Category Archives: Ecological Economics

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

Basic income and veganism

Basic income demonstration in Berlin, 2013. Credit: stanjourdan, https://www.flickr.com/people/39524850@N04, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Systemic, radical changes in the United States are now in the cards. You can feel it in the news and in the streets, even with COVID-19 acting as a damper on protests. But we haven’t had much discussion of what specifically these changes should be. We know—though mainstream economists still haven’t figured it out—that economic growth isn’t the answer: we have hit the limits to growth. We need a basic income: a guaranteed cash payment to all adult citizens sufficient to support a minimal lifestyle.

Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “OK, basic income: possibly a good idea. But what does this have to do with veganism?” Continue reading

Drawdown

Book cover for “Drawdown”

Several years ago, I took a look at the book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken. It has now been turned into a web site, “Project Drawdown,” which several people have recently mentioned to me. It’s a list of proposed solutions to global warming. It is not so much a plan to deal with global warming, but rather strategies that could be integrated into a plan. There are lots of good ideas, including not only the standard ones such as renewable energy, but also including plant-rich diets, forest restoration, bicycle infrastructure, and others.

Approaching global warming in this way looks like an attempt to retrofit sustainability onto our existing system. Is this going to work? Continue reading

Veganism as a response to limits to growth

A makeshift memorial near the bus stop where the incident occurred, photographed on May 27. This image was originally posted to Flickr by Lorie Shaull at https://flickr.com/photos/11020019@N04/49943807607.

Limits to growth are now here. Our economy used to work just fine but hasn’t been working so well for the past few decades. With limits to growth, it is now not going to work at all.

One failure is our way of dealing with social inequality. The only way that we have tried to deal with social inequality is through economic growth. We’ve assumed for some time that capitalistic expansion of the economy will solve problems of inequality. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” that is, a bigger economy will be bigger for everyone. Continue reading

Is it peak oil yet?

The BP oil spill, April 20, 2010. Public domain image from the U. S. Coast Guard. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deepwater_Horizon_offshore_drilling_unit_on_fire_2010.jpg

Is peak oil here? Yes! Peak oil has finally arrived! I’m hardly alone in raising this issue; Gail Tverberg, Art Berman, Kurt Cobb, and Alice Friedmann (and at this point probably many others) are expressing similar concerns.

Wait a minute, it has PROBABLY arrived. Allow me to explain. Continue reading

Thinking the unthinkable

“Castle Bravo” blast in 1954. Public domain image from US Department of Energy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Castle_Bravo_Blast.jpg

Will a million Americans die due to the COVID-19 pandemic? I doubt that the casualties will get this high, but it is not unthinkable.

When I was young, the “unthinkable” was the possibility of human-caused nuclear war. Today, we face the reality of human-caused pandemic diseases. The destruction from this pandemic probably won’t be quite as grim as an all-out nuclear war. But it is getting into, perhaps, the terror of a limited nuclear exchange. Continue reading

Keep calm: plants have protein

I’m ready for this campaign.

The pandemic is scary, but its scariest aspect is something we still don’t know: what will be our society’s ultimate reaction to it? Our treatment of animals was key to the origins of the pandemic, but it is also part of resolving the pandemic.

President Trump is struggling to keep slaughterhouses going and recently declared them to be “essential.” His views are now being backed up by armed right wing protesters demonstrating to reopen the economy. Slaughterhouses are trying to return to their bloody normal, with some sort of minimal protections for slaughterhouse workers; but protections for workers from the virus are still not mandated by the CDC. Some think that slaughterhouses will just continue to produce meat even if it means increased risks to workers.

Vegans can become the voice of calm in this crisis by stating the obvious: plants have protein. Continue reading

Shut down the slaughterhouses

On Tuesday, the Denver Post reported  that “5th Greeley JBS worker dies.” JBS is a Colorado slaughterhouse employing 6000 workers. Over 100 employees tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19), and five have died: four workers and one person who worked at the corporate office. (Let’s see, that works out to about a 5% mortality rate.) Despite this, JBS is re-opening! And the company is going to court to stop the union from raising safety concerns in public! Continue reading

Shock Treatment

Earth seen from Apollo 17 – public domain image

It’s the 50th anniversary of the very first Earth Day. I certainly didn’t think I’d be celebrating it like this: inside our house, in the middle of a pandemic. This pandemic is shock treatment for both the economy and the political system. Where do we go from here?

As a college student, I remember the local celebrations of the very first Earth Day in Nashville in 1970. I wasn’t yet vegan. The event itself seemed rather innocuous. I don’t remember any of the speeches and didn’t stay until the end. Sure, I thought, it’s nice to protect the environment. But the need for clean air, clean water, and nice places for Smokey the Bear to live didn’t seem to present the same sort of existential threat that the war in Vietnam did, in which hundreds of thousands were being killed and of which we ourselves could conceivably become victims.

Today the environmental crisis is an existential threat to human civilization far greater than the Vietnam War. Continue reading

Unpacking the significance of the pandemic

Red Cross woman, August 1944 (public domain image)

The pandemic isn’t even over — in fact, it looks like it’s just getting started! But already we can start asking, what does it all mean? Vegans have already noticed one obvious significance: the pandemic is yet another consequence of eating animals. While we don’t know the precise route the disease took, some people ate or came into contact with some animals (snake? bat? pig?) and now over a million have been sickened and over 60,000 are dead, with no end in sight.

But the pandemic has vast and confusing complexity both of causes and effects, on multiple levels of significance, which are still unfolding. Here are some of them. Continue reading

This pandemic is about animals

“Pandemic” is a popular board game. If our current situation were replicated in game terms, we would have lost already, because more than seven outbreaks have occurred. Source: author’s photo.

This pandemic is a pivotal event, not just for vegans, but for almost everyone on the planet. There’s a lot that we still don’t know. But there can be no doubt that this pandemic is a consequence of our treatment of animals. 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