Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Vegan Paradox Part II: Climate

"The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." — Malthus

Aerodynamics of Bos Taurus
  In his now viral TED talk, Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory says that after studying the question, no rational scientist can conclude that we have any other choice than to “do the unthinkable,” and increase the numbers of grazing animals, bunched and moving, in order to restore the balance of planetary ecosystem health, replace extinct wild herds and predators, and reverse desertification and climate change. He makes the meat diet a moral duty.

Joel Salatin follows Savory’s method and sequesters tons of carbon per acre by building deep soils while producing abundant, artisanal quality, nutrient-dense animal protein. Salatin is equally committed to a meat-based diet, occasionally sounding a religious note. Michael Pollan reported:
I asked Salatin how he could bring himself to kill a chicken.

“People have a soul; animals don’t,” he said. “It’s a bedrock belief of mine.” Salatin is a devout Christian. “Unlike us, animals are not created in God’s image, so when they die, they just die.”

We live in a 45-year-old ecovillage community that was 100% vegan for its first 15 years and still is mostly vegetarian. If you ask why, it is mainly out of concern for world hunger and secondarily because the vibes are better. We have gone to great lengths to solve problems like protein balance and vitamin B-12. The World Health Organization came and studied our kids (they’re normal). Most would disagree with Salatin’s theological premise. If we can live lower on the food chain, they argue, why then should we not?

The answer to their question, if you ask carbon farming advocates like Courtney White, Christine Jones, Tom Newmark or others, is that animals co-evolved with vegetation on earth’s land masses and provide an essential link in the web of life that sustains our climate. Cut that link, as vegetarians and vegans do, and you begin to unravel the web. Replace the gone-extinct wild herds with domestic proxies and you stand a chance of restoring the balance of grassland ecologies and forest edge.

But wait, besides requiring food to grow up to slaughter age, and all the hair, teeth, bones and other parts we don’t eat, cows, sheep, goats and pigs fart. The stomachs of cows produce enteric methane as a bi-product of enzymes needed for digestion. Cows are net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, and as meat consumption rises, methane concentrations do too. Cow farts are currently more than 2.5 times the footprint of coal mines. While methane emissions from the US energy sector declined between 1990 and 2013, the contribution from US agriculture rose by 11 percent, and that was all about cows and pigs. The World Bank estimates that overall global methane emissions from agriculture rose 17 percent between 1990 and 2010.

According to the FAO, all told, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with livestock supply chains add up to 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) per year – or 14.5 percent of all human-caused GHG releases.

The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45 percent of the total), outputs of GHG during digestion by cows (39 percent), and manure decomposition (10 percent). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products.

Actually, whether cows are net producers of atmospheric carbon depends on the lifespan of the cow. In grasslands reseeded and supplemented with biochar manure compost, steers that are “harvested” in under 2 years can more than sequester their own GHG output, as well as requiring less water. Older steers and dairy cows cross the curve after 2 years and generate more than they sequester, a lot more. Managing cattle for beef and carbon sequestration means that cows should live greatly reduced lifespans. So much for the “compassionate omnivore” argument.

Professor of History at Texas State University James E. McWilliams (author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong):  says:

 As Dr. Sylvia Fallon of the Natural Resources Defense Council has shown, symbiosis between grazing herds and grasses has historically worked best to sequester carbon when the animals lived the entirety of their lives within the ecosystem, their carcasses rotted and returned their accumulated nutrients into the soil, and human intervention was minimal to none. It is unclear, given that Savory has identified this type of arrangement as his ecological model, how marketing cattle for food would be consistent with these requirements. Cows live up to 20 years of age, but in most grass-fed systems, they are removed when they reach slaughter weight at 15 months. Cheating the nutrient cycle at the heart of land regeneration by removing the manure-makers and grass hedgers when only 10 percent of their ecological “value” has been exploited undermines the entire idea of efficiency.…

While the rigor and veracity of Savory’s claims continue to be debated at length, a few points are largely unsupportable, McWilliams says:

The conceit of mimicry as a virtue of Savory’s technique is challenged in part by the fact that not all deserts rely on the presence of herd animals for their ecological health. In many desert ecosystems, desert grasses evolved not alongside large animals but in concert with desert tortoises, mice, rats, rabbits, and reptiles. It’s difficult to imagine how a human-managed ecosystem such as Savory’s — dependent on manipulating the genetics of livestock, building sturdy fences, manufacturing supplemental feed, and exterminating predators — is more representative of “nature’s complexity” than a healthy desert full of organisms that have co-evolved over millennia.

