How To Save The Planet–Without Detailed Instructions

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Humans are destroying the biosphere of planet Earth. Homo sapiens have overpopulated the planet, crowding out all the other species, and has initiated a self-destruct countdown. To solve this crisis requires creating a sustainable way of life, one that will ethically accommodate 13 billion people, allow other species to thrive, create a stable weather system, and not poison the biosphere with pollution. This is an immense challenge. There are countless books, studies, organizations, documentaries and pundits claiming they have solutions, but few people agree on anything. (I use the number 13 billion because most people today will see the Earth’s population grow to that number before it starts to shrink.)

The real responsibility falls on us individually. We each have to decide how to live and justify that lifestyle’s sustainability. In other words, any rational for survival you choose must be judged by what impact that lifestyle would have if 13 billion people also followed it. The Lifeboat Earth metaphor applies here. Ethically, we all have a justification to claim one thirteenth billionth of the planet’s resources, excluding the ethical share we first deem is due to all the other species. Our current philosophy is “everyone for themselves” – grab all you can get, and fuck all other humans and all the animals. It is this philosophy that will lead us to self-destruction, and why there is so much hate, violence and stress in the world.

Earthe-Europe1413

Finding an ethical way of living that is equitable to our fellow humans and to all the animals is hard. You will have to do a lot of research, read a lot of books, watch a lot of documentaries, and listen to countless thousands of talking heads argue and argue. One recent documentary I feel is very persuasive is Cowspiracy, a film by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. I shall use it as an example. At it’s core, the film is trying to do what I’m talking about regarding sustainability. However, I don’t trust it’s numbers, and I’m guessing it’s motivations aren’t entirely honest and straight forward. But understanding these problems I have with the film are exactly the skills we need in evaluating any solution to save the planet.

There is no reason to want or expect us all to decided on the same path. We can each develop our own consumption plan so long as it integrates into the whole, and we each use only our fair share. Before we can begin inventing our individual solutions we need to understand what is our fair share of consumables and pollution. The mathematics of such an undertaking is way beyond my ability. So I never trust other people who claim to have that ability.

I find documentaries that use lots of facts, figures and infographics to be more persuasive than documentaries that don’t. The watchers of these film must deal with is whether or not the film’s figures are accurate. Even cheap, crudely made films can have great impact, such as Cowspiracy. I was far more moved by Cowspiracy than I was the more famous and better made, An Inconvenient Truth. Both appear to be about climate change and environmentalism, but I suspect the underlying motivation by Cowspiracy is animal rights. Andersen and Kuhn contend that raising farm animals has more impact on the environment than all burdens the various transportation industries place on the planet.

Do their numbers add up? Is their basic assumption correct? They are offering a reasonable solution to save the planet. Are they right? They offer a very simplistic path to solving the sustainability problem. First, watch the film Cowspiracy (free on Netflix streaming, $4.95 digital download, $19.95 DVD). Their solution, stop eating meat, poultry, fish and dairy. We must evaluate their plan. Would choosing a plant based diet make a sustainable lifestyle? Cowspiracy defines the sustainability issue properly, but I doubt their numbers justifying their solution, even though I’m personally pursing a vegan lifestyle and I’m for animal rights. I’m willing to consider that there might be ethical ways to eat meat that is sustainable.

Whether or not to eat meat, and whether or not raising food animals has a massive impact on the environment are a highly contentious issues. You can can find people on both sides of the argument claiming they know the truth and throwing out tons of facts and figures. I wish to set the ethical issues of killing animals aside for a moment, and just consider Andersen and Kuhn’s assertion that raising animals for food has a greater impact on the environment than all of the transportation industries combined. Does giving up meat help the environment significantly? More than going to mass transit and switching to a renewable energy based economy?

My guess is we could greatly improve meat and dairy production to make it sustainable, but it might require that people eat a lot less animal products than they do now. And even then, we’d still have to bring back the issue of animal cruelty. Andersen and Kuhn do define many of the issues we have to consider in creating a personal sustainable lifestyle.

