Category Archives: Ecological Economics

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

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

Peak oil may be almost here

“Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.” This aphorism is nowhere more applicable than when predicting the date of “peak oil” — the maximum point of world oil production. In case you hadn’t noticed, oil prices are falling dramatically. Until about six months ago, oil (“West Texas Intermediate”) had hovered for several years in the region of $100 a barrel, reaching $107 on July 23. But by last Friday (December 12), it was below $60. If we’re close to peak oil, and oil is getting scarce, shouldn’t the price be going up? What happened, and why?

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Are the Economists Hopeless on Environmental Issues?

The world has serious problems, such as climate change, peak oil, and resource depletion generally. Economists should be leading the charge on these types of issues, but except for the very few “ecological economists,” like Herman Daly, they say increasingly strange things about a parallel world which seems to have only a tangential relationship to the one in which we actually live.

A case in point is the recent book The Climate Casino (2013) by William Nordhaus. His book is quite insightful on several levels. The Climate Casino is a disturbing book, but unfortunately some of what makes it disturbing is not intentional on the part of the author.

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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

Ignoring Food Choices — Once Again

Richard Heinberg, a prominent member of the Post-Carbon Institute, has issued a 10-point plan on “How to Shrink the Economy Without Crashing It.” He makes plenty of excellent points, but it contains a glaring omission: it (once again!) leaves out any discussion of food choices.

It’s distressing to see that advocates of reducing the human impact on the planet ignore the significance of our food choices. This was exactly the theme pursued by the recent documentary “Cowspiracy,” with which the Post-Carbon Institute (PCI) is perhaps unfamiliar. Without a change in food choices, how much shrinkage in the economy’s effects on the planet will we actually see? 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

Are We Scared Yet?

The economy in Colorado is doing well. Population is growing, driving up housing prices. Fracking, livestock, and debt are providing jobs. Unfortunately, these are the very factors which are devastating the planet.

Several months ago, Russian researchers reported a giant sinkhole in Siberia, on the Yamal peninsula. It was apparently caused by a huge and spontaneous release of methane from the permafrost, caused by the unusually warm summers in this Arctic region (about 5 degrees Celsius warmer than normal). Methane is a vital issue because it’s a very important greenhouse gas, right next to carbon dioxide, and its importance is typically underestimated.

Let’s put this in perspective: the permafrost is melting. Continue reading

Vegans at the local Climate Rally

“You vegans seem to be pretty well organized!” This is what one of the leaders of the Denver climate march said to Kate and me as we marched down the 16th Street Mall today. I had to smile. Basically, my “organizational efforts” consisted mostly in bringing just four signs. Each of the four had “Meat’s Not Green” on one side, and “Less Meat = Less Heat” on the other. Kate, however, also had a considerable role in this; she had just given a short talk to the crowd about veganism, livestock agriculture, and climate change. 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

Methane (Again)

Harder than it looks

There’s bad news on the climate front.  Methane emissions are quite a bit worse than previously thought. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science is now all over the internet and in the news. It shows that methane emissions are 50% greater than previous estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.  It’s not only our consumptive lifestyle overall, but specifically meat consumption, which is the problem. Continue reading

“Limits to Growth” and the Shutdown

The BP oil spill

Drama! Don’t you love it! The debt ceiling and government shutdown debates illustrate that what the government lacks in problem-solving ability, it makes up for in entertainment value. The government is running again, the debt limit has been raised, and once again things are back to “normal,” whatever that is.  But the problem has not been solved, because the real problem has no solution. This is a “limits to growth” issue which no political leader has acknowledged even exists. Continue reading