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.)

(More below the fold…)

lol ur empty gestures.

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

When I opened this email from 350.org, I couldn’t help but snicker – after which, I inevitably felt a little guilty. (Hey, I’ve got lady bits; I’ve been indoctrinated into a sea of guilt, whether deserved or not.) Then, still feeling a pang of guilt, I snickered some more. You see, their hearts are (kinda sorta) in the right place; their tummies, not so much.

Apologies again for bombarding you with email, but we’re in the final stretch here at Copenhagen and I hope you can join us in doing two unusual things.

“Unsual”? Well, I’m up for most anything. Do tell!

They’re unusual things for us to ask, but this is an unusual moment. In a certain sense the Copenhagen conference is going better than we dared hope. The small nations of the world have really been quite remarkable this week–their calls for strong climate action have completely changed the tone of these negotiations. They have stood up to immense pressure from the big powers, and they continue to rally behind the banner that all of you have raised for them. These nations are still trying to insert “350 language” into the treaty text, at least as a symbolic aspiration for the future. This would be a remarkable acknowledgment of physical reality, and give us a good base to keep moving on.

But not all is well in Copenhagen. We’re not going to get the agreement that we need (current negotiations put us on track to hit a devastating 770ppm by century’s end) and this movement will need to fight on in the years ahead.

But right now, while the Copenhagen climate talks are still unfolding, we need one final push.

Yes, yes!? Quit with the teasing and spill the organic, fair trade, sustainably harvested beans already!

(More below the fold…)

VeganMoFo, 10.24: 350 365 + Vegan = REAL Action

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

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Close on the heels of last week’s Blog Action Day for Climate Change comes today’s International Day of Climate Action. With a focus on the number 350 – “as in parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere” – the campaign’s goal is laudable:

350.org is an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis–the solutions that science and justice demand.

Our mission is to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis—to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.

Our focus is on the number 350–as in parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. But 350 is more than a number–it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.

To tackle climate change we need to move quickly, and we need to act in unison—and 2009 will be an absolutely crucial year. This December, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark to craft a new global treaty on cutting emissions. The problem is, the treaty currently on the table doesn’t meet the severity of the climate crisis—it doesn’t pass the 350 test.

In order to unite the public, media, and our political leaders behind the 350 goal, we’re harnessing the power of the internet to coordinate a planetary day of action on October 24, 2009. We hope to have actions at hundreds of iconic places around the world – from the Taj Mahal to the Great Barrier Reef to your community – and clear message to world leaders: the solutions to climate change must be equitable, they must be grounded in science, and they must meet the scale of the crisis.

If an international grassroots movement holds our leaders accountable to the latest climate science, we can start the global transformation we so desperately need.

Certainly, we need bold, cooperative, global action to combat climate change – and we need it now. Yet, 350’s campaign materials do not so much as mention vegetarianism, let alone veganism – this despite the fact that animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide (which have a global warming potential 23 and 296 times greater than C02, respectively). Given the world’s burgeoning human population and rise in “meat” and dairy consumption, we cannot stop and reverse climate change – not to mention, air and water pollution, deforestation, habitat loss, species extinction, world hunger and poverty – without transitioning to a vegan diet. Our exploitation of nonhuman animals echoes in our exploration of the earth, and of one another.

While I’m happy to see that many of the planned actions include vegan meals, this isn’t enough: the International Day of Climate Action must include veganism as its centerpiece. Talk about C02 and Copenhagen, yes, but don’t stop there: speak also of veganism and the politics of what’s on your plate. Anything less is dishonest, regressive, hypocritical. Suicide and murder, both.

I get that “350” is a cute, catchy, universally-understood campaign gimmick – so why not make next year’s theme 365? As in, GO VEGAN!: not just meatless on Mondays, or meat- and dairy-free on on November 1st, but vegan 365 days of the year. That’s real, meaningful change, and with minimal effort, too. Omnivores, vegetarians and vegans: we all already shop, cook and eat. To do so in a compassionate, (truly) green manner requires little to no extra action, especially in the long run – and living vegan will only become easier as demand and support for veganism increase.

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