Political Economy and the Environmental Crisis: Introduction to Special Issue

Political Economy and the Environmental Crisis: Introduction to Special Issue” [PDF] (co-authored with Richard York, Foster listed first—special issue on the treadmill of production, part I), vol. 17, no. 3 (September 2004), pp. 293-95. DOI: 10.1177/1086026604268016

According to Frederick Buell (2003) in his book ‘From Apocalypse to Way of Life, perceptions of environmental crisis in the 1960s and 1970s were both narrower in scope and more apocalyptic (usually Malthusian) in tone than those of today. Rather than diminishing, the problem of the environment has only expanded in the years since Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring‘, was published. Severe environmental crisis is no longer foreign to us—not some future to be feared and avoided so much as a present in which we are living. It has become a structural reality of modern life and accepted as such, even normalized. If anything, a certain fatalism has emerged. It is now increasingly understood by environmental sociologists and many others that global ecological degradation is at the core of the development of modern (particularly capitalist) forms of production and is inescapable as long as those relations of production remain unaltered. Proba- bly the earliest analyst to articulate such a structural view through a fully developed political-economic theory of environmental degradation under corporate capitalism was Allan Schnaiberg (1980) in his magnum opus, ‘The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity‘. It was here that Schnaiberg introduced the important concept of the treadmill of production—the topic taken up in this special issue. Schnaiberg rejected all apocalyptic notions, believing that something could be done if social relations could be radically transformed, yet his indictment of our present system of production for its degradation of the environment was all the more damning as a result.

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