The myth of ‘environmental catastrophism’

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A recent book claims activists who warn that the world faces environmental catastrophe are doing more harm than good. A new essay by Ian Angus explains why that claim is wrong.

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The September issue of Monthly Review includes my new essay, “The myth of ‘environmental catastrophism’.”

It begins:

“Between October 2010 and April 2012, over 250,000 people, including 133,000 children under five, died of hunger caused by drought in Somalia. Millions more survived only because they received food aid.Scientists at the UK Met Centre have shown that human-induced climate change made this catastrophe much worse than it would otherwise have been.

“This is only the beginning: the United Nations’ 2013 Human Development Report says that without coordinated global action to avert environmental disasters, especially global warming, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050. Untold numbers of children will die, killed by climate change.

“If a runaway train is bearing down on children, simple human solidarity dictates that anyone who sees it should shout a warning, that anyone who can should try to stop it. It’s difficult to imagine how anyone could disagree with that elementary moral imperative.

“And yet some do. Increasingly, activists who warn that the world faces unprecedented environmental danger are accused of catastrophism – of raising alarms that do more harm than good. That accusation, a standard feature of right-wing attacks on the environmental movement, has recently been advanced by some left-wing critics as well. While they are undoubtedly sincere, their critique of so-called environmental catastrophism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”

Read the entire article here ….

And while you’re at it, now would be an excellent time to subscribe to Monthly Review. It’s not only the world’s foremost independent socialist journal, it is by far the best source of Marxist analysis of environmental issues and crises.


More from my notebook …



  • I disagree strongly with the “stagist” approach to climate change and socialism posed by Steven Nadel. The ecosocialist approach is to continually raise issues of social justice and power to the dispossessed as part of the struggle against climate change. We know that “climate justice” is not possible under modern capitalism, and we must constantly pose the necessity of radical social change.

    The same issue of Monthly Review that contains Ian’s article has an excellent piece by John Bellamy Foster called The Fossil Fuels War. In it he points out that short-term “green” eco-fixes under capitalism will not solve the problem. Nothing less than an ecological revolution lasting several decades can do that. And it will not take place without in the meantime replacing capitalist social relations with socialist ones.

  • There is one element of “climate catastrophism” I was hoping would be addressed in this debate. This starts from the superficial & obvious position that the timeline to address climate change by largely eliminating fossil fuel use is clearly shorter than any conceivable transition to a socialist society. Therefor it will need to occur under a capitalist economy. This in itself does not determine a movement building strategy. But often, the next step is that since the timeline is short & the urgency is so high, all other radical agendas of social or environmental justice, opposition to militarism and war, etc. must be subsumed or discarded to building the broadest possible support for addressing climate change. I believe this is the real issue of “climate catastrophism” for progressives and radicals within the current climate movements in the US