The Art of Life in a Dark Time

maxresdefaultConfronting the reality of climate change is a difficult thing. Once you come to terms with the magnitude of the challenge, it can be rather paralyzing. You realize that it is now likely that low-lying island nations will disappear under the waves; more than 30% of all species will likely go extinct, introducing the real possibility of cascading ecosystem collapses; storms will be larger; crops will fail; forests will burn bigger and more intensely; some diseases will spread to climates that did not previously have them; water will become more scarce in places that needed and when it comes it will come all at once, flooding towns and washing away soil; regional conflicts will become more common, whether due to water scarcity or environmental dislocation. This situation is deeply unjust as the consequences of our profligate consumption will fall hardest on those people in the world who have done the least to cause the problem, benefitted least from its creation, and have the fewest resources to adapt to the harsh new climate we are creating. This is a lot to come to terms with. Add to this the fact that the president elect of the United States has said global warming is a hoax and has nominated to key cabinet positions people who have made a career of attacking democrats and republicans who sought to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. It is hard to know what to do in such desperate times.

start-small-graphicTo fight back the feelings of helplessness and despair, I thought it might be helpful if we all shared some of the things that we do to reduce our impact on the planet and to pursue a meaningful life simple in means and rich in ends. I’ve started my list below and I hope you’ll help me to add to it, either in the comments below or writing a blog post yourself if you have a bit more to say. Perhaps it can be helpful if we realize that we are not alone in having these feelings and wanting to do more.

General ideas:

  1. get-involved3.jpgGet informed, stay informed, and educate those around you. Follow websites like Inside Climate News in your FB feed or subscribe to their email updates. It is tempting to want to just bury our heads in the sand ostrich style, but the we have to have the courage to confront the world as it is and work to make it a better place.
  2. Get involved politically. Become a climate hawk at the ballot box. Citizens Climate Lobby is a good place to start, as is Like them in FB and subscribe to their email lists. Stay informed and try to respond to their requests to sign petitions, write to public officials, attend rallies, gather signatures.
  3. Thinking globally and acting locally really is great advice. Participate in national trends as you can, but really get deeply involved in what is going on in your community. Organize, participate, educate. Get to know your neighbors. Participate in your neighborhood council. If you are able, run for local office. Find your people and get involved. If nothing seems to be happening in your community, then start something. Start a chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (see above). Or start something of your own.
  4. Calculate your ecological footprint at the start of every year. This calculator is pretty good. It is important to be reminded of the number of resources it takes to sustain your lifestyle and how you might reduce work that year to reduce it a bit. If everyone lived like a typical American, it would take 4-5 planet earths worth of resources. We only have one.


  1. Commencement Rehearsal 2014When they graduate, some Gonzaga students take the Green Graduation Pledge, which reads: “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.” I took it myself and try to follow it.


