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.
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.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Despite a serious omission (see below), I recommend this highly. Watch the inspiring book trailer here. Klein is objective, compassionate, a solid reporter and researcher, and one of our best commentators on politics. Anyone wanting a current overview of what’s happening worldwide about climate change will find here a thorough investigation and explanation, along with a consistently upbeat view of how the frightening current situation could be turned around. Time is very short if we are to keep global warming below 2 degrees C., but people are coming to understand that our leaders are not leading; grassroots groups are rising up around the world to stop extractive projects (fracking, mining, pipelines). I learned a great deal, which would have taken me countless hours to research on my own, on such subjects as Indigenous rights movements and their importance, civil disobedience actions around the world, geoengineering proposals, and much more.
One critical factor was omitted entirely: the impact of livestock agriculture, which contributes more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions. (I hope Klein will watch the new documentary “Cowspiracy.”) If we are to stay below that 2 degree global temperature increase, we must actively encourage the reduction (ideally, elimination) of meat, dairy and egg consumption. Continue reading This Changes Everything–new book by Naomi Klein→
This past week has seen not one but two climate change actions in Denver, both organized by 350.org. The first was to meet the train filled with people heading on to New York for the People’s Climate March September 21. We gathered in front of Union Station for speeches and singing, then went around to the back and watched the train come in at the platform. Several dozen climate activists got off and joined the rally, adding to the enthusiasm. I was able to hand out flyers and talk to some people about veganism. It was great to see so many others (about 250) who are as concerned as I am about climate change.
Then Sunday, at the same time that the People’s Climate March was going on in NYC, a group gathered in Denver on the west steps of the capitol. Keith and I were pleasantly surprised to see more vegans there than we expected, several with additional signs, to amplify our presence. Each group represented there could have someone give a brief speech, so I took a turn standing front and center. I explained that over half of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture, and urged the crowd to “make a difference every day with your fork.” The group applauded; overall, I felt more support for the vegan message here than I previously had among environmental activists. In fact, the lead speaker of the event commented, “You vegans are well organized.” After the speeches, the group marched in front of the capitol and down the 16th Street Mall downtown, chanting, waving signs and engaging passersby.
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.”
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper Perennial, 2012.
Kingsolver explores a fictional scenario in which monarch butterflies’ migratory behavior is so disturbed by climate change that they overwinter in Tennessee instead of Mexico. The butterflies turn up en masse in a small town, attracting a prominent scientist and his students to set up a lab and study them, and changing life dramatically for the townspeople. Through her story Kingsolver educates readers about the seriousness of climate change, shows how it disproportionately affects the poor, and unsparingly skewers the media who refuse to tell the truth about it. Trying to make sense of it all are sympathetic characters struggling to make ends meet, navigate their family relationships, and find fulfillment where choices are limited.
Kingsolver has aligned her considerable narrative skill with her passion for the environment to deliver a novel whose thought-provoking issues will continue to engage readers long after the last page is read.
While tabling on behalf of Denver Vegans at the city of Denver’s Earth Day Fair, I had several chances to increase the effectiveness of my outreach by talking with people who influence many others. A friend had told me that 50PlusPrime, the TV News Magazine for Baby Boomers, was in town looking for stories on boomer generation people involved in community service, and would I be interested in talking to them? I would.
It turned out that the program’s president and founder is a vegan himself! So he was glad to film a segment on that topic. He and a cameraman came to the Earth Day Fair, interviewed me on camera and showed our vegan literature table. The program will not air until this fall, in limited markets, but will be available for viewing online after air date.
I also mentioned that I would like to encourage boomer-age viewers not to give up on personal goals or dreams they’d had in their youth, out of a fear that maybe now they were too old to achieve them. I’d wanted to be a published author since my youth, but put that on the back burner as I gave my attention to other worthwhile projects. I picked up that dream in my late 50s, and wrote my book The Practical Peacemaker: How Simple Living Makes Peace Possible. It was picked up by New York publisher Lantern Books, published just after my 60th birthday, and launched with an author event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore. I was filmed talking about this for a separate segment of 50PlusPrime. Continue reading 50PlusPrime Interview and Other Earth Day Encounters→
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.