Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability (MIT Press)

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Dunlap, Riley E. Brulle eds.

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New York: Oxford University Press. Dunlap, Riley and William Catton. Dunlap, Riley, and Richard York. Elliott, James R. Faber, Daniel. Fisher, Dana and William Freudenburg. Fischer-Kowalski, Marina.

Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability by Eugene A. Rosa

Bourg and S. Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing. Foster, John Bellamy. New York: Monthly Review Press. The Ecological Rift. Freudenburg, William R. Freudenburg, William. Frey, R. Frickel, Scott and Debra J. Gellert, Paul K. Givens, Jennifer, and Andrew Jorgenson. Goldman, Michael.

Human Footprints on the Global Environment

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Murphy, Raymond. New York: Guilford Press. These issues are devoted to articles on the Treadmill of Production. Pellow, David. Pellow, David and Hollie Brehm. Perrow, Charles. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Rice, James. Roberts, J. Timmons and Peter Grimes. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

However, it does not address how historical conditions and the socioeconomic system influence individual actors. In other words, the social context is simply taken for granted. The existing social conditions and relations are regarded as ever-present, universal, and permanent. Once examined from a sociological perspective, the tragedy of the commons theory is simplistic and one-sided in that it attempts to explain human social behavior, or human agency, without a thorough understanding of the historical social organization.

In contrast, the tragedy of the commodity approach emphasizes the role of the growth imperative of capitalism and commodification in producing the institutional rules by which nature and, for example, the commons are governed and historically transformed. Ecological systems are never altogether free of social influences.

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Rather, they are shaped by social conditions including norms, traditions, economic rules, the organization of labor, politico-legal arrangements, etc. Unfortunately, these actions are often incorrectly ascribed to innate human behavior. In a society organized around the logic of capital, human activities tend to be directed toward the production of commodities. That is, capitalism can be understood in a broad sense as a system of generalized commodity production. The institutional arrangements result in particular social arrangements and generate distinct types of human social action.


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  6. The commodity serves as a basic unit to understand the larger culture-nature relations and capitalism itself. It is a base element of capitalist market processes. Nature is an essential source of use value, or the qualitative usefulness of things. Karl Marx emphasized that under capitalist relations, nature was seen as a free gift; it was not considered as part of wealth. Accordingly, the organization of production and consumption activities is fundamentally transformed from the exchange of qualities into the exchange of quantities.

    Alienation from each other and nature increases, as qualitative relations of production and the universal metabolism of nature are subsumed under the quantitative growth imperative of capital and a culture of quantity. Capital tends to simplify natural processes and ecosystems, imposing a division of nature to increase economic efficiency. It directs the life cycles of plants and animals to the economic cycle of exchange.

    Qualitative social relations — such as subsistence use within an ecosystem — are not part of the capitalist accounting system and can suffer various forms of destruction as a result. Use values, as the qualitative means for meeting the needs of life, are limited given biophysical properties. In contrast, there are no limits to quantitative measures of wealth.

    In other words, growing returns on investment have no end, but real human needs are confined to definite and knowable material limits. The ceaseless drive for accumulation inherent in capitalist commodity production speeds up the social metabolism. It results in a faster depletion of resources, stemming from increasing demands for materials and throughput, and the generation of ever-more waste.

    It degrades the conditions that support resilient ecosystems. The capitalist system creates numerous contradictions between nature and commodities; it progressively deepens and creates ecological rifts. The way forward, toward a more sustainable world, requires radical changes in the social conditions that have historically shaped the productive and consumption system of capitalism. Collective action must take back public commons and put them in control of the people who most closely interact with them and depend on them for community well-being.