“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
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
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
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
Red Cross woman, August 1944 (public domain image)
The pandemic isn’t even over — in fact, it looks like it’s just getting started! But already we can start asking, what does it all mean? Vegans have already noticed one obvious significance: the pandemic is yet another consequence of eating animals. While we don’t know the precise route the disease took, some people ate or came into contact with some animals (snake? bat? pig?) and now over a million have been sickened and over 60,000 are dead, with no end in sight.
But the pandemic has vast and confusing complexity both of causes and effects, on multiple levels of significance, which are still unfolding. Here are some of them. Continue reading
“Pandemic” is a popular board game. If our current situation were replicated in game terms, we would have lost already, because more than seven outbreaks have occurred. Source: author’s photo.
This pandemic is a pivotal event, not just for vegans, but for almost everyone on the planet. There’s a lot that we still don’t know. But there can be no doubt that this pandemic is a consequence of our treatment of animals. 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
Library of Congress (public domain)
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
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
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
Here are the top 10 things to think about when considering the effect of food on the environment:
1. Humans and their livestock now constitute over 95% of all the large animal biomass on the planet.
Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature (The MIT Press, 2013), p. 228, table 12.2.
Y. M. Bar-On et al., “The biomass distribution on Earth,” PNAS, June 19, 2018, 115(25): 6506–6511. 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