The Late Historian Who Predicted The Years of War After September 11
This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.
In December 2002, finishing the introduction to his as-yet-unpublished book The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, Jonathan Schell wrote that the twentieth century was the era in which violence outgrew the war system that had once housed it and became "dysfunctional as a political instrument. Increasingly, it destroys the ends for which it is employed, killing the user as well as his victim. It has become the path to hell on earth and the end of the earth. This is the lesson of the Somme and Verdun, of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of Vorkuta and Kolyma; and it is the lesson, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." More than a decade later, that remains a crucial, if barely noticed, lesson of our moment. Jonathan Schell died this March, but he left behind a legacy of reporting and thinking—from The Real War and The Fate of the Earth to The Unconquerable World—about just how, as the power to destroy ratcheted up, war left its traditional boundaries, and what that has meant for us (as well as, potentially, for worlds to come). In The Unconquerable World, published just before the Bush invasion of Iraq, he went in search of other paths of change, including the nonviolent one, and in doing so he essentially imagined the Arab Spring and caught the essence of both the horrors and possibilities available to us in hard-headed ways that were both prophetic and moving. Today, partly in honor of his memory (and my memory of him) and partly because I believe his sense of how our world worked then and still works was so acute, this website offers a selection from that book. Consider it a grim walk down post-9/11 Memory Lane, a moment when Washington chose force as its path to... well, we now know (as Schell foresaw then) that it was indeed a path to hell.
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An Extreme Court Decision Threatens Obamacare
Talk about a David and Goliath case. On Monday, a guy from West Virginia who doesn't want to pay $21 a year for health insurance scored a victory over the Obama administration in a lawsuit that could deprive nearly 5 million Americans of their newly won health care.
In a 2-1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sided with plaintiff David Klemencic and gutted a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that provides premium subsidies to millions of low-income Americans. The decision in Halbig v Burwell, a case spearheaded by a battery of conservative groups who backed Klemencic and his co-plaintiffs (many of whom are GOP political operatives), is based on what is essentially a typo in the ACA. The opinion is a symptom of what happens when a dysfunctional Congress can't manage to do even the simplest part of its job, such as correcting routine drafting errors in legislation.
Hours later, though, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, issued a diametrically opposed decision affirming Obamacare and perhaps setting up a future battle before the Supreme Court.
Here's the backstory, as I reported last winter:
When Congress wrote the ACA, it said that premium subsidies would be available for certain qualifying citizens who were "enrolled through an Exchange established by the State." (Emphasis added.) The law doesn't say that those subsidies are available to people in the 34 states that declined to set up exchanges, where residents must utilize the now-infamously buggy Healthcare.gov, the federal exchange.
That's where Obamacare opponents see a fatal flaw in the law. The plaintiffs in Halbig claim that they won't be eligible for tax credits because their states didn't start an exchange, so they won't be able to afford insurance. As a result, they argue that they'll be subject to the fine for not buying insurance, or to avoid the fine, they'll have to pay a lot for insurance they don't want. They want the court to block the IRS from implementing the law...
The Obama administration argues that the language Halbig's case is premised on is merely a drafting error common in legislation and routinely reconciled after passage. (Indeed, if Congress were functioning normally, such copy mistake would have been corrected by now, but given the level of polarization in that body, it's been impossible to make such fixes that were once routine.) An amicus brief in the case filed by Families USA, a nonprofit health care advocacy group helping the administration combat some of the bad PR surrounding Obamacare, argues that the plaintiffs are disregarding the vast body of evidence showing that Congress intended for all low-income Americans to be eligible for tax subsidies, regardless of which exchange they used to purchase insurance.
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A 70-Year-Old Reflects On the So-Called "American Century"
This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.
* Seventy-three years ago, on February 17, 1941, as a second devastating global war approached, Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life magazines, called on his countrymen to "create the first great American Century." Luce died in 1967 at age 69. Life, the pictorial magazine no home would have been without in my 1950s childhood, ceased to exist as a weekly in 1972 and as a monthly in 2000; Time, which launched his career as a media mogul, is still wobbling on, a shadow of its former self. No one today could claim that this is Time's century, or the American Century, or perhaps anyone else's. Even the greatest empires now seem to have shortened lifespans. The Soviet Century, after all, barely lasted seven decades. Of course, only the rarest among us live to be 100, which means that at 70, like Time, I'm undoubtedly beginning to wobble, too.
* The other day I sat down with an old friend, a law professor who started telling me about his students. What he said aged me instantly. They're so young, he pointed out, that their parents didn't even come of age during the Vietnam War. For them, he added, that war is what World War I was to us. He might as well have mentioned the Mongol conquests or the War of the Roses. We're talking about the white-haired guys riding in the open cars in Veteran's Day parades when I was a boy. And now, it seems, I'm them.
