4.02.2020

How Nature Adjusts

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This Coronavirus Pandemic we are in contains a lot of important information, if people are awake enough to analyze it.

Humanity has overpopulated the Earth. When any animal species overpopulates, including humans, nature has built in mechanisms to "adjust" the situation.

Human overpopulation has resulted in livestock overpopulation, because humans like to eat more animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs than they probably should, from an evolutionary perspective.

In order to sustain both human and food-animal populations, humans have had to cultivate vast areas of land for growing the corn and soybeans used to feed livestock. Yes, most corn and soy grown in the American Midwest as "food" is used to feed livestock. Some of it goes to make ethanol, corn syrup, and soybean oil (SOURCE). Humans use their big brains to design farming systems that allow for increased yields of feed crops for animals, which allows for more animals to be grown for people food (meat, eggs, and dairy).

But with all that land devoted to growing animal feed, there's not a lot of room left for the actual animals. So they are crammed into confined spaces and artificially kept alive until they can be killed and turned into human edibles. The conditions in these factory farms and industrial feedlots are inhumane and largely unregulated (there simply are not enough humans employed as regulators to oversee the vast number of production facilities, so they do it by targeted sampling, and a lot gets overlooked). If a pathogen enters these stressed and vulnerable animal populations, it can spread quickly and thrive. Eventually, these pathogens mutate in ways that allow them to spread and thrive even better, and sometimes they mutate in a way that allows them to spread to humans. Then we have disease epidemics and pandemics, like this COVID-19 one (and SARS and MERS and swine/bird flus).

It really is that simple. Pathogens are one of nature's ways of moderating unchecked population growth. Human-made climate change and its associated natural disasters are another, more specific to unchecked human population growth. It would be nice to think there is a friendly deity "up there" looking out for us, and I'm not going to try to convince anyone there isn't, but there isn't. And even if there were, (S)He's a dick. Nature alone has built in controls that govern equilibrium in the Earth's biosphere. No deity required.

Indirectly, these pandemics exacerbate the problem as well. The only way this massive production of animal-based foods is sustainable is because of technological advancements in genetics and farming. I don't think many people realize how devastating this viral pandemic is from the standpoint of human progress. The economy has ground to a halt. That means scientific and technological advancements have ground to a halt, along with cutting-edge academic research that drives innovation and moves humanity forward. That means growth in the technology-driven food system stops too. It also means regulation of the food industry has stopped. Are you putting all of that together in your mind? Because I really don't want to have to spell it out for you. OK, I will...it's a PERFECT STORM OF BAD THINGS for the sustainability of the Earth's current human population.

This COVID-19 virus is only killing thousands of people. But if we don't have some hard discussions about the way we are doing things as a species, it's only a matter of time before a viral pandemic kills millions. This one might even top out at over a million deaths globally, before all is said and done.

The ironic thing about this pandemic is that, from a natural selection standpoint, it's doing everything right. The people it is killing are the ones who are already chronically sick or unwell or weak. It's "culling the herd," to use more brutal Darwinistic terminology. I just read this morning that Coronavirus deaths in younger demographics aged 25 to 50 are linked to obesity (also epidemic in some places, not coincidentally the Midwest, where people are fattened on bacon, cheese, and steak) (SOURCE).

My proposed solution is a hard one to swallow (pun totally intended), individually and collectively as a society. We need to all eat less meat, eggs, and dairy, and more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. This can be partially done with market forces, I believe. If the industrial food companies were properly regulated and if it's top regulators were not selected from the upper management of those very companies (fox...hen house...you get the picture), the cost of animal-based foods would go up and people on a budget would eat less of it (SOURCE). The other necessary but not sufficient component, I think, is that individuals need to take ownership of their food choices. It's easy to eat meat when you are far removed from the unethical brutality of how it is made and don't have to think about it. Some people (largely the affluent people) make themselves feel better about this by buying locally produced, organic meat, eggs, and dairy that they think is happily roaming in pleasant pastures before being slaughtered for the enjoyment of people. Yes, sentient animals are still getting killed to feed people. It needs to go further. People need to make a choice to stop eating animals. Not everyone. But a lot of people need to make that choice for the betterment of humanity. It doesn't have to happen overnight. But it has to happen fast enough to keep pace with overpopulation of both humans and the animals that feed them. I don't know if it will or if it won't. But if it doesn't, then we all need to prepare for regularly occurring "pandemic seasons" on a bigger scale than what we have seen so far.