  1. When you find yourself in the position of moving, consider buying or renting a place that is closer to your work. When we moved to Spokane I wanted the option to walk to work. So we drew a 2 mile circle around Gonzaga and only looked at houses in that radius. If you like to bike or have good public transportation, the circle might be wider. This is a really big one as this affects both the environment (resources burned in transit), but also quality of life (hours spent in traffic). I love my walk to work not just because it reduces my impact, but because it gets me a bit of exercise and it allows me a nice transition into and out of my work day.
  2. 54eb9283651a3_-_01-fencl-tiny-house-lgn-xzkutw-99505945Purchase or rent the biggest home that you need, not the biggest home you can afford. The little home craze might be indication that the tide is turning against the McMansion. People are realizing that we all accumulate enough things to fill whatever space we purchase. This means that one natural way of curtailing how many things you acquire (and how much debt you accumulate) is deliberately choosing to limit the size of your space. It has the added benefit of reducing your energy and water footprints. This option may also reduce your monthly bills and debt, which can make you feel more free as you have additional time or resources for other things.
  3. Pick your Joneses. Whether intentional or not, most people inevitably compare themselves to their neighbors. Picking a neighborhood where people generally are much wealthier than you will likely make you feel like you have to keep up with them. One unexpected benefit of having purchased a home in a squarely working middle to lower-middle class neighborhood of Spokane (Emerson-Garfield) is that I feel very fortunate for what I have, rather than feeling inferior.
  4. Jimmy Carter is right, put on a sweater. Sometimes we think that we should put the temperature at the spot where we can walk around in a T-shirt and be comfortable any time of the year. This ends up being very wasteful. In the winter we try to have the heat at 64° during the day (if we are in the house, otherwise 60°) and 52° at night. (If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider getting one so you only heat or cool the house when you are in it.) When we are cold, we put on another layer. Blcartersweater0558ankets on the couches to cover up. To make the evenings bearable, our compromise is to use an electric blanket for an hour before bed to warm it up and then just put about 6 blankets on (in our room it is around 45° at night in the winter). I’m guessing some of you out there have the temp even lower in the winter? What do you put it at?
  5. Speaking of heat, consider getting a heat pump if your A/C dies. Half a dozen years ago our old A/C died and we got a new unit that is both an air conditioner and a heat pump. Heat pumps are more efficient than a furnace, generally speaking. So this saves some energy in those months in the late fall and late winter when it is cold but not super cold outside.
  6. Speaking of A/C, think creatively about how to use it less in the summer months. Last summer I think we used ours maybe 12 days total out of 5 summer months. Of course different climates make this easier or hotter. Spokane is similar to where I grew up in Boise, Idaho. It generally gets cool at night and the humidity is low. So at night we open all the windows and put window fans that suck the air into the house. Then when we wake up we close all the windows to trap the cool air. We close the shades on the south side of the house to keep the sunlight from heating up the interior. Finally, a few standing oscillating fans to move the air and we are pretty comfortable. I think
  7. If you have a home and the resources, consider getting a home energy audit. We got one 5 years ago. They calculate how much energy you use, how much it costs, and how much carbon dioxide your home currently creates and then it says how much each of those would be reduced if you pursued certain upgrades that they recommend. They also test the performance of your home for things like air leakage, insulation, windows, appliance, heating, cooling, etc. home_energy_audit_landingpage_1200.pngThey also tell you what the return on investment (ROI) would be. That is, they say how much it would cost up front and how long it would take for the savings generated to pay for it. We have a home that was built in the 1930s. It leaks air in places. Each fall I try to install new weather stripping, but it is never quite enough. We may need to replace a door or two to get a better seal. The windows have already been replaced, so that isn’t a problem.
  8. Change your bulbs to LED. This is a no-brainer. They cost a bit more up front, but you make more than that back because the last longer and use less energy. We need to start thinking and acting for the longterm.
  9. The three Rs are in order of importance. First, reduce. Avoid purchasing what you don’t really need. Avoid buying junk. Retail therapy isn’t therapy, it is a symptom of affluenza. When you do need something, can you buy it at a thrift store? When you are done using something, donate it to a thrift store so it can be reused. Finally, recycle whatever your community collects. Earth911 is helpful in finding the recycling options near you.
  10. In most places on the planet, fresh water is going to become scarce. Separate from its use, we also have the heating of it, which requires significant amounts of electricity or natural gas. Think of ways to save water. Try to get your shower time down. My own goal is less than 5 minutes. We also installed some things provided by our town’s “slow the flow” program. They provided showerheads that have good pressure, but less flow. This saves a lot of water. They also provided these simple plastic bladders that you fill with water and hang inside the tank of your toilet. It 56c204981900002a00377b0breduces the amount of water used per flush without affecting the performance. Here are some other prudent suggestions from the EPA: pursue simple water-saving actions, such as not letting the water run while shaving or brushing teeth, and save money while conserving water by using products with the WaterSense label. Did you know a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water per day? Repair all toilet and faucet leaks right away. Running your dishwasher only with a full load can save 100 pounds of carbon dioxide and $40 per year. Be smart when irrigating your lawn or landscape. Only water when needed, and do it during the coolest part of the day; early morning is best. More on watering lawns below.
  11. Water heater – When our natural gas tank water heater dies, I’m excited to look into a tankless hot water heater. I haven’t dug into the research yet, but I’m optimistic.
  12. Keep organic matter circulating. If you have a composting program in your city, consider using it for your organic yard waste and your household food waste. Let your organic waste be turned back into soil so that its nutrients stay in your bioregion, rather than get entombed in a landfill. We bought a simple stainless steel container that sits on our counter next to the sink. We just scrape food scraps, peels, or other organic matter into it. Eezee peezee. If your city doesn’t have composting but you have a yard, consider starting your own composting.
  13. Buy rechargeable batteries. Recycle any batteries that are at the end of their life. When you have the choice between a device that requires batteries or electricity and one that does not, consider buying the one that does not.
  14. Try shopping at and donating to thrift stores. Some items you will probably need to buy new; for me it is underwear and socks. But generally I’m able to buy most of the clothes that I need for leisure and for work at thrift stores. This keeps money in your community, gives useable clothes a second life, and reduces the amount of unnecessary production. Reuse!
  15. 500187x_1-1Ziplock bags. We tried avoiding the plastic zip bags altogether, but it didn’t stick. We tried wax bags, but those were expensive and don’t always work when you need it fully sealed. Our compromise has been to use them and resuse them and reuse them. The key to making this work for us was investing in a simple, inexpensive drying rack. When they are no longer usable, we recycle them with our plastic grocery bags.
  16. Reusable grocery bags are very common these days. I recommend buy about two dozen so that you have far more than you need. Keep some in your vehicle at all times but use them liberally around the house as needed too. When you do collect some plastic grocery bags, store them in a simple bag sock until you collect enough to recycle. Every grocery store has a collection point at the doors where they collect them.
  17. This can be a tricky one. The green lawn aesthetic is deeply engrained and supported by lots of passive and active advertising. Grass is a great organism, in its proper ecological niche. The thing is, most of us don’t live in a climate that is suitable for grass (like Scotland or Seattle say). For most of us, having a grass yard means lots and lots of water. I’m struggling with this one. I want to get rid of the grass and do Baxter+Marquee+Angle+HDR.jpgxeriscape. But we can’t afford to do that just now. Here are my compromises. First, no chemicals, whether fertilizer or herbicide. I don’t mind the dandelions. They are good for the bees. But expect your neighbors to point it out. My rule is: if it is green, it can stay. The bigger problem is water. This last summer I tried to just not water at all. I got some snide comments from neighbors, but I can handle that. What worried me is that it was taking a toll on the trees. When we moved in 9 years ago, we planted a half dozen oak and maple trees. We also have three mature maples. They were needing some water. So as a compromise I set my watering timer to water every other day for 10 minutes per zone. I set it to go off at the early morning hours so there was less evaporation. This kept the trees healthy and the grass marginally alive. I only had to mow the lawn maybe once a month. Speaking of mowing, if you have a small enough yard, consider a push reel mower. I used one in Pennsylvania and loved it. If your yard is too big and you want or need to keep it as lawn, then consider buying an electric mower. I bought one a few years ago and it works great. It creates less air pollution and is quieter. Of course better still would be to convert the lawn to a vegetable garden. I really should be doing this, but so far I’ve not been able to make the commitment of time and money. I know I should. It is on my list for sure.
  18. If you have to buy a new appliance, pick the most efficient model that you can afford. We recently had our dishwasher die. It couldn’t be repaired, so we looked for a new one. We looked for the lowest water use and the lowest electricity use. We also looked for one that allowed you to not use the heat/dry cycle, since this uses the most electricity. The same is true of other appliances. Look for the yellow tag that lists annual electricity use and for the EnergyStar label.


