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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Last Monday (November 13), a group of over 15,000 scientists issued “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” In most quarters, this notice was received politely and has already faded from the news cycle. One researcher complained about the “scaremongering” of the scientists, but much worse was the general silence — a kind of collective yawn — about what the “second notice” says and what we might do.
The key aspect of the warning missed by most reports, was that it suggested that we face limits to economic growth. Here are some salient points. Continue reading
Mark Jacobson, a prominent proponent of renewable energy, contends that we could relatively easily go to a completely renewable economy (wind, water, and solar) by 2050. But not everyone agrees with Jacobson. Last summer, twenty-one scientists headed by Christopher Clack published a paper that was critical of Jacobson’s approach. The heart of the disagreement is not whether climate change is real, but how to deal with climate change.
The upshot of these differing opinions is that Jacobson is now seeking $10 million in damages from Clack and his publisher, claiming that he has been defamed. You may have never heard of Jacobson or Clack, but this lawsuit has important political implications. Continue reading
We don’t have a workable plan to stop using fossil fuels. And NO, renewable energy is not such a plan.
Many are hoping that renewables will save the day, by providing the energy that the economy needs “renewably.” This is what Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bill McKibben, and the Sierra Club are relying on. Unfortunately, it’s going to be much more expensive and take longer to achieve than most people think. And when we finally get there, our economy is going to be substantially smaller. Continue reading
Does breathing contribute to climate change? With every breath we take, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. So are we contributing to climate change just by the act of breathing?
If someone knows a bit about biology, they might respond, “no, because new plants will replace the plants we have eaten, and the new plants will take up the carbon dioxide.” The actual answer is not some glib assurance that new plants will replace the old, but “it depends.” And when you spin out what precisely it depends on, it has very significant implications for how we address climate change. Continue reading
Al Gore’s new documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel” is well worth seeing. Coming out a decade after “An Inconvenient Truth,” it makes one key point on which we all can agree: climate change is already happening, illustrated with collapsing glaciers, extreme weather events, and more. To his credit, Gore does acknowledge agriculture — in one sentence — but immediately adds that the leading cause of climate change is fossil fuel emissions.
Well, isn’t he right?
I would turn Gore’s statement around: without addressing livestock agriculture, we will not be able to deal with climate change. And here’s why. Continue reading
Remember the very beginning of Cowspiracy, where the producers interview Bruce Hamilton representing the Sierra Club? Hamilton gives a litany of all the dire consequences of climate change, ending with a prediction of “climate wars.” He is then asked, “what about livestock and animal agriculture?” to which Hamilton innocently (and seemingly obliviously) responds, “well, what about it? I mean —”. This is the lead-in to Cowspiracy’s general theme that environmental organizations are either clueless or hypocritically silent about livestock agriculture and the environment.
If the producers of Cowspiracy had showed up at a local Sierra Club meeting last week, instead of interviewing Hamilton, Cowspiracy might have taken a very different turn. Continue reading
Climate change is a lot worse than we thought. This is catching even the climate scientists by surprise, according to a widely-cited story from the Thompson Reuters foundation. The World Meteorological Association reported record temperatures in June — for the 14th straight month. David Carlson, director of the WMO’s climate research programme, stated that “what concerns me most is that we didn’t anticipate these temperature jumps.” They knew it was bad, just not this bad.
And why do you suppose climate change is worse than anyone thought? Has this question occurred to anyone? Continue reading
We’ve been wondering for some time if major environmental groups would ever react to Cowspiracy, the 2014 documentary making the case that livestock agriculture is the most destructive industry on the planet today.
Well, there’s good news and bad news! The good news is that one group, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is now publicly discussing Cowspiracy. The bad news is that this comes in the form of a rather strange review which Doug Boucher, a scientific advisor to the UCS, has posted on the UCS web site. Continue reading