Book review: Collapse

collapse-diamondCollapse: 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.

Interview Excerpts on Peaceful Living

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.

Kate on vegetarianism
Kate on population awareness



Kate on mindful media consumption







The Childless Choice in America: New Data

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.

Enough Is Enough

Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources , by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.

I am glad to see a serious and wide-ranging discussion of the need for a steady-state economy–and not a moment too soon to be getting this discussion going! Every day we inch closer to the limits to growth.
I’d have liked more detail about how to implement many of the ideas; for example, if we wanted to launch a local currency, how would we go about it? If we agreed that we need a public works program like the New Deal’s CCC to repair infrastructure and keep people employed, how would we persuade our political representatives to establish it? Give us not just an outline but a guidebook, I say, although in fairness to the authors, there are so many unknowns in implementing many of these ideas that a guidebook may not be possible at this time.
The more people we can get to read and discuss the ideas in this book, the better.

Life on the Brink

Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.  Philip Cafaro and Eileen Crist, editors.  University of Georgia Press, 2012.

This anthology’s authors include some I’ve known about for years–Paul Ehrlich, Dave Foreman, George Wuerthner, Stephanie Mills, Paul Watson, Richard Lamm–and others I was reading for the first time. Overpopulation, as a critical factor leading us down the road to planetary catastrophe, is so little talked about that one can easily think one’s own concern about it is exaggerated. Thus I felt supported to read that leading activists agree: it is essential that overpopulation be racheted up substantially in public discourse. Continue reading “Life on the Brink”

How to Give All Your Food to the Hungry, and Eat It Too

With over seven billion people crowded onto the planet and increasing numbers of them hungry, what can compassionate people do to help?  The most important action we can take, beyond being careful not to waste food, is to go vegan, because growing plant foods for direct human consumption is the most efficient use of farmland, water, fuel and other resources.  But what if we could make even more food available?  Beyond even the efficiency that veganism provides, what if we could make 100% of our food available to the hungry?  That is, be able to offer the same amount of food we eat every day to the starving?  (In some cases, this might not mean that food would get sent anywhere, but it would free up the resource potential to grow and ship an equal amount of food.)  And what if we could compound the additional food with 100% of our water consumption, 100% of the fuel we use for cooking, heating and transportation, 100% of our cars, household appliances, clothing, and everything we use as an average American? Did you ever stop to think that remaining childless does exactly that?  Let me explain. Continue reading “How to Give All Your Food to the Hungry, and Eat It Too”