Thursday, October 31, 2013

1177. How Science Is Telling Us All to Revolt

By Naomi Klein, New Statesman, October 29, 2013
Waste land: large-scale irrigation strips nutrients from the soil, scars the landscape and could alter climatic conditions beyond repair. Image: Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/ Flowers, London, Pivot Irrigation #11 High Plains, Texas Panhandle, USA (2011)
In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year's conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa's Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.
But it was Werner's own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled "Is Earth F**ked?" (full title: "Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism").
Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that "earth-human systems" are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the "are we f**ked" question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, "More or less."
There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it "resistance" - movements of "people or groups of people" who "adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture". According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes "environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups".
Serious scientific gatherings don't usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn't exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people - along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street - represent the likeliest source of "friction" to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have "had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved", he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, "if we're thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics". And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but "really a geophysics problem".
Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012, Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and "be arrested if necessary", because climate change "is not only the crisis of your lives - it is also the crisis of our species' existence".
Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland's melting ice sheet.
"I couldn't maintain my self-respect if I didn't go," Box said at the time, adding that "just voting doesn't seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also."
This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn't saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm - through mass-movement counter-pressure - is humanity's best shot at avoiding catastrophe.
That's heavy stuff. But he's not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems - particularly the climate system - is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.
Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain's top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK's premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.
But in recent years Anderson's papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as "Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope", he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.
With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies - all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned - that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.
Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target - an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 - has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has "no scientific basis". That's because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future - rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately - there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° "carbon budget" and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.
Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreedupon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don't have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.
To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year - and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbonpricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year "have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval", as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.
Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.
If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as "radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations". Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).
So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.
In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:
. . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, "impossible" is translated into "difficult but doable", whereas "urgent and radical" emerge as "challenging" - all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, "impossibly" early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about "big" engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.
In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. "Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change' afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony" (his emphasis).
We probably shouldn't be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they "were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order".
But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It's why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations' scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid "suggesting that policies are either right or wrong" and should express their views "by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena".
If you want to know where this leads, check out what's happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning "the death of evidence". Their placards said, "No Science, No Evidence, No Truth".
But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner's computer model, this is the "friction" needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the "antibodies" rising up to fight the planet's "spiking fever".

It's not a revolution, but it's a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.

Monday, October 28, 2013

1176. Economics, Socialism and Ecology: A Critical Outline, Part 2

By Kamran Nayeri, Philosophers for Change, October 29, 2013

In Part 1, I argued that economics is neither an objective science nor capable of providing a lasting solution to the contradictions of the capitalist economy and society. As a discipline it has emerged to maintain and justify the capitalist system and it will wither away with its downfall.  Also, I argued that Karl Marx’s critique of political economy (“economics” of his time) and the capitalist system is a specific application of his theory of history, historical materialism, that aims to serve self-activity and self-organization of working people with the logic of transcending the capitalist system in the direction of developing a society of freely Associated Producers, a socialist society.  Thus, Marx’s theory replaces the bourgeois notion of Homo economicus (Economic Man) with the ideal of socialist women and men.  This theoretical transcendence was made possible with a shift of theoretical paradigm from one serving the interests of the capitalist class to one for emancipation of humanity through the direct action of working people.   

Now, I proceed to argue that the current crisis of society and nature is in fact a single crisis, the crisis of civilization built on the foundation of alienation from and exploitation of nature. Therefore, its resolution will require a shift from the prevailing anthropocentric worldview to an ecocentric, indeed a universe-centric view of human society and its relation to nature. This new paradigm provides a conceptual underpinnings for an ecological movement that would also be socialist because the present-day civilization is largely capitalist. I will then consider whether and how Marx’s theory aids the development of an ecological socialist movement to build a post-capitalist society where humanity would live in harmony amongst ourselves and with the rest of nature. 