These issues can fall away and still leave a fairly consistent argument for the methodology of holistic management, including defining problems in terms of wholes and seeking better understanding of how nature would normally repair degraded landscapes. Almost always, native biology and the balm of time provide a better answer than energy-expensive mechanistic approaches on short deadlines. The exceptions occur where careful attention to the patterns of nature reveals ways that energy-expensive mechanistic approaches on short deadlines can assist in the ecological healing process.

Cruelty seems the greater area of contention, and here Michael Pollan makes his case for meat:

The industrialization–and dehumanization–of American animal farming is a relatively new, evitable and local phenomenon: no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to do it this way. Tail-docking and sow crates and beak-clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering 400 head of cattle an hour would come to an end. For who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We’d probably eat less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals, we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve.

But counter-intuitively, the more industrialized (and cruel) the factory farm, the lower the GHG footprint. According to a recent study:

Feedlots maximize efficiency of meat production, resulting in a lower carbon footprint, whereas organic production systems consume more energy and have a bigger carbon footprint than conventional production systems. Cows on pastures produce more methane than cows on high concentrate diets. In South Africa, as in most of the countries in the sub-tropics, livestock production is the only option on about 70% of the agricultural land, since the marginal soils and rainfall do not allow for crop production and the utilization of green water. An effective way to reduce the carbon and water footprint of livestock is to decrease livestock numbers and increase production per animal, thereby improving their efficiency.

— A South African perspective on livestock production in relation to greenhouse gases and water usage, 5 South African Journal of Animal Science 2013, 43 (No. 3)

But we digress. We need to come back to something we began with. Can we agree that everyone should have equal and unrestricted access to a simple but nutritious diet that makes them healthy and strong?

Most of the overdeveloped countries already take that burden upon themselves, although it is now being threatened by the refugee crisis, pushed forward by two other dark riders — climate and energy. So-called “conservatives” oppose the burden of caring for those falling off the edge, using a kind of Ayn Rand logic of neoDarwinism — cull the herd of slackers and ne’er-do-wells or suffer endless, unobtainable demands that bleed society. The doomer crowd simply throws up their hands and says, “Might as well get used to starvation — it's the new norm.”

But right now, today, we can provide for a growing world population even as we work to reverse population growth in some humane way (such as according rights to women). If a simple standard of equal access to a living diet is not currently available, anywhere, the reasons are political, not agricultural.

Today the world produces a significant abundance of food beyond that consumed by humans. The National Geographic says:

Between 2005 and the summer of 2008, the price of wheat and corn tripled, and the price of rice climbed fivefold, spurring food riots in nearly two dozen countries and pushing 75 million more people into poverty. But unlike previous shocks driven by short-term food shortages, this price spike came in a year when the world's farmers reaped a record grain crop.

What drove up prices, firstly, was peak oil, which was reached in 2005-6. Suddenly, farmers had to pay more for fuel and fertilizer. Rising gas prices halved the profit margins of transport companies, who raised rates. Corn ethanol was all the rage, backed by federal loans (scribing a straight line from the US Farm Bill to the huge migrant camps on all the borders of Europe). Natural disasters, augmented by climate change, chimed in on cue. This pushed the price of food commodities higher, which led to inequality in distribution based on wealth.

To make itself antifragile, China plans to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent and they have even enlisted global celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger to spread the message “Less Meat, Less Heat.” But less meat, less starvation too.

In China, average meat consumption per person has risen a stunning six-fold since 1978. China now consumes 28 percent of all meat eaten around the world, and half the pork.

Although the average Chinese citizen still consumes only a bit more than half the meat per day of the average USAnian, China’s 1.3 billion people were eating twice as much meat in total as the United States by 2012. That is double the meat the Chinese were eating a decade ago.

This rapid adoption of the Western diet is having serious health impacts. Paul French, author of “Fat China: How Expanding Waistline Will Change a Nation,” has said “urban China is fat, and getting fatter — fast.”

