Environmental Studies Professor Peter Schwartzman
Environmental Studies Professor Peter Schwartzman

Having taught environmental studies courses for 21 years and written nearly 200 articles in the public sphere, Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman has repeatedly encountered students and readers who are cynical about the future of life on earth. To find out if there was any truth in this pessimism, Schwartzman set out to co-author a book with his father and fellow environmental scientist, David W. Schwartzman.

The Earth Is Not for Sale: A Path Out of Fossil Capitalism to the Other World That is Still Possible is a culmination of many research efforts that consistently concluded that such thoughts are misguided. It provides a thought-provoking outline of the solutions already in hand to the challenges now facing humanity and how people all over the world have begun this effort.

“There are incredible opportunities confronting us and many of us are already taking advantage of them by employing thoughtful and life-supporting strategies,” said Schwartzman. “Having heard pessimistic voices again and again, I felt an obligation to share this news.”

How did this collaboration begin?

My father and I have been collaborating on different research questions for nearly a decade. His background in biogeochemistry and geology meshes really well with my atmospheric science, science and technology studies, and physics background. Naturally, when we are visiting each other, we have intense discussions about the key challenges we face as a species. Initially, we decided to work on some articles together. That collaboration went very well, so we ventured to complete a book project.

What was it like collaborating with your father?

I didn’t realize how uncommon it was to have a parent and child doing research together until I started looking for other examples of it. We are very much alike, and I think this helps us understand each other. Writing a book takes stamina. Over the many months it took to complete the project, we undoubtedly had times of disagreement and frustration. We worked through these times through cooperation and understanding. Our biggest challenge took place during the editing process. We do not write in the same way. It took time to create a consistent voice throughout the book.

The Earth Is Not For Sale

You propose radical changes to political and social structures of society. What perspective are these solutions based on?

First and foremost, we have to acknowledge that our modern society is on a course not fit for the bulk of humanity or the planet. We have institutions, such as the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex that are antithetical to a healthy and sustainable civilization. These institutions are extremely expensive to maintain, and the harm they do is immeasurable. Current investments in industrial agriculture, “clean” fossil fuels, and nuclear energy represent misdirected and dangerous pathways. Clarifying this to each other and to our leaders is of paramount importance.

Yet, there is amazing potential for redirecting our human and natural resources, and creating a safer, healthier, and truly sustainable society. Wind and solar energy resources are sufficient to power all of humanity’s current and expanded needs, including, importantly, the elimination of the horrible energy poverty that the majority of humans suffer from. Agroecology, the growing of food in ways that are harmonious with ecological and human systems, offers a tremendous opportunity for us to grow healthful food in sufficient quantities for everyone. By redirecting money to these two ventures, humanity can rather smoothly move to a much happier and healthier state. Fortunately, many of these efforts are underway. They just need to be supported and expanded.

What goal do you have for this book?

To clarify that humanity is at a pivotal moment in its history. We can’t keep doing what we are doing and think “all will be okay.” Rather than digging our heads in the sand, we need to acknowledge the amazing beneficial opportunities that lay before us. We need to champion them in any way we can. It is going to take a significant shift in paradigms to turn our “iceberg-bound” ship, but people all over the world are shifting conversations, perspectives, and budgets. The others, once informed, can contribute mightily to this effort. In The Earth is Not For Sale, we thoroughly document which pathways “out” are productive and which are recipes for disaster.

Peter Schwartzman, associate professor of environmental studies, has taught at Knox since 1998. He has served as an alderman in Galesburg, co-founded two locally focused nonprofits, and served as a board member on many others. You can read his personal blog at onehuman.org.

David Schwartzman is Professor Emeritus at Howard University and is a biogeochemist and environmental scientist. He is the author of Life, Temperature and the Earth (2002), and several recent papers in Capitalism Nature Socialism.