The Anthropocene
The Anthropocene (New Man) is a term coined in 2000 by the Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Curtzen and ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer who argued that we live in a new geological epoch in which  one species, Homo sapiens sapiens, has come to shape the Earth’s geology in ways that undermine life sustaining environment and ecology, setting off planetary crises.  
Crutzen and Stoermer have suggested that the Anthropocene began with the invention of the steam engine which was a key technical component of the English Industrial Revolution that began about 1760 and was established sometimes between 1820-40. While the notion of the Anthropocene was received warmly by some geologists, the profession has yet to embrace it.  Many stratigraphers (scientists who study rock layers) criticize the idea citing lack of clear-cut evidence for a new epoch. Still, others, including ecologists and environmentalists, recognize the validity and relevance of the idea for the current debate on charting a course to head off and reverse the anthropogenic (human-caused) crisis of nature. 
Let me cite some examples of the harmful impact the human society on the ecosphere. In 2000, the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) of the consequences of anthropogenic ecosystem changes for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems and their contribution to human well-being. The MEA has involved the work of more than 1,360 experts worldwide and it has issued a number of reports.  
I simply want to draw attention to some findings in one of the report displayed in a figure (see, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, 2005; figure 13, page 16).  The summary data shown in the figure assess human impact on a number of ecosystems: forests (boreal, temperate and tropical), dry-land (temperate grassland, Mediterranean, tropical grassland and savanna, and desert), inland, costal, marine island, mountain and polar.  Adverse impact considered are habitat change, climate change, invasive species, over-exploitation, and pollution (phosphorus and nitrogen). Finally, driver’s impact on biodiversity over the last century (low, moderate, high and very high) are shown in different colors and driver’s current trends designated by arrows (declining, flat, rising, and rising rapidly) are displayed. 
The key finding is that all ecosystems are currently under pressure from human impact with a rapidly raising threats from climate change and pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus).
The MEA Board’s statement summarizes the key findings from these reports.  Here is some of the points from their statement
  • Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy, and secure life.
  • Humans have made unprecedented changes to ecosystems in recent decades to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fiber, and energy.
  • These changes have helped to improve the lives of billions, but at the same time they weakened nature’s ability to deliver other key services such as purification of air and water, protection from disasters, and the provision of medicines.
  • Among the outstanding problems identified by this assessment are the dire state of many of the world’s fish stocks; the intense vulnerability of the 2 billion people living in dry regions to the loss of ecosystem services, including water supply; and the growing threat to ecosystems from climate change and nutrient pollution.
  • Human activities have taken the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinctions, further threatening our own well-being.
  • The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease.
  • The pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades unless human attitudes and actions change.
Another useful way to classify and summarize the planetary crisis is offered by Johan Rockström and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC) (Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity, 2009). They have defined and studied nine planetary boundaries (thresholds for safety of human societies) as follows:
  •  climate change
  • stratospheric ozone
  • land use change
  • freshwater use
  • biological diversity
  • ocean acidity
  • nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans
  • aerosol loading 
  • chemical pollution.
Based on current scientific knowledge, the SRC scientists have argued that if these thresholds are crossed planetary crises may ensue that endanger human life on Earth.  They also suggest that in three cases--climate change, biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle--these thresholds may have already been reached.  

The final example of adverse anthropogenic impact on ecosystems is from Haydn Washington (2013) focusing on his discussion of energy flow and food chain. Ultimately, all species live off energy that arrives on Earth via sunshine.  Through photosynthesis green plants (primary producers) convert solar energy into sugars. They consume about half of it for their own livelihood. What remains is called Net Primary Productivity (NPP).  The NPP is the basis for all animal life. Herbivores eat plants to gain energy for their livelihood (primary consumers). Finally, some carnivores live off herbivores (secondary consumers).  Some omnivores eat secondary consumers (tertiary consumers).  The final link in the food chain is the decomposers that live off the organic matter of plants, herbivores and carnivores.  In each step in the food chain about 90% of the energy is lost. 

Washington citing Boyden (2004) writes: 
"The human species is now using about 12,000 times more as much energy per day as was the case when farming started; 90 per cent of this is a result of industrialization, 10 per cent to our huge growth in numbers.... The NPP of the land amounts to about 132 billion tonnes dry weight of organic matter in 1986. (Vitousek et al, 1986) Of these the then human population of 5.7 billion humans consumed directly just over 1 billion tonnes as food. In addition humans co-opted 43 billion tonnes (32 per cent) of total NPP in the form of wasted food, forest products, crop and forestry residues, pastures and so on.  Vitiusek et al. (1986) conclude:
'We estimate that organic material equivalent to about 40% of the present net primary product in terrestrial ecosystems is being coopted by human beings each year.  People use this material directly or indirectly, it flows to different consumers and decomposers than it otherwise would, or it is lost because of human-caused changes in land use.  People and the associated organisms use this organic material largely, but not entirely, at human direction, and the vast majority of other species must subsist on the reminder.  An equivalent concentration of resources into one species and its satellites has probably not occured since land plants first diversified.’
They also note that ‘humans also affect much of the other 60% of terrestrial NPP, often heavily’, thus our impact is not just limited to the 40 per cent of NPP we co-opt directly. The estimates in this classic 1986 study are conservative, and we are now 25 years further down the path of expanding population and impacts. However, other scholars use different methodologies and come up with different figures.... Whichever figure one uses, this remains a huge percentage of the net primary productivity of the planet that humans are appropriating.  Of course this appropriation is also increasing as population, and possibly more importantly per capita consumption , continues to increase. The high and increasing appropriation of NPP by humanity is clearly a fundamental stress on ecosystem health. NPP is the foundation of all ecosystems, so if we pull out too many blocks from the foundation to put on the ‘human pile’ eventually other structures (natural ecosystems) collapse.  And indeed they are..." (Washington 2013, p. 12-13).
The origin of alienation from nature
Curtzen and Stoermer have identified the Anthropocene with the Industrial Revolution that originated in England in the latter part of the eighteenth century.  This view attributes the Anthropocene to the use of technologies that can have game-changing effects on geology and ecology of the planet.  Likewise, some ecological socialists have argued that the capitalist system is the cause of the Anthropocene.  As Kovel (2007) puts it, in today’s world “capitalism is the enemy of nature”  and as Foster and his co-authors argue “capitalism is at war with the earth.”[1] Their view attributes the origin of the Anthropocene to the emergence and dominance of the capitalist mode of production.  The two explanations are similar insofar as they date the origin of the anthropocene to the consolidation and expansion of capitalist industrialization. They differ in that Curtzen and Stoermer identify technologies as the cause of anthropocene while Kovel and Foster, underscore the capitalist social relations, in particular the dynamics of capital accumulation. 

