Monday, June 21, 2010

Why I'm a Vegetarian (also: Your Dinner is an Oil Pit)

Once upon a time I was a good meat-eating American girl, who devoured her mom's beef stews and Sunday hams. When I grew up, I too served my kids hamburgers, bacon, and lamb legs. I can still vaguely remember the taste.

But I haven't eaten animals for twenty-five years now. The transformation began when, as an environmental journalist, I learned that farm animals are regularly shot full of antibiotics, mostly because of the unhealthy way they are forced to live. By the time I was writing about the Bovine Growth Hormone controversy in the late 80s, I was no longer eating red meat. Turkey and chicken soon followed.

Right away I began to discover delicious alternatives to meat flavoring--recipes and cuisines that call for a wide array of spices. I was also surprised to learn not only how little protein people actually need, but how many other things contain protein, like beans, lentils, tofu, and even grains.

Beside the fact that it's healthier for you to go meatless, and certainly healthier for the animals, environmental evidence is building about the damaging effects of livestock. In light of the current horrific oil spill, you should know that meat is very fuel intensive. More than a third of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. goes towards animal agriculture. One calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. That means ten times the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere.

I once saw a cartoon of a man being followed by the ghosts of all the animals he'd eaten. It was quite a parade: sheep, chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs, all floating along after him as he strutted down the street. So I would add to my improved physical health and my socially responsible satisfaction, my spiritual health. In fact, the most important thing to me about being a vegetarian has become the animals not killed for me.

I would take that even one step futher. I am proud that no animals at this very moment are leading miserable lives in order to become my dinner.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

mini review: HOW TO COOL THE PLANET: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate

by Jeff Goodell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010. 277 pages.
Goodell also wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.

Geoengineering is the kind of word that wins spelling bees, or stuns someone you've just met at a party if you throw it off casually enough. A very impressive word.

What it means, in this book at least, is either removing CO2 from the atmosphere by binding it to particles, or deflecting solar rays back into space. Goodell's opinion of it is not high. "Geoengineering," he says, " is about turning the earth into the planetary equivalent of industrial farmland." Perhaps fortunately, none of the schemes come up with so far have much chance of working.

How to Cool the Planet is engagingly written, by a journalist, not an academic, which means it's easy to read. It's not written in journalistic form, however, but is a rumination covering history, utopian ideas, and tech fixes that didn't work, as well as current science. It includes a charming portrait of James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory.

Goodell ends with the warning question of who will control geoengineering. What if the military chooses to use it? Human nature may be the greatest risk here. The reader concludes that the author is a good, thoughtful, moral man. His ideas are well worth pondering. But his book can be safely skimmed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Grieving for the Ocean

Hi folks,

I'm back from two weeks in Greece, and recovered from jetlag. It was breathtaking to witness where our civilization began thousands of years ago. They were amazing, creative people. I would like to think we are as civilized as they.

What would they make of our polluting our ocean with 50,000 barrels of oil a day? We have the amazing technology to dig for it, but not to stop it once it's gushing out. Pretty pitiful.