Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



November 29, 2009

Links and Tweets for the Week — November 29, 2009

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 22:29

hicks-jenkins mari lwyd
“Stumble” from the Mari Lwyd series by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE

The Transition Movement’s Founder at TED: “What is most distressing when I speak with climate scientists is the increasingly terrified look I see in their eyes as each new study that is published.” Rob Hopkins explains the astonishing energy efficiency of oil, and how our lives have come to be utterly dependent on it. “The [absurd] idea that prevails at events like these TED Talks is that technology can somehow solve everything, and get us through this completely, that we can invent our way out of a profound economic and energy crisis.” A good summary of the Transition Response as a movement that shares its successes and learns from its mistakes, and adapts to the unique situation of each community. Thanks to Sheri Herndon for the link.

Medicated America: Melissa Holbrook Pierson: “In the line we desultorily watch four white-coated employees beyond the counter scurrying to fill the prescriptions, click-clicking little tablets by the hundreds into bottles and then white paper sacks. In a mirror image beyond them, another white-coated employee tends to the cars that have pulled up outside in the dark to a window with a microphone in it. The only money changing hands this night is doing so over drugs.”

Guerrilla Software: John Robb describes the essential attributes of software that helps activists get things done. What he describes sounds amazingly like Google Wave. Thanks to David Parkinson for the link and the one that follows.

Cellular Organization Can Work for Activists Too: The kind of cellular organization used so effectively by churches (and terrorists) can also help coordinate and encourage grassroots activism, according to a new book.

Pollution Now Causes 40% of Deaths: The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, now cause diseases that ultimately kill almost half of us. Overcrowding, malnutrition, poor sanitation and unhealthy diets, combined with the industrial agricultural system and inadequate and unenforced pollution laws underlie this high and growing mortality rate. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

LIVING BETTER

A Plea to Become Vegan: As a result of the ADA study I reported on recently (that vegan diets can be perfectly healthy diets), and some other persuasive articles readers have sent me, I’m now taking the step to become vegan. This is a challenge: A recent shopping trip to buy two weeks’ worth of food took me over an hour, most of it spent reading labels. It also means sometimes foregoing local and organic foods to get enough variety in your diet. Gary Steiner’s recent piece in the NYT has encouraged me — it’s a straight-forward, unemotional explanation of why, if you care about animal cruelty and suffering, vegan is the only way to go.

A Lesson on Improvision: In the New Yorker, a brief story of how a librarian exemplifies improvisation in the kitchen. Thanks to Chris Corrigan for the link.

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

How the US (Still) Funds the Taliban: If you read this and can still understand why Obama isn’t immediately withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan (let alone proposing to increase troop levels), please explain it to me. And Malalai Joya, the country’s bravest politician, says US troops are just making the situation worse. Thanks to Eric Lilius and Raffi Aftandelian for the links.

Tar Sands Water Waste Ignored: Another study shows that Canada’s federal and provincial governments are ignoring the laws designed to protect the country’s fresh water, and allowing Tar Sands developers a free pass to pollute. More evidence we cannot rely on Canada’s “bought” Conservative governments to police or limit this atrocity.

Greed Stifles Innovation: Greedy corporatists, preying on obsolete and fuzzy intellectual property laws and corruptible officials, are copyrighting and patenting everything, and then sic’ing armies of lawyers on anyone encroaching on their ‘property rights’. The effect is to discourage and penalize innovation and increase costs for everyone. Thanks to Jerry Michalski for the link.

FUN AND INSPIRATION:

An amazing presentation by Colleen Wainwright, that, as a fellow auto-immune disease sufferer, sent shivers right through me.

The stunning artwork of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (sample at the top of this post) is generously shared and described on the author’s “art-log”. Thanks to Dave Bonta for the link.

Great spoof of Amazon for buy-nothing day. Read the whole thing. Thanks to Keith Farnish for the link.

THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK:

From Christopher Isherwood back in 1966 (thanks to Dave Smith for the link):

To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you — from the cradle to the grave and beyond — which it would be easy, fatally easy!, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up — before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whiskey, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity.

From my friend Sara in Second Life: “I have to hide me at work.”

November 27, 2009

here be my place presently

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 23:40


quaternity3

here be my place presently

the chemistry of love consumes my heart and fills my days
with dopamine, testosterone and oxytocin haze.
i lose myself, time stops, and as the world is born anew
the only truth i know is that my place is here, with you.

but then, as i get overwhelmed, my sense of self returns:
the peace and joy of solitude, and personal concerns
come back to fore, sweet company of me, my private zone,
and only then i realize my place is off, alone.

and then the restlessness returns for social interplay,
the urging to collaborate, exchange, converse, convey:
both virtual and physical, to show, to learn, to be
in that collective paradise, my place, community.

until that urban crowding closes in, oppressively
and all that i can think of’s getting out and being free,
away from noise, machines, and anything that causes stress
and then i know that, naturally, my place is wilderness.

in love in solitude in company in wilderland:
to reconcile these places, first i had to understand
there is this place, this “sweet spot”, where the four converge as one
and that is where my life-long search for home at last is done:

this place is anywhere, a place that i create, in space
and in or out of time, an intersection, land of grace

and i invite you, welcome, here to this, my humble place.

Category: Creative Works

November 26, 2009

Why ‘Leaders’ Can’t Help Us

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 22:33


pogo poster

The famous Pogo cartoon from Earth Day 1971 (c) Walt Kelly

The best thing about the job I just retired from has been the opportunity to speak with some of Canada’s business leaders, specifically about sustainability. While I don’t expect them to be far enough ahead in their thinking to recognize the imminence of civilizational collapse, I do expect them to be informed about how the world really works — the current state of our political, economic, technological, educational, social, and environmental systems and the prognosis for the future — since this has profound implications for their organizations.

I find them to be, generally, better informed than the average Canadian, and, mostly, very uneasy about the future. I also find them to be disturbingly short-term focused and in profound denial about the implications of what they know to be true for the future of the planet, and hence for their organizations.

A year ago I co-wrote a paper on business risk and sustainability that was presented at the Prince’s Trust forum in London, England. The three principal theses of the paper were that:

  1. ecological sustainability and business sustainability are co-dependent (can’t have one without the other),
  2. the primary objective of any business (analogously to the primary objective of any organic creature) is to sustain itself — to “stay in business”, and
  3. nothing can exist independently of the complex environment in which it ‘lives’ and of which it is a part.

These are obvious, even tautological, to anyone who understands the basics of business and of how complex adaptive systems operate. But if you accept them, it follows that it is in everyone’s interest that we optimize the health and well-being of our entire interdependent planetary environment and all of the creatures in it. The idea of ruthless “crush the enemy” competition, and of “externalizing” costs to another country or to the “external” environment or to a future generation, in the interest of maximizing short-term profit growth, in this context, is absurd.

Yet we go on doing it. And political, business and religious ‘leaders’ encourage us to compete, to crush the competition, to externalize our costs to ‘others’, and to relentlessly and exponentially grow by every measure of growth. Why?

Perhaps it’s for the same reason we go on eating meat, or at least eggs and dairy products, long after and despite knowing the cruelty it inflicts on trillions of sentient creatures, year after year, and depite knowing that it is environmentally wasteful and irresponsible on a massive scale, especially the way it has come to be managed by the horrific industral agriculture oligopoly.

We call the people we think foolish or ideologically misguided or just pathological (like the industrial agriculture oligopoly I just referred to in the last sentence) “them”, to distinguish “them” from “us” who presumably are doing the right things, doing our best, willing to help solve the problems if only the ‘leaders’ would tell us what to do, and ‘lead’ us.

So we have this disconnect between what we know and what we do (which gets worse as we become ‘leaders’ and come to know more), and this dysfunctional and paralyzing co-dependence between ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’, neither of whom are taking responsibility to act sustainably.

The mainstream media are blandly and uncritically documenting this absurdity to the point that, for most of us who all of this is dawning on, these media have become unbearable, terrible reminders of this collective dysfunction, creative inertia, destructive momentum and pathology with which we are all, if we were to be honest, complicit. The ‘news’ of the mainstream media, as a result, is oversimplified, sensationalized, self-censored to omit any information that cannot be dumbed down to a one-sentence headline, and unactionable. It’s grating, worthless, and disgraceful.

What’s going on here?

Well, first, we have political ‘leaders’ preoccupied with doing what will get them re-elected in 1-5 years. Their objective is to be seen to be doing something effective, not to actually do anything (doing something costs money and incurs risk). Because of the execrable media, their actions and propaganda (advertising and press releases) are focused on posturing and trying to make potential opponents look more incompetent and dangerous than they are. Their funding, generally, depends on campaign contributions from large corporations which expect regulations and subsidies that favour them, and deregulation of anything that interferes with their untramelled pursuit of limitless growth and profitability. These ‘leaders’ inevitably are cynics, do-nothings, alarmists, and corporatist toadies — anyone else thinking of playing a political leadership role is quickly discouraged or crushed by moneyed interests. There is only one notable remaining exception in the US, Dennis Kucinich, and he is systematically ridiculed in the mainstream media.

Then, we have business ‘leaders’ preoccupied with doing what will achieve double-digit annualized profit growth every quarter for the next year or two. They cannot afford to look further than that. Whatever they may care about sustainability (and in my experience most do care about and worry about this) is pushed to the background. Shareholders will simply not tolerate long-term thinking that jeopardizes short-term profits, because most shareholders are only investing for short-term gains.

Third, we have an institutional education system that discourages independent thinking, and prepares young people for a life of learned helplessness, wage slavery, mindless consumption, escapism, absurd oversimplification of how the world works, and obedience to ‘leaders’. Once the school system is finished with them, the media take over, delivering identical messages of the only acceptable ways to think, live and behave. They all do this because they believe that this is the best way to create ‘productive’ citizens, and, because this is the way they were brought up. They lack the imagination to conceive of any other way of informing people.

It’s all self-perpetuating. ‘Leaders’ who know better (or should), doing what they must do in their own short-term self-interest, instead of acting sustainably and responsibly. Educators and media lying (mostly by omission) about what is really happening in the world because it’s too difficult, and because most of the rest of us, citizens and ‘followers’, either haven’t the capacity to understand or don’t care to understand.

Those of us fortunate enough to have learned what is really going on are stymied by massively complex and opaque political and economic systems that provide no simple means of acting sustainably and responsibly, of becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem. We essentially have no choice but to be complicit. Couple that with the fact that most people are incapable of discussing the complex issues of the day intelligently, and it’s not surprising that most of us start to wonder:

  • Is it just me? Is this terrible knowledge that I’ve acquired actually true, even though most people either don’t know it or don’t believe it? 
  • What can I do that will actually make a difference, when all the choices I have either make an insignificant difference or make matters even worse? 
  • Why are the ‘leaders’ doing, essentially, nothing, except making the situation worse by claiming, absurdly, that what is needed is a return to economic growth

It’s easy to blame ‘them’, the ‘leaders’ who are doing nothing or worse, and the soporific and infantile media. But (with the exception of a few wingnut ideologues) ‘they’ are just as caught up in this massive and self-perpetuating dysfunction as the rest of us. The bloated, corrupt corporatist economic and political oligopolies show this dysfunction at its ugliest, cruelest, most dishonest and exploitative and self-serving, but we are all complicit, and ridding the system of all the corporatists, even if that were possible, would probably not significantly improve matters. These systems are bigger than all of us, no one controls them, and they have an unstoppable momentum.

We do what we must, and until there is absolutely no alternative to change, we cannot and will not change — not enough to ‘reform’ our industrial growth society and ‘save’ civilization anyway. The power of our ‘leaders’ is a myth — they too do what they must, in their short-term personal interest, and in fact they can’t do very much anyway.

My friend Ivor thinks it’s like a war, and that you have to be psychopathic or inured to the terrible violence of the world to be a party to it. His answer is that it has to be made personal, that if both ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ could really see the consequences of their behaviour and inaction, they would quickly change.

I don’t think so. I am of course angry at “them”, the real psychopaths, like the people who run ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Koch Industries, Dow Chemical and other megapolluters, the ADM/Cargill/ConAgra Industrial Agriculture oligopoly, the military/industrial complex, the Tar Sands conglomerate, the climate change deniers and their cynical funders, the right-wing political reactionaries and the religious wingnuts. But they are the minority of ‘leaders’, and if we think they are the difference between changing the Industrial Growth society and being run over by it, we give them far too much credit.

We are not going to be ‘saved’ by ‘leaders’, any more than we are going to be saved by human ingenuity, technology, market forces, a sudden global consciousness-raising, or the Rapture. We are all complicit, but we can’t ‘save the world’ either. As John Gray says in Straw Dogs, we humans have not changed and cannot change what we are, what we do, how we behave or what we value. We are doomed by the coding in our DNA to continue along our inexorable path of self-destruction, and to inflict large-scale but ultimately transitory damage on our planet in the process. He concludes:

Humans cannot save the world, but this is no reason for despair. It does not need saving… Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

There is not much point, then, in getting angry at the psychopaths, or being disappointed in or infuriated by our ‘leaders’. We had best come to grips with our grief, get on with our astonishing lives, and do what we can to make the world better in small, personal, collective, local ways. I have already written about what I intend to do, since I have the rare luxury of knowledge and time to do more than most. I will do what I can, working with others, to end factory farming and the devastation of the Tar Sands, to create some models of better ways for the survivors to live, free of the systems and scourges we struggle with.
I am moving past grief and anger and helplessness, and am happier and more connected and full of love than I have ever been. And I would encourage you to appreciate what can be done, that it’s not just you feeling this sorrow and rage and sense of futility, and that most people, despite their ignorance and incapacity and imaginative poverty, are trying to do their best.

And I’d encourage you as well to get away from the noise and madness of our civilization and explore, gently, with those you love, wild and natural places that will help you reconnect with your emotions and instincts and all-life-on-Earth, and realize who you really are, and what you’re meant to do. No leaders needed.

Category: What You Can Do

November 23, 2009

What Happens Next: A Timeline for Civilizational Collapse

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 23:54


collapse timeline

A number of readers have asked me for an “elevator speech” that describes how I think our civilization will collapse by the end of this century. Being more of a “picture” person I decided to try to answer that question graphically. The result is shown above.

There seems to be a growing consensus among those who have studied the history of civilizations, past and present, and who are informed about the current state of our economic, political, social and ecological systems, that we are headed for a wall — a series of cascading crises that we will not be able to prevent, mitigate, or adapt ourselves to. These crises will be principally of three types (listed in the order in which the systems underlying them will collapse):

  1. Economic and Political Crises: We are already weathering the early signs of these, though I don’t think the real economic or political crises have yet really begun. Because our economic and political systems, predicated on accelerating and endless growth, are unsustainable, we are starting to see evidence of great volatility in the industrial growth markets as awareness of this unsustainability mounts. This will produce a crisis of confidence as unemployment soars, wages collapse, and citizens lose the capacity to buy, which will precipitate market collapse and a chronic great depression — a “Long Emergency” — that will steadily worsen over the next 20 years and peak in the 2030s.
  2. Energy Crises: Our economy is based utterly on the availability of unlimited inexpensive energy. As the economy collapses for the reasons noted above, investment to seek new sources of cheap energy will evaporate, and an energy crisis will compound and accelerate the economic crises. As all the economic engines — employment, inexpensive energy, inexpensive resources, and inexpensive capital — all dry up, the economy will crash, leading to increasing regional and then global political turmoil, and finally, as the energy crisis peaks in the 2050s, the beginnings of civilizational collapse. Civil chaos, compounding the collapse of the fragile global economic system on which almost all humans depend for their very life, will lead to the quick collapse of national and regional governments, and power will devolve by default to local communities. Death will come not from massive war or bioterror (though there will be some, perhaps lots of that) but from the familiar killers of humans throughout civilization — famine and disease.
  3. Ecological Crises: The excesses of our economic system have already unleashed irreversable climate change, which is just beginning to show up in extreme weather events and accelerating glacial melting and temperature rise, and will soon produce ecological system collapses that will exacerbate the economic and energy crises. By the 2060s, human civilization will be in rapid descent as the ecological crises ascend. We will lose the last of our forests, crops will be devastated, pandemics will kill humans, their food crops and farm animals, our oceans will become devoid of life, fresh clean water will become desperately scarce, and deserts, droughts and floods will become commonplace.

Underlying all of these crises are the industrial growth society, economy, and civilization we have built up, over the past thirty millennia but especially over the past three centuries. This civilization was both enabled and required by the discovery of tools (arrowheads, fire, and catastrophic monoculture agriculture) that in turn enabled us to expand outside our natural rainforest habitat, become carnivores, become settlers, eliminate natural predators, and hence expand exponentially our species’ numbers and consumption of resources. To try to sustain this, we created a fragile economic and political system that depended on the exhaustion of natural ecosystems, the extermination of alternative cultures and all species not required for human food, and the ruthless repression of all forms of diversity and dissent. The discovery of fossil fuels allowed us to replace human labour with that created mechanically by the burning of these hydrocarbons — hundreds of millennia worth of stored energy consumed in just a century or two. This allowed us to completely pillage the planet, just as quickly, to the point that we now have nothing left for other species or for future generations, and this has precipitated the sixth great extinction of life on Earth, and the destruction, in the blink of an eye, of an ecological balance that was co-created and sustained collectively by all-life-on-Earth for millions of years.

Reg Morrison, in Spirit of the Gene, tells us what to expect after that:

If the human plague is really as normal as it looks, then the collapse curve should mirror the growth curve. This means the bulk of the collapse will not take much longer than 100 years, and by 2150 the biosphere should be safely back to its preplague population of Homo Sapiens — somewhere between a half and one billion.