While it is true that the environmental degradation has been a key feature of capitalist industrialization and has accelerated sharply during the past 60 years, it is by no means limited to the modern era. Ruddiman et al. (2003) have proposed “an early anthropocene” hypothesis that suggests emission of methane gas by early human activities such as forest clearance and rice agriculture. Although this hypothesis is controversial (see, for example here), we know from world environmental history important cases of collapse of pre-capitalist societies and civilizations because of “the great divorce of culture and nature” instead of their “primal harmony.” (Hughes 2001, Wright 2004)  Similarly, the very idea of progress from antiquity to the Enlightenment and beyond has proved fraught with difficulties (for a history of the idea of progress see Nisbet 1994, for a recent critique of it see Wright 2004).  These concerns are directly related to our concern with the Anthropocene. 

Instead of focusing on when certain adverse anthropogenic events originated (e.g. climate change), I propose to ask why human onslaught on nature has been contemplated, executed and tolerated throughout the history of “civilization.”  Put it differently,  I would argue that the Anthropocene presupposes anthropocentrism--the human-centered worldview--that originated from our alienation from nature which dates back, not to the Industrial Revolution but to the Agricultural Revolution. Allow me to explain in some detail. 

The Agricultural Revolution that originated in several places about 10,000 years ago and unfolded over 5,000 years was based on domestication of animals and plants.  Domestication can be defined as “the evolutionary process by whereby humans, modify, either intentionally or unintentionally, the genetic makeup of a population of plants or animals to the extent that individuals within the population lose their ability to survive and produce offsprings in the wild" (Blumler and Byrne 1991, p.24, cited in Barker 2006, p. 2). In parallel, humans have marginalized or eradicated wild species they felt are in competition with them or deemed undesirable or otherwise better captured or dead. 

Thus, it is essential to examine historically the Agricultural Revolution for the origins of human alienation from nature--that is, the process by which humans began to view the rest of nature as separate from them and attempted to control, dominate, and exploit it. 

A leading archaeologist who has written an important book on why foragers became farmers provides a concise bird-eye view of the process of alienation from nature and the subsequent rise of class societies even though he is not aiming to address these particular questions.  
"Humans have occupied our planet for several million year, but for almost all of that period they have lived as foragers, by various combinations of gathering, collecting, scavenging , fishing and hunting. The first clear evidence for activities that can be recognized as farming is commonly identified by scholars as at about 12,000 years ago, at about the time as global temperatures began to rise at the end of the Pleistocene (the ‘Ice Ages’) and the transition to the modern climatic era, the Holocene.  Subsequently, a variety of agricultural systems based on cultivated plants and, in many areas, domesticated animals, has replaced hunting and gathering in almost every corner of the globe.  Today, a relatively restricted range of crops and livestock, first domesticated several thousand years ago in different parts of the world, feeds almost all of the world’s population. A dozen crops make up over 80 per cent of the world’s annual tonnage of all crops: banana, barley, maize, manioc, potato, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar beet, sugar cane, sweet potato, and wheat (Diamond, 1997: 132). Only five large (that is, over 100 pounds) domestic animals are globally important: cow, sheep, goat, pig, and the horse.
"The development of agriculture brought profound changes in the relationship between people and the natural world. Archaeologists have usually theorized that, that with the invention of farming, people were able to settle down and increase the amount and reliability of their food supply, thus allowing the same land to support more people than by hunting and gathering, allowing our species to multiply throughout the world.  The ability to produce food and other products from domesticated plants and animals surplus to immediate subsistence requirements also opened up new pathways to economic and social complexity: farming could mean new resources for barter, payment of tax or tribute, for sale in a market; it could mean food for non-food producers such as specialist craft-workers, priests, warriors, lords, and kings. Thus farming was the precondition for the development of the first great urban civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus valley, China, the Americas, and Africa, and has been for all later states up to the present day" (Barker, 2006, pp. 1-2).   

The Anthropocentric detour
Central to the Agricultural Revolution was the change from an ecocentric worldview to an anthropocentric one.  Ecocentrism was the worldview of foragers who lived in a small but resilient communities for millions of years before the “dawn of civilization.” Even Homo sapiens sapiens (anatomically modern humans) who appeared only some 200,000 years ago, lived as foragers for 95% of our existence (190,000 year) in small, stable and resilient communities before the dawn of agriculture.  

Anthropocentrism (human-centered worldview), also known as homocentrism, human supremacism, and speciesism is the view that holds human beings as the central or most significant species on Earth in the sense that they are considered to have a moral standing above other beings.  It is a key concept in environmental philosophy and ethics but as I will argue it is also a key concept in understanding the present-day combined crisis of society and nature.  

