Metabolic Rift Theory
Following Foster, the concept of the metabolic rift can be traced to the transfer of energy between rural and urban areas related especially to the use and manufacture of fertilizers products to enhance soils used to grow crops for export to urban centers. In addition, this idea also applies to the metabolic rift across nations and the transfer of metabolic energy from under-developed and developing nations to developed nations. The development of this idea is also related to Marx’s theory of rent and its relationship to the development of the science of agricultural production. The metabolic rift that occurs in this case involves the transfer of nature’s nutrients and hence the depletion of nature’s resources in rural areas to produce food for the working class to facilitate its role in capitalist production. Foster, following Marx, suggests that after the emergence of agricultural sciences in the 1800s, the fertility of the soil in rural area was no longer simply a product of the natural state of things, but was manipulated by the amendment of soils with fertilizers to increase productivity. This allowed a given quantity of land to produce more food resources that it would in its natural state. To increase productivity, soil was amended in various ways, both by the exploitation of natural fertilizer resources in dependent and colonized nations, and through the scientific creation of fertilizers.
Foster’s argument illustrates how processes such as industrial pollution in urban areas can also be related to the crisis of metabolic rift. To increase soil fertility, firms began to manufacture fertilizers, producing along with fertilizer, extensive industrial waste. This waste stream, however, is no confined to urban locations, since the application of fertilizers in rural locations also promotes forms of land and water pollution associated with the application of fertilizers.
Foster and his colleagues have also applied this idea to more complex analysis of international issues related to metabolic rift including the transfer of energy across nations from soil through capitalist productive mechanisms, to marine ecological issues, climate change, and other forms of material flow analysis. For a critique of some aspects of Foster’s approach, see Moore 2000, 2008, 2011.
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York, Richard, Eugene A. Rosa, and Thomas Dietz. 2003. “A rift in modernity? Assessing the anthropogenic sources of global climate change with the STIRPAT model.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 23, 10: 31-51.