Fire Blog 2

Fighting the Pine Gulch Fire. Source:
Bureau of Land Management (public domain)

Colorado is burning, California and Oregon are burning, and the world is burning. The coronavirus pandemic distracted our momentary amazement at the breadth and depth of the Australia fires earlier this year (remember them?). The pandemic was itself a consequence of our fascination with killing and eating animals; it started with eating pangolins, and it’s being spread through slaughterhouses. Now, America is literally on fire. We are destroying animals and trees wholesale and we’re noticing that the air is unhealthy.

We need to change our way of life if we want to avoid this fate or one like it. You can’t “grow the economy” without increasing fossil fuel use and without making climate change worse, not to mention the other serious problems which economic growth will make worse — resource depletion, soil erosion, species extinctions, and world hunger. People need to understand this and learn to live with less.

We need to restructure our entire society and economy around a simpler lifestyle. Personal effort (recycling, veganism, etc.) is a good thing, but it’s not enough. Everything else about our economy and our society, including advertising, the media, the economic system, and politics, is geared towards encouraging and rewarding consumption. This restructuring will require something that looks and feels like a social revolution.

A lot of people will crowd forward and shout, “Green New Deal!” and insist that we can have a strong economy and a sustainable economy at the same time. I’m not against building solar panels and wind turbines, but we need to understand at least three things.

1. The only way to reduce fossil fuel consumption is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. This should be obvious, but I’m saying it just in case it isn’t! Just building wind turbines and solar panels won’t do a thing if we continue to use fossil fuels as well. This has to be an international effort; we can’t just “outsource” our greenhouse gas emissions to Asia by importing all of our manufactured goods.

2. Even if renewables work flawlessly (a big assumption), they don’t obviate limits to growth. It just shifts it from one kind of limit (on greenhouse gas emissions) to a different limit (on metals, infrastructure, and transmission lines). We still need to consume less overall.

Trees in Tennessee (source: author’s photo)

3. We can’t deal with climate change or anything else (like species extinction, just for example) without drastically reducing or eliminating livestock agriculture. The carbon absorption potential of forests is huge, but to reforest the planet requires that we drastically reduce or eliminate livestock agriculture, which has cleared or destroyed vast swaths of land. There is about 450 Gt (gigatons) of carbon in plant matter on the planet; but without human land use, it would be 916 Gt of carbon, over twice as much. For comparison, the total amount of carbon humans have added to the atmosphere is about 300 Gt!

Changing all of this isn’t impossible. We just need to understand what is involved. There are too many people, too much livestock, and too much consumption. These changes will mean a revolution in our society, our culture, and our way of life.

[My first “Fire  Blog” was written in 2012. The second paragraph above is copied from that blog. I’ve said it all before, and I’m saying it again.]




15 Replies to “Fire Blog 2”

  1. I agree with Kathy – another strong post (strong as a Tennessee tree), as usual, Keith. You are a true Hell-fighter. Great images and soul-saving text. Whether or not WHO fact-finders ultimately confirm the pangolin hypothesis, your conclusions about Covid are credible and the lessons you draw from 2020’s forest fires (from Australia to Colorado) are insightful and pertinent.

    My prayers for rain to put out the fires…and for a millennium of sustainable development – in keeping with Israel’s regathering, Kofi Annan’s historic UN Secretary-Generalship, and a vegan vitamin B-12 Parousia.

  2. So I just received the book “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal“ by Chomsky and Robert Pollin. I randomly opened the book – which was released days ago – to page 86 to find Chomsky insisting that we can no longer tolerate industrial meat production: “aside from ethical considerations, (industrial meat) should not be tolerated because of its substantial contribution to global warming.” He goes on to admit that finding sustainable ways to farm even plants will not be unproblematic.

        1. For once I agree with most of the public. It wasn’t a debate, just a shouting match, and fuels concerns that the President will try to subvert election integrity. Conventional wisdom is that the debate helped Biden.

          1. If the 2016 polls hadn’t been dead wrong, I would find it much easier to rely on the conventional wisdom. As it stands, I will not be too surprised if 2020 polls showing Biden up by 10+ points prove as misleading as 2016 polls showing Hillary up by 20+ points. Several of the 2016 swing state polls were even more favorable to Clinton.

