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Metabolic rift is Karl Marx's notion of the irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism,—Marx's key conception of ecological crisis tendencies under capitalism. Marx theorized a rupture in the metabolic interaction between humanity and the rest of nature emanating from capitalist production and the growing division between town and country.


  • Capitalism imposes its laws of motion on the environment, irrespective of the biogeochemical cycles of the planet and the earth’s metabolism, so that it creates rifts or ruptures in the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth system, disrupting ecosystem relations in ways that transcend the mere scale-effects of economic growth. It is this problem of the metabolic rift that is our deepest challenge. Sustainability is more and more compromised at ever higher levels—a continually accelerating threat to civilization and life itself.
  • Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil...But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race...All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility...Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.
    • Karl Marx Capital, vol. I (1976), New York: Vintage, pp. 637-638. (emphasis added) Alternate translation: Capital, vol. I (1967), New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., pp. 505-50

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