A Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

A review and recommendation by Karen Doris Howell McFadden and Charles Posa McFadden of Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster (2011, Monthly Review Press) What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism: A citizen's guide to capitalism and the environment.

From Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: "I'm not sure who needs to read this relentlessly persuasive book more: environmentalists who imagine we can solve the ecological crisis without confronting capitalism, or leftists who have yet to recognize the ecological crisis as the highest expression of the capitalist threat. How about both, and then some. Indispensable."

To tantalize the reader, the following are among the ideas further developed by the authors of this citizen's guide:


"Ecological economist Herman Daly is well known for emphasizing what he has called the 'Impossibility Theorem' of unlimited economic growth in a limited environment….In this book we are concerned with extending Daly's Impossibility Theorem by introducing what we regard to be its most important corollary: the continuation for any length of time of capitalism, as a grow-or-die system dedicated to unlimited capital accumulation, is itself a flat impossibility." p7

The Planetary Ecological Crisis

"The principal cause of ecological degradation, insisted Rachel Carson, author of the classic work Silent Spring, … is a society that worships 'the gods of speed and quantity, and the quick and easy profit, and out of this idolatry monstrous evils have arisen.'" p25

Business as Usual: The Road to Planetary Destruction

"This kind of inequality – which gives the rich and the super-rich in a country such as the United States ecological footprints sometimes a hundred or a thousand times more than those at the bottom – is only magnified at the global level. It is in fact the drive for greater, and more disproportionate, income and wealth on the part of those at the top of the system by means of ever-greater capital accumulation that keeps the entire economy going under capitalism. To reach a steady-state economy therefore requires going against not only power and wealth, but against the basic logic of capitalism as a system." p35

The Growth Imperative of Capitalism

Referring to the large multinational corporations that dominate the economy, the authors argue "that owners of capital will, as long as such ownership relationships remain, do what they can within their power to maximize the amount of profits they accrue. A stationary state, or steady-state, capitalist economy is only conceivable if separated from the reality of the social, economic, and power relations of capitalism itself." p56

The Environment and Capitalism

"…In this economic system people are forced to take the jobs capitalist choose to provide. This frequently places the need for jobs in opposition to the need for a clean environment…" p62

"Capitalism leads to a loss of connection with nature, fellow humans, and community." p77

"The system actually pumps wealth endlessly up to those at the top of society who do their best to keep it coming at a faster and faster pace, while preventing any downward trickle." p83

"There is nothing in the nature of the current system, therefore, that will allow it to pull back before it is too late. To do that, other forces, from the bottom of society – thinking and acting in ways that transcend the logic of the system – will be required." p93

Can Capitalism Go Green?

"As David Harvey has said: 'If capitalism is forced to internalize' all of the social and environmental costs it generates 'it will go out of business. This is the simple truth.'" p97

"The market under capitalism represents the rule of capital, by capital, and for capital." p99

"The reality is that none of the proposals for reforming capitalism deal with the essential issue, the bottom line of net gain or profit. For the sake of the environment and our future as a species, the economy cannot keep growing forever with more and more goods and services (green or not) consumed per person." p107

"Increased efficiency in the use of energy and resources tends, as we have seen, to result in the expansion of the capitalist economic system as a whole, negating any reductions in energy and resource use per unit of output." p111

"The fact that accumulation is the single drumbeat of capitalist society means that ecological systems, and the biological-health systems of species, are stretched to the limits, leading to ever-increasing risk. … Toxic chemicals, radiation, and other hazards pervade our environment and our bodies, with no attempt to discern the full effects – or even to test most of the chemicals, despite their frequent carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic effects. It is enough for the system that such technologies are useful in expanding the economy at low cost to business. … In a society organized in this way it is natural enough to respond to the threat to the planet represented by global warming by turning to riskier and riskier technologies, continually upping the general level of risk." pp111-112

"'Green capitalism' … offers no way out of a system that must expand exponentially and thus, continue to ratchet up its use of natural resources, its chemical pollution, its contaminated sewage sludge, its garbage, and its other toxic substances." p120

"The reality is that the major environmental problems we face today – of which climate change is only one – cannot be solved by means of technological or market-based solutions while keeping existing social relations intact. Rather, what is needed most is a transformation of social relations: in community, culture, and economy, in how we relate to each other as human beings, and how we relate to the planet." P122

An Ecological Revolution Is Not Just Possible – It's Essential

After addressing in detail what can be done now, and in turning their attention to long-range solutions, the authors then state: "None of the immediate goals proposed above is feasible, even in the short run, unless the demands are part of a massive movement that is not afraid to do what needs to be done, and refuses to let the bottom line of the profit system determine the future of earth and humanity." p133

Magdoff and Foster then conclude their citizen's guide with an outline of the main features of the ecological revolution that is not only possible but essential. As Naomi Klein has said, this book is indispensable to all who seek to better understand the connection between capitalism and the environment. We are all fortunate that two of the leading academic researchers in the fields of agricultural economics and environmental sociology have taken the time to present their conclusions in a form that can be readily understood by those of us immersed in the environmental and social justice movements.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.