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
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
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
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
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: 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
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
The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock. Tony Weis. London: Zed Books, 2013.
When we think about the ecological effects of livestock agriculture, many of us reflexively think about soil erosion, water pollution, or cutting down the rainforests.
Tony Weis, in The Ecological Hoofprint, shows that there is much more going on. There is an entire social framework underpinning livestock agriculture. This framework consists of political structures to legitimize extreme exploitation and an ideology to match. Ultimately, it is this social framework which is the problem, even more than the individual decision to eat (or not eat) meat. Continue reading
Trump is slated to become our new Overlord, and a lot of people are really nervous, with good reason. I hope that people take care not to trample each other as they stampede toward the exits. Immediately after the election, the papers reported that so many people were asking about immigration to Canada that the Canadian immigration web site crashed. On top of that, there is now a movement for California independence. They are proposing to do it entirely legally and peacefully, via a California referendum and amending the U. S. constitution. Continue reading
Photo: Gage Skidmore
A growing economy is what almost everyone expects. But a growing economy is exactly what our system cannot honestly deliver, due to resource limits. This makes both business and political fraud much more likely.
Donald Trump’s unfortunately brilliant slogan, “Make America Great Again,” encapsulates this expectation of economic growth perfectly. It has brought this dishonest bully uncomfortably close to the levers of ultimate political power. But the natural resources to make the economy grow like we want it to just aren’t there. Our resource situation today is noticeably worse than it was just two decades ago, at the end of the twentieth century. Climate change is the most obvious environmental problem that we face, but others are waiting in the wings — peak oil, mass extinctions, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, the Zika virus, and others. Continue reading
You may already have heard of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement (acronym: VHEMT). Human extinction? Yes, they’re serious — I think. It sounds like a totally fringe and bizarre cult, but it’s not. It’s not about suicide, or even involuntary population reductions such as war, famine and disease. It’s about not having children — their slogan is “may we live long and die out.” To support the movement, you don’t have to actually endorse or believe in human extinction, you just need to stop reproducing. The basic argument is that humans have so totally corrupted the planet that the only way we can restore the natural balance is through our own extinction. (And no, you don’t have to give up sex, unless you want to.) Their arguments are so calm and reasonable, that it makes you wonder that maybe they’re on to something. Continue reading
Prairie dogs are extinct in perhaps 98% to 99% of their former range
If you are a vegan, should you also try to live simply? Does veganism imply simple living? Vegan activists often downplay or reject outright the suggestion that veganism means “doing without.” We have vegan cheese! We can travel to exotic destinations and eat vegan! We can get the latest Tesla electric car with non-leather seats! However, veganism — in spirit, if not in the letter — does imply living simply, because of the effect of our consumption patterns on wild animals. Continue reading
What would it look like if we really gave half of the earth’s surface for wilderness, as Edward Wilson proposes in his book Half-Earth? What does “committing half of the planet’s surface to nature” (Half-Earth, p. 3) actually mean?
This is quite far-reaching, but it’s also ambiguous, and here is where I begin to get a bit nervous. I presume that Wilson is talking about half of the land surface. But which half of the planet do humans get, and which half does the non-human domain get? If it is done strictly by area, we have to account for the fact that humans have already given themselves much of the biologically productive areas on the planet. Translation: agricultural areas, plus many of those areas where we have built our cities and towns, typically close by to agricultural areas. Continue reading
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Edward O. Wilson. Liveright Publishing Company, 2016.
Edward O. Wilson, the noted biologist, naturalist, and writer, has written a book on the extinction crisis. Species are going extinct about 1000 times as fast as the “normal” rate of extinction. The “solution,” argues the author, is dramatic and simple: “only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it” (p. 3).
Half of the Earth? Wow. That should get everyone’s attention. But there are some ambiguities with this idea. Which half of the earth goes to wilderness? How would we decide? Wilson is clear on many things, but parts of his proposal are left tantalizingly vague. Continue reading