Radioactive pigs, American bombs, and lazy plants: the making of toxicity and the metabolism of excess

Authors: Stian Rice*, Kent State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography
Keywords: capitalism, toxicity, accumulation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A growing body of work explores the relationship between environmental degradation and capital accumulation, specifically, if and how growth in ‘toxic’ environments and ‘dead land’ ultimately presents a threat to capitalism. In this vein, significant debate centers on the contradictions that underlie capital’s appropriation and metabolism of ‘nature’: accelerating cycles of valorization and exploitation that increasingly threaten life on this planet. This paper reflects on this debate through three short parables of the Capitalocene: the U.S. bombing of Cambodia between 1965 and 1973; the sudden proliferation of wild boars–now radioactive—around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant; and the recent discovery of a link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and the nutrient content of staple crops. Each case presents a different perspective on the meaning of ‘toxicity’ and the composition of ‘dead land.’ Together, they offer insight into the complementary processes that dispose and metabolize capitalism’s excesses. Through an application of Georges Bataille’s theory of excess, I propose that the question of natural limits to capitalism must be addressed, in part, through an exploration of the logics and temporalities through which ‘the toxic’ is metabolized.

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