Books To Read To Save The World

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, July 15, 2015

  • We will destroy civilization before the end of the century.
  • Denying science is denying reality.
  • Denying evidence for personal gain is treason to our species
  • Greed is destroying all the species on this planet including our own.
  • Self-interest is leading to species suicide.
  • We have the knowledge and technology to solve our problems.
  • We must change the way we live to save the planet.
  • Human nature is too stupid to survive free market capitalism.
  • We will not save the world just by buying LED light bulbs and driving electric cars.
  • Reading books will not save the Earth, but it will help understand the complexity of the problems we face.
  • Reading these books can be depressing.
  • Not reading these books only makes our problems worse.
  • Read and recommend books that help us understand the reality of your actions.
  • We can only divert the collapse of civilization if we find a new sustainable way to live.
  • Read ten books before deciding if I’m wrong.
  • Read another ten to begin to find hope.

If you know of other good books, recommend them in the comment section.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? by Alan Weisman

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck

EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet by The Worldwatch Institute

Climate of Hope by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

White Trash: The 400-Year Untol History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisis Coaste

Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Getting to Green: Saving Nature – A Bipartisan Solution by Frederic C. Rich

The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World by Paul Gilding

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean

Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David R. Montgomery

The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier

Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea by Callum Roberts

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by Steven Solomon

Climate Change and the Health of Nations by Anthony J. McMichael

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by by Jared Diamond

JWH

“Humans Are Such Dicks!” Say all the animals.

If animals could talk, can you imagine their trash talk about us? Nothing for children to overhear. Imagine how furious they’d get if they could read books like The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert or Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scanton. Humans are now the cause of the sixth great mass extinction event in the history of the Earth. We’ve fucked this world up so bad that scientists are now naming the geologic age after us – the Anthropocene. And since we’re such collective dumbasses, the age will probably be a short one. To make it even more tragic, scientists are discovering that animals are more aware, more sentient, than we thought. Consciousness of reality, is a spectrum, not a quantum leap. We may be the crown of creation on this planet, but we’re despotic rulers.

After I read The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, I started feeling very guilty about what our species is doing to all the other species. Then I started reading Half-Earth, Our Planet’s Fight For Life by Edward O. Wilson, who suggests we can absolve our guilt if we shared the planet fairly. I’m not sure most of my fellow humans feel that way. And then I bought, Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal. This one makes me feel even guiltier. Can we even comprehend minds not like our own? For the past year, I’ve noticed in my news reading more stories dealing with animal intelligence and sentience. Most people love animals, but do they love them enough to give them their fair share of the world?

I’m still reading on the last two books, but when I went looking for customer comments about them on Amazon, I noticed these other books. There seems to be a flood of animal awareness books coming out. Can we read enough books to actually mind-meld with animals? Can we expand our awareness of the natural world quick enough to change who we are, before we destroy us all?

What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe (June, 2016)

What A Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe

Just as water influences the dynamics of vision, so it does for hearing, smell, and taste. Water is a superb conductor of sound waves, where they are almost five times longer than in air, as sounds travel five times faster in water. Fishes have benefited from this since the dawn of bones and fins, using sound for both orientation and communication. Water is also an excellent medium for diffusing water-soluble chemical compounds, and is well suited for the perception of smells and tastes. Fishes have separate organs for smelling and tasting, although the distinction is blurred because all substances are encountered in a water solution.

As they did color vision, fishes probably invented hearing. Despite the common assumption that fishes are silent, they actually have more ways of producing sounds than any other group of vertebrate animals. None of these methods involve the main method of all the other vertebrates: the vibration of air against membranes. Fishes can rapidly contract a pair of vocal muscles to vibrate their swim bladder, which also serves as a sound amplifier. They have the options of grating their teeth in their jaws, grinding additional sets of teeth lining their throat, rubbing bones together, stridulating their gill covers, and even—as we’ll see—expelling bubbles from their anuses. Some land-dwelling vertebrates get creative in producing nonvocal sounds, such as the drumming of woodpeckers and the chest pounding of gorillas, but fishes’ terrestrial cousins possess just two types of vocal apparatus—the syrinx of birds and the larynx of all the rest.

