Category Archives: Ecological Economics

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

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

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

“Skeptical Science” and land use effects on climate change

Scenario 1

The otherwise very useful web site “Skeptical Science” seems to be bent on minimizing estimates of the impacts of land use (and especially livestock agriculture) on climate change. They don’t think that animal or human respiration can possibly contribute to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Oh, really? To me it is fairly obvious that it could contribute to climate change, depending on how much we’ve destroyed the earth’s plant life that removes CO2 through photosynthesis. But to “Skeptical Science,” it is equally obvious that cows and people can’t contribute to climate change by respiration. They become rather huffy when a number of people (in the comments section of this page) start to question their thesis. What is going on here? Continue reading

“Climate Change and Veganism — an update”

In case you’re in Denver on Earth Day weekend, I’ll be speaking at the Denver Vegans potluck this Saturday, April 21. The title of my talk is “Climate Change and Veganism — an Update.” The Denver Vegans monthly vegan potluck will be held at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center, 1939 South Monroe Street in Denver, 6 pm to 8:30 pm. Bring a vegan dish; the presentation will follow the meal. For details and to sign up, visit the Denver Vegans meetup page. Continue reading

Eat for the Planet — review

Eat for the Planet. Saving the World, One Bite at a Time. Nil Zacharias and Gene Stone. Abrams Image, 2018. Hardcover, 160 pages, $19.99 / $24.99 Can.

Plant-based diets and the environment — isn’t it about time we started talking to a wider audience about this? This attractively produced book will surely get people discussing these vital concerns for the future of the planet. Zacharias and Stone give plenty of evidence that a plant-based diet is also a “planet”-based diet. In a remarkably narrow space, the authors quickly cover seven key issues — land, water, food, energy, pollution, deforestation, and species extinction, showing how a single solution can address them all. Continue reading

Judge wants to know about respiration and climate

The California judge in the climate change liability trial wants to know if human respiration is a problem for climate change. Humans are breathing out carbon dioxide (CO2), and human population has increased dramatically in just the past century. Is this part of the climate problem? (I wrote about this previously but am now revisiting it.)

Here’s the question that the judge asked:

“In grade school, many of us were taught that humans exhale CO2 but plants absorb CO2 and return oxygen to the air (keeping the carbon for fiber). Is this still valid? If so, why hasn’t plant life turned the higher levels of CO2 back into oxygen? Given the increase in human population on Earth (four billion), is human respiration a contributing factor to the buildup of CO2?” Continue reading

Air pollution: another reason to go vegan for the climate

There’s a lot of disturbing news about climate right now: methane sinkholes in Siberia, disappearing Arctic sea ice, and balmy winter temperatures at the North Pole. But a recent scientific report on air pollution (“anthropogenic aerosols”) in the atmosphere, highlighted in this interview with the lead researcher, adds another dimension to “disturbing” and gives us yet another reason to go vegan for the climate.

What does air pollution have to do with climate breakdown, and what does any of this have to do with veganism? Continue reading

Veganism is not enough

A giant methane sinkhole in Siberia. Should we be worried?

Many vegans, upon studying environmental issues a bit, conclude that there’s no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist. Well, guess what, vegans! You’re right. Veganism is a necessary part of any sane environmental approach. But it’s still not enough. Even if everyone goes vegan, if we keep burning coal, driving cars, and overpopulating the planet, universal veganism isn’t going to save us. Let’s take a look at some key environmental issues. Continue reading

Is peak oil dead?

ASPO-USA (The Association for the Study of Peak Oil – U. S. A.) is no more. A week ago Wednesday (January 24), the ASPO-USA directors sent out a note saying that the organization was dissolving: “support of and interest in our activities have dwindled to the point that we can no longer fund basic operations.”

So is peak oil dead? I come to bury peak oil, not to praise it. Continue reading

Vegans: take the lead in climate action in 2018

Kate Lawrence (left) talks about veganism with another marcher at the 2017 climate march in Denver. There was 8 inches of snow that day, while it was above 90 F in Washington, D. C.

In 2018, vegans need to take the lead in climate action.

There has been increasing awareness within the climate movement about the relationship between food, land use, and climate. A 350.org flyer urges “put plants on your plate”; a draft of a Climate Mobilization document wants “a reduction in meat-based consumption.” These are steps in the right direction, but we need to do better than this. The climate situation is much more serious than we thought and radical solutions are now absolutely necessary. Continue reading