PB2181.jpgDescription and Ideas for Teaching

Climate change is no longer becoming a problem but is now a problem we are facing head on. The old mantra of "It will not affect us, but just our grandchildren" no longer fits. Rather than analyzing the effects on civilization and nature from the ongoing changes to our planet, in The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth, Foster, Clark, and York choose to analyze the tension between the economy and environmental safety as well as discuss the leading factor causing these changes: Capitalism.

The Ecological Rift is broken up into a couple sections. The first part talks about the different options scientists and economists think could help to improve our chances of devastation from climate change while also not disrupting the flow of economies too much. The first option is from the Stern Review. It proposed that we set a goal of reducing the CO2 level to 500 ppm by 2050. Rather than reaching for the 350 ppm that scientists believe is necessary to stop climate change, the Stern Report sets a more reasonable number realizing that the economy
could not handle such a drastic change. Reaching the goal of 500 ppm, as shown in the graph to the right, is only an increase of 1% per year. It sees reasonable, but as explained later, this is harder than it looks. The next idea is from Gus Speth. Speth's ideas are summarized and explained in the article Gus Speth: ‘Ultimate insider’ goes radical. Speth believes that capitalism is the future as long as we reinvent it. Corporations and customers must be green product-oriented. The main goal should no longer be making money, but rather helping the future well being of the planet. Speth thinks that we should not do away with our "growth fetish", but rather change it to focus on eco-friendly products. Therefore, we can start to reverse the problems that occurred due to our past capitalistic system. The final idea that is shared by a lot of economists, is that we need to continue our course and let technological advancements lead us away from climate change. Every so often new energy sources are created that are more efficient and cleaner for the environment. They believe that eventually we will create one that will completely do away with emitting carbon and other harmful waste products into the air.

As far as informing your class about these two ideas, I would not spend too much time on them because by the end of the book, you realize that these ideas, although may seem logical, would not work. Instead, I would have your class try to think about the flaws in these ideas. Some are noticeable, while others may have to be explained in depth with many examples. After hearing a few responses, share with the class the answers as follows.

There are a number of reasons, the first being human nature. Sure, telling people to focus on eco-friendly products sounds great, but are they really going to buy them? Of course not, people purchase what appeals to their needs as well as wants. Whether this be buying cheap goods to fit their budget or buying expensive goods just to show off the money they have. Not only are the The one goal of anybody in the capitalist system is to grow, usually referring financially. Which leads me to the second part. Manufacturers are not going to lose out on profits no matter what the cost. In the capitalistic society we live, survival of the fittest is what drives our growth. If a business charges more to make up for the costs of greener production, someone else will certainly produce the same product without the environment in mind and will be able to charge a lower price. This drives the eco-friendly company out of business and we are back to square one. As far as technological advancements being able to save us from climate change, all we have to do is understand the Jevons Paradox. This states that as a new and more efficient energy source is created, we actually choose to use more of it which ends up leading to even more harmful chemicals
jevons-paradox.pngabsorbing into the atmosphere. This all goes back to the basic goals of capitalism. We see this efficient energy source as an opportunity to grow and do not even realize that the harm we commit to the environment is no different than before. The first example is seen with coal, but even more recently we can see that the Jevons Paradox is no different in the modern world.

"For Example, technological advancements in motor vehicles, which have increased the average miles per gallon of vehicles by 30 percent in the United States since 1980, have not reduced the overall energy used by motor vehicles. Fuel consumption per vehicle stayed constant while the efficiency gains led to the augmentation, not only of the numbers of cars and trucks on the roads, but also their size and "performance"- so that SUVs and minivans now dot U.S. highways." (178)

Also, we have to take into considerations the findings from the Paperless Office Paradox. The invention of the Internet and communication devices like email were supposed to decrease the amount of paper used. However, it did just the opposite. More paper was being printed for reports and for use in meetings. More and more copies were being made of each paper and the idea of getting rid of paper actually turned out to be more of a harm. This is the same with energy sources.

