Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Sensemaking in the Time of Coronavirus

Sensemaking is a term I learned of recently thanks to Daniel Schmachtenberger. He has a brilliant talk about it. A lot of what I share here is copied from this talk.

Sensemaking is the process of making a reasonably accurate mental model of the world. We have information coming in from all over: from marketing, from government sources, from campaigning, from what our neighbors and friends tell us, our own senses, from social media, etc. We use that information to make sense of the world, to then make choices that are aligned with our goals, values, and what’s meaningful to us. What we hope is that the information that’s around us is mostly true and representative of reality so we can use it to make choices that will be effective. Good sensemaking is necessary for good choice making. It’s hard to get to your destination with an incomplete or inaccurate map.

Good sensemaking has become incredibly difficult in this day and age. Misinformation and disinformation abound; the information ecology has become incredibly polluted. The coronavirus crisis is a great demonstration of why good sensemaking is necessary and why a polluted information ecology is dangerous.

My life-path has been rather twisty and windy, which has brought me into contact with a wide assortment of different kinds of people. Many of them are friends of mine on Facebook and as a result I have seen a huge variety of responses to the coronavirus crisis. Additionally, I live in an intentional community of 70 people and get to hear and witness how they respond.

What I’ve seen is that a large percentage of people were/are not taking coronavirus seriously, for a number of different reasons.

  1. Hoax/Conspiracy Theory
  2. It’s not a big deal
  3. Lack of care for others

Covid-19

Just so we’re on the same page, let’s start with the basic facts of the matter. (Schmachtenberger provides a much more in depth look here ) If you’re familiar with the scientific consensus about the virus, feel free to skip ahead to the ‘Sensemaking’ heading. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a novel virus that first showed up in Wuhan, China. Novel in this context means that no one has any immunity to it before being introduced to it which means that everyone can catch it and spread it. It is quite virulent, which means that it spreads quickly and easily. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Before going into the numbers, to avoid doing poor sensemaking ourselves let’s talk about how reliable the numbers are. The main statistics being reported are the number of cases testing positive, the number of cases that present severe symptoms, the number of deaths, and the number of cases fully recovered.

The first thing to be aware of is that the number of cases testing positive does not reflect the number of people who actually have the virus. Especially here in the US there is a severe shortage of tests. I can’t find the source now, but I’ve seen estimates from experts that say there are from 10 to 50 times as many people who actually have the virus compared to the number of cases tested positive. This number is increasing exponentially every day.

Next, not everyone experiences symptoms. According to Forbes about 18% of people who contract coronavirus will show no symptoms. These people will likely not get tested, and thus will not show up in the statistics. This has the effect of skewing the numbers to look more dangerous than they actually are. The only people who are likely to be tested are those displaying more serious symptoms. Thus the percentage of people who have severe symptoms or end up dying will be disproportionately represented in the official numbers for a while to come, causing the reported statistics to be higher than they are in actuality. Therefore the WHO’s reported mortality rate of 3.4% is likely to be higher than the actual mortality rate. People who do not experience symptoms are still contagious and can pass on the virus to others.

Furthermore, not every country is sharing their numbers. Iran has not been transparent in reporting cases, etc. and there are people casting doubt on the accuracy of China’s numbers.

Recognizing the inherent unreliability of the numbers at this time, it’s still worthwhile to explore them. According to the WHO: “while most people with COVID-19 develop mild or uncomplicated illness, approximately 14% develop severe disease requiring hospitalization and oxygen support and 5% require admission to an intensive care unit to try to prevent the most severe complications including septic shock — a significant drop in blood pressure that can lead to stroke, heart or respiratory failure, failure of other organs or death.” These are the statistics that make coronavirus so dangerous. They also mean that 86% of people will be fine, at worst getting bad flu symptoms.

The reason these are the dangerous statistics is that 14% of the entire country is A LOT of people. The population of the US is pretty much 330 million people. 14% of 330 million is 46.2 million people. The number of staffed beds in all US hospitals is 924,107. 5% of 330 million is 16.5 million. The number of ICU beds available is 97,776. It is easy to see that we have far too few hospital beds and ICU beds available to treat everyone who needs them should everyone get sick at the same time. It would overwhelm our hospital system. It is also worth remembering that coronavirus is not the only reason that people need to go to the hospital, and many of those beds are already occupied.

To avoid overwhelming the hospital system, we need people to not get sick all at the same time. To do this, we need to slow the spread of the virus. You may have heard this referred to as “flattening the curve.”

Slowing how quickly the virus spreads will limit how many people get sick at any one given time. As the people who get sick first recover, the bed they were using would then be available for people who are just getting sick. As long as the number of sick people at any one given time stays under the number of available beds, there will be no unnecessary deaths.

What do I mean by unnecessary deaths? Some percentage of people will die despite getting the best treatment available. These deaths are unavoidable. There is another percentage of people that would live if they receive treatment, yet die if they don’t. These people are what all of the fuss is about. If someone dies from failing to receive treatment, their death was preventable. Unnecessary deaths = deaths that could have been prevented, but weren’t due to lack of treatment. So if the number of cases requiring hospitalization exceeds the number of available hospital beds unnecessary deaths are virtually guaranteed.

Slowing the spread of the virus so that the severe cases don’t overwhelm the hospital system is the only way to prevent these deaths. All of the measures being asked of us (handwashing, social distancing, closing businesses, etc.) are designed to slow the spread of the virus, and thus save lives. Thus us collectively doing these things is how we can best respond to this crisis responsibly.

Sensemaking

Now, above I wrote “let’s start with the basic facts of the matter.” This brings us to the meat of this post. If we’re reading critically, we’ll see that I just brought in a number of assumptions. First, that there are such things as facts. This is an epistemological argument, and outside the scope of this post. Worth noting though. Much more relevant to the issue at hand is that by couching the information I share as facts I am claiming that they are true. By using the modifier ‘basic’ I am further implying that they are comprehensive and simple to understand. Now, I believe what I wrote above to be true. But what exactly does that mean?

The difference between true and truthful is an important distinction. When we say someone is being truthful, what we mean is, that what they are sharing maps to what they believe. There is a correspondence between the signal you’re communicating to me and what you believe is true. Breakdowns in truthfulness happen when people intentionally distort the information they give others. This can happen through lying, lying through omission, or lying through emphasis bias.

