BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Green and Red

Society and nature are weighty topics. Ian Angus confronts them with force in A Redder Shade of Green: Intersections of Science and Socialism [Monthly Review Press, 2017].

We read of the related work of 19th century natural and social scientists, from Charles Darwin, Justus von Liebig and Karl Schorlemmer to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Their revolutionary critiques blend with those of Earth System scientists of the 21st century, from Paul J. Crutzen to John R. McNeill and Will Steffen.

I read Angus’ informative and provocative book as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria pounded Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Climate chaos is here. Blame fossil-fuel-driven imperatives of capitalism to grow endlessly.

Usage grows of the word “catastrophe” to describe weather events above and their toxic effects on people and property. Voices of reason such as Angus’ contribute to sane dialogue on this destructive trend. Policies and politics based on natural and social science are urgently necessary.

That is easy to say. There are no simple panaceas to systemic and systematic disintegration of the environment. However, reliable information from a synthesis of natural and social sciences can counter fear-driven narratives. Angus delivers that.

To this end, he unpacks important Earth System science, updating it with Marxism for the 21st century. Honed via arguments, debates and polemics, Angus offers no cookbook for the future of equity and sustainability, but rather a body of critical thought for collective action.

Scientific insights for the current moment of ecological peril loom large. For instance, research on the environmental effects of the Industrial Revolution somewhat pale in light of the postwar upswing, the Great Acceleration, when capitalism’s production of war and waste sharply spiked.

It may surprise some that Marx and Engels approached 19th century science, from chemistry to soil, as essential to their social science. The duality or lack of it between science and the humanities courses through Angus’ book, as he explores, critically, what is at stake and why for humanity while President Trump and the GOP help energy capital (Energy Transfer Partners, Exxon-Mobil and the Koch Brothers).

A Redder Shade of Green features Angus’ writings between 2009 and 2017. We read critiques of writers from the left and right who he takes to task for attempting to muddy the waters of Anthropocene science and Earth System scientists.

Angus, who also edits Capitalism and Climate, an eco-socialist web journal, writes of the urgent need for equity and sustainability. This is, broadly speaking, eco-socialism, a careful and deliberate synthesis of Marxist social science and Earth System science. At the heart of this approach is dialectics, or the study of natural and social change.

At certain points, quantitative changes become qualitative. We see the evidence in the Earth System now, e.g., planetary climate breakdown.

The concepts and processes of dialectics are a major theme throughout Angus’ book. In brief, the character of such change flows from a society based on perpetual growth of capital. The system’s ideology, which we marinate in from youth onward, strives to make this order as natural as a sunrise. It is not.

Angus details the false promise of green capitalism. One of its major voices is the Breakthrough Institute, a techno-friendly case that Angus flattens.

In the aftermath of hurricane hell in the Atlantic Ocean, plus 76 wildfires across nine Western US states over a small part of 2017, now is the time to read Angus for a radical vision of what we need to do and why to change directions for future generations.

Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2017

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