* In March 1976, accompanied by two friends, my wife and I got married at City Hall in San Francisco, and then adjourned to a Chinese restaurant for a dim sum lunch. If, while I was settling our bill of perhaps $30, you had told me that, almost half a century in the future, marriage would be an annual $40 billion dollar business, that official couplings would be preceded by elaborate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and that there would be such a thing as destination weddings, I would have assumed you were clueless about the future. On that score at least, the nature of the world to come was self-evident and elaborate weddings of any sort weren't going to be part of it.
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The Strange Relationship Between Global Warming Denial and?Speaking English
Here in the United States, we fret a lot about global warming denial. Not only is it a dangerous delusion, it's an incredibly prevalent one. Depending on your survey instrument of choice, we regularly learn that substantial minorities of Americans deny, or are skeptical of, the science of climate change.
The global picture, however, is quite different. For instance, recently the UK-based market research firm Ipsos MORI released its "Global Trends 2014" report, which included a number of survey questions on the environment asked across 20 countries. (h/t Leo Hickman). And when it came to climate change, the result was very telling:
Note that these results are not perfectly comparable across countries, because the data were gathered online, and Ipsos MORI cautions that for developing countries like India and China, "the results should be viewed as representative of a more affluent and 'connected' population."
Nonetheless, some pretty significant patterns are apparent. Perhaps most notably: Not only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile, is the seventh worst.
What do these four nations have in common? They all speak the language of Shakespeare.
Why would that be? After all, presumably there is nothing about English, in and of itself, that predisposes you to climate change denial. Words and phrases like "doubt," "natural causes," "climate models," and other skeptic mots are readily available in other languages. So what's the real cause?
One possible answer is that it's all about the political ideologies prevalent in these four countries.
"I do not find these results surprising," says Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who has extensively studied the climate denial movement. "It's the countries where neo-liberalism is most hegemonic and with strong neo-liberal regimes (both in power and lurking on the sidelines to retake power) that have bred the most active denial campaigns—US, UK, Australia and now Canada. And the messages employed by these campaigns filter via the media and political elites to the public, especially the ideologically receptive portions." (Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy centered on the importance of free markets and broadly opposed to big government interventions.)
Indeed, the English language media in three of these four countries are linked together by a single individual: Rupert Murdoch. An apparent climate skeptic or lukewarmer, Murdoch is the chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox. (You can watch him express his climate views here.) Some of the media outlets subsumed by the two conglomerates that he heads are responsible for quite a lot of English language climate skepticism and denial.
In the US, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal lead the way; research shows that Fox watching increases distrust of climate scientists. (You can also catch Fox News in Canada.) In Australia, a recent study found that slightly under a third of climate-related articles in 10 top Australian newspapers "did not accept" the scientific consensus on climate change, and that News Corp papers—the Australian, the Herald Sun, and the Daily Telegraph—were particular hotbeds of skepticism. "The Australian represents climate science as matter of opinion or debate rather than as a field for inquiry and investigation like all scientific fields," noted the study.
And then there's the UK. A 2010 academic study found that while News Corp outlets in this country from 1997 to 2007 did not produce as much strident climate skepticism as did their counterparts in the US and Australia, "the Sun newspaper offered a place for scornful skeptics on its opinion pages as did The Times and Sunday Times to a lesser extent." (There are also other outlets in the UK, such as the Daily Mail, that feature plenty of skepticism but aren't owned by News Corp.)
Thus, while there may not be anything inherent to the English language that impels climate denial, the fact that English language media are such a major source of that denial may in effect create a language barrier.
And media aren't the only reason that denialist arguments are more readily available in the English language. There's also the Anglophone nations' concentration of climate "skeptic" think tanks, which provide the arguments and rationalizations necessary to feed this anti-science position. According to a study in Climatic Change earlier this year, the US is home to 91 different organizations (think tanks, advocacy groups, and trade associations) that collectively comprise a "climate change counter-movement." The annual funding of these organizations, collectively, is "just over $900 million." That is a truly massive amount of English-speaking climate "skeptic" activity, and while the study was limited to the US, it is hard to imagine that anything comparable exists in non-English speaking countries.
Ben Page, the chief executive of Ipsos MORI (which released the data) adds another possible causative factor behind the survey's results, noting that environmental concern is very high in China today, due to the omnipresent conditions of environmental pollution. By contrast, that's not a part of your everyday experience in England or Australia. "In many surveys in China, environment is the top concern," Page comments. "In contