CUNY professor’s book connects extinction to capitalism

Meshal Muhammad

In “Extinction: A Radical History,” CUNY Graduate Center professor Ashley Dawson writes a short history of the extinction of plants and animals. While doing so, he puts a strong emphasis on human interference to nature and its relation to the model of capitalism.

Dawson argues that extinction is directly correlated with capitalism because capitalism is “based on ceaseless, feckless expansion on a finite natural resource.”

Throughout the book, Dawson showcases societies that highlight the different ways humans have destroyed and depleted the resources that brought them great fortune. He provides examples such as the Roman Empire, Sumer and Europe at-large in its conquest of the Americas.

This book is great for those who want to learn more about the effects of capitalism on the environment. The book concisely informs readers of some of the negative impacts the model of continuous compounding growth may have on human societies and the natural world.

Dawson does a great job in explaining the issue of extinction in the human context without getting too scientific, which can often overwhelm and confuse readers.

In the latter half of the book, Dawson examines some “solutions” put forth by wealthy nations and organizations to combat extinction and climate change. He points out that the nature of these proposals is contradictory and often harmful.

Dawson unravels the negative impact of private conservations, which push out indigenous people and make areas where mankind is prohibited. He says that the displacement of these people adds to an already growing refugee population worldwide.

Another interesting concept that Dawson introduces is that of rewilding, which encompasses the reintroduction of predators in private conservations, like gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park, to create a more balanced ecological environment.

Ultimately, the solution that Dawson proposes is an alternative to capitalism, something he calls “the degrowth model.” He prefaces this by saying that it will be near impossible to get rich nations and elites to give up their power and turn toward degrowth.

Readers will better understand large corporations’ adoption of investments and policies related to environmental, social and governance factors, in addition to greenwashing scandals.

Dawson forces investors and finance students to take a deeper look into these proposals through a skeptical lens. This book will leave readers asking themselves if policies by wealthy capitalistic societies actually have a positive impact on humans and the environment or if they are just a marketing scheme.