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.
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.
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?
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of a still-amazing book, Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing. The Nearings left city life in 1932 to homestead rural land in (first) Vermont and (later) Maine. They felt they had discovered the “good life,” and wrote several books both to describe how they lived and to encourage others toward greater simplicity and authenticity. They have been called “the great-grandparents of the back-to-the-land movement” and no doubt inspired many young people in the 1960s and 1970s. When I came to their books later, I was impressed that they were vegetarians and carried on their farming completely without the use of animals. Would that the 21st century homesteading movement would do likewise!
The Nearings’ books overflow with sincerity, compassion, and common sense. Here are examples:
“Ideas of ‘making money’ or ‘getting rich’ have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe, or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange,–a means of securing the items that make up livelihood. It is the necessaries and decencies that are important, not the money which may be exchanged for them. And money must be paid for, like anything else . . .” Continue reading “Not Money, But Livelihood” — Remembering the Nearings→
Meatonomic$: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much–and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter, by David Robinson Simon. Conari Press, 2013.
What a compelling argument for the huge economic cost, estimated at $414 billion, of Americans’ high meat consumption! Eating this amount of meat–three times the world average–is made possible for Americans by huge government subsidies and the astonishing political clout of the meat industry, among other factors. This is not just a rehash of meat consumption issues–I’ve read a lot of books that are–but will help readers see things from a fresh viewpoint; i.e. how much it is costing us as a country.
That alone would make the book worth reading, but there’s more: the author is a man with a plan. It is especially encouraging to read not just a lament about what’s wrong, but a detailed proposal for how to fix it, including the imposition of taxes on animal foods, a restructure of the USDA, and adjustment of federal support programs. He anticipates and discusses objections that may arise. Several appendices along with detailed endnotes and an index make it even more useful.
Reviewers’ superlatives–“spectacularly important” (John Robbins) and “ranks [with] . . . The China Study in its power to expose the truth” (Patti Breitman)–are well-earned. It’s only 185 pages: read it!
November is a tough time for vegans, as the push to connect the Thanksgiving holiday with the sacrifice of innocent turkeys is everywhere. It’s as though the presence of a dead bird on the table is essential to enjoying a feast and expressing our gratitude for food, friends, and family. It is particularly sad to hear the holiday referred to as “Turkey Day.”
Nowhere that I’ve found is the pressure to order someone to kill a turkey stronger than at my local Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage store. They put the dead turkey promo in customers’ faces not once or twice, but seven times at each visit. This began not just two or three weeks before Thanksgiving, but from the beginning of October! Continue reading The Barrage of Turkey Advertising→