We Are
Stuck With “Drill & Kill”
• It will be very hard to
break the grip of the
Petro-Military...
Missed Opportunities…
• Fund local & state
efforts to build
renewable energy &
foster
environmental, social
& economic jus...
From Centralized Industrial Agriculture
to Decentralized Organic Farming
• What will replace mechanized
global agriculture...
From Dependence To Self-Sufficiency
In the 3rd World: Energy scarcity & the
collapse of export-led agri-business &
industr...
Solar Technologies Discourage
Centralization & Hierarchy
• More evenly dispersed solar access
resists large, centralized, ...
Bad News & Good News
The Bad News:
• Rule by Fear, Force & Fraud
– Capitalists will use fear over growing
resource scarcit...
Finding the Path Forward
• Eco-materialism provides
a useful analytical tool for
highlighting the
opportunities & dangers
...
The EndThe End
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Marx & Mother Nature: An Eco-materialist Conception of History

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Reformulation of Marx's historical materialism that integrates history, energy & ecology. In doing so, it successfully answers many of the central questions that traditional Marxism has been unable to answer.

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Marx & Mother Nature: An Eco-materialist Conception of History

  1. 1. Marx & Mother NatureMarx & Mother Nature Toward an Eco-Materialist Conception of HistoryToward an Eco-Materialist Conception of History by Craig Collins, Ph.D. ©
  2. 2. Can Marxism Be Recycled? • For many people, the last 150 years of capitalist growth & the demise of one “socialist” experiment after another has discredited Marxism. • But a reformulation of Marx & Engels’ materialist method of analysis in light of this history can produce some valuable answers to vital questions that confound those who continue to work toward replacing capitalism with a more humane social order.
  3. 3. Some Perplexing Questions • To be of value, Marx’s materialist method must be used to critically re-examine Marxism’s own flawed assumptions in light of history with the goal of addressing several important related questions: – What is the source of capitalism's unexpected resilience? – What are capitalism's terminal limitations & fatal contradictions? – Why hasn't the working class assumed the role of socialist vanguard? – Why haven't "socialist" revolutions produced enduring alternatives to global capitalism? – What social forces may become the agents of future revolutionary transformations?
  4. 4. Can Mother Earth ProvideCan Mother Earth Provide Some Answers?Some Answers? • When Marx’s materialist analysis is reformulated to highlight the impact of ecology & energy on society, the answers to these questions start falling into place.
  5. 5. Marx’s Materialism: A Review The central insights of Marx’s theory of history were reached by asking: What activities & relationships must always be present to sustain any form of social life whatsoever? For Marx, once this key question was framed, the answer became strikingly obvious: The necessary condition for any society is that humans must work together to extract their means of survival from nature. He called this activity PRODUCTION
  6. 6. The Mode of Production • The skills, tools & work relationships that keep any society alive Marx called the economic base, or mode of production. • He divided modes of production into 2 closely related components: Forces & Relations of Production
  7. 7. Forces of Production The Nexus Between Society & Nature Marx called the tools & skills needed to extract resources from nature the forces of production. “Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with nature, the process of production by which he sustains life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them.” -Marx
  8. 8. Relations of Production The way society organized itself to produce, exchange, & distribute resources Marx called the relations of production. This includes property relations; the way labor is recruited, organized, & compensated; markets or other methods of exchanging goods; & the methods developed by controlling classes to claim & command society’s surplus product. Class structure is society’s most basic production relation.Class structure is society’s most basic production relation.
  9. 9. Forces & Relations of Production: The Economic Base of Society • Together, forces & relations of production constitute the economic base of every society. • They are closely related to each other & shape the entire society’s mode of production.
  10. 10. The Base-Superstructure Relationship Forces & relations of production are society’s economic base. This base has a dominant but reciprocal relationship with the superstructure: the political, legal, cultural, religious & educational aspects of society. “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness.” — Marx
  11. 11. The Productive Forces: Dynamo of Social Change “In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production.” • Changes in productive forces could induce changes in class relations. “The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord, the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist.” • Thus, dominant classes often resisted changes in the forces of production that could transform class relations.
