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


  1. My primary concern about this book is how broad it is and how many different topics Foster feels that he needs to cover per chapter. His writing style is hurting my brain; it's so painful to read. I'm finding myself lost mid-chapter in a sea of conservation, soil, land, air, urban sprawl, the Industrial Revolution, extinction, back to urban blight, France in 1866, and the list could go on. Someone really should have told him to stop and scale down!

    On a brighter note I was delighted to learn a little something on the history of expansion and Western settlement and also the Conservation movement. On page 71 Foster refers to the work of social critic Thorstein Veblen, in reference to the expansion of American society. Here he cites that Veblen viewed the business civilization (man versus wild) as an issue of “converting all public wealth to private gain on a plan of legalized seizure.” Seizing land, developing it, destroying it, and moving on to new places all in the name of capitalistic benefit. This to me is a reality as well as society at its finest. I believe that this could possibly be a major source of ecological degradation. Once the land is developed and no longer useful it only makes sense to move on to fresh soil, though throughout history the over processed land has not been restored and made reusable. This in effect is a serious problem to the ecosystem. While not all individuals and collectives are destructive, those who are leave the planet in distress. This seems as though it should be a combination of common knowledge and common sense.

    Foster’s work regarding the “urban jungle” was quite interesting. He again used historical facts, quite possibly too far back in history, to support the idea that urban spaces need more fresh air, clean water and lush green grasses and less poverty and unsanitary living conditions. Though his references and ideas were historically based and did not seem to be to be tuned to today’s urban meccas. This idea that cities are filthy and need to be restored to an ecological state of beauty to me kind of takes away from all the positive aspects of cities, do lifestyles and cultures ring a bell? I wasn’t necessarily irritated with his reference to Upton Sinclair, I think that The Jungle is an amazing piece of literature, however, it may just be me but I didn’t really grasp why that was the most appropriate way to end the chapter; Thoughts?

    As for Imperialism and Ecology, this to me was another jumble of historical facts about as many countries as Foster could muster putting into one chapter. Great historical background, but again, too much! Obviously the creation of capital gain has taken a significant toll on ecological systems all over the globe. This is a global degradation problem, not just an exclusive issue for the United States OR for the United States to battle.

    Foster discusses different agricultural methods used to promote the Green Revolution at the expense of crops. This has obviously caused a lack of diversity in regards to the crops we are able to consume and utilize. Human beings have been cultivating their own crops for thousands of years, with the advancement of technology comes faster, yet in many cases more dangerous ways of producing massive amounts of consumer ingested monocrops. There has been a depletion of certain species as in all aspects of ecology, though is this all a result of crop dusting and over-farming? Or in certain cases is this a natural selection process, are crops the new dinosaurs?

    (Sidebar: Okay, so you were told that in areas where agriculture is predominant that child cancer rates are extremely high but are they significantly higher than perhaps areas of toxic waste, chemical plants, and so forth? While yes, I have read that pesticides in areas of high agriculture have been known to result in an increase of birth defects in some respects you must be aware that these are not the only cancer causing agents as well as the fact that home fertilizer has been known to cause cancer.)

    The segment about the War in Vietnam really tripped my trigger. I consider Vietnam to be a hot point, in all aspects, Sociological, Ecological and beyond. I find the destruction of land and crops and the senseless slaughter of wildlife and the Vietnamese people by the use of chemical warfare to be simply outrageous; Herbicide and Agent Orange equal insanity in my book.

  2. I definitely agree with Alicia about the term "free land" being an inaptly name for the land way back when but I can't say for sure that I wouldn't have thought of it as free if I had lived back when the country was young and land seemed to be in a great abundance and all you needed to do to be prosperous was to go out and claim some as your own. And then when the idea of industrialization came around, promising a better life, I can't say that I would have scoffed at the notion. I would like to think that I would have been one of those people who protested the slaying of trees and other wildlife, but I obviously will never know for certain.

    One thing is sure, life would be a whole lot different had our predecessors not done what they did. Had they thought more about the wildlife, about preservation instead of a quick profit, we wouldn't have malls, sports stadiums, and exciting metropolises--all of which I am greatful for (although if there were no basketball arenas, there would be no Detroit Pistons and I wouldn't be forced to watch a team play so shhh---horribly :))

    I got a little confused when Foster started quoting George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature. I'm not familiar with him or his work so I'm not sure if I was understanding right, but I got the impression that he believes that man made nature. I can understand how he may think that we have molded nature to our liking (or disliking) but what about in the very beginning? Is he saying that man was here first?

    One thing I'm surprised that neither Alicia or eb commented on was the section on the Chicago slaughterhouses, but maybe that's because I'm just a big softy when it comes to animals. My eyes honestly started to well up when I read about the poor pigs being killed. I was more concerned about the animals' welfare than about the fact that Foster was making a point about the environment and economic gain.

    I agree with eb about the "too much" historical information being packed into each chapter. Of course, the book is subtitled A Short Economic History of the Environment so I suppose historical facts are important. Still, it made me feel like I was back in my 11th grade American history class, so much that I nearly fell into my old habits of doodling in the margins or laying my head down on my desk and sleeping.

  3. I was kind of going about the Chicago slaughterhouse's in a round about way by bringing up Foster's mention of The Jungle. I was trying to figure out if it was a necessary addition to the chapter or not. I too am soft when it comes to animals.


  4. The first part of chapter 4 seemed to depict that the industrial and agricultural boom was a negative action against people and the environment. I do agree with this but can't help but wonder what would of happened if this did not occur. Would the environment be better now or would a different negative aspect come in to play? Also, the positive aspects were left out like the money and jobs it created. Obviously Foster had an agenda to fill which I am no opposed to but he left me with those questions. This also seems to bring up the topic of how now people seem to associate this "green revolution" with a restriction to their personal lives. People like their lives to be simple and the industry helps them with products that provide that.

    Another thing that sparked my interest was when he said that people did know it was hurting the environment at the time. In past classes, especially what was taught in middle and high school, this notion was really never expressed to me. With the horrible working and living conditions I guess they would have to know to an extent but I'm not sure how far that would go. To make a claim that they knew that it would affect the world so much as it does now seems to be a little far fetched.

    The statement that we do not govern the land or nature is a great statement that I believe not many people understand still to this day and age. Technology will not be the single solution to our problems and we cannot control nature or fix it after we have damaged it so much. Technology is a great tool but our social habits will have to change also to be able to see a bigger difference. This also ties into later entries in the book where Marsh explains that "man is not external to nature". We are part of nature and therefore need to protect it and ourselves.

    The argument between conservationists and preservationists was also interesting. This struggle seems to be prevalent today. How much should a single person be doing to help the environment? Some are seen as radicals where others can not believe people are not more worried.