Category Archives: Limits to Growth

Limitations on economic output due to resource constraints.

This Changes Everything — Review

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. Simon & Schuster, 2014.

For Naomi Klein, the climate change issue changes everything: the only way to deal with climate change is to change capitalism. We need fundamentally to alter our economic system if we hope to save the planet. Her analysis is spot on and I hope that climate change activists and vegans will study and benefit from this book. The only criticism I would have is not that it is too radical, but that it isn’t radical enough. Continue reading

Soil Erosion — is anyone paying attention?

Over a month ago, Reuters issued a widely-mentioned (but not widely discussed) press release on soils.“Only 60 years of farming left if soil degradation continues,” reads the release. It quotes some United Nations officials, warning of the problems of soil erosion.

Is anyone paying attention? In an ideal world, the public would be outraged by this. Congressional committees would study the problem. Students would demand courses on soil preservation. But back in the real world, farmland just isn’t that big of a deal. After all, agriculture is just a very small part of the U. S. economy. We could also debate whether this is an exaggeration. Perhaps we have 100, or even 200 years of farming left! Continue reading

Are the Economists Hopeless on Environmental Issues?

The world has serious problems, such as climate change, peak oil, and resource depletion generally. Economists should be leading the charge on these types of issues, but except for the very few “ecological economists,” like Herman Daly, they say increasingly strange things about a parallel world which seems to have only a tangential relationship to the one in which we actually live.

A case in point is the recent book The Climate Casino (2013) by William Nordhaus. His book is quite insightful on several levels. The Climate Casino is a disturbing book, but unfortunately some of what makes it disturbing is not intentional on the part of the author.

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Extracted (review)

Extracted. How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet.
Ugo Bardi. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

Many people have heard of “peak oil,” and are concerned that finite fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas cannot support our economy indefinitely. But what about metals, like copper, gold, platinum, aluminum, and others? Isn’t there a finite supply of those in the earth’s crust as well? Do we have to worry about “running out” of metals?

Well, actually we do, although it’s more complicated than the phrase “running out” implies. This is the topic of Ugo Bardi’s clearly written and quite interesting book on minerals and how humans extract them. Continue reading

Drilling Down (review)

Drilling Down. The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma.
Joseph A. Tainter and Tadeusz W. Patzek. Springer, 2011.

Remember the Gulf oil spill in 2011? This catastrophic and deadly failure has now begun to fade from the public memory, but oil continues to be an increasingly complex issue in our society and the world.

To get oil, we now have to contend with “terrorists” abroad (ISIL), chaotic countries (Libya, Nigeria), and autocratic regimes with culture straight out of the Middle Ages (Saudi Arabia). The price of oil is permanently too expensive, unless the economy collapses (as in 2008–2009), and as may be happening now. Environmental damage is rife. Besides the Gulf oil spill, we have fracking (earthquakes, water contamination), the Alberta tar sands (which have done immense damage) and climate change. It’s not just that the situation is bad, but that the depth and complexity of our situation is breathtaking. Continue reading

Interview with John Howe

John Howe, with a solar tractor and solar car

John Howe is a vegetarian who “walks the walk” concerning sustainability and simple living on his farm in Maine. He is the author of The End of Fossil Energy. His book is excellent and deserves more attention, especially from vegetarians. For further information and/or to obtain the complete nine-chapter manuscript, contact howe@megalink.net. My questions are in bold, with his responses following.

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Chatfield State Park to be destroyed by greed

An insipid, half-baked plan to destroy Chatfield State Park is now going full-steam ahead. Today The Denver Post has weighed in on the side of the “greed” faction. The opportunity to speak out is closing fast – comments are due by September 3.  For what you can do, go to the Save Chatfield web site.

I have some news for the Post.  Water is quite scarce out here, and no one’s making any more of it! We can only take it away from a place where it already exists. People need to think about this whenever yet another scatter-brained water project that destroys natural habitat is proposed. We need to be able to say “no” to the developers. Continue reading

Great New Book on the Collapse of Civilizations

Secular Cycles. Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov.  Princeton University Press, 2009.