  • We all have a fair share of fresh water this is sustainable, but will vary by location.
  • That a sustainable lifestyle will impact specific area of land.
  • That land set aside for humans should leave plenty of natural areas for animals.
  • That the impact of our land requirements not impact the weather, pollution or the biosphere.
  • That our personal energy use must be sustainable.
  • That we shouldn’t let people starve while we feed animals to produce meat.
  • Can we raise animals so they have quality lives before we kill them?
  • Are there humane ways to kill animals?
  • Is it ethical to kill animals?
  • Should you eat any animal that you didn’t personal kill?
  • Should we give land to food animals when wild animals have so little?
  • That factory animal raising is not sustainable.
  • That free range animal raising is less sustainable than factory animal raising.
  • That industrial fishing isn’t sustainable.

I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, and in the last couple years I’ve been veering towards veganism to reduced the clogs in my arteries, so Andersen’s and Kuhn’s solution would be no sacrifice for me. It would demand a tremendous change for most people, and a drastic transformation of society. Can you imagine if all restaurants were vegan and all grocery stores health food stores? I’m going to assume Cowspiracy plays fast and loose with its numbers simply because the film is on the amateur side. On the other hand, I’m going to assume they might be right and explore their solution.

We often admire members of The Greatest Generation because they survived The Depression and WWII. We admire their determination and sacrifice. We admire first responders and soldiers for their dedication and heroism. Often I meet people who wished they had done more good in their lives, or even lament they hadn’t done something extraordinary like their heroes. Some even feel their life has been without meaning. I don’t believe you need to be Pope Francis or Martin Luther King to help other people and make a great sacrifice. Just being decent, law abiding and nonviolent adds a lot to our society. Choosing not to act like an asshole and controlling your temper goes a long way toward bringing peace on Earth. Of course, I think many folks reading this will say they’d prefer to work inside burning buildings or go to war in Afghanistan than give up eating meat. However, from now on out, the best thing we can do for our fellow humans and our descendants is live a sustainable lifestyle. Are we willing to make that sacrifice and dedicate ourselves to meeting the challenge?

You need to see the film to be convinced that animal farming is having a greater impact on the Earth than all forms of transportation combined. Cowspiracy asks why all the major environmental groups are not focusing on the biggest problem the planet faces. If Andersen and Kuhn are right, then the single quickest way to fight climate change, the current mass extinction of animals, the destruction of the oceans, the collapse of civilization and create a sustainable society is to give up eating animals. The documentary points out that a plant based diet is sustainable, and it’s healthy. My own research into healthy diets is uncovering more and more doctors advocating a plant based diet. Giving up meat is better for the planet and better for you, and gives us hope for our descendants. However, I don’t know if Andersen and Kuhn’s numbers are anywhere near accurate.

Will people give up eating meat? I doubt it. Republicans are taking the brunt the responsibility for not doing anything about climate change because they refuse to give up fossil fuels. What if giving up meat could actually solve climate change without waiting on new renewable energy technologies? I doubt even liberals would embrace that solution. Why are bacon and eggs, milk and cheese, beef, chicken, pork and fish so important to us? What if the facts and figures in Cowspiracy are right?

Are there any sustainable sources of animals products? If people raised chickens and rabbits in their backyards, feeding them with yard grown food, would that be sustainable? What about hunters culling deer populations every year, or other animals that could live abundantly in the woods without human support? What if all fishing was from hook and lines? Andersen and Kuhn make it obvious that neither factory animal farms, or free range animal farming are sustainable. But what if everyone hunted their own meat? What if you really wanted to eat meat and were willing to hunt down an animal, kill it and butcher it, you could eat it and be sustainability justified? Andersen and Kuhn assumes all the land that went into grazing or raising food for livestock would be returned to the wild. Would that be true?

We all ignore the fact that we’re consuming more than the Earth can give. Humans are increasing in numbers while everything else is decreasing. We’ve been laughing at The Limits of Growth for forty years because the book hasn’t come true. We always assumed science and technology would continually solve the problems of exponential growth. The Club of Rome didn’t anticipate disruptive technology, but their basic premises were still correct. The Earth’s resources are finite and consumption can’t increase forever.