In general, if we say someone is saying that something is true, we don’t just mean that there’s a correspondence between what they’re saying and what they think, but there’s a correspondence between what they’re saying and independently verifiable reality. Someone can be truthful, meaning they’re saying what they believe, but what they’re saying is misinformed because it doesn’t correspond to independent reality. So they’re propagating the information honestly, but it is not true.

So these are two sources of misinformation: information that is untruthful, and truthful information that is untrue.

A third type of misinformation is representative. Which is, it’s possible for someone to be truthful – share exactly what they think is going on – and what they’re sharing is actually true – they’ve done epistemology and empirically validated what they’re saying, it maps to reality in some clear way – and yet the interpretation I get from that will still actually mislead me because the true information is not representative of the entire context – there is missing information.

For example in biotech, I can get a patent on a synthetic molecule but I can’t get a patent on a natural molecule. Therefore a lot more money is going to go into researching synthetic molecules compared to natural ones. Someone could then look at this and say, “There are not that many Phase III trials on herbs compared to pharma meds, so pharma meds must be superior.” Well, no, it’s a consequence of profit seeking in the pharmaceutical industry. Even with true information, preponderance of evidence will create problems for good sensemaking. This is true information that is being shared truthfully and yet is still misrepresentative of reality.

This then is the criteria for good information: it must be true, truthful, and representative.

This understanding established, I want to elaborate and say that the information I shared about Covid-19 is true to the best of my knowledge, that I’m being truthful and honest in sharing it, and that it is representative of the biological and social-health reality of the crisis.

But how can I claim that my information is true? I’m not a virologist. I didn’t count the hospital beds in the country. I’ve yet to personally witness anyone get sick. I am basing my information on what I’m being told by others.

This, right here, is the heart of the matter. How do we know what information to trust? This is what sensemaking is all about.

Trust

Broken information ecology means that we can’t trust that most of the information coming in is true, representative of reality, and will inform good choice making.

Where does information come from? Signals are being shared by people, and by groups of people that have shared agency like corporations, governments, political parties, religions, etc.

Why do people share information that is not true and representative of reality? This is a key thing to understand.

If I’m just in nature watching what’s happening with rabbits and trees and birds, I’m getting information about them that they aren’t even intending to transmit. So the information is just reflective of the nature of reality.

As soon as there’s an agent that can share information strategically, with an intention, then I don’t know if what they’re sharing is reflective of reality or if it’s reflective of what they think will advance their intention. The moment we have abstract signalling, which language allows us, along with the ability to forecast/model each other’s behavior, and your wellbeing and agency doesn’t seem to be coupled with my wellbeing and agency perfectly – there is now the incentive to mis/disinform. An example is cheating in a romantic relationship.

If I’m a marketer of a product, I want you to purchase it whether my product is actually the best product or not. Regardless of whether a competitor’s product is better, regardless of whether you need the product, I want you to think that you need it and that my product is the best.

When there’s a breakdown between what seems to be in my wellbeing and what seems to be in yours, whenever there’s a conflict of interest and there’s the ability to share information for strategic purposes, then there is potential for there to be signal that’s being shared that isn’t truthful. Where is this happening? Everywhere.

When you’re playing poker you learn how to bluff, because it’s not who has the best hand that wins, it’s who makes everyone else think that they have the best hand. Poker is a zero sum game, my win does not equal your win, my win is going to equal some other player’s loss. Because of this, I have an incentive to disinform you because information about reality is a competitive advantage.

This is the key way of thinking about it. Disinformation even happens in nature, with other animals. There are caterpillars whose tails look like a head to disinform birds so that they go to peck at the false head and the caterpillar might survive. Camouflage is a type of disinformation – it’s an attempt to not signal – because there are rivalrous dynamics between the caterpillar and the bird in this scenario.

Market dynamics are fundamentally rivalrous, meaning my balance sheet can get ahead of your balance sheet and that my balance sheet can get ahead even at the cost of hurting the commons. The goal of marketing is to compel the purchaser’s action in a particular way. Which means that companies want to do sensemaking for us because they want to influence our choices. They’re not interested in our sovereignty nor in our quality of life. They are interested in us thinking that they’re interested in our quality of life. They’re interested in us believing that their product will improve our quality of life. But whether it actually does or not they don’t care.

If they can sell us food that is very addictive, or cigarettes, or social media, or media, or porn, or whatever it is that actually decreases our baseline happiness but makes us need another hit, faster, and is addictive, that’s really good for lifetime revenue of a customer. Because their fiduciary responsibility is to maximize profitability for their shareholders, and so they need to maximize lifetime revenue of their customers multiplied by maximizing the customer base, addiction is the most profitable thing they can get. But this is never in the best interest of the customer.

So.

Agents of all different kinds have incentive to mis/disinform others to attempt to get ahead. As a result the information ecology is incredibly polluted. Little information can be trusted. This is the key understanding.

Consequences of a Broken Information Ecology

Now many people don’t have the words to put to the ideas I just shared, but they know they’re being lied to somehow. On top of this, the modern world is incredibly complex. Far more complex than any one person can make sense of. In the face of mass disinformation and overwhelming complexity, it’s no wonder that most people give up on doing good sensemaking. That’s when we get simple heuristics like, “Don’t trust the government” and “Don’t trust the media.” It’s because our information ecology is so broken that Trump can simply say that anything he doesn’t like is ‘fake news’ and get away with it.

Thus, it is sad yet totally understandable to me that so many people are not taking COVID-19 seriously. After years of being told to be afraid of SARS and zika, etc. how is this any different?

This crisis highlights just how dangerous this can be. Because the truth (see what I did there?) is that there is a base reality that doesn’t care what you believe. Lots and lots of people are going to die unnecessarily due to our broken information ecology.

Sceptic Breakdown

Hoax/Conspiracy theory

Especially towards the beginning of the pandemic I saw and heard quite a few people dismiss the reality of COVID-19. Claims that this was a cover-up to arrest pedophile elites, or just a ruse to introduce totalitarian measures.

From Charles Eisenstein:

Because Covid-19 seems to justify so many items on the totalitarian wish list, there are those who believe it to be a deliberate power play. It is not my purpose to advance that theory nor to debunk it, although I will offer some meta-level comments. First a brief overview.