  1. As I mentioned above, the best thing to do is to choose a place to live that is near where you work or has convenient access to mass transit. In many American communities it is very difficult to live without a car. They’ve literally been designed with the assumption that each resident has a vehicle. It isn’t impossible, as Satish has pointed out. But if you do need a car, try to get the most efficient one you can avenues-to-advocacy_400x371pxlafford. As with a home, don’t buy the biggest or nicest one you can afford. If you are single, consider walking or biking or taking mass transit. If you need a vehicle, can you use a scooter? They are super efficient. If that doesn’t work, maybe a compact car or small sedan? If you can afford it, a hybrid is better than traditional. A plugin hybrid is better than a traditional hybrid. And a full electric is better still, for most people and depending on where you live. Do as much as you can with what you have. If you have the resources, but are wondering if it isn’t better to keep an old car than to buy a newer one, according to one study, fully 75 percent of a car’s lifetime carbon emissions stem from the fuel it burns, not its production. A further 19 percent of that is production and transportation of the fuel, leaving just six percent for the car’s manufacture.
  2. Support mass transit whenever possible, whether at the ballot box or in your daily commute. The car isn’t going away any time soon, but it also isn’t a longterm possibility that significant numbers of humans will have their own vehicles. There are just too many of us and too few resources.
  3. Walk or bike if you can. Make your commute something you cherish, rather than loath. I love my walk to and from work. But first you have to live within a reasonable difference of your work. That is the key.
  4. Air travel is almost always the single largest part of my footprint. In general, I try to pick the mode of transportation that has the least impact, rather than the greatest speed or the greatest convenience. However, being in the Inland Northwest, it is rarely possible to get to conferences for work without flying. And flying has a huge impact on the environment. I try to ask myself, “Is the carbon I’ll create worth what I hope to get out of or bring about from the event I’m attending?” Honestly sometimes I’m not sure that it is. But we should remember Emerson’s point that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” The question is not whether one is having an impact on the environment, but whether how one impacts the environment is leading to a better world or a worse one. For more on the problem of moral hypocrisy, see the final chapter of my Riders in the Storm

