Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vulnerable Planet chpt 6-7

I will begin by apologizing for the lateness of my post

The main idea i got from chapter 6 was as the economy continues to grow, the more the earths natural cycles will be challenged. I got this idea from the first paragraph and it seemed to match the rest of the chapter. I agree with this idea because when the economy grows people make more money and use more resources, and to save an extra dollar people might not do the thing that is most friendly to the environment for example put pollution control on smokestacks, or recycle. I thought this chapter was much better than the previous because Foster plays less of a blame game and actually gives reasons why people may have done certain things.
He discusses synthetic products and how they are created with new molecular arrangements, and expanding knowledge of chemistry and physics. Then he says that there was not enough knowledge of how these new products affected the environment which i believe is true, probably because there was no money to be made in that field. Foster goes on to discuss things that happened after WWII. Included is a quote from The Closing Circle By Barry Commoner, " most of our serious pollution problems either began in the postwar years or have greatly worsened since then" according to Foster they have greatly worsened, since some began before the industrial revolution. As i was reading this i thought "well obviously problems increased because of population growth" I didn't think Foster was going to mention that but then he did, but he said that it wasnt the actual population growth, but the economic growth. I disagree with this, it has to be both. Population increase is in my opinion one of the biggest environmental problems. The chapter is ended by discussion of automobiles and agriculture advances. He includes a quote from Snell "motor vehicle travel is possibly the most inneficient method of transportation devised by man" I agree that it was not the best idea to change everything from mass-transit to personal automobile, but again thats where there was money to be made. The U.S has made "motor vehicle travel" most effeicent by making everything else less efficient or convienent. I wish there was a good mass transit system...I feel pretty crappy whenever i get in my car.

Chapter 7 starts by introducing Rachel Carsons Silent Spring which i think would be really interesting to read. this book introduced many ecological problems to the public like DDT. Foster states that in 1970 many laws were passed to help control pollution, but pollution continued to get worse. Im wondering if it was an enforcement problem? later in the chapter Foster talks about how the U.S. mostly "controls" the pollution or "reduces it to acceptable levels" when really the most effective way is to prevent the pollution from continuing. This should be taken into consideration with many things. for example what is better, putting a plastic bottle in the recycle bin when you arent sure it wont end up in a landfill, or using a refillable water bottle instead? I believe that reducing use is better than recycling. Foster revists many times the fact that as long as their is economic gain, the environment will come second.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Foster 6 & 7

In the last two chapters of Foster’s book he begins to relate the history of the current environmental problems and the solutions that he views as the best solution. His discussion on capitalism giving rise to technical revolutions brought up thing I had not really taken the time to think about. Technology was able to advance at the rate it did because it was becoming worth more than it had been in the past. When something starts to earn money people and the government are willing to put more money into it. His talk on capitalism made me think that the only way for the non-environmentalist American’s to become environmentally friendly would be for it to benefit their pocket book. Instead of charging people to pick up their recycling, it should be a service done in conjunction with their trash pick-up. I do not pretend to know the figures of how many people have free recycling pick up, but I know if people have to choose between recycling and their cable TV, they will most surely choose their mindless television. The people in charge of recycling and recycled goods need to figure out a way to become marketable in the capitalist market. Unfortunately, the economists and marketing firms have yet to figure out how to make going green good for the pocket books as well as the earth.
His section on the use of synthetics age also was eye opening without being as apocalyptic as he had been earlier in the book. He provided a chart with the “Percent Change in the Use of Different Products in the United States, 1946-1970,” which showed the increase of common synthetic materials and decrease in natural materials. His figures showed a 53,000% increase in the use of Nonreturnable soda bottles. This figure seems staggering but also easy to fix. If those nonreturnable bottles became returnable, people would be more likely to return them because they would get their bottle deposit back. And even states without bottle deposits return their bottles to states that accept them (it is common for Coca Cola products to be labeled as a Michigan can when bought in Ohio and they come across the border and illegally take the deposit money, but at least the things are getting returned).
Saying “nature knows best” made me at first think that Foster was going to begin explaining why humans are not natural. Instead, he quotes Barry Commoner as writing it means “that any major, non man-made change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system,” and that, “the absence of a particular substance from nature is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life.” He used the example of man-made chemicals causing cancer, but cancer can occur naturally, and it destroys nature (man), yet since it is natural it is compatible with life. Thinking on this example, it implies that medications used to treat terrible, naturally occurring diseases, are wrong and incompatible with life. It is instances where different natural things become more important than others that he loses me in his book.
In his final chapter, Foster begins to show how he thinks long-term changes in the environment can come to fruition. He points out examples where people of little income can remain healthy and have a low impact on the earth. Foster begins expressing socialism as the saving force to the problems that humans have created for themselves. The socialization of nature and the means of production need to be practiced now to save the world from peril. While I can understand that he sees that for changes to be made drastic actions need to be taken, I am doubtful. Whereas some countries are more socialist, or even blatantly socialist, I cannot see huge changes occurring in the United States because of the social stigma attached with being a socialist. It is such a negative view that it almost needs to be reintroduced as something else for people to accept necessary changes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