The theories (there are many variants) talk about Event 201 (sponsored by the Gates Foundation, CIA, etc. last September), and a 2010 Rockefeller Foundation white paper detailing a scenario called “Lockstep,” both of which lay out the authoritarian response to a hypothetical pandemic. They observe that the infrastructure, technology, and legislative framework for martial law has been in preparation for many years. All that was needed, they say, was a way to make the public embrace it, and now that has come. Whether or not current controls are permanent, a precedent is being set for:

  • The tracking of people’s movements at all times (because coronavirus)
  • The suspension of freedom of assembly (because coronavirus)
  • The military policing of civilians (because coronavirus)
  • Extrajudicial, indefinite detention (quarantine, because coronavirus)
  • The banning of cash (because coronavirus)
  • Censorship of the Internet (to combat disinformation, because coronavirus)
  • Compulsory vaccination and other medical treatment, establishing the state’s sovereignty over our bodies (because coronavirus)
  • The classification of all activities and destinations into the expressly permitted and the expressly forbidden (you can leave your house for this, but not that), eliminating the un-policed, non-juridical gray zone. That totality is the very essence of totalitarianism. Necessary now though, because, well, coronavirus.

This is juicy material for conspiracy theories. For all I know, one of those theories could be true; however, the same progression of events could unfold from an unconscious systemic tilt toward ever-increasing control. Where does this tilt come from? It is woven into civilization’s DNA. For millennia, civilization (as opposed to small-scale traditional cultures) has understood progress as a matter of extending control onto the world: domesticating the wild, conquering the barbarians, mastering the forces of nature, and ordering society according to law and reason. The ascent of control accelerated with the Scientific Revolution, which launched “progress” to new heights: the ordering of reality into objective categories and quantities, and the mastering of materiality with technology. Finally, the social sciences promised to use the same means and methods to fulfill the ambition (which goes back to Plato and Confucius) to engineer a perfect society.

Those who administer civilization will therefore welcome any opportunity to strengthen their control, for after all, it is in service to a grand vision of human destiny: the perfectly ordered world, in which disease, crime, poverty, and perhaps suffering itself can be engineered out of existence. No nefarious motives are necessary. Of course they would like to keep track of everyone – all the better to ensure the common good. For them, Covid-19 shows how necessary that is. “Can we afford democratic freedoms in light of the coronavirus?” they ask. “Must we now, out of necessity, sacrifice those for our own safety?” It is a familiar refrain, for it has accompanied other crises in the past, like 9/11.

To rework a common metaphor, imagine a man with a hammer, stalking around looking for a reason to use it. Suddenly he sees a nail sticking out. He’s been looking for a nail for a long time, pounding on screws and bolts and not accomplishing much. He inhabits a worldview in which hammers are the best tools, and the world can be made better by pounding in the nails. And here is a nail! We might suspect that in his eagerness he has placed the nail there himself, but it hardly matters. Maybe it isn’t even a nail that’s sticking out, but it resembles one enough to start pounding. When the tool is at the ready, an opportunity will arise to use it.

And I will add, for those inclined to doubt the authorities, maybe this time it really is a nail. In that case, the hammer is the right tool – and the principle of the hammer will emerge the stronger, ready for the screw, the button, the clip, and the tear.

Either way, the problem we deal with here is much deeper than that of overthrowing an evil coterie of Illuminati. Even if they do exist, given the tilt of civilization, the same trend would persist without them, or a new Illuminati would arise to assume the functions of the old.

True or false, the idea that the epidemic is some monstrous plot perpetrated by evildoers upon the public is not so far from the mindset of find-the-pathogen. It is a crusading mentality, a war mentality. It locates the source of a sociopolitical illness in a pathogen against which we may then fight, a victimizer separate from ourselves. It risks ignoring the conditions that make society fertile ground for the plot to take hold. Whether that ground was sown deliberately or by the wind is, for me, a secondary question.What I will say next is relevant whether or not Covid-19 is a genetically engineered bioweapon, is related to 5G rollout, is being used to prevent “disclosure,” is a Trojan horse for totalitarian world government, is more deadly than we’ve been told, is less deadly than we’ve been told, originated in a Wuhan biolab, originated at Fort Detrick, or is exactly as the CDC and WHO have been telling us. It applies even if everyone is totally wrong about the role of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the current epidemic. I have my opinions, but if there is one thing I have learned through the course of this emergency is that I don’t really know what is happening. I don’t see how anyone can, amidst the seething farrago of news, fake news, rumors, suppressed information, conspiracy theories, propaganda, and politicized narratives that fill the Internet. I wish a lot more people would embrace not knowing. I say that both to those who embrace the dominant narrative, as well as to those who hew to dissenting ones. What information might we be blocking out, in order to maintain the integrity of our viewpoints? Let’s be humble in our beliefs: it is a matter of life and death.

The Coronation

It’s not a big deal

Probably the most common thing that I’ve seen/heard is that people just don’t think COVID-19 will be a big deal. This is due to ignorance, both true and willful. For whatever reason, these people can’t be bothered to look into the issue themselves, and dismiss the attempts of others to get them to take it seriously. This is what happens when people give up on sensemaking.

This is further complicated because all of the preventative measures being asked of us are precisely to make it not a big deal. If quarantining is successful, and the curve is flattened, then those who didn’t take it seriously will be able to point to this and say, “See, told you.”

Lack of care for others

This is actually not bad sensemaking at all. Whoever that young person is, it’s hard to argue with their logic. This became especially more poignant with the many calls from conservatives to sacrifice lives to protect the economy.

What does good sensemaking look like?

  • Being open to being wrong
  • Understanding logic and rationality, when they are appropriate, and how they are to be applied
  • Being curious
  • Checking your sources
  • Questioning information you receive
  • Looking at both sides of an issue
  • Being aware of confirmation bias
  • Finding people/sources who themselves do good sensemaking
  • Asking yourself if new information is compatible with what you currently believe to be true

Why we need good sensemaking

As a species, we’ve developed the capability to drastically affect each other and the rest of the biosphere. The Bomb, CRISPR, AI, rearranging entire ecosystems – we’ve gathered the power of the gods. For this to not be disastrous we must therefore have the wisdom of the gods.

The power we wield is largely collective. Climate change is due to the actions of no one individual, but instead the cumulative actions of each of us. This pandemic is the same. No one person is responsible for the spread of this illness – it is the result of many people’s actions.

Our power as a species comes from our coordination. Coordination comes from the stories we tell ourselves and each other. Money is a story. America is a story. Capitalism is a story. What we are witnessing are the consequences of the stories that have driven our social world for the last several millennia. The old stories are no longer serving us, and have actually been harming us for quite some time. And the stories we believe shape our actions.

