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Imagining A World Without Fossil Fuels

I thought about this commercial-which I've seen multiple times on TV in the last few weeks-as I read Mark Stoll's new book about the environmental history of capitalism, "Profit." Stoll's book offers the opportunity to better understand how the world depicted in the commercial came to be.

Stoll's book gives historical context for the ubiquity of plastics and disposable products, the rise of fossil fuels, the concept of planned obsolescence and corporations' powerful tools of propaganda. "Humans had carried fundamental elements of modern capitalism to the ends of the inhabitable earth," Stoll writes.

Stoll takes readers through a tour of transformative inventions that led to the birth and then the flourishing of capitalism: money, writing, plantations, steam engines, steel, the assembly line, advertising. How do we get off the treadmill of consumer capitalism, when so much of modern life as it's currently configured depends on it?

How do we design a different future, when capitalism's greed seems so embedded in human nature? "The best we can do is to focus on the people who are trying to come up with solutions," Stoll said in our interview.

Maybe oil companies can't imagine a world without an endless supply of petroleum products-but that doesn't mean it isn't possible.

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