To get a sense of what the forgers worldview was like, it is instructive to examine the worldview of forager societies still surviving.  
“...[M]ost foragers are characterized by ‘animistic’ or (less commonly) ‘totemic’ belief systems. In the former, non-human animals are not just like humans, they are persons.  Their environment is a treasure house of ‘personage’, each with language, reason, intellect, moral conscience, and knowledge, regardless of wether the outer shape is human, animal, reptile, or plant. Thus the Jivaro people of eastern Ecuador and Peru consider humans, animals, and plant as ‘persons’ (aents), linked by blood ties and common ancestry (Descola, 1996). Foragers with animistic belief systems commonly do not have words for distinguishing between people, animals, and plants as separate categories, using instead classification systems based on terms of equality rather than the hierarchies of our own Linnaean taxonomies (Howell, 1996).  The totemic systems of Australian Aborigines are ceremonies and rituals to stress an abstract linear continuity between the human and non-human communities.  Animals are the most common totems, signifying a person’s or group’s identity or distinctiveness, but though they may be good to eat or food for thought , they are not considered social partners as in the animistic belief systems. 
“The forager world is animated with moral, mystical, and mythical significance (Carmichael et al., 1994). It is constructed and reconstructed through the telling of myths, which commonly include all kinds of animals as humans, changing shape between one and the other.  In addition to the present world inhibited by humans and non-human-beings, there is a supernatural world. In many forager societies, shamans mediate between the lived and supernatural worlds, entering and conceptualizing the latter, commonly through ecstatic experiences... As the whole world is self, killing a plant or animal is not murder but transformation. Finding food is taken for granted, reinforced by myths telling the hunter to be the animal before presuming to kill and eat it.  ‘They are being heard by sentient conscious universe--a gallery of intelligent beings who, if offended by injudicious words (ridicule, bragging, undue familiarity, profanity, etc.) can take reprisal, usually by a steadfast refusal to be taken as food or by inflicting disease or doing other violence’ (C.L. Martin, 1993, p. 14).”  (Barker, 2006, p. 59).
By contrast, the farmer's worldview is defined by their mode of existence in opposition to the wild. They see themselves 
“ the center of a series of circles of decreasing familiarity: ‘from home, farm or village to the wild periphery where danger threatens’ (Tapper, 1994: 54).  The farmed land is clearly separated from the wilderness beyond, commonly by physical boundaries. The agricultural economy is built around relations with people.  Cooperation and continued necessity of cooperative labour link and bind people, both to those involved in the current cycle of production but also to those who produced the previous cycle, thus creating a cyclical renewal of the relations of production that theoretically never ends (Meillassoux, 1972).  In his comparison of Mullu Kurumbu farmers and their Nayaka forager neighbours in southern India, Bird-David (1990) contrasted how the Nayaka viewed the forest unconditionally as a parent, whereas the Mulla Kurumbu viewed their land as an ancestor that gave its wealth reciprocally in return for favours rendered.” (Barker, 2006: 59-60)
Domestication of the mind
In his discussion of why foragers became farmers, Barker (2006, pp. 38-39) focuses on what he calls the “domestication of the mind.”  The question for archaeology today is not whether the shift from ecocentrism to anthropocentrism occurred or when and where it first occurred. The key debate is whether it occurred among some foragers before they took up farming (cause) or after they took up farming (effect).  

The reason the ideological change has come to the center of research is in part based on a century of progress in understanding of where, when and how farming began across the world. Barker’s summary which he admits is perhaps caricatured to be concise is useful to our discussion: The evolving overall consensus in archeology since the nineteenth century follows: 
“ (1) the advantages of farming were obvious, it just needed time for people to see them as the next rung on their Ladder of Progress [the Victorian era view]; (2) the advantages [of farming]were obvious, it just needed Holocene environmental change to concentrate foragers’ minds; (3) the disadvantages [of farming] were obvious, foragers only became farmers when the choice was either to become farmers or to starve; (4) foragers were well on the road to becoming farmers in the late Pleistocene, so it just needed the stimulus of Holocene environmental change; (5) foragers found they were becoming farmers despite themselves because of how they reacted to Holocene environmental change, with no going back; (6) foragers could see there were few advantages in farming, and successfully resisted for a long time; (7) foragers (or rather a few ambitious individual foragers) could see there were advantages in having more food, or strange exotic foods, for maintaining and enhancing status; (8) foragers’ culture had already moved from being part of the wild to controlling the wild, so it was just ‘one small symbolic step’ to fencing some of it off." (Barker, 2006, pp. 39-40).  (the explanatory square bracket is mine)
We need not explore any of these evolving working hypothesis in archeology here. However, it is crucial for our concern to take away this central finding: Agriculture was neither a step in the supposed Ladder of Progress for humanity--as was generally believed in the nineteenth century--nor was it a desired mode of existence.  A complex set of circumstances led to groups of foragers to become farmers. Over time, famers and the “civilization” that arose on the basis of agriculture expanded their domain against the wild, including the  foragers who were part of this wilderness.  Also, anthropocentrism, whether cause or effect or some dialectical combination of the two in transition to farming, has increasingly dominated human culture.  This transition from the forager societies to class society and its anthropocentric ideology is the root-cause of the ecological crisis and, as I will argue below, the root-cause of the crisis of society.

Anthropocentrism  has been central to both religious and secular worldviews.  Ancient Greek gods were imagined as human-like.  In Abrahamic religions humans are God’s agents on Earth. In the Old Testament for example, God creates Adam and Eve in his own image and creates other species for them.[2]

A similar anthropocentric worldview dominated the Western philosophy from Aristotle and the Stoics to Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas to Descartes and Kant (Steiner, 2005).  

According to Sessions (1995) the leading philosophical spokespersons for the Scientific Revolution--Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and Gottfried Leibniz--were all strongly influenced by Christian anthropocentrism.  Bacon held that modern science would allow humans to regain command over nature that had been lost with Adam’s Fall in the Garden. Descartes argued that the new science would make humans the “masters and possessors of Nature” and that only humans had souls (minds) while all other creatures were machines.  Animals had no sentience (mental life) and so, among other things, could feel no pain.    