The problems facing the world today are problems that are and will affect all of us. Climate change, automation, growing economic inequality, ocean acidification, desertification, risk of nuclear war, financial collapse – these are all systemic problems caused by the collective actions of many, if not all, of us. Their only solutions lie in similarly collective action.

Collective action requires coordination. Coordination can only truly come from voluntary assumption of roles and tasks. Coercion can also shape collective action, but there must be agents applying that coercion and these agents must voluntarily agree to do so.

Coordination requires communication and agreement. A goal must be agreed upon. A strategy must be agreed upon. A plan of action must be agreed upon. Those who agree to executing an action must actually follow through with it.

To gain this agreement without coercion, people must buy in to a story. So, what story is the right one? That is the purview of sensemaking. Before people will agree to a plan, they must agree to a story. Covid-19 as virus calls for very different action than Covid-19 as hoax. Before you can get people to voluntarily take on quarantine measures, you must convince them why they must take on quarantine measures. It is the responsibility of each of us to do the work of good sensemaking, so that we can make responsible choices. As more and more of us do proper sensemaking, the information ecology will become healthier and healthier, in turn making good sensemaking even easier.

The spread of Covid-19, especially here in the US, is far worse than it could have been. There are many measures that could have been taken to greatly reduce its impact on our country. The reason that these actions weren’t taken was due to poor choice making, which in turn was due to poor sensemaking, which itself in turn is due to the difficulty of good sensemaking in our polluted information ecology.

Yes, Trump failed as a leader, especially by down-playing the severity of the crisis until its reality was unavoidable. That said, we, each of us, are sovereign individuals. We could have taken action ourselves. We didn’t. Government (coercive) quarantine wouldn’t be necessary if people would voluntarily self quarantine.

We will only come to collective action if we can find a collective story. Until now this has seemed unlikely, as social discourse has become increasingly polarized. Perhaps this crisis is the wake up call we need.

Covid-19 as Example

Covid-19 is a global crisis. As such, it is simply one of many. What makes it stand out is its immediacy. Unlike climate change, ocean acidification, and deforestation (etc.), Covid-19 is fast acting and highly visible. And, as bad as it is, thankfully it seems to not be all that incredibly deadly. As such, it offers a great window into how the world can and will respond to future crises.

Just as the leaders of the US failed to handle this crisis well, global leaders are failing to handle the other crises bearing down on us. Let’s look into climate change as a counter example.

Just as there were people casting doubt on the validity of Covid-19, there are people casting doubt on the validity of climate change. Just as many governments around the world were too slow to act in responding to Covid-19, governments around the world are failing to act in time to avert climate change. Just as it takes a critical amount of people cooperating by quarantining to slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve, it will take a critical amount of people making the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce the impact of climate change.

Covid-19 highlights the interconnectedness of the modern world. We are dependent upon each other. Quarantining to slow the spread only works if enough people do it. It takes a critical number of us. If only one person quarantined, it would be ineffective. That one person’s being responsible would be negated by everyone else’s being irresponsible. Same thing for climate change. Only one person giving up driving a car and flying on planes is not enough. In this connected world, certain of our actions are only effective if a large enough number of us do them.

Looking Forward

Charles Eisenstein recently shared a phenomenal essay about Covid-19 (which I already quoted from above and very much recommend). It’s long, but it does a beautiful job of highlighting how Covid-19 has disrupted most of the habitual actions of our global civilization. This disruption gives us the chance to reconsider our habits and ask if they are serving us. We could try to return to the way things were. We could be facing increased totalitarianism and social control measures. Or we could decide that the old way of things was not working. Hopefully, this crisis has shown enough people that the human world is a socially constructed one, and is only upheld by enough people agreeing to those social constructs. So many things that those in power told us would be impossible to do were done quickly when they were threatened. The fact that people staying home from work has tanked the stock market shows that the true power lies in the people. The 1% need us, for they live only off of us. They don’t create value themselves, just appropriate it from others.

I do not believe that those currently in power are looking out for the well being of all. Meaningful change will not come from the top. If it is to happen at all, it must come from each of us.

In order for us to take our power back, we must come up with a new global story that we can all get behind. Only then will we be able to take the collective actions necessary to face the coming crises that will make this one look tame in comparison. To come up with this new global story we must first do good sensemaking, individually and collectively. So, what do you believe to be true, and why do you believe it? Are you open to being wrong? Are those you trust worthy of that trust?

Meat is Not Killing the Planet

World-destroying beasts

Industrial Agriculture is.

Meat is, of course, produced by industrial agriculture (IA), and the meat thus produced – IA meat – is absolutely bad for the planet and for the health of those consuming it. IA meat makes up almost all of the meat that is produced today, and thus it is very understandable that meat in general seems terrible for the environment – most people don’t realize that there is meat that isn’t produced by IA.

It is very important to recognize, however, that plant-based IA is also terrible for the planet. This often goes unacknowledged by those advocating for vegan and vegetarian diets.

Before going into the details of these distinctions, I want to acknowledge the truth – to the extent that they are true – of the many articles and studies that claim that meat is terrible for the planet. The meat available in grocery stores (IA meat) is terrible for the planet, period. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) are hell-holes of animal cruelty and disease, as are IA slaughterhouses. IA beef, as an example, takes seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. IA figured out that chickens would eat their own shit if it was mixed with enough molasses and salt. IA meat is absolutely worse for the planet than IA plant-based foods. In South America they are cutting/burning down the Amazon to make room for more pasture for cattle. These things acknowledged, let’s now examine how these facts don’t tell the whole story.

The primary misleading assumption is that IA is taken as a given. Given the choice between IA meat and IA plant-based foods, the choice is clear: IA plant-based foods are more humane and better for the planet. But this is a false dichotomy. IA plant-based foods are still inhumane, terrible for the planet, and terrible for people’s health. IA plant-based foods are heavily reliant on fossil fuels and IA plant agriculture is unsustainable.

So it is not meat production and consumption in and of itself that is harmful but instead the constellation of bad practices that comprise industrial agriculture. Let’s now dig into how exactly IA plant-based foods are problematic:

Energy Consumption

IA is highly reliant on fossil fuels across the entirety of its supply chain. In the US, 15-20 Calories of energy are spent to produce one Calorie of food.