Food – Being more intentional about what we put in our bodies to sustain ourselves is one of the most important things you can do on a daily basis to magnify or lessen your impact on the planet.

  1. Local – There are many wonderful farmers markets in most areas. Just google it and you’ll almost certainly find one near you. Smaller farmers are more likely to be good stewards of their land. They are more likely to charge what it actually costs to create healthy food for you and the planet. If you have room to grow your own, do so. This is a place where, as I’ve noted above, I’m falling short. I have the space and resources, I just don’t yet have the time. Or rather I should say I haven’t yet made the time. Growing your own food helps remind us what it takes to create the food on our plate. It reconnects us to the land we inhabit and of which we are a part. Join a COOP or CSA.
  2. stock-vector-modern-brush-lettering-organic-natural-farm-fresh-locally-grown-gluten-free-vegan-vegetarian-363049883Organic – Many think organic produce is better for your health. The evidence isn’t great that this is the case. But it is possible. I buy organic not because I think it is good for my health but because I know it is good for the planet. The application of herbicides and pesticides destroy good organisms with the bad and pollutes our waters. It is the essence of the attempt to dominate nature, rather than work with it as part of it. When Suzie and I were students, we couldn’t afford to pay for organic; we couldn’t afford to pay the true cost of the food we ate. Now that we have more resources, we always try to buy the organic version, if one is available. Do as much as you can. It isn’t all or nothing.
  3. Bulk – lately we’ve gotten into buying more things in bulk. Rather than buying a tin of mixed nuts, we buy some from the bulk section. Rather than buying canned black beans and refried beans, we’ve started buying dried versions in bulk. We buy rice bulk, rather than in packages. Next I’d like to start buying our spices from the bulk section. A helpful thing to do is to invest in some nice containers that can store all the stuff. We found some great glass containers at the thrift store. That helped a lot. Buying bulk reduces packaging and it usually reduces shipping emissions. A bag of dried beans ways far less than beans in liquid in a tin can. Also, as an added benefit, bulk items usually, but not always, are far cheaper than the canned and packaged versions. Start with something you use a lot of and slowly add items as you get used to it.
  4. Meat and Dairy – As I’ve argued in several articles, the sustainability of one’s diet is inversely related to the proportion of animals and animal products consumed. For instance, see “Standing in ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’” or “Toward 2050.” This is a big one. The more meat and dairy you eat, the worse it is for the environment. However, the reverse is also the case. The less meat and dairy you eat, the better it is for the environment. It need not be all or nothing. Try reducing a bit here and there. Try some alternatives to meat. If given the option, choose the version with fewer animals and less dairy. There are many great websites with resources to help you make the transition.

