August 27, 2007

Taste for Meat Marches On

Tim Flannery writes in the June 28 New York Review of Books:
Many readers will doubtless ask whether vegetarianism is better still. [Michael] Pollan [The Omnivore's Dilemma] tells us that even vegan lifestyles result in animal cruelty. Just think of the the thousands of field mice shredded by harvesters, the woodchucks crushed in their burrows by tractors, and the songbirds poisoned by pesticides when farmers grow the wheat for our bread. Pollan's message seems to be that to live we must kill, and the best we can do is both treat animals decently while they live and kill them humanely.
This is moral argument?!

Your ethical vegan practices ahimsa, or "do the least harm". Choosing organically grown food eliminates the harm from pesticides. Choosing food from small farmers reduces the harm done to animals in the fields. Growing one's own food reduces it yet more.

Michael Pollan, apparently with Tim Flannery's agreement, goes in the other direction. In recognizing that our sustenance does harm to the sustenance of other creatures, he justifies willful harm beyond unavoidable necessity.

His premise is that we must eat the corpses of other animals, and it is commendable that he would like to reduce the brutality of that practice. But that premise is invalid and based only on his unquestioned appetite.

The fact is, most of us do not need to eat the corpses of animals to survive. Many people live very well without eating flesh. So to continue eating flesh is a choice to kill unnecessarily. All the coddling of your "meal" while it is alive doesn't change the brutal fact of that choice. One can raise them and kill them less brutally, but the practice can never be called humane. The result of the feedlot is the same as that for the "happy" grass-grazing beef cow.

Flannery also reviews Bill McKibben's Deep Economy, in which we learn that McKibben is a corpse-eater, too. Has the pre-eminent voice about the dangers of global warming not heard that raising animals for food is responsible for more greenhouse gas effect than transport? Let alone the inexcusable pollution and waste of water, energy, land, and other resources.

How can anyone take these men seriously?

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

August 26, 2007

Wind energy would not reduce coal emissions

Dan Boone, a naturalist in Maryland, explains in a letter to the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News published Aug. 24 that air pollution would not be affected by adding wind turbines to the grid.

This is because air pollution is regulated under a "cap and trade" system that has very effectively reduced nitrous oxides (NOx) which create ozone and sulfur dioxide (SO2) which causes acid rain emitted by electricity plants. It has even reduced carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming: by 19% from 1995 to 2003 in Pennsylvania, according the the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

If thousands of giant turbines were erected in different regions so that between them there would be some predictably steady electricity generation, wouldn't that reduce coal emissions even more?

No, because even if that happened, the cap and trade system relies on an already established total cap on emissions. The incentive for a plant to reduce its emissions below its assigned cap is that it can then sell that extra to another plant to allow it to pollute more. Thus the total pollution remains the same.

And the cap is unlikely to be lowered because of wind energy. The potential contribution of wind is very small (the Dept. of Energy projects will will generate 0.89% of the total electricity in the U.S. by 2030) and the effect on fuel burning even smaller (because of ramping inefficiencies).

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

August 22, 2007

Cape Wind would not reduce use of Canal Generating Plant

Wendy Williams, in yet another self-promotional piece, this one at Renewable Energy Access (Aug. 20), writes unconvincingly: "I'm not very polished when it comes to publicity." Another howler is this:

"Cape Wind would reduce the use of the oil-fired power plant on the Cape Cod Canal."

Cape Wind's massive turbines may reduce the electricity generated from that plant, but not necessarily the oil it burns.

The Canal Generating Plant in Sandwich is a traditional thermal plant. It can't be simply switched on and off as needed, because starting up first requires heating up water to make the steam that powers the generators, and that can take hours. As a back-up to wind, therefore, it would be switched to standby mode when the wind rises, in which mode it continues to burn fuel to create steam but the steam is released and not used to generate electricity. Thus, the plant would be ready to switch back to generation mode as soon as the wind drops again.

That's the sad fact. The 24-square-mile Cape Wind facility would not clean the air or reduce oil barge traffic.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

August 20, 2007

Ironic Times

Headline:  Angry Dems punish Gonzales by expanding his powers.

