Category Archives: Ecological Economics

The economy is part of the environment, not vice versa.

Soil Erosion — is anyone paying attention?

Over a month ago, Reuters issued a widely-mentioned (but not widely discussed) press release on soils.“Only 60 years of farming left if soil degradation continues,” reads the release. It quotes some United Nations officials, warning of the problems of soil erosion.

Is anyone paying attention? In an ideal world, the public would be outraged by this. Congressional committees would study the problem. Students would demand courses on soil preservation. But back in the real world, farmland just isn’t that big of a deal. After all, agriculture is just a very small part of the U. S. economy. We could also debate whether this is an exaggeration. Perhaps we have 100, or even 200 years of farming left! Continue reading

How can we ask them not to eat meat?

In a recent Go Vegan radio interview, Leslie Goldberg (author of the Vicious Vegan blog) gave an account of a conversation she had with Bill McKibben. (McKibben is a noted environmentalist and a co-founder of 350.org.) Leslie asked McKibben why he didn’t talk about meat consumption as a cause of climate change. McKibben first pointed out that most of the growth in meat consumption comes from the developing countries. Somewhat irritated, he then asked (in effect) “how can you ask people who are just starting to be able to afford and enjoy meat, not to eat meat?”

This is an intelligent question, so I thought I’d attempt to answer it. Continue reading

5280 Magazine Misses the Meat of the Matter

By Kate Lawrence

5280 The Denver Magazine recently featured an article on “Everyday Environmentalists,” presenting over 40 ways to live greener.  Pointing out that Coloradans are not as environmentally virtuous as we may think we are, the article featured excellent advice on such topics as home insulation, composting, gardening, biking–the usual and more.  Some items were very detailed, such as the advice to buy a live Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, and then plant it outside.  Readers who hike popular mountain trails were encouraged to go during the week so as to increase the likelihood that they will stay on the trail and minimize trail deterioration.  Yes, yes, yes, I’m saying to myself as I read, but when do we get to the huge environmental impact of meat consumption? Continue reading

Chris Hedges: Go Vegan for the Planet

Chris Hedges has seen "Cowspiracy"

Chris Hedges was a war correspondent, worked for the Greens in 2008 and 2012, and was part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. He’s also, interestingly enough, a Presbyterian minister. He is known to me personally mostly as the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a book which is at once interesting, powerfully written, and quite disturbing. It was so powerful, in fact, that I couldn’t finish it. Forcing myself to finish it would be like forcing a vegan to watch slaughterhouse footage. I get it already; I don’t want to watch it.

Chris Hedges is also now a vegan, citing serious environmental concerns. He describes this in his recent article, “Saving the Planet, One Meal at a Time.” Continue reading

Extracted (review)

Extracted. How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet.
Ugo Bardi. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

Many people have heard of “peak oil,” and are concerned that finite fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas cannot support our economy indefinitely. But what about metals, like copper, gold, platinum, aluminum, and others? Isn’t there a finite supply of those in the earth’s crust as well? Do we have to worry about “running out” of metals?

Well, actually we do, although it’s more complicated than the phrase “running out” implies. This is the topic of Ugo Bardi’s clearly written and quite interesting book on minerals and how humans extract them. Continue reading

Drilling Down (review)

Drilling Down. The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma.
Joseph A. Tainter and Tadeusz W. Patzek. Springer, 2011.

Remember the Gulf oil spill in 2011? This catastrophic and deadly failure has now begun to fade from the public memory, but oil continues to be an increasingly complex issue in our society and the world.

To get oil, we now have to contend with “terrorists” abroad (ISIL), chaotic countries (Libya, Nigeria), and autocratic regimes with culture straight out of the Middle Ages (Saudi Arabia). The price of oil is permanently too expensive, unless the economy collapses (as in 2008–2009), and as may be happening now. Environmental damage is rife. Besides the Gulf oil spill, we have fracking (earthquakes, water contamination), the Alberta tar sands (which have done immense damage) and climate change. It’s not just that the situation is bad, but that the depth and complexity of our situation is breathtaking. Continue reading

Radicalization

What does "respect" mean?

The recently-concluded Denver event “Hoofin It” (August 17-20th) featured a different hoofed animal each day at different restaurants for customers to eat. The meat is from “responsibly raised hoofed animals,” and it was a benefit for the Colorado Food Guild, and tickets were not cheap: $60 for dinner for one person. The theme of the event was “respect your dinner.”