“What a Fish Hears, Smells, and Tastes” by Jonathan Balcombe

Makes you wonder what a fish feels and screams when hooked on a line, and then jerked out of the water. Imagine being that fish. Pescatarians probably feel fish are lesser creatures, and thus ethically consumable. But is that true?

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman (April, 2016)

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer AckermanFor a long lime, the knock on birds was that they’re stupid. Beady eyed and nut brained. Reptiles with wings. Pigeon heads. Turkeys. They fly into windows, peck at their reflections, buzz into power lines, blunder into extinction.

Our language reflects our disrespect. Something worthless or unappealing is “for the birds.” An ineffectual politician is a “lame duck.” To “lay an egg” is to flub a performance. To be “henpecked” is to be harassed with persistent nagging. “Eating crow” is eating humble pie. The expression “bird brain,” for a stupid, foolish, or scatterbrained person, entered the English language in the early 1920s because people thought of birds as mere flying, pecking automatons, with brains so small they had no capacity for thought at all.

That view is a gone goose. In the past two decades or so. from fields and laboratories around the world have flowed examples of bird species capable of mental feats comparable to those found in primates. There’s a kind of bird that creates colorful designs out of berries, bits of glass, and blossoms to attract females, and another kind that hides up to thirty three thousand seeds scattered over dozens of square miles and remembers when it put them months later. There’s a species that solves a classic puzzle at nearly the same pace as a five-year-old child, and one that’s an expert at picking locks. There are birds that can count and do simple math, make their own tools, move to the beat of music, comprehend bask principles of physics, remember the past, and plan for the future.

“One – From Dodo to Crow: Take the Measure of a Bird Mind”  by Jennifer Ackerman

My friend Anne raised a baby starling this spring, and I hung out with her when she released the bird. For a couple weeks the bird would come see her. You could see that it had imprinted on Anne, and for a while, that bird lived in two worlds – his natural world, and ours. When you’re that close to nature, you see that nature is more than what we dismiss.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (Sept, 2016)

I can’t quote from the book, but here’s the blurb at Amazon:

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter WohllebenIn The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.

Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him. As he says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.

I’ve been a vegetarian since 1969, and I have always assumed that plants didn’t suffer. This will be a hard book for me to read. Humans are animals, and in the animal world, everything eats some other creature. But I think, because we’re more aware of reality, we have an obligation to be more than an animal. If we used the animal world for our precedent on ethics, murder would be acceptable. We need to be more conscious of what we eat, how it affects our own health, how it effects the biosphere, and its impact on the ethical treatment of other species. If we stopped raising cattle, it would be one route to Wilson’s plan to share the planet. That would give back a tremendous amount of land to the plants and animals, and greatly reduce our carbon footprint. We should also cut back on fishing the oceans, and let the seas recover.

Of course, that means humans giving up something. We’re not really good at do-be-sharers. But if we gave up beef and at least half of the seafood we eat, we could dramatically change the direction of the sixth extinction. Will we? I don’t think so. I doubt many people will even read these books.

And I don’t mean to be cynical.

It’s just everything the animals say about us is true.

JWH

The Mathematics of Persuasion

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, December 6, 2015

I’m fascinated by the idea of society changing. This week it was announced that women will have access to all combat roles in the U. S. military. It wasn’t many years ago that would have been unthinkable. It’s less than 100 years since women got the vote in the United States, and now we could be close to having a woman President. Or think about the cultural shift of same-sex marriages. I’m already seeing charming ads by wedding planners running photos that feature a man and a woman, woman and woman and man and man couples. There’s also a lot of movement to legalize marijuana in various states. Society seems to be changing fast. But in other ways, it doesn’t. Even though we have a black President race relations are still very troubled. Sometimes I think culture can change fast, but not necessarily individuals.

chessboard growth

This makes me wonder about how an idea gets converts, and how fast a society can transform with a new idea. If one person takes up a new belief and convinces one other person, and they convince one other person, how long before it changes society? Of course, that depends on the frequency of conversion. But if one person converts two, and the two convert four, it would only take 30 doublings to covert all Americans to a new idea, or 34 for the world. See the classic rice on chessboard legend. If each doubling took a year, it would take three decades, but if it took a week, it would take less than a year.

