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
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
On the face of it, the practice of simple living implies veganism. If you live simply, you are consuming the least amount of the earth’s resources that you can. But eating meat consumes copious quantities of natural resources, causes untold animal suffering, and in fact is actually harmful to your health. It is the ultimate example of unnecessary consumption. How can you claim to be living simply if you are not vegan?
Kate Lawrence makes this argument in The Practical Peacemaker: the primary aspect of simple living is the reduction of unnecessary consumption of the earth’s resources, which obviously implies veganism. However, this straightforward argument has not won over most modern simple living practitioners, notwithstanding the examples of Scott and Helen Nearing and others. Why is this? 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
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
Jesus in the temple (Greco)
Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which commemorates (in the Christian calendar) Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the last week of his life. Sometime during this week he disrupted the animal sacrifice business in the temple, the action for which he was executed. Below I have included a second clip from the January 14 interview with the Vegan Spirituality Online Gathering. In this clip, I discuss Jesus in the temple, a rather dramatic model for animal liberation. (The “chimes” that you occasionally hear during the interview were generated when someone joined the call.) Continue reading
Last December, Sailesh Rao published a study on the “Lifestyle Carbon Dividend.” I corresponded with Sailesh about this and have posted the interchange below. I have also posted some of the relevant parts of his poster when my questions related to them. This interview may be a bit technical for some of my readers, but I learned something from this exchange myself and hope that it is helpful. Key quote: ” On average, native forests sequester more than ten times as much carbon per unit area [compared to grasslands or pasture lands].” Continue reading
In case you don’t have time to read through Sailesh Rao’s paper on “the lifestyle carbon dividend” (see previous post), you’re in luck. Sailesh has a video about his paper (about 10 minutes). This video is his introduction of the documentary “Cowspiracy” to the European Parliament. I almost missed it because I thought to myself, “I’ve already seen ‘Cowspiracy,’ so I don’t need anyone to ‘introduce’ the movie to me.” Well, it is an introduction to “Cowspiracy,” but it’s more than that. Continue reading
Last December, Sailesh Rao and two of his colleagues made a presentation to the American Geophysical Union, entitled “The Lifestyle Carbon Dividend.” The key point of this paper was that by simply stopping livestock agriculture, we could sequester a lot of carbon and thereby decrease the carbon dioxide levels of the atmosphere. The reason is that grazing land occupies much of the planet’s surface today. In the absence of livestock agriculture, much of this area would revert to forests, which incorporate much, much more carbon than grasslands or pasture. How much carbon could we sequester in these new forests? More carbon than has been released into the atmosphere since 1800. Continue reading
Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)
On Thursday, January 14, the Vegan Spirituality Online Gathering (a project of In Defense of Animals) interviewed me. They recorded the whole call and have made it available on YouTube. Besides me, Lisa Levinson and Judy Carman were also on the call. It’s rather long — over an hour and twenty-two minutes — so I’m just including a short clip in which I discuss Jesus’ family and vegetarianism, including James, the brother of Jesus and the first leader of the church after Jesus. I’ll add a second clip later. Continue reading
If you’re in Denver this Saturday, January 30, I’m giving a talk on “veganism and the environment” at the Denver Vegans monthly potluck. It will be at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center, 1939 South Monroe Street in Denver (near the intersection of Colorado Blvd. and I-25). Gather at 6:00 pm, potluck at 6:30 pm, and my talk will begin about 7:00. $2 requested to cover the rental of the space. Bring a vegan dish for the potluck or just show up for the talk. For more details, check out the Denver Vegans site.
My approach is substantially different both from that of both other vegans and other environmentalists. We are facing the limits to economic growth and the basic unsustainability of our civilization and way of life. There will be an overview of livestock-related environmental issues such as climate change, resource depletion, and mass extinctions; and I’ll go further into the issues that the movie,“Cowspiracy,” raised. There will be time for questions and answers and a discussion.
Jesus in the temple (Greco)
Was Jesus a vegetarian? The long answer is to investigate both Jesus and the movement that he was part of, something I’ve done in my books The Lost Religion of Jesus and Disciples. This post will give a shorter answer that briefly discusses three key points: the controversy over vegetarianism in the early church, the later history of Jewish Christianity, and Jesus’ attack on animal sacrifice.
The dispute over vegetarianism in the early church shows that the leadership of the Jerusalem church was vegetarian. Continue reading
The End of Captivity? A Primate’s Reflections on Zoos, Conservation, and Christian Ethics. Tripp York. Cascade Books, 2015. 135 pages.
The End of Captivity? is a short, open-ended Christian meditation on humans and their effects on wild animals. The book is both challenging and infuriating at the same time. It is challenging because it asks us to question the basic logic that puts animals in zoos. But it is sometimes infuriating because, as the author points out, human dominion over the planet is so complete that there isn’t very much space around for wild animals. Where, exactly, can we send them? Continue reading
This was delicious.
A lot of people, reading my previous two posts on defining veganism — including some people who commented on them — reacted by saying: “it’s all semantics.” Who cares about the precise definition of veganism? This will never matter.
Actually, yes, words do matter, and here’s a major case in point — the history of Buddhism. The first precept of Buddhism is expressed in various ways, often as “not to take life” or “not to kill any sentient creature.” The Detroit Zen Center gives the precept as “Do not harm, but cherish all life.” That is very close to a vegan commandment. Continue reading
How exactly have people defined the term “vegan”? Let’s start with the end result, or rather, two end results: two definitions of “vegan,” one from the Vegan Society and the other from the American Vegan Society (AVS).
Donald Watson and his wife Dorothy coined the term “vegan” and presented it to the world in 1944. Continue reading