August 18, 2007

Animals and morality

Apparently it has been a central problem of philosophy to explain "morality" as a uniquely human attribute. Philosophers, however, are keen to show that they are still equal to scientific thinking, so it has been hard to reconcile a unique human morality with related behaviors among other animals, i.e., with morality necessarily being an evolutionarily derived characteristic and not so unique after all.

And so reason is evoked as the essence of morality. Reason, we reason, is uniquely human, so everything that involves it must also be uniquely human.

This is, of course, a fine example of circular reasoning. Reason is uniquely human, morality requires reason, therefore morality is uniquely human. Neither premise is proven and exists only for the benefit of the other.

How much reasoning must we expend to justify what most people would inarguably see as a moral act, such as helping someone who is hurt? Reason, it seems, is more necessary to rationalize immoral acts, such as torture, the bombing of civilians, or ignoring from a seat of relative comfort the economic plight of others.

It is immorality, it seems, that is uniquely human and requires human reason.

[] [] []

I have written before in this space about Michael Pollan's confusion of morality with appetite. His dilemma, as it is sometimes said about taste, is in his mouth. For him, being an omnivore is what makes one human, and therefore he is committed to being the most conscientious omnivore he can be without denying his humanity.

But just because we can kill and eat anything we want doesn't mean that we should. We don't eat each other, for example, and it is generally not acceptable behavior to kill or even assault one another either. So what seems to make us human is the ability to deny our appetites, not gratify them, no matter how refined the gourmet. There is, of course, a balance -- we ought to enjoy what we eat and the communion of meals -- but one thing that is uniquely human, as Michael Pollan makes clear, is to recognize the immorality of one's actions and, instead of curtailing such behavior or even accepting it as a weakness or imperfection, to write whole books to justify it as right and necessary.

[] [] []

The first section above was written after reading an article by John Gray in the May 10 New York Review of Books, reviewing a couple of books about the evolution of morality.

The second section comes after reading an incisive and very readable review in the September Atlantic of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: "Hard to swallow: the gourmet’s ongoing failure to think in moral terms" by B.R Myers.

And while we're on the subject of treating animals decently as fellow creatures on this earth (not as potential meals), the American Vegan Society has a good article by Dale Lugenbehl in the Summer 2007 American Vegan about the massive impacts on the planet from raising animals to eat. It is available on line here. That issue of American Vegan also includes the report from the U.N. about animal husbandry's substantial contribution of greenhouse gases (more than transport) and other related material.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

August 10, 2007

Wind "ought" to help -- but won't

To the Editor, Rutland (Vt.) Herald:

The key word in your August 10 editorial, "Wind win," is "ought." You conclude that the PSB approval of the Sheffield wind project is a "positive step that ought to improve Vermont's energy future." The fact is, unfortunately, that it won't.

Although you admit that the wind turbines would not be generating at full capacity all the time, you let stand the figure of the project's 40-megawatt installed capacity as meaningful. In fact, the facility would rarely, if ever, generate at full capacity. Its average annual output is more likely to be a fifth of that, as it is for the existing Searsburg facility and the average through the U.S. and the world: 8 megawatts. Even the developer projects an average output of only 13 megawatts.

Because of the cubic relation of output to wind speed, however, any wind energy facility generates at or above its average rate only a third of the time. And those times are at the whim of the wind, not necessarily corresponding to actual need on the grid.

Consequently, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority plans for wind energy to provide useful energy at the rate of a third of its average output. This is in line with estimates from similar studies in Europe. The Sheffield project would thus represent a contribution of only about 3 to 4 megawatts for Vermont's energy planning.

Yet this potentially small source requires blasting for foundations and roads, tons of cement for each turbine, acres of forest clearing, and the erection of 419-feet-high towers with 162-feet-long turning blades and strobing safety lights over miles of ridge line where any other development would never even be considered, much less praised by the likes of Bill McKibben and VPIRG. This is a win for industry and the robber barons that run our country again, not for the environment. And not for our energy future, either.

[Published in the Rutland Herald, Aug. 14]

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism