The geologic time scale, dividing the 4.6 billion years of Earth history into nested eons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages, is one of the great scientific achievements of the last two centuries. Each division is directed at environmental change on an Earth System scale based on stratigraphic evidence, such as rocks or ice cores. At present, the earth is officially situated in the Phanerozoic Eon, Cenozoic Era, Quaternary Period, Holocene Epoch (beginning 11,700 years ago), and Meghalayan Age (the last of the Holocene ages beginning 4,200 years ago). The current argument that the planet has entered into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, is based on the recognition that Earth System change as represented in the stratigraphic record is now primarily due to anthropogenic forces. This understanding has now been widely accepted in science, but nevertheless has not yet been formally adopted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy of the International Union of Geological Sciences, which would mean its official adoption throughout science.
Latin America is home to about 800 different Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities, the equivalent to 9·8% of its population. The average infant mortality rate in Indigenous children is 60% higher than that in non-Indigenous children.1 In 2018, Ecuador reported that 50·6% of its Indigenous population lived in poverty, compared with 20·9% of the non-Indigenous population.2 Between 2014 and 2017, maternal mortality was 69% higher in Indigenous than in Mestizo women.3 Chronic malnutrition affects one in four Ecuadorian children, and the rate doubles in Indigenous children.4 These figures evidence historical and structural inequalities. Despite discourses of modernisation and development, the old process of colonisation and subjugation of Indigenous Peoples continues. Violent appropriation of territory, forced displacement of peoples and communities, or depredation of their vital spaces for oil and mining are some facets of this domination.
The contrast between the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives and livelihood of the working-class population and the soaring profits of big pharma companies in the corresponding period is abhorrent.
Despite the huge jump in revenues during the global crisis and a forecast for the continuation of the good run—owing to an assured market for vaccines, drugs and diagnostics in the years to come—big pharma is reportedly lobbying against the proposed global deal on tax overhaul. Last month, about 130 countries agreed to the US call for a global minimum rate of corporate tax of 15%.
The second draft of Group III of the IPCC, the one in charge of mitigation proposals, affirms that it is necessary to move away from current capitalism in order not to cross planetary limits. It also confirms what was already advanced in the article published in CTXT on August 7: “Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must reach a ceiling in at most four years.” The document also recognizes that there is very little chance for further growth.
The signatory scientists and journalists have analyzed a new part of the Sixth Report, filtered by the same source: the scientific collective Scientist Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion Spain. In this section you can clearly see the differences existing in the scientific community with respect to the necessary measures to carry out an effective and just transition. Fortunately, among the usual more timid positions, demands are beginning to appear that not long ago would have been unthinkable for them to appear.
The sixth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) runs to nearly 4,000 pages. The IPCC has tried to summarise its report as the ‘final opportunity’ to avoid climate catastrophe. Its conclusions are not much changed since the previous publication in 2013, only more decisive this time. The evidence is clear: we know the cause of global warming (mankind); we know how far the planet has warmed (~1C so far), we know how atmospheric CO2 concentrations have changed since pre-industrial times (+30%) and we know that warming that has shown up so far has been generated by historical pollution. You have to go back several million years to even replicate what we have today. During the Pilocene era (5.3-2.6 million years ago) the world had CO2 levels of 360-420ppm (vs. 415ppm now).
In its summary for Policy makers, the IPCC states clearly that climate change and global warming is “unequivocally caused by human activities.” But can climate change be laid at the door of the whole of humanity or instead on that part of humanity that owns, controls and decides what happens to our future? Sure, any society without the scientific knowledge would have exploited fossil fuels in order to generate energy for production, warmth and transport. But would any society have gone on expanding fossil fuel exploration and production without controls to protect the environment and failed to look for alternative sources of energy that did not damage the planet, once it became clear that carbon emissions were doing just that?
Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, provides a monumental database for the history of capitalism. But the author’s interpretation of these data is based on an inconsistent theoretical framework that constantly oscillates between two definitions of capital: either capital as accumulated drawing rights on the value created; or capital as a factor of production in the neoclassical tradition. Capital as a social relation is forgotten and the history of capitalism appears as an accounting mechanism.Keywords: Piketty; capital
Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has rightly been welcomed: it provides a monumental source of data on the history of capitalism and offers information that will be essential for all those economists who want to study its dynamic in the medium and long term. Piketty thus follows in the footsteps of such authors as Angus Maddison1 and Pierre Villa.2 We should also thank him for making all of these materials freely available.3
In this work we find data on income inequality across the world, and it would be no exaggeration to say that the ‘Piketty group’ (including people such as Anthony Atkinson and Emmanuel Saez) has supplied a significant part of the arguments raised by recent social movements (the indignados, Occupy Wall Street, and such like) and even one of their watchwords: ‘We are the 99 percent!’
The following comments will be no less critical for that reason, however, since Piketty’s theoretical framework is not at the same level as his wealth of data. In order to demonstrate this, we will above all be examining the two fundamental laws of capitalism that Piketty uses in order to read his data. The central line of march of this investigation is the idea that Piketty incoherently mixes up two definitions of capital, both as a ‘factor of production’ and as the whole ensemble of ‘drawing rights’ on income.
What Americans call “the right” and “the left” do not exist. In reality, there are a few oligarchs (rulers in an oligarchy, rule by the wealthy and powerful) on top. The rest of us are bottoms who influence nothing and control less. Tops, working through the political, security and media establishment (today including social media), promote divisions within the bottoms to distract the bottoms and keep them from joining together to throw out the tops.
Producing a critical review of a scholarly book is often a daunting prospect, given the responsibility placed on the reviewer to give a fair representation of the author’s work and to find ways to criticise it productively. It is more daunting still when the book under consideration is itself an omnibus collection of critical reviews, and even more challenging when the author is one of the most important voices in debates over the state of modern capitalism. The author in question is the German economic sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, formerly director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, and the book is Critical Encounters: Democracy, Capitalism, Ideas, a collection of fifteen separate reviews released previously in such publications as New Left Review and the London Review of Books. Perhaps anticipating a review such as this, Streeck prophetically offers some guidance in the introduction on how he approaches the task. Reviewing a book, he says, ‘requires deep reading, beginning usually with the last chapter, then the introduction, then several expeditions into the interior’ (ix). He continues:
The year 2019 was marked by popular movements unprecedented for decades in many countries around the world. From Algeria to Sudan via Lebanon, France or Haiti, these movements brought millions of demonstrators into action. This same year, coups d’état and reactionary offensives multiplied, as well as the attempts at instrumentalizing and diverting these great popular movements. The chronological perception of these struggles disseminated by the media prevents us from taking stock of the common issues represented by these mobilizations. Likewise, the pervasiveness of a Euro-centric reading framework masks the beginning of a new historical period of the world imperialist system and the resumption of popular initiatives that accompany it. How can we understand this new cycle of struggle? Can we link these movements to a common material foundation? Are these disconnected from the dominant ideological discourses? Etc.
Fernwood Publishing | Streamed live on May 11, 2021
Fernwood Publishing presents the launch of Twilight Capitalism: Karl Marx and the Decay of the Profit System . This event will feature a panel discussion with authors, Murray E.G. Smith, Jonah Butovsky and Josh J. Watterton, moderated by Tim Hayslip. This event is part of Radical May, an international festival of books and authors.