WildAid reports:

“China has 20% of the global population, but 33% of the world’s diabetics. Child obesity has quadrupled in a single generation.” And this is happening on top of their terrible pollution-driven health problems: “Over 50% of the population is suffering from environmental-related illnesses, many of which are made worse by higher meat consumption, such as heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.”
The poorest billion of the world typically spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food. When food prices become 101 percent, people riot. That is what happened in Tunisia in 2010.

Tunisia grew from 4,220,000 in 1960 to 10 million in 2008 and roughly the same today, with 64% of Tunisians being of childbearing age. Egypt grew from 30 million in 1960 to 79 million in 2010. It is 88 million today and 69% of the population is of childbearing age. Similar demographics apply in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain, a.k.a. Springtime in Arabia.

In Palestine and Israel, populations are approximately equal at 6 million, but Palestinians have the upper hand both in fertility (3 children per Jewish mother vs 3.4 for Palestinians generally, and 4.1 in the Gaza Strip) and age demography. Of course, food distribution in Israel-controlled Palestine is far from fair or equal by any standard. In the West Bank, century-old orchards are mowed down to pave the way for new Jewish settlements to fill with foreign zealots.  While offshore gas wells in Gaza might have helped pay for food imports, Israel is seizing that, piping it through Turkey to Europe, and using the money to buy more weapons. 

Food is still perilously close to costing 101% of the income of up to a third of the world. We know Salad Bar Beef is more nutritious, humane, and climate-mitigating, but is it more affordable and thereby more equally accessible? If not, is that because of skill, land area required, stocking density or some other factor?

The truth remains that combinations of animals, root crops, mushrooms, plants and trees in a mixed ecology is a considerably more prolific production system for nutrient-dense foods. It also provides biological services like no farm. It just can’t co-exist with high population density or the demands of voracious cities.

In his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, Thomas Malthus argued that ”The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence."

The Guardian:

If you truly want to combat climate change, cross off meat, eggs and dairy foods from your shopping list. Foods derived from animals, whether eaten by candlelight or not, require more resources and cause more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based foods do. Each year, humans kill 60 billion land animals for food – that’s about 7 million animals every hour. All these animals produce massive amounts of waste, which releases powerful greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. The livestock sector is the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide, greenhouses gases that are 25 and 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, respectively. A person who follows a vegan lifestyle produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide than a meat-eater and uses 1/11th of the oil, 1/13th of the water and 1/18th of the land, which is why the United Nations has stated that a global shift towards a vegan diet is essential to combat the worst effects of climate change. So blow out the candle, turn on the lights and get into the kitchen and cook a vegan meal this Earth Hour. It’s the best thing any of us can do for the environment as well as for animals.

Countering that is a post by Allison Eck on NOVA Next:
A group of researchers has published a study in the journal Elementa in which they describe various biophysical simulation models that compare 10 eating patterns: the vegan diet, two vegetarian diets (one that includes dairy, the other dairy and eggs), four omnivorous diets (with varying degrees of vegetarian influence), one low in fats and sugars, and one similar to modern American dietary patterns.

What they found was that the carrying capacity—the size of the population that can be supported indefinitely by the resources of an ecosystem—of the vegan diet is actually less substantial than two of the vegetarian diets and two out of the four omnivorous diets they studied.
But it’s relative. In a meat-heavy culture like the US, readjustment to a vegan diet, would feed 735 million people— more than twice today’s population. And that’s from a purely land-use perspective. A dairy-friendly vegetarian diet could feed 807 million people, the difference being available land that is unsuited to the vegan diet but regeneratively abundant with grazing animals. Partially omnivorous diets rank even higher. Thus, according to Peters, et al, Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios, Elementa: The Journal of the Anthropocene (Jul 22, 2016, DOI 10.12952/journal.elementa.000116 ), incorporating about 20 to 40% meat in your diet is actually better for sustaining humanity than being completely meat-free. For meat-eating USAnians, shifting your diet to 80% plant could reduce the amount of land needed to feed the USA and “at the same time increase the number of people who can be fed from our agricultural resources.”

Is an ability to sustain a larger human population better for the planet? Not so much.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Vegan Paradox Part I: Morality

"Joel Salatin likes to say his cows and chickens have a really, really good life, right up until the last minute or two. And then it is over, quickly and relatively painlessly."