Think about ideas that are emerging now. One that I’m interested in is the plant-based diet. My cholesterol numbers have gotten much better since I started that diet. I’ve lost weight, feel much better, and have much less inflammation. This convinced two of my friends to try it. Most people love to eat meat, but what if eating a plant-based diet turns out to be proven path to health? How long before half the country goes vegan? Most people will scoff at that idea as being downright silly. But it was only 150 years ago that this country had slavery, women couldn’t vote, cars didn’t exist, we didn’t have the income tax, and most folks died of things we consider curable today.

Things change. How long did it take abolitionists in the 19th century to enlighten enough people to change the country? How long will it take environmentalists to convince the world that climate change is something we need to stop?

I wish I knew the mathematics to answer this question: What is the difference between one person making one convert a year, or two converts a year, or three, four, five, or more? Social movements are built around people changing their minds and becoming converts. However, it’s also about old believers dying off. The growth of atheism and agnosticism is mainly due to older believers dying. That suggest that some changes takes a life-time.

I’m reading a tremendous book right now, Countdown by Alan Weisman, that is about overpopulation. Weisman reports from over twenty countries how different cultures view population growth, and their various approaches to sustaining ever growing populations with dwindling resources, in a world where the environment is collapsing. There is no question that we’re on a doomed path. The question is whether or not the mathematics of persuasion even has time to work.

I am writing a series of essays about how I’m looking for signs of hope for the future. So far, the only solution I can find is for seven billion people to change the way they live. Humans do change, but can they change fast enough to solve all the problems we face before we’re forced to live in a post-apocalyptic world? It’s no longer about surviving climate change, that’s just one of many of our problems, and I’m no longer sure it’s even our most threatening problem. Exponential growth, which the world economy depends on, is about to hit the wall. Probably before 2050, or even 2030.

Remember that old domino theory about communism? Well, communism wasn’t the problem, collapsing civilization is what we need to watch. Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, are the early dominos. Americans pay very little attention to what’s going on in other countries, unless they host a war that concerns us. But look how a war in Syria is affecting Europe. Keep an eye on Pakistan. Start counting the countries that are collapsing, and why. What would happen if Mexico collapsed? Pay attention to all the countries that have extremely high unemployment.

We can solve our problems if we can master the mathematics of persuasion. Unfortunately, we have built economic growth on a different set of mathematics which doesn’t equate with the mathematics of a sustainable environment. It’s like the Standard Model and Gravitation, they don’t seem to be related, but should be. We need to build an economy based on using less, and sharing more. That can’t be communism, even the Chinese have learned that. But it can’t be capitalism either. Socialism only solves some of the problem capitalism fails to solve. We need a whole new model. Probably some kind of steady-state capitalism mixed with socialism and environmentalism. But to transform society will require changing how seven billion people live. Is that even possible? We have nothing yet, so convert number 1 is waiting. And even if we had an answer, how fast can we go from 1 to 7 billion?

JWH

Searching For Hope Thanksgiving 2015

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, November 26, 2015

Yesterday was my 64th birthday. I had planned to publish “100 Signs of Hope for the Future” in reaction to my 63rd birthday post, “50 Reasons Why The Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive.” That essay, the most popular one I wrote this year, still gets 20-50 hits a day. This year I felt challenged to discover twice as many signs of hope for my 64th birthday. I’ve been working for weeks, but alas I have failed. Not because I couldn’t find that many signs of hope, but because the essay just got too big to finish on time. I’ve decided to break it into several essays.

Thanksgiving 2015 

I’ve switched to searching for hope because pursuing pessimism is pointless. Even if we know we’re going to lose, we have to bet to win. Signs of despair are everywhere, so it’s too easy to find roads to apocalypses. The real existential challenge is to find  routes out of our maze of problems. Deciding what we want is the first step on the journey. I want an Earth friendly society, where everyone is equal, who follow universally accepted standards of ethics, with lifestyles that are sustainable over millions of years, that leads to opportunity for all Homo sapiens while still fairly sharing this planet with the rest of our fellow species.