            Trump has publicly disavowed hard, far-right white supremacist groups again and again since 2016, but he repeatedly courts soft, far-right to mid-right white pride sympathizers. Most or perhaps even all of the mainline law enforcement groups are backing Trump in 2020. Biden recently disavowed the Proud Boys, but his civil rights track record is confusing (e.g., he didn’t pass anti-lynching legislation even when he and Obama faced a Democratic majority in the 111th Congress), he is vulnerable to charges of racist and sexist tokenism, and he refuses to disavow left-wing extremists including Antifa on the hard far left and Black Lives Matter on the soft far-to-middle left.

            Does that sound relatively accurate and fair? I can see both Trump and Biden sympathizers somewhat disagreeing with me, but I can also see both sides reluctantly agreeing.

  3. Debate reaction, my two cents: it was as intense as the stakes. Wallace did an excellent job moderating across a comprehensive range of issues that both candidates handled better than either side expected (while moving at high speed under enormous pressure).

    Here taking just the environmental segment as the most relevant example, Trump agreed with Wallace that human GHG emissions cause global warming and climate change, thereby exacerbating forest fires “to an extent,” but Trump stressed the importance of better, more intensive forest management as the best practical way to handle forest fires in the near-term. Trump also touted a massive US commitment to tree-planting, but he didn’t explain how, specifically, he is leading the national forest service on either front. Trump said the US is decarbonizing fast enough without the restrictions of the Paris Accord, and that free market competition is the best way to achieve “immaculate” air and water while keeping employment high and business booming.

    Biden, for his part, shied away from support for the Green New Deal – somewhat confusingly – and instead plugged the goal of a carbon neutral energy supply by 2035 under his Biden Plan. He didn’t specify whether nuclear energy and natural gas are included in his definition of carbon neutral, or who had advised him that such a transition was feasible in that period of time. Biden underscored his plan for federal fleet electrification and national charging station infrastructure. Biden said he would rejoin the Paris Accord to improve multilateral climate stabilization and that he would pressure Brazil with sanctions to stop deforestation because the Brazilian rainforest is capable of sequestering more carbon than the US emits in a year. So potentially this means Biden would pressure China to stop buying meat and soybeans from Brazil, to the extent China is the primary driver of deforestation in Brazil at this point.

    They flew through the issues but this was only the first debate, time was limited, and Trump was plainly trying to control the stage and upset Biden with a relentless, lightning fast offense.

    It seems fair to say your post anticipated much of the environmental component of the first debate, Keith.

    It will be helpful if UN issues occupy at least 15 minutes of the next debate. What do the candidates think about UN Security Council Reform? Amendment of the UN Charter? US budget contributions to the UN? US troop contributions? Foreign debt restructuring? Pandemic preparedness, origins, response, evaluation and finance? And so on. The US is host of UNHQ and it is the most powerful UN Security Council member. UN treaty management must be nearly 50% of the POTUS job description.

    1. I’m upset that the President told white thugs to be on standby for a physical revolt if he challenges election results. He didn’t exactly say it but he very clearly said it, at least for those of us unbiased and not totally naive.

      1. I agree with you that Biden did a much better job telegraphing a willingness to accept a Trump victory than Trump did a Biden victory (during the 1st debate). But how would Trump’s opponents on the ground react to a Trump victory, and what would Schumer and Pelosi do to inflame their upset? Does a disappointed left threaten an even greater risk of violent resistance to the will of the voting majority than a disappointed right? I share some of your trepidation about the right but I have an equal share of concern about the left.

        1. Obviously we should reject violence, even (and especially) if our cause is just. We have numerous political problems and it’s hard to know where to start. Electoral college, gerrymandering, and money in politics, for starters? By now the President has broken so many laws that it is hard to visualize what a “legitimate” victory for the President would look like. But a Biden landslide now looks likely despite all this.

          The main point of my blog is to point out that we need something like a social revolution in order to deal with our environmental problems.

          1. All good points and I agree with your main point. Among potential places to start, I have to chip in with UN Security Council Reform. Perhaps we can agree it’s rational to hope for a Biden landslide while preparing for a Trump upset. Looking forward to the VP debate.

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