Table of Contents

Can We Build Nature Proof Houses?

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, August 10, 2015

Is it a possible to design houses that can withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, fires and even earthquakes? Is it possible to design homes like the internet where each node is protected from failures in other nodes? Is it possible to design dwellings that last thousands of years that can be continuously modernized?

tornado proof house

Every evening on the nightly news we see natural disasters destroying homes, towns and even cities. It’s completely obvious to all but a few that climate change is happening. Is it possible to create a way of life that is hardened against most of what mother nature can throw at us?

When I grew up in Miami back in the 1950s and 1960s we lived in concrete block houses built on top of poured terrazzo foundations, with roofs made with another poured material that had pebbles embedded in it. No wolf could blow it down. After a hurricane we’d go outside and see knocked down trees, small manufactured stuff blown about, and some houses might have a window bashed in, but the little concrete block houses stood like bunkers.

disaster-proof-arch-dome-house-florida

Is it time to stop building wood frame homes? Is it time to stop building roofs that need to be replaced every twenty years or blow off in a big wind? Isn’t it time we build electrical power grids with independent home energy systems with backups? Last week 67,842 homes lost power here from a so-so storm system. My power was off for a few hours, but I knew people who lost it for a day or two, and read about others having to wait 4-5 days.

If houses had battery systems like Tesla is designing, they could handle short power outages. Throw in generators that can kick in based on natural gas, and homes can withstand long outages. But the real long-term solution is to build homes with solar/wind generators so every dwelling is part of the energy grid. If we put all power lines under ground that would further secure the power system. Can you imagine cities without power poles? For years new neighborhoods have done this, but we should retrofit older subdivisions. The reason most of those homes lost power here last week was because of downed lines from falling branches and trees.

pyramid2-1024x629

What if we designed homes to be continuously in-place upgradable? Could we design a house that can withstand anything nature can throw at it, be useable for a thousand years, and still be adaptable to new technology as its invented? Are single homes on small plots the most efficient design for maximum human happiness? What if four homes were push together but the families shared one big yard? Homes that can withstand natural disasters can also be very soundproof. They can also be made burglar proof too. If they shared some infrastructure such designs could save on building costs. If land use was optimized, shared gardens, swimming pools, and playgrounds would be more practical.

tornado proof school

We could design dwellings that could withstand extreme temperatures that used little central power, and could survive for time periods without taking power from the grid.

For some reason post-apocalyptic stories are very popular today at the movies, on television and in books. We could design energy self-sufficient housing that can withstand nature and the collapse of civilization. With better land utilization, and advanced techniques for gardening and animal husbandry, it would also be possible to make for self-sufficient neighborhoods. If we combined the philosophy of Mother Earth News, Make Magazine and Wired Magazine, we could reinvent the subdivision to combine the past and future into a more secure way of life.

In recent times many people have become preppers, hoarding food, water and AR-15s to prepare for the collapse of civilization. In all their scenarios the strong kill the weak to survive. We know what happens when civilization disappears—just watch the news covering Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Survivors tend to be refuges, not preppers. Wouldn’t it be better if we design a more sturdy civilization. Does anyone want live under rule by AR-15/AK-47 owners?

If you search the internet on this topic you’ll find lots of sites describing people already working on inventing what I’m speculating. During the 2016 presidential elections we need to stop dwelling on how to return to the past, but think about how to design the future. Demanding a smaller government, less taxes and an every man for themselves way of life isn’t very imaginative—or positive.

JWH

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs Climate Change by Naomi Klein

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, March 2, 2015

The most political perceptive woman of our times is not Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel or Elizabeth Warren, it’s Naomi Klein. Klein is a journalist, but her new book This Changes Everything synthesizes economics, environmentalism and politics into a holistic statement that should define the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. It probably won’t, but it should. Many reviewers have compared This Changes Everything to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The environmental insight is only part of this book, Klein’s observations on capitalism are as large as those made by Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Thomas Piketty.