November 15, 2009

The Environmentalist’s Dilemma: No Point in Arguing

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 18:18


what you can do 2009

The last two days in Ithaca at the (extraordinarily well organized — thanks Sarah & Emily!) Net Impact seminar were an eye-opener for me. On the one hand, I really got the sense that the largely-young crowd of 2400 attendees was pretty naive about how much of an impact their actions will and can have on the social and environmental behaviours and actions of the corporations they work for (or hope to work for — most are still students and few of them have entrepreneurial aspirations). The sponsors of the event, after all, included ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, GE, WalMart, Coca-Cola, P&G — a rogues gallery of corporate malfeasance and greenwashing if there ever was one. The best hope, I think, is that they will flood into the government and public sector jobs that the stimulus programs have (we hope) opened up, and that those jobs will last long enough and be effective enough to produce some real change — not in regulations as much as in government-funded NPO programs — social service, health, information and education programs. Making life a little better in their communities for a few people, for now.

On the other hand, I felt embarrassed that I was so jaundiced about what they were doing, yet at the same time I could not really be bothered to debate with them, to explain why this “try to change these organizations from within” effort was at best futile and at worst a dangerous distraction from the work we need to do to prepare now for economic, energy, environmental and, finally, civilizational collapse. Everything I know and have learned suggests we’re long past the point of solving these problems or even significantly mitigating them, and that it’s time to focus on transition and adaptation. But these young idealists, with few exceptions, are technophiles (believers that technology, ingenuity and innovation can address the coming crises), unwavering believers in the political and economic system (they mostly think that Obama has a plan for all this, and he just needs more time), and most seem unaware of even what the Long Emergency, peak oil, the growing debt crisis, the transition movement and permaculture are all about.

So to some extent it was like spending two days speaking a foreign language. These energetic believers’ whole worldview is so different from mine that what I say to them, without the benefit of the context that, for example, my Save the World Reading List provides, makes absolutely no sense to them. It sounds crazy to them. And I’ve been so immersed in conversations with people who really have come to understand what is happening to our world, and what needs to be done, now, that when I encounter this sea of incredulity I am startled, exasperated, and dismayed.

Daniel Quinn has said (in Beyond Civilization):

People will listen when they’re ready to listen and not before. Probably, once upon a time, you weren’t ready to listen to an idea than now seems to you obvious, even urgent. Let people come to it in their own time. Nagging or bullying will only alienate them. Don’t preach. Don’t waste time with people who want to argue. They’ll keep you immobilized forever. Look for people who are already open to something new.

Well, these young people are open to something new, but not to the message I have for them. They do want to argue with me, and they are willing to listen. The problem is me. I have neither the patience nor the energy to provide them with an ocean of information, reading and rhetoric to get them to understand what, at this point, they find unfathomable, and would probably find unbearable even if they did appreciate it.

So what’s the point? Invest hundreds of hours in order to show a few people how they’ve been misinformed and propagandized and deceived and unexposed to the terrible truth of our civilization’s cost, its unsustainability and inevitable and ghastly demise? So they can be depressed and paralyzed, as I was when I first began to come to grip with this knowledge? What will that gain us?

I don’t think it’s possble to provide a seminar or short conference that would allow the audience to learn everything they would need to overcome their acceptance of the prevailing orthodoxy of thought. I’m not sure even a whole course or university program would suffice. In addition to being exposed to a lot of new and challenging information, people need time to digest it, and, more importantly, to discuss it with others.

Joanna Macy runs a program that focuses instead on reconnecting with Gaia, with one’s emotions and instincts, and letting one’s heart be broken and opening oneself up, with others, to an awareness of the grief for all-life-on-Earth that we all feel, must feel, if we do begin to reconnect. This is the basis for the 9-step “What You Can Do” program that I have been writing about, which is illustrated above.

Likewise, Derrick Jensen suggests (in A Language Older Than Words) that we listen to the land, and in time it will tell us just what we need to do.

I am trying to believe this, but I’m not sure I do. As Quinn says, you need to be ready to listen, to reconnect. Although I don’t much like the analogy, it’s a lot like being ready for a religious conversion. I understand that most people are indoctrinated into their religious beliefs from a very early age, but many still need some event to trigger a true realization of that belief. And others who come to religion later in their lives do so because they’re ready — some combination of events and support from other believers is sufficient to take them past a tipping point, and bring about a major worldview change. A heavy dose of propaganda needs to be applied at just the right time, by more than one person, in the context of the convert’s own community and situation. This is not easy stuff.

Organized religions do this very effectively. They provide the tools for evangelism, and the infrastructure to keep the flock in the fold. Whereas some of them are con-men and criminals, others are generous and sincere. Gladwell has described the “cellular” organization that enables many evangelical churches to convert and retain members, using a bottom-up outreach and support process coordinated by a top-down hierarchy that supplies the tools of conversion and retention.

Perhaps the Transition movement and the Permaculture movement, both community-based networks, are the analogue of the local cells of religious groups. Perhaps these are the networks that we can use, instead of debates, conferences and books, to do the same thing to organize those who are, as Quinn and Jensen say, ready to listen, to reconnect, and to start to do the much more radical work that will be needed to:

  • learn a better way to live and make a living, 
  • disrupt and bring down our industrial growth economy and the civilization that depends on it, and
  • create new models to replace them that are healthy and sustainable.

Yet I’m troubled by this. If we create cellular networks to organize the work of reconnection, learning, action and creation needed to enable a better world, could these not easily become, as so many religious networks are, vehicles for indoctrination and exploitation? Will we end up with sects who think that better world can and should be built now, in the shadow of our teetering civilization, and others who think we should focus on undermining existing civilization and that nothing very useful can be accomplished until that work is done? I can see myself agreeing with both viewpoints.

I am at heart not a political person. I don’t like to debate (so Quinn’s words naturally appeal to me). When I speak with climate scientists they tell me that they don’t dare say what they really think is happening to our world, and that they don’t dare share their extreme pessimism about whether it can be “fixed”, for fear that politicians and others will just stop listening to them (“we don’t want to know, then”). So we’ve reached the stage where the people who really know are now afraid to say what they know. And so many of us who see evidence all around us that something is very wrong keep quiet, keep doing what they’re doing, and conclude, uncomfortably, it must be “just them” that feels this way.

I kind of expect that, faced with evidence, most people will come around (eventually, and almost assuredly too late) to believe what I believe, and that they will then be ready to listen and to “get with the program” that my graphic above illustrates, or some program like it. In that I am, I think, an optimist — I believe that in our hearts we all want to do the right thing, for everyone.

But I don’t know. We are who we are and, learning and programs and propaganda notwithstanding, we will do what we will do. As Pollard’s Law states, we do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. We will “get with the program” only reluctantly, because we don’t like change, and this program will never be easy, or fun. Most of us will only begin when there is absolutely no doubt left that our existing civilization is doomed.

No wonder most people don’t want to know, and are so willing to believe that the system doesn’t need to change, that we can continue to grow forever, that we can change the system from within, or that technology or ingenuity or the Rapture will save us, in time.

I’m not one to argue with them.

Although I know they are mistaken.

Category: Our Culture

November 14, 2009

Links and Tweets of the Week: November 14, 2009

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 13:14


sipress amazing race

Cartoon by David Sipress in The New Yorker

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE:

How the Rich Can Stop Hurting the Poor: Sharon Astyk adds her own recommendations to the Transition Initiative’s recommendations, in an interview with Vandana Shiva,  to help reduce the exploitation of struggling nations:

  • Do not buy or eat any industrial meat – period.  Grain-fed meat raises the price of commodities in the poor world.  Either give up meat or eat only grass-fed meat.
  • Do not support biofuel production from foodstuffs or on land that is suitable for growing human crops.
  • Purchase high value, dry shipped luxury goods like spices, coffee, tea, etc… *only* when certified fair trade and grown in responsible ways (ie, shade grown coffee, etc…) 
  • Don’t buy imported produce.  Shift your diet to eat what’s available in your locality.  Remember, flying produce around the world is using planes to transport water, effectively.  That’s nuts on a whole host of levels.
  • Begin shifting your “shadow acres” of imported foods, resources and goods to your own locality – buy local when possible, even if it means buying less.  If you can’t produce something in your area, look for substitutes and work to establish local manufacture and production.

Thinking Long-Term: Also from Sharon, the need to plant now to allow succession of plants that will, a generation from now, provide sustainable food and shelter for you and future generations. This is the essence of permaculture. And Sharon asks: Can this permaculture approach to food preparation be applied to other strategies for preparing, organically and sustainably, for the coming Long Emergency?

Reality Proceeds Emergently: Jim Kunstler on our collective and very human unwillingness to change, or to face what’s really happening:

The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn’t care what anybody believes, or what story they put out.  Reality doesn’t “spin.” Reality does not have a self-image problem.  Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days, Americans don’t like reality very much because it won’t let them push it around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human beings in the face of it is: what will you do?  In other words, it’s not really possible to manage reality, but you can certainly choose to manage your affairs within reality.  We won’t do that because it’s too difficult. This harsh situation leaves the public increasingly with little more than bad feelings of discouragement and persecution.

Freakonomics Duo Freak Out: The authors of Freakonomics, which was an entertaining and informative study of statistical correlations in complex systems, have been taking their success too seriously. As Elizabeth Kolbert explains, they’ve written a sequel that proposes utterly ludicrous geoengineering solutions to climate change (neither author is a scientist of any kind). Wrong, guys, just wrong, on all counts.

LIVING BETTER:

Learning How to Facilitate With Graphics: A great series of 9 two-minute videos shows how to use simple, powerful drawings of people, processes and resources to illustrate and document what’s happening at an event, and hence facilitate learning, collaboration and understanding. Thanks to Chris Corrigan for the link.

Building With Whole Trees: A new form of construction harvests small, strong, flexible trees as the basis for building construction, and leaves the surrounding larger trees uncut. Maybe we can then go to the next stage and use the trees in situ. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link.

American Dietetic Association Advocates Vegetarianism: This summer the ADA put to rest the many myths and concerns about vegetarian diets, and stated that, for everyone, a vegetarian diet (including a vegan diet) is much better than a meat diet. Thanks to Prad for the link.

Kabat-Zinn on Meditation: An audiocast with the meditation guru by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Thanks to Cheryl for the link.

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL:

Why the US Health Care Reform Compromise is Worse Than Nothing: Like the worse-than-useless climate change regulations coming out of congress, Dennis Kucinich explains why the compromise health care proposal is just a huge gift to the corporations responsible for the crisis (the insurance industry) and will make health care in the US even more unaffordable, for everyone. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Britain Rules Out Climate Treaty at Summit: Copenhagen -> Nopenhagen. Politicians headed to Copenhagen are furiously managing expectations downward. Maybe we’ll try again next year when we’re feeling better.

FUN AND INSPIRATION:

How to Act If You’re Poor: A brilliant and biting look at how we in affluent nations make the poor feel that their poverty is their own fault.

THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK:

From a tweet by bakedin: “The simplest, fastest way to make an entire organization smarter is for every member to know what is going on.”

From Susan B. Anthony (thanks to Cheryl for the link): “Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”

From Wendell Berry:

THE REAL WORK
 
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
 
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
 
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
 
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

November 11, 2009

REPOST: Do We Really Want to Know? (with first 50 reader comments appended)

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 01:27


Because Radio Userland is capping comments at 50 per article, and because I wanted to capture these comments for posterity anyway, and because some people wanted to post more comments, I’m reposting my article from November 4, 2009, with the first 50 comments embedded at the end of the article, so there should be room for lots more now!  — Dave
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slaughterhouse 2There’s an interesting article by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker on vegetarianism, and specifically on the disconnect between our adoration of pets and our tolerance for the horrific, lifelong suffering of the animals we eat. It’s really about human nature, Kolbert argues, and specifically that we just don’t want to know about atrocities and suffering we don’t feel we have any control over.

This was the subject of JM Coetzee’s book Elizabeth Costello, that I reviewed six years ago. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Seven o’clock, the sun just rising, and John [animal welfare activist Elizabeth Costello’s son] and his mother are on the way to the airport.

‘I’m sorry about my wife’, he says. ‘She has been under a lot of strain. I don’t think she is in a position to sympathize. Perhaps one could say the same for me. It’s been such a short visit, and I haven’t had time to make sense of why you have become so intense about this animal business.’

She watches the wipers wagging back and forth. ‘A better explanation’, she says, is that I have not told you why, or dare not tell you. When I think of the words, they seem so outrageous that they are best spoken into a pillow or into a hole in the ground, like King Midas.’

‘I don’t follow. What is it you can’t say?’

‘It’s that I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupefying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad! Yet every day I see the evidence. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Corpses. Fragments of corpses that they have bought for money. It’s as if I were to visit friends,and to make some polite remark about the lamp in their living room, and they were to say “Yes it’s nice isn’t it? Human skin it’s made of, we find that’s best, the skins of young virgins.” And then I go to the bathroom and the soap wrapper says “100% human stearate”. Am I dreaming, I say to myself. What kind of house is this? Yet I’m not dreaming. I look into your eyes, into your wife’s, into the children’s, and I see only kindness, human kindness. Calm down, I tell myself, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is life. Everyone else comes to terms with it, why can’t you? Why can’t you?

She turns on him a tearful face. What does she want, he thinks? Does she want me to answer her question for her?

In my review of the book, I asked:

Is there a point in rubbing our faces in it, in forcing people to face up to the horror of concentration camps, slaughterhouses, factory farms, chemical weaponry, mental illness, sexual assault and torture, bullying, spousal and child abuse, animal testing laboratories, political interrogations, what happens behind prison walls, the agony of those in continuous pain not allowed to die and without access to relief, the children whose entire lives are consumed in deprivation and brutality, the suffering of crack babies?

Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, the book that prompted Kolbert’s article, draws obvious parallels between the way we treat farmed animals and the way prisoners were treated in the second world war by the Axis powers. Kolbert explains:

Foer’s position is that all such arguments [those justifying ‘humane’ eating of animals put forth by Michael Pollan, Temple Grandin et al.] are, finally, bogus. We eat meat because we like to, and we devise justifications afterward. “Almost always, when I told someone I was writing a book about ‘eating animals,’ they assumed, even without knowing anything about my views, that it was a case for vegetarianism,” he says. “It’s a telling assumption, one that implies not only that a thorough inquiry into animal agriculture would lead one away from eating meat, but that most people already know that to be the case.” What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know. Although he never explicitly equates “concentrated animal feeding operations” with the Final Solution, the German model of at once seeing and not seeing clearly informs Foer’s thinking. The book is framed by tales of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.

Reading the article, I thought about the program of practices I have designed for myself once I retire in a couple of months, whose purpose in part is to reconnect me with my instincts, my emotions, my senses and all-life-on-Earth. When I discuss this with people who don’t know me well, they tend to ask me either “How and why do you think you became disconnected?” or “Why would you want to subject yourself to that anguish?”. These are both questions born, I think, out of subconscious grief — the first is a denial that the life most of us live is in any way emotionally suppressed, tacitly cruel or unnatural, while the second is dismay that we could ever hope to handle that much terrible reality.

It intrigues me that the people who sign up for courses and workshops on emotional reconnection (judging by the research I have done, and on the Joanna Macy workshop videos I’ve watched) seem to be overwhelmingly female and over 30. Why is that adult women are more willing than males, or young people, to “let their hearts be broken”?

This is important, because one of the tenets of social democracy, and activism, is that if a majority of people feel strongly about some facet of the status quo, that this will inevitably produce change. The ending of slavery, women’s rights, and other instances are offered as justifications for political awareness, discourse and activism being necessary and sufficient preconditions for bringing about important change.

But are they? As Foer says, the majority already know that factory farming is an ugly business. But they don’t want to know. They quietly ignore it, turn away from it, satisfy themselves somehow that it’s not that bad or that nothing can change it anyway — it’s an inevitable part of civilization. It’s “natural”. The rationalizations of Pollan and Grandin are music to their ears.

The same is true for what we’re doing to the Earth, and to the struggling nations of the Earth. We know it’s awful, unsustainable, just not right. But we don’t want to know. We rationalize that it’s not really that bad (hence the popularity of the wing-nut Lomborgian climate change deniers, and corporatists who assert that struggling nations benefit from globalization and that “a rising tide lifts all boats”). We tell ourselves we can’t do anything anyway, we do what we can, it’s up to the experts and politicians.

The problem is, these rationalizations are just untrue, and like the nonsense of technophiles in groups like WorldChanging, the religious loonies who believe in the Rapture, and the “humanist” cults that preach about a coming “global human consciousness raising” it is magical thinking, stuff that we tell ourselves because we really, really don’t want to know the truth.

Regular readers are probably tired of me reciting Pollard’s Law of human behaviour, but until it has been effectively refuted I’ll keep saying it: We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. We have no time or energy left to do what’s merely right. It is not in our nature.

Let’s look at slavery. Of course the social movements against slavery were important. But I would argue they were not enough. The US civil war was not fought over slavery, it was fought over the right of one region to declare independence (this is the cause of many wars, which are almost always about power, money, control, and land). Slavery of both blacks and whites (called “indentured servitude”) was legal for many years throughout the US because it was the only way to make passage of workers economically feasible. They did what they had to. Later as travel costs fell, most people could afford their own passage to the “new world”, and slavery was then only essential to agriculture, particularly labour-intensive tobacco, cotton and sugar beet farming. Technology (like the cotton gin) increased manufacturing productivity and hence actually increased the need for more slaves on the farms to feed the new post-harvest automation. Slave owners acknowledged that slavery was (in the words of Robert E Lee) “a moral evil” but rationalized that the slaves were “better off here than in Africa”. You know, like how Aghanis and Iraqis are better off now than they were under the Taliban and Saddam.

After the civil war, slavery was abolished, but, after the brief but disastrous Reconstruction and a severe economic depression, white supremacy was restored in the former slave states in the Compromise of 1877 as Union forces finally withdrew and left the former slave states to sort things out for themselves. Slavery was replaced by sharecropping, blacks were re-disenfranchised, and for most of the following century suffered under brutal, overtly racist, repressive white-controlled governments. Slavery was allowed for prisoners, judicial and police systems treated blacks no differently than they had during the slave era, and segregation of all institutions meant that life for most African-Americans was only marginally better than it had been.

