“Capitalism and Species Extinction” by Ian Rappel

This is a link to Ian Rappel’s report on “Capitalism and Species Extinction,” published in International Socialism 147 (June 2015).  In this essay, Rappel provides a historical-geological analysis of environmental destruction and degradation, arguing that it was only the birth and coercive spread of global capitalism that caused humanity to threaten the cataclysmic sixth mass-extinction event in which we now find ourselves.  Rappel thus argues against the misanthropy and conservatism evinced by sociobiologists, apologist “popular science” writers, and anti-civilization types (though he does not mention this last group by name) in their analyses of the causes of environmental destruction.

Below is reproduced a short excerpt from the article, together with corresponding graphs from the World Wildlife Fund’s 2014 Living Planet Index (LPI) which show a shocking decline in global biodiversity over the past generation.

Figure 1: Global living planet index (with confidence limits)

Source: WWF, 2014

“While the global LPI trends are alarming enough the disaggregated patterns are even more disturbing. The LPI for temperate latitudes, where environmental regulations are strongest, reveals a decline of 36 percent between 1970 and 2010. But the tropics fared worse with an LPI decline of 56 percent over the same period (figure 2).

Figure 2: Temperate and tropical living planet indexes (with ­confidence limits)

Source: WWF, 2014

At lower spatial scales, the declines are even more extreme. For freshwater habitats, the decline was recorded at 76 percent between 1970 and 2010. When broken down into biogeographical regions the steepest declines in LPI over the same period were in the neotropical region (South America) at 83 percent, and the Indo-Pacific region (South East Asia and Australasia) with a 67 percent decline.

In terms of direct causality the LPI programme reports 45 percent of the decline in biodiversity as a product of habitat degradation and loss, 37 percent as due to direct exploitation (hunting, fishing and harvesting), and the remaining 18 percent as resulting from climate change, pollution, ­invasive species and disease.”

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