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Fri Jul 7, 2023, 10:53 AM Jul 2023

Economics v. the Earth: New Book Explores the History of a Tense Relationship

By Lynn Parramore


Excerpt: ‘We are truly the first generation to feel the real effects of climate change,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Big Apple inhabitants, already getting used to fretting about destructive hurricanes stoked by warmer oceans, now add out-of-control forest fires burning hundreds of miles north to their list of climate anxieties. It’s getting harder to ignore the possibility that if their children lived to the year 2100, they might see actually New York City lost to rising seas, along with Mumbai, Shanghai, and Miami.

Canadian fires sent a smoke signal: the path of Western capitalism, which runs right through Wall Street, could end in a climate apocalypse.

In their new book, Scarcity: A History from the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis, historians Fredrik Albritton Jonsson and Carl Wennerlind warn that capitalist societies will have to overhaul the way we interact with the planet in order to avoid unthinkable consequences. They trace the key economic concept of scarcity as it developed over five hundred years of European thought, showing how a particular interpretation helped bring us to the trouble we’re facing.

Excerpt: Consider the views of art critic and political economist John Ruskin, who advocated the regulation of economic development for the protection of the environment and public health. Jonsson and Wennerlind note that during the 1870s, Ruskin began to notice sinister effects of industrial capitalism in the smoke-filled skies of his country home in England’s Lake District. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he saw the potentially global reach and catastrophic dimensions of what was billowing out of factories Romantic William Blake had earlier dubbed the “dark Satanic mills.” In a series of published letters addressed to British workers, Fors Clavigera, Ruskin warned: “You can vitiate the air by your manner of life… You might easily vitiate it so as to bring such a pestilence on the globe as would end all of you.”

Talk about prescient.


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