Down To Earth Ted Steinberg Analysis

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Reading a standard American history textbook from cover to cover, one would likely not run across many references to the natural world. Occasionally the author mentions the influence of mineral discoveries, or devastating natural disasters such as earthquakes and dust storms, but never how the environment molded the societies that developed within it. Ted Steinberg’s Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History is a noticeable departure from this methodology. His ambitious goal is simple, “to change the way you think about American history.” (Steinberg, ix) In order to accomplish this, Steinberg places the natural world alongside human characters as an active agent of change. To the author, nature has never existed in a vacuum, waiting …show more content…
For example, in the chapter “Death of the Organic City,” he describes the end of the closed-loop system and the removal of farm animals from the city greatly benefitted the wealthy members of society at the expense of the poorer residents. He writes, “All dirt is not equally bad; cleaner cities are not necessarily better for everyone. Indeed, filth had some virtues. Life in the “organic city,” a place swarming with pigs and horses and steeped in mountains of manure, was dirty, but it also had a certain social and environmental logic.” (Steinberg, 157) I would argue that while the cleaner conditions hurt the poor economically by changing their pattern of subsistence, these negative attributes were offset by the drastically improved health and sanitation conditions benefitted equally by all. Although Steinberg acknowledges the improved health conditions, he generally downplays the health benefits of animal waste removal and the reduction of diseases from no longer living with the animals. As a result, I feel like this is the weakest example in the book. The chapter is far more effective in explaining how the creation of sewers and trash disposal merely shifted the environmental problems from the city to the …show more content…
Although he does not express it directly, it is also implied that he does not believe that the current environmental problems can be resolved in conjunction with this economic system. In the section entitled “Can Capitalism Save the Planet,” Steinberg argues,
No company, however, is likely to betray its shareholders in the name of sustainability. No company will foreclose on growth and profits for the sake of a greener planet. No company will embrace environmentalism at the expense of a bad profit-and-loss statement. Corporate environemtalism, in other words, does not address the fundamental structural problems at the core of the capitalist

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