To save the planet, should we seek more economic growth, but just make sure that it respects planetary boundaries (“green growth”)? Or is there no alternative except to decrease total economic activity (“degrowth”)? About two weeks ago there was a fascinating debate on this critical and controversial topic now available on YouTube, which I recommend to everyone interested in what it’s actually going to take to deal with climate change. This is certainly an all-star cast—Jason Hickel, Sam Fankhauser, and Kate Raworth are all committed environmentalists and knowledgeable economists.
What do you think? Please feel free to make comments below. I have a few random thoughts but this isn’t a comprehensive analysis of the debate.
One of the more interesting ideas for climate action is the idea of divesting in fossil fuels. If investing in fossil fuels stops or declines, fossil fuel industries will lose money and go out of business, and fewer fossil fuels will be burned. A number of groups and individuals have suggested this strategy.
This is actually an interesting idea because it represents something concrete that we can do. But how is this strategy supposed to work? If we are successful, what does this look like? Continue reading
The High Park Wildfire burns on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland on June 10, 2012. U. S. Forest Service photo (public domain).
The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, says that the latest IPCC report is “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.” Of course, this is not news for many of us. How should we react to this?
Climate is a well-discussed problem, with a variety of “climate action plans” and a variety of climate groups to choose from. You’d think that we’d have action by now! Why is climate, despite all the attention it has gotten, such a difficult subject? Continue reading
Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy. Alice J. Friedemann. Lecture Notes in Energy 81. Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2021.
Most people assume that when fossil fuel use ends, we will probably be living with different types of renewable energy, mostly wind turbines and solar power. Allow Alice Friedemann (engineer, architect, and creator of EnergySkeptic.com), to puncture a few of your illusions.
I loved this book. Probably not everyone will be as nerdy about energy issues as I am, but for me it was just what the doctor ordered. Realistic, humorous, objective, this book is oddly hopeful in an apocalyptic sort of way. Alice Friedemann shows us that there is life after fossil fuels, even after the failure of all our dreams about alternative energy, and as industrial civilization crashes down around us. Continue reading
Less is More. How Degrowth Will Save the World. Jason Hickel. Windmill Books, 2020.
NOTE May 20, 2021: I have altered the first and last lines of this review, see my discussion in the comments below.
Less is More is an important book that seeks to popularize the idea of economic “degrowth,” though it is somewhat flawed in significant details. Degrowth is a deliberate attempt to reduce the physical size of the economy — for example, we should prefer bicycles to cars, and plant foods to animal foods. Degrowth is widely discussed in Europe, where the idea originated. In America, the “heart” of the capitalist beast, it is still a relatively unknown idea.
Jason Hickel is right on his key point in this book. Our economy is already massively unsustainable. If human civilization is to have a future, we cannot continue with the growth economy. This should be the starting point of any discussion about the environment. Continue reading
We want to get to a smaller economy in order to protect the environment. But it’s hard to get all warm and fuzzy about the environment if you’re just trying to make ends meet.
We’ve massively overshot the limits to growth: global warming, mass extinctions, deforestation, peak oil, groundwater mining—the list goes on and on. We don’t want economic growth, but economic degrowth to a smaller economy. But how do we get there? We need cultural as well as political changes.
This letter to the editor of The Denver Post appeared in today’s paper (February 5, 2021).
Re: “Moves on energy, climate need to be smart,” Jan. 31 letters
Flooding in the US Midwest, 2008. Don Becker, USGS (public domain).
In a recent letter to the editor, someone said that the President’s suspension of oil and gas leases had put him out of business and had failed to stop one CO2 molecule from being released. Good points! To be consistent, we need a “cap-auction-trade” system restricting both the production and consumption of oil. Continue reading
Why isn’t “limits to growth” obvious? We live on a finite planet, with finite resources. The economy depends on these resources. This shouldn’t be that complicated, but somehow it is. If we’re going to deal with the environmental crisis, and get to a vegan world, we need to figure out these questions.
This is my second video on “limits to growth and veganism,” based on the ideas for the talk I gave last fall on “Limits to growth and veganism” via Zoom. Please comment below on questions that you have or things that you’d like to hear more about.
What do we mean by “limits to growth”? Why should vegans care?
Last fall I gave a talk on “Limits to growth and veganism” via Zoom. I did make a recording, but the recording quality wasn’t very good, so I produced this YouTube video instead. This isn’t exactly what I said, but it’s closer to what I should have said. Let me know any questions below in the comments. I haven’t yet covered all the topics I promised to cover, but there will be more such videos.
I will be giving a talk on “Limits to Growth and Veganism” at the Vegan World 2026 Virtual Convergence. It will be Saturday (TOMORROW, October 31) at 1 PM Mountain Daylight time (= 3 PM Eastern Daylight time = 2 PM Central Daylight time = 12 noon Pacific Daylight). It will be in the Vegan Infrastructure Room (New Ecology, New Economy, New Governance). You can get tickets here. They are $49 each, but there is an option to ask to get in free, so no one will be turned away. The links will be sent out to ticket holders.
The convergence will be entirely virtual (you’ll need a PC, laptop, or other device to access it on the internet) and held this weekend (October 31 and November 1). It features Dr. John McDougall (“The Connection between Chronic Disease / Climate Change / COVID19 = Diet”), Judy Carman (“Homo Ahimsa”), Renee King-Sonnen (the “Rowdy Girl”) and of course Sailesh Rao who will present the “Strategic Action Plan,” among many others. Continue reading
VOTE poster (1920) from the League of Women Voters. Public domain.
The President’s bizarre behavior and statements during the first 2020 Presidential debate on Tuesday amplified political weirdness. Many people are concerned that he could seriously impair or destroy the integrity of the elections. Americans are living in separate realities right now, each with its own “alternative facts.” If we can’t agree on basic realities, it is inevitable that public debate is going to degenerate, and the President has certainly accelerated this process.
Don’t panic yet: the smart money is on democracy to win in November, and the debate seemed to help the challenger. But what are the issues over which we are potentially ripping the country apart? Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Bull elephant from Sabi Sands of South Africa. Photo by Lee R. Berger. Source.
The pandemic has hurt “wildlife tourism” and endangered the wildlife which drew in the tourists. The Guardian announced (May 5) that, “Ecotourism collapse threatens communities and wildlife,” and The Washington Post adds (July 17) that this tourism “is essential to wildlife conservation in many African countries.”
These reports are all very true, but send the wrong message and obscure an important reality: wilderness is almost completely gone already. Instead of preserving wilderness, we should be trying to re-establish wilderness. Continue reading
Basic income demonstration in Berlin, 2013. Credit: stanjourdan, https://www.flickr.com/people/39524850@N04, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Systemic, radical changes in the United States are now in the cards. You can feel it in the news and in the streets, even with COVID-19 acting as a damper on protests. But we haven’t had much discussion of what specifically these changes should be. We know—though mainstream economists still haven’t figured it out—that economic growth isn’t the answer: we have hit the limits to growth. We need a basic income: a guaranteed cash payment to all adult citizens sufficient to support a minimal lifestyle.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “OK, basic income: possibly a good idea. But what does this have to do with veganism?” Continue reading