  12. 12. Forces of Production Relations of Production Superstructure MARX’S MODE of PRODUCTION
  13. 13. Marx’s view of society focused on differences in production relations: Tribal Society • Primitive Communism Asiatic Society • Despotism Ancient Society • Slavery Feudal Society • Serfdom Capitalist Society • Wage Labor
  14. 14. But This Framework Sidelines Humanity’s Relationship with Nature • Over history, this relationship has taken 3 basic forms: 1) Hunting & Gathering 2) Farming & Herding 3) Mechanized Industry • Their unique character is determined by the way they metabolize energy from nature. To correct this conceptual weakness, eco- materialism introduces the concept of ENERGY BASE.
  15. 15. All Social Systems Need An Energy Base History’s major modes of production are distinguished by the energy base, or niche, they metabolize. • The ENERGY BASE is the specific mix of energy sources (& related resources) a society’s technology is designed to convert into food & fuel.
  16. 16. History’s 3 Major Modes of Production Have Metabolized Their Own Unique Energy Base • Hunting/Gathering – The native plants & animals of wild ecosystems. • Agricultural/Pastoral – Plants & animals that can be domesticated. – Wind, water, wood, fertile soil – Wild plants (especially forests) & animals (especially marine life) • Mechanized/Industrial – Fossil Fuels (85%) – Uranium – Domesticated & wild plants & animals (wind & water)
  17. 17. Energy Base Forces of Production Relations of Production Superstructure ENERGY BASE SHAPES MODE of PRODUCTIONENERGY BASE SHAPES MODE of PRODUCTION
  18. 18. Updating Marx’s Insight At times, Marx acknowledged this energy exchange by referring to production as “metabolism”… – The social activities required to convert the Earth’s life sustaining energies to human use. However, he did not make this insight central to his theory. But when we realize that modes of production are actually modes of energy metabolism, their basic structures, dynamics & limitations stand out.
  19. 19. Adding Energy Base Alters the Picture Marx’s view of history focused on society’s production relations: – Tribal Society • Primitive Communism – Asiatic Society • Despotism – Ancient Society • Slavery – Feudal Society • Serfdom – Capitalist Society • Wage Labor – Socialist Society? Eco-materialism highlights Society’s interaction with its Energy BaseEnergy Base: • Hunting/Gathering Society (Tribal Societies) • Agricultural Society (Asiatic, Ancient, Feudal & early Capitalist Societies) • Industrial Society (Modern Capitalist & Statist Societies) • Ecological Society?
  20. 20. Eco-Materialism’s First Insight Modes of productionModes of production must adapt themselvesmust adapt themselves to metabolize ato metabolize a particular energy base.particular energy base. Society’s energy base shapes its forces & relations of production as well as its political & cultural superstructure.
  21. 21. Productive Forces Conform To Energy Base • To metabolize an energy base of undomesticated plants & animals, foragers designed fishing nets, spears, scrapers/knives, traps, flints, fire drills, collecting baskets, etc. to hunt & gather the wildlife of their native ecosystems. • To metabolize an energy base of domesticable plants & animals, fertile soil, mild climate & fresh water, farmers invented plows, fences, sickles, yokes, irrigation systems, wind & water mills, granaries, looms, crop & livestock breeding, etc.
  22. 22. Fossil Fuels: Globalized Industrialization • Worldwide chains of extraction, production, distribution, consumption & coercion must exploit an energy base of abundant fossil fuels. – Mega cities, factories, mines, farms, dams, railways, electricity grids, pipelines, freeways, harbors, airports, communication networks, prisons, governments & military bases cannot operate without them. • This global system is organized around large financial institutions, MNCs & powerful governments that control access, flow & use of energy.
  23. 23. Production Relations Adapt to Technology & Energy Base • Small, mobile cultures with minimal diversification & no ruling elite are well adapted to collecting the limited useable energy stores of wild ecosystems. • The larger useable energy stores of domesticated agrarian ecosystems both supported & required settled peasant villages & city-states with greater diversification of labor. • Ruling classes of emperors & priest-kings with standing armies defended, expanded, managed & dominated these farming societies by commanding the flow of “surplus” energy (taxes, tribute, grain & water storage & distribution).