We wade into these waters very hesitantly, because what people individually decide to eat is a personal choice, even though it may have very impersonal consequences. People, understandably, can be quite sensitive about being told what they should or shouldn’t eat.

Recently we seem to detect a bit more stridency in the tone of conversation when it comes to eating meat. The nastiness used to be pretty much one-sided, with surly comments coming from the meat-eaters directed at those who abstain. Now it has flipped and seems to be coming more from aggressive vegans concerned about climate change. George Monbiot recently opined:
Rainforests, savannahs, wetlands, magnificent wildlife can live alongside us, but not alongside our current diet.
Monbiot cited studies by scientists at Florida State and Oregon State universities that tallied the damage:

The consumption of animal-sourced food products by humans is one of the most powerful negative forces affecting the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and biological diversity. Livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss, and both livestock and feedstock production are increasing in developing tropical countries where the majority of biological diversity resides. Bushmeat consumption in Africa and southeastern Asia, as well as the high growth-rate of per capita livestock consumption in China are of special concern. The projected land base required by 2050 to support livestock production in several megadiverse countries exceeds 3050% of their current agricultural areas. Livestock production is also a leading cause of climate change, soil loss, water and nutrient pollution, and decreases of apex predators and wild herbivores, compounding pressures on ecosystems and biodiversity.
Reluctantly, since we have lived half our life on either side of this choice, we feel a need to wade in.

One might think that more women are vegans than men, but in fact the opposite is the case. We think, without much science data to support it, that vegans tend to be more of an urban phenomenon than rural. We wondered why that might be.

Watching our chickens scramble for food scraps thrown to them off the kitchen porch, we think back to Lassie and the TV shows those of us at the cutting edge of the Baby Boom watched. Lassie’s house always had chickens in the front yard, even though it was probably on a sound stage in Burbank.

Many of the other shows in American children’s television c. 1950 shared this same rural bias. The Howdy Doody Show (1947-60) followed the success of other puppet theaters like Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947-57), Time for Beany (1949-1955), and Rootie Kazootie (1950-54): it was a Western. Howdy and Buffalo Bob were cowboys. Chief Thunderthud and Princess Summerfall Winterspring were Indians. Clarabell, well. That’s another story. 

Hopalong Cassady, The Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger and Gene Autry were all rural ranchers — trying to make an honest living but being cheated by banksters and railroad land grabbers. Even the Mickey Mouse Club, which came a little later, was as often out on the ranch with Spin and Marty as in the soda shoppe with Tommy and Darlene. Captain Video (1949-1955) was urban, but that was because it was sci-fi, and everyone in the future lives in cities.

The move from rural living to urban living was made possible by cheap energy, automobiles, and the globalization of food. Chances are, if Hopalong, Cisco or Roy herded their cattle to market, that market was near a railroad that took the herd to Omaha or Chicago where they were sent up ramps into factory abbatoires, processed at the rate of a freight train per hour into frozen steaks and hamburger and sent immediately to New York, San Francisco and abroad.

The limits to eating higher on the food chain are dictated by the same limits as traditional kinds of farming with hoes and water buffaloes — it comes back to population size. A good system for a village of 300 may not be possible, or responsible, at the scale of 300,000 or 300,000,000. A pastured poultry or Salad Bar Beef operation like Joel Salatin has at Polyface Farm in Virginia can feed thousands of people, but it cannot feed millions. Cities require very large foodsheds with very big energy requirements for transportation, cold storage and delivery. Joel can truck his meat to Washington DC, but it would take many thousands of Polyface Farms to provide for that entire city, and that’s only its meat. That is also a lot of trucks and refrigeration storage units.

This is what comes to mind as we listen to discussions about grasslands and carbon farming with pastured animal production. Can the world’s population, now over 7 billion, soon to be swept to 9 billion just on inertia, offer grass fed beef, dairy, poultry and eggs to everyone as a climate remedy? Is it faster, more reliable and more profitable than, say, tree planting?

Too often this debate turns to polemic as both sides talk past each other, but having lived in both worlds now, we think it worth looking at the evidence for meat in the diet and the arguments for restricting or excluding it. If that bores you, or you have heard it all before, then see you later.

