Author Archives: Keith Akers

If slaughterhouses had glass walls

Paul McCartney PETA

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.” This quotation from Paul McCartney is the basis for a 13-minute PETA video narrated by Sir Paul with some pretty graphic slaughterhouse footage. PETA is betting that once you know the truth about slaughterhouses, you’ll go vegetarian or vegan. This is also the philosophy implicit in a lot of vegetarian information campaigns ranging from gentle to graphic — Vegan Outreach pamphlets, the hour-long video “Earthlings,” and Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. But is it true? If slaughterhouses really had glass walls, either literally or metaphorically, would we all be vegetarian? Continue reading

Meathooked — review

Meathooked by Marta Zaraska - coverMeathooked: The History and Science of our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat. By Marta Zaraska. Basic Books, 2016.

A well-written and informative book, even when one doesn’t completely agree with it, is easy to review. This book fills the bill. Thank you, Marta Zaraska, for keeping us up to snuff on the issues. She also manages not to upset anyone, steering away from nasty little confrontations with vegetarian sensibilities. So, vegetarians, you can relax; your ethical sensibilities will not be sullied.

Zaraska, a freelance science journalist, provides the flip side of the “why are you vegetarian?” discussion — “why do you eat meat?” The author isn’t looking for, or trying to dissect, rational arguments for meat-eating — she’s just looking for an explanation or a cause for this behavior. Continue reading

It’s worse than we thought

The High Park Wildfire burns on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland on June 10, 2012. The High Park Wildfire located approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, CO has consumed over 65, 738 acres of forest and grassland with approximately 189 homes destroyed. Over 1,773 personnel from the U.S. Forest Service (FS), state and local resources are fighting the wildfire and have achieved 55% containment as of June 20, 2012. The High Park Wildfire began on June 9. 2012 because of a lightening strike on private land. U.S. FS photo.

The High Park Wildfire, June 10, 2012. U.S. FS photo.

Climate change is a lot worse than we thought. This is catching even the climate scientists by surprise, according to a widely-cited story from the Thompson Reuters foundation. The World Meteorological Association reported record temperatures in June — for the 14th straight month. David Carlson, director of the WMO’s climate research programme, stated that “what concerns me most is that we didn’t anticipate these temperature jumps.” They knew it was bad, just not this bad.

And why do you suppose climate change is worse than anyone thought? Has this question occurred to anyone? Continue reading

UCS posts strange review of Cowspiracy — no, wait, a review of “Livestock and Climate Change”

CowspiracyWe’ve been wondering for some time if major environmental groups would ever react to Cowspiracy, the 2014 documentary making the case that livestock agriculture is the most destructive industry on the planet today.

Well, there’s good news and bad news! The good news is that one group, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is now publicly discussing Cowspiracy. The bad news is that this comes in the form of a rather strange review which Doug Boucher, a scientific advisor to the UCS, has posted on the UCS web site.  Continue reading

Keeping Backyard Chickens Is Not a Good Idea

chickens-in-coopBy Kate Lawrence
(reblogged from A Practical Peacemaker Ponders)

The following is a letter I sent to Denver’s Washington Park Profile in response to their front-page article on keeping backyard chickens:

I’m glad your July article on backyard chickens included the downside.  Given the practical issues of daily care, humane concerns, and health consequences of eating eggs, is this something the city of Denver should be encouraging?

Continue reading

The Oracle of Oil — review

Oracle of Oil cover Mason InmanThe Oracle of Oil: A Maverick Geologist’s Quest for a Sustainable Future. By Mason Inman. W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

M. King Hubbert was a prophetic 20th century American oil geologist best known for his predictions about peak oil — the maximum rate of oil production. But the people who claim to “refute” Hubbert have usually not even understood what he was saying. He expressed his views in various technical papers and writings, in lectures, and in private conversations — in short, in his life. Mason Inman has written the first and so far the only full-length biography of Hubbert. It is absolutely essential to anyone who wants to understand what Hubbert was about, which can only be done by looking at his life and thinking as a whole. Continue reading

Voluntary Human Extinction, anyone?

VHEMT logo JPEG

VHEMT.org

You may already have heard of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement (acronym: VHEMT). Human extinction? Yes, they’re serious — I think. It sounds like a totally fringe and bizarre cult, but it’s not. It’s not about suicide, or even involuntary population reductions such as war, famine and disease. It’s about not having children — their slogan is “may we live long and die out.” To support the movement, you don’t have to actually endorse or believe in human extinction, you just need to stop reproducing. The basic argument is that humans have so totally corrupted the planet that the only way we can restore the natural balance is through our own extinction. (And no, you don’t have to give up sex, unless you want to.) Their arguments are so calm and reasonable, that it makes you wonder that maybe they’re on to something. Continue reading

Would a Deer Hug a Hunter? I Don’t Think So

Billboard hunter deer

Billboard at Colorado and Evans

By Kate Lawrence
(reblogged from A Practical Peacemaker Ponders)

At a major intersection in my Denver neighborhood, this large billboard shows a deer and a hunter in an embrace.  The caption has the deer saying “Thanks hunter, for making sure my home isn’t turned into a mall.”  Really?