What changed, finally? The decline in the importance of agriculture overall in the US. Access to cheap foreign labour. The Industrial Revolution. As a result, social slavery was no longer necessary. Economic slavery was just as useful, without the blatant “moral evil” that characterized social slavery. Slavery ended ultimately not because of social activism (though that was absolutely necessary), but because it was easier to automate harvesting, import foreign workers (or offshore the whole process to countries unconcerned with “moral evils”), or use the land for something more profitable and less labour-intensive.

Has all this social activism brought an end to racism? Not on your life. Wait until the economic debt crisis hits in the next decade or so and you’ll see that nothing’s changed. Has it really brought an end to slavery? Talk to the Mexican workers in the American fields, or the children working in the blood diamond mines in Africa, or chained to machines in the factories in China, and you’ll get your answer. But we don’t want to know.

I could make an analogous argument for what has happened with women’s rights, but you get the idea. It was easy and profitable to get women into the workforce, for low wages, caught in the Two Income Trap, buying all those things a two-worker family needs that a one-worker family didn’t. And giving women the right to vote didn’t cost anyone anything, nor did it produce any significant power shifts. It was easy. Did women have to fight hard for it anyway, and should we salute them for doing so? Of course. Do women in most of the world still face horrific prejudice and oppression? Damned right. Will they too, with enough decades and centuries of struggle, achieve some reasonable equality in their societies? As long as it’s easy, and doesn’t cost anyone anything, sure.

Now apply this to factory farming. Ending it is not easy. It cannot be made easy. Like combatting the causes of climate change, or coping with the End of Oil and the End of Water, it is a hugely complex problem. The necessary change would be staggeringly expensive, and massively unpopular. Do we need activists to do the “holding actions” to mitigate some of the damage and to increase public awareness and affect public opinion on the need for change in these areas? Absolutely. Will that work, in and of itself, bring about sufficient change in these hugely difficult areas? Not a chance.

We will change when there is absolutely no choice (we do what we must) or when it is dead easy to change. Give us compact fluorescent lightbulbs that cost the same per kilowatt-hour as incandescents and reduce energy consumption by 2/3, and it’s easy — you can then make incandescents illegal and no one will care. Same thing happened with getting rid of the CFCs in refrigerants. No problem.

But reducing CO2 emissions to zero in two decades (necessary to get us down to 350ppm and avert climate catastrophe) will never be easy. Reducing oil and petrochemical consumption by 90% in three decades (necessary to avert The Long Emergency) is unfathomably difficult, if not impossible. Drastically reducing debts, waste, and consumption (necessary to avert a ghastly depression that will make the Great Depression look mild) is unimaginable, even with magical thinking — the cure might be as bad as the disease. And likewise an end to factory farming would require the nationalization and breakup of industrial agriculture, an end to the $150B annual agriculture subsidies to some mighty powerful oligopoly lobbies, and a total, mostly involuntary, change to the way we eat, that would make food much more expensive and its preparation much more time-consuming. This is the antithesis of easy.

These are wicked problems because it will never be easy to solve them. So no politician is going to impose change on the voters, because it would be political suicide. These problems will be solved politically or socially only when there is no other choice. And by then, as every previous civilization has discovered, it will be too late.

Is there a technology fix? The magical thinkers are hard at work. They’re planning on blasting $30B of tiny reflective metal into the stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays, to combat global warming. It’s called geoengineering. They have no idea what they’re doing, but when things get desperate enough they’ll do it anyway. After all, it’s easy. Oh, and they’re also going to put all the carbon dioxide back into the Earth in a way that it won’t leak out again. That’s called carbon sequestration, and the technology doesn’t exist (the engineers I’ve spoken to say it never will), but, hey, when you’re magical thinking, go for it. Obama’s giving them millions to invent it. Just make it easy for us, please. Whatever the problems, we just don’t want to know.

And the magical thinkers are going to give us high-efficiency wind and solar and geothermal and biomass and “clean coal” and “safe nuclear” to get us off our addiction to oil. No matter that even all of these together barely scratch the surface of what we would need just to keep consuming at current levels (China’s energy use is growing 20%/year and they’re building a new coal-fired power plant every four days). Hey, what happened to cold fusion? In the meantime, we’ll stave off the problem for 4-5 years by turning an area of Alberta the size of Florida into a lunar landscape peppered with thousands of massive toxic tailing ponds. The kids will forgive us, right? We don’t want to know.

The magical thinkers haven’t even put their minds to dealing with the coming economic collapse, or the obscenity of factory farming, because they’re not even acknowledged as problems, let alone wicked ones. We don’t want to know.

Well, I want to know. And apparently a few others, mostly adult women, want to know too. Even if it means letting my heart be broken. Even if it means looking at a photo like the one above, which is offensive. I’ve been inside a slaughterhouse. I’m a vegetarian, but still not a vegan, so I’m complicit in what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses. I drive a car and fly too often, so I’m complicit in the Alberta Tar Sands holocaust. I know better, or at least I should. What’s the matter with me, with us?

What’s the matter is that we’re human. These things that don’t change don’t hit close enough. They’re not personal enough. Slaughterhouses and factory farms and Tar Sands developments are private property, and they don’t want you to know what goes on there. And what would you do, anyway?

Well, perhaps you’d do whatever it took to shut them down. And perhaps, if you got together with enough other people with the same intention, you might come up with some ingenious ways to shut them down. Maybe even as ingenious as the ideas that got these “innovations” started in the first place.

Do we really want to know the truth? I don’t know. We’re a curious species, we humans. If something can reasonably be done to make something better, or less awful, a lot of us seem to want to know what the problem is, and how we might do that.

All I know is that, after a lifetime of turning away, of not wanting to know, I’ve now reached the point where I can’t help knowing, and I can’t turn away, and I have to do something more than the very worthy and necessary but insufficient things that activists do so valiantly and often at great personal risk and sacrifice.

I have to stop these things. How? Don’t know yet. Work with me, and we’ll figure it out.

Last words to Ms Kolbert, a much better writer than I:

“Eating Animals” closes with a turkey-less Thanksgiving. As a holiday, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But this is Foer’s point. We are, he suggests, defined not just by what we do; we are defined by what we are willing to do without. Vegetarianism requires the renunciation of real and irreplaceable pleasures. To Foer’s credit, he is not embarrassed to ask this of us.

But is even veganism really enough? The cost that consumer society imposes on the planet’s fifteen or so million non-human species goes way beyond either meat or eggs. Bananas, bluejeans, soy lattes, the paper used to print this magazine, the computer screen you may be reading it on—death and destruction are embedded in them all. It is hard to think at all rigorously about our impact on other organisms without being sickened.

And if we’re sickened, then what?

Category: Animal Welfare

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FIRST 50 COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE

it will be figured out, dave. excellent write-up!

in friendship, prad
prad • 11/4/09; 3:32:31 AM #
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Hey Dave –

The problem isn’t really eating meat, you know. It’s billions of humans on the planet consuming more and more every year.

So the solution isn’t vegetarianism or veganism, its complete cultural change with depopulation. Horrific and yet… nothing less will stop us from killing the planet. The good news — if you can call it that — is that the planet is quickly going to take our choices away. We’ve pushed to hard, too far, and now we have to face the consequences of that.

But moving with this change is hard… harder than anything ever, because for those that want to save the world, the path is unintuitive… while for those that just want better lives, it can be endlessly satisfying — once they stop being afraid and just start.

Janene
Janene • 11/4/09; 8:08:30 AM #
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I agree with Janene. I strongly recommend the book *The* *Vegetarian* *Myth* by Lierre Keith, who is no apologist for the evils of factory farming. I hope you don’t become a vegan, because if you do, it will drive you insane and destroy your body.
Loveandlight • 11/4/09; 10:11:32 AM #
the comment by loveandlight drives home the point of this article in excellent fashion! also, janene’s depopulation is a good idea – the fewer people, the fewer indenial.
prad • 11/4/09; 4:53:51 PM #
thanks for a great write dave. loveandlight epitomizes the essence of your article; denial is not a river in africa. funny how someone can read something so thought provoking and miss the entire point, especially someone with a handle such as loveandlight. light on -no one home.
tricia glynn • 11/4/09; 5:17:34 PM #
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Tricia, a putdown is not an argument. I agree with Loveandlight… best human diet is the paleolithic diet, and high grain diets are destroying people’s health as well as the planet. Let’s convert grain fields to pastures! Short of Wes Jackson’s dream of perennial grains, it’s really the only way to stop the erosion and damage grain growing causes. Is one pound of bread worth 7 pounds of lost soil?!
vera • 11/4/09; 7:31:24 PM #
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Sorry Dave. I got carried away, before I read your post. I just bought a goat share, and I hope never to support big commercial dairies with their overheated, substandard, medicated pseudomilk and poorly treated cows again. And hey, it was easy. Finding the farm and getting motivated to go was the only hard part.

CAFOs… keep us posted. You picked a worthy challenge…
vera • 11/4/09; 7:58:57 PM #
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I wanna know too, Dave.
Mike • 11/5/09; 9:35:35 AM #
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Daniel Draffen writes:

We are vegetarians – no meat, fish, eggs or foul. It’s not that hard, in fact, in many ways it’s simpler than omnivore diet. Certainly healthier. We’ve been vegetarian for a very long time and will be indefinitely. The solution is from the grass roots level, the family level, the individual level. If most families went vegetarian that would FORCE the Powers-That-Be to adapt and shift away from factory farming of animals – the demand would not be there. The market speaks loudly and the Powers-That-Be listen, even the powerful lobbies. Probably shoes and belts are the hardest part – finding a suitable substitute for leather that is acceptable to wear to office and formal gatherings. Haven’t quite conquered that yet – fortunately these items last a long time and don’t have to be replaced frequently.
Dave Pollard • 11/5/09; 9:59:40 AM #
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Thanks everyone. Although vegetarianism wasn’t really the point of my article, I appreciate the comments on that. The real challenge is, if we give up waiting for most people to want to know, and to act, what can we do to make behaviour that is less destructive (a) mandatory (by removing more destructive options) or, more likely (b) easy, e.g. by inventing some kind of non-animal based protein food (without artificial chemicals or GMO components) that tastes just like meat & dairy?
Dave Pollard • 11/5/09; 10:05:57 AM #
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Vera, If the truth is a put down then so be it. Fact is it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat and 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. I am in my sixties and have never been sick not even with a mild cold or flu and I have been vegan for most of my life. My siblings who eat meat are on many medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and many other illnesses. This speaks volumes to me. The proof is in the pudding. I am vegan for the animals, my good health is an asset that comes with my lifestyle.
tricia glynn • 11/5/09; 10:39:49 AM #
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Daniel, My husband and I have found great pleather belts and shoes and pleather is becoming more and more accessible. Vegan essentials is on line store where you can get the products.

Dave, While I tend to stay away from vegan meats, there are some great tasting beef and chicken entrees, especially pure vegetarian brand that i serve when we have carnivore guests. soy ice cream, milk, whipping cream, and butter is as tasty as real dairy products without all the antibiotics and suffering.
tricia glynn • 11/5/09; 10:47:33 AM #
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Tricia, in what world are insults “the truth”? If you feel you have to insult others who think other than you, what example are you setting for your way of looking at things?

It does not take 5000 gallons of water to produce a pound of rabbit or chicken or fish. As for wheat, if most people switched to grain based foods, soil erosion would be even more insane than it already is. Have you checked the numbers on how much soil is lost to feed you? And there are plenty of very healthy omnivores… and some very sickly vegans. The fact that there has never been a fully vegetarian tribe speaks for itself.

At least read Lierre Keith, so that you know what the other side argues.
vera • 11/5/09; 10:54:54 AM #
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Hey –

Obviously, if that’s the goal your option (b) is the more likely and also prefered one.

But Dave… to make those meat alternatives, how much invested energy do you think might be involved? Talk about gallons of water all you want sure, it is as important as any other factor if not more)… but at the end of the day, total energy investment is the only way to compare apples and oranges (or fungus and beef)

Janene
Janene • 11/5/09; 10:55:30 AM #
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“Regular readers are probably tired of me reciting Pollard’s Law of human behaviour, but until it has been effectively refuted I’ll keep saying it: We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. We have no time or energy left to do what’s merely right. It is not in our nature.”

Certainly the most remarkable and surprising world event in our lifetime was the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent events in the communist bloc and Germany. Predicted by no Certified Smart Persons anywhere, because they believe principles not much different from Pollard’s Law, that popular opinion means next to nothing, that totalitarian powers cannot be opposed by their citizens, that citizens are indifferent and don’t want to know.

I think you might be less despairing if your view of historical and current events was less dogmatic and oversimplifying. Perhaps studying how so positive and yet “impossible” an event as the fall of the Berlin wall nevertheless happened would be a help.

A recent review of books on that subject is here– http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23232

Bob Watson • 11/5/09; 1:34:57 PM #
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vera and janene:

you are ignoring an important reality. it takes far more grain (energy, resources etc) to produce meat to feed people than to just feed people the grain to beginning with. i’m also surprised that neither of you acknowledge the ethical issue – sentient beings don’t like to be imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered. there really isn’t anyway around this.

and vera, you’re being a bit unfair by saying tricia is engaging in insults. exactly what did she say that was insulting and to whom? your statement “high grain diets are destroying people’s health as well as the planet” is dramatic, but erroneous since the people in the 1st world consume a high meat-based diet and that is what is destroying their health and the planet. lierre keith makes a reasonable argument, but she is not the “other side” as you imply. a veg myth merely negates itself (if proven to be a myth) – it by no means negates vegetarianism (as some opponents want you to think).

again, i refer back to janene’s original thesis – the big problem is big population. until this species learns to control its hedonistic, anthropocentric urges, it will live by the glands, not the brain, and certainly not the heart.
prad • 11/5/09; 2:03:28 PM #
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Prad, I was referring to above: “loveandlight. light on -no one home”.

Key points: it does not take any grains to feed cows. In fact, they sicken on it. Goats and sheep do well on grass & browse. And grass protects the soil. The only critters that need some grains are chickens… but not much if they are free ranging.

I am not arguing for a high meat diet. Neither do I accept the argument for a high grain diet.

The way the planet is, sentient beings serve as food for others, one way or another. You and I will serve others some day too. We are predators, we eat some. If we treat them right, and kill them gently, I am at peace with it. You may want to argue with God on that one. But if you want to argue that it’s better for the earth that I eat processed grain from Alberta rather than the rabbit on my porch, I will have a hard time taking you seriously.

Population is of course a problem; less food, less humans. I am against all the propaganda aiming to increase the yields which are already plunderous, unnecessary, and destructive to the planet.
vera • 11/5/09; 3:29:19 PM #
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vera,

tricia’s statement was just a play on words. if you want to seek something that is a more suitable insult candidate look at loveandlight’s assertion that becoming vegan “will drive you insane and destroy your body”.

we seem to be in agreement on at least some of the important matters – high yields come with an even higher price. as the saying goes, “no gain, no pain”!

however, peace comes to you a bit too easily. the choice is not between your eating grain or eating the rabbit, but that you do have a choice not to eat the rabbit. you don’t have to eat the grain either, because just like your cows and goats and sheep, you don’t need that stuff. so let’s not get distracted from what the real choice at hand here is and if that seems difficult, talk to the rabbit and it’ll be cleared up really quickly.

now you might feel fine treating this rabbit right and then killing gently (which isn’t treating the poor fellow right, btw), but i somehow don’t think the rabbit would feel too fine. in fact, if the rabbit were not just a casual visitor on your porch, but were your pet, you might not feel too good killing this being that you have been treating right. in fact, when you really treat a sentient being right, vera, killing just doesn’t come that easily.

your ‘sentient beings serving as food’ argument is interesting. on one hand, it’s the old “a wolf eats rabbits so why can’t i?”. this is the someone else does i so it must be ok effort, though i hesitate to extend the approach and hold up flies as paragons to justify culinery behaviors. on the other hand, you have rather generously offered up both of us as food to “serve others some day too”. i’m not sure what you are encouraging here – is it cannibalism? who are these others that will devour us?

possibly you have thought out the ethics of this offering and are at peace with being devoured, but i, like the rabbit, am not too pleased with your idea. i don’t mean to desert you, but really i do object! :D
prad • 11/5/09; 5:36:58 PM #
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Hey Prad –

If don’t know what angle vera approaches this issue from — although I expect it is not totally dissimilair from my own — but the simple fact is that we have evolved to be omnivores… so from a simple biological standpoint, the most healthy diet for human animals involves vegetables, fruit, nuts… and meats.

Morally, I don’t see any need to justify living the way we evolved to live… any more than a lion or wolf or bacteria needs justification for the way they live. Everything living eventually dies — we are all part of the cycle of life — we all feed on something (or someone) else. One way or another other.

Derrick Jensen made an interesting observation in A Language Older than Words. He suggested that in every predator-prey interaction there is a conversation that takes place… the prey, if it is to be dinner, acknowledges that it is “thier time,” if you will. This suggests to me that our disconnect with food is more spiritual (not the right word, but I’m struggling a little) than it is materialistic. I’m interested in bring that “spirit” back to our interactions more than I am interested in disconnecting entirely……

Janene
Janene • 11/5/09; 10:34:55 PM #
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:-) No, Prad, killing does not come easily. But fields of grain do not come without killing. Plowing kills critters, harvesters kill critters, runoff kills (the rivers and seas), the transportation kills (animals on the road) and so on… We do not have the choice not to kill.

As for eating neither grain nor meat…have you tried such a thing? I came close with the SCDiet, and it was pretty gruesome to stick with. I evolved as an omnivore, and I intend to stay an omnivore. And I believe that an omnivorous diet is the best for saving soil, too.

