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.


  1. As far as recycling, yes, it seems like a great step in the right direction to ending our environmental crisis, but you can't force people to do it. Recycling programs are not readily available in some areas. We've discussed in class that CMU has big blue recycling bins all over campus. Sounds great but because there is not much of a market in this area, most of it may end up in landfills anyway which defeats the purpose. Bottle deposits are a great initiative to get people to recycle. I'd like to see this with water bottles. I understand it may cost our state a little more money... Other efficient appliances either aren't available or are not cost efficient for the average consumer. Companies make more money when consumers purchase the less expensive product anyway.

    Many efforts to "clean up" began in 1970. Foster says most of what was attempted failed. Not much optimism from him during the 1970's and 1980's. I am currently taking PSC 516: Environmental Politics and Policy and we've discussed some of the more positive results of several acts that were signed into law. During the 1960's-70's, pollution was finally getting media attention and helped people become more aware of environmental problems. Many chemicals were banned and several toxic waste sites were cleaned. Water quality also improved. Yes, there is still a long way to go, but some action has been taken to advance. It is important to try to reach sustainable development so future generations don't suffer.

  2. Oops..this is suppose to be my first paragraph. I do believe many environmental problems such as pollution started during the Industrial Revolution and continued to rise thereafter. Population growth after WWII took a large toll on the environment as well. I would also disagree when Foster states that many issues are a result of purely economic growth. If the population wasn't so large then there wouldn't be as much growth.

  3. I too have an apology to make: I had in my mind that I had a response due 3 February, but discovered whilst flipping through my binder that it was actually 27 January. I hope no one minds me adding a third comment herein.

    I issue that came to find after reading this post was the different definitions of "efficiency". Most Americans think of this concept the same way that Foster does: in terms of MPG, lightbulbs that cost less money to have on, triple-pane windows, etc. In business terms, however, "efficiency" refers to the cheapest way that a profit can be made/extracted from a given endeavour. As the author of the post mentioned, having everyone purchase their own mode of transportation that had to be replaced every few years at great cost is far more profitable than people-movers owned and operated by counties/municipalities. These same manufacturers aren't interested in the efficiency of their products, only the efficiency of their manufacture. If demand for fuel efficient vehicles or mass transit reaches a fever pitch, local communities might have a snowball's chance in hell of actually getting what they want. However, American car manufacturers have been spoiled by decades of ultra-cheap gas and blind patriotic buying patterns. They are so resistant to change, that they have successfully kept the national fuel standard frozen for over 25 years.

    Population growth is an issue that is here for the long haul. The world's population will still be growing when all of us die. However, most population "experts" believe that population will reach its high point in the late 21st century and then begin to come down. All of this in predicated on women's empowerment in the developing world. Unfortunately, the only way that women have gained the status they have in the modern industrialized capitalist world is by joining the ranks of those who are depleting the world's resources the fastest, the modern bourgeois capitalists. While women's empowerment is doubtless one of the (if not THE) most crucial changes that needs to take place in much of the world, to simply say, "join us in pillaging the Earth" is not going to offset any reduction in population growth. We all talk about multi-pronged approaches, so let me pose a question that I hope someone will bring up in class: How can we empower women throughout the world in order to reduce population growth while at the same time changing our system of production and consumption that will/has cause(d) immense ecological damage when the only way we've found to empower women is to have them join that same system of production and consumption?

  4. So far I have seen no mention Frederick Winslow Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management. I found this to be a particularly revealing passage in the text.

    According to Foster, the work summarizes a scientific process designed to decrease worker solidarity. The process by which this is attained is essentially the logical conclusion of Marx's notion of alienation. Here are Taylor's three essential steps: 1) "the dissociation of the labor process from the skills of the workers, 2) "the separation of conception from execution" and 3) "the use of this monopoly of knowledge to control each step of the labor process and its mode of execution."

    In doing this, the laborer is disconnected from their labor. The work itself loses the ability to integrate the worker into a meaningful existence. Instead, the act of work only further alienates the worker from meaning. Life, like work, becomes absurd and action becomes arbitrary.

    I find the third step to be particularly fitting within the context of chapter six. The term "monopoly of knowledge" is exactly what Foster is referring to when he speaks of monopoly capitalism. The know how behind the process is whats important, not the process itself. Once the corporations have a stranglehold on intelligence they no longer have to compete. The terms of production are theirs to set, and ours to clean up. Fortunately, the internet has prevented the possibility of entirely secure knowledge. Anyone with the proper know how can acquire any knowledge they desire at any time. Because of this, a certain amount of popular sovereignty can be demanded concerning "each step of the labor process and its mode of execution."