ENVX Symposium highlights capitalism in climate issues

Courtesy of ENVX

Lewis & Clark’s 26th Annual Environment Across Boundaries (ENVX) Symposium began this week on Monday Oct. 16 and ended on Thursday Oct. 19. This year’s theme was “Life within Capitalism: Reconsidering Market Consequences and the Earth System” and featured an array of different events.

“Global challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution have led to narratives that identify ‘Capitalism’ and Globalization as fundamental causes of environmental degradation,” the ENVX website states. “‘Capitalism’ is in quotes because Capitalism is not singular nor well-defined: It expresses differently in different places, times, and communities.”

This year’s symposium’s three co-chairs were Kaylee Howser ’24, Julia Einaudi ’25 and Grace Blunck ’24. Howser and Einaudi said that this theme was inspired by Blunck’s poll that students in Jessica Kleiss’ class took. The poll asked students what they thought was the largest environmental disruptor. Most of the students chose capitalism as the largest environmental disruptor, but when the same question was asked at a GlobalPDX conference, many people did not point to capitalism as a driving force for environmental issues.

“I feel like it’s a very relevant topic. We really wanted to engage with that in some way and challenge students and preconceived notions. Also just give them a space to reflect and explore their own beliefs,” Einaudi said.

Howser and Einaudi said they were driven by the question of why students thought capitalism was a driving force of environmental issues today. They kept returning to the root

cause of capitalism. “I think that this topic is one that I feel is popular among LC students. I know just in my own circles, I feel like it’s something that people are really interested in engaging with and speaking about. I also pick classes where we talk about capitalism and different aspects of capitalism,” Einaudi said.

According to the ENVX website, the symposium kicked off on Monday, Oct. 16 with a simulation called CarbonSim. This event was held in partnership with Elizabeth Bennett’s International Affairs (IA) 340 International Political Economy class. CarbonSim was developed by Josh Margolis, who works in the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the environment.

“CarbonSim is an artificial intelligence … application that teaches the principles of emissions trading and brings markets to life,” the EDF website says. “(P)rogram results are driven by design choices made by policymakers.”

The EDF website states that CarbonSim allows people to gain a greater understanding of the power and the limitations of environmental markets through a collaborative experience. Ruby Schaeffer ’25 attended the CarbonSim game and enjoyed the different perspectives in the stimulation.

“I thought it went really well, I am really glad the IA 340 class participated because they had a lot of background knowledge that helped them to engage a lot more,” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer explained that the CarbonSim stimulation was an idealized version of the world, but it was interesting to see what happened to people in the game with more investments into renewable energy. In the simulation, the people that bought more renewable energy earlier in the game performed better than people who bought renewable energy later in the game.

Bennett was excited to partner with ENVX in this event.

“Carbon emissions trading is political, economic and international, so the topic is squarely of interest to a class of ‘international political economy’ (or ‘IPE’) students. I was delighted to have the opportunity to partner with the ENVX symposium to offer students the opportunity to receive the same training as activists, policy-makers, executives and politicians,” Bennett said.

Bennett also explained that the simulation was an engaging and fun way to learn and to think about carbon markets. She was also highly impressed by students’ participation in the CarbonSim game.

“Unsurprisingly, the facilitator noted that LC students were able to learn and engage as quickly and

artfully as professionals with years of relevant experience. It was great to see undergraduates engaging at such a high level,” Bennett said.

The next event was held on Tuesday, Oct. 17, from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Yuko Aoyama and Clarence Edwards gave keynote presentations in the Council Chambers, followed by a reception in the Beth Miller Lounge in the Fowler Student Center.

The first keynote speaker, Aoyama, is a professor at Clark University in Massachusetts. She is interested in developing geographic understandings of capitalism through a global lens, focusing on institutional and comparative perspectives. She has researched wind energy, tourism and electronics, and is interested in technological innovation and cultural economy. Aoyama’s speech was titled “Variable Capitalisms: Understanding Fixity, Fluidity, and Hybridity.”

