Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine. By Stan Cox, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2008 219 pp. $24.95. ISBN 978 0 7453 2741 9 www.sickplanetbook.com
Like a liver badly transplanted, the planet is rapidly rejecting the human species. While the global economy seems to be geared towards infinite growth, spewing toxins into the environment with gay abandon and finding ever more harmful means of despoiling ecosystems, it is becoming more and more clear that we, as a complex society, arc reaching a point of decision, and not any old decision: stop now, or collapse. Mend your ways, or descend into a somewhat more primal state of affairs. The smart money is on the latter.
The recognition that we have reached such a juncture has been dawning on us for a long, long time. In a purely aesthetic sense, capitalism has intolerable effects on the appearance and vitality of living systems. Poets, painters, philosophers and assorted dreamers have long asserted that our trajectory has been locked into catastrophe. Satanic mills, glimpsed by Blake as a harbinger of the apocalypse, progressed via Walden Pond into the Planet of the Apes and beyond. Yet politicians and the general media have never really assimilated these insights. At the cusp of total ecological collapse, we still stand in need of a corrective dose of "radical" economics if we are to turn our ship around.
Stan Cox basically agrees, but his Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine will be useful reading for anyone who seeks to grab the ship's wheel and persuade others to join them. His book is a short, readable activist's crib which ranges fluently across the environmental costs of bloated corporate health care (and the human costs of overprescription and phoney medicalization) 1 to the problem of industrial agriculture and "better living through chemistry."
On health care, Cox is unequivocal. Focusing on the US, he argues that the health-care "industry" is hopelessly bloated, noting that, since the 1960s, the average consumption of health-care products per person has tripled. In a neat turn of phrase, he writes that "for decades, business has been coming up with 'solutions' to the problems that result from America's overconsumption of food and underexertion of bodies."
To beef up profits, companies have been hyping minor or non-existent maladies such as "shaking leg syndrome" to I extract ever more profit from the American consumer. Yet, unsatisfied with gouging American...