“Marxist environmentalist” Mike Davis dies; was a bestselling author

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Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Mike Davis, an author, activist and self-proclaimed “Marxist environmentalist” whose deepest fears drove him to anticipate riots, fires and disease in best-sellers like “City of Quartz” and “The Ecology of Fear,” has died of old age 76

Davis died Tuesday after a long battle with esophageal cancer, his friend Jon Wiener announced this week in an online post for The Nation, a progressive magazine. Wiener, a historian who co-wrote Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties with Davis, told The Associated Press that Davis died in San Diego.

Davis, dubbed the prophet Jeremiah of Southern California by the Los Angeles Times, announced in the summer that he was terminally ill.

“Although I’m famous as a pessimist, I really wasn’t a pessimist,” he told the Times in July. “You know, (my writing was) more of a call to action. An attempt to incite righteous anger against those we should righteously be angry with. But now there is a certain sense of doom. This is not the time or history that my children should inherit, you know?”

As noted in Wiener’s homage, Davis was “a 1960s person” whose background was not privileged, but rather working-class and conservative. Raised in San Diego County, he was a former member of the military-oriented youth program Devil Pups, which was radicalized by the civil rights movement. He volunteered for the Congress for Racial Equality, burned his draft map to protest the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, joined the Communist Party, and became a leftist student organizer for a democratic society.

“I was like Zelig in the events of that time,” Davis told The New Yorker in 2020.

He has been accused of ideological bias and various blunders and inventions – some have been acknowledged – but his dark views of Los Angeles and broader issues have often been proven vindicated.

City of Quartz, released in 1990, condemned racial and class inequality in Los Angeles and described the city as a “prison society” patrolled by a repressive police force. The police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the riots that followed the acquittal of his attackers in 1992 made his book seem like a prophecy.

Davis’ Ecology of Fear predicted the growing catastrophe of California wildfires, and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, published in 2005, warned that a deadly pandemic was becoming more likely. During his interview with the New Yorker, Davis called capitalism incapable of dealing with public health and environmental disasters, but still believed a better world was possible.

“This seems to be an age of catastrophe, but it is also an age that has all the necessary tools in the abstract sense,” he said. “Utopia is at our disposal. If, like me, you witnessed the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, you can never give up hope.”

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