Secular Cycles is a phenomenal and important book.  It is clearly of interest to anyone who is concerned about things like the collapse of civilizations, and specifically the possible collapse of our civilization. Even though it’s new to me, it’s actually not new — it was published in 2009, and I’m only now finding out about it, and reading it!  I first heard of it through Gail Tverberg’s blog, “Our Finite World,” and I hope it finds a wide readership. But a word of warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to love the subject or you’ll never make it through the book. It doesn’t use a lot of technical terms, and is clearly written, just very academic. Continue reading

Is Violence Declining?

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Penguin Books, 2011), argues that human violence has declined. Violence was much more widespread in primitive societies than in historical times, and more widespread in the Middle Ages than in the twentieth century — yes, even worse than the First and Second World Wars. After reading his lengthy but quite readable book, I am convinced — violence between humans has indeed declined. It’s an engrossing and ground-breaking book, by the way; everyone from Peter Singer to the Wall Street Journal has praised it.

However, there are a few small points I want to raise concerning the book. Specifically, violence towards animals has increased; and the peace between humans is largely dependent on our relative affluence, which in turn depends on our exploitation of natural resources, which are now seriously depleted. Continue reading

Are We Screwed?

The April 2013 issue of VegNews, their environmental issue, asks on the cover: “Are We Screwed?” The cover quickly adds: “We don’t think so—219 reasons why!”

I don’t see any list of 219 reasons, but the ones listed on the cover are definitely not convincing to anyone who understands the seriousness of climate change and resource depletion. The VegNews cover advertises, “Eco-entrepreneurs are turning trash into treasure”; “New Zealand’s pristine beauty,” “detoxing your home is a breeze,” and some others (see photo). Inside, there’s even an article on travel to New Zealand! Continue reading

Too Smart For Our Own Good

Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind.  Craig Dilworth.  Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Wow, what a book! Craig Dilworth, a Canadian professor of philosophy, has written a significant new book on our ecological predicament. I hope that everyone who is interested in any sort of environmental issues, including and especially vegans, should take a look at this book. Continue reading

EcoMind Thought Trap #3

EcoMind: changing the way we think, to create the world we want. Frances Moore Lappé. New York: Nation Books, 2011.

In EcoMind, Frances Moore Lappé sets out seven “thought traps” which she seeks to defeat and replace with better ways of thinking.  Earlier, I dealt with Thought Trap #1.

Lappé is an engaging, chatty writer with some considerable influence.  I agree with a lot of what she says in this book.  That’s why I’m giving her a hard time about the few points on which we do not agree.  Thought Trap #3 is a case in point. Continue reading

EcoMind Thought Trap #1

 

EcoMind: changing the way we think, to create the world we want. Frances Moore Lappé. New York: Nation Books, 2011.

In EcoMind, Frances Moore Lappé (most notably of Diet for a Small Planet fame, written in 1971) sets out seven “thought traps” which she seeks to defeat and replace with better ways of thinking. In this essay I am going to deal just with the first of these thought traps, and probably the most important, concerning the “growth” issue.

She expresses the first thought trap as follows:

“Endless growth is destroying our beautiful planet, so we must shift to no-growth economies.” Continue reading

The Economy and the Environment — Can We Have Both?

Colorado mountains

Can we have both economic progress and save the environment? Yes, we can have a sustainable economy and keep people employed, feed the hungry, and keep everyone warm during the winter. But the country as a whole will be poorer — a lot poorer — and it is a mistake to underestimate the costs. This may sound like some Republican argument, but it is the truth, and the country needs to face it, and the equally important truth that we have to make these painful changes anyway. Continue reading

Interview: Why the environmental issue is important for vegans

Last January 21, the KPOV show “All Things Vegan” aired an interview of me in which we discussed a number of issues, the most important of which is why the environmental issue is important for vegans. The following clip gives the segment of the show which interviews me (it’s about 17½ minutes long).  Click the picture below to listen to the interview.  (EDIT: This link was broken, so I have replaced it with the link to the “All Things Vegan” show. The interview with me starts at about 40:25).