The same Christian anthropocentrism carried over to Renaissance anthropocentric humanism which preceded the Scientific Revolution and was continued by the Enlightenment philosophers “and on into the twentieth century with Karl Marx and John Dewey, and the humanistic existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre....Renaissance humanism portrayed humans as the central fact in the universe, while, in addition, supporting the exalted view that humans had unlimited powers, potential, and freedom..” (Sessions, 1995, p. 161). 

Overcoming the crisis through reviving ecocentrism
Now, let us reconsider the current crisis of society and nature in light of the very long history of our species.  Our forager ancestors proved resilient for 2.5 million years while living in relative harmony amongst themselves and with their natural environment.[3]  Even anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) who appeared about 200,000 years ago formed resilient ecocentric communities up to the Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 years ago and despite all odds some have survived to this very day.  The Anthropocene began with the advent of the Agricultural Revolution.  The rise of a surplus economy combined with an anthropocentric world view served as the basis for class societies. Alienation from nature provided the material basis for social alienation and with it manifold forms of exploitation and oppression of humans by other humans as well as the struggle to overcome all these.  Crises of nature and society have become a defining feature of human “civilization.” 

Of course, it is important to analyze historical changes in the forms of alienation from nature and social alienation as well as specific forms of exploitation and oppression as well as resistance to them as modes of production change.  In particular, it is important to understand and underscore how the capitalist mode of production has transformed and deepened the anthropocentric culture through the dynamics of capital accumulation, as it has turned almost everything into commodities through self-expansion of value. Intrinsic value of everything is turned into exchange value.  Also, it is important to understand how the historical form of capital accumulation, centered on fossil fuel-driven industrialization, has created the conditions for irrepressible damage to the fabric of life on Earth and perhaps possible demise of our species.  But none of these could have come to be without the rise of class society based on anthropocentrism that defines civilization.  

If the above argument is true in its broad outline then it follows that no social transformation is radical (in the sense of getting to the roots of the crisis) unless it overcomes the 10,000 year old anthropocentric culture.  This challenges both the ecological and socialist movements that aim to address the crisis of nature and crisis of society respectively.  In other words, in today’s globalized capitalist world to be a consistent naturalist requires challenging the capitalist system as the enforcer of the anthropocentric culture and to be a consistent socialist one has to be a naturalist because the root cause of the crisis of the capitalist system, like all other class societies before it, is the anthropocentric culture.  To resolve the planetary crisis and the social crisis, it is necessary to revive the intrinsic value of everything, including each human being, by riding our society and culture of values assigned to them by the market and this cannot be done unless we return to ecocentrism and transcend the capitalist system.

There is no space here to discuss the entire range of the specific implications of this radical shift in paradigm.  I will note just one such implication: the seemingly unending human population debate.  As it is well-known, the debate from nineteenth century to the present has centered on whether there is a human over-population problem due to limits to growth of production of food and other necessities or if technological change in production of food and other necessities can provide enough for the multitudes if capitalist distribution is replaced by a socialist one.  Both sides in the debate approach the problem from an anthropocentric perspective in the sense that there is no concern whatsoever for the effects of the size and rate of growth of human population on the wellbeing of other species in the local, regional and planetary ecosystems.  From an ecocentric perspective, there can be no doubt that there are billions too many people as human population growth has contributed to the crisis of local, regional and planetary ecosystems causing the sixth great species extinction, a defining characteristic of the Anthropocene (for a recent detailed account see Washington 2013). 

Darwin’s legacy
If we face a crisis of civilization, not separate socioeconomic and ecological crises, then  overcoming it could benefit from a number of theoretical, experiential and spiritual steams too numerous to note here. However, two of them require our attention in the context of this critical outline: key contributions of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx.  Darwin revolutionized our thinking about ourselves and our relation with the rest of the ecosphere and with natural history.  Marx, together with Fredrick Engels, revolutionized our conception of human history since the dawn of agriculture and proposed a critique of the capitalist society that aims to transcend class society and its vestiges in the direction of a freely Associated Producers society.  

The Darwinian evolutionary theory overturned the anthropocentric Judo-Christian worldview of the Western civilization.  Darwin’s radical change in the concept of our place in the world proved too much even for his close followers.  Thus, St. George Jackson Mirvat, an outstanding biologist who was a firm supporter of evolution by natural selection but also a catholic became a leader of a dissident group of evolutionists who argued that only the human physic might have evolved through natural selection but not her rational and spiritual soul. At some point, God must have intervened to imbued it such qualities making us something more than merely an evolved ape. 

Thomas Henry Huxley, another imminent biologist and chief defender of evolution by natural selection who came to be know as “Darwin’s bulldog,” also went along with the anthropocentric resistance to Darwin’s theory:
“On all sides I shall hear the cry-- ‘We are men and women, not mere better sort of apes, a little longer in the leg, more compact in the foot, and bigger in the brain than brutal Chimpanzees and Gorillas. The power of knowledge--the conscience of good and evil--the pitiful tenderness of human affections, raise us out of all real fellowship with the brutes, however closely they may seem to approximate us.’” (Huxley, Man’s Place in Nature, 1863: 129,  cited in Rachels, 1990: 82). 
Siding with the anthropocentrism of his opponents, Huxley asked: “Could not a sensible child confute, by obvious arguments, the shallow rhetoricians who would force this conclusion upon us?”  (ibid.) 