I fear that this post will come across as holier than thou. I really hope that isn’t the case. I am very, very far from doing all that I should. Sometimes I fly on trips that I shouldn’t. I simple-living-signshould have a vegetable garden. I should put more insulation in the walls. There are a thousand things I’m working on doing a better, more consistent job of. We can always do more and we should strive to do so. But moral perfection isn’t possible. There are no clean hands. Ecologically, to live is to take from and give to others.Through my small choices each day I try to look for ways to reduce my impact on the world; to choose simplicity over extravagance; to buy what I need, not what I want; to spend my time working on making the world a better place for me, my family, and for all the beautiful creatures on the planet. Often I fall short, but each day I try to do better.

“The function of Reason,” Whitehead once wrote, “is to promote the art of life,… to live, to live well, to live better.” Striving always to live better isn’t about just doing less harm, it is about living a more fulfilling life by pursuing intrinsic goods over fleeting, material goods. So, if the mood strikes you, how do you try to “live better?” What small or big ways do you try to be a force for good in these difficult times? Comment below or send me a note if you’d like to write a blog post of your own.



  1. Great article with lots of good information. You have given us all even more to think about! While reading the article, I came across a few things that i felt compelled to comment on or add to. First, the air travel. Many people think they “have” to go home for the holidays or “have” to go to the wedding etc…. I know most people think they “have” to do certain things because its a tradition. A tradition not only in your family or with your friends, but a tradition deeply embedded in our culture and society. I always say question tradition and if its not advancing our species in a beneficial manner with the rest of existence, then its most likely not a good tradition to have or to blindly follow. Nobody has to get on a plane to fly, you always have the choice. Yes, your mom or dad or grandma will be upset that you are not there for x-mas or thanksgiving, but the earth is better off without you getting on the plane. I guess its all a matter of ones values. Traveling is a strange thing. Our species ought to be trying to live in ways and places where traveling is not necessary. Where families stay together, support one another and do not require long distances to see each other. Also, there is another sort of traveling. The kind where you go just for fun (fun must be justified – another point for another write up) or for the thrill etc. How did we get to this as a species? Boredom? Disconnection with your immediate surroundings? Why must people think they need to go to south east Asia or Africa or Europe to “vacation” or for adventure or to experience other cultures? I believe culture creates separation, but that is another point for another write up. People do not need to go to these far away lands to experience something or to have fun. Find ways to have fun and be content at your own home or in your close surroundings… Meditate, read, play music, talk with your loved ones, or just sit around and think, think really hard about things, go backpacking in a area close by, there are so many things to do right around your own home… Once you realize that traveling to other lands really does not do much good for you, for the earth and for others, then its easy to be content at home without the urge and desire to go somewhere else. I was raised traveling all over the world. My family took me literally around the world multiple times. Its not that I am not grateful for my experiences and the growth that has come from it, but I now know that I have a huge footprint because of it. Also, there is no real NEED to have done that. My family just wanted experiences, adventure, thrills, etc… they did not realize that they could have gotten all these from close by without having to emit loads of GHG and so many other pollutants. A part of me feels bad for all the traveling I have done as a child and before I became aware of all the environmental damages traveling causes. However, that is in the past and there is nothing I can do about it now. I have to move forward and learn from my past, to create a more beautiful future.

