Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond. Penguin Books, 2005.
Simultaneously broad-ranging and detailed, Diamond presents a thoroughly researched consideration of the ways that both past and current societies have responded to environmental and societal crises. Some collapsed; others changed course and survived–what made the difference?
The final chapters discuss our current world situation, and include a very helpful set of responses to those who think environmental concerns are exaggerated. Mainstream media and most Americans seem to be oblivious to the critical issues we face as a society, which has made me feel misunderstood and isolated in considering the situation to be very grave. How can others keep on eating meat, buying excessive consumer goods, having children, and repeatedly flying to distant countries for vacations? I felt relieved that someone like Diamond, who is both respected as a researcher and also a popular writer, has seriously discussed this. Surprisingly, however, he says nothing in the “what you can do” section about the critical impact of meat consumption and the huge environmental benefit we’d see if large numbers of people chose to eat a plant-based diet.
The following is a letter I sent to Denver’s Washington Park Profile in response to their front-page article on keeping backyard chickens:
I’m glad your July article on backyard chickens included the downside. Given the practical issues of daily care, humane concerns, and health consequences of eating eggs, is this something the city of Denver should be encouraging?
Often would-be urban farmers do not understand what they are getting into, as indicated by this from an NBC News report: “Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.” Continue reading Keeping Backyard Chickens Is Not a Good Idea→
At a major intersection in my Denver neighborhood, this large billboard shows a deer and a hunter in an embrace. The caption has the deer saying “Thanks hunter, for making sure my home isn’t turned into a mall.” Really?
The billboard is part of an extensive advertising campaign by The Wildlife Council here in Colorado to convince the public that hunters and anglers care about preserving wildlife. Then why are they systematically killing them by hunting and fishing? If you cared about a group of animals, would you want to kill them? Especially since you are not starving and have no need to eat their flesh? Continue reading Would a Deer Hug a Hunter? I Don’t Think So→
I’ve been an avid yard saler for years, and now that the season is once again upon us, I marvel all over again at the benefits offered. In a society so addicted to overconsumption we find, every summer weekend on just about every other block, neighbors getting rid of their useful, sometimes nearly new “stuff” for rock bottom prices. The sales are so close to home that to buy there requires less travel than to go to the nearest store for the same items new.
Of course, overconsumption is what makes yard sales possible. If people weren’t buying more stuff than they need, they wouldn’t have so much to sell. It’s sad to think of the vast amounts of earth’s resources going into the production of goods that buyers are going to practically give away in such a short time. But we who care about the environment can at least avail ourselves of opportunities to purchase secondhand the things we need and thereby make those resource inputs last as long as possible. Continue reading It’s Yard Saling Time Again–An Amazing Way to Save Resources→
Living in Denver, with the Broncos going to the Super Bowl this year, I see lots of people dressed in the Broncos’ team colors, pages and pages of news coverage of the teams and their prospects, many parties being planned, and for a wealthy few, the anticipation of attending the game itself. At the risk of being asked what planet I come from, or being considered “un-American” because I am not going to watch the game (a fitness instructor in a class I attend actually said this), I’d like to explore some concerns behind the hoopla. When we look more closely at the Super Bowl, we see a waste of environmental resources, large amounts of consumers’ money spent on throwaway items, and a glorification of violence–all as part of an event priced so high that people of average income cannot even attend.
First of all, let’s look at the expense. According to ABC News, Super Bowl spending will top $15.5 billion for food, decor, and team apparel. In the buying of T-shirts, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, pajamas, blankets, tote bags, glassware, banners, and countless other wearable and collectible items displaying the team colors, does anyone consider that it is wasteful of both the consumer’s money and the resources that go into making these items that will be worn or used only a very few times? I go back to the slogan: when you are considering buying something, instead of asking “Can I afford this?” ask “Can the planet afford this?” I even saw a tiny baby wearing a Broncos-themed outfit–her parents are already teaching her to consume frivolous, throwaway items that were probably shipped all the way from China.
The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, by Norm Phelps. Lantern Books, 2007.
This well-researched history of the animal protection movement filled in for me many missing pieces in understanding both the evolution of animal rights philosophy and the development of organizations working to bring compassion for animals into mainstream Western societies. Along the way and down the centuries, we meet a host of committed activists, well-known and obscure.
Among the latter is Lewis Gompertz (1779-1865), an inventor living in London, who campaigned for slaves, women and the poor as well as for non-human animals. He was advocating a vegan diet as early as 1824 in his book Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes. He published the world’s first animal protection periodical, The Animal’s Friend, or the Progress of Humanity. His organization was instrumental in getting a nationwide ban in England on baiting and animal fighting enacted in 1835. He walked the talk in his personal life as well; he refused to travel by horse or mule-drawn conveyance, which meant that everywhere he went in London, he walked. (This was before London’s subways were built.) Horses– numbering in the hundreds of thousands–who pulled carriages, wagons and streetcars, were often whipped and driven until they died, their needs for rest and sufficient food and water ignored in the name of profit. Beyond London, Gompertz went only to places within walking distance of a railway station. “It is entirely reasonable,” Phelps writes, “to call Lewis Gompertz the first modern animal rights activist.” (p. 103) Continue reading The Longest Struggle→
Three brief excerpts ( 2-5 minutes each) from an interview I did about my book The Practical Peacemaker are now posted on YouTube. The interview was part of the series “Authors at Douglas County Libraries.” The excerpts are on three topics I discuss in the book that make possible more peaceful living, both personally and in society. Click on photos below to start each of these excerpts.
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer. Yale University Press, 2015.
How fortunate we are to have a practical philosopher as articulate as Peter Singer! He doesn’t just talk idly about doing the most good for the most people, but shows us how, based on solid research on the effectiveness of charities and on the examples of actual people who are living their values. (To “meet” Singer and watch him give an 18-minute summary of the book, I highly recommend this TED talk.)
I especially like that he does not limit the good we can do to helping people, but includes animals as also worthy of our consideration. He points out that we can prevent a great deal of animal suffering for a very low (or no) cost, e.g. switching to a vegetarian diet.
I also like that he encourages simple living in order to have the maximum amount of our income for charitable giving. He’s not suggesting austerity, but we can ask ourselves, when contemplating an unnecessary purchase or trip, whether the value of more stuff or experiences is greater to us than what that same amount of money could do in preventing suffering, or saving lives in developing countries. Continue reading Doing the Most Good→
One of the ways we work toward peace is by getting to know and understand other peoples’ cultures. The more we can understand why people act the way they do, what they believe and value, the more we can empathize and develop compassion for them.
I recently saw the “Traveling the Silk Road” exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and read the 250-page companion book by the same title. Here was a massive cultural exchange program that went on for centuries! Fabulous luxury goods like spices and exotic foods, exquisite porcelain and glassware, intricately-woven fabrics, scented oils, paper and books, were not all that was traded: travelers exchanged languages, stories and belief systems, music and dance, manufacturing technologies, and state-of-the-art scientific discoveries, among many other aspects of their lives. Continue reading Cultural Exchange on the Silk Road→