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
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
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
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
The High Park Wildfire, June 10, 2012. U.S. FS photo.
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
The Oracle of Oil: A Maverick Geologist’s Quest for a Sustainable Future. By Mason Inman. W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
M. King Hubbert was a prophetic 20th century American oil geologist best known for his predictions about peak oil — the maximum rate of oil production. But the people who claim to “refute” Hubbert have usually not even understood what he was saying. He expressed his views in various technical papers and writings, in lectures, and in private conversations — in short, in his life. Mason Inman has written the first and so far the only full-length biography of Hubbert. It is absolutely essential to anyone who wants to understand what Hubbert was about, which can only be done by looking at his life and thinking as a whole. 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
Simple living is complex, because our society has made it complex. What should we do about it?
The reason I’m so concerned about simple living, even though it’s tricky to define and almost impossible to practice, is that consumerism is destroying the planet on multiple fronts. We need simple living, on a massive scale — and especially in the advanced industrial countries — to save the ecosystems that support the existence of all animals on the planet. And no, veganism is not enough. If we keep burning coal, driving cars, and overpopulating the earth, veganism will just slow down, but not stop, the destruction. Continue reading
Abandoned house in Detroit. Is this the future of simple living?
Simple living is important given the environmental crisis. The human impact on nature is colossal and threatens all life on the planet, including eventually us, and we need to lessen that impact as much as we can. But in the United States, it is easy to consume and hard to live with less, just because of the way our society and our economy are structured. Why is this? Continue reading
An abandoned house in Detroit.
Simple living should be a simple idea, but it’s not. The basic idea of living on less is an old idea, practiced by such people as the Buddha, Jesus, Epicurus, the Quakers, Thoreau, and Gandhi. Given the environmental crises that we now face, and given huge income inequality, simple living would also seem to be a timely idea.
The problem is that our society makes increased consumption easy, under the banner of “economic growth.” Trying to consume less, rather than more, is officially discouraged; someone trying to consume less is bound to run into problems. Continue reading