Here's a fun fact. It takes 10 times (estimates range from two to 20 times) more land area to grow an animal that is eaten for food than it does to grow the same amount of plant-based food (fruits and veggies) (SOURCE). That means if the whole planet decided to go vegan tomorrow, all that land now devoted to corn and soybeans could go toward growing fruits and veggies for direct human consumption, without any adjustment in the current global human population. That would allow for the human population to continue to grow sustainably for a long time. If human dietary patterns continue as they are today, human growth is not sustainable for very much longer.

We are seeing the beginning of that now.

Here are some resources if you want to learn more (click the links):

1. Farming Animals Vs. Farming Plants – A Comparison.
2. Is the Livestock Industry Destroying the Planet? (Smithsonian)
3. The opportunity cost of animal based diets exceeds all food losses.
4. Impact of a vegan agricultural system on land use (Australia).
5. Animal-based Foods are More Resource-Intensive than Plant-Based Foods (WRI).
6. How much of the world’s land would we need in order to feed the global population with the average diet of a given country?
7. Global hunger: The more meat we eat, the fewer people we can feed.

3.29.2020

What the Coronavirus Pandemic Teaches Us

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First, watch this video.

It looks like going forward, the new normal for humanity will be the addition of a 5th "pandemic" season each year, inserted in between late winter and early spring. That is, unless we collectively all do some serious soul searching about the ecological consequences of industrial animal food production, the source of several of the most recent outbreaks of infectious illnesses that transferred from cultivated live animals to people. It almost feels like some sort of karmic payback in a way. And maybe it is, I don't know. This blog is based on science, not speculation on the unknown.

There's no question that large scale animal production for food yields pathogens. They don't always transition from livestock to humans, but they sometimes do. And, as humans keep scaling up livestock operations to manufacture more meat, dairy, and eggs for human consumption, both the  risk and frequency of more pandemics increase. One obvious solution to this problem is to collectively reduce the demand for and supply of meat in our global society. How can that be accomplished?

Sadly, very few people are going to relinquish their desire to eat animal flesh and meat by-products, notwithstanding the health, ecological, and ethical benefits of doing so. So, that's not a realistic option at present. Perhaps a handful of people might self educate on the individual and ecological dangers of eating meat, and thus reduce or eliminate their consumption of it. But meat is strongly culturally associated with affluence, and everyone wants to be - or at least be perceived to be - affluent.

A somewhat more viable potential solution might be to more strictly regulate and clean up agricultural livestock production operations. That would drive up the cost of animal-based food production, which would be passed on to consumers as more expensive meat, dairy, and eggs. There would be a lot of outcry from industry and the less informed public about this. Meat would still be available in this model, but supply might decrease as cost drove down demand. But there are a couple of issues with this model. First, systemic homeostasis (the tendency of a system to not want to change) would resist any such positive regulatory changes occurring. But with some popular and political will, it could happen gradually over time. Plant eaters will have to be a very vocal minority to shift the dialogue on this and it may be a long time coming. Second, as described in the video above, exotic wildlife wet markets like the one in Wuhan China that gave rise to COVID-19 are driven by the most affluent, those who can afford to eat meat no matter how much it costs. A mindset shift is needed whereby veganism becomes the diet of affluence, rather than carnivory.

Without political will though, we are left with only one remaining option. That is to do nothing and all get used to a couple of months of quarantine early in the New Year. Every year!

Some may read this post and say it's sensationalistic, irrational, overstated, cynical, or just plain wrong. I hope I am wrong, I really do. But I don't think COVID-19 is a rare fluke. The evidence is clear (see video link above) that we have been trending toward this for years. We have a food system that confines sick animals together with large numbers of other animals, thus creating a ripe breeding ground for pathogens that can mutate and jump from animals to people. I will leave this post here and if there are no future pandemics, everyone please call me out on it. Unfortunately, I think this post will prove prophetic.