When we are young we have great hope for the future, but as we age, little by little, that hope fades. I grew up with a tremendous sense of wonder for this amazing reality around us, but as I’ve grown old, I’ve become increasing pessimistic about the future of our species. Most people on this planet hide from reality in childish beliefs about God and Heaven, but as an atheist, I have to live with the scientific assessment of our existence. The future looks bleak. But I want to fight the natural tendency of becoming cynical while growing wrinkles. I desperately want to the human race to get its shit together and make the most out of this astonishing piece of ontological luck.

Finding hope for the future is a Mt. Everest size challenge. News reporting makes us all want to stick our heads in the sand. How can we overcome our sense of powerlessness? Why does being spectators on the sidelines of history feel so soul destroying? When will weathervanes stop pointing to countless hurricanes bearing down on us from all the directions of the compass? I actually believe there are ways to solve our collective problems. The trouble is we are our own worst enemies.

It would have been much easier to find a 1,000 signs of despair than 100 signs of hope. We all cope by ignoring what we don’t want to see, and rationalize things will magically get better. It’s impossible for one person to even comprehend the holographic information behind one half-hour news program. Having access to the internet overwhelms our minds with infinite data. We can’t even tell the facts from misinformation. We all maintain an ever shifting illusion about the future. The easier path is to ignore what might be, and focus on our personal needs and wants. I see hope in just defining our problems, which is what I want to do in future essays.

The other night I found an especially important sign of hope in a very strange place, the documentary Pandora’s Promise. This film is about environmentalists who were once passionately against nuclear power that have changed their minds. The hope I find, is not in the promise of cleaner energy, but in the fact that fervent true believers can admit they were wrong. To survive all the ill winds that blow our way, will require open minds with a strong willingness to study new information. We’re currently being bombarded by politicians who regurgitate the same brainwashed propaganda of their parties. This gives us little reason for hope. We need more Sauls who become Pauls, transformed by the light of reality. And before all you conservative Christians gloat with glee over my metaphor, let me tell you that you’ve still got your own Road to Damascus to travel.

For all of us to find hope for the future will require each of us to transform ourselves. Last year I was pessimistic because I doubted we could change. Recently I decided to bet on hope than spend my waning years becoming bitter about the human race, like the aging Mark Twain. What I need, and I think every else needs too, are signs of hope. I’ve spent a lifetime reading science fiction, so thinking about the future comes easy to me. If this essay seems more worried over despair that’s because it illustrates two significant points. One, finding hope is Sisyphean task. Two, recognizing that we have a problem is the beginning of transcendence.

Our problem as ordinary citizens, is we feel powerless at controlling our own fates. We think leaders should enact policies that will change the way we live. That passivity is dangerous. It is our individual decisions to change ourselves that is the solution. The key issue is sustainability. The ways we live our lives are not sustainable. For me to find 100 true signs of hope will require finding signs we are all choosing sustainable ways live.

People seldom change without being forced to change. Few people will unilaterally sacrifice what they have to help others, or even help themselves. It’s one thing to have a lot, and share some extra. It’s a whole other thing to give up what you have. This past year I’ve chosen to go on a plant-based diet for health reasons. I’m constantly tormented by what I can’t have. It’s not easy doing without. I know so many people who have far more serious health issues, yet they say they won’t change how they live to save themselves. They pray for magical solutions. Such false hope will destroy us.

I agree we won’t change without technological help. We’re more likely to survive if clever engineers invent technology that bypass our human failings. But technology can’t be our only salvation. Anyone who has been on a diet knows how hard it is to change the momentum of habits. Anyone who has succeeded at losing weight and transforming their health, knows how empowering new habits can be. No civilization of the past has survived a major disruption, so we have a perfect record of losing. On the other hand, our species has been mutating and transforming at a hyper-rate since The Enlightenment. Scientific knowledge has transformed our cognitive abilities dramatically, and with technology we’ve transformed human society, the face of the Earth, and the biosphere. So far this knowledge has allowed us to become a cancer upon the planet.

The reason why I wrote that pessimistic essay last year was because I felt people are incapable of change, but a year of reflection tells me the human race constantly changes. Recent research shows the brain is very plastic, capable of rewiring, even late in life. Another good sign of hope. However, humans tend to change because of powerful outside forces rather than by personal choice. We evolve through survival. And now it’s time to evolve like we never evolved before. Is it possible to intentionally guide our evolution? Can we choose to do what’s hard instead of what’s easy? Will the seven deadly sins always rule our habits?

