A belated vegan review of eaarth (Bill McKibben, 2010) and Diet for a Hot Planet (Anna Lappé, 2010).

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Last summer, I received review copies of eaarth and Diet for a Hot Planet – authored by Bill McKibben and Anna Lappé, respectively – though Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Though I devoured them rather quickly and back-to-back, it’s taken me quite some time to put together reviews for each. (2010 was a funky year for me, and not in a good way.) Given that they cover similar territory; complement one another in several respects; and suffer the same, all-too-common pitfall (in a word, speciesism), I thought a joint review might work best.

Eaarth by Bill McKibben (2010)

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben (2010)

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Let’s start with Bill McKibben’s eaarth, which is by far the more radical of the two books. eaarth opens with a terrifying premise: that, when it comes to climate change, humanity has already altered the earth’s environment to the point of no return. For the bulk of human existence, the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has remained somewhat stable at 275 parts per million (ppm). Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels have been on the rise, as has been scientific debate over its safest uppermost concentrations. Initially, 550 ppm was the supposed ceiling; in 2007, climatologist Jim Hansen identified 350 ppm as the “safe number.” This is problematic to say the least, as currently the planet has almost 390 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Even if we drastically reduce emissions overnight (an impossibility, both practically and politically speaking), we’ve already reached the tipping point; our home’s climate is changing, and for the worse.

“Worse,” anyhow, for most of the species that have evolved to live on earth as it was, humans included. The “new earth” – christened “eaarth” by McKibben – will be a planet of much harsher living conditions and more extreme weather patterns; a planet “with dark poles and belching volcanoes and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.” McKibben looks to current climatological trends as indicators of what’s to come: warmer air and water temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels, increasingly acidic oceans, more powerful storms, prolonged droughts, a decrease in biodiversity and corresponding increase in invasive “pest” species – all of these phenomenon are interconnected and influence one another in myriad ways; sometimes unpredictable, almost always tragic.

I’m no climate scientist, so I can’t speak to the veracity of McKibben’s predictions – but the data presented in eaarth (buttressed by 25 pages of end notes) certainly makes for a striking argument. If nothing else, McKibben clearly demonstrates the degree to which seemingly disparate natural occurrences are interdependent; a change in one aspect of the earth’s climate affects all others. Human-driven climate change is real, and it’s really happening. Even if you accept this as a scientific truth, however, McKibben’s solution will be hard to swallow (not that you’ll necessarily have a choice, mind you).

In the second half of eaarth, McKibben shares his vision of a new way of life for a new planet. Though he doesn’t describe it in so many words, McKibben’s eaarth strikes me as somewhat anarchist in nature, marked by a number of small, mostly self-sufficient city states functioning under a shared moral code or social contract.* (It’s hard to pin down this new society exactly, as MicKibben doesn’t elaborate on such minor details as systems of government or human rights. I guess those things will just…work themselves out? Sarcastic, who me?) Rather than “regressing” to older ways of life, McKibben sees us living lightly on this changed planet by retaining some necessary and beneficial aspects of our current culture (e.g., the internet, new energy technology) and discarding those which are unnecessary and unsustainable (most of our current, bloated economy, including but not limited to the entertainment industry. No word on traveling bards, fwiw.)

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Dear Anna Lappé,

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Diet for a Hot Planet (pp 206-207)

Pages 206 and 207 of Anna Lappé’s latest book, Diet for a Hot Planet (Bloomsbury, March 2010). Principle #2 in her “Seven Principles of a Climate-Friendly Diet” is “Put Plants on Your Plate.” So far, so good, yes? Not so fast! Under “Resources for Principle 2,” Lappé lists the following bullet points: “Viva veggies”; “Support real meat and dairy farmers”; and “Go for grass fed [beef].” Epic Animal, Vegetable, Mineral FAIL.
(Click through to enbiggen the image, the most offensive parts of which I have helpfully marked up with my trusty red Photoshop pen.)
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Nonhuman animals (“meat” and “beef”) and their secretions (“milk”) are not plants, mkay? Unlike, say, pinto beans or watermelon, “beef” has a family and friends; can think, feel and suffer; and screams bloody fucking murder when you cut into its her live flesh. While it’s true that I’ve become all too accustomed to raw, shameless speciesism from environmentalists –

– for example, I just finished reading Eaarth, which was penned by the same stubborn “green” omnivore who penned the intro to your own latest stubbornly non-vegan “green” tome, in which he mentioned vegetarianism but twice (and veganism, not at all), despite a discussion of animal agriculture’s sizable contribution to climate change, i.e., the very focus of his book

– your recommendation to adopt a plant-heavy diet by consuming animals and animal by-products is beyond mind-boggling; it’s at once factually incorrect and completely lacking in compassion. (Cows as cantaloupes? Hello, objectification!)

I mean, really – how do you expect me to take the rest of your Diet for a Hot Planet seriously after such a fundamental gaffe?

Signed,

x A vegan-feminist environmentalist

P.S. There is no such thing as “humane meat.” An unnecessary and involuntary death is, by definition, inhumane.

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