    Lastly, I do not think it is as straight forward as you say in this article in # 31 – You claim “The more meat and dairy you eat, the worse it is for the environment. However, the reverse is also the case. The less meat and dairy you eat, the better it is for the environment.” I am fully aware of the industrial food system and how awful it is regarding animal welfare, climate change, pollution, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for people to go out and eat Tyson or smithfield meats, or to go to Mcdonalds or any other fast food chain. But I do believe that either raising your own animals on a small scale or hunting is better for the environment than most people becoming vegetarians or vegans. If one can raise a sheep, slaughter it and package it themselves and get 40 lbs of meat out of it and have that last 7 months to a year for a small family. I think that is more sustainable than that family or community eating processed, industrialized tofu or seitan or tempeh etc. Simply because, there is no way a vegan in this region of the world, can sustain themselves without the industrial model of agriculture we have in place. I believe that all humans must aim and strive to move away from our current food system and become self sufficient – kinda like the old days! When we used to have small farms all over the place, where we had hunters and gatherers etc. I know this is highly unrealistic at this current time, but it is something to strive for and work towards as humans. I believe i have asked you this before Brian, but are the figures you have in your articles in regard to livestock for CAFO like places and/or other industrial models of animal production? Or are they for small scale organic/biodynamic farms where one might have a few cows and a few sheep? Because that can and does make a very large difference in how many greenhouse gasses are emitted and how much pollution is generated and how efficient it is to raise livestock. Take for example my own land. We have a hay field that is just sitting there. It grows beautiful hay in the late spring, summer and fall. If i were to put two sheep out there with a well balanced and thought out pasture rotation for them, it would actually make the soil better, more productive and I would not have to buy anything for them for their diet. Mother nature would provide all the sustenance they need in order to grow and have a good free range life. At the end of the season, I butcher them, package them and I have my protein source for a full year. Not only for me but for my family. Considering each person only eats as much protein as they need, which is about 56g / day (roughly). I could then avoid buying protein sources such as tofu, seitan, beans, rice, etc. for a whole year…meaning no packaging, no processing, no industrial model of agriculture, no shipping, no fossil fuels basically! Of course, there is the paper needed to wrap the meat, and the energy needed to cook it. But it is far less than going to the store for a whole year and buying vegetarian or vegan options that have came through the industrial model of our agriculture system. Now a vegetarian could do just fine in this region of the world. They could grow their own beans, raise chickens for eggs (or ducks), have a goat for milk, cheese, yogurt , keifer, etc. and that would be incredibly admirable! all their protein sources would be coming from their own farm or a local farm…But again, it requires people to move away from our intensive model of agriculture we have in place.

    I know that not everyone can grow their own food, raise their own meat, or chickens/ducks for eggs. But everyone ought to want to or at least seek it out locally. It is something that our species desperately needs. I think the faster we can move away from our current model of agriculture the sooner we can take a step closer to becoming present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner. This means CSA, farmers markets, starting your own urban from (for more info on starting a urban farm see you-tube videos by Chris Stone – the urban farmer), moving to a small eco community, or something along those lines.

    I also acknowledge that there is no straight forward, most ethical diet. It will be dependent on where one chooses to live. If you can do a local organic vegan diet year round, more power to you! But if one lives where we live, the most ethical thing might be to raise your own meat, or hunt and have that protein source all year long so one does not have to buy packaged processed stuff at a store. Or be a vegetarian that raises chickens for eggs, has animals for milk, cheese, etc. I will say that if there is one aspect that makes a diet more ethical than another it is that one grows, raises, or hunts their own foods (organically) so as to keep their food source as local as possible and if not growing, raising or hunting, make sure you are getting it from a local organic farmer that you know.. I firmly believe that as humans one of the most important things is to really know where ones food comes from. I mean really know where it comes from. Because if one is not growing it, raising it, or hunting it, then there are things you are not aware of.
    For the other things that require shipping long distances, like sugar, chocolate, coffee, tea etc… one may have to really reflect and question if they really need that item. Have bees (honey) rather then buying sugar or grow your own stevia. Start an herb garden and make your own tea mixes (might have to give up caffeine)! I am not saying I do not buy anything that requires long shipping distances, but I am trying to reduce those items and eventually exclude them from my daily life.

    If anyone is interested, My girlfriend and I are starting a organic/biodynamic farm out in Newman Lake, WA. 25 miles north east of Gonzaga. Feel free to write me on here for info on how we plan to do it, why we choose to do it, where we will be selling our goods at…etc…

    Brian – do you have any data or figures regarding animal raising on a organic small scale system of have any idea where I could find them? Also, I don’t mean to shoot down what you said, but I don’t think its a simple or as straight forward as less meat and dairy = better for the environment…do you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holy moly. Thanks, Marcus. Great thoughts here. I’d love to hear what others think.