There seems to be little reason to expect a political solution. A U.S. president from either party will never be bold enough to defy political self interest. In fact, their self interest thrives on our weaknesses. Does that mean we should just give up and wait for the apocalypse? I’d like to believe when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and we’re all tough enough.

Everything is interrelated. Solving any of our major problems requires solving our other major problems. Finding hope also involves recognizing the problem—we cannot solve problems we refuse to see. We cannot solve our problems without becoming different people from who we are now. Learning what we need to do will require reeducation, and that means a lot of reading and watching of documentaries. We need to learn how reality works. We need to stop pursing mindless forms of escapism. We’ve spent thousands of years praying to God, and we know that doesn’t work. Waiting for a Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, isn’t practical either.

To stop acting like lemmings rushing to the cliffs of oblivion requires thinking for ourselves.

Essay #982 – Table of Contents

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

Wilderness Destruction and The Seven Deadly Sins

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, February 16, 2015

I’m a bookworm who spends most of my day indoors reading and watching documentaries on TV. My only exposure to nature is looking out the window behind my monitor to watch the squirrels and birds at play in my backyard, and my daily walk in the neighborhood. So why should I worry about the amount of wilderness left in the world?

My first response would be to say guilt. I feel bad that my species is hogging the Earth and killing off other species so fast that we’re causing the 6th great extinction event.

My second response would be a love of nature at a distance – mainly from nature documentaries. I love that the Earth is filled with biodiversity. If the planet was paved completely with urban sprawl, McDonalds, Best Buys and Exxon stations it would be quite dreary.

My third response, is fear for the future. Most people think of climate change as flooding cities and extreme weather. They seldom contemplate the acidification of the ocean which will destroy most aquatic life, or how climate change is killing off other species. Not only are we fucking up the world for ourselves, but we’re forcing a good percentage of life on Earth to go down the  evolutionary drain.

This Sunday’s New York Times reported “Leaving Only Footsteps? Thing Again” by Christopher Solomon. Solomon says 99 percent of the protected land in North America we’ve set aside for wilderness has various forms of recreation allowed in them that disrupt the wildlife. We’ve loving nature to death.

Even though I’m not a religious person, I like to think about The Seven Deadly Sins and judge humanity by that yardstick. Our treatment of the Earth as a resource for human consumption shows extreme examples of gluttony, greed, sloth and pride, and we can tie overpopulation to lust, war with wrath and consumerism with envy. Which makes a clean sweep of the all the cardinal sins. If seen from a distance, a giant superior being examining our world under a microscope, humanity would appear like a cancer eating the planet.

As individuals we think of ourselves as pretty good people, and rationalize that we’re only struggling to stay alive. We focus on our own little campfires failing to see we’re part of one giant forest fire burning down our own world.

Since I’m using religious metaphors, let’s go back to The Book of Genesis, and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they learned about sin, and acquired free will. I’ve always imagined the author of this story as understanding that humans once lived in nature, being one with the wildlife, and saw the change we underwent when we switch to agriculture and living in cities. This is when that author also said in Genesis 1:26

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

If the author of Genesis was alive today and writing, I think he or she would write something much different. I think it’s pretty obvious that we never acquired the finer distinctions of our sins. The above passage might be true when the human population density was what it was three thousand years ago, but not today.

There is a new series on PBS called Earth: The New Wild which I can’t recommend too highly. The host, Dr. M. Sanjayan makes a case for how we should live with nature and not dominate. This is going to be very hard.

But if humans do have free will, we have the power to decide how much wilderness belongs to all the other species on this planet, and how much is our fair share. We are the gods that decide the fate of all the other species on Earth. I’m not sure we’re doing it with free will or unconscious evil. Maybe some people have free will, but not the majority. We still live by our animal instincts, and the seven deadly sins describes our major survival traits.

Many of my friends worry I’m depressed because I write about such depressing subjects. Many of my friends refuse to contemplate what I do because it makes them depressed. They ask why dwell on the inevitable. I see our problems as an intellectual challenge. Theoretically we’re smart enough to recognize our sins. And there is no forgiveness for destroying the world.

There’s a book title I’ve always loved, “What If Our World Is Their Heaven?” What if Earth is our Heaven and we’re turning it into our Hell?