E.Kather:Foster Ch2,3

The destruction of the environment began to occur close to 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture. Foster argues that capitalism is the root of all evil. Capitalism and its systems contributed widely to the spoiling of the environment, taking it from regional to global abuse. Foster examines precapitalist and capitalist eras in ecohistory. However, problems existed even in preindustrial time periods. I agree with Foster in his view that modernists blame the ever evolving techno capacity of society without examining the problems with our social systems.
There is an interesting naivety among certain peoples that believe that the only way to stop such abasement is to remove themselves completely from industrial society. That by abandoning the industrial ship, society would return to its precapitalist, environmental allegiance; completely and utterly silly. Many of these societies including the Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Sumerians, and Phoenicians, all collapsed due to environmental strain. In fact the civilizations that experienced a boom were the ones who had moved above low stages of agriculture into more complex societies based on class, caste, and state structure. The advancement created “tributary societies,” examples of which are the ancient Egyptians, the Aztec Empire and feudal Europe. This became the new standard in universal development.
There were however, many issues that arose from Tributary organization such as those that were exceptionally vulnerable to ecological disintegration. Such factors contributing to the loss of these civilizations were high food demand, shortage of farmers, a growing population, production expansion to marginal lands, and increased irrigation to name a few.
Leading on through the ecohistorical period we have noticeable devastation eleventh century England. By this time, only twenty percent of England was still wooded. By the fifteen hundreds wood consumption around Europe had reached sixty to eighty million tons. That is close to using one ton, per person, per year. Because of the strain of soil degradation and overgrazing, famines became epidemics.
So, yes we can clearly see that the rise of capitalism did contribute to the global rape of nature and her children. Yet, we also know that even in preindustiral societies this had occurred just on the more local versus regional level.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Foster Chapters 4&5

“The economic prosperity and democracy of the United States was rooted in the availability of “free land.” The closing of the frontier meant that there was no more free land to be exploited. Both democracy and prosperity were therefore threatened. The only answer was to seek new frontiers abroad.”
This quote kind of irritates me a bit. This whole idea of free land is ridiculous, the land isn’t free. The fact is using that land for human benefit does cost something, but we ignore that because it only effects the environment and the animals that live there. It’s so ridiculous to think that the land belongs to humans and humans alone. I feel that Foster kind of feels the same way especially because he puts free land in quotations. At the same time if this didn’t happen would our lives be anything like they are now?
“Man is everywhere a disturbing agent. Wherever he plants his foot, the harmonies of nature are turned to discords…[o]f all organic beings, man alone is to be regarded as essentially a destructive power, and…wields energies to resist which, nature…is wholly impotent.”
This section shows us that there may be a reason to believe that man is kind of like a wrecking ball, at least that’s what I think Foster is getting at. He’s saying that wherever humans go they destroy nature, which kind of seems harsh, but at the same time kind of true. I don’t know if this statement is completely true. I don’t think its right to say that everything man has done has destroyed the world. I like to believe that humans have done something right on this earth.
“A major concern, leading to the growth of the conservation movement, was the rate of extinction…Some 40 million bison had ranged over a third of North America when the Europeans first arrived…By the last decade of the nineteenth century, bison were nearly extinct…As bird species vanished, bison heards disappeared, and forests became mere memories, more and more people, particularly in the growing urban centers of the country, became concerned about conservation.”
Here Foster tells us all about how terrible things are with the example of the bison. I think sections like this in the book are very well written. Foster gives us these huge numbers of bison and then says oh but all of them are gone now. I know when I read it I was thinking oh wow that is just terrible! We killed off an entire species of animal, well more than one, but let’s not get too down on ourselves! Then he says that forests are just memories and this is where I think Foster is getting a little ahead of himself. Forests aren’t memories they still exist even though the numbers aren’t as huge as they used to be.
Chapter 5
“…in twentieth-century agriculture: the energy-intensive application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, certain “miracle” seed varieties, and petroleum-powered machinery, substituting these for agricultural methods.”
I don’t think Foster thinks that all these things were so great for agriculture, and one of the reasons for my assumption is because of the quotations around miracle and because later on in the chapter he talks about how these new ways of doing things eliminated crop diversity. I have to agree with Foster on this one. Humans survived without pesticides for a long time and I think they are unnecessary and dangerous especially to those who live near the fields that are sprayed with that crap. In those neighborhoods child cancer rates are extremely high and I know this because of a previous sociology class that I took. By now scientists should’ve been able to figure out a safer way to keep the crops away from the insects.
“A central component of the U.S. strategy for winning the war was a new kind of ecological warfare: defoliation. Besides destroying the forest cover, the U.S. aim was to create refugees which would give the United States physical control over the peasantry.”
Not only does the U.S. destroy its own land but it destroys others which is no surprise after all it was a war and everything is fair in war. Burning down entire forests was uncalled for, and I think that’s what Foster is getting at here. Then later on Foster mentions that the U.S. didn’t even win the war so all the stuff the military did over there was for nothing and that is just ridiculous.