      The data is mostly from the FAO, which seems to track all forms of animal agriculture, including subsistence. But I can’t say how well it captures the small scale farms. It probably depends on whether they get tracked by USDA, but that is only a guess. In my two articles on livestock I do consider the “new agrarian” movement a bit. I argue that it is qualitatively better than CAFOs, but still not best, in large part because of the size of the human population. If there were only 2 billion of us, things would be different, but as we race to 9 billion over the next few decades meat, raised in any manner, will only be able to be an occasional luxury, or so I argue. You can find the latest version of the piece here:


  2. I should also add that I do fully agree that sometimes flying can be justified. I am not trying to vilify flying in general, but I do think that most peoples reasons for flying are not justifiable. For example: cases such as yours ( Dr. Henning ) when you fly to conferences to discuss ethical topics, participate in different environmental and philosophical meetings, etc. I do believe those cases of flying are justifiable. Like you say, if the reason for flying is trying to create a better and more beautiful world, the flight can be justified.

    Also, I would like to add that yes if you are eating mostly from the modern conventional industrial food system we have in place then eating a vegetarian and sometimes even a vegan diet is more sustainable. But the point is to move away from the industrial food system, even if it is “organic” because simply changing inputs and using “organic” soil amendments on a massive scale, though it is better than using the synthetic chemicals conventional farms use, it is not the answer to our food system nor is it moving our species to be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.


  3. Yeah I completely agree. With the our population rising to 9 billion, there is no way each family or community could raise their own meat or hunt for that matter. But that kind of goes along with what I was saying that we must move away from our current industrial food system and in order to move away from that industrial agricultural system we have in place, means a decrease in human population. I think the two go hand in hand, because as you say with the population getting to 9 billion there is no way we can avoid being part of the current industrial food system. So those are ideals to work towards with realistic measures. As I learned from you, an ideal (like an asymptote) cannot ever be fully reached, but we ought to be taking realistic steps toward that ideal. So for me, those are two steps to take toward the ideal. That is, working to get back to a smaller more sustainable population and creating more small farms, urban farms, etc to move away from our current food system. Which is why Becca and I have decided not to have children due to the population and if we would ever want one or two, adoption would be the way we go.

    That is a tough argument for people to grasp, that we ought to reduce our population. How though, do we get people not only to understand and agree, but actually do it and put it into practice. From my own experience, whenever I try to bring up the population argument and eventually say that humans must reduce our population, I get a lot of negative feedback and sometimes emotional attacks.

    Something else I thought is worth mentioning. As I learned on the farm over this last year, a huge majority of certified organic farms use fertilizer that is coming from animals products and unethical forms of livestock production.The USDA permits the use of fertilizer gathered from CAFOs and other large animal production to be used on certified organic farms. Things like, Fish bone, ground up fish from by-catches, blood meal from CAFOs, chicken manure from CAFOs, cow manure from CAFOs, turkey manure from CAFOs etc. So even though people are buying organic vegetarian or vegan products, most of that is grown with fertilizer that has come from CAFOs or massive fishing operations. Even the vegan fertilizer like soybean meal, cotton seed, alfalfa, kelp etc. is grown on very large mono crops and the fertilizer used on those mono crops to produce the products that will be used as vegan fertilizer is often from animal / CAFO source. So I am left wondering if that is taken into account for the footprint of veggies, grains, etc. Because if one is buying all organic vegetarian or vegan products, chances are that product was grown with animal fertilizer, which should not be left out of the calculation for the footprint of that product. Meaning, the tofu one buys or other protein sources would include the footprint of the fertilizer used on that product which most likely would be from a CAFO or large industrial fishing operation. (on a side note, food and beverages certified biodynamic are not allowed to use fertilizer used from CAFOs and have to have animals on the farm for soil fertility enhancement. So buy certified biodynamic when possible or grow it / raise it yourself to avoid CAFO & industrial fishing operation fertilizers / products in general.)

    So much to consider for an ethical diet! Something else I wanted to ask you Brian, I asked you once about your diet, and you said you do not drink cows milk, is that because of the methane emissions, animal treatment and other GHGs? or is it for health reasons? Or a mixture of them all?