I find it fascinating why we don’t see our own self-destruction and the evil we do to the other species of Earth. I often feel like I sitting in a deckchair on the Titanic and I see the iceberg. I’m not the only one, but most people refuse to look. The tragic thing is the captain and the crew do see it, but refuse to change course.

JWH

50 Reasons Why The Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do not read this if you are depressed or are easily depressed. I’m not kidding. I hope I’m proven wrong. I really do.

I write this on the day I turn 63 while thinking about the future. Usually, I’m extremely positive about the future, probably because I love science fiction. However, if I wrote a science fiction novel today I’m afraid it would be a pessimistic apocalyptic novel. Normally I hate being cynical, but I thought for this essay I’d let it all hang out. I’ve spent my whole life assuming we were getting smarter and we’d become a rational species before we made ourselves extinct. I now think I’m wrong. We’re going to cross the finish line before we can get our shit together. Up until a century ago, the world was safe because there wasn’t enough of us, and the Earth’s carrying capacity could absorb our endless acts of stupidity.  My bet is those saving graces will run out in the next one or two hundred years. We won’t go extinct, but our global civilization will be stillborn and collapse. The once mighty homo sapiens will end up being subsistence farmers and fishing folk, and the industrial civilization will fade into distant myths. So it goes.

tundra

I doubt many people will read this essay, and I beg anyone with a depressive nature not to read these cases I present to make my point because they are truly depressing. Since I am not a true cynic, I hope I am proven wrong. These essays are just random articles I’ve run across recently, in no particular order, but taken as a whole paint a very bleak picture for the human race.  And it’s so sad because most people are good, and many people are smart, and we should be much better than our collective self.

I think there will be a number of reasons for our downfall, and they roughly fall into these categories:

  • Pollution.  The byproducts of billions of human lives are overwhelming the ecosystem. Rising CO2 levels is just one of many indicators that we are self-destructing.
  • Scarcity. We’re using everything up.
  • Theocracy. If it wasn’t for Islamic fundamentalism the globe would be mostly quiet regarding wars. But the more we work to stop worldwide terrorism it’s pretty obvious that’s there is an unresolvable conflict between democracy and theocracy. Even in America, there is an upwelling for theocracy. I believe such movements are causing civil wars around the globe, and we’re seeing the emergence of World War III. Theocracy is the evil our Founding Fathers feared when they created the Constitution.
  • Inequality. Social order breaks down when there is too much inequality, and inequality is on a sharp increase.
  • Corruption. Wealth and plutocracy protect the few against the many and this undermines order.
  • Crime. As the population density increases, resources dwindle, inequality grows, humans attack each other.
  • Extinction. We are currently in another mass extinction event. There have been several in the history of Earth. Humans are the cause of this one.
  • Hate. As our problems grow with more and more fellow humans sharing the planet, we lash out at each other.
  • Tyranny. As long as billions are oppressed by political and social injustice then we haven’t developed a practical political system to support humans on Earth.
  • Misogyny.  Hatred of women is so deep rooted in all the cultures of the world that for many, including women, it’s hard to see. As we approach the world’s first global civilization freedom for women is on the rise. Sadly, this freedom will be the first to go when things fall apart.
  • Prejudice. For all the enlightenment we’ve achieved in the last fifty years over race and sexual orientation there are strong indications that many people are still ignorant of the scopes of their prejudices.
  • Xenophobia. Many among us can’t get over their tribal instincts.
  • Disease. Drug-resistant diseases are on the rise, and the global spread of dangerous diseases because of transportation and warming climates indicate the revenge of mother nature is near.
  • Denial.  There are too many reality deniers among us. Up to now, we’ve been able to deny the gloom and doom of the population bomb, our inherent stupidity, and greed, because the Earth could absorb our mistakes. We deluded ourselves into believing we could always beat the system. Well, the bill is coming due, and we can’t pay the check.

These are some of our main Achilles heels that will bring about our downfall. People used to think God would save us, many still do. More recently, we thought we could save ourselves, especially with science and technology.  I use to think that. I wish I still did.  Most people live with their heads in the sand, cramming their minds with sports statistics, shopping for new cars, planning a wedding, buying Christmas presents, and ignoring all the dying canaries falling from the sky. If you think I’m wrong read just a fraction of the articles I list below. I firmly believe we know enough to solve our problems, I just doubt we have the collective will to work together to get the job done.