"For example, the development of renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar power, are commonly identified as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, based on the assumption that the development of alternative sources of energy will displace, at least to some extent, fossil fuel consumption. However, just as the Jevons Paradox points to the fact that efficiency may not lead to a reduction in resource consumption, the Paperless Office Paradox points to the fact that the development of substitutes man not lead to a reduction in resource consumption." (190)

Call to Action and Authors' Solution

At this point, it would be a good idea to ask the class if they have any ideas on how we can help improve the state of our planet in relations to climate change while not completely dismantling the economy. Check out The Encyclopedia of Earth for further data and better understanding.Then, instead of the ideas presented above, what you want to present to your class as a solution that would actually work is a switch to capitalism. However, it is important to be mindful of how you word your presentation as socialism basically refutes capitalism and everything the United States believes in. With that being said, it is still important to put this idea in your students mind as it may be our only viable solution for stopping climate change. The authors believe that we need a radical shift towards complete socialism. By switching to socialism, we do not allow our "growth fetish" to get in the way of slowing down the devastation that is coming from climate change. Individuals no longer look for growth nor does the economy require growth. Rather, our universal goal becomes environmental safety and its future. It would no longer be about how much and how fact we can make a product and therefore increase our profits, but rather be about how we can help the fight against climate change by our quality products and services.
"The necessary shift from a quantitative to a qualitative economy- which must start immediately if the world is to move away from the present "business as usual" path toward planetary ecocide- requires the progressive dismantling of the regime of capital, and the construction brick by brick of a new organic social and ecological system in its place." (396)

The authors final call to action is one that many do not think of. Rather than ask for people living in developed countries that are already accustomed to lifestyles including energy sources that hurt our environment and the capitalist system, the authors instead ask for the people of developing countries to start a revolution. A list of developing countries being affected by climate change can be found at the following page GLOBAL: Twelve countries on climate change hit-list. They are the ones that are already seeing the effects and that will be hurt the most in the end. This revolution has to be so strong and influential that developed countries have no choice but to join the fight. Then and only then will we be globally engaged in the fight to stop climate change. The revolutions must start now, before it is too late.

What classes would benefit?

As far as what classes would benefit from this book, there a range of classes as well as education levels. In high school, this book could be read in a social science course to both warn of the future of climate change as well as inform the students on the different economic systems and what they consist of and their goals. At a college level, this book could be read in a economy, business management, or climate science class. The two business classes would benefit from learning what it would take to help the environment through your business and possibly how the future economic system may change a little or a lot. The science class would benefit from hearing a different perspective about climate change. They could learn that not only are we going to have to change the science behind what is causing climate change, but we have to change the economic system causing it as well. Finally, this book along with many other books regarding climate change could be taught in english classes of all levels. They all explain and usually advise their readers on the disastrous topic of climate change and how they can help. It is a wonder example of how a writer can make a huge difference in the world and its future. Whichever class it is, it is important to remind your students that none of these ideas are singular, that the best idea may be a small part of a bunch of ideas. No matter the idea, it will have to be radical and found very soon.

Personal Opinion

I totally agree that socialism would work, but I could never see the United States switching to a socialist system. Capitalism is what built America to what it is today and changing it would cause so much conflict that the socialist system would not develop into anything that would work. In the race for president, Bernie Sanders is proposing a system that is similar to socialism. Therefore, I guess we will see. My prediction, if he gets elected, is that he will eventually have to moderate his ideas and come closer to capitalism. The economy is already so developed that there's no changing it. We have to work with what we have rather than completely changing it. After all, it is called the "American dream", the dream of working hard and eventually becoming successful. It's not called "American average status". Nobody comes here to just blend in. Everything we worked for and base our country on would be destroyed if we switched to socialism.

Teaching Resources

For further resources to teach the connection between climate change and the economy, follow the links and videos below. These resources can both be used to help you understand the book as well as pages and videos to show your class to help them learn.
Helpful webpages:
Helpful video to show class:
Finally, This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein would be a great book to recommend your students to read next. For a summarized version, a video is provided below.

Page created by:

Shane Stover