Eco-Marxism: The Road to Sustainability?
“Humanity is at stake.”
We have been constantly bombarded with this phrase in the media over innumerable issues – climate change perhaps foremost among them – over past decades, yet we couldn’t be more ignorant. Blaming the governments that we ourselves elect is our safest excuse: however, we are all part of the dominant contemporary political system that has dictated our lives with unsustainable economic policies. Fossil fuel-driven, heavily industrial current modes of production are not the ideal: we have witnessed our planet’s gradual destruction due to rich capitalist economies’ thirst for growth at a rate that the Earth’s resources can no longer uphold. According to a study by the US National Academy of Sciences, in 2002, the economy surpassed the Earth’s resource regeneration capacity in 1980. This contradiction between capitalism’s infinite growth model and the earth’s finite resources obstructs the fundamental nutrient and resource cycle, as there is an over-accumulation of nutrients in end products, which end up causing pollution and not returning to the soil. We need a radical change to save the planet, and we need to make sense of humanity’s impact on it: Eco-Marxism can help.
Eco-Marxism is an ideology that combines aspects of the traditional Marxist political ideology with ecology and “green politics”. Some of the basic principles of the ideology, according to Marx and Engels, comprise the relationship between man and nature. It is suggested that the two are interconnected as both a man’s body and psyche “live” through nature, and vice versa. Eco-Marxism is against treating nature as simply a resource haven, alienating ourselves from it and monopolising it for our private benefit. The ideology focuses on the application of the philosophical school of dialectics on the man-nature relationship: however, from a more practical aspect it is based on forest preservation by the restoration of the commons, land fertility, and proper water usage.
What the theory proposes is primarily the production of items we really need and the elimination of the production of items that are not necessary for our survival but rather constitute a luxury. Let’s take some time to contemplate how many resources we waste for the production of disposable items: from the dairy products that are tasted only to check their acidity and then thrown away to the over-packaged eyeshadow palettes that have the same colours as last season’s, but has been produced by the company as a ‘new’ collection so as to feed unnecessary, human-induced competition in the world market. Wealth and resources directed to such causes could be alternately used for research and development purposes and investment in clean technologies, which is still a highly underdeveloped sector, despite being critical to implementing sustainable development.
Over the past decades, many reforms have been made for the re-appropriation of our natural heritage. In 1985, Chico Mendes became the leader of a socialist environmental movement and campaigned against the military dictatorship in Brazil and its exploitative policies. Mendes enforced agrarian land reform policies and the preservation of the Brazilian Amazon forest for the sustainable extraction of products that would support the indigenous peoples. Mendes’ legacy lives on, as Brazil still benefits from his reforms, cutting deforestation by 70 per cent under the Lula and Silva administrations.
Nepal has also embarked on similar practices, known as community forestry policies, in which local communities have a more active role in preserving and managing forested areas while making proper use of the land. Extensive community participation in managing the resources, despite often being undermined by the over-exploitative practices of multinational corporations, community forestry in Nepal has been documented to have increased forest density between 1990 and 2010, thus increasing vastly its national resource base.
And if you need more proof that these policies work, take a look at the case of Argentina which adopted no-till agricultural practices in the 1990s to prevent harming the soil, resulting in a current annual yield of approximately 100m tons of soy, corn and wheat, compared to 20m tons in the 1970s. Reduced water use also led to a 37% increase in water efficiency, despite increases in production scale.
Many would argue that we don’t need eco-Marxist policies to live sustainably, that the recycling of disposable consumer products and turning production into a zero-waste process in an Eco-Capitalist system would achieve the same effect. It should be noted, however, that this ignores the fundamental tendency of capitalism to exceed a sustainable level of resource inputs: would these be restricted to raw materials exclusively extracted from recycled goods? By contrast, most eco-Marxist policies are proven to have worked in Latin America and Asia – so what are we waiting for?
- Foster, B. (n.d.). Marx and the Earth: An Anti-Critique.
- Carlos Walter Porto-Gonçalves, Enrique Leff (2015) Political Ecology in Latin America: The Social Re-Appropriation of Nature, the Reinvention of Territories and the Construction of an Environmental Rationality.