Morality is a ruthless companion. Vegan advocate Peter Singer wrote:
It is at this point that the consequences of speciesism intrude directly into our lives, and we are forced to attest personally to the sincerity of our concern for nonhuman animals. Here we have an opportunity to do something, instead of merely talking and wishing the politicians would do something. It is easy to take a stand about a remote issue, but speciesists, like racists, reveal their true nature when the issue comes nearer home. To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.

But Singer can be hoisted on his own petard. When eating plants he is ignoring the millions of living and recently deceased species he slaughters. Who is the specieist?

We kill lifeforms by the millions with every spoonful we eat, whether it is Provençal bouillabaisse or a wheatgrass smoothie. Many of those swimming around in that spoon have eyes that look up at you, and given the opportunity, would attempt to escape. This is as true of breathing, or having pores in your skin. We are what we absorb, but for the vast majority of those being absorbed, life ends.

Our ancestors separated from their herbivore brethren about 7 million years ago. Whether our interest in eating animals outweighs their interest in not being eaten (assuming for the moment that is their interest) often turns on the vexed question of animal suffering. Vexed, because it is impossible to know what really goes on in the mind of a cow or a pig or even a hairless ape. But since we humans are all basically wired the same way as a pig, we have excellent reason to assume that their experience of pain feels much like our own. Michael Pollan agonizes over this:

For any animal, happiness seems to consist in the opportunity to express its creaturely character – Its essential pigness or wolfness or chickenness. Aristotle speaks of each creature’s “characteristic form of life.” For domesticated species, the good life, if we can call it that, cannot be achieved apart from humans – apart from our farms and, therefore, our meat eating. This, it seems to me, is where animal rightists betray a profound ignorance about the workings of nature. To think of domestication as a form of enslavement or even exploitation is to misconstrue the whole relationship, to project a human idea of power onto what is, in fact, an instance of mutualism between species. Domestication is an evolutionary, rather than a political, development. It is certainly not a regime humans imposed on animals some 10,000 years ago.

Rather, domestication happened when a small handful of especially opportunistic species discovered through Darwinian trial and error that they were more likely to survive and prosper in an alliance with humans than on their own. Humans provided the animals with food and protection, in exchange for which the animals provided the humans their milk and eggs and – yes – their flesh. Both parties were transformed by the relationship: animals grew tame and lost their ability to fend for themselves (evolution tends to edit out unneeded traits), and the humans gave up their hunter-gatherer ways for the settled life of agriculturists. (Humans changed biologically, too, evolving such new traits as a tolerance for lactose as adults.)

Joel Salatin likes to say his cows and chickens have a really, really good life, right up until the last minute or two. And then it is over, quickly and relatively painlessly.

But if omnivores need to consider where their meat comes from, vegans need to notice how they grow their grains. Almost all grain production currently depends on large quantities of nitrogen — 100 megatons per year — produced in fertilizer plants. Fertilizer is mostly produced from natural gas, which is a finite resource. It could be made from coal, but at the current rate of use, global coal reserves would run out quickly.

The only alternative is to introduce nitrogen into the soil by growing legumes. Peas and beans produce some nitrogen but the plants that fix the largest amounts of nitrogen from the atmosphere are forage plants like clover and lucerne. Apart from some innovative attempts at leaf protein extraction, we cannot eat these crops, and that is a key reason why more grazing ruminants could be needed in future, as gas, potash, phosphate — and artificial fertilizer — peak. Clover grown with grass produces healthy beef and lamb and can indefinitely put enough nitrogen into the soil to grow grain crops three years out of four. Animals get that field every forth year, or, more permaculturally, we do shorter rotations and keep building soil all the time.

Consider: 73 percent of British farmland is considered not suitable for crop production and is growing grass. But with demand for chicken masala and chicken tandoori increasing every year since 1950 and demand for beef and lamb falling, well over a million acres of grassland in the UK have been converted to grain production to feed the chickens. Before Brexit, even larger areas of land were growing chicken feed for England across the Channel. If all Brits were vegan, the island could feed 200 million without imports.

No need to panic, say the Brexited Brits, we can frack fertilizer gas from the Midlands and offshore and turn our grasslands back to grain, as in Roman times. Plenty of chicken tandoori, and we won’t have as many Poles and Romanians to eat it. What the frack could be wrong with that idea?

