L and beyond

Life on Vancouver Island would be relatively inexpensive if one could survive on gasoline and red meat. Both products are, by European standards, remarkably cheap and abundant.  Witness the corresponding love affair with oversized pickup trucks and propane-fired barbecue grills, advertisements for which fill the local papers.

(Getting off and on said island, on the other hand, is dastardly expensive. Is there a word in the field of economics – other than “stupid” – for a business venture that has a monopoly and yet somehow manages to price itself out of the market?  BC Ferries is well on the way to realizing this dubious distinction.  A story for another time.)

Next month I turn 50.  It’s not as if I suddenly feel old or anything but, I have to admit, this marker in life has thrown me into a bit of introspection.  A few days ago I found myself making a mental list of my numerous faults and wondering if my life really would be better if I could keep them in check on a day to day basis.  I believe it would.  I also made a mental list of my positive character traits and habits, just to be fair.  Oddly, I didn’t venture to consider if my life would be better without them…

Anyway, I arrived at the question of gasoline and red meat. Growing up as I did in the 1970s I had my fill of road trips and hamburgers, and I cannot remember these ever being topics for my ethical musings as they are today.  I do recall we were all somewhat surprised to discover that sheiks from unknown places, wearing rings and those things, actually had a say in determining gas prices.  These were in the first place political considerations, not ethical.  Today, though, in a world of heightened awareness and concern about climate change, environmental impacts, healthy eating and the treatment of animals, “gas and meat” are contenders among subjects which give me pause.

I’m not numbered among those Christians who believe it doesn’t matter if we ruin the planet because, well, in the end God is going to evacuate us all out of here and bomb the place himself. This attitude is akin to borrowing one’s neighbors’ nice car for the weekend, trashing it, and telling them it doesn’t matter because eventually it will end up on the trash heap one day anyway. When we’ve been entrusted with something we should do our best to take good care of it.

Roughly 70 percent of antibiotics consumed in the USA are done so by animals. A similar rate applies to other developed countries. Animals treated badly tend to get sick and die. Not good for business.  So, because our animals are mostly treated badly during the time we raise them for slaughter, we keep them from getting sick by pumping them full of antibiotics. It makes production possible on an “inhumane” scale. And it makes meat cheap.  I’m not a vegetarian, nor do I want to become one, but increasingly I wonder if I shouldn’t limit my meat intake to animals I know have had a decent life and aren’t part of an out-of-whack food chain.  What if I, for conscience sake, only ate meat products from animals for which I had some assurance that they lived a relatively happy animal life and died fairly instantaneously.  Yes, I would feel better, even if my pocketbook has to bear the burden for my conscience.  And I will end up eating less meat, which my doctor says is good for me.

Onward to gas.  Petroleum is an even greater sacred cow.  Civilization as we know it today is largely built and maintained on petroleum and the internal combustion engine. And even after a century of unrestrained use, petroleum and its sister fuels are available in vast quantities (dire predictions of peak-ists aside).  Gas is bountiful, inexpensive, and amazingly efficient (7,000 calories in a liter); it’s an amazing substance that has enriched our lives in so many ways.  So what’s the problem?

Well, even though a few climate scientists have been silly or downright naughty, and even though the earth is likely in a warming pattern anyway, I can’t ignore the evidence that human activity is at least contributing to the acceleration of a situation that is going to make life on earth even more of a struggle for large swathes of humanity.  And we don’t have to make such a large negative contribution if we don’t want to.  We now have options.   If we tried, we could fairly easily reduce our individual contributions toward this sad outcome.  A remedy is readily available in a variety of energy-generating solutions, be it by wind, solar, or water resources.  Or the bicycle.  Increasingly the options are such that we don’t have to add so-called greenhouse gases to the environment if we choose not to.  And if the prophets of doom are all wrong in the first place?  Again, nothing lost; I end up with a healthier lifestyle for myself anyway.

Some of the things I’ve been thinking about as I approach “L”.

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