  1. Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure” – 60 Minutes. It’s not that we can’t fix these problems, we’re just too cheap and short-sighted to do so.
  2. A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” – Rolling Stone. Some men don’t have a clue to how evil they are to women. If this is the best and the brightest, at what is supposed to be an institution of higher learning, then I rest my case. [This article has been proven false, but the whole story behind that is another reason for depression.]
  3. Depleting the water” – 60 Minutes.  Jared Diamond wrote a huge book about past collapsing civilizations. Even when older civilizations saw the end coming they didn’t change course. Neither are we.
  4. Dismembering History: The Shady Online Trade in Ancient Texts” – The Daily Beast. Greed and self-interest know no bounds.
  5. Stop Trying to Save the World” – The New Republic. No matter how hard we try to do good we seem to fail. Do-gooders just can’t outwit stupidity and bad guys.
  6. Iran Nuke Deal: A Matter of War or Peace” – The Daily Beast. It’s not the war on terror, but the war of theocracy v. democracy. Three great religions claim to have the same God. Do their animosities end when they die and go to heaven, or does God segregate paradise by faith?
  7. The ‘Caliphate’s’ Colonies: Islamic State’s Gradual Expansion into North Africa” – Der Spiegel. Didn’t believe my point in #6? Try this one, and wonder if WWIII hasn’t already started.
  8. Hell is Other People” – GQ (British). This is what happens when civilization collapses. That seems to be happening a lot lately. This is what humans are really like when there’s no big government to rule them. Yeah, that’s a fuck you to my Tea Party friends.
  9. Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone – Especially the Wealthy” – The New Republic. Everyone should read Thomas Piketty.
  10. The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi” – The New York Times. With all the money we spend on education, with all the discoveries of science, why do so many people still embrace bullshit ideas?
  11. Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram” – The New York Times. Without big government guys with guns rule. Is this what the NRA means when it says “An armed society is a polite society?”
  12. In Brazilian city, homeless face ‘extermination’” – Aljazeera America. As our population grows, and we compete for less and less, we seem to lose our higher natures.
  13. Groundwater declines across U.S. South over past decade” – Climate.gov. New NASA satellites can measure ground water, and we’re using it up so fast that ground is sinking all around the world.
  14. The Horror Before the Beheadings” – The New York Times. From another front of WWIII.
  15. Poor teeth” – aeon. Is this how a great nation takes care of its citizens? As long as the “I’ve got mine, fuck you” attitude prevails in America, we’re heading downhill.
  16. ”Hurt That Bitch”: What Undercover Investigators Saw Inside a Factory Farm.” – Mother Jones. What if the survival of our species depends on how kind we are to animals? A certain percentage of humans are evil to other humans – is that the same folks who are evil to animals? Or do we have two problem groups to deal with?
  17. The Ebola Wars” – The New Yorker. Ebola can be easily contained if you have a big government. Science can destroy Ebola if we have a big government that supports science.  You know the next line I would write.
  18. The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’s Gamergate” – Deadspin. Some men just don’t have a clue about women. Their minds have never evolved out of the Neolithic, yet they are a product of the 21st-century education and culture. When civilization starts circling the drain, I advise women to kill all the men and take up cloning for reproduction.
  19. Where the Tea Party Rules” – The Rolling Stone. America is coming undone, and it’s not because people are bad. Most Americans are good, salt of the Earth folk who do the best they can. But things keep falling apart. We can’t go back, and we can’t work together to go forward.
  20. My Terrifying Night With Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord” – New Republic.  The real Katniss Everdeen who fights the dystopian world order called democracy. If you had the choice between dystopia and chaos, which would you pick? The decisions we have to make are very complicated.
  21. George Clooney, South Sudan and How the World’s Newest Nation Imploded” – Newsweek. Report from another front in WWIII. This war is not going to come to an armistice.
  22. Louisiana Has a Wild Plan to Save Itself from Global Warming” – New Republic. We could solve the global warming problem, it’s why we don’t that’s the real problem with our species. Climate change is another world war, one we’re ignoring. You can’t win if you don’t fight.
  23. A Hundred Women” – The New Yorker. One measure of how civilization is succeeding is to study how women are being treated around the world.