  24. 24. Industrial Forces Require Hierarchical Centralization • Hydrocarbon powered industrial modes of production require working class subordination to the demands of giant, highly mechanized, fast-paced, repetitive systems of energy/resource conversion & vast, complex chains of production & distribution. • These systems resist decentralized, democratic control & foster an industrial elite of CEOs or central planners. – No modern society, whether it claims to be capitalist or socialist, has successfully resisted the hierarchical, undemocratic restraints imposed by hydrocarbon powered industrialization.
  25. 25. Can Industrial Society Be Socialist? • Time after time, efforts to establish real working class control over industrial productive forces have eventually failed. • At best, the result has been state managed industrialism which eventually reintegrated itself into the world capitalist system.
  26. 26. Reframing the Picture • If we recall Marx’s premise that productive forces shape production relations in light of this history, we must ask… • What if the industrial mode of production requires some form of hierarchical, undemocratic, worker- management production relations? • The capitalist form: Corporations extract surplus value through wage labor exploitation for capital expansion. • The statist form: Central planners extract surplus product as use values to maintain their positions of privilege & power.
  27. 27. Superstructure Reflects & Reinforces Society’s Metabolic Relationships • Cultural beliefs, values, & norms of behavior reflect society’s mode of survival--peoples’ relationship with nature & their social structure. • They also reinforce the behaviors necessary to reproduce the system.
  28. 28. Hunter-Gatherers Were Animists • Spiritual beliefs tendedSpiritual beliefs tended to integrate humans withto integrate humans with all life & natural forces.all life & natural forces. • People were relatedPeople were related through kinship to athrough kinship to a living environmentliving environment animated by multiple,animated by multiple, omnipresent spiritualomnipresent spiritual energies.energies. • Earth/Gaia/PachamamaEarth/Gaia/Pachamama was the mother ofwas the mother of everything.everything.
  29. 29. Class-Divided Societies: Gods That Rule “Heaven” & Earth • Priest-kings claimed they were closely related to omniscient Gods & Goddesses who controlled the forces of the natural world (fertility, sun, rain, etc.) & access to the “afterlife”— heaven & hell. • Agricultural rulers used religion to sanctify their authority & reinforce the “god-imposed” moral values their subjects must adopt to sustain their way of life--obedience, loyalty, sacrifice, conformity & cooperation. • This justified & legitimized their rule, & minimized the need for coercion. Domestication gave humans some control over nature…
  30. 30. Industrialism: Media Managed ConformityIndustrialism: Media Managed Conformity • Impersonal market forces, vastImpersonal market forces, vast government bureaucracies, hugegovernment bureaucracies, huge cities, giant corporations, mindlesscities, giant corporations, mindless jobs & cookie-cutter suburbs makejobs & cookie-cutter suburbs make people feel unseen, insignificant &people feel unseen, insignificant & isolated from each other & nature.isolated from each other & nature. • People feel lonely, alienated,People feel lonely, alienated, powerless & purposeless.powerless & purposeless. • Patriotism & consumerism promotePatriotism & consumerism promote a false sense of belonging througha false sense of belonging through “brand loyalty” & national pride.“brand loyalty” & national pride. Advertisers & governmentsAdvertisers & governments manipulate our emotions & moldmanipulate our emotions & mold our identities, attitudes & tastes onour identities, attitudes & tastes on a giant scale.a giant scale.
  31. 31. Industrial Civilization’s Ideologies:Industrial Civilization’s Ideologies: The Gospel of Growth & ProsperityThe Gospel of Growth & Prosperity • Industrial society has generated ideologies that extol prosperity through growth: • Liberalism, Nationalism, Conservatism, Fascism, Socialism, Communism • The differences were over how, why & for whom?
  32. 32. Eco-Materialism’s 2nd Insight • A society whose energyA society whose energy base can no longerbase can no longer sustain it is subject tosustain it is subject to crisis, decay, externalcrisis, decay, external threats, & internalthreats, & internal collapse.collapse. • Without new sources of energy, society’s size & complexity will decrease until it can be sustained by the remaining energy available to it.
  33. 33. Collapse or Transformation? • No society adopts a new energy base & mode of production until its old energy base no longer sustains it. • Necessity has been the mother of invention for each great revolutionary leap from one mode of production to another.