The other keynote speaker, Clarence Edwards, is an executive director for E3G. He works on climate change in US foreign policy. He has worked on legislation for supporting clean energy, and environmental justice. He has served in the U.S. Department of Energy. Edwards’ presentation was titled “The Type of Capitalism You Practice Matters.”

“I was surprised with the plurality of support for an economic market that equally emphasizes social dimensions. Capitalisms are socially enforced and as such, we must focus on consensus building on a global

scale to address inequity and climate change,” Blunck said.

Jessica Kleiss, the faculty advisor for the ENVX symposium, also shared her impressions from the event.

“Both speakers emphasized that capitalism is a system—a set of relationships—and that it is in a constant state of change,” Kleiss said. “It changes over time, and it expresses itself differently in different places. So I found myself wondering about the process of change, the different ways to affect change and the ways that individuals, like every audience member, might participate in change.”

Kleiss highlighted some of the specific language in the speeches that stuck out to her the most.

“I heard the word ‘entrenched,’ and I found that both jarring and enabling. Jarring because it evokes a feeling of captivity, that we are trapped in the system we have, and it is too big and has too much inertia to be altered,” Kleiss said. “Enabling because it removes questions like ‘Is capitalism the problem?’ or statements like ‘We have to dismantle capitalism to solve the climate problem.’ Instead, it urges us to find ways to work within the system in the time frames that we have, and that evokes a feeling of creativity and exploration.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Fowler Student Center, keynote speakers Aoyama and Edwards held a Q&A. The same day, there was also a panelist event held in the Council Chambers. The event focused on the challenges and opportunities in the market for renewable energies. The panelists included Susan Bladholm, Olivia Cowley, Mica Miro and Joe Wachunas. Cowley just graduated from LC and Howser and Einaudi were excited that a newer, younger perspective was also included in the panelist grouping.

“I would really hope that students are able to kind of just have an open mind to the … concepts within these conversations. That will be through a perspective that they have never heard of or they agree with and get some kind of emotional reaction out of them,” Howser said.

Blunck also spoke to a vision of the future in response to these events.

“I feel more optimistic that as climatic events occur, social response will reform market solutions that will ultimately begin to address some of the systemic issues that arise from our current application of capitalism,” Blunck said. “Our market is a reflection of our values and I feel that environmentally consequential goals will gradually become more centralized in the future changing the variation of capitalism we see now.”

Finally, on Thursday, Oct. 18 the ENVX Symposium came to a close with a waste studies art workshop in partnership with SCRAP Creative Reuse and the ReBuilding center. According to their website, “ReBuilding Center is a climate justice nonprofit organization. We make reuse and repair affordable for all, reduce waste and wasteful consumption, and make the best use of our planet’s limited material resources.”

SCRAP is a nonprofit organization based in Portland that focuses on affordable environmentally sustainable behavior.

Participants were encouraged to bring a T-shirt or other piece of clothing to mend during this upcycle workshop.

“I’m looking forward to it because I did the most work individually,” Einaudi said.

Einaudi and Howser were excited about the involvement of the LC community in the ENVX Symposium through events like the upcycle workshop and the CarbonSim simulation game.

“I think it’s important that the events that we’re attending are reflective of the things that we want our attendees to come away with. A big part of that is engagement. We really want to showcase through our symposium …actions you should take when outside of these events,” Howser said.

Einaudi hoped that students would attend all the events that they could, and learn something new in the process.

“I hope that they will learn new things that they will continue thinking about and engaging with after the symposium finishes,” Einaudi said.

Einaudi reflected on her experience of being a co-chair of this ENVX Symposium.

“I think it’s probably been the most meaningful experience that I’ve had so far. So I definitely would encourage everyone to get involved with a symposium in some capacity before they graduate,” Einaudi said.

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