Five new books ecologists and socialists should look out for

March 17, 2017

Climate & Capitalism editor Ian Angus takes a look at three important new books on the growing global environmental crisis and two that mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

The reviews are featured in the March edition of his “Ecosocialist Bookshelf” series, originally published on Climate & Capitalism.


1. A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic — Peter Wadhams

Most of the scientific establishment predict that the North Pole will be free of ice around the middle of this century. As Peter Wadhams, the world’s leading expert on sea ice, demonstrates in this book, even this assessment of the future is optimistic.

Wadhams has visited the Polar Regions more often than any other living scientist — 50 times since he was on the first ship to circumnavigate the Americas in 1970 — and has a uniquely authoritative perspective on the changes they have undergone and where those changes will lead.

He shows how a series of rapid feedbacks in the Arctic region are accelerating change there more rapidly than almost all scientists have previously realised, and how the dangers of further acceleration are very real.

2. Nature is a Battlefield: Towards a Political Ecology — Razmig Keucheyan

In the midst of the current ecological crisis, there is often lofty talk of the need for humanity to ‘overcome its divisions’ and work together to tackle the big challenges of our time.

But as Razmig Keucheyan shows, the real picture is very different.

Just take the case of the location of toxic waste landfills in the United States: if you want to know where waste is most likely to be dumped, ask yourself where Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and other racial minorities live and where the poorest neighbourhoods are.

This kind of “environmental racism” is by no means restricted to the US: it is very much a global phenomenon.

Through a sharp critique of the way capitalism responds to environmental disaster, this innovative book provides a fresh perspective on some of the most critical issues confronting our societies today.

3. Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change — Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Keith C Pilkey

Melting ice sheets and warming oceans are causing the seas to rise. By the end of this century, hundreds of millions of people living at low elevations along coasts will be forced to retreat to higher and safer ground.

Because of sea-level rise, major storms will inundate areas farther inland and will lay waste to critical infrastructure, such as water-treatment and energy facilities, creating vast, irreversible pollution by decimating landfills and toxic-waste sites.

This big-picture, policy-oriented book explains in gripping terms what rising oceans will do to coastal cities and the drastic actions we must take now to remove vulnerable populations.

4. A People’s History of the Russian Revolution — Neil Faulkner

The Russian Revolution may well be the most misunderstood event in modern history. Neil Faulkner sets out to debunk the myths.

In this fast-paced introduction to the tumultuous events, the Russian people are the heroes. Faulkner shows how a mass movement of millions, organised in democratic assemblies, mobilised for militant action and destroyed a regime of landlords, profiteers and warmongers.

Laced with first-hand testimony, this history seeks to rescue the democratic essence of the revolution from its detractors and deniers, offering a perfect primer for the modern reader.

5. October 1917 — workers in power — Paul Le Blanc, David Mandel, others

Historian Lars Lih writes: “A fascinating and unexpected collection of materials that shine a needed light on the workers revolution of 1917.

“The centrepiece is David Mandel’s classic essay ‘The historical legitimacy of the October Revolution’, one of the best ever statements of the meaning of a central aspect of the revolution: worker support for soviet power.

“Extremely useful is Paul Le Blanc’s guide to some of the best (and some of the worst) accounts of the tumultuous year. And finally, we have the eloquent words of revolutionary participants: Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky.

“All in all, a spirited defence of the October Revolution at a time when many people would like to forget all about it.”

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