Cannibalism? Heh. Nah. I have a grievous chronic disease that may kill me some day, and I have thought that the best death would be just to walk out onto the prairie and let the coyotes have me, and the vultures. It would be an honor, really. Failing that, I would like to be composted, as food for the critters that show up. The whole earth is one cycle of service… the grasshopper feeds the chicken, the chicken feeds me, and I feed the coyotes or the worms & tiny soil organisms. As they in turn will serve others, as long as life continues.
vera • 11/5/09; 10:42:51 PM #
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janene,

we haven’t evolved to be omnivores at all. our biology isn’t even close to that of an omnivore: http://www.vegsource.com/veg_faq/comparative.htm (this is dr milton mills’ comparative anatomy)

there are many, many other references the works for instance by sussman: http://news-info.wustl.edu/tips/page/normal/902.html (this has to do with being nice) http://www.vegsource.com/articles2/hunter_gatherer.htm (this has to do with the hunter myth) which show that humans really don’t have a biological imperative to go around slaughtering other beings.

to suggest that the most healthy diet for humans should include corpse fare in 2009, is really ignoring the work done by even mainstream health professionals. four decades ago, the statement might have been reasonable, but even the american dietetic association now acknowledges the health benefits of veg (just as the highbrow medical journal the lancet grudgingly did about 15 yrs ago, interestingly enough).

what you can say is that humans are omnivores by practice – but that is not an evolutionary imperative. it is simply a lifestyle that some people decide to adopt.

now if you truly believe that there isn’t “any need to justify living the way we evolved to live”, you also must see you have just opened the door to any sort of behavior that humans engage in (genocide, murder, oppression, etc). however, there has been an evolution in conscience, since these days a greater percentage of people recognize that justifications are necessary. this is an important component of civilized society.

mystical mumblings of this marvellous communication (a la jensen) between predator and prey really have no relevance in civilized society and just because ‘we all feed on something’, doesn’t prevent us from being more discerning and aware of the sentient beings whose existence we are terminating. if you really communicate, you’ll hear your prey saying “i want to live”. however, you can’t engage in this communication too easily through the cellophane wrapper with the slab of corpse that once was a part of a living being.

the problem with this sort of hands-off approach to existence is that again it ignores the progress that has been made ethically over the centuries. some people still get away with murder, but these days in more and more places they are being held accountable for it.

so many of us not only see the need to justify various human behaviors, we also work towards making sure that certain human behaviors are relegated to the darkest pages of history.

i do agree with you regarding the planet taking our choices away, but it hasn’t happened yet. so we do have the choice not to participate in the oppression of sentient beings and while being veg isn’t going to solve all the problems, it’s a really necessary component. we also have the choice to research things so we work with actual facts rather than fantasies trying to maintain status quo.

and finally, we have the choice to want to know which is the point of dave’s article.
prad • 11/6/09; 3:58:55 AM #
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hi again vera!

i’m not surprised to hear you say that “killing doesn’t come easily”. i don’t think it ever could for a kind person. the human psyche really isn’t designed for it. as an example, consider that rabbit on your porch – do you think it is cute, or do you start salivating?

now let’s deal with this grain drain. your argument is that grain production kills so we’re not any better off than meat production which also kills. however, do you not see that the former is not a mechanism for directed killing of sentient beings, whereas the latter is? so let’s get the two very differing situations out from under the same blanket.

for instance, your grain transport truck may run over a couple of deer, but your chicken transport truck is bringing hundreds to their deaths. so you most definitely do have the choice not to kill – you can make the choice not to kill hundreds of birds and train the truck operator to drive carefully.

vera it’s easy to eat without grain or meat and you don’t have to scd it. there is an abundance of veggies and fruits that your body will process efficiently. you can even go frugivore (which is the most likely evolutionary alignment for primates) – here’s one such place: http://arawconnection.ning.com/ – they are pretty helpful to newbies – i hang out there so if you show up you’d be most welcome.

you haven’t evolved as an omnivore because biologically you have nothing in common. check out dr milton mill’s comparative anatomy (posted to janene) and you’ll see that you don’t have the teeth, oral cavity, stomach fluid acidity, intestinal tract etc that an omnivore has. what you are doing is being an omnivore by choice which has nothing to do with evolution.

you may think that practising omnivorism is best for the soil, but you must realize that the unfortunate creatures which are imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered, still have to be fattened up! this is not going to happen on grass – it’s going to happen with grain. so while your grass idea appears sound, commercial production will ensure that more and more grains are used as feed – far more than if it were fed directly to humans (eg 70-80% of grain produced in US goes to fatten livestock). so the omnivore approach will destroy the soil with far greater effectiveness as it has been doing over the past 5 decades.

i’m glad you aren’t preaching cannibalism, vera! i was getting concerned for my own safety for a while :D

your cycle of life sounds equitable, but if you inspect it you’ll see that it really isn’t so much a circle as a rather distorted hyperbola. the vast majority of chickens don’t get to eat grasshopper – they get to feast on cheap gmo grains, pesticides, antibiotics, excrement and even raw chicken parts. humans who eat them, don’t nobly offer themselves to coyotes or worms, as you are doing, but wind up in caskets and are buried or cremated.

so again, what it comes down to is the point of dave’s article. do you want to just keep doing the same thing and creating rationalization to maintain your present status quo or do you really want to know?
prad • 11/6/09; 4:02:58 AM #
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Hey Prad –

I cannot get any of the vegsource links to open, so I cannot comment on what they have to say. However, evolutionary theory is one of my… hobbies, let’s say, so I expect that I would have some rather extensive counter arguments to offer… I’ll try to get in there again, later.

And “mainstream health professionals” are high on my list of bunco artists. The modern health establishment is more about politics than it is about health.

I am absolutely NOT condoning war or genocide or ecocide or any of the other atrocities that civilizations engage in… but that is the point. Civilizations engage in these activities, not humans in general. It is a function of hierarchy, social stratification and over-population. Especially over population in that you will see other animals engage in “wicked” behavior when populations get too high, or range-space becomes too constricted (did you read anything about the elephants exhibiting signs of PTSD?)

Civilized society is the LAST thing I want any part of, as a result. YES, I WANT to know, and I want to do something different but that involves actually doing something differently, not just trying to claim the moral high ground. So I will continue to pursue my alternatives outside of civilized society as much as possible, until civilized society goes the way of the dodo bird so that we can ALL breathe easy once more.

Janene

(One quick aside, on health. I switched to a semi-strict paleo diet some years back. I had a doctor insist on giving me a cholesterol test as I rarely seek medical attention… he knew that, but not about my diet. The results… the healthiest test he had seen in years. Meanwhile, I have lost most of the excess weight I have carried my entire life, I am more active, more energetic and younger looking than I was before that… overall, my health has increased ten fold.)
Janene • 11/6/09; 9:27:45 AM #
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Hey prad, it’s difficult to discuss this because you keep refuting ideas I do not hold. A bit of straw man there, perhaps? ;-) I do not support trucking chickens to the slaughterhouses. Neither do I support factory farming with artifical fattening of animals on a sea of corn. Duh!

I don’t have the time to investigate the claims we are fruitivores. Perhaps so. But I very much doubt it. Chimps eat meat when they can get it. Even gorillas eat meat sometimes… And the javelins found 400,000 years ago where not likely made to spear fruit! We evolved our brains on a meat/fish diet.

You know, Sister Wendy lives on 2 glasses milk a day, and an occasional salad. Apparently, in God all things are possible. So I wish you well on your own journey.

I hope that you can recognize that systemic killing is not something where you are off the hook. The animals killed via grain production are not killed because people are careless. They are killed because that is how the system works. Some 25,000 (or whatever), more or less, people die annually on the roads of the US. The killing is systemic. If you accept cars and roads the way it’s all designed, then you bear part of the responsibility for the deaths. We all do. What I really really REALLY dislike about people with extreme diets is that they turn it all into this holier than thou thing. Refusing to see their own indirect killing, but rubbing our nose in the direct ones. Maybe I should start insulting your food too the way you do mine… calling grains (and veggies grown without mulch and manures) the soildestroyer foods, or something.

Soil needs manures. Grains (and many veggies) drain and deplete soil. Plowing of large areas destroys the soil structure and life. On the other hand, animals live on grass, no need to plow it, and feed the soil with their manure. There is simply no way to get around this simple fact. How many animals died in the production and transportation of fertilizers to your fields? Indirect killing is still killing, even though you remain oh so pure of the gore. I’d rather be honest with myself.

The only sustainable ag system is a largely local system. People growing nearby what is eaten. Anything else kills: it kills the soil, it kills lots of critters one way or another, and it even kills humans when food and resources are displaced from their area.

Your soil argument depends on doing more of what I am opposed to. So? No point pursuing it, is there. Do I want to keep doing the same thing? No. If I did why would I be hanging with Dave? :-)!

When you say that my argument is a mere rationalization, I feel upset, because I am wanting respect. I am not hanging here because I am an as*hole hypocrite who is dead set on maintaining the status quo. Would you be willing to to skip judgmental language when we talk?
vera • 11/6/09; 9:42:21 AM #
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hi janene!

i can’t get the vegsource link to work either – my apologies, i should have tested it before posting it. it’ll probably be back sometime. meanwhile, i’ve found another place which has the article: http://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/The-Comparative-Anatomy-of-Eating (i’ve heard it’s on youtube too, though i don’t quite see how that is)

i look forward to seeing your counter-arguments since evolutionary theory is something i’ve dabbled in a bit as well.

you have my total support and agreement regarding the medical establishment. we never use it and we never get sick either (there is likely a direct correlation :D)

i never said you were condoning any of the atrocities. here’s what i wrote:

======= now if you truly believe that there isn’t “any need to justify living the way we evolved to live”, you also must see you have just opened the door to any sort of behavior that humans engage. =======

what i am saying is that if you don’t justify the way you live, you can get away with anything. this is what some people (not civilizations, btw) engage in. it is people who do this when they have a choice not to, so saying that it is the civilization that does it is incorrect. civilizations aren’t ever homogeneous and don’t act in unison – in fact, the entity doesn’t even act, individuals within it do. for instance, you can have a civilization which advocates human sacrifice (because it is in the law let’s say), but it will be specific individuals who will oppose the law based on their conscience (and sometimes) courage.

the point is that we do need to justify our way of living. this means

1) we need to set suitable ethical standards 2) we need to measure actions against these standards 3) we need to have mechanisms for dealing with violators of these standards (which hopefully will not violate the standards themselves)

the fact that you write “I am absolutely NOT condoning war or genocide or ecocide or any of the other atrocities” demonstrates that you are engaged in a process of justification and that your sense of ethics reject wicked behavior.

it should be no surprise to find that beings of other species exhibit wicked behaviors. all these beings are individuals. the error people make is to think that because a being is a cat, the cat will behave the way they think cats behave. the application of such generalizations is not valid as anyone who has cats in the house can attest to. there are some commonalities, but each cat has a unique personality and therefore, appropriate actions.

under stressful situations (eg overpop), non-human animals behave much in the way that humans do. for instance, check out a refugee camp and you’ll find that the greedy forcefully take food from the weak (even their own families sometimes) – you’ll find animals do the same in similar situations. however, there are within that refugee camp many individuals who have a different sense of ethics, who strive towards compassion and altruistism. you find the same with animals. some animals are selfish and oppressive, some are nurturing, some are even heroically self-sacrificing.

these traits were demonstrated in a barbaric experiment done with monkeys some years back (i can look up the reference if you want), where the food dispenser was hooked up to deliver a painful electric shock to a victim monkey whenever one of them took food. some took the food with full knowledge of what was happening to their companion, but some wouldn’t and went hungry for days.

now let’s not be too hard on civilized society, janene. after all, when gandhi was asked what he thought of western civilization he replied, “i think it would be a good idea” :D :D

what you are really objecting to is the commercialization of society, i think and again i’m in full agreement with you on this. corporatization and economic oppression fueled by a brainwashed, i-want-it-now consumer base is not civilization – in fact, it is really no different than brutish behavior displayed throughout much of recorded human history (and even earlier).

however, the moral high ground is important. one cannot deny that much good has come as a result of civilization, such as an attempt at a society where the strong don’t oppress the weak, where those in need are not left to perish, where internal (and imho, very natural) moral qualities such as honesty, sincerity, compassion and co-operation are encouraged and instilled in progeny.

a civilized society is an inevitable result of moral evolution.
prad • 11/6/09; 4:07:00 PM #
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vera,

let’s be clear on a few things:

1. i have plenty of respect for you – i wouldn’t be taking the time to make these enormous posts if i thought otherwise. (btw, i do appreciate that you and janene read through my volume of verbosity) 2. if i thought you were “an as*hole hypocrite”, i would say so. i don’t think anything of the sort which is one reason i invited you to the frugivore site (i think you’ll find some good friends there) 3. i have not setup a single strawman because nowhere have i claimed that you uphold chicken transport, slaughterhouses etc. when i write “you” and “your”, i am merely using it as a colloquial expression – it doesn’t mean i’m referring to you yourself. if that weren’t evident to begin with, it is now. 4. when i say “the omnivore approach will destroy the soil with far greater effectiveness”, i am not saying you are destroying the soil. however, the omnivorous diet that is widespread is destroying the planet and i have taken pains to differentiate it from your rabbit-on-a-porch via “commercial production” and the “hyperbola” paragraphs. 5. we have agreement in the localized ag system. 6. i’m not insulting your food – far worse has been done to its source than a mere insult. 7. chimpanzees do occasionally eat meat and even other primates, but we are not chimps. 8. the human brain didn’t evolve as a result of a meat/fish diet. a study in 1994 by leonard and robertson showed: “Even in human populations where meat consumption is low, DQ is still much higher than in other large-bodied primates because grains are much more calorically dense than foliage.” william calvin on the otherhand attributes this development to the ice age and climate changes while engel’s has a most interesting ‘marxist’ take to it creating a “masterpiece of the dialectical method” attributing it to the labor.

now, with no disrespect at all, here’s why i say you are rationalizing.

1. your killing argument is essentially that no matter what we do, we kill: “We do not have the choice not to kill”, therefore, it makes little difference whether we kill animals in a slaughterhouse vs animals via systemic consequences of grain production.

with this rationale, you try to offset the slaughter of billions of sentient beings against killing of some creatures by a grain producing ag system.

well here is the difference again:

killing as a result of grain production is not killing in a deliberate and organized fashion (except with pesticides, of course). the process doesn’t involve the planned imprisionment, exploitation, abuse and murder of sentient beings. the process doesn’t come close to matching the numerical toll (see animals slaughtered here http://www.adaptt.org/). furthermore, since the majority of grains are fed to fatten animals, it stands to reason that if we stopped eating animals, we would reduce the grain production and thereby reduce the amount of incidental killing.

to argue against these facts with something like ‘we all kill, therefore, there is no point in focussing on animals killed for meat’, is rationalization.

2. the holier than thou effort is also a rationalization – specifically a deflection. the idea here isn’t that you disagree with the concept of not killing sentient beings for food production (because i think you do agree by virtue of your acknowledgement “killing does not come easily”), but that you don’t like it when i bring the ethical component in – specifically, that sentient being really don’t like to be imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered, and that those who support or engage in such practices are acting unethically.

now please understand that i am not saying you imprison, exploit, abuse and murder any sentient being – no strawman here – in fact, most people couldn’t bear engaging in such activity which is why they pay someone else to do the dirty work. however, your holier than thou statement is an attempt to take the focus away from what is done do these animals and the behavior that some people engage in or support. in other words, paint prad as a holier than thou, and let’s not deal with the issue at hand.

i’m not saying you are doing this out of malice, btw. it tends to be one of the common reactions by some people in discussions of this sort.

nor do i deny being holier than thou. in fact, i am happy to be acknowledged as such :D for my lifestyle choice (vegan) means i don’t eat sentient beings, i don’t take the mammarian secretions which are intended for their offspring, i don’t consume their menstrual excretions (forgive the poetic license on that one), i don’t steal their fur or skin or silk, i don’t use them as entertainment etc etc. (i have little doubt that you don’t do many of these things either, so i welcome you as a fellow holier than thouer).

however, the effort is still a rationalization.

here’s what it really boils down to i think. you don’t like sentient beings to be imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered any more than i do. however, you have it in your head (due to your past experiences, i guess) that you have to eat some meat and therefore you cannot presently accept the idea of not killing animals for food. hence, you maintain through various rationalizations (eg humans are omnivores, chimps eat meat, grain production also kills animals and depletes soil, even prad is a holier than thou) that killing animals for food is really not unethical.

i think though that hanging out with dave is a good idea – i certainly spread many of his works – and once again, if you do come to that frugivore place, you would be most welcomed.
prad • 11/6/09; 4:08:17 PM #
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Prad, you keep arguing not against me, but against a system that imprisons etc animals. Since I don’t support that system, I am not sure why.

I have examined these issues in great detail, and have decided on the side of omnivory. Unlike you, I am not arguing that veg choice is rationalization, although I could, because you seem to worry more about fluffy bunnies (of which there is no dearth) than you do about healthy soil, which we are running out of. But I am not interested in putdowns, and so I will simply say that I think the veg argument is sorely lacking in this area.

I am not interested in trying to convert you. I do not wish to create the impression that I like being hit on by vegans any more than I want to be hit on by Jehovah’s Witnesses or any others out to convert. But it’s been fun to argue with you, and I thank you for sharing.