Alicia Kingman

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Alex Green: Foster Ch. 2, 3

Foster's essential point in the third chapter of The Vulnerable Planet is that the source of our ecological crises is not, as many would have us believe, technological and industrial advance, but social and cultural organization. He points out that, thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, civilizations had come to regional ecological crises due to mismanagement of resources and overpopulation. He cites Sumeria as a prime example, placing part of the blame for its downfall on the ecological effect of their extensive irrigation of the Tigris/Euphrates floodplain, which resulted in the destruction of the soil of the region by salt from floods caused by the raising of the water table by irrigation. Foster then cites deforestation resulting in soil erosion, overgrazing, and depletion of soil as major factors in the downfall of the Roman and Mayan civilizations, and then notes similar situations in mainland Europe just before the rise of mercantile capitalism in the 1500's.
The next section of the chapter focuses on the rise of capitalism prior to the industrial revolution, highlighting the increasingly exploitative attitude toward not only the environment, but also other people. Science in this period is said to have posited a war between humankind and nature, with our mission to subjugate nature to our will. this exploitative attitude resulted in the extensive harvesting of animals for thier coveted furs, driving many species entirely out of Russia, a primary participant in the fur trade, and seriously threatening the equilibrium of environments in North America as the fur trade expanded across the Atlantic, a shift to commercial monocrop farming using slave labor, causing deforestation and soil depletion, along with obvious exploitation of human peoples. The depletion of soil in the British colonies resulted in an expansionist ethic (however unethical), which our government responded to by ordering the extermination of the indiginous population, though Foster notes matter-of-factly that their form of agriculture was vastly superior in yield and sustainability to our own.

The next chapter deals with ecological relations during the Industrial Revolution, beginning with the enclosure movement in England, during which large numbers of English families were moved off of their ancestral land, so that it could be "monopolized by rural landlords" (51). This process allowed England's agricultural capacity to expand to match its booming population for the next period of history, while also "freeing" up thousands of workers for capitalist production. Said capitalist production causes appalling environmental conditions in England, explained alternately as a result of natural constraints dealing with carrying capacity of the region by Malthus (c.c. not Malthus's phrase), and as a problem created by social and political factors, a.k.a. artificial constraints, of profitability in the capitalist system by Marx. The response to the aesthetic ugliness and public health issues in England were, contrary to some accounts, responded to almost immediately, but these critiques were apparently not as respected as Malthus's "natural" laws of population and technology. This response grew into the romantic response to 1800's industrialism characterized by figures like Thoreau, John Ruskin, and William Morris.

Overall, it seems that Foster is placing the blame for our current predicament on the social structure of capitalism. For my part, I fully agree with this assessment, however, it is an incomplete picture. Of course, in such a short volume, the social environment that has allowed such wholesale destruction to take place can not be examined in excruciating detail (in starting "with the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago" (34), Foster may as well admit that this is by no means a complete picture). I would still like to point out a dominant cultural factor from the Middle Ages which continues on through to today, and which Foster seems to have ignored completely, possibly for reasons of audience and readership potential: Christianity, and, for that matter, any widespread belief system with an eternal paradise myth or an apocalyptic narrative. In the Middle Ages, the paradise myth of Christianity was used to subjugate the masses by promising them that whatever hardships or indignities they may suffer in life, they will be rewarded for it in Heaven.

