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.


  1. The problem, of course, with going green AND being economically advantageous is that dirty is cheaper. To my mind, that's the ecological trap of capitalism. This, of course, doesn't concern recycling, but it concerns just about any product that people want to be environmentally friendly. If companies CAN make a cheaper product, even at the expense of the environment, and sell it for less money, they will. And people will buy the more affordable product.

  2. In chapter 6 it becomes very obvious that Foster has marxist beliefs. This goes right along with what Katie was saying. Once technology started bringing in money it became huge and this resulted in the workers becoming nothing more than "instruments" of production. This resulted in people becoming obsessed with making money(not that they weren't before). So it only makes sense that it costs money to take away the recycling. People do pay for this service after all so why give it away for free? I don't really agree with that logic but unfortunately that's how things work.

    I completely agree with what Tearon is saying. Americans like things that are cheaper. To add on to that Americans pretty much like to do the least amount of work possible. Recycling takes up peoples time and it's so much easier to just throw things away. Sure we get money back from bottle returns in Michigan but some people just don't care about that ten cents they would rather just throw the bottle or can away.

  3. We as individuals are more inclined to think about the near future than life hundreds or thousands of years from now. We tend to focus on what we can do by recycling and buying fuel-efficient cars rather than changing the relations of production and society which seem impossible.

    Of course it is people like us who have greater interest in the environment than do economists or politicians. But, what if we fused our interests together and developed an environmental industry that could one day expand so that the traditional pattern of capitalist development is no longer so counter-ecological? I know this sounds really far-fetched and easier said than done, but in my opinion the same goes for the socialization of nature and production that Foster see's as the only option.

  4. I think Foster's exploration into the nature of "sustainability" is pretty important within this type of discourse. This term is used to excess when talking about environmental issues, yet its definition is seldom explicitly laid out. Foster does this, giving us three yes or no points of interest to gauge relative sustainability.

    1. "The rate of utilization of renewable resources has to be kept down to the rate of their regeneration."
    2. "The rate of utilization of nonrenewable resources cannot exceed the rate at which alternative sustainable resources are developed."
    3. "Pollution and habitat destruction cannot exceed the "assimilative capacity of the environment.""

    All of these points seem extremely basic. You could ask a child, "What happens if you eat the cookies faster than I give them to you?" The child would answer, "I don't have any more." Yet, here we are.