BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Against Ecocide

Ian Angus’ informed and informing book about humanity and our planet is a must-read for concerned people. In Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (Monthly Review Press, June 2016), Angus makes clear what is happening, why, and where a sustainable alternative can be.

The Anthropocene is not a word in common use. It is a proposed geological term to describe the destructive effects of capitalist industrialization.

Its reliance upon fossil fuels and the environmental outcomes are not a pretty picture, folks. Angus delivers crisp accounts of recent scientific research which spells out the harm; brace yourself for bad news that makes a Donald Trump presidency look like an afternoon at the beach.

To look at, understand and act on the Anthropocene is a task we must undertake. This is the author’s purpose in writing his book that weds natural and social science, no small task, but vital for improved comprehension to aid collective political action.

Angus’ book has three parts. I read them in chronological order, but you might choose otherwise, a path that will not detract from the book’s weight, in my view.

Part one unpacks the Anthropocene as a biophysical phenomenon. Angus compares and contrasts the recent science about the Anthropocene and the Holocene in terms of Earth as an integrated system, e.g., carbon and nitrogen cycles.

The Holocene epoch is the roughly 11,000 years of human civilization that precedes the Anthropocene. The latter is a tiny fraction of the former, timewise.

A major theme Angus develops is that the post-World War II economy in the Global North quantitatively and qualitatively altered Earth’s ecology. He terms that 50 or so years as the Great Acceleration, a blink in geological time, but a radical rift in human society that did and does upend nature’s time with capital’s time.

The latter’s growth imperative rewards the fastest return on commodity investment, from inception to production and circulation, which Angus elaborates on in the second part of his book. Nature has no such imperative, and succumbs to capital’s “grow or die” logic, with the disruption of the climate a clear case in point.

Angus draws in part upon the work of Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner, plus that of more recent scientists with less name recognition. Two leading figures are Paul J. Crutzen (who coined the term Anthropocene recently) and Will Steffen, along with James Hansen, a more recognized scientist who publicly speaks critically on the climate crisis, naming the fossil fuel industry and its political servants as fatal threats to the planetary ecology.

Part two’s focus on the making of fossil capitalism historicizes and politicizes its origin. Here, Angus discusses the Anthropocene as a socio-ecological phenomenon.

That is, he addresses the social institution of corporate capitalism, notably the extreme reliance upon war and waste as economic engines for growth that adversely impact the Earth System. Angus’s narrative, free of cant or jargon, is a disciplined discussion.

There is no lumping together of the population that ignores class divisions among and between the Global North and South. Instead, he analyzes the class factors and forces that have propelled us to the current juncture of extreme weather, a part of the ecological unraveling.

His final and third part takes up eco-socialism, human solidarity, and contours of a future movement for human sustainability. Angus’ take on the solidarity activism following Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy is superb.

Such recent examples of cooperation in the face of major adversity demonstrate a vital part of human nature. It is about much more than competition.

Angus edits the web journal He uses charts and graphs (but no photos) that dovetail with the text in Facing the Anthropocene.

His Appendix, Notes, Bibliography and Index alone are an education alone. I urge you, though, to read the entire book as a guide in the fledgling struggle against ecocide.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2016

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2016 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652