Darwin himself was more resolute.  In his response to Mivart, he argued that human rationality (or intelligence, or use of language, or any of human’s other mental powers) “is an ordinary characteristic...” (Rachels, 1990: 57).  The philosopher James Rachels adds: 
“...Darwin simply denied the whole idea that there is something special about man’s intellectual capacities.  ‘There is no fundamental difference,’ he said, ‘between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.’  Thus, he reasoned that if the intellectual capacities of other animals are produced by natural selection, and their capacities are not different in kind from man’s, there is no reason to doubt that man’s capacities are also the result of natural selection.
“In thinking about non-humans, Darwin said, we have always under-estimated the richness of their mental lives.  We tend to think of ourselves as mentally complex, while assuming that ‘mere animals’ lack any very interesting intellectual capacities. But this is incorrect. Non-humans experience not only pleasure and pain, but terror, suspicion, and fear.  They sulk. They love their children. They can be kind, jealous, self-complacent, and proud.  They know wonder and curiosity.  In short, they are much more like us, mentally and emotionally, than we want to admit.” (ibid.)  
Of course, Darwin did not deny that human mental capacities are much more impressive than other animals. He acknowledged that humans far outdistance all other animals in linguistic ability, thought, and reason.  He only insisted that the difference, impressive as they are, are matters of degree, not of kind. At the same time, despite of prevalent practice of comparing other species’ capabilities to humans, the Darwinian evolutionary theory makes it clear that every species has capabilities adequate to the ecosystem niche it inhibits. It is anthropocentric and anti-Darwinian to expect other species to excel in capacities acquired by one species, namely the Homo sapiens sapiens. In the Darwinian theory there are simpler and more complex species. There are no superior or inferior species.  In particular, being a more complex species does not make one superior. As the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson points out, from the perspective of life on Earth humans are unimportant where as insects are crucial (Wilson, 2006: 26-36). 

Thus, the Darwinian evolutionary theory provides a materialist scientific basis for an ecocentrism similar to that of the foragers’ cosmology of the oneness of existence.  Life on Earth emerged out of the inorganic matter. More complex organism evolved out of the primal single cells.  There followed the evolutionary unfolding of untold number of species that make up the Tree of Life.  The wisdom and beauty of nature lies not in its purposefulness but in its untold number of trails and errors that have created some many wonders, so many forms of life.   

So, the Darwinian heritage is an intellectual and spiritual pillar for the ecological movement of today and a guiding light for humanity to emerge out of its 10,000 year old crisis of society and nature. It provides a solid ethical basis for a naturalist social formation. 

Responding to the accumulated scientific knowledge about non-human animals, there is a growing community of scientists, philosophers, and others who have argued against particular aspects or the entire anthropocentric worldview.  I note some examples from the bioethics and philosophy literature. 

Rachels (1990) who I noted earlier has used Darwin’s theory to argue for moral consideration for all animals.  He recalls that before Darwin the doctrine of “dignity of man” (or his superiority over the rest of nature) was defended either by the claim that “man is made in the image of God” or by the notion that “man is a uniquely rational being.”  Rachels painstakingly debunks both of these arguments in light of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. To replace the “dignity of man” doctrine, Rachels proposes the concept of “moral individualism.”  
“How an individual should be treated depends on his or her own particular characteristics, rather than on whether he or she is a members of some preferred group--even the ‘group’ of human beings...This means that human life will, in a sense, be devalued, while the value granted to non-human life will be increased.”  (Rachels 1990:5) 
By “devaluation” of human life, Rachels means the process of dethroning human beings as the apex of creation. It should be understood in the sense of leveling of hierarchical value systems as in the case of the fall of Apartheid in South Africa.  It was not so much “devaluing” the lives of white South African as it was for equality of all regardless of their race.   

Among other contemporary philosophical contributions informed by Darwin’s teachings   and advances in biology I should note Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975) that was a milestone in the animal rights literature. Singer takes a utilitarian approach derived from Bentham and Mill to argue for certain rights for sentient beings which he identifies with the capacity to experience pain or pleasure.  Tom Regean in The Case for Animal Rights (1983) adopts a Kantian deontological approach to make a case for animal rights.  However, as Gary L. Francione (Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, 2008) shows neither Singer nor Regean have overcome the Western philosophy's anthropocentric worldview in relation to the moral status of animals.  He argues that the fundamental human rights are based on freedom for individuals that denies their commodification.  Francione then maintains that commodification of non-human animals denies their freedom and to rid society of institutionalized animal exploitation we must abolish commodification of animals.  

A recent movement that is pertinent to this discussion is Deep Ecology that has been identified with the work of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess.  Naess’s philosophy builds on Spinoza’s that held that God and Nature are one and the same thing (Naess,  2008, pp. 230-251). On this basis, Naess adopts an ecocentric approach that he calls Ecosophy T close to the animistic worldview of foragers.  He argues that every living being, human or not, has an equal right to live and blossom (Naess, 1989, pp. 164-65), a right that is not conditional on how humans perceive it. According to Naess, each person has her own ecosophy (philosophy of nature) that can become ecocentric based on experience and contemplation. To suggest just one example of such ethical approach to nature he and Sessions proposed an Eight Point Platform for the Deep Ecology movement that seeks to address the planetary crisis.  They are as follows:
  • The wellbeing and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.
  • Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
  • Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
  • The flourishing of human life and culture is compatible with a substantially smaller human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires a smaller human population.
  • Present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  • Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
  • The ideological change will be mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasing standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between bigness and greatness.
  • Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
Naess and Sessions invited others to draft their own platform or adopt theirs with revisions as they like. Their point is that there can be and there are many ecocentric views of the world  and all can contribute to healing of the 10,000 old rift with nature.  