The point I want to make is this: we have a lot of problems on this earth. One of them is factory farming, both animal and vegetable. I vote with my feet and start walking over to where people have stopped arguing with each other which way of eating is purer, and are ready to unite against the evils that face us all. If we are to deal with CAFOs, and mass produced crap-foods, and GM stuff and the rest of the ick, we have to be together on this and turn ourselves into a hammer of God on top of the people who run this system and profit from it. I hope I will see you there.
vera • 11/6/09; 4:49:32 PM #
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vera,

you are correct in saying that i am arguing against a system that imprisons, exploits, abuses and murders sentient beings. i am also arguing against omnivorism because that is also part of that system since you can’t get around the murder though you can possibly minimize some of the other stuff. i know you don’t support “the system” and i acknowledged it.

i would like to see you argue that veg choice is rationalization. why don’t you try it? just because i show concern for the fluffy bunnies doesn’t mean that i don’t have a concern for healthy soil. one isn’t antagonistic to the other and you can have fluffy bunnies living happily on healthy soil co-existing with humans who aren’t about to devour them. the only reason you think “the veg argument is sorely lacking in this area” is because you framed the veg argument as being strictly tied to ag grain production which it isn’t. as stated before, you can be veg without grains.

i never thought you were trying to convert me and i’m certainly not hitting on you towards veganism. i have no idea why you would even think that. i’m only interested in showing that the omnivore arguments are inaccurate and invalid. for the record, your diet is of no concern at all to me, but what your diet ‘represents’ and ‘advocates’ is.

this isn’t a matter of purer eating. it is a matter of not eating sentient beings. those who have trouble seeing this, can simply substitute a human for one of your fluffy rabbits on the porch. make sure the human is from a ‘disadvantaged’ group that most people don’t care much about and has little ability to speak out for itself. even though you have already acknowledged you aren’t an advocate for cannibalism, you might ask yourself why you wouldn’t eat this human on your porch. well why wouldn’t you? wouldn’t eating this way also promote healthy soil just as eating the rabbit supposedly would? what makes the fluffy rabbit expendable, but not the human so easily? is it a matter of good taste? :D

i have enjoyed our discussion too because i think you are sincere and courteous. i am ready to continue this one if you wish to or perhaps look forward to seeing you on a different topic. perhaps we’ll be on the same side of the argumen in the future.

as for ‘seeing me there’, i’ve been ‘there’ for a few decades and i imagine you have as well – we just haven’t run into each other i guess :D
prad • 11/6/09; 5:29:46 PM #
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i realized that point #8 in my reply to vera (11/6/09; 4:08:17 PM) regarding human brain development was cut short partly because it was a minor matter and is a bit incomprehensible. however, some may be interested in the details behind it which is posted below. in summary, human brain development is hypothesized to have progressed because of the DQ (diet quality) which has nothing to do with meat. there are some other theories presented as well.

since i can’t edit here, the entire content from 2 past forum discussions is copied below:

======== the meat => bigger brains theory is not valid at all.

the important factor is that caloric density allowed more leisure time and therefore more time to flex the brain ‘muscle’ (use it or lose it as a neurobiologist friend of mine confirmed in a forum discussion several years ago). caloric density can come from grains likely more easily than meat anyway.

i’m not sure i agree with mario’s comment that “Most carnivorous animals are very stupid and emotional creatures” beyond my experiences with one species where i can confirm he’s right on the button. :D

there are several theories as to brain development so you may be interested in this post from about five years ago quoted below. it deals with caloric density, ice age, and even a marxist perspective.

in friendship, prad

=============== Gavin,

I agree with you that the idea of large brain development being a result of the free hours for creative thought which became available as a result of the high caloric intake that meat supposedly provided is at best speculation.

However, the rationale behind some of this is perhaps interesting at least.

The idea is derived from the topic of encephalization reviewed (albeit somewhat biasedly) here: http://www.beyondveg.com/billings-t/comp-anat/comp-anat-4a.shtml.

Essentially, the correlation between DQ (diet quality specifically the caloric intake) and brain size led to the hypothesis that in order to get all this energy, we needed to eat meat otherwise our brains wouldn’t have ever developed. In fact, Leonard and Robertson claim that

What made meat an important resource to exploit was not its high protein content, rather, its high caloric return … the early hunting-gathering life-way associated with H. erectus was a more efficient way of getting food which supported a 35-55% increase in caloric needs (relative to australopithecines)…

(If you recall, I mentioned the 2 human ‘strains’ earlier in the thread)

Their entire thrust appears based on dense caloric intake (as opposed to just meat) for later they write (Leonard and Robertson 1994, p. 79)

Even in human populations where meat consumption is low, DQ is still much higher than in other large-bodied primates because grains are much more calorically dense than foliage.

Having said all this, they conclude:

These results imply that changes in diet quality during hominid evolution were linked with the evolution of brain size. The shift to a more calorically dense diet was probably needed in order to substantially increase the amount of metabolic energy being used by the hominid brain. Thus, while nutritional factors alone are not sufficient to explain the evolution of our large brains, it seems clear that certain dietary changes were necessary for substantial brain evolution to take place.

Notice that they say that nutritional factors alone are not sufficient to explain brain development.

There are of course other theories such as the idea that kyngi put forth about “increased synaptic efficiency and greater interconnections among neurons” which came about because more efficient tools resulted in more time to think more about more efficient tools. This is certainly a more plausible idea, in my mind, than more efficient tools giving us more free time so we could sit around being creative or that high caloric intake alone caused an enlargement of the brain – because were these ideas true, the shopping malls would be flooded with geniuses by now.

It seems to me that the brain is somewhat like a muscle in that the more you exercise it, the better it functions within reason though in evolutionary terms it may not boil down to simply doing brain teasers or even playing chess.

Challenge may have had a lot to do with brain development. A very interesting theory proposed by William Calvin in the Ascent of Man deals with the ice ages and how human intelligence evolved as a result of having to deal with resulting challenges:

Three things apparently started 2.5 million years ago: the ice ages, toolmaking, growth in brain size.

Indeed, switches in climate may promote a jack-of-all-trades set of capabilities under some conditions. The rapidity of the climate change would appear to be more important than its magnitude. Climate Instability and Hominid Brain Evolution http://www.williamcalvin.com/1990s/1998AGU.htm

He talks about other factors as well like tool usage dexterity, but stresses the effect of climate:

It may be that something else from that bookshelf of plausible suggestions will prove to run the evolutionary ratchet more quickly than my combination of grass, throwing, and cooperation. But if we are to ever give an explanation for how an ape can turn into a human, we will likely have to address the profound challenges and unusual opportunities given our ancestors by the fickle climate. Pumping Up Intelligence http://www.williamcalvin.com/1990s/1999intelligence-chapter.htm

Also extremely interesting (though dated), are Engels’ ideas on the importance of labor on human brain development, developed with minimal fossil evidence, but still “a masterpiece of the dialectical method”:

His pamphlet explained that in early man the upright posture and bipedalism had freed the hands for the manipulation and manufacture of tools. The making of tools and their use led to a further refinement and development of the hand so that the hand was both the “organ” and the “product” of labour …

But the use and manufacturing of tools, Engels explained, also increases the usefulness and purposefulness of joint activity, of social labour. Both tool production – and social labour raised the question of language and speech.

“First comes labour, after it and side by side with it, articulate speech. These were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man.”

The further development of the brain, of course, would interact with labour processes and social intercourse to develop greater capacity for language, for reflection, judgement and abstract thought. The accumulated effects of these interacting processes led to human evolution. Engels and Human Development by John Pickard http://www.marxist.com/scienceandtech/HumanDevelopment.html

So this is kind of neat, because it is theorizing that the hand came first and allowed labor leading to the social interactions which resulted in the increase in brain size.
prad • 11/6/09; 7:17:56 PM #
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Ain’t the calories, it’s the fatty acids! :-)
vera • 11/6/09; 7:32:53 PM #
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Hey Prad –

I’m gonna do my best to keep this *relatively* short… I’m feeling a bit guilty about hijacking Dave’s thread :-P

On “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating” — the first thing that struck me was actually at the end of the piece: there is a graphic comparing Carnivores, Herbivores, Omnivores and Humans… but I noted that with only two very minor exceptions Carnivore traits and Omnivore traits were identical. That seems highly disingenious as even in the article they noted that omnivores *should* show a blending of traits.

On further analysis, most of the traits they discussed were very much simplified, misleading and generally *designed* to prove thier point… for example, the morphology of the human gut is all but unique, so to simply claim it as being herbivorous is, again, disingenious. Likewise, although carnivores came first, that does not mean that *we* evolved directly from carnivores… and in fact, early primates were insectivores (and modern primates, also, include nutritionally significant amounts of insects and sometimes other mammals in thier diets) and thus had little of the traits of lions or tigers or bears.

I’ve spent the last hour, or so reading http://www.beyondveg.com/billings-t/comp-anat/comp-anat-1a.shtml … the same site your friend linked to in your last comment… but it is far too extensive for me to attempt to add all of that information to this comment. It does seem to be an exceptionally well researched and presented(within the context of the ‘web) discussion of “veg*” claims.

Now, of greater interest to me… I repeat, vociferously… civilizations engage in atrocities. Yes, individual persons make choices and perform actions, but it is the nature of civilization to create a prisoner’s dilemma environment. You can choose to NOT participate, but it is absolutely guaranteed that someone else will chose to do so. Without the basic nature of civilization to create the system where these things not only *CAN* happen, but in fact, MUST happen, atrocities would *almost* never occur.

I am not simply objecting to commercialization, nor to a modern or western version of civilization… I am objecting, strongly, to a system that is *designed* to do nothing more than propogate itself at the expense of everything else. People, animals, plants, soil, wind, water et al. Again… I’m not going to try to express the full “arguement” on this one either… it is too big, too far reaching… but I will make it clear that I *DO* deny that much good has come as civilization.

The more critically I look at the world and the systems currently in action, the more I find that nothing good has come from civilization, and those things that I might have once pointed to do not, in fact, require civilization at all. The things you mention… the strong not oppressing the weak, those in need not being left to perish… these are *defining* characteristics of un-civilized cultures. Moral qualities… would you actually claim the Kung! to be immoral in any sense of the word? (Or aboriginal australians, or the Mbutu and so on?) Why would you think that?

Now…. I want to hit on aO few things you wrote to Vera as well…. I think one of the points that she was attempting to get across to you was that agriculture, by its very nature, kills by the billions. Not, “some” as you suggest Destroyed habitats, murdered predators/competitors, pollution, far *more* than slaughterhouses could *conceive* — can you say coral reef, or Gulf of Mexico etc? Now, you have made it clear that you are not defending petro-agriculture, just as she and I have made it clear that we do not defending factory farming… but just the same, you are presenting a false dicotomy. These are our only choices so which is more moral? Neither is “moral”. I prefer to look for a true alternative… because my intention is to live within the community of life, feeding off some, feeding others, participating in life… and that leaves no room for systems that destroy that community. Call it moral, call it practical, call it both at once, I don’t care.

One last comment. You quote leonard/robertson on DQ… what you missed, is that brain size has dropped 8% since the advent of agriculture — ie, since grains became a significant portion of our diet — (correlary, not conclusive) as has height/weight/longevity and overall health. So we *can* replace meat with grains, but it’s not healthy. So how *else* would you propose to maintain DQ?

Janene
Janene • 11/6/09; 8:23:19 PM #
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I hope no one minds that I join in on this discussion. I have a question for lovelight, vera, janene, or anyone for that matter: what nutrients essential to human health and survival are to be found in meat, fish, eggs or dairy that cannot be found in plant foods, or cannot be produced by our own body?
B • 11/6/09; 8:39:27 PM #
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nice to hear from you again, janene!

it’s my pleasure to spend this friday evening responding to your post. thank you for examining the links and presenting your arguments. if dave feels we should stop this discussion, i’m sure he’d say so. besides, i think we are moving into different territory now as a result of your assertions regarding civilization.

first though, the reason omnivores don’t show more of a blending of traits is because the handling of animal proteins is much more severe on the system than plant-based materials. in other words, it is easier for an omnivore to handle plant material than animal material, therefore, you’d expect an omnivore to be closer aligned with a carnivore than a herbivore. you will note that dogs and bears look much more like cats than cows. or consider the panda which is classified as a carnivore by taxonomy, yet lives almost entirely on leaves. additionally, you can see why it is necessary for omnivores to be more like carnivores anyway – they need the tools to hunt prey. if omnivores were built more like humans, they wouldn’t catch much (humans make pretty lousy hunter material) and would have to spend their time in supermarkets chasing down wrapped corpse pieces.

the beyondveg link wasn’t put there by my friend, it was put there by me (that entire post mine though not from the same time period). i sometimes get info from there because some of the stuff is useful, but by no means authoritative. tom generally does a good job getting info together, but has some issues against veg, having tried and ‘failed’ at it – particularly the raw bit. in any case, that is not relevant for this present discussion.

your attack on grain production is not unjustified, but to claim that it kills far more than slaughterhouses isn’t remotely correct since these slaughterhouses are the major reason for the grain production. i also don’t understand why you accuse me of presenting a false dichotomy. i never said you and vera were advocates of factory farming – i said that the omnivorous lifestyle is detrimental to the planet. once again, if we stopped the corpse industries (meat, dairy, eggs), you would cut your grain production by about 80% since about that much grain goes to fatten the animals (at least in the us).

possibly what you and vera are getting at is that small, local operations with cows in pastures etc will relieve the problem and it may to a large extent, but so would small, local operations with grain in the pastures without the cows. so just what is this false dichotomy if small, local operations are agreed upon in both cases? of course, this will manage the environmental issue, but not the health and certainly not the ethical.

while i think it admirable, your and vera’s intentions of ‘feeding others’, i rather doubt you will do it as willingly as you say in a posting. you really aren’t going to give yourselves up to the coyotes and say eat me, anymore than the rabbit or chicken would. in fact, when the coyotes come after you, i think you’ll run and struggle for your lives with as much fearful enthusiasm as any rabbit or chicken would who do not have the benefit of philosophy or the leisure of writing.

i quoted leonard/robertson not as gospel, but as one explanation and presented 2 others on this brain development thing (because of vera’s meat/fish claim), so i don’t know what you are getting at by saying i “missed” the 8% decrease since the advent of agriculture since that had nothing to do with my point. furthermore, tom’s claim that animal food consumption has dropped from 50 to 10% of the diet isn’t referenced. his intended conclusion, of course, is to claim that human brain size has fallen 11% over the past 35000 years and it’s the fault of grains being substituted for meat. it’s amusing that omnivores pick up on this matter, just as frugivores do since they don’t like grains either.

now it’s nice to make these assertions (ignoring whether they are correct or not or even what brain size has to do with intelligence), but exactly what is the point? were humans smarter 35000 years ago because they had a larger encephalization quotient presumably? are vegfolk stupid? have the heaviest meat eaters developed the highest intelligence? it would seem not, at least according to this 2006 report which links high iq to being veg: http://www.britishmeat.com/low-intelligence.htmli’m sure it would upset tom, but us vegfolk can go around yelling “we told you so” … at least until someone publishes a contrary report. :D

now let’s deal with your “civilizations engage in atrocities”. your argument is that a civilization creates the aura so that even if some people don’t carry out the atrocity, others will: “it is absolutely guaranteed that someone else will chose to do so”. here are the problems with that argument:

1) there is no such thing as a civilization. the term is merely a categorizing convenience. hence, we say things like that the early roman civilization existed for 2800 years because some historians have decided to make it so by collating certain bits of evidence. there are no clear-cut boundaries as to when or even what a civilization is, because we are talking in very vague generalities for the sake of making it easier to reference. i too will use the word ‘civilization’ below for convenience in this discussion.

2) civilizations are not homogenous. within any labelled civilization, you will find an immense variety of beliefs, activities and blending of cultures. thus the roman ‘civilization’ also partially included the greek civilization and the persian civilization and whatever else. it even changed its nature over the years.

3) civilizations are not self-directed. individuals determine the course of a civilization by their philosophy, their choice of ethics (or lack thereof) and by their actions. for instance, there is considerable “anti-american” sentiment. this makes it sound like america is bad when in actual fact, it is only certain americans who do the bad things and even violate the principles upon which the country was founded. this is not the country’s doing – it is the work of certain individuals within the country.

4) civilizations don’t create anything. people create the system where you say things can happen and assume that they must happen. then some historian wraps it all up in a neat package and calls it the x civilization.

the problem with this form of presentation is that it really hides the trees for the forest. just as you can’t have a forest without trees, you can’t blame the forest for what the trees do.

now consider one variation of civilization, the idea of an intentional community sometimes referred to as anarchy. such societies will likely function in more equitable ways not because they are not a civilization, but because they are smaller ‘small is beautiful’. of course, this isn’t by any means always the case because again it depends who directs the society with what philosophies, ethics and actions. so even if you go small, you’d better have a decent set of philosophies, ethics and actions.

your objection to civilization being a system designed to propagate itself is significant, but incorrect. if it were otherwise, civilizations wouldn’t fall. what is correct is that a group of individuals (power-mongers, elitists, oligarchs, apathetic public whatever) are interested in propagating themselves at the expense of the rest of the community which includes the environment and non-human inhabitants.

un-civilized cultures do not have a monopoly on morality. some are as immoral and oppressive as many of the politicians and power-barons we have around here. some such cultures have honed the oppression of animals, women, children to a fine art. again it depends not upon the civilization, but those doing the stuff in there.

we can of course blame civilization, but i think it would be more practical and moral to go after those responsible for making it into a mockery. as vera said, to turn ourselves into a “hammer of God on top of the people who run this system and profit from it”.
prad • 11/7/09; 12:39:40 AM #
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Hey Prad –

I’m gonna drop the discussion of meat for now…. we are not getting anywhere with it and I don;t think either of us are honestly trying to convert, so let it lie ;-)

On civilization… we have a semantic issue at play here… I’m not talking about x civ or y civ as distinct entities… I am talking about a very specific *type* of social organization that has existed, unbroken, for ten thousand years. Civilization in the anthropological sense. So let me define what that is.

Civilization is a social/economic system dependant on agriculture (not “growing food”, but specifically growing food with a system that requires more inputs than it returns in output — right now, modern agriculture runs at 10:1), with populations concentrated into urban centers, social stratification, dominance structures and intense division of labor.

The very nature of civilization requires large populations to “succeed”, but at the same time success is defined by constant growth… constant growth inevitably (so long as we live in a finite world) will always run into boundaries… for the Romans it was firewood… which will lead to increased oppression, famine, plague etc until the system collapses. Our current version of civilization is not “american” — it is global. Although politically we still have divisions, our economic systems (including food production) are so intertwined that we cannot speak of it any other way.

If you are really interested, I suggest you read Jarod Diamond’s Collapse to understand why individual civilizations fall… and if you want to go deeper, his Guns Germs and Steel explains how they rise…..

