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
[The following article by Keith Akers was published in The Ark, No. 234, Autumn/Winter 2016 issue. The Ark is the publication of the Catholic Concern for Animals.]
Is vegetarianism part of Christianity, or are they incompatible? Christianity and vegetarianism don’t have to be in competition, but in practice they are. While many become vegetarians for health reasons, the heart of vegetarianism is its ethical component — the practice of not eating meat out of concern for the suffering of animals. 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
Meathooked: The History and Science of our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat. By Marta Zaraska. Basic Books, 2016.
A well-written and informative book, even when one doesn’t completely agree with it, is easy to review. This book fills the bill. Thank you, Marta Zaraska, for keeping us up to snuff on the issues. She also manages not to upset anyone, steering away from nasty little confrontations with vegetarian sensibilities. So, vegetarians, you can relax; your ethical sensibilities will not be sullied.
Zaraska, a freelance science journalist, provides the flip side of the “why are you vegetarian?” discussion — “why do you eat meat?” The author isn’t looking for, or trying to dissect, rational arguments for meat-eating — she’s just looking for an explanation or a cause for this behavior. 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
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