Large amounts of  fossil fuel are required to power heavy farming machinery, to process foods, to refrigerate foods during transportation, to produce packaging materials, and to manufacture and transport chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Fertilizers containing nitrogen are particularly fossil-fuel-intensive; production and transport of 1 lb of nitrogen releases an average of 3.7 lbs of CO 2 into the atmosphere.

A tremendous amount of energy is also used to transport our food. As a result of the development of centralized industrial agricultural operations and the corresponding disappearance of local family farms, food is now shipped extraordinarily long distances before it reaches your dinner plate. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, food and agricultural products (not including imported or exported foods) are transported 566 billion ton-miles within U.S. borders each year, constituting more than 20% of total U.S. commodity transport. In 1969, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that, on average, food traveled 1,346 miles. Another study conducted in 1980 determined that fresh produce traveled 1,500 miles!

Furthermore, an increasing quantity of food is now being transported internationally; in 1998, a total of 172 million tons of food were shipped into and out of the U.S.10 In 2001, the U.S. imported 39% of all fruits, 12% of vegetables, 40% of lamb, and 78% of fish and shellfish. This excessive and unnecessary food transportation requires the consumption of large quantities of fossil fuel, thus polluting the environment and damaging human health. Lengthy food transport also generates additional energy expenditures by creating the need for increased food packaging, processing, and refrigeration.

Fossil Fuels and Agriculture

If we recognize that we have to cease all carbon emissions, relying on an agricultural system that depends on fossil fuels is insane.

Monoculture and artificial fertilizer

IA plant-based foods are essentially synonymous with monoculture. Monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop in a given area. Think endless rows of corn, soybeans, and wheat. This is obviously not a natural state, and there are many problematic consequences of practicing it.

First, to create cropland one must destroy an ecosystem. Instead of a forest or a prairie, there is now a field. Instead of many birds, animals, and plants, there is now one. Monoculture is the exact opposite of diversity, and diversity is necessary for a healthy environment. There’s a lot of death and destruction that goes into creating cropland.

Monoculture breaks the cycle of life. Simplified: the soil feeds the plants, the plants feed the animals, and the animals feed the soil. Growing for market entails taking from the soil – from the land – and not giving back to it (because it’s shipped far away). This is unsustainable. In order to grow, plants require nutrients. The big three are nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus. When plants are grown and harvested, the nutrients are taken from the soil, which then has fewer nutrients for the next crop. Continue this for too long and the soil becomes barren – it will no longer grow crops. To rejuvenate the soil, nutrients must be added back to it – this is what we call fertilizer. Non-monocultured soil is fertilized by dead plants and animals, and animal feces. Monocultured soil misses out on most of these inputs.

Back in the early twentieth century we were starting to run out of nutrients in our soils, which was resulting in diminishing crop yields. This problem was overcome (at least for the time), with the Haber-Bosch process, which allowed us to “fix” nitrogen out of the atmosphere, at the expense of immense heat and pressure fueled by natural gas. The Haber-Bosch process was discovered as the result of a multi-year, focused, competitive effort responding to the widespread fear of food scarcity.

The Haber-Bosch process has dramatically changed the face of agriculture and with it the face of our planet. The introduction of nitrogenous fertilizers and their increasing application had a dramatic impact on grain yields. Together with new high yielding, short-stalked varieties and chemical protection, yields of wheat and rice worldwide eventually tripled and quadrupled during the 20th century (Smil 2011). The availability of these fertilizers also opened the door for farms to move away from the proven and millennia-old system of cycling and re-cycling nutrients and organic matter in each farm. Diversified farms growing crops for humans, soil-building crops for livestock where the manure was applied back onto the land had been the norm. Now it suddenly became possible to look at a farm in a much more linear way, importing plant nutrients and exporting crops. Industrial monocultures began to take over. Farms moved away from being diversified and multi-dimensional and the `modern’ corn-soybean crop farm took over. Also the disconnecting of animal husbandry from the land and from crop growing set the stage for the so-called CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). What used to be the perfect “marriage” between cropping and livestock turned into two serious problems, the need to import expensive fertilizer into farms and the necessity to dispose of animal manure. A much-valued resource, `black gold’ has suddenly become a waste disposal problem (Pollan 2006, Montgomery 2007, Hager 2008). Haber-Bosch also made possible the `Green Revolution’, which transformed agriculture during the mid 1900’s in many so-called developing countries. This massive technology transfer of a more industrial style agriculture rested on the availability and application of nitrogen fertilizer.

The increased yields worldwide supported the rapidly expanding global population, which grew by 5 billion between 1900 and 2000. The number of humans supported per hectare of arable land has increased from 1.9 to 4.3 persons from 1908 to 2008 (Zmaczynski 2012). Today our world food supply has become very dependent on anthropogenic nitrogen. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers supply just over half of the need of our world’s crops (Smil 2011).

Without this industrial nitrogen our soils today simply could not grow enough food to provide for our current dietary needs. While this fact might be a reason to celebrate, it does come at a higher and higher price. The increasing application of soluble nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides into soils and environment brings with it serious ecological challenges in the form of emissions of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, as well as ground water contamination and surface water eutrophication (Smil 2001, Smil 2011, Charles 2013). The well-documented `dead zones’ in the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea have gained infamous notoriety, among countless other examples. Additionally, industrial agriculture and the `Green Revolution’ have had other dramatic negative, unforeseen and unintended consequences. Socio-economically, with the advent of industrial agriculture came the disruption and weakening of traditional farming systems and the communities and local economies they were embedded in (Berry 1986, Shiva 1991). The significance of Haber-Bosch in our current world can hardly be overstated.

The Haber-Bosch Process

The energy and hydrogen required to power the Haber-Bosch process are provided by fossil fuels, which are of course problematic and unsustainable.

The Haber process now produces 450 million tonnes of nitrogen fertilizer per year, mostly in the form of anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and urea. The Haber process consumed 3–5% of the world’s natural-gas production (around 1–2% of the world’s energy supply). The Haber–Bosch process is one of the largest contributors to a buildup of reactive nitrogen in the biosphere, causing an anthropogenic disruption to the nitrogen cycle. Since nitrogen use efficiency is typically less than 50%, farm runoff from heavy use of fixed industrial nitrogen disrupts biological habitats. Nearly 50% of the nitrogen found in human tissues originated from the Haber–Bosch process.

Wikipedia

Pesticides

Monocultures are also vastly more susceptible to diseases and pests than polycultures are. Thus they require herbicides like Bayer’s RoundUp (glyphosate), fungicides, and pesticides. These are toxic, and end up in the soil and water harming humans and other life.