  34. 34. Eco-materialism’s Next InsightEco-materialism’s Next Insight Metabolic Leaps Require 3 Conditions • Necessity: People don’t seek a new mode of survival unless their old system fails. • Opportunity: They don’t succeed unless new sources of energy are available. • Capacity: new sources aren’t adopted unless the political system changes to embrace it.
  35. 35. Hunting & Gathering Over 90% of Human History • Climate change, demographic pressure, geographical expansion & technological improvements slowly depleted their energy base in some locations. – But many foraging cultures developed sustainable relationships with their habitats that endured for thousands of years.
  36. 36. The Transition to Agriculture • When climate changes & demographic pressure depleted wild sources of food, many foraging cultures were compelled to adopt agriculture. – But first, all efforts to improve the technologies of foraging were exhausted. • This great leap happened first where conditions were most desperate & rich soil, good climate & plentiful water made agriculture a relatively easy alternative.
  37. 37. Agriculture: Necessity + Opportunity Agriculture appeared first where: • Habitats became depleted of wild stores of plants & animals. • Population was concentrated in lush river valleys surrounded by arid regions. • Growing grains on fertile, easily irrigated floodplains provided a convenient alternative to foraging.
  38. 38. The Rise & Fall of Agricultural Civilizations Competitive exclusion works against long term environmental balance. Energy base depletion is accelerated by: • Heightened demographic pressure: – To increase labor supply & agricultural output • Intensified surplus extraction for: – Elite power & wealth (class exploitation) – Warfare over land, labor, vital resources • Conquest & territorial expansion provides a temporary “solution” to energy base depletion. – War elevates male status as warriors. – Patriarchal control over women & the means of reproduction to pass on wealth.
  39. 39. The Industrial Transformation • The industrial revolution came only after demographic pressure, soil exhaustion, timber scarcity, famines & wars left Europe’s agrarian energy base exhausted. • Conquest & mercantile colonial expansion was only a temporary “solution.”
  40. 40. Class Struggle Made Way for Industrialism • European society’s CAPACITY to adopt a new energy base couldn’t succeed until opposing classes were removed from power by those demanding a new mode of production. • This is what made the bourgeoisie & its allies a revolutionary force.
  41. 41. When Does Class Conflict Become Revolutionary? • Marx’s study revealed that feudalism collapsed because it could not accommodate emerging industrial forces of production. • The bourgeoisie was the most potent revolutionary element in the anti-feudal alliance because its fortune relied upon these emerging industrial forces of production. • Peasants often rebelled, but could not transform society with new productive forces. • The working class was still small & disorganized.
  42. 42. Coal Powered Factories Made Industrial Capitalism King • European capitalism was starving on a diet of renewable energy. • It did not overcome this metabolic crisis until capitalism tapped a new energy base--coal. – Production & consumption per capita took-off for the 1st time in history only after coal power was adopted. • Fossil fuels became the energy base for the 2nd great reorganization of humanity’s relationship with nature.
  43. 43. Why England? • England was the most timber scarce, energy desperate nation in Europe. • But it had vast, accessible coal deposits. • The coal-powered steam engine solved major energy bottlenecks: – Coal replaced water power, wood & whale oil as fuel for industry. • Liberating the FACTORY SYSTEM – Mining • Ventilation & water incursion – Transportation • Railroad/steamship – Food/clothing supply • Food crops replace horse & sheep fodder. (Wheat/cotton)
  44. 44. Coal & Class Conflict & Colonization • Coal-powered industrialism allowed European capitalism to evade the cataclysmic predictions of both Marx & Malthus. – European society did not experience demographic disaster or proletarian revolution. • Coal-powered industrialization out-ran demographic pressures, raised living standards & tempered class conflict in the European/American core of the global capitalist system. • Railroads, steamships, factories & industrial weaponry allowed Europe & the US to penetrate & exploit the peoples & the natural wealth of the Americas, Asia & Africa as never before. MalthusMalthus MarxMarx
  45. 45. Capitalism’s Productive Limits? • Marx asserted that the socialized nature of the industrial forces unleashed by capitalism were ultimately incompatible with privatized production relations. Symptoms: – Crises of over-production. – Falling rate of profit. – Centralization arrests development. • Further development requires the working class to abolish the private appropriation of socially produced wealth.