In his now viral TED talk, Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory says that after studying the question, no rational scientist can conclude that we have any other choice than to “do the unthinkable,” and increase the numbers of grazing animals, bunched and moving, in order to restore the balance of planetary ecosystem health, replace extinct wild herds and predators, and reverse desertification and climate change. He makes the meat diet a moral duty.

 For their parts, vegans point to the obvious disparities between who can afford to eat conscientiously grown meat and the cruelty implicit in the whole modern food system, vegetables and grains included.

We think both sides are missing the real problem. We outlined it here last week. Its the population, stupid. The whole modern food system was created because that is how you can feed 7 to 9 billion people, bunched in cities, as a proxy for Lascaux and Canyon de Chelly.

Simple as that. If you want the luxury of being either organically vegan or compassionately omnivore, you will need to reduce your own species’ numbers.

next week: The Vegan Paradox Part II: Climate

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Making the Grade in Population

"Activist saints who receive C’s on the population quiz: Ralph Borsodi, George Monbiot, Wendell Berry, David Attenborough and Jane Goodall."

Fourteen percent of all humans who have ever lived are alive today. Recent projections  of fertility momentum put global population between 9.6 and 12.3 billion by the end of the century. Of course that could no more be sustained than too many reindeer living on lichen on a small island.

A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Bradshaw and Brook, "Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems." DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1410465111)  looked at a number of different scenarios to gauge how long it might take the human population to plateau and then decline. The Yale Environmental Review commented:

Many of the findings highlight the strength of this demographic momentum. For example, the study found that if every unplanned pregnancy were avoided worldwide due to reproductive education, family planning, and cultural shifts, population would peak at 8.39 billion in 2050 and then fall to 7.3 billion by 2100, a level slightly higher than today. The study also found that implementing contentious population control measures such as a worldwide one-child policy, results in a population that wouldn’t fall back to present-day size until the end of the century. Another scenario looked at a hypothetical catastrophic mortality event equal to the number of deaths from the First World War, the Second World War, and the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic combined. This event barely altered the long-term population projection.

Population tends to be the third rail for many environmental activists. They are okay talking about a one child policy for China, or lamenting the fact that Africa will more than triple its population by mid-century, but the idea of limiting their own family size seems to hold little interest.

Perhaps some role models are needed. Among the presidential candidates, Jill Stein gets a C. She has two children. Donald Trump receives a failing grade. He has 5. Hillary Clinton, with only one child, receives a B. To get an A she would have needed either none or a half child, perhaps one adopted from a one child family or acquired by marriage.

Top Marks: Leo DiCaprio (0); Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins (0); Consumer Advocate Ralph Nader (0); Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson (1);’s Bill McKibben (1); Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard (1); Greenpeace spokesman Kumi Naidoo (1); and “population bomb” theorists Paul and Anne Ehrlich (1).

The US’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, Sierra Club, has a population mission:

The Global Population and Environment Program believes that healthy people and a healthy environment go hand in hand. We work to protect the global environment, preserve natural resources for future generations, and ensure healthy, thriving families and communities by promoting global reproductive health, reproductive rights and sustainable development initiatives.

And yet the Sierra Club’s president and his wife “attribute their ongoing passion for environmental activism in part to concern that their children (plural) inherit a healthy world.”

Pope Francis has yet to issue an encyclical urging Catholics to use birth control. Naomi Klein thinks artificial insemination should be a universal right.

Activist saints who receive C’s on the population quiz: Ralph Borsodi, George Monbiot, Wendell Berry, David Attenborough and Jane Goodall.

Top Marks: Rachel Carson (0); Henry David Thoreau (0).

Failing grades: Thomas Malthus (3), Helen Caldicott (3); Al Gore (4); David Brower (4), Jacques-Yves Cousteau (4); Garrett Hardin (4); Allan Yeomans (5); Aldo Leopold (5); and David Suzuki (5 children, 6 grandchildren).

Groucho Marx, on You Bet Your Life, questioned a female contestant who came from a family of 17 children:

Groucho: How does your father feel about this rather startling turn of events? Is he happy or just dazed?
Daughter: Oh, my daddy loves children.

Groucho: Well, I like pancakes, but I haven't got closets full of them ...

Many people are familiar with the Groucho cigar story, which is similar but a bit more salacious. Apparently that is an urban legend. Judge for yourself at Snopes.




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