Category Archives: Limits to Growth

Limitations on economic output due to resource constraints.

The Ecological Hoofprint (review)

The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock. Tony Weis. London: Zed Books, 2013.

When we think about the ecological effects of livestock agriculture, many of us reflexively think about soil erosion, water pollution, or cutting down the rainforests.

Tony Weis, in The Ecological Hoofprint, shows that there is much more going on. There is an entire social framework underpinning livestock agriculture. This framework consists of political structures to legitimize extreme exploitation and an ideology to match. Ultimately, it is this social framework which is the problem, even more than the individual decision to eat (or not eat) meat. Continue reading

Will the USA survive until 2026?

p1020245-mediumTrump is slated to become our new Overlord, and a lot of people are really nervous, with good reason. I hope that people take care not to trample each other as they stampede toward the exits. Immediately after the election, the papers reported that so many people were asking about immigration to Canada that the Canadian immigration web site crashed. On top of that, there is now a movement for California independence. They are proposing to do it entirely legally and peacefully, via a California referendum and amending the U. S. constitution. Continue reading

A system built on fraud

Photo: Gage Skidmore

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

Voluntary Human Extinction, anyone?


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

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

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

Fifteen Billion Vegans?

people crowd image wikimediaSometimes 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 quick “limits to growth” bibliography



At my talk on Saturday night, several people indicated an interest in a bibliography for people who want to read more about “limits to growth” issues. I recognize the need for more information on this subject, but on the other hand, I feel a bit ambivalent about throwing inquiring minds into what is possibly a literary and scientific briar patch. If I try to “improve” the bibliography and explain what each book contains that is of value, the project could spin out of control, and instead of a blog post I might wind up writing another book. Continue reading

Talk on “Environmental Destruction and Livestock Agriculture”

Keith AkersIn case you’re in Denver this Tuesday (September 29), I’ll be giving a talk at the University of Denver on “Environmental Destruction and Livestock Agriculture,” sponsored by the DU Environmental Team. It will be at 8 p. m. in room 253 of Sturm Hall (2000 E. Asbury Ave, Denver, Colorado). There will be a quick overview of basic environmental issues relating to the livestock industry, such as climate change, resource depletion, and mass extinctions. It’s free and there will be vegan goodies served. For more details, check out the Denver Vegans Meetup site.

Megafauna Extinctions and Overpopulation

Extinction is a hot topic these days. Megafauna — those “big animals” whose average size is 100 pounds or more — are going extinct at an alarming rate. There is huge popular sympathy for elephants, whales, tigers, giraffes, apes, and other animals endangered by human activities. At the same time, we face a huge paradox: there is more megafauna biomass now than there ever has been for past 100,000 years or so. How can megafauna become more prolific and yet so many species be faced with extinction?

There’s a simple explanation. The cause of megafauna extinctions is one particular megafauna species, namely us, and a number of other species that we have brought into existence, namely our livestock. Continue reading

Degrowth and Veganism

"Degrowth" is something natural and beautiful

“Degrowth” is something natural and beautiful

How can we deal with climate change, let alone peak oil, water shortages, deforestation, and everything else — given that truly effective environmental action would probably stop the economy from growing and totally change everyone’s lifestyle?

Our whole economy depends on fossil fuels, and our livestock-centered agricultural system is pillaging the earth’s biosphere. Veganism is surely part of the needed approach here. Continue reading