  46. 46. Would Capitalism Block Growth? • Marx did not apply the logic he derived from his analysis of feudalism’s demise to his vision of capitalism’s limits. • He did not envision the emergence of qualitatively new productive forces that capitalism couldn’t accommodate, championed by an emergent revolutionary class. • Instead, he reasoned that capitalist relations would become incompatible with its own industrialized forces of production. • Unlike peasants under feudalism, the working class would assume the revolutionary role of advancing the industrial forces that capitalists refused to develop.
  47. 47. The Working Class: Revolutionary or Rebel Force? • BUT, unlike the bourgeoisie under feudalism, the working class has not championed a new energy base & metabolic system that industrial capitalism cannot accommodate. • AND, despite deep crises, world wars & revolutions that aspired to socialism, the working class has been unable build genuine, enduring socialist relations of production upon an industrial foundation.
  48. 48. Underestimating Capitalism • Looking back, we now know that Marx’s assumption that capitalism would soon arrest the development of its own productive forces was mistaken. • To this day, capitalism continues to develop its productive forces. • This raises the question: Do industrial forces of production ever become fundamentally incompatible with capitalism?
  49. 49. Fatal Contradictions? • So far, the serious contradictions Marx identified have not proven fatal. • Capitalism has survived these barriers & crises thru a process of destructive regeneration. • Capitalism’s “solution” to each new crisis has been to destroy & then rebuild its forces of production in a uneven process of long-term growth. As long as capitalism has the ENERGY to regenerate itself after each collapse or war, it will continue to do so.
  50. 50. — Fossil Fuels — Not Just Another Resource • Without fossil fuels, industrial capitalism would have hits it metabolic limits long ago. • The entire global chain of extraction, production & consumption is fueled by coal, oil & natural gas. • Fossil fuels account for 85% of the energy that powers industrial civilization.
  51. 51. Black Gold: A Gift From Nature The work needed to create fossil fuels was done by the sun & the Earth’s geological forces over millions of years. • No human labor or money was needed to grow, harvest, cook & compress billions of tons of ancient plant life in vast underground reservoirs. One gallon of oil contains the condensed, concentrated energy of about 98 tons of the original prehistoric plant life that collected its energy over millennia from the sun.
  52. 52. Why Are Fossil Fuels Special? • Fossil fuels are a source ofFossil fuels are a source of tremendous wealthtremendous wealth because they possess farbecause they possess far more useful energy thanmore useful energy than the small fraction ofthe small fraction of human energy necessaryhuman energy necessary for their extraction.for their extraction. • One barrel of oil contains 23,000 hours of work. – That’s 12.5 years of human labor! (at 40 hrs/week). – We use about 85 million barrels every day. • One gallon of gas produces the equivalent work of a person laboring 8 hours day, 5 days a week, for 3 weeks. Oil is extremely energy dense. The energy in 13 gallons of gasoline (about a tank full for most compact cars) is equal to the combined work of 1,000 people over an entire day.
  53. 53. Fossil Fuels--The Energy Base of Industrial Civilization • With plenty of petroleum, industrial growth appeared unstoppable. • It reshaped all previous forms of production. – Agriculture & foraging were reorganized on an industrial scale. • Without this rich, highly concentrated source of energy, industrialism would literally run out of gas.
  54. 54. Industrial Agriculture: We’re Eating Oil! • It takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food. • Petroleum is vital for: – Pumping water – Fertilizer – Pesticides – Mechanized Planting & Harvesting – Processing – Transportation – Refrigeration – Packaging – Cooking & Preparation
  55. 55. Farming on Fossil Fuels The So-Called “Green Revolution”The So-Called “Green Revolution” Crops Bred To Grow on a Life-Support System of Fossil FuelsCrops Bred To Grow on a Life-Support System of Fossil Fuels
  56. 56. Fossil Fuels Feed the World
  57. 57. Energy & Labor Exploitation • Petroleum powered machines are the essential for: – Replacing wage labor (automation). – Increasing output per labor/hour. – Allowing production to continue year- round, day & night. – Keeping the working class weak & wages low by: • Mechanizing agriculture--driving people off the land (surplus labor). • Reducing the cost of food. • De-skilling work. • Accessing distant labor pools by reducing transport costs. All of this works only if fossil energy remains abundant & cheap. ““Machinery becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working class” -EngelsMachinery becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working class” -Engels
  58. 58. Industrialism & “Free” Labor Commodified (wage) labor is well suited to rapidly changing, high- energy production because it is: • Disposable & mobile. • Cheap to reproduce. • Desperate & competitive.