This-Changes-Everything-Capitalism-vs.-The-Climate 

Klein has set forth the hypothesis that free market capitalism is the driving force of climate change, and she provides plenty of evidence for her case. But the scope of her book goes well beyond environmentalism, capitalism and politics, into a deep existential and spiritual challenge. This Changes Everything can be seen as a holy book defining a new moral paradigm.

This Changes Everything in thirteen chapters describes the dynamic scope of the problem. We admire The Greatest Generation for their response to the Depression and World War II. Solving climate change is a greater task than solving a worldwide economic meltdown and will cause more suffering than a war that killed sixty million people. Our generation needs to be greater than the Greatest Generation, and we’re shirking the job. To avoid environmental, social and economic catastrophes that climate change will bring, all seven billion of us must transform our lives. We need leaders far more inspiring than Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and tragically we’re not finding them. Instead we have people who are fighting with all their might to maintain the status quo. Climate change will change everything, whether we solve the problem, or not. All of humanity is jumping off a cliff, and to deal with climate change is to learn how to make a parachute in free fall – pretending it’s not happening is pretending hitting the ground isn’t in your future.

Climate change is already happening and has been since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We can’t stop its current momentum, at best, we can only put on the brakes, and slow things down. Climate change is only the tip of the iceberg! The impact of free market capitalism fuel by industrialization and technology, is transforming the entire biosphere, destroying the atmosphere, oceans and land, causing the sixth great extinction event.

Naomi Klein spent five years writing This Changes Everything and covers a staggering amount of data and issues. It has over sixty pages of fine print notes. It’s not an easy book to digest, except that each of the thirteen chapters coalesces around a single important concept. Even then, each chapter has evidence to weigh that stretched my mind beyond what I can comprehend. Klein writes clearly, and works hard to help us digest the facts, but reading this book is a commitment. It took me weeks to read. I’d do a chapter at a time, and sometimes I’d go days just thinking about ideas from that one chapter. The problems she presented are like Zen Koans.

The first five chapters describes the economic problems of climate change. The next three covers the failures of the current solutions. The final five chapters explores new solutions that are struggling to emerge. There are many surprises along the way. I feel Klein has convinced me why conservatives have chosen to deny climate change. And she convinced me that the extractive industries for gas, oil and coal have no intention of leaving trillions of dollars in the ground. She also proves why politicians have been no help, and probably won’t be, but even more depressing, she explains how many environmental groups have been coopted, and are failing to meet the challenge.

The first eight chapters are bleak. After reading them I thought the best solution was to go find a quiet retirement community away from all the action, move there, and turn off the news. It’s the last five chapters that offer hope, where Klein offers new paths to explore, but none of those paths will be easy to hike. Essentially, we all need to go through a metamorphosis of how we look at living on this planet. It will be a transformation like moving from hunting and gathering life, to agrarian life, or agrarian living to industrial living. There’s a reason why this book is called This Changes Everything.

Ultimately it comes down to: Do you stay and fight, or run and hide. Klein proves that it’s not just the conservatives that are climate change deniers.

JWH

Why Fixing Climate Change is Conservatives Worst Nightmare

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, February 26, 2015

Conservatives deny climate change because they are savvy enough to understand what it takes to stop climate change, either intuitively, or with calculated conscious awareness. The only way to stop climate change is end business as usual, kill off marketplace capitalism, create a super-big federal government, increase taxes like crazy, and probably introduce the beginnings of a world government. Fixing climate change is their worst nightmare.

To solve climate change will mean giving up oil, gas and coal as cheap forms of energy. To solve climate change will require designing a steady-state economy that isn’t based on a cancerous consumption of the Earth. Industries depending on building cheap products in poor countries and selling them halfway around the world to more prosperous countries will have to stop. Such a steady state economy would probably put half of the population out of work, requiring a massive socialized form of government. To stop coal, oil and gas usage, and curtail other forms of greenhouse gases from being created, heavy carbon taxes will have to be rolled out. Trillions and trillions of dollars worth of extractive ores, minerals and gases will need to be left in the ground. People will have to stop living in mansions, driving SUVs, and developing every last acre of nature.

eco-catastrophe

Is it any wonder conservatives deny climate change? It’s much easier to promote business as usual and pretend the bill for economic collapse will be delivered to a future generation. Maybe they imagine after we kill off all life on Earth except humans, rats and cockroaches, after we destroy the atmosphere and ocean, we can just live on this planet in space suits, like we would have to on Mars. Some even talk about blasting off to outer space when Earth is used up. Of course, they always imagine they will be among the few to get a berth in one of those rare lifeboat rocketships.

