Q&A with the Marxist Education Project

A few weeks ago I did a Q&A with the Marxist Education Project in New York, as part of their reading group on “Science, Politics, and Culture in the Anthropocene.” What follows is a very approximate and idealised summary of our conversation. My thanks to the participants for their questions, and especially to Fred Murphy and Steve Knight.

This is the last in this second round of blog posts. Expect a third round at some point, probably beginning around late summer next year. (Before then I’ll be busy with my main current project, a book about the environment in radical and utopian thought of the British Romantic period.) Continue reading “Q&A with the Marxist Education Project”


Antibody Politics

Razmig Keucheyan, Nature is a Battlefield: Towards a Political Ecology, trans. David Broder (Cambridge: Polity, 2016)

In contrast to Fossil Capital below, I haven’t been able to find any previous reviews of the English edition of this concise intervention by Razmig Keucheyan, even though he’s quite well known for The Left Hemisphere. It seems timely to say something about it, in light of this year’s hurricane season in the Greater Caribbean. The calamity in Puerto Rico is still unfolding as I write, more than a month after Hurricane Maria. The damage caused by the preceding hurricanes Harvey and Irma was estimated at somewhere in the region of $200bn in the United States. Keucheyan asks: can expensive disasters like these, intensified by climate change, come to pose a threat to capitalism? Are they signs that capitalism might be running out of ecological rope, and so destroying itself? Contra Jason Moore (and many others), he answers: no.  Continue reading “Antibody Politics”

Power to the People (part 2)

Part 1

Andreas Malm’s lack of enthusiasm for cliometrics is a striking example of the historiographical unfashionability of Fossil Capital that I’m exploring in these two posts. He writes: “the inability to explain the transition [to steam] has been partly rooted in the obsession with counting nowadays so characteristic of the discipline of economic history” (p. 94). There are cultural and social factors that can’t be reduced to numbers, he says. He’s right, of course, and—again—he explores some of those factors brilliantly. But his thesis also involves a specific economic claim, where more “counting” would be welcome.  Continue reading “Power to the People (part 2)”

Power to the People (part 1)

Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016)

I’ve been very slow to read and blog about Malm’s indispensable book, almost entirely because of my own idleness but partly for another reason. Fossil Capital is a central contribution to the discourse on the Anthropocene, much though Malm himself dislikes the word. It’s rightly sparked a lot of discussion; even so, there’s certainly more to be said about it. It’s a book of large-scale political theory, yes, but it’s also the book of a PhD thesis. It’s an excellent book about the history of capitalism, but it’s a sensational book about the history of the British cotton industry, circa 1825–1850.  Continue reading “Power to the People (part 1)”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (no. 8)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: A geological perspective,” Anthropocene Review 4:1 (2017), 9–22

This is no longer actually a very new paper, but it’s an enjoyable one. It starts from Peter Haff’s conception of the technosphere, which I wrote about at length here. It asks: how big is the technosphere? The headline estimate is: human-originated technology has a total mass of about 30 trillion tonnes.  Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (no. 8)”

Literary Fictions

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016)

A tornado in Delhi, tigers in the Sundarbans, the long history of the oil trade in Burma: The Great Derangement adds seductively to the imaginary of the Anthropocene debate. It’s a terrific book, written in a novelist’s prose, on capitalism, empire, climate change and culture.

The last of those is what’s most distinctively at issue here. The book’s been widely reviewed, and most reviewers seem to have been especially struck by its vivid account of the relationship between empire and ecological upheaval. But Ghosh’s reflections on the history of the novel are probably The Great Derangement‘s most original contribution to the discourse on the Anthropocene. Continue reading “Literary Fictions”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 7)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “The Working Group on the Anthropocene: Summary of evidence and interim recommendations,” Anthropocene, in press


The image above shows “the Quaternary time scale as currently preferred by the Anthropocene Working Group.” This proposed way of modelling recent geological time is plainly still a work in progress. The grey spikes would need to be replaced by golden ones, by GSSPs rooted somewhere in the actual Earth, before the map of the last 2.6 million years looked even provisionally complete. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 7)”