Photo: Gage Skidmore
A growing economy is what almost everyone expects. But a growing economy is exactly what our system cannot honestly deliver, due to resource limits. This makes both business and political fraud much more likely.
Donald Trump’s unfortunately brilliant slogan, “Make America Great Again,” encapsulates this expectation of economic growth perfectly. It has brought this dishonest bully uncomfortably close to the levers of ultimate political power. But the natural resources to make the economy grow like we want it to just aren’t there. Our resource situation today is noticeably worse than it was just two decades ago, at the end of the twentieth century. Climate change is the most obvious environmental problem that we face, but others are waiting in the wings — peak oil, mass extinctions, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, the Zika virus, and others. Continue reading
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
We’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
The 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
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
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
What 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: 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
Simple 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
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
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
Sometimes I hear vegans, in the context of discussions of world hunger, say things like, “on a vegetarian or vegan diet, the world could easily support 10 or 15 billion people.” Actually, I myself have said things like this, so I’m not exactly pointing a finger here. “On a vegetarian diet, the world could undoubtedly support a population several times its present size” (A Vegetarian Sourcebook, p. 137).
Could we, really, support fifteen billion human beings on a vegan diet? Continue reading
A couple of months ago the Denver Post ran an editorial, “The death knell for ‘peak oil.’” The Post editorial stated that at a 2009 conference in Denver, peak oil theorists predicted that spot shortages would “blow up prices, shock economies and destabilize governments”; but now collapsing prices and a world “awash” in oil had refuted these ideas, and “peak oil worries have been laid to rest.” (Jan. 21, 2016).
Oh, really? Let’s take a look. Continue reading
Last December, Sailesh Rao published a study on the “Lifestyle Carbon Dividend.” I corresponded with Sailesh about this and have posted the interchange below. I have also posted some of the relevant parts of his poster when my questions related to them. This interview may be a bit technical for some of my readers, but I learned something from this exchange myself and hope that it is helpful. Key quote: ” On average, native forests sequester more than ten times as much carbon per unit area [compared to grasslands or pasture lands].” Continue reading
In case you don’t have time to read through Sailesh Rao’s paper on “the lifestyle carbon dividend” (see previous post), you’re in luck. Sailesh has a video about his paper (about 10 minutes). This video is his introduction of the documentary “Cowspiracy” to the European Parliament. I almost missed it because I thought to myself, “I’ve already seen ‘Cowspiracy,’ so I don’t need anyone to ‘introduce’ the movie to me.” Well, it is an introduction to “Cowspiracy,” but it’s more than that. Continue reading