The billboard is part of an extensive advertising campaign by The Wildlife Council here in Colorado to convince the public that hunters and anglers care about preserving wildlife.  Then why are they systematically killing them by hunting and fishing?  If you cared about a group of animals, would you want to kill them?  Especially since you are not starving and have no need to eat their flesh? Continue reading

Talking to vegans about simple living

Prairie dogs are extinct in perhaps 98% to 99% of their former range

Prairie dogs are extinct in perhaps 98% to 99% of their former range

If you are a vegan, should you also try to live simply? Does veganism imply simple living? Vegan activists often downplay or reject outright the suggestion that veganism means “doing without.” We have vegan cheese! We can travel to exotic destinations and eat vegan! We can get the latest Tesla electric car with non-leather seats! However, veganism — in spirit, if not in the letter — does imply living simply, because of the effect of our consumption patterns on wild animals. Continue reading

Talking to simple living advocates about veganism

The Practical Peacemaker, by Kate Lawrencepeacemaker_cover_60_pctOn the face of it, the practice of simple living implies veganism. If you live simply, you are consuming the least amount of the earth’s resources that you can. But eating meat consumes copious quantities of natural resources, causes untold animal suffering, and in fact is actually harmful to your health. It is the ultimate example of unnecessary consumption. How can you claim to be living simply if you are not vegan?

Kate Lawrence makes this argument in The Practical Peacemaker: the primary aspect of simple living is the reduction of unnecessary consumption of the earth’s resources, which obviously implies veganism. However, this straightforward argument has not won over most modern simple living practitioners, notwithstanding the examples of Scott and Helen Nearing and others. Why is this? Continue reading

Half-Earth — the plan

Half-Earth cover E. O. WilsonWhat would it look like if we really gave half of the earth’s surface for wilderness, as Edward Wilson proposes in his book Half-Earth? What does “committing half of the planet’s surface to nature” (Half-Earth, p. 3) actually mean?

This is quite far-reaching, but it’s also ambiguous, and here is where I begin to get a bit nervous.  I presume that Wilson is talking about half of the land surface.  But which half of the planet do humans get, and which half does the non-human domain get?  If it is done strictly by area, we have to account for the fact that humans have already given themselves much of the biologically productive areas on the planet.  Translation: agricultural areas, plus many of those areas where we have built our cities and towns, typically close by to agricultural areas. Continue reading

Half-Earth — the book

Half-Earth cover E. O. WilsonHalf-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Edward O. Wilson. Liveright Publishing Company, 2016.

Edward O. Wilson, the noted biologist, naturalist, and writer, has written a book on the extinction crisis. Species are going extinct about 1000 times as fast as the “normal” rate of extinction. The “solution,” argues the author, is dramatic and simple: “only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it” (p. 3).

Half of the Earth? Wow. That should get everyone’s attention. But there are some ambiguities with this idea. Which half of the earth goes to wilderness? How would we decide? Wilson is clear on many things, but parts of his proposal are left tantalizingly vague. Continue reading

Why is simple living so complex? (Part 3)

P1000676-small butterfly in gardenSimple living is complex, because our society has made it complex. What should we do about it?

The reason I’m so concerned about simple living, even though it’s tricky to define and almost impossible to practice, is that consumerism is destroying the planet on multiple fronts. We need simple living, on a massive scale — and especially in the advanced industrial countries — to save the ecosystems that support the existence of all animals on the planet. And no, veganism is not enough. If we keep burning coal, driving cars, and overpopulating the earth, veganism will just slow down, but not stop, the destruction. Continue reading

Why is simple living so complex? (Part 2)

Abandoned house in Detroit. Is this the future of simple living?

Abandoned house in Detroit. Is this the future of simple living?

Simple living is important given the environmental crisis. The human impact on nature is colossal and threatens all life on the planet, including eventually us, and we need to lessen that impact as much as we can. But in the United States, it is easy to consume and hard to live with less, just because of the way our society and our economy are structured. Why is this? Continue reading

Why is simple living so complex? (Part 1)

Detroit - abandoned house - Delray

An abandoned house in Detroit.

Simple living should be a simple idea, but it’s not. The basic idea of living on less is an old idea, practiced by such people as the Buddha, Jesus, Epicurus, the Quakers, Thoreau, and Gandhi. Given the environmental crises that we now face, and given huge income inequality, simple living would also seem to be a timely idea.

The problem is that our society makes increased consumption easy, under the banner of “economic growth.” Trying to consume less, rather than more, is officially discouraged; someone trying to consume less is bound to run into problems. Continue reading