Colorado is burning, California and Oregon are burning, and the world is burning. The coronavirus pandemic distracted our momentary amazement at the breadth and depth of the Australia fires earlier this year (remember them?). The pandemic was itself a consequence of our fascination with killing and eating animals; it started with eating pangolins, and it’s being spread through slaughterhouses. Now, America is literally on fire. We are destroying animals and trees wholesale and we’re noticing that the air is unhealthy. Continue reading
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
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 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
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
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. 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%!
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
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
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
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