I would *really* love to hear an example from you of non-civilized cultures that have been as immoral and oppressive as civilized peoples. Really. I have heard of many with traditions that I would not want to be a part of, but none that fit that description.

Just one more thing… smaller IS better… not for any moral or ethical reason but because it is functional… see “the monkeysphere” or “Dunbar’s Number”, also written about in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

Janene
Janene • 11/7/09; 8:54:38 AM #
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Nene, B showed up! Hey B. Good to have you here. As far as I know, it’s mostly the B12 vitamin and certain fatty acids. I think biotin too, though. (At least I know they used to feed biotin-deficient people liver.)
vera • 11/7/09; 12:26:12 PM #
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Hi Vera, thanks for the welcome! Hi to Janene as well. Thanks to Prad for inviting me.

Vera: very good answer. It is true, the fatty acids EPA and DHA are extremely hard to come by in the plant kingdom, with only a handful of exceptions including the weed purslane (contains EPA) and certain sea algaes. However they can both be synthesized by the human body given sufficient quantities of the essential fatty acid ALA, about a couple grams a day on average. 1 gram of ALA is supplied by consuming about 1000 calories of fresh fruit, or a pound of tender leafy greens. It is true that krill and cold water fish are rich in EPA and DHA. However, while the human body can synthesize these nutrients, fish cannot and they must obtain them from algae.

And again you are correct, B12 is not known to be synthesized by plants, with the exception of certain sea algaes. Given that neither chicken, cow, nor rabbit voluntarily consumes meat or seaweed for that matter, would you be able to tell me where they get their B12 from?

From what I understand it is true that biotin is found in liver in high quantities, but it is also found in plant foods, including a variety of vegetables, beans and legumes.
B • 11/7/09; 2:25:03 PM #
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Wow. What a terrific discussion! Thank you all for the tremendous work and effort you have put into making this the most extensive and fascinating comments thread ever on this blog. I will be sure to save all this when I convert this blog from Radio to WordPress next month (since otherwise these wonderful comments will be lost forever in Radio’s comments server). And thanks as well for your patience with the Radio comments server, which is very fickle.

I don’t have much to add to the discussion, except to note that we need to be very careful, in looking at complex system changes, to presume to know what is cause and what is effect, because when things co-evolve with hundreds of other system elements there is NO cause or effect. Some evolutions have been accidents, unintended consequences of something evolved for some other purpose (e.g. birds’ feathers evolved for warmth and mate attraction, and only much later were they ‘discovered’ to enable flight).

The anthropological jury is out on brain development, but there is one relatively recent theory that makes intuitive sense to me, so for now I choose to believe it:

1. Homo sapiens has had three very distinct evolutionary diets. For most of our time on Earth, we lived in forests and were purely vegetarian. Look at our pathetic ‘claws’ and teeth and you will see that we are just not built to be carnivores. When we left the forest to the savannas and beyond, we could not survive as vegetarians and in fact became almost entirely carnivores. Then, when we discovered catastrophic agriculture (i.e. monoculture) we became omnivores. Our digestive systems have more-or-less developed to accommodate these changes, but our teeth and claws remain those of a vegetarian species.

2. We developed brains (like the corvids) because to survive as carnivores we needed to become cooperative scavengers and/or develop tools (like arrowheads, spears, and guns) to allow us to catch and kill our prey. Small-brained homo sapiens outside the Eden of the rainforest perished; big-brained ones flourished, so that’s what’s left. What enabled us to develop big brains was, according to the newest theory, a seafood diet — seafood has exactly what is needed to build big brains, and it was plentiful for most of our time on Earth. When Mom said seafood makes you smart, she was right. It was the seashore-living humans who probably grew big brains first, and then migrated inland and used these brains to get the fatty acids and other ingredients from land animals. Even today humans have this powerful intuitive urge to live by the sea, and most of us do.

3. A grain-based diet has always been a poor diet. They had to build the Great Wall to keep malnourished rice paddy farmers from fleeing back to nomadic life, and grains and their sugars (especially corn) have all sorts of negative side effects on our physiology (e.g. they rot our teeth, which in prehistoric days were generally much healthier and disease-free than civilized humans’).

4. I’ve been vegetarian for several years and have never been healthier, physically and mentally. I’m moving cautiously to vegan, starting by buying only small-farm organic, free-range, non-grain-fed, cruelty-free dairy and eggs, and then giving up dairy and eggs entirely. I will continue to consume a significant amount of fish-oil (part of my anti-colitis diet) and will try to find non-animal substitutes for that. And at the same time, I will work with others to find some healthy, non GMO, non-animal foods that provide the nutrition you cannot get from vegetables, fruits and nuts. Since my ancestors lived very healthy lives for a million years as vegetarians, that shouldn’t be so hard.
Dave Pollard • 11/7/09; 6:40:59 PM #
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B –

Just quick and off hand… in response to your last question about B12… very few animals are totally carniverous or herbivorous… certainly chicken eat insects and cows probably take some in while grazing. Assumably the same could be said of most/all primarily herbivorous species.

Janene
Janene • 11/7/09; 6:45:20 PM #
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B, every animal species synthesizes vitamins differently. Janene, Greenpa recently said on Astyk’s blog he’s seen movies or red deer killing and consuming small animals… Things are far more interesting than reductionist science makes them appear.

Biotin, well some people are unable to utilize it normally, and must supplement with VERY high levels from 40mg and upwards, some as high as 200mg per day. Mg, not mcg. I challenge anyone to tell me how to get this much biotin from plants.

Dave, I subscribe to the theory that we evolved partly in shallow seas, so there is more sea food in the distant past. And the savannah theory is dead. Unlikely we were that heavily carnivorous… but still, much more than formerly in the trees when we were likely in part scavengerous, and occasionally snatching a lizard or baby bird or egg, and insect eating (yum, those fat larvae!), as are many of our other relatives.

I think how people feel on different diets depends heavily on fairly recent genetics… northern Europeans tend to need meat, but not so much grain, are much more gluten intolerant than Near East descendants. And so on. Myself, I do better on low grain, skip the gluten, and stick with goat milk. Who knew? I had gut problems on from childhood, and it’s finally improving.
vera • 11/7/09; 7:39:37 PM #
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Janene: good point, carnivore and herbivore are fluid not rigid categories.

It is true that any predominantly herbivorous animal may be regularly consuming insects, wittingly or not. Presuming that the animal’s body, whether it be chicken or goat, does not produce B12, where then does a fruit fly or a lady bug get its B12?
B • 11/7/09; 7:50:51 PM #
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Janene: Let me cut to the chase then regarding the vitamins and other nutrients I mentioned. B12 is not produced by any animal found in land, air or sea. According to current scientific understanding it can be synthesized by nearly 20 different types of bacteria exclusively. These bacteria are found, amongst other places, in soil and in the bodies of various animals, including our own gut. Grain fed livestock happen to be particularly rich in B12… because their feed is fortified with the supplemental form of it.

So it doesn’t seem practical or logical to consume the body of another animal, whether it be cow or ant, to obtain a nutrient that their bodies do not produce, yet can be found in abundance in our own bodies given ideal circumstances. Cases of human B12 deficiency do of course exist. Most often this is due to an absorption issue, not inadequate dietary intake. It is not just vegans who get B12 shots on a regular basis for ‘energy’, as you may have noticed. It would seem odd that a true ‘ominvore’ would be suffering from inadequate B12 intake if everything from their breakfast cereal to their twinkies is fortified with it. And yet it still happens. So if you happened to want to give up eating steak and eggs but you were worried that you would become deficient in B12 and suffer the associated deficiency symptoms, which can be very severe as you may know, you could consume some brewers yeast, or take a B12 supplement, or B12 shot, or eat a bowl of Wheaties with some rice milk for that matter. Or just eat some veggies from your own garden. I personally don’t like rice milk or Wheaties :b Regardless a vegan source of B12 always exists.

Given that we can supply our bodies with sufficient ALA, which is impossible NOT to find in fresh fruits and vegetables, which allows our bodies to produce sufficient EPA and DHA for its needs, it seems odd that we would rely on fish or krill to supply these nutrients when they cannot even produce them themselves. In the case of individuals that cannot seem to produce adequate amounts of these long chain omega 3s, and it is known that excess consumption of arachadonic acid, which meat is rich in, can hinder this process, EPA and DHA can be obtained from the same source that the krill and fish get it: sea algae. Or you could just eat less meat and more fruit and leafy greens. Either way is a viable vegan option.

In cases of extreme biotin deficiency, it is unlikely the underlying cause is insufficient liver consumption. I would also wonder what lifestyle habits would contribute to extreme biotin deficiency, I doubt being a vegan would be one of them, but this is merely speculation. I’m sure a vegan form of vitamin supplement could be synthesized without too much difficulty relatively speaking. I’m not sure if acute biotin deficiency can be fatal, but if so you may be able to argue that in the short term eating some liver would save a life. This would seem to be a humane action, liver after all grows itself back. However, it could fairly be asked how many cow livers is the life of one person worth? I would consider it tragic if someone were to neglect their health in not consuming enough easily available plant foods known to be rich in biotin, including oatmeal, almonds, swiss chard, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, raspberries etc., and would then resort to consuming the vital organs of dozens or more other creatures in order to merely save his/her own life. There certainly may be causes for acute biotin deficiency in an individual due to no fault of their own, but these cases I would guess are not common enough to recommend that all humans should being eating liver and onions every sunday night to avoid death by biotin deficiency.

My overarching point here is there are no essential human nutrients to be found in animal derived foods that cannot be obtained in more than adequate quantities from plant sources or produced by our own body. Given sufficient supplies of plant foods, which can be easily obtained in the first world these days by a single trip to a farmer’s market or grocery store produce section, the consumption of any form of animal product by humans in our position would appear to be entirely optional. It may be that other animals that would otherwise be classified as herbivores do on occasion eat the flesh of another animal. It may be that we can eat small to moderate quantities of meat, fish, dairy and eggs and appear to suffer no health consequences, at least in the short term. But since there’s nothing in the body of another animal that we can’t get plenty of from plants, we don’t have to eat them. Ask me where does a vegan get his or her protein, and I will ask you to show me how many whole plant foods do NOT contain all 8 essential amino acids. I assure you there are not too many. Ask me where does a vegan get his omega 3s if not from fish oil, then tell me where does a cow or gorilla or elephant get its omega 3s? Ask me where does a vegan get his or her iron, and I’ll ask you ‘have you ever tried strawberries? or spinach?’. I could go on.

Given all this, the ground for the ‘ethical’ justification of consuming any animal, whether factory produced beef or the rabbit by your front porch, becomes a bit shaky, don’t you think?

It would be one thing if we were living in the wild and plant sources of food were scarce. But that is not the case for too many of us living in first world nations these days. As for the rest of the world, meat is rich people’s food, right? The farmers too busy harvesting grain to feed the chickens and cows and pigs that feed the wealthy to have time to savor the prime-rib at a five star restaurant, never mind having the gold mastercard.

In exceptional circumstances it could be argued that a human life, either one’s own or perhaps a loved one, is more important than the life of a lesser mammal like a deer or rabbit. I hope I would never find myself in a situation where I would have to choose between my own life and another animal. For some however, at least in the short term, considering a human life being worth considerably more than a bunny’s may seem like a fair rationalization, oops, i mean assessment. But again the question occurs: how many deer/rabbits/frogs/ants is the life of a single human being worth? And how did we put ourselves in a situation where we had to make such a choice?

If you choose to eat another animal, well that’s your choice. To say you do it because your survival depends on it, well, when was the last time you were stranded on antarctica and ran out of rations? You may not require such extreme circumstances to attempt that sort of justification, but without extreme circumstances it would just be a plain rationalization as far as i am concerned.

You may argue that, well, perhaps meat or any other form of animal product is not NECESSARY for human survival, but it is the OPTIMAL food source, and given our superior evolutionary position relative to the rest of the species on the planet, this would seem to justify eating what we choose, plant or animal. Especially if eating the animals is what makes us so damn smart in the first place. As for that… well lets hear from someone else now on why eating animals makes us into uber-mensches and uber-fraus :D
B • 11/7/09; 11:07:45 PM #
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on the contrary, janene! i think we’ve made great progress. i really don’t see why you (and vera earlier) see these exchanges as opportunities to “convert” or “convince”. discussions of this sort are primarily for information exchange. we’ve done plenty of that, so we definitely have ‘gotten somewhere’.

regarding the meat issue here’s what our triumvirate have covered so far:

1. you started the whole thing by saying that veg isn’t the solution. however, i elaborated on the idea that veg is a necessary part of the solution.

2. it was suggested that there’s been a grain brain drain over the past 35000 yrs as a result of decreased animal consumption. however, it was referenced with much glee that vegfolk have iq levels 5 points higher than the others.

3. it was suggested that grain production is a huge problem. however, it was observed that since the vast majority of grain goes to fattening unfortunate animals for food, the end of eating meat would also end the vast majority of grain production.

4. it was suggested that the choice was between eating grain and eating rabbits. however, it seems that the more significant choice is whether to eat the rabbit or not to eat the rabbit and has absolutely nothing to do with grain.

5. it was suggested that prey acknowledge that it is “their time” when it is dinner time for the predator through some meaningful conversation between the two. however, it was pointed out that such conversations really don’t take place when our human predators go shopping for corpse parts at the supermarket.

6. it was suggested that as part of the great cycle of life certain humans who eat other beings would themselves somehow make themselves available for the purpose of “feeding others”. however, it was put forth that these humans would likely never make themselves available to even worms because they’d wind up in a casket or be cremated.

7. it was suggested that this discussion centers around notions of “purer eating”. however, it was emphasized that the issue at hand is really about not eating sentient beings who have as much reason to enjoy the lives they have been given as we do.

8. it was suggested that prad may be a holier than thou. however, uh … hmmm …

9. it was suggested that we weren’t getting anywhere with this discussion. however, it is evident that much information was exchanged … specifically … (just a little bit of recursive humor :D)

in any case, i’ve enjoyed this exchange with you and vera. as i said earlier, i appreciate both your sincerity, courteousness and stamina! i fully understand that you want to drop this part of our discussion, but if you should ever change your mind, i won’t disappoint you!

so now let’s get on to your civilization issue.

i accept that we were wrapped around semantics, but that applies to what i said earlier about the good stuff which comes from civilization too. we are talking about somewhat different things, so let’s work with your description of a social/economic system dependant on agriculture because i think it is excellent!

what i would like to know is if you have an internet source for this 10:1 ratio – geez, even combustion engines are more efficient :D

i absolutely agree about the constant growth part (and in pretty well every area). we just saw that with the economic crisis in the us – it wasn’t enough that there was a collapse, we had to get the motor running again right away even though the engine is broken.

i do think though that the current version of civilization in europe while similar is generally a bit smarter than the american one, may be because they’ve had more time to screw it up. i seem to recall that europe showed the greatest projection for pop decline than any other continent.

here’s a question for you. how do you deal with people (usually libertarians and natural lawists) who keep saying there is no pop crisis and think that god said to go forth and exponentiate (even though it clearly says multiply)? what info or stats do you provide them with?

i agree smaller is generally better for the reason of functionality. it’s a bit like sorting book in a library (or names with a computer algorithm). it is more efficient to ‘divide and conqueror’ and then put the pieces back together.

as for non-civilized cultures displaying immorality here are a few:

the visigoths (they really made a mess of rome)

the jivaro (they not only took heads but shrunk them)

american indians (certain tribes eg iroquois tortured their prisoners)

makah (like to kill whales for the hell of it)

huaorani (seemed to live in endless violence – even killed for mates)

additionally, many of these and other cultures practiced slavery (slaves were what the cree called one of their neighbors), animal and human sacrifice, and at least one south american tribe (in brazil i think) taught their children to torture young birds (to get acquianted with nature i guess – it was an article in the toronto star back in the 90s).

note that none of the above non-civilized cultures fit your idea of modern civilization (hence they are non-civilized). the immorality is obviously not comparable to large civilization in quantity, but certainly is in quality.

also, understand that the immoral actions are not committed by the culture, but certain members within the culture which is in alignment with my statements about not blaming the ‘civilization’ but its members.

so despite your vociferous “civilizations engage in atrocities” and the acceptance of the notion that members are programmed automatons within this evil structure, if we are to do anything (since we are all past the point of ‘really wanting to know’ here), we need to stop complaining about an intangible, nebulous idea (yes it is still a concept even in your excellent description) and go after the actual culprits who are destroying this planet and inhabitants.
prad • 11/7/09; 11:28:39 PM #
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Wow Prad & B you really do know your stuff! Thanks for bringing so much logic to the table. Whatever way we look at it, a vegan diet is kinder to ourselves, the planet & our beauty-full animal friends.

Lovefreelee
freelee • 11/8/09; 1:31:46 AM #
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on the contrary, janene! i think we’ve made great progress. i really don’t see why you (and vera earlier) see these exchanges as opportunities to “convert” or “convince”. discussions of this sort are primarily for information exchange. we’ve done plenty of that, so we definitely have ‘gotten somewhere’.

See .. blog comments sections CAN actually stimulate and sustain useful ‘conversations”.
;-)
Jon Husband • 11/8/09; 11:29:08 AM #
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dave,

from all of us participating here, thank you for your kind comments regarding this discussion. i’m sure we all are glad to put something back considering how much we have gotten from you through your blogs over the years!

you make a really key point here: “we need to be very careful, in looking at complex system changes, to presume to know what is cause and what is effect”

causality is a tricky business.

one of the problems with making predictions is that they are usually done with the assumption that we know the initial conditions, the laws at work (or relevant equations), and any other influences. in closed systems (usually the hard sciences), this is often the case and hence the predictions generally work out well. in more open systems (unfortunately the soft sciences utilizing the same tools as the hard sciences to appear more ‘scientific’), the predictive success isn’t as high – sometimes of course because the mathematics just don’t exist to handle the situation, or the computer analysis is ‘too difficult’ for the computer, or we just don’t have enough info or knowledge to frame an accurate model.

still, we can make some use of statistical data and glean a reasonable degree of reliability. for instance, when someone goes into cardiac arrest you’re pretty likely to find animal fat accumulation in the arteries – but as dr klaper puts it “we never, ever find pieces of broccoli or tofu” :D
prad • 11/8/09; 1:11:45 PM #
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Prad: enough of sneaking in the meat talk, we’re trying to have a discussion about serious issues here ;D

Dave: I wanted to echo Prad’s thanks for your acknowledgment/participation in this discussion, and for your very thoughtful blog post as well.