This belief leads to the assumption that this world is transient and does not matter in the long run, with obvious implications for a Christian's opinion on Earth's well-being. Also, the presence of an apocalyptic narrative in such a widespread religion leads to a similar phenomena: the assumption that, since the world is going to end soon anyway, what does it matter what we do to it in the few years we have left? The assumption that the flora and fauna of Earth were placed here for the benefit of God's favorite science-fair project (i.e. us), is also incredibly distressing to the environmentalist cause, and more than likely had a great effect on the whole expansionist ideology that Foster mentions. Again, it's obviously difficult to be exactingly thorough with such a short discussion as this book, but to place all of the blame for expansionist ideology and environmental apathy on capitalist production seems short-sighted.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Foster: The Environmental Crisis E.Kather

The author of Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment, John Bellamy Foster, provides an account of one man returning home to fully realize the irreversible ecological disaster in the regional Pacific Northwest and the global impact of this. As the years go by the issue of conservation becomes not only regional but global. In the late eighties, the world started to become more aware of the threats posed by global warming, destruction of the ozone layer, tropical deforestation, loss of genetic diversity, the destruction of wetlands, the erosion of soil, famine, floods and the extinction of species.
War, economic inequality, and third world underdevelopment are “inextricably bound to the larger question of systematic degradation of the planet and conditions of life for a majority of the world’s people” (9-10). In the world today we are faced with ecological disaster, overpopulation, societal degradation and it’s reaching a critical level but there are ways to alleviate urban pollution and the depletion of nonrenewable materials. So what type of crisis are we dealing with? Foster argues that the interests that are the most at fault for the current ecological situation are in the unquestioned social relationships, nothing biological. He asks us to recognize the historical and the social issues which admit the earth is not in a crisis of nature but of society. In order to understand and change environmental degradation, one should begin starting with “productive relations, technical imperatives and historically conditioned trends that characterize the dominant social system” (12).
When Columbus voyaged across America five hundred years ago he piloted the origin of the capitalist system and world definition of nation states in a hierarchy based upon developed or undeveloped. Skipping on through ages you have the Industrial Revolution, taking place in Europe and increasing average production and creating division. There are three divisions “divisions between economy and nature, between capital and labor, and between center and periphery” (14). Now that we have a history lesson and idea of his concepts we’ll move along.
In the first phase of the Industrial Revolution the death rate did not match the birth rate creating an exponential increase in population. Next he lists numerical data surrounding GNI (gross national income) in countries and rather than repeating what was said, though important, it comes to this. Seventy-five percent of the production of the world is taken by the twenty-five percent living in developed nations, The greater the division of economies the more concentrated the pollution, fact. “Reductionist agriculture” following industry led urban development, means the use of more chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides to make agriculture a cash crop. In the meantime small agricultural business is pushed onto marginal land contributing to more deforestation and soil erosion and use of pesticides.
So why do we care about pollution, contamination, forests? We live in a fragile ecosystem caused by mans continuous murder of nature. To put it in perspective, half of the species in the entire world live in the tropical rainforests. Half of that population is gone entirely and what remains is in sordid condition. If the cutting of the tropical rainforests continues, you can bet they will be gone for good within thirty years. If that doesn’t shock you, how about the extinction of “27,000 species a year, 74 every day, 3 every hour” (24).
There may be thirty million species living today and of that one fourth has been catalogued. The earth needs biodiversity it can’t exist without it. Human beings use and rely on of around 20 species for eighty percent of their food products yet seventy-five thousand different edible plants are available to them.
Humanity is now at point to recognize the devastation, the human transformation of the planet Earth. Car exhaust has contributed to rises in nitrogen rich atmosphere and a twenty percent increase in carbon emissions. Environmentalists began to use a PAT formula to deduce where the degradation is arising. PxAxT or population times affluence time’s technology. Since they are interrelated improvements in all three areas would be beneficial. Such areas include decreased population, accumulation and environmental technology. The future of the world rests in the restructuring of capitalist systems, population peaks and falls, and environmentally friendly sustainable solutions.

Modeling How To Do It

When you hit the New Post link (top right) you'll see a page that has

"Type/paste your first paragraph here (leave the next line as is)"

followed by some HTML code which makes possible the More just below (please click on it)
Just below that, you'll see text that says

"Type/paste the rest of your post here (leave the next line as is)"

followed by a very short line of HTML code.

The idea is to cut and paste your first paragraph above the first line of code and the rest of your post between the two lines of code.

This will generate an expandable post like this one and make the blog way more attractive to view.

It also helps readability if you have two returns (an empty line of text) between your paragraphs like this one.

BTW: ALWAYS edit your posts in the Edit Html tab of the Create window under Posting... the Compose tab generates ugliness when it comes to expandability.