Had this been just another event of the “happy meat” people, vegans would have greeted this news with yawns and the ritualistic rolling of the eyes. But this event had an unexpected feature; the key sponsor was The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Continue reading

Robert Goodland (1939 – 2013)

Dr. Robert Goodland died on December 28, 2013. He is best known as the lead author (with co-author Jeff Anhang) of “Livestock and Climate Change” (WorldWatch, November / December 2009), which made the case that livestock agriculture is responsible for over half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.  He worked at the World Bank for over two decades and was sometimes referred to as “the conscience of the World Bank.” Continue reading

Al Gore is Vegan

Methane is a lot worse than we thought, but there is some good news about the climate as well, already well publicized. Al Gore has gone vegan. In the past many people have complained about Gore’s lack of interest in combating a key cause of climate change. Well, now our hopes have been realized: Gore is a vegan. The “revelation” has been confirmed by The Washington Post.

This is a hugely interesting fact about which quite a bit of ink has already been spilled. The most interesting facet of this story is how amazingly little we know about Gore’s veganism. Continue reading

Interview with John Howe

John Howe, with a solar tractor and solar car

John Howe is a vegetarian who “walks the walk” concerning sustainability and simple living on his farm in Maine. He is the author of The End of Fossil Energy. His book is excellent and deserves more attention, especially from vegetarians. For further information and/or to obtain the complete nine-chapter manuscript, contact howe@megalink.net. My questions are in bold, with his responses following.

Continue reading

Chatfield State Park to be destroyed by greed

An insipid, half-baked plan to destroy Chatfield State Park is now going full-steam ahead. Today The Denver Post has weighed in on the side of the “greed” faction. The opportunity to speak out is closing fast – comments are due by September 3.  For what you can do, go to the Save Chatfield web site.

I have some news for the Post.  Water is quite scarce out here, and no one’s making any more of it! We can only take it away from a place where it already exists. People need to think about this whenever yet another scatter-brained water project that destroys natural habitat is proposed. We need to be able to say “no” to the developers. Continue reading

Great New Book on the Collapse of Civilizations

Secular Cycles. Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov.  Princeton University Press, 2009.

Secular Cycles is a phenomenal and important book.  It is clearly of interest to anyone who is concerned about things like the collapse of civilizations, and specifically the possible collapse of our civilization. Even though it’s new to me, it’s actually not new — it was published in 2009, and I’m only now finding out about it, and reading it!  I first heard of it through Gail Tverberg’s blog, “Our Finite World,” and I hope it finds a wide readership. But a word of warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to love the subject or you’ll never make it through the book. It doesn’t use a lot of technical terms, and is clearly written, just very academic. Continue reading

Is Violence Declining?

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Penguin Books, 2011), argues that human violence has declined. Violence was much more widespread in primitive societies than in historical times, and more widespread in the Middle Ages than in the twentieth century — yes, even worse than the First and Second World Wars. After reading his lengthy but quite readable book, I am convinced — violence between humans has indeed declined. It’s an engrossing and ground-breaking book, by the way; everyone from Peter Singer to the Wall Street Journal has praised it.

However, there are a few small points I want to raise concerning the book. Specifically, violence towards animals has increased; and the peace between humans is largely dependent on our relative affluence, which in turn depends on our exploitation of natural resources, which are now seriously depleted. Continue reading

Are We Screwed?

The April 2013 issue of VegNews, their environmental issue, asks on the cover: “Are We Screwed?” The cover quickly adds: “We don’t think so—219 reasons why!”

I don’t see any list of 219 reasons, but the ones listed on the cover are definitely not convincing to anyone who understands the seriousness of climate change and resource depletion. The VegNews cover advertises, “Eco-entrepreneurs are turning trash into treasure”; “New Zealand’s pristine beauty,” “detoxing your home is a breeze,” and some others (see photo). Inside, there’s even an article on travel to New Zealand! Continue reading

Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice is a just-released documentary which makes climate change both undeniable and vivid. James Balog, a National Geographic photographer who was once a climate change skeptic, sets out to photograph evidence of the effects of climate change. He goes to the far north with a team of fellow adventurers (dubbed the “Extreme Ice Survey”), where he sets up cameras in really hard-to-get-to places to take time-lapse photos of glaciers and ice caps, so that we can find out just what is going on. Continue reading