Are liberals any more realistic? Can we build a society where everyone has a little house powered by sun and wind, with lawns made up of indigenous climate friendly plants and trees. Can we switch from packaged food to growing our own fruits and veggies or buying from local farmers. Can we build and decorate houses with renewable building materials? And work at nearby creative jobs that don’t hurt the environment, and commute to those jobs in small electric cars or bicycles? Are our egalitarian ecological fantasy lives their nightmare too? Is it any wonder that Republicans embrace climate change denial. They fear the future just as much as liberals, but their nightmare is different. Their whole way of life will be destroyed, just like Comanches and Apaches in the 19th century. They don’t want to move to the liberal reservation.

JWH

Is Free Market Capitalism the Cause of Global Warming?

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, February 12, 2015

I’m reading This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs Climate by Naomi Klein, and she has a great explanation why conservatives are so vehemently against solving climate change. Klein says free market capitalism is the cause of global warming. We know it’s people, and I’ve always assumed climate change due to too many people being too wasteful and too inefficient. But Klein makes a case that it’s specifically free market capitalism that’s the mechanism causing the growing CO2 in our atmosphere. She thinks conservatives are savvy enough to know that, and also know to correct the problem would require big government and massive controls on capitalism. Her hypothesis feels right to me.

This-Changes-Everything-Capitalism-vs.-The-Climate

If you think about it, free market capitalism is based on the idea that natural forces of the marketplace will produce the best economic climate, and that’s probably true if all you care about is increasing wealth. But if rank other factors such as the environment, wellbeing of all citizens, or wealth equality, then those blind forces behind the free market fail. This really is a dangerous idea. Klein asserts that ultimately free market capitalism is no more effective than state run communism as a mechanism for creating a successful society.

I believe Klein is right. The trouble is giving up free market capitalism will put most people on Earth out of a job. What we need is enlightened capitalism, where we substitute conscious forces to regulate the marketplace for the unconscious free market forces. Of course that means Big Government, and lots of taxation – the exact solutions conservatives are rabid to eliminate.

Klein points out we’ve been dragging our feet for decades about solving climate change. Like people who wait until they’re 55 to start retirement savings, we’re at a point where we need to make massive changes. If we started back in the 1980s we could have gotten by with 10% of our GDP. Now it’s going to be painful. The hidden forces of the market place is really a nice name for greed. We live in a plutocracy, where the wealthy rule. I tend to doubt our rich rulers will allow us to make the changes needed to solve climate change. In other words, unless there’s a massive social outcry to change the way we live, we’re going to have to live with the effects of climate change. Klein shows in her book there are plenty of solutions available to us, but will we wise up in the next ten years and apply them?

That’s the other thing she makes obvious – time is running out. We’re about to reach a point of no return, where we can’t break the momentum of the freight train of climate change. Some scientists have made cases we have already passed the point of no return. It’s not like the world will come to an end if the average temperature increases 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit. But the ironic thing is, and here’s my personal prediction, is it will destroy free market capitalism, because the effects of climate change will put us into decades, if not centuries of crisis mode economics.

Predicting the future is impossible. But if you’re running towards a cliff and you’re not slowing down, then it’s not hard to extrapolate what’s going to happen next. If you are at all concerned with the future, and especially about your children and grandchildren, then I recommend reading This Changes Everything. I also recommend Capital in the Twenty-First Century and The Sixth Extinction, those three form an amazing synergy. We can solve our problems if we work at them. You can’t win the Lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.

Capital_in_the_Twenty-First_Century_(front_cover)Sixth-extinction-nonfiction-book-kobert

JWH