Author Archives: Keith Akers

Are we headed towards a civil war?

Ethiopian Civil War (source: U. S. Dept. of Defense)

The recent impeachment fiasco has drawn further attention to the rise of instability and polarization in the United States. In Ages of Discord, Peter Turchin predicted that this would continue. In his blogs, he states: “In my opinion, the greatest danger for us today (and into the 2020s) is not the rise of a Hitler, but rather a Second American Civil War. . . . we are already in a Cold Civil War.” Turchin foresees “rising instability in the USA, probably peaking with a major outbreak of political violence in the 2020s.”

Yikes! Continue reading

Ages of Discord—review

Ages of Discord. A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History. Peter Turchin. Beresta Books, 2016.

Are we headed towards a new civil war? Can we learn from history? Peter Turchin thinks so, and his recent book Ages of Discord is a reinterpretation of American history, coming right down to the present day. Turchin has an interesting and insightful twist on the American Civil War of 1861–1865, which has parallels with our situation today.

In case you’re new to Peter Turchin, check out my review of his previous book Secular Cycles or his blog. Ages of Discord does for the United States what his earlier book Secular Cycles, co-authored with Sergey Nefedov, did for ancient Rome, and medieval Europe and early modern England, France, and Russia. Civilizations go in cycles; they rise, and then they decline. Continue reading

Would economic collapse solve our climate problems?

The devastating Australian wildfires have reinforced the impression that climate change is the world’s number one environmental issue. But the threat of peak oil is also still very real. Fracking is becoming more problematic and difficult to finance; public and private debt is multiplying; and thanks to Donald Trump, political instability threatens to spiral out of control. Gail Tverberg plausibly argues that because of these kinds of problems, we will soon face a recession much worse than the Great Recession — something like a near-term economic collapse.

Would economic collapse mean, at least, that we can relax about climate change, due to greatly reduced industrial activity? Gail Tverberg thinks so. “If the world economy is headed toward near-term collapse, climate change shrinks back in the list of things we should be worried about.” Continue reading

Sulfate aerosols—a fatal flaw in most climate plans

 

Library of Congress (public domain)

Sulfate aerosols are a fatal flaw in most plans to stop climate change, including most versions of the “Green New Deal.” Specifically, these plans—based on reducing fossil fuel emissions—may actually precipitate the very problem that they are designed to fight, propelling the climate past critical tipping points and creating a permanently hotter planet. Continue reading

Greta Thunberg’s new book (review)

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. Greta Thunberg. Penguin, 2018, 2019.

Last October 11, Greta Thunberg made an appearance in Denver. When she announced that she would not fly even to climate conferences, I despaired of ever being able to see her in person. And yet here she was, right in our own city, and we got to see her! I don’t remember exactly what she said. However, much of what she said was doubtless in this short book, which is a collection of her speeches.

It is well worth a look. When you read the whole thing through (at 108 pages, it’s not long), it is even more radical than you probably think of Greta Thunberg as being. Continue reading

Destroying the planet to save it

Ecotourism in Zimbabwe. Source: JackyR (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mudbath5.jpg)

Flying harms the climate. Air travel is growing rapidly. Its net impact is nearly twice as great as the impact of the CO2 emissions alone, much greater than that from cars. Air travel creates nitrous oxides, water vapor, sulfate aerosols, soot aerosols, and contrails. Noted climate activist Greta Thunberg famously went out of her way to avoid flying to a climate conference on the other side of the Atlantic.

So should we all stop flying, or at least avoid flying as much as possible? In a recent New York Times opinion article, Costas Christ (of Beyond Green Travel) argued that flying as part of wildlife tourism may actually be climate-friendly. Continue reading

We Are The Weather—review

We Are The Weather. Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. Jonathan Safran Foer. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

There is now a growing chorus of well-known popular books on the subject of climate change. Everyone from Al Gore to Naomi Klein has gotten into the act. Jonathan Safran Foer has outdone them all: BECAUSE, almost alone among such writers, he discusses livestock agriculture in some depth. He knows this implies veganism and addresses, in a very personal way, the difficulties of following a vegan diet.

Foer believes that livestock is about HALF of our climate problem — in line with the Goodland and Anhang article “Livestock and Climate Change,” which he discusses. Foer understands the role of livestock in the climate issue better than most vegans. While FAO has said that 14.5% of human greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture, the reality is more like 51%!

Continue reading

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot on reforestation

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot have made a short and excellent YouTube video on forests and climate change. Their thesis: to deal with climate change, we need to eliminate fossil fuels, but this alone will not be enough. We also need reforestation. Key quote: “There’s a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself: a tree.” Plant trees, suck carbon out of the air. What’s not to love?