I would place Deep Ecology’s teachings in the context of what we can learn about our place in the world from recent development in history called Big History (Christian 2004, Brown 2007, Spier 2010; for more information see the International Big History Association website).   Big History aims to place human history in the context of the history of the universe.  One advantage gained in David Christian’s view is a better understanding of increasing complexity from the Big Bang to the present human society.    

Thus, the ecocentric and universe-centric ethics serve as the ideological foundation for overcoming the crisis we face today. 

Marx’s legacy
While the adoption of the anthropocentric worldview by some groups of foragers was necessary for the Agricultural Revolution, the rise of the class society solidified its hold and institutionalized it.  Given the existing global capitalist economy and society, the transcendence to an ecocentric naturalist social formation will require a world-historic anti-capitalist, anti-class transformation.  A world-historic cultural revolution requires a world-historic revolution in the existing capitalist and class socioeconomic structures.

Such a social revolution cannot be accomplished without critical appropriation of all thorough-going (radical) criticisms of the capitalist and class systems, prominent among them the contribution of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels.  

Historical materialism is the key contribution of Marx and Engels.  Marx’s labor theory of value and his theory of socialism are the direct result of the application of historical materialism to the capitalist epoch. As Marx wrote in his March 5, 1852 letter to Joseph Weydemeyer
“As to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them....What I did that was new was to demonstrate: 1) that the existence of classes is merely linked to particular historical phases in the development of production, 2)  that class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”  
Obviously, the task of assessing the legacy of Marx and Engels is beyond this critical outline. However, I should note that Marx’s heritage is more prone to ideological interpretation and contestation than Darwin’s.  Social theories deal with more complex reality than biological theories as humans are both biological and social beings.  Perhaps as the result, social theories are often much less amenable to precise theoretical and therefore scientific articulation. And, unlike biological theories, social theories do not usually lend themselves to controlled experiments and verification. Therefore, what constitutes Marx’s legacy is still unresolved. There has been and continues to be dispute about historical materialism, labor theory of value, theory of the proletariat and theory of socialism, to cite some of the most important.  

From the ecocentric perspective, historical materialism leaves outside of its purview the crucially important “prehistory” of our species--the entire 2.5 million years or the 190,000 years of the physically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens)--to focus on the written history of class societies.  Thus, historical materialism magnifies the anthropocentric detour of human society at the expense of learning the lessons of our really long history when our species lived in relative harmony amongst ourselves and with the rest of nature.  Of course, Marx’s and Engels’s reason for developing their historical methodology was, as the above quote from Marx’s letter to Weydemeyer shows, to discovered how class societies, in particular the capitalist society, evolve, and whether and how the “laws of motion” of the capitalist society, may lead to a classless socialist society.   

Any serious student of Marx and Engels would admit that their theory has not always withstood the test of historical experience.  For example, Marx’s theory of the proletariat and socialism (points 2 and 3 in Marx’s letter to Weydemeyr quoted above) have not fared well (Marx and Engels realized problems with this in their own time and began to address them). A review and if necessary revision of historical materialism in light of experience can and should be coupled with an attempt to explicitly accommodate an ecocentric perspective as the precondition for emancipation of humanity. The challenge is to merge knowledge gained from transhistorical studies of our species (those that look for common trends in history and “prehistory”) and historical studies (those that focus on class societies, such as Marx’s and Engels’s own work). 

This is all the more important as Marx and Engels, like other great thinkers of their time remained anthropocentric in their worldview; not surprising given that their philosophical outlook and social theory are in the tradition that dates back to the Renaissance’s anthropocentric humanism continued by the Enlightenment philosophers. As the Frankfort School theorist Erich Fromm writes in Marx’s Concept of Man (1961): “Marx's philosophy was, in secular, nontheistic language, a new and radical step forward in the tradition of prophetic Messianism; it was aimed at the full realization of individualism, the very aim which has guided Western thinking from the Renaissance and the Reformation far into the nineteenth century.” The Trotskyist philosopher George Novack considers Marx’s theory “revolutionary socialist humanism.” (Novack 1973: chapter 7). Gajo Petrović (1988) argues that Marx’s concept of humans includes a human essence which can be fully realized only in the socialist society. Marx’s and Engels’s deliberately scant discussions of the future communist society include what amounts to an anthropocentric vision of human control of nature as a key defining feature. 

Engels’s The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), one of the most widely read and influential contributions that expounds historical materialism, relied heavily on Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society (1877). Engels’s innovation was to re-interpret Morgan’s data to show how the institutions of class society arose from what Morgan described as “communism in living,” that is the “gift economy”, the give-and-take and pooling of effort and resources typical of the forager bands (Morgan, 1881: 63-78). This led Marx and Engels to characterize the original state of society as “primitive communism.”   However, neither Engels nor Marx questioned the prevailing anthropocentrism of the Victorian archeology that Morgan shared nor its Ladder of Progress view of history which Hodder Westropp, the leading archeologist of that period, defines as follows: 
“It appears as if there were but one history for every separate people, one uniform process of development for every race, each passing though successive phases, before attaining its highest social development; for every race must pass through the necessary transitional stages before it can arrive at a higher development.  These successive phases are rude and barbarous, the hunting, the pastoral, and the agricultural, corresponding with, and analogous to, the stages of infancy, childhood, youth, manhood in the individual man.  This sequence is invariable in man, as an individual and collectively.” (Westropp 1872-:2-3, cited in Barker, 2006:5).”
Barker adds: “The same thesis of a universal cultural progression from primitive hunting to herding to farming to civilization was widely argued by contemporary Victorian prehistorians (e.g. Figuier, 1876; Morgan, 1881; Nilsson, 1868).”  (ibid.) 

