Category Archives: Limits to Growth

Limitations on economic output due to resource constraints.

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

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

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

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

Doughnut Economics — review

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. Kate Raworth. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.

Our economy has already overshot critical environmental limits, and economic inequality seems to deepen with each passing day. But mainstream economists are strangely silent on these issues. What’s going on here? And what should the rest of us (non-economists) be thinking and doing?

Enter Kate Raworth, a renegade economist and feminist who proposes a completely different framework for understanding economics and who has now written a marvelous little book, Doughnut Economics, to popularize this whole subject. With luck, this book will shake economists out of their inadequate models and move them toward different and more relevant models. Continue reading