  24. Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash” – Pro Publica. As long as we have a plutocracy we’re not going to solve many of our problems because money always trumps common good.
  25. The Fight of Their Lives” – The New Yorker. Strangely, many Kurds are Sunni, just like ISIL/ISIS, yet they want to destroy each other. Not all Islamic people are the same. The ones we call terrorists do not believe in borders. They are a threat to everyone that does not believe exactly like they do. Their brand of Islam is now spreading across the world. How do you have a global civilization that requires a choice between independent democratic nation states versus a borderless theocratic world rule?
  26. Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson” – The Atlantic. Why does skin color divide us so? The color of our skin is about as important as the color of our shirts. What drives this senseless hatred?
  27. Was Moses a Founding Father?”  – The Atlantic. How different is this from the Taliban or ISIS?
  28. The Case for Reparations” – The Atlantic.  They say Christianity teaches compassion. Does this sound like a nation of Christians?
  29. Zero Percent Water” – Medium.  Like CO2, H20 is one strong indicator of our future.
  30. Meet the College Women Who Are Starting a Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault” – New York.  How can this problem exist if these are our daughters – and sons?
  31. Young Carlos” – New York. Conservatives won’t do anything about climate change, but also hate new folks moving in. Being a climate change denier means learning to live with the side-effects of the thing you refuse to see. Maybe you’ll change your mind when all those people from out west moves east to find water. People move to America now because there’s less population, more equality, more opportunity. The I’ve got mine, fuck you philosophy fails us ultimately because if we have it good and everyone else doesn’t, they are going to come check us out. Think global, act locally.
  32. China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet” – Rolling Stone. How can we say “Don’t be like us.”
  33. Nuclear Tourism” – National Geographic.  Is Chernobyl the portrait of Earth without people?
  34. The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys” – The Atlantic. The title says it all.
  35. Will Misogyny Bring Down the Atheist Movement?” – BuzzFeed. Even the sons of the Enlightenment treat women badly.
  36. Zoonotic Diseases” – National Geographic. The complexity of the biosphere is astounding. But our ignorance and cruelty are more astounding.
  37. Hell in the Hot Zone” – Vanity Fair. Ebola is not the scariest thing about the outbreak, it’s us.
  38. Son, Men Don’t Get Raped” – GQ.  The lack of empathy in some humans compared to the compassion in others illustrates how far we have to go to change and save ourselves. You decide if we can make it.
  39. Dignity” – The New Yorker. Another report from the front on inequality.
  40. The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out by Religious Families” – Rolling Stone. I should have put “Intolerance” on the list above. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. It’s a shame that religion is often not the solution.
  41. Why not kill them all?” – London Review of Books. What if America was like this? It will be like big government breaks down.
  42. How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy” – Businessweek. Sometimes an evil dictator is better than chaos. It’s hard to start a democracy.
  43. Putin Dreams of Empire” – New Yorker. Why is it still about alpha males?
  44. The Race to Stop Africa’s Elephant Poachers” – Smithsonian. If humans lack empathy for other humans, why expect them to feel for animals?
  45. The Social Laboratory” – Foreign Policy. Will it require Big Brother to bring about law and order?
  46. Gambling with Civilization” – The New York Review of Books. By denying reality to preserve their self-interests, aren’t Republicans gambling with our future?
  47. Two degrees” – Vox. CO2 is how we set the global thermostat.  Changing it two degrees will have untold consequences. It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.
  48. A Convenient Excuse” – The Phoenix.  Addicts are great a rationalizing another fix.
  49. Climate Change and the End of Australia” – Rolling Stone.  It’s one thing to deny what might happen, it’s a whole other thing to deny what’s right in front of us.
  50. The Battle Over Climate Science” – Popular Science.  Don’t kill the messenger.  The real reason why we won’t survive is too many of us are reality deniers. We rationalize, we put off, we shirk, we ignore, we pretend, we lie, we escape in fantasies.

Happy Birthday to me. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll go back to being positive.

[I wrote an update to this essay for my 64th Birthday.]

[The only book I’ve read since writing this that has given me hope is Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. 3/10/17]