. Climate Change and Marxism | London Progressive Journal
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Climate Change and Marxism

Mon 21st Oct 2013

Marx was influenced by a number of thinkers. His materialist school of thought incorporated Epicurus and Liebig, whose works included environmental conservation, intensive cultivation, extraction of earth’s materials, soil erosion and controlled food distribution [1] .


Marx suggested that capitalism provokes alienation, this is the separation of reality, nature and companionship from the worker, this process is initiated through the “commodification” of labour [2] .

Some Neo-Marxist sociologists believe that classical literature ignores the concept of climate change and that socialist development would have subjected the earth to the same environmental problems as capitalism, as socialism would have and still does require the same amount of exploitation of earth’s resources [3] .

However, Sayer (1983) believes that early Marxist literature can be applied to ecological thought and Vaillancourt (1992) interprets Marx’s early writing to that of the process of freeing up nature and man from the clasps of capitalism [4] .

In addition, Marx’s materialist concept of alienation can be related to that of the decline of empathy for the environment by society due to capitalism’s search for profit. Additionally, Foster’s concept of “Metabolic Rift”, which was influenced by Marx’s understanding of the “irreparable rift” in relation to cultivation techniques and urbanisation, explains the distancing of the natural world from humans through irresponsible capitalism [5] . As well, Leys and Poniton argue that the capitalist perpetuation of the market through growth in the economy requires extended and increased use of fossil fuels and materials for the production of goods. This leads to environmental degradation due to more C02 being expelled into the atmosphere [6] .


The materialist take on civilization’s development shows the destruction of nature by man during industrialisation; Marx re-iterated his point through the analysis of woodland sales, deforestation and corporate profiteering [7] .

This was seen in the rubber industries that were actively deforesting parts of the Amazonian jungle in South America in their drive for profit [8] .

Furthermore, geographical images of Papa New Guinea, in 2008, highlight the issues of selling tropical woodlands and unsustainable deforestation, with a further possibility of losing half of its forest land by 2021 [9] .

Moreover, Foster outlines how farming has contributed to the destruction of over “8 million kilometres” of woodland in the world [10] .

Furthermore, Neo-Liberalism’s attempts to regulate and decrease the amount of C02 in the atmosphere have been met with poor response, as Bohm (2012) notes the “Paper mills” and “Chemical factories” are left exempt from carbon reduction targets so they can pursue profit, this further secures the concept that Neo-Liberal capitalism alienates the human race and ignores nature [11] .

Overall, Dickens (2004) argues that the increase deforestation coupled with an increase in the levels of C02 would lead to detrimental conditions that would damage life on earth [12] .



Marx and Engels explored the rate at which the process of production would harm the supply of fish in rivers through over-consumption, they suggested that property owners would over-harvest the fish through competitive accumulation and this would eventually lead to extinction and pollution [13] .

Renton provides evidence for the belief that fish reserves are running low, due to overconsumption, with the overfishing by trans-national companies in Senegalese waters [14] .

Foster relates Marx’s argument, over-harvesting, to the rising demand for cultivation leading to a greater degree of chemical use for crop production. This is detrimental to the soil as it displaces natural minerals and natural chemicals for inorganic chemicals, this results in runoff into the rivers causing toxicity and damage to local habitat [15] .

What’s more, local peasants in Thailand are being forced to purchase “Artificial fertilizers” due to the degree of environmental decline in natural minerals in the soil [16] . Perhaps the environmental devastation through wars waged, that resulted in issues of chemical toxicity in the farm land and forests, attributed the decline in minerals. It is also apparent that crop monoculture, artificial fertilizers and chemicals contribute to an increase in plant disease and the potential for unwanted plants to become immune to various forms of pesticides [17] .

Food wastage and shortage is a prominent feature of third world countries, a feature that will creep into first world society if we continue to use intensive agricultural methods. As Vandana Shiva (2008) puts it “The very forces and processes that have promised cheap food are pushing food beyond peoples reach”, corporations are undermining the ability for healthy crops and increased food security [18] .

Many sociologists of the Left have interpreted Marx’s early literature and applied them to environmental degradation. Although many of their arguments have strong evidence, it can be said that the tendency to blame capitalism ‘alone’ is over-contemplated.

However, Marx’s early works can be credited for highlighting the issues behind constant economic growth and influencing people to look at alternatives like self-sustainable capitalism and localism. Can a localised capitalism be the potential answer to combating global warming, if it looked to preserve the communities business and environment? Is there an alternative to the Capitalism vs Communism debate?






[1] Foster, J.B. 2002. Marx’s Ecology in Historical Perspective. International Socialism, vol 96, p.37



[2] Kamenka, E. 1983. The Portable Karl Marx. England, Penguin Books Limited, p.133



[3] Pepper, D. 2004. Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. Routledge, London, p. 60.



[4] Pepper, D. 2004. Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. Routledge, London, p.61-62.



[5] Foster, J.B. 2002. Marx’s Ecology in Historical Perspective. International Socialism, vol 96, p.3.



[6] Leys, C., and Poniton, L. 2006. Coming to Terms with Nature: Socialist Register. The Merlin Press, London, p. 273.



[7] Foster, J.B. 2002. Marx’s Ecology in Historical Perspective. International Socialism, vol 96, p.54-67.



[8] Barham, B., and Coomes, O. 1994. Wild Rubber: Industrial Organisation and the Micro-economics of Extraction during the Amazon Rubber Boom (1860-1920).

Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol 26, (1), p.38.



[9] Tran, M. 2012. Logging companies gain easy access to PNG's forests, says Greenpeace. The Guardian Online, available at


http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2012/jul/30/logging-companies-png-forests-greenpeace



[10] Foster, J. B. 1999. The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment. Monthly Review Press, New York, p.30.



[11] Bohm, S. 2012. Greening Capitalism? A Marxist Critique of Carbon Markets.

Organisation Studies, Vol 33, (11) p.1623.



[12] Dickens, P. 2004. Society and Nature. Polity Press, UK, p.83



[13] Foster, J.B. 2002. Marx’s Ecology in Historical Perspective. International Socialism, vol 96 p112.



[14] Renton, A. 2008. How the World’s Oceans are running out of Fish. The Observer Online, available at:


http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/may/11/fishing.food



[15] Foster, J. B. 1999. The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment.

Monthly Review Press, New York, p.23.



[16] Bohm, S. 2012. Greening Capitalism? A Marxist Critique of Carbon Markets.

Organisation Studies, Vol 33, (11) p.1623.



[17] Dickens, P. 2004. Society and Nature. Polity Press, UK, p.115



[18] Shiva, V. 2008. Soil Not Oil: Climate Change, Peak Oil and Food Insecurity. Zed Books, London, p. 2

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