  59. 59. Malignant Metabolic Accelerators Motivators of exponential growth: • Maximizing the rate of return on invested capital. (accumulation & profit) • Debt + interest based monetary system. • Market competition & hyper- consumption. • International rivalry for energy & other vital resources. These accelerators have depleted industrialism’s hydrocarbon energy base within a few centuries by rewarding rapid, wasteful expansion & discouraging conservation.
  60. 60. Economic Growth & Fossil Fuels Capitalism’s exponential growthCapitalism’s exponential growth metabolism relies on carboniferous energymetabolism relies on carboniferous energy
  61. 61. Industrialism: The Mother of All Bubbles! ——World Production—World Production— Agricultural Era Industrial Era
  62. 62. A Tunnel With No Exit This rapid pace of energy use is ultimately incompatible with the system’s non-renewable, finite energy base.
  63. 63. Dual Limits of Industrial Capitalism • Energy Base Depletion: – There are no known substitutes for fossil fuels that will permit exponential growth. – Other energy sources don’t have the net energy needed to sustain constant growth. • Ecocide: Petro-poisoning – Climate chaos – Ecosystem destruction & biodiversity collapse – Toxic pollution – Resource depletion
  64. 64. Running on Empty--The Symptoms • Diminishing Returns Rising extraction costs & declining returns (EROEI*--net energy) • Before 1950: 100 to 1 • Today: 6 to 1 (worldwide) • In the US: .8 to 1 We now consume 6 barrels of oil for each one we discover…but demand still soars! • Economic Stagnation Rising energy prices: flat-lining growth, rising debt, declining productive sector • Capital Scarcity Energy sector claims bigger share of society’s available capital. • Demands greater subsidies, tax breaks & military protection/intervention. **Energy Return On Energy InvestedEnergy Return On Energy Invested
  65. 65. Can Solar Energy Sustain Capitalism? • There is no doubt that capitalism can & will use solar power as a supplement to fossil fuels & uranium. • Solar may become essential for cushioning the decline of industrial society. • But solar technologies alone cannot sustain the exponential economic growth, limitless consumption & unrelenting demographic/food pressures characteristic of industrial capitalism.
  66. 66. Fighting for the Future: Crash or Crash Landing? The future will be shaped by who’sThe future will be shaped by who’s in power while the shit hits the fan.in power while the shit hits the fan.
  67. 67. Is the Dying Industrial Order Pregnant With a New One? NECESSITY • Industrialism capitalism would have to be exhausting its energy base. OPPORTUNITY • An alternative energy base & technology, incompatible with industrial capitalism, would have to be maturing in the womb of industrial society. CAPACITY • New social movements, linked to these emerging technologies, would need to build powerful movements capable of replacing carbon-powered industrial capitalism with an emerging, more sustainable alternative.
  68. 68. The Seeds of a New Society • A diverse movement toward an ecological society is emerging. • It includes: organic farmers, environmental groups, simple living advocates, anti-globalization & peace activists, renewable energy developers, indigenous peoples movements, land reform movements, resource protection movements, environmental justice groups, labor activists & progressive unions, green businesses, eco-feminists, grassroots community organizations, green & other progressive political parties & organizations… • The most celebrated gathering of this network is the World Social Forum.
  69. 69. Capitalism Without Growth? • Most of these emerging movements have been resisting economic globalization & mindless growth. • But SOON they will need to respond to capitalism’s final phase… CATABOLIC CONTRACTION
  70. 70. Capitalism’s Catabolic End Times: The Decline of Industrial Civilization As expansive capitalist relations of production & exchange become incompatible with a shrinking energy base… • Globalized growth will morph into more static, authoritarian, protectionist forms of political economy. • As the productive sector atrophies & contracts, catabolic capitalists will begin cannibalizing society to sustain their profits.