What they don’t mention is veganism. To reforest on a scale that will be significant we need to drastically reduce the land dedicated to the livestock industry. Continue reading

Why geese in Denver is an important issue

After the roundup and slaughter of geese in Washington Park, an article by Michael Roberts appeared in Westword, “Things Denver Should Care About More Than F*cking Geese.” Flynn’s argument was, in effect, “what about crime, what about homelessness, and what about affordable housing?”

My response is—”what about water? What about living space? Where, exactly, do you think you’re living?” There’s already insufficient water and land for everything that people want to do in Colorado. The “goose problem,” at its heart, is about living space. Continue reading

Let Them Eat Geese

Some of the survivors on July 4 in Washington Park

Some Denver residents are still unaware of the roundup and mass killing of over a thousand Canada geese in Washington Park and other Denver city parks, which took place toward the end of June. The city claimed that the geese were a health problem; and the goose meat is going to the homeless.

Before getting to the rationale for the mass killing of innocent creatures in our parks, it’s worth reflecting on the irony of giving their meat to the homeless. The meat is likely tainted with pesticides and metals, and a few years ago some city officials seemed to think that this precluded feeding the meat to the homeless. Evidently the city has now resolved its doubts on that score. The city also recently defeated, overwhelmingly, Initiative 300, which in effect would have legalized homelessness in Denver by repealing the “camping ban.” Congratulations, homeless people! You won’t be able to sleep anywhere — but you WILL get some goose meat of questionable quality. Continue reading

Reforestation is essential to deal with climate change

Whatever happened to the estimate that 51% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock agriculture (“Livestock and Climate Change,” Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, WorldWatch, Nov.-Dec. 2009)? This certainly supports the vegan cause, but is it scientifically valid?

This claim revolves around how much of an impact human land use has on the carbon cycle. What difference would it make if we didn’t have any livestock industry today? The areas now used to graze livestock, or grow crops for livestock, would revert to their natural vegetation, which in many cases would be forest areas. A new article published earlier this month in Science now gives us a better idea of the potential of reforestation. Even excluding existing forests, urban areas, and farm areas(!), reforestation could store around 200 gigatons of carbon, which is about two-thirds of the carbon humans have put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, and thus getting rid of 25% of the CO2 currently in the atmosphere. Continue reading

Food and the environment: Top 10 things to think about

Here are the top 10 things to think about when considering the effect of food on the environment:

1. Humans and their livestock now constitute over 95% of all the large animal biomass on the planet.
Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature (The MIT Press, 2013), p. 228, table 12.2.
Y. M. Bar-On et al., “The biomass distribution on Earth,” PNAS, June 19, 2018, 115(25): 6506–6511. Continue reading

The Uninhabitable Earth — review

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. David Wallace-Wells. Tim Duggan Books, 2019. 310 pages, $27.00 (US).

“It is worse, much worse, than you think.” With this first line, David Wallace-Wells perfectly summarizes a fresh, well-documented, and well-written apocalypse of global warming. For the author, it is a future both horrible and, at this point, inevitable. Gone are the bitter warnings often found in climate change literature that this is the last generation which can take effective action — or the last decade, or the last five years, or whatever arbitrary deadline is being set. Gone, also, are the cheerful lists of things you can do for the earth. In place of a program of action, there is only an ethics for the end of the world.

But Wallace-Wells is not a pessimist. Far from it! “We will, almost certainly, avoid eight degrees [Celsius] of warming” (p. 15). A mere four or five degrees is more likely. That’s just a bit less than the warming that preceded the Permian-Triassic extinction 252 million years ago, which knocked out almost all life on the planet and 95% of all species. Continue reading

A delusional Nobel Prize winner

Nordhaus in his Yale classroom on October 8. Photography ©Mara Lavitt – October 8, 2018

William Nordhaus has been awarded the Nobel Prize for economics for his work on climate change and growth (which he shares with Paul Romer). In many quarters, this is being hailed as good news, because it recognizes the reality of climate change and integrates climate change into economics. In reality, this prize rewards exactly the kind of economic thinking that created climate change in the first place — namely, the emphasis on economic growth. Continue reading

Land use and carbon dioxide

Since the beginning of agriculture, humans have drastically altered land use on the face of the earth. Humans have created deserts, leveled forests, grown crops, eroded soil, and grazed cattle. We don’t know the precise role of livestock agriculture in all of this, but it’s doubtless a very significant part.

Does any of this land use have an effect on climate, and specifically on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)?

According to William Ruddiman’s well-regarded book Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum (Princeton, revised edition 2010), land use did have a significant effect. It was enough to raise CO2 levels about 40 ppm (parts per million) in the atmosphere even before the industrial age began. Continue reading