In closing, the thing about a plant based diet is that plants are so biologically different from animals that plant pathogens really have no way of infecting people. The biochemistry of plant pathogens is designed to get them into plant cells, where they reproduce. Plant cells are biochemically very different from animal cells. Additionally, it takes far less land area to grow plants for direct human consumption than it does to grow plants to feed livestock for direct human consumption. So plant foods are far less ecologically damaging. All those corn and soybean fields in the Midwest...those are not for people to eat! Most of it goes to feed livestock. Some of it goes to make food additives like corn syrup and soybean oil. Some goes to make ethanol for cars. But if you've ever seen an ear of feed corn, it is very nasty and inedible stuff indeed. I'd love to see industrial farms in the Midwest transition to sustainable plant food production. If every farm became a CSA, serving their local communities, that might just do the trick, even if some nominal and well-regulated animal food production continued.

The logic of carnivores would be similar to that of people who don't conserve natural resources, also sometimes called the "3rd Person Perspective," which posits: "Although I agree that other people must change to solve this problem, I do not personally contribute much to this problem, so I take little or no responsibility for the problem." Or more simply put: "If other people aren't going to change, why should I?"

Anyway, I hope you are all staying safe and healthy this pandemic season. Let's hope it ends soon.

Please leave a comment.

3.15.2020

Think Positive During the Pandemic

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During this ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, it's all too easy to get bogged down in negative thinking about the things you can't do or can't control. That can cause a lot of anxiety and possibly depression. It may even weaken your immune system, making you more prone to get and suffer from the illness.

Instead, it's important to consider some of the positives, things you can do and can control. Give those things equal weight to avoid ruminating on negatives.

It's true that we need to avoid other people for a few weeks or months, as much as possible, to "flatten the curve," as they say in the epidemiological vernacular (slow the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease). In my opinion, that's not such a bad thing. A lot of people can be pretty annoying, even if they aren't contagious (yet). Use the extra alone time to improve yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually, so that when you do once again interact with people, you'll be a better and less annoying person yourself. Read some books, binge some good TV shows, research some interesting topics online, learn or improve at a hobby, exercise, eat healthy, and/or get to know your immediate family a little better. You'd be amazed how little you probably know about your loved ones.

HERE are some other ideas to keep busy while the world is on lockdownhttps://thebossmagazine.com/coronavirus-things-to-do

You probably know by now that you can order groceries online and have them delivered to your house in a lot of places. Deborah and I have been using these services a lot, even before the pandemic. We don't have to wait in any checkout lines and we tend not to impulse buy things we don't need as much, so we actually save a lot of money, notwithstanding the delivery charge. Now that there is a pandemic, we do this to avoid unnecessary exposure to communicable pathogens as well.

If you can work from home (telecommute), do it! How cool is it not to have to drive to a workplace and be micromanaged by your douchey boss? I realize not everyone has a douchey boss, but most people do. If you aren't one of them, be grateful about that. That's huge! But still stay away from your workplace to avoid spreading diseases. I work at a mental health clinic, which typically involves face to face interactions with clients. Thanks to modern technology, we are adopting a teletherapy model for a few weeks, whereby clients will connect with therapists via HIPAA compliant electronic media. Many clients are actually happy that they can access mental health care without having to leave home. In fact, it's a model that might gain some momentum thanks to this viral pandemic. I don't live too far from the clinic at which I administer marriage and family therapy, but I still wouldn't mind doing it from the comfort of my study at home.

I went outside for a four mile power walk this afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the bike path was pretty active with pedestrians, runners, and cyclists. Everyone seemed to be in a fairly good mood and most people greeted me with a nod or a wave. They may have even said something nice, but I had my noise cancellation earbuds in, so who knows? It was a little chilly out, but I bundled up. And let me tell you, nothing beats a brisk walk in the out of doors. Deborah and I have a gym membership, but we generally don't use it during the nice weather months. The not-so-nice-weather months are not quite behind us yet, but the pandemic has pushed up the transition to out of doors exercise a little prematurely.

I'm going to spend the hiatus from the world building my marriage and family therapy private practice, Palm Tree Family Therapy, which launches in a couple months. We're accepting new clients now, but we won't schedule any appointments until May. And yes, we can do teletherapy or in-person therapy, whatever clients want.

In conclusion, embrace the socio-economic changes mandated by the Coronavirus. It's necessary to fight the spread of the virus, but it's not so bad for our work/life balance either.