Of course, Marx and Engels are historical thinkers and revolutionaries. Their contributions should be judged only in the context of their time.  To follow in their foot steps requires the willingness and ability to raise beyond their reach given what we have learned in the past 130 years.  Unfortunately, a similar anthropocentrism permeates the socialist movement since Marx, including in most currents that have come to consider themselves ecological socialist. 

Concluding remarks
In this second part of my essay, I have argued that to address the root-causes of the 21st century crisis of society and nature we must replace the 10,000 year old anthropocentrism of class societies--often called civilization--and its present day enforcer the global capitalism with ecocentric naturalist social formations.  This is because anthropocentrism that first took hold as cause or consequence of the emergence of farming gradually replaced the ecocentrism of forager societies that provided a basis for their resilience and relative harmony among themselves and with the rest of nature for 2.5 million years.  The rise of the class societies on the basis of farming solidified and institutionalized anthropocentrism that was the cause of alienation of humans from nature.  Thus instead of living as part of and in harmony with nature, class societies have been waging war against it.  Alienation from nature provided the basis for social alienation. 

I this essay I have also argued that the two historically dominant paradigms, reforming the capitalist system as construed by economics or transcending in the direction of a socialist society as in Marx cannot address the roots of the crisis. Proposed reforms would not work because they are based on economic doctrines that are  conceived to justify and maintain the capitalist economy and society. The Marxian alternative would go far enough to meet its own goal of human emancipation because it does not address the root-cause of alienation from nature that is based in the Agricultural Revolution, not the Industrial Revolution. The economic doctrine preaches Homo economicus as the ideal image of bourgeois men and women and Marx’s theory expounds (an anthropocentric) socialist humanism.  While Marx’s advance over classical political economy was achieved by a paradigm shift from the point of view of the capitalist class and its idealized Homo economicus in favor of the working class and for development of socialist women and men, to resolve the present day crisis we need to adopt an ecocentric paradigm.

It is important to note that this essay provides only an outline of my argument and some evidence for it.  I have painted a picture with board strokes of my brush.  For example, economic theory is richer than the classical, neoclassical and Keynesian economics that I outlined in Part 1. I do have some opinion on other schools of economic thought but none that matter for the purpose at hand here.  Similarly, socialism includes other theories and theorists that I have not even mentioned much less examined and my treatment of Marx and Engels is limited to brief references to issues of relevance to the goals of this outline.    

It is also my belief that if humanity ever manages to overcome the current crisis, it would be through multifaceted movements in theory, practice and by recapturing ancient (prehistoric) and contemporary wisdom.  I had to leave out many important contributions in every one of these areas to focus attention on my central message. 

Still, I believe this outline raises important questions for anyone interested in confronting the planetary and socioeconomic crisis of our time.  Who are the social agencies for the ecological socialist transformation of the type I discussed above? What strategy and tactics are effective? What are the means that are suggested by the end we seek. How is such an ecological socialist movement related to other social and political theories and movements, especially other ecological socialist theories?  I hope to return to some of these questions in due time.  Meanwhile, I look forward to critical views of my readers. 

Kamran Nayeri
Sunday, September 22, 2013 

This essay is dedicated to the memory of my mother Nezhat Nikrad (April 24, 1927-August 21, 2013) who gave me life and unconditional love and to Nuppy (1994-May 14, 2008) who taught me that cats are people too and for his deep friendship. 

About the author: Kamran Nayeri is the editor of Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. He has been a socialist activist for much of his life in Iran and the United States, including an active participant in the Iranian revolution of 1979.  Nayeri taught/researched policy issues (health, welfare, graduate education) for three decades at the State University of New York--Health Science Center at Brooklyn and the University of California (UC Berkeley and UC Office of the President).  He has published in professional and socialist journals and has served on editorial boards, including the Review of Radical Political Economics.  He can be contacted at


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End notes:
[1] To his credit, in The Enemy of Nature Kovel also reaches back to the origin of woman oppression to find the roots of alienation. This takes us back to the “prehistory,” an idea that I explore here in some detail.  But Kovel’s remark is mostly an aside and the thrust of his argument identifies the Anthropocene with the capitalist epoch.
[2] “And God said, let us make man in our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping that creepeth upon the earth. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
There is some dispute in interpretation of the word “dominion” among Christians. Catholics and other non-Protestant Christians argue the proper translation would be “steward” (see, for example here). But whether we understand the Genesis to give humans dominion over nature or give them stewardship, there is no doubt that they are superior to other creatures. Thus, the passage in Genesis is another case of anthropocentrism.
[3] Foragers committed infanticide to maintain their band size and were responsible for some megafauna extinction just as the woolly mammoth and saber-toothed cat went extinct due to hunting.