  71. 71. The Center Won’t Hold: Disintegrating Globalization Paradigm • A stagnant & shrinking economic pie will create a corrupt fight over the crumbs. • Establishment parties that stake their legitimacy on the promise of business-as-usual will fail. • Progressive populism & xenophobic pseudo-populism
  72. 72. Catabolic Capitalism’s Axis of Evil The Petro-Military-Catabolic Alliance As growth stagnates, a powerful reactionary alliance that benefits from Contraction, Crisis & Conflict & will cling to power. Their profits will come from: • Decimating Democracy & the Public Sector • Confiscating Essential Resources • Warfare & Social Conflict • Capitalizing on Ecological Disaster,
  73. 73. Fighting for the Future • The next phase in this growing conflict will pit those who wish to move toward a more peaceful, sustainable, equitable & democratic society against the petro- military-catabolic axis. • The outcome of this long conflict will shape the future in profound ways.
  74. 74. On the Horizon… • Rebounding energy prices, stagnant consumption, ballooning consumer & government debt will trigger a series of cascading crises… • These crises will cripple global trade. • Sending multinational producers like China & retailers like Amazon & Walmart into a tailspin. • Undermining the benefits & legitimacy of international trade & finance agreements like the WTO, NAFTA, the
  75. 75. Another World IsAnother World Is Inevitable…Inevitable… • In the 21st century, carbon- addicted industrialism will collapse & low energy, steady-state societies will emerge. • But renewable energy technologies will only provide the basic limits & potentials of emerging social formations. • Within these constraints, many futures are possible. But what kind?But what kind?
  76. 76. Without Political Capacity We Are Stuck With “Drill & Kill” • It will be very hard to break the grip of the Petro-Military- Catabolic Alliance over the US. • Exposing the dead end of militarist, racist nationalism will be key. • Our movement must become more powerful by: • Anticipating & being prepared to respond to coming crises. • Linking local resilience to protecting the planet, social justice & peace.
  77. 77. Missed Opportunities… • Fund local & state efforts to build renewable energy & foster environmental, social & economic justice by: • Work with genuine conservatives on common issues: – Reduce military budget. – Roll back government surveillance, militarized police, mass incarceration. – Resist media monopolization. – Oppose global trade deals. – Protect states rights to resist federal power on key issues. De-funding the military- industrial complex.
  78. 78. From Centralized Industrial Agriculture to Decentralized Organic Farming • What will replace mechanized global agriculture? • Localized, sustainable farming can take many forms: – Slavery, sharecropping, or tenant farming – Democratic farming co-ops • Can 8 billion people be fed without fossil fuels?
  79. 79. From Dependence To Self-Sufficiency In the 3rd World: Energy scarcity & the collapse of export-led agri-business & industry will radically transform peripheral economies. – Extreme dislocation & political conflict loom on the horizon. – Unemployed urban masses will abandon cities & return to the countryside. – Land reform movements will demand: • Land redistribution • Food self-sufficiency & sustainability – End fossil fuel dependent inputs & global markets. • Can sustainable agriculture support existing & growing populations? – Industries will have to be powered by renewable energy & produce for a regional or national market. • How useful is the Cuban model?
  80. 80. Solar Technologies Discourage Centralization & Hierarchy • More evenly dispersed solar access resists large, centralized, complex, vertically integrated energy conversion technologies & distribution systems. • Solar technologies can foster production relations that are more: – Decentralized & less hierarchical. – Regionally self-sufficient. – Easily controlled by communities of direct users & collectors. • This renewable energy base might allow people to achieve more democratic localized control over their lives.
  81. 81. Bad News & Good News The Bad News: • Rule by Fear, Force & Fraud – Capitalists will use fear over growing resource scarcity & economic crisis to reduce wages & turn workers against workers. – Political elites will use patriotism, religion, scarcity & fear to suppress democratic activism & promote military action to seize dwindling resources & preserve the “American way of life.” The Good News: • Increased Global Grassroots Activism – Addressing ecological & social crises will require global cooperation & local activism. – The material basis for co-opting activism will decline as the legitimacy of the old system crumbles.
  82. 82. Finding the Path Forward • Eco-materialism provides a useful analytical tool for highlighting the opportunities & dangers on the horizon. • However, this analytical tool is useless unless it is carefully applied to the real world & our ongoing efforts to defend the future of our species & our planet.
  83. 83. The EndThe End

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