Regarding colitis, I thought you might be interested in learning about how the hygienic doctor David Klein uses an entirely plant based diet as a treatment protocol for colitis. He claims that his methods have a 99% success rate. It is fair to be skeptical of that bold a claim, but since you are heading in the direction of veganism it may at the very least be worth ruling out as a possibility. If you find that there may be some truth to his claims then you may become more assured that a vegan lifestyle can be both feasible and desireable:

http://www.colitis-crohns.com/facts.html
B • 11/8/09; 3:18:57 PM #
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Hi Prad –

Oh, I wasn’t saying that there was not some usefulness to the conversation… merely that I felt that we were starting to stop making progress…

On the ten to one ratio… I got it from an old anthropolgy textbook… but I did find something for you:

“In their refined study, Giampietro and Pimentel found that 10 kcal of exosomatic energy are required to produce 1 kcal of food delivered to the consumer in the U.S. food system. This includes packaging and all delivery expenses, but excludes household cooking” from http://www.energybulletin.net/node/281

ummm… you wrote “here’s a question for you. how do you deal with people (usually libertarians and natural lawists) who keep saying there is no pop crisis and think that god said to go forth and exponentiate (even though it clearly says multiply)? what info or stats do you provide them with?

I’m a bit confused. I’ve never heard such a thing from a libertarian (I’m closer to anti-corporate libertarians than any other political group)… and I’m not entirely sure who you refer to with “natural lawists”… nor have I heard a claim that god told us to “exponentiate”… but assuming that I did hear such a thing from someone, I probably wouldn’t bother with stats or anything else. People only hear what they want to hear. So for those that see a world completely alien to my eyes, I choose to not waste my time.

But maybe there is something else you were getting at or trying to get from me?

Samller is better… but I abhor the thought of “divide and conquer and then put it back together.” No, absolutely not. smaller, permenantly, period. Did you look at Dunbar’s number or are you already familiar? If not,m I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the way that works. It really allows for amazing insights into the nature of humans.

the Visigoths were complex cheifdoms. Just one tiny step away from full on civilization… and one of the most unstable typs of society. I should have discussed these before, but I am comparing “primitive” or band society with civilization and disregarding the variations in between for simplicities sake. They were an agricultural people with kings and nobles and wars and all the rest. Cities, not so much, but they did have concentrated settlements.

The jivaro… so are saying that because they shrunk heads they are bad? Or, are you saying that they are bad because there was conflict within thier culture that sometimes led to death? Even intertribal “warfare” (quotes because intertribal warfare is not truly war, but rather physical conflict… far more comparable to strategies employed by non-humans than to civilized warfare)

Again, the Iroquos are a marginal example… they do fit all of the descriptions of “civilized” except that they employed horticulture rather than full blown agriculture. It was, however, intensive horticulture and only thru permaculture type techniques was it, probably, sustainable.

The makah hunt whale. Its a traditional food source for them. So what?

The huaorani? All I see is that occasionally they would kill, man to man, over a woman. and they had a strong sense of in-group identity. So again, what?

As to slavery, sacrifice and so forth… I think we would find every valid example of these things to come from civilized groups. And there were plenty of those in North America… the Maya, Inca, Aztecs, Toltecs etc… the Mississippians. The anasazi. And there were also plenty of cheifdoms, simple and complex, as well as transitionary and unique stuctures in the americas.

So… just to make sure that I have this right… hunting whales, shrinking heads and fighting over women (even with terminal results) are of the same immoral caliber as genocide? Sure you want to even kinda imply that?

Now… that last statement of yours… that’s where I get tweaked. We are ALL the actual culprits who are destroying this planet. Every day when you got to work, when you buy food, when you pay your taxes (or when you DON’T pay your taxes), when you use electric lights, or burn a piece of firewood, you are participating in the system that is detroying the planet. That MUST continue to destroy the planet. This is not something that you should feel guilty about each moment… that would be useless. And simply changing to energy efficient lightbulbs and organic food is a tiny drop in the bucket… even if ALL of us did it, the juggernaut would continue. And when have ALL humans ever done anything? However, once we understand that these are systemic problems, then we can begin looking for a way to treat the problem at the source. Stop worrying about symptoms and deal with causes.

Janene
Janene • 11/8/09; 3:23:27 PM #
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Hey Dave –

I had to go searching for your comment… you must have posted it while I was writing one of my own the other day… couldn’t figure out what the heck Prad and B were talking about ;-) yep… sometimes I’m a dork :-)

The theory you have outlined pretty well fits with how I understand it… with the exception that I believe it is unlikely we, alone in the animal kingdom, were “vegetarians” (in the way you are now), but that rather we ate mostly plant products with small amounts of insects (or even not-so-small amounts), perhaps eggs and other easy to catch/eat animal food sources. Likewise, once on the savannah we certainly continued to supplement our diet with plant products, but the ratio may well have significantly dropped.

Cheers!

Janene
Janene • 11/8/09; 3:39:07 PM #
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Thanks everyone. This has been amazing. I’m capturing these 50 comments for posterity, and will post them as a separate article with a link back to this post once my new blog platform is up and running. You are welcome to continue the discussion, but additional comments may be lost in Radio’s comments server when I make the transition to WordPress. Cheers,

Dave
Dave Pollard • 11/8/09; 6:49:49 PM #
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good evening janene!

thx muchly for that link. it’s a great start supplying data i can use to do my own calculations!

libertarians are anti-corporate for sure, but the ones i’ve encountered as well as the natural lawists like this silly idea of absolute freedom to do pretty well anything you want. some of them deny there is a pop explosion and claim it is a propaganda conspiracy by the oligarchs. as a result, they don’t think any effort should be made to control pop – in fact, one of them said to me that he hopes to have a great many children provided he can find someone to have them with. they also deny global warming – again it’s a conspiracy.

the exponentiate was a little mathematical joke twisted out of the bible, because god told us to go forth and multiply. god didn’t say go forth and exponentiate.

regarding your primitive cultures, it seems i didn’t pick them sufficiently primitive for you. so if you want, give me some others who you think are primitive and i’ll see what i can find.

i am not implying that hunting whales, shrinking heads (btw it’s not the shrinking that the problem), fighting over women (that really is primitive you know) is immoral – i am stating it loud and clear. is it on the same caliber as genocide? quantitatively no, qualitatively yes. you see it doesn’t really matter much to someone or some whale that there was a holocaust of jews or chickens (as there is now) – what matters is what is happening to that individual. you don’t need to deprive a whale of life, you don’t need to cut off someone’s head, you don’t need to kill your neighbor because you covet his wife. these are acts of wanton greed and savagery – and always have been. it’s just that it’s taken us a few centuries to start acknowledging them as being such publically.

now the part where you get tweaked is really excessive. again, you give no consideration to sustainability or even the 3 r’s. we may all be culpable to some extent, but by that reasoning so are my primitives, your primitives, the animals, the plants, the bacteria and gaia herself (erosion, earthquakes, hurricanes). what i find weird is i’ve just used a typical diehard right-wing absurdity to counter the argument of a sensible, rational person who has for some unknown reason taken upon herself to paint a picture of existence with only the blackest of paints … and spilled what wouldn’t fit on the canvas all over the floor.

janene, you know that after the now-not-so-primitive visigoths ransacked rome, it wasn’t rebuilt in a day. to rebuild we need to identify the ‘culprits’ of wind, rain, storm. we need to understand stress, gravity and strength of materials and build our defenses against the culprits. we don’t need to view it topsy-turvey and say the building’s existence is the cause of its own destruction because it invites wind, rain, storm (ie civilization is the cause and it has made us all the culprits).

here is a consoling thought from jurassic park (the book not the movie). towards the end of it john hammond was babbling on about saving the earth or something and ian malcolm (a mathematician of course!) told him that all this was pure ego: we’re not going to destroy the earth; we’re not going to save the earth; but what we can do is save ourselves.

if we want to do that, we’d better go after those who are responsible without getting too wrapped up in lightbulbs and organic foods – though that’s a pretty good start for some.
prad • 11/8/09; 7:46:55 PM #
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END OF FIRST 50 COMMENTS

Category: Animal Welfare

November 10, 2009

Hacking the Tar Sands: Some Early Thoughts

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:32


tar sands
One of the projects I’m proposing to undertake over the next few months is facilitating the organization of opponents to the Alberta Tar Sands and holding Open Space brainstorming sessions to identify creative, clever ways to disrupt and ultimately close down the Tar Sands without anyone getting hurt or arrested. This will take a lot of ingenuity, and I think I can contribute to that, but I also thought it might be useful to use a combination of Donella Meadows’ “ways to intervene in a system”, and business process analysis and risk assessment methodologies, to list some of the vulnerabilities of the Tar Sands, that we might be able to exploit.

The chart below lists all of the resources that (to my knowledge) the Tar Sands need to stay in operation. Beside each I’ve tried to identify vulnerabilities using the 14 major business risk categories:

  1. business interruption (interr)
  2. reputation/market share challenges (rep)
  3. financial/fraud losses (fin)
  4. new regulatory/legal issues (reg)
  5. insurance problems (ins)
  6. compliance failures (compl)
  7. competitive threats (compet)
  8. governance failures (gov)
  9. physical/system security threats (phys)
  10. economic threats (econ)
  11. political problems (pol)
  12. environmental threats (env)
  13. social/human resource threats (soc)
  14. technological threats (tech)

Here’s a quick list of about 50 obvious vulnerabilities, in either obtaining, using, maintaining or managing resources essential to Tar Sands operations. A combination of a few unfortuitous (for the Tar Sands operators) economic or other uncontrollable events, and a few ingenious interventions to exploit other vulnerabilities, would be enough to stop operations. Prolonged and frequent stoppages would quickly have investors, lenders, major customers and politicians bailing out. The recent greed-induced financial and liquidity collapse was almost enough to do it all by itself (the resultant depressed oil prices made Tar Sands development economically non-viable, even with the massive subsidies they’re receiving from taxpayers).

Needed Resource Vulnerabilities Obtaining, Using, Maintaining & Managing Resource
Cash, Loans, Credit, Subsidies, Concessions interest rate spike (econ)
liquidity squeeze (econ)
currency instability (econ)
low energy price (recession)(econ)
very high energy price (growing shortages of cheap oil)(econ)
investigative reporting on subsidies (pol)
Land & Mineral Rights first nations treaties  and opposition (pol, soc)
environmental laws and challenges (pol, rep)
new government philosophy (pol)
property security (phys)
cost (econ)
Assays uncertainties of value (econ)
recoverability questions (phys, econ)
Equipment – Excavating, Bitumen Processing, Operating Systems, Premises cost (econ)
technology development (tech)
security (phys)
Equipment – Distribution (vehicles, pumps, pipes and roads) cost (econ)
technology development (tech)
security (phys)
Workers – Operating, Management, Sales lack of skilled people (soc)
unwillingness to do work (conditions, dangers, fears, conscience) (soc)
absenteeism (individual, collective, illness, emergency) (soc, env, phys)
cost (econ)
Energy – Natural Gas, Nuclear, Electrical cost (econ)
energy project approvals (pol)
availability (econ, phys)
reliability of supply (econ, phys)
Water cost (econ)
access project approvals (pol)
availability (env, phys, reg)
Polluting and Dumping Rights cost (fin)
public outrage (rep, pol)
government regulations (reg)
Transportation to the Pipeline security (phys)
route access (phys, reg)
cost and distance (phys, econ)
Transportation through the Pipeline approval of pipeline projects (pol, env)
security (phys)
cost and distance (phys, econ)
Customers (need, affordability) trade agreements (pol)
demand (econ)
price, affordability (fin)
Application (customer uses) product quality/grade (tech)
alternative sources (tech)
proximity to customers (phys, econ)
Customer Payment state of economy, liquidity (econ)
interest rates (econ)
price (fin)
Information and Communication Systems infrastructure stability (phys, tech)
information security (phys, tech)

Activists usually focus on trying to change customer behaviour (boycotts) or regulator behaviour (fines) towards irresponsible and destructive corporations. While these are worthy holding actions, I have seen few cases where this type of action has been sustainably effective, beyond a brief flurry of PR. Just as photos of factory farms and slaughterhouses (“we don’t want to know”) haven’t changed customer behaviour (most people eat meat anyway), photos of the Tar Sands holocaust are shrugged off by customers at the gas pumps. And politicians get huge campaign contributions from oil companies (just like they get them from factory farm agribusiness), and aren’t willing to discourage consumption through taxes for fear of voter retribution.

If we really want to stop the Tar Sands, then, political and customer-driven (reputational) solutions will not be enough, and demonstrations and sit-ins will likely only have temporary effect. We cannot rely on politicians, customers or the media. We need cleverer, more direct actions, actions that can be measured in immediate and absolute terms in reduced carbon emissions.

I’ve marked some of the vulnerabilities that I think have particular possibilities in bold above.  Imagine this:

  • the US dollar finally and inevitably collapses, bringing about a Great Depression and requiring all energy products to be redenominated in a new gold-backed non-fiat currency
  • economic studies showed that oil price of under $80/bbl would be insufficient to justify the huge cost of Tar Sands development, and oil price over $120/bbl would cause prolonged recession and reduce demand to the point Tar Sands development was not needed, so the viability of the entire project depends on long-term price stability in this narrow price band
  • the courts decree that the massive use of water by the Tar Sands is a threat to Canada’s water security and sovereignty, and ration it
  • leaked security reports confirm that securing the length of arctic gas pipelines to the Tar Sands is impossible, and that any systematic sabotage of the pipe could prevent prevent a single cubic foot of gas from ever flowing; insurance companies bail
  • construction equipment is constantly gummed up with sugar or other contaminants in fuel and oil tanks
  • there are enough plausible but fictitious threats to the health of Tar Sands workers (contamination of water supply from the toxic Tar Sands wastewater ‘tailing’ ponds, industrial disease, viruses) that the workers refuse to show up for work
  • the US Congress, politically grandstanding to “protect domestic markets and discourage foreign dirty oil”, passes protectionist legislation prohibiting import of Tar Sands oil
  • commodity markets (oil prices, interest rates, $CAD/USD exchange rates) are whipsawed so much by speculators that lenders refuse to advance development funds until/unless they stabilize
  • production goes offline so often due to inexplicable electrical and telecom infrastructure outages that profits are affected and investors start selling off holdings, starving the operations of cash
  • information systems are hacked with such precision and regularity that essential reporting and processing functions (filings, payroll) become seriously delinquent and reports become wildly unreliable
  • the Yes Men make a film/TV show ridiculing Tar Sands companies and affiliated governments that is so successful that the euphemism “oil sands” becomes a standing joke across the continent, and no one is willing to publicly admit they are associated with bitumen sludge mining (Tar Sands) operations

These are just ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure that a substantial group of bright people, dedicated to the safe but immediate stoppage of Tar Sands operations, could come up with a lot more ideas, and ideas with more finesse than this list. And of course I’m not advocating anything illegal. I’m just imagining possibilities. Yours are welcome too.

That’s what I’m thinking so far, anyway. When I talk to business executives, even in polluting industries, even in Alberta, they’re aware of and really unhappy with the free ride Big Oil is getting and the horrific destruction the Tar Sands are causing. This atrocity has few real supporters — just a small, tight group of huge oil companies, corruptible politicians, and resigned citizens.

It wouldn’t take much to end this. And if we can end this, imagine what we could do in other areas to stop the excesses of the industrial growth economy.

Category: Activism

November 7, 2009

Links and Tweets of the Week — November 7, 2009

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 22:51


chart of the day
What’s wrong with this picture? The Standard & Poor’s 500 Public US Companies’ P/E ratio has historically traded at around 17, which assumes healthy growth in profits for big corporations indefinitely into the future. What, then, does a P/E ratio of 150 mean? It means that trillions of dollars of taxpayer money (which future generations will have to repay), given to financial institutions to bail them out, is being dumped into the stock market because it has nowhere else to go (bonds paying 0.5% interest, nope, real estate, nope nope nope, stock market it is then).

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE

Lessons From the Edge: Sharon Astyk urges those of us who know, now, how urgent and seemingly impossible the task of saving our civilization from collapse is, to remember we have something most people don’t:

Sometimes when I deal with people who don’t think climate change is real, or that serious, or who don’t think that peak oil will be a big deal, I forget that I have something they don’t have – dozens of backroom conversations with people who care desperately about the mending of the world, who care so much that they are willing to put their family lives, their time and energy and even physical wellbeing on the line to spread the word – even though they know they are likely to fail to protect what they care most about.    Not “we’re doomed” but “we’re on a precipice, and we’re not sure which way we’re going to begin to slide.”

And what also strikes me is this – the sheer courage it takes to do this.  As I say, I’m a piker – I go home to my kids and my goats and breath deep and do laundry and keep my computer between me and other people.  It would be easy to take from their sense of loss the idea that we should stop trying, that it is all hopeless.  But that’s not what one gets – at the end of the night the sense is this – that though the odds are increasingly small and the abyss below us increasingly vast, what matters most is that we live our lives as though we can succeed, because every bit of harm we prevent and every blow softened matters, and in the end, how you lived matters as much as the winning.

Why the Technophiles are Wrong: Bill Rees, co-inventor of the ‘ecological footprint’ concept, in a one-hour podcast tells one of the many blissfully unaware ‘smart growth’ conferences that we’re already in overshoot, that today’s cities are simply unsustainable and parasitical, that we’ve entered the “plague phase” of human population that will inevitably lead to implosion, that population growth and economic growth must stop, not just become ‘green’, and that the “technofix” approaches to today’s crises are naive and delusional. Thanks to David Parkinson for the links.

