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
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
Since the beginning of agriculture, humans have drastically altered land use on the face of the earth. Humans have created deserts, leveled forests, grown crops, eroded soil, and grazed cattle. We don’t know the precise role of livestock agriculture in all of this, but it’s doubtless a very significant part.
Does any of this land use have an effect on climate, and specifically on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)?
According to William Ruddiman’s well-regarded book Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum (Princeton, revised edition 2010), land use did have a significant effect. It was enough to raise CO2 levels about 40 ppm (parts per million) in the atmosphere even before the industrial age began. Continue reading
The otherwise very useful web site “Skeptical Science” seems to be bent on minimizing estimates of the impacts of land use (and especially livestock agriculture) on climate change. They don’t think that animal or human respiration can possibly contribute to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Oh, really? To me it is fairly obvious that it could contribute to climate change, depending on how much we’ve destroyed the earth’s plant life that removes CO2 through photosynthesis. But to “Skeptical Science,” it is equally obvious that cows and people can’t contribute to climate change by respiration. They become rather huffy when a number of people (in the comments section of this page) start to question their thesis. What is going on here? Continue reading
In case you’re in Denver on Earth Day weekend, I’ll be speaking at the Denver Vegans potluck this Saturday, April 21. The title of my talk is “Climate Change and Veganism — an Update.” The Denver Vegans monthly vegan potluck will be held at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center, 1939 South Monroe Street in Denver, 6 pm to 8:30 pm. Bring a vegan dish; the presentation will follow the meal. For details and to sign up, visit the Denver Vegans meetup page. Continue reading
Eat for the Planet. Saving the World, One Bite at a Time. Nil Zacharias and Gene Stone. Abrams Image, 2018. Hardcover, 160 pages, $19.99 / $24.99 Can.
Plant-based diets and the environment — isn’t it about time we started talking to a wider audience about this? This attractively produced book will surely get people discussing these vital concerns for the future of the planet. Zacharias and Stone give plenty of evidence that a plant-based diet is also a “planet”-based diet. In a remarkably narrow space, the authors quickly cover seven key issues — land, water, food, energy, pollution, deforestation, and species extinction, showing how a single solution can address them all. Continue reading
The California judge in the climate change liability trial wants to know if human respiration is a problem for climate change. Humans are breathing out carbon dioxide (CO2), and human population has increased dramatically in just the past century. Is this part of the climate problem? (I wrote about this previously but am now revisiting it.)
Here’s the question that the judge asked:
“In grade school, many of us were taught that humans exhale CO2 but plants absorb CO2 and return oxygen to the air (keeping the carbon for fiber). Is this still valid? If so, why hasn’t plant life turned the higher levels of CO2 back into oxygen? Given the increase in human population on Earth (four billion), is human respiration a contributing factor to the buildup of CO2?” Continue reading
There’s a lot of disturbing news about climate right now: methane sinkholes in Siberia, disappearing Arctic sea ice, and balmy winter temperatures at the North Pole. But a recent scientific report on air pollution (“anthropogenic aerosols”) in the atmosphere, highlighted in this interview with the lead researcher, adds another dimension to “disturbing” and gives us yet another reason to go vegan for the climate.
What does air pollution have to do with climate breakdown, and what does any of this have to do with veganism? 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