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    • Hi Marcus,
      It is really interesting to hear about your first hand experience on the farm. I don’t have any myself, so it is good to know what is going on out there. Ecologically, there is no free lunch. We have no choice but to appropriate streams of energy to sustain ourselves. So a vegan isn’t having no impact and isn’t even causing no animals to die. However, depending what one eats, a vegan diet of mostly local and organic whole foods does require the least land, creates the fewest GHGs, and harms the fewest sentient beings. Clean hands? Nope. Not possible. But qualitatively better, IMO. However, if a vegan eats mostly processed foods from previously forested land from GM monocrops using large quantities of petrol fertilizer, then it is likely far worse than eating locally grown pasture raised animals. The details matter.

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      • I agree, the details matter greatly. Which is why I am still not sure or convinced that a vegan diet harms the least amount of sentient beings or that it creates the fewest GHGs on a small scale farming system. Which I feel your most recent article, Toward 2050 does consider, but not with enough details. Not that you neglected it by any means, but because I can imagine getting accurate and current data and info on the farms I am talking about is near impossible due to the fact that the USDA will most likely not take those info account for the FAO figures. Overall, I thought it was a great article. Very informative, helpful and very accurate in regard to CAFOs and other large scale animal production vs a vegetarian or vegan diet.

        One part in the article that I strongly disagree with is Vasile Stanescu claim that there is a dark side to the new agrarian movement in that it is encouraging traditional gender roles with men in the field and women in the kitchen. That can be found in any form of agriculture across the world, not simply in this new agrarian movement. Again, speaking from first hand experience, the farm where I was working was right next to the Harry and David orchards (which are not organic, are highly conventional and large scale production of fruit and by no means new agrarian). During my 9 months working near by there, I never once saw a women out picking fruit from the trees, mowing, pruning, etc. On the contrary, at the farm I was at and the farms we visited ( which could be considered a new agrarian farm), the women were out in the field just as much as the men and doing the exact same tasks. So I do not think it can be said that this new form of agrarian agriculture is encouraging traditional gender roles. In my opinion that is simply fallacious. I am not claiming that all new agrarian farms operate the same way as the one I was at and the ones I visited, but to say in general that this new form of farming is encouraging of returning to traditional gender roles is highly false. Though some farms may operate this way, it does not mean this new farm movement across the board is calling for that.

        Lastly, It seems that the biggest problem is not meat itself, rather the over consumption of it. More so, the people who are over consuming it and their mindsets/values. The questions and aims must be directed towards learning to eat meat FAR less and more mindfully. More importantly, how to deal with our species becoming so overpopulated and reducing that number.

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  4. I was immediately drawn to the title of this blog and the large amount of informed alternatives that are provided for a more sustainable day-to-day life. Being an Artist myself, I have always been interested to the use of art as a platform for gaining awareness for environmental issues, hence why the title stood out. trying to incorporate sustainable and environmentally friendly life acts can be an art. It is difficult to find what works best for you and how to find the loop holes in the culture that can make it difficult to stick to an alternative way of life. As stated at the end, in the whitehead quote, “to live, to live well, to live better” is an art form. It takes creativity to reorganize ones life from what we have habitually condition ourselves into. But starting small and taking it through a series of manageable steps is really good advice. each of the categories were outlined and very helpful, providing additional alternatives I had not been informed about before. Such as housing; the size of the living space you inhabit and even the neighborhood you choose to live in. These, as a senior in college looking to move in the coming year, were tactics of sustainability I had not considered. Additionally I will definitely be adding in the Green Graduation Pledge as part of my transition out of university. I will also be working on buying bulk and locally in the coming year, I enjoyed the simplicity of the information provided on the food topic. It doesn’t have to be too complicated or fancy in order to have an impact, eating veggies and locally sourced food will do the trick. As some one who is plant based, and has been researching the topic and field of sustainable food choices for multiple years now, I felt that this was a very fair way to present the importance of making informed food choices. I was having trouble thinking of any additions to make to the list, seeing as it is already robust and much to research and explore already. The only immediate topic that came to mind was minimalism, not radical minimalism; but minimizing overconsumption by focusing in on not taking more than you will use, moving towards a simplified lifestyle. Not buying more food than we will eat diminishes our waste production. It all comes back to self awareness. It seems harsh to tell someone they need to be more self-aware, but it is also important for all individuals to know their impacts.

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