Listening to the Land: Derrick Jensen, in A Language Older Than Words, advised us “Stand still and listen to the land, and in time, you will know exactly what to do”. In his latest article in Orion, he explains what he means by this, and relates this capacity for attention to the survival, for much longer than our modern, teetering civilization, of most aboriginal cultures. Unfortunately, Derrick is a litttle overly-inclined to believe in the almost inherent sustainability of many aboriginal cultures. The sad truth is that overfishing and overhunting, and even catastrophic agriculture — the same kind of disconnected degradation of our land that characterizes our modern civilization, also, much of the time, characterized theirs. There are, alas, no noble savages, and while we have a great deal to learn from aboriginal cultures, if we want a model to replace our modern civilization, we will have to look elsewhere, beyond our smart and fierce species.

Here Comes the Commercial Real Estate Crash: A US billionaire investor says that taxpayers have no more money to spend, and that as commercial (office and retail) vacancy rates soar to all-time high levels, a total collapse of commercial real estate values is inevitable. Thanks to Paul Kedrosky for the link.

LIVING BETTER

Wade Davis on Ancient Wisdom: The 2009 Massey Lectures series (5 hours of podcasts) explain what is being lost as the world’s indigenous cultures disappear in the face of modern civilization monoculture and what might be done. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link.

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

north american tar sands coalition

US Court Justifies Purposeful Brutal Torture: A terrific summation by Glenn Greenwald of why the behaviour exhibited by US government officials — leading to the arbitrary, completely unwarranted, savage torture of innocent people — amounts to state-sanctioned terrorism. The US, under Obama, remains a rogue nation, and the rest of the world should be very afraid. Glenn is also interviewed this week by Bill Moyers.

Phony Corporate Fronts ‘Negotiate’ Environmental Settlements for First Nations: A disturbing expose by Offsetting Resistance reveals that some of the groups that sign up First Nations people to negotiate on their behalf capitulate to industry and government in secret closed-door meetings, and some are fronts for major polluters. What’s worse, the First Nations are not even permitted to attend to see what is being negotiated away on their behalf. It appears that this has been done extensively to get cheap and unlimited oil industry access to lands for the horrific Alberta Tar Sands development, by dubious quasi-environmental groups like Pew Charitable Trusts (controlled by the family that also controls Sunoco), the ‘Canadian Boreal Initiative’ (a program of Ducks Unlimited), and the ‘North American Tar Sands Coalition’ (with the conflicted cast of characters depicted in the graphic above). Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

Year’s Best Books: Women Need Not Apply: Salon provides a tepid and unconvincing rationalization for the outrage of Publishers Weekly’s list of the year’s ten top books — all by men. In the PW also-ran list, women dominate in only two categories, tellingly — “mass market” and “lifestyle”.

Obama’s Wars Now: 300,000 Civilians Dead and 5 Million Refugees: A remarkable and disturbing rant by a former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell explains the impossible hole the US has dug for itself in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scroll down past the comments to “Transcript”. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link.

Snitching for Fun and Profit: As public cameras become commonplace on every street-corner, it gets harder and harder to find enough people, or even ‘smart’ machines, to monitor them. So now, governments are planning on paying you to watch their camera streamcasts and report “any suspicious activity”. Thanks to Tree for the links.

FUN AND INSPIRATION

Joni Mitchell turns 66 today. Her song Amelia is a classic. “Maybe I’ve never really loved. I guess that is that is the truth. I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK

You want to get depressed about the future of our planet, just look at the most popular topics on Twitter. You want to get even more depressed, look at the most popular videos on YouTube. A billion Neros fiddling.

From David Whyte’s poem ‘Sweet Darkness':

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
 
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
 
is too small for you.

From Margaret Atwood’s poem ‘Up':

Now here’s a good one:
You’re lying on your deathbed.
You have one hour to live.
Who is it, exactly, you have needed
all these years to forgive?

November 4, 2009

Do We Really Want to Know?

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 01:42


slaughterhouse 2There’s an interesting article by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker on vegetarianism, and specifically on the disconnect between our adoration of pets and our tolerance for the horrific, lifelong suffering of the animals we eat. It’s really about human nature, Kolbert argues, and specifically that we just don’t want to know about atrocities and suffering we don’t feel we have any control over.

This was the subject of JM Coetzee’s book Elizabeth Costello, that I reviewed six years ago. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Seven o’clock, the sun just rising, and John [animal welfare activist Elizabeth Costello’s son] and his mother are on the way to the airport.

‘I’m sorry about my wife’, he says. ‘She has been under a lot of strain. I don’t think she is in a position to sympathize. Perhaps one could say the same for me. It’s been such a short visit, and I haven’t had time to make sense of why you have become so intense about this animal business.’

She watches the wipers wagging back and forth. ‘A better explanation’, she says, is that I have not told you why, or dare not tell you. When I think of the words, they seem so outrageous that they are best spoken into a pillow or into a hole in the ground, like King Midas.’

‘I don’t follow. What is it you can’t say?’

‘It’s that I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupefying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad! Yet every day I see the evidence. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Corpses. Fragments of corpses that they have bought for money. It’s as if I were to visit friends,and to make some polite remark about the lamp in their living room, and they were to say “Yes it’s nice isn’t it? Human skin it’s made of, we find that’s best, the skins of young virgins.” And then I go to the bathroom and the soap wrapper says “100% human stearate”. Am I dreaming, I say to myself. What kind of house is this? Yet I’m not dreaming. I look into your eyes, into your wife’s, into the children’s, and I see only kindness, human kindness. Calm down, I tell myself, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is life. Everyone else comes to terms with it, why can’t you? Why can’t you?

She turns on him a tearful face. What does she want, he thinks? Does she want me to answer her question for her?

In my review of the book, I asked:

Is there a point in rubbing our faces in it, in forcing people to face up to the horror of concentration camps, slaughterhouses, factory farms, chemical weaponry, mental illness, sexual assault and torture, bullying, spousal and child abuse, animal testing laboratories, political interrogations, what happens behind prison walls, the agony of those in continuous pain not allowed to die and without access to relief, the children whose entire lives are consumed in deprivation and brutality, the suffering of crack babies?

Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, the book that prompted Kolbert’s article, draws obvious parallels between the way we treat farmed animals and the way prisoners were treated in the second world war by the Axis powers. Kolbert explains:

Foer’s position is that all such arguments [those justifying ‘humane’ eating of animals put forth by Michael Pollan, Temple Grandin et al.] are, finally, bogus. We eat meat because we like to, and we devise justifications afterward. “Almost always, when I told someone I was writing a book about ‘eating animals,’ they assumed, even without knowing anything about my views, that it was a case for vegetarianism,” he says. “It’s a telling assumption, one that implies not only that a thorough inquiry into animal agriculture would lead one away from eating meat, but that most people already know that to be the case.” What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know. Although he never explicitly equates “concentrated animal feeding operations” with the Final Solution, the German model of at once seeing and not seeing clearly informs Foer’s thinking. The book is framed by tales of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.

Reading the article, I thought about the program of practices I have designed for myself once I retire in a couple of months, whose purpose in part is to reconnect me with my instincts, my emotions, my senses and all-life-on-Earth. When I discuss this with people who don’t know me well, they tend to ask me either “How and why do you think you became disconnected?” or “Why would you want to subject yourself to that anguish?”. These are both questions born, I think, out of subconscious grief — the first is a denial that the life most of us live is in any way emotionally suppressed, tacitly cruel or unnatural, while the second is dismay that we could ever hope to handle that much terrible reality.

It intrigues me that the people who sign up for courses and workshops on emotional reconnection (judging by the research I have done, and on the Joanna Macy workshop videos I’ve watched) seem to be overwhelmingly female and over 30. Why is that adult women are more willing than males, or young people, to “let their hearts be broken”?

This is important, because one of the tenets of social democracy, and activism, is that if a majority of people feel strongly about some facet of the status quo, that this will inevitably produce change. The ending of slavery, women’s rights, and other instances are offered as justifications for political awareness, discourse and activism being necessary and sufficient preconditions for bringing about important change.

But are they? As Foer says, the majority already know that factory farming is an ugly business. But they don’t want to know. They quietly ignore it, turn away from it, satisfy themselves somehow that it’s not that bad or that nothing can change it anyway — it’s an inevitable part of civilization. It’s “natural”. The rationalizations of Pollan and Grandin are music to their ears.

The same is true for what we’re doing to the Earth, and to the struggling nations of the Earth. We know it’s awful, unsustainable, just not right. But we don’t want to know. We rationalize that it’s not really that bad (hence the popularity of the wing-nut Lomborgian climate change deniers, and corporatists who assert that struggling nations benefit from globalization and that “a rising tide lifts all boats”). We tell ourselves we can’t do anything anyway, we do what we can, it’s up to the experts and politicians.

The problem is, these rationalizations are just untrue, and like the nonsense of technophiles in groups like WorldChanging, the religious loonies who believe in the Rapture, and the “humanist” cults that preach about a coming “global human consciousness raising” it is magical thinking, stuff that we tell ourselves because we really, really don’t want to know the truth.

Regular readers are probably tired of me reciting Pollard’s Law of human behaviour, but until it has been effectively refuted I’ll keep saying it: We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. We have no time or energy left to do what’s merely right. It is not in our nature.

Let’s look at slavery. Of course the social movements against slavery were important. But I would argue they were not enough. The US civil war was not fought over slavery, it was fought over the right of one region to declare independence (this is the cause of many wars, which are almost always about power, money, control, and land). Slavery of both blacks and whites (called “indentured servitude”) was legal for many years throughout the US because it was the only way to make passage of workers economically feasible. They did what they had to. Later as travel costs fell, most people could afford their own passage to the “new world”, and slavery was then only essential to agriculture, particularly labour-intensive tobacco, cotton and sugar beet farming. Technology (like the cotton gin) increased manufacturing productivity and hence actually increased the need for more slaves on the farms to feed the new post-harvest automation. Slave owners acknowledged that slavery was (in the words of Robert E Lee) “a moral evil” but rationalized that the slaves were “better off here than in Africa”. You know, like how Aghanis and Iraqis are better off now than they were under the Taliban and Saddam.

After the civil war, slavery was abolished, but, after the brief but disastrous Reconstruction and a severe economic depression, white supremacy was restored in the former slave states in the Compromise of 1877 as Union forces finally withdrew and left the former slave states to sort things out for themselves. Slavery was replaced by sharecropping, blacks were re-disenfranchised, and for most of the following century suffered under brutal, overtly racist, repressive white-controlled governments. Slavery was allowed for prisoners, judicial and police systems treated blacks no differently than they had during the slave era, and segregation of all institutions meant that life for most African-Americans was only marginally better than it had been.

What changed, finally? The decline in the importance of agriculture overall in the US. Access to cheap foreign labour. The Industrial Revolution. As a result, social slavery was no longer necessary. Economic slavery was just as useful, without the blatant “moral evil” that characterized social slavery. Slavery ended ultimately not because of social activism (though that was absolutely necessary), but because it was easier to automate harvesting, import foreign workers (or offshore the whole process to countries unconcerned with “moral evils”), or use the land for something more profitable and less labour-intensive.

Has all this social activism brought an end to racism? Not on your life. Wait until the economic debt crisis hits in the next decade or so and you’ll see that nothing’s changed. Has it really brought an end to slavery? Talk to the Mexican workers in the American fields, or the children working in the blood diamond mines in Africa, or chained to machines in the factories in China, and you’ll get your answer. But we don’t want to know.

I could make an analogous argument for what has happened with women’s rights, but you get the idea. It was easy and profitable to get women into the workforce, for low wages, caught in the Two Income Trap, buying all those things a two-worker family needs that a one-worker family didn’t. And giving women the right to vote didn’t cost anyone anything, nor did it produce any significant power shifts. It was easy. Did women have to fight hard for it anyway, and should we salute them for doing so? Of course. Do women in most of the world still face horrific prejudice and oppression? Damned right. Will they too, with enough decades and centuries of struggle, achieve some reasonable equality in their societies? As long as it’s easy, and doesn’t cost anyone anything, sure.

Now apply this to factory farming. Ending it is not easy. It cannot be made easy. Like combatting the causes of climate change, or coping with the End of Oil and the End of Water, it is a hugely complex problem. The necessary change would be staggeringly expensive, and massively unpopular. Do we need activists to do the “holding actions” to mitigate some of the damage and to increase public awareness and affect public opinion on the need for change in these areas? Absolutely. Will that work, in and of itself, bring about sufficient change in these hugely difficult areas? Not a chance.

We will change when there is absolutely no choice (we do what we must) or when it is dead easy to change. Give us compact fluorescent lightbulbs that cost the same per kilowatt-hour as incandescents and reduce energy consumption by 2/3, and it’s easy — you can then make incandescents illegal and no one will care. Same thing happened with getting rid of the CFCs in refrigerants. No problem.

But reducing CO2 emissions to zero in two decades (necessary to get us down to 350ppm and avert climate catastrophe) will never be easy. Reducing oil and petrochemical consumption by 90% in three decades (necessary to avert The Long Emergency) is unfathomably difficult, if not impossible. Drastically reducing debts, waste, and consumption (necessary to avert a ghastly depression that will make the Great Depression look mild) is unimaginable, even with magical thinking — the cure might be as bad as the disease. And likewise an end to factory farming would require the nationalization and breakup of industrial agriculture, an end to the $150B annual agriculture subsidies to some mighty powerful oligopoly lobbies, and a total, mostly involuntary, change to the way we eat, that would make food much more expensive and its preparation much more time-consuming. This is the antithesis of easy.

These are wicked problems because it will never be easy to solve them. So no politician is going to impose change on the voters, because it would be political suicide. These problems will be solved politically or socially only when there is no other choice. And by then, as every previous civilization has discovered, it will be too late.

Is there a technology fix? The magical thinkers are hard at work. They’re planning on blasting $30B of tiny reflective metal into the stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays, to combat global warming. It’s called geoengineering. They have no idea what they’re doing, but when things get desperate enough they’ll do it anyway. After all, it’s easy. Oh, and they’re also going to put all the carbon dioxide back into the Earth in a way that it won’t leak out again. That’s called carbon sequestration, and the technology doesn’t exist (the engineers I’ve spoken to say it never will), but, hey, when you’re magical thinking, go for it. Obama’s giving them millions to invent it. Just make it easy for us, please. Whatever the problems, we just don’t want to know.

And the magical thinkers are going to give us high-efficiency wind and solar and geothermal and biomass and “clean coal” and “safe nuclear” to get us off our addiction to oil. No matter that even all of these together barely scratch the surface of what we would need just to keep consuming at current levels (China’s energy use is growing 20%/year and they’re building a new coal-fired power plant every four days). Hey, what happened to cold fusion? In the meantime, we’ll stave off the problem for 4-5 years by turning an area of Alberta the size of Florida into a lunar landscape peppered with thousands of massive toxic tailing ponds. The kids will forgive us, right? We don’t want to know.

The magical thinkers haven’t even put their minds to dealing with the coming economic collapse, or the obscenity of factory farming, because they’re not even acknowledged as problems, let alone wicked ones. We don’t want to know.

Well, I want to know. And apparently a few others, mostly adult women, want to know too. Even if it means letting my heart be broken. Even if it means looking at a photo like the one above, which is offensive. I’ve been inside a slaughterhouse. I’m a vegetarian, but still not a vegan, so I’m complicit in what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses. I drive a car and fly too often, so I’m complicit in the Alberta Tar Sands holocaust. I know better, or at least I should. What’s the matter with me, with us?

What’s the matter is that we’re human. These things that don’t change don’t hit close enough. They’re not personal enough. Slaughterhouses and factory farms and Tar Sands developments are private property, and they don’t want you to know what goes on there. And what would you do, anyway?

Well, perhaps you’d do whatever it took to shut them down. And perhaps, if you got together with enough other people with the same intention, you might come up with some ingenious ways to shut them down. Maybe even as ingenious as the ideas that got these “innovations” started in the first place.

Do we really want to know the truth? I don’t know. We’re a curious species, we humans. If something can reasonably be done to make something better, or less awful, a lot of us seem to want to know what the problem is, and how we might do that.

All I know is that, after a lifetime of turning away, of not wanting to know, I’ve now reached the point where I can’t help knowing, and I can’t turn away, and I have to do something more than the very worthy and necessary but insufficient things that activists do so valiantly and often at great personal risk and sacrifice.

I have to stop these things. How? Don’t know yet. Work with me, and we’ll figure it out.

Last words to Ms Kolbert, a much better writer than I:

“Eating Animals” closes with a turkey-less Thanksgiving. As a holiday, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But this is Foer’s point. We are, he suggests, defined not just by what we do; we are defined by what we are willing to do without. Vegetarianism requires the renunciation of real and irreplaceable pleasures. To Foer’s credit, he is not embarrassed to ask this of us.

But is even veganism really enough? The cost that consumer society imposes on the planet’s fifteen or so million non-human species goes way beyond either meat or eggs. Bananas, bluejeans, soy lattes, the paper used to print this magazine, the computer screen you may be reading it on—death and destruction are embedded in them all. It is hard to think at all rigorously about our impact on other organisms without being sickened.

And if we’re sickened, then what?

———-
(For those who tried my ‘Words to the Wise’ puzzle yesterday, here are the answers: 1. stripper, 2. stag, 3. feud, 4. Noah, 5. tithes, 6. insole, 7. antler, 8. EKG, 9. rioted, 10. Emir, 11. URLs, 12. Mac, 13. italic, 14. baskets, 15. dognap, 16. ethers, 17. den, 18. diet, 19. y’all, 20. coasts, 21. starboard, 22. tenure, 23. ice rink, 24. pooltable, 25. triplets, 26. ham radio, 27. tag-team, 28. Magi)

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