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.
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→
5280 The Denver Magazine recently featured an article on “Everyday Environmentalists,” presenting over 40 ways to live greener. Pointing out that Coloradans are not as environmentally virtuous as we may think we are, the article featured excellent advice on such topics as home insulation, composting, gardening, biking–the usual and more. Some items were very detailed, such as the advice to buy a live Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, and then plant it outside. Readers who hike popular mountain trails were encouraged to go during the week so as to increase the likelihood that they will stay on the trail and minimize trail deterioration. Yes, yes, yes, I’m saying to myself as I read, but when do we get to the huge environmental impact of meat consumption?
Keith and I received an e-mail from Micah Parkin, the leader of the Colorado chapter of 350.org, asking for people to submit stories about local action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We submitted our story, which has now been published in their blog, and which we reprint below, with hyperlinks added.
Keith wrote: “My wife and I got solar panels in our backyard, thus generating all of our own electricity, some years ago; and we also massively insulated our house, cutting our heating requirements by nearly 2/3. We also ride our bikes on errands; before we retired, Keith rode the bus and Kate rode her bicycle to work. But the most effective single local action we’ve undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to go vegan. According to an article in WorldWatch magazine, over half of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock agriculture (“Livestock and Climate Change,” November/December 2009). We also encourage others to go vegan. We’ve started a local meetup group, “Denver Vegans” (DenverVegans.org), which helps everyone from people who are just interested in cutting back their consumption of animal products to fully committed vegans. This is about as local as you can get — you can fight climate change three times a day just with your fork.”
Population Connection reports(scroll to page 9 of the magazine at this link) that 15% of all American women ages 40-44 don’t have biological children. Most of these women are single. Among married American women in the same age group, those who have no biological or adopted children or stepchildren reached 6 % during 2006-2010, up from 4.5 % in 1988. According to the report, polls have shown that couples and individuals are placing less emphasis on the necessity of child rearing for their happiness and personal fulfillment. Because of our excessive consumption, an American child makes a much greater demand on the earth’s resources than a child born in most other countries; for example, compared to a child born in India, an American child will consume on average a whopping 30 times more resources.
On a dangerously warming planet where resources are limited but population keeps growing, any increase in the numbers of the childless is a hopeful sign. Fortunately the rate of American population growth has been declining. But unfortunately for the future of everyone on earth, a recent Gallup poll found that 90% of Americans either have children already or want to have them in the future. We need to think of creative and non-offensive ways to educate and engage our fellow citizens on this critically important topic, so that the 90% number will decrease. Numerous internet resources offer ideas–and videos–you can use to start discussions, such as the archive of articles here.
Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom, by Nick Cooney. Lantern Books, 2014.
A very helpful little book for veg activists, Veganomics brings together data collected in recent years about a number of topics, such as: what motivates people to reduce or eliminate meat consumption (answer: primarily animal cruelty and health concerns), what demographic group is most likely to go vegetarian (young women), what are the most effective ways to tailor vegetarian outreach to make it appealing to people (one example: refer to food as “meat-free” instead of “vegetarian”), why to emphasize cutting out chicken, fish and eggs instead of red meat (chickens and fish account for 92% of the farm animals killed for food in the U.S. and represent 95% of the days of animal suffering caused each year by omnivores). Continue reading Veganomics→
Yet another sign of veganism’s increasing acceptance among the general public: the interview with Bill Clinton in the Aug/Sept. issue of AARP The Magazine. Titled “My Lunch with Bill,” it’s all about his vegan diet, and filled with superlatives. “I’m struck with a dazzling kaleidoscope of a dozen delicious dishes,” described with obvious delight by author Joe Conason. “We sit down and with great relish start passing plates back and forth.” And from Clinton: “I have so much more energy now! I feel great,” adding later, “I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.” Continue reading AARP Promotes Veganism→
I grew up in a clean-your-dinner-plate kind of family, with parents whose food limitations during the Great Depression and World War II rationing had taught them to value food highly. That ethic has stayed with me, so I have been shocked over recent months to learn of the gargantuan amounts of food wasted, some of it, especially in restaurants, still perfectly edible.
I first became aware of the problem when I read the book How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee. In the section about reducing the carbon footprint of food, the number one suggestion was not to waste it. That was ahead of any mention of what you eat, how it was grown, or how far it travelled. Then recently, the topic was again brought to my attention in a blog post by James McWilliams (I highly recommend following his blog “Eating Plants”). He cites a study finding that consumers throw out an astonishing half the food they buy! Continue reading Reducing Food Wastage→
I’d been hearing great praise for the documentary Vegucated, and this week was able to see it at a vegan potluck/movie event. Three average meat-eating New Yorkers agree to go vegan for six weeks and have their experience filmed. They get lots–and I mean lots–of support and expert advice. It begins with the filmmakers, who show them vegan advocacy films, take them grocery shopping, dining out, and to a farmed animal sanctuary. Their “vegucation” is also provided by such luminaries as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Howard Lyman, Dr. Milton Mills, T. Colin Campbell, and other speakers and participants at the Vegetarian Summerfest, which the three attend as part of the experiment. How fortunate they were to get this kind of solid information and encouragement, compared to those of us who went vegan years ago and had to figure it all out for ourselves! Viewers, of course, get all the same encouragement vicariously by watching the film, and can find more at the Get Vegucated website, including the movie trailer; Vegan at Heart, a four-week-long daily email coaching program; tips on making social connections with other local vegans; the DVD available for purchase ($19.99); and info on hosting a screening. Continue reading Get Vegucated!→