GMO

You might be thinking that you can avoid the above issues by buying non-GMO organic. You’d be partially correct, as non-GMO organic is less problematic. It’s still however quite problematic. Most of the issues with monoculture still pertain to organic plant-based foods. Large amounts of fossil fuels are still required to grow, preserve, and transport it.

Organic farming, as it is practiced now in the U.S, is largely reliant on the very synthetic fertilizers and the confined animal feeding operations that it prohibits. The link in this reliance is animal manure and the key nutrient is [once again] nitrogen.

http://csanr.wsu.edu/organic-ag-synthetic-nitrogen/

The exception to this is of course if you buy from local farmers whose methods you trust. But how many people buy exclusively from local farmers? And even then they are still using fossil fuels, as we all are. And as the above link points out, pretty much any farmer growing for market benefits from synthetic nitrogen fixing.

Water

IA plant based agriculture also draws heavily on water resources. The reason California has droughts and water issues is the same reason as why the Ogallala aquifer that feeds America’s breadbasket is running out: IA agriculture uses more water than is sustainable. Addressing water scarcity would take an entire blog post on its own, but is a huge deal, and IA is a huge contributor to it.

In short, IA plant-based foods are neither healthy nor sustainable. When articles tell you to stop eating meat, this is what they want you to support instead.

Non-Industrial Agriculture

And believe it or not, there are viable sources of healthy meat. In fact, when done properly animal husbandry is good for the planet. I’ll even take it one step further and say that responsible animal husbandry is actually crucial to the future of agriculture.

Cows

Let’s start by talking about cows. Cows and beef get a lot of bad press, for example, the statistic I quoted above that it takes seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. The argument goes that this grain could instead go to feeding people directly. Ignoring the fact that no human would want to eat the grain that gets fed to cows, let’s instead talk about how cows shouldn’t be eating grain in the first place. They should only be eating what they evolved to eat, which is motherfuckin’ grass.

Cows are incredible. They are renewable solar energy sources. They turn sunlight into beef and dairy. Grass, unlike monocultures, requires very little management. Now you might say here, plants turn sunlight into food even more efficiently. You are of course correct, but you might not be aware that pasture is not the same as cropland.

Pasture =/= Cropland

Intact grasslands inhabited by herds of large herbivores have a tremendous capacity to sequester carbon in the soil. Data in terms of tons of carbon per hectare is hard to pinpoint because estimates obtained through measurement and modeling vary by several orders of magnitude, depending on geological conditions, rainfall, types of grasses and whether they are cut, and the presence or absence of herd animals (whether wild or domesticated livestock). Furthermore, sequestered carbon can remain in the soil for varying lengths of time. Some carbon-containing soil organic matter decomposes in a year or two, much of it remains in the soil for a few decades, and some isn’t recycled back into the atmosphere for thousands of years (if ever). The ten-foot-thick topsoil of the American Midwest (much eroded today) testifies to the ability of grasslands to store carbon underground.

The highest carbon storage comes from native grass mixes occupied by large, roaming herds of herbivores. Sadly, 97 percent of the original North American highgrass prairie has been converted to cropland, suburbs, and sown pasture. Originally covering 70 million hectares, its carbon-regulating capacity was enormous. Judging by the data, albeit sparse, coming from management-intensive grazing practices that seek to replicate natural herbivore grazing behavior, it is conceivable that highgrass prairie could sequester 8–20 tons of carbon per hectare per year. Today, instead, most of this land is a carbon emitter, because it is cultivated for crops. Plow-based cultivation that exposes bare soil to the air, water, and wind makes its organic matter (carbon) available for oxidation. A similar story has transpired in the steppes of Asia, the veldts of Africa, the pampas of South America, and so on. According to the FAO, up to a third of global grassland has already been degraded. What could be a carbon sink is becoming an emissions source.

Charles Eisenstein, Climate, A New Story

Furthermore, not all soil is the same, and there is plenty of soil that is unsuitable for growing crops yet grows grass well. Thus, done properly, cow pasture does not compete with cropland, and expands the amount of land that is able to contribute to human food.

As mentioned above, large ruminants (i.e. cows, bison, etc.) play a crucial role in healthy grasslands. Their main contribution is their heavy hoofprint which presses grasses down into the soil, thus sequestering carbon, but their poop also contributes. What makes a ruminant a ruminant is that they have four stomachs that allow them to ferment grass inside themselves, growing bacteria, which is what actually provides them nutrition and energy.

Rumens are meant to digest leafy plant matter. In the case of cows, mostly grass. Their stomachs are not meant to digest grain, nor do they handle it well. Thus, it makes little sense to be feeding cows grain. IA does it because it causes them to gain weight faster, with higher fat content, at the expense of their health.

As large ruminants, cows in particular have a huge roll to play in regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is practicing agriculture in such a way that it is not only sustainable, but actually regenerates the land upon which it is practiced. An example would be reclaiming the land now used for cropland in the American high plains and restoring it to prairie. This would stop the carbon emissions that cropland causes, and start to once again sequester carbon. Since the American Bison was hunted close to extinction to remove it as a food source for Native Americans by colonizers, cows will be very helpful in restoring the prairie. Cows are also incredibly useful for building soil and soil health in any grassland setting when managed properly. Pastures sequester more carbon than do forests.

Carbon sequestration is important for more than just fighting climate change, it also makes for better, healthier soil. In the soil, carbon is commonly referred to as ‘organic matter content’ and is one of the primary things that determines how healthy soil is. This is because carbon enters the soil in the form of plant matter, which then becomes food for the bacteria and insects that make soil alive. Soil with high organic matter content can also absorb much more water during rainfall, making less runoff and therefore less soil erosion.

Pigs and Chickens

The main two other meats that we eat are pork and chicken. IA pork and chicken are way worse in pretty much every way than IA beef. Given the choice between IA pork and chicken and IA beef, I’d choose IA beef every time, both in terms of my own health and that of the planet.

Outside of IA, however, both pigs and chickens have valuable contributions to make to a holistically managed farm. Pigs turn compost into bacon and lard, and chickens remove insect pests and produce eggs and meat. Pigs also can provide value by working the land. Look up Joel Salatin for more information. They can be raised in a way that is beneficial for the land, and provide valuable nutrition.

Done properly, animal husbandry is much more labor efficient than plant-based agriculture in terms of calories and nutrition produced (Outside of IA. Of course it’s more labor efficient in terms of man-hours to have fossil fuels do all the work). I don’t know how many people have ever tried to completely feed themselves out of a garden, but gardening is long and hard work. Properly managed animals require a lot less time.

Conclusion

If you actually care about the planet, the thing to do is stop supporting the Industrial Agriculture system. This, however, is harder than it sounds. It pretty much means that you stop buying food in the grocery store. And since that’s where pretty much everyone gets their food, it’s a tall order.

However it’s easier and easier to support local, regenerative agriculture. There are CSA’s (community supported agriculture) all over the place, likely near you. Most metropolitan areas will also have access to a butcher that sources local, healthy meat.

One way or another, at some point we will no longer use natural gas to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. We might stop when we realize that burning fossil fuels is no longer tenable. At the very least we’ll stop when we run out of natural gas at some point in the future. By being dependent on a non-renewable resource, the Haber-Bosch process is by definition unsustainable. A sustainable agricultural system will need animals, especially cows, to maintain soil fertility.

Support holistic/regenerative local farmers!

MODELS AND ASSUMPTIONS

Wikipedia states that “a mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world.” More accurately it is an representation of someone’s understanding of a certain piece of the world.

This representation is composed of symbols arranged in a relationship to each other. Let’s take for example a locked door. A simple model of this real world situation might include three symbols: the door, the lock, and the key. If one does not have the key then the lock keeps the door closed and it is impassable. If one does have the key then the door is no longer an obstacle and becomes passable. The way these symbols relate to each other forms the model of the locked door. And to a degree this model matches reality and thus is true to that same degree.

However reality is more nuanced than our simple model suggests. One could more perceptively understand the lock to be a physical system. And should one understand that physical system – that is to have an accurate mental model of how the lock operates – one has the ability to manipulate it in such a way as to open the door even in the absence of the key. Or perhaps one might realize that the door is composed of particle board and will cave in to a forcibly applied shoulder.

In our first, simpler model we take the lock and door to be fundamental entities. However on closer examination find that the lock is actually a physical system and the door is impassable only as long as it remains unbroken. Putting the sturdiness of the door aside, our expanded view of the situation has more than three symbols. The door and key are still only two, but the lock has revealed itself to be a constellation of symbols: pins, springs, cams, and more. We could this much further, describing the pins in terms of the metals they are composed of, and those in terms of their chemical and physical structure, and those in terms of their atomic compositions and bonds, and those in terms of quantum mechanics, and on and on. Looking at the world like this in everyday life is of course just silly and no one does so. Likewise I don’t need to know how an internal combustion engine works to know how to drive a car. Knowing that when I turn my key the engine starts and then powers my vehicle is an abstraction, but is all that matters to me functionally.

Like me and my car, none of us understands how everything in the world truly works. We instead understand the world through our symbolic representation of it. We even model each other. We might know exactly how a friend would respond to a situation. And then sometimes they surprise us – our model was off.

The basis of our models are our premises – our fundamental assumptions. Our premises are then things we take for granted in our mental models, like how I take for granted that my car will move when I press the gas pedal.

In some models, most notably mathematics and to a lesser degree science, we explicitly state our premises – our assumptions. In math we call these axioms and in science we “define our terms”. In everyday life our assumptions are much more likely to have been taught to us as children, and these we often carry throughout life without ever stopping to question if they are true or not.

Models are a abstract representation of reality, and therefore a unavoidably partial representation. Just like the written transcript of MLK Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech cannot capture his voice the way an audio recording could, and neither could hearing the recording compare to actually being there for his march on Washington, a representation will always miss out on some aspect of reality, and to that same degree will be inaccurate.

To make sense of the sheer infinity of reality, we use models, which essentially look at reality and say: this part of reality is important, and the rest doesn’t matter. This is of course quite useful, and many models we use are quite accurate, but all models fall short of perfectly capturing that which they model. The key to building a good model is deducing which aspects of reality matter, and it is important to note that this decision happens outside the model itself. Choosing what parts of reality to include in one’s model is where assumption enters the process. The person creating the model to a degree arbitrarily determines what part of reality does and does not matter.

The arbitrariness can be tempered by comparison of the model to reality. If the model fails to predict reality at all, one can safely conclude that the inherent assumptions of the model are untrue. Counter-intuitively, models are the most dangerous to truth when they are most accurate – accurate models can lull one into a false sense of security, a false belief that the model completely represents reality as it is. When this happens the assumptions that lie at the base of the model are no longer noticed. A very huge and tragic example of this is the assumption that underlay the formula that spurred the housing market bubble and crash of 2008.

Using models is unavoidable, nor should they be avoided. However we should strive to be aware of the assumptions that underlie our models, as our starting premises will inevitably color the understanding our model produces. When we understand our models and their assumptions, they are a powerful tool for us. When we accept a model blindly without questioning its underlying assumptions, the model controls us.

I write this post to provide a base for my further ideas. I will be as diligent as possible to declare what assumptions I make in my thinking, this post itself being part of that diligence. All ideas I put forth on this blog are of course models, and thus are not perfect representations of how things are and should be examined critically. This post, along with that on critical thinking, are my boilerplate entreaties that you examine my ideas on their own merit and not just take my word for them. That being said, I believe what I have to say has value and truth, or I would not waste my time writing it nor your time reading it.

SYMBOLS AND TRUTH

Language is a system of symbols that we call words. Words (and all symbols) are abstractions. The word “dog” is not a dog. But hearing (or reading) it activates the symbol interpreting system in your brain and brings to mind your personal understanding of what a dog is. Because this happens, if I tell you “I have a dog.” you understand that I have a four legged canine animal companion.

But the symbol “dog” can never capture the reality of an actual dog- it’s loyalty, friendship, playfulness, warmth, etc. Likewise any word is not the thing itself. This becomes obvious if we think about a dictionary. A dictionary defines each word, but it does so in terms of other words. Each definition is ultimately circular in nature. Wikipedia has a list of extreme examples of this.

This is because of another aspect of the symbolic nature of words: they are arbitrary. There is nothing in particular about the word “dog” that suggests an actual dog. Hence different languages each having different words that all mean dog. (There are some words that do appear to be less arbitrary than most. For example, the words for Mother and Father are eerily similar in most languages.) Words gain their meaning through association with personal experience. When you hold, pet, smell, and play with a dog and someone tells you this is a dog you associate the experience you are having with the word “dog”. As you encounter more dogs you learn to associate the word “dog” to a general class of animal. It is through association with personal, subjective, experience that arbitrary sounds gain their meaning.

Because symbols are abstractions they can be manipulated in ways that are independent of reality. Thus if I write “flying dog”, despite no such animal existing you can still understand my meaning and imagine a dog that can fly.

Now philosophers have always debated the nature of truth and probably always will. I suspect that turning words back onto themselves – using words to establish criteria to evaluate other words – will never be completely satisfactory due to the nature of symbols themselves. Because symbols are abstractions they cannot encompass even the tiniest piece of reality wholly. As George E. P. Box said “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” As you can see, relating this phrase to the concept of truthfulness itself results in a recursive unresolvable pattern.

Putting that aside, I am going to put forth a definition of truth that is probably not novel, but that at least I have not heard of elsewhere. Truth might most usefully be defined as the degree to which a given symbolic representation matches one’s personal, subjective experience of reality. If I tell you “That black bear is eating those berries.” and you see that I am pointing to a bear that is black and is eating berries then my sentence – my symbolic representation – matches your subjective experience fully and thus is wholly true.

Let’s digress for a moment. An aspect of symbols that can introduce confusion into communication is that the same symbol can represent more than one thing, or conversely that various symbols can represent one and the same thing. Perhaps the bear that is eating the berries is a Sloth Bear, which is in fact black. But you could absolutely interpret my same sentence to mean that the bear in question is an American Black Bear – incredibly common in North America. Without some outside consideration, it is not possible to know from my words alone whether I mean a bear of the color black or a member of the species Ursus americanus. Likewise a sugary, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage may be referred to as soda, pop, a soft drink, sodapop, or even coke (meaning any brand, not just Coke), all different and yet equally valid. To resolve either of these confusions one must either seek additional information (ask a clarifying question), utilize another medium of communication such as body language or tone of voice, or make an assumption as to their meaning.

Returning to the concept of truth, there are some interesting consequences of the definition I have put forth. Most notably that all truth expressed in symbols is necessarily subjective. This is currently a very radical statement, which I will give its own full treatment in a later post. Another is that a person can only understand a system of symbols – a theory or model – if it maps to experiences they have had. One can read about being in space, but it is an empty understanding until one actually experiences weightlessness for themselves.

I write this post to establish a foundation to the ideas I will later espouse. One most certainly can go much further that this, and explore how symbol relates to the senses, emotion, and even our physiology, but I think that unnecessary for the scope of this blog. I will go no further than the symbol and think it sufficient to explain the foundation for higher levels of understanding.

CRITICAL THINKING

The unexamined life is not worth living. -Socrates

I am writing a post about something as mundane as critical thinking – which already has entire websites and foundations devoted to spreading its gospel – because it is what has led me to my current understanding of the world. I hold many ideas that are not widely held, ideas which have lead me to choosing an unconventional lifestyle and are the basis of this blog. It is critical thinking – particularly challenging assumptions – that gives me the courage to go against conventional wisdom and forgo pursuing a career and the traditional trappings of success.

Likewise I think it is only through others thinking critically that they might come to see what I believe to be the grave problems facing our world. Looking only at the surface one is led to believe that while things aren’t perfect they’re getting better and the problems we do have will eventually be solved. This does not inspire action or change, it enables complacency and invites more of the same of what has led us into an increasingly untenable position as a species. To see beyond what is presented to us by the powers that be takes effort and the desire to do so. And thinking critically.

Critical thinking is the mental process of evaluating or analyzing information. This process is crucial because there is so much information in the world and much of it is partial or just plain untrue. Information we accept as true becomes a belief, and our beliefs shape our actions. In order to be able to be responsible for our actions we must be responsible for our beliefs. Taking personal responsibility for one’s beliefs is a huge part of being a mature human being and doing so requires critical thinking. As Socrates says, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

This is why reading is so valuable. It exposes you to new ideas and new points of view and encourages you to evaluate them on their own merits as well as how they relate to beliefs you currently hold. It is for this very reason that books get banned and burned. New ideas can be disruptive to, and cause one to question, the status quo. This is not appreciated by those who have a vested interest in the Way Things Are. But the truth is not scared of the lie, nor of the smaller truth, and is happily incorporated into the bigger one, and hide it though we may always seems to out. As we grow in our understanding, so do we grow in our being.

From criticalthinking.org:

“Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior”

The extremely difficult part of it is #2 – the application of intellectual belief toward behavior. It is one thing to believe in human-caused global warming, it is an entirely different thing to give up a car while living in Suburbia. I should know because I found it impossible. Despite having roughly the same understanding of the world for many years, until now I have been able to make only superficial changes in my lifestyle to align it with my beliefs.

Take again for example climate change. Despite 97% of scientists whose entire careers have been devoted to studying the phenomenon saying that human-caused climate change is real, somehow we collectively act as if this is a point up for debate. We have U.S. Senators bringing snowballs into Congress to prove global warming is untrue. This is because to accept human-caused climate as real, and more importantly to act as if it is real, would require monumental changes in the way the world is run – the global equivalent of me giving up my car in suburbia. Those in power don’t want the ways things are done to be changed and so there is a vested interest in keeping it an open question, from being accepted as fact. Which is why Exxon knew of climate change in 1981 but funded deniers for 27 more years afterwards, to protect their bottom line at the expense of us all.

In a more general sense, I am convinced that those in power lack the motivation to make the changes necessary to save our world from coming hardship. It is up to the each of us. So I encourage you to question what you are told, and what you currently believe. I also encourage you to send me a message if you disagree with anything you find on this blog. While I, like most everyone, like to be “right”, I like most to be Right. Thus I am thankful to be shown when I hold an incorrect belief and happily admit when I am mistaken.

I leave you with the Kalama sutta:

Do not believe anything on mere hearsay.
Do not believe in traditions merely because they are old and have been handed down for many generations and in many places.
Do not believe anything because you are shown the written testimony of some ancient sage.
Do not believe in what you have fancied, thinking that, because it is extraordinary, it must have been inspired by a god or other wonderful being.
Do not believe anything merely because presumption is in its favor, or because the custom of many years inclines you to take it as true.
Do not believe anything merely on the authority of your teachers and priests.

But, whatever, after thorough investigation and reflection, you find to agree with reason and experience, as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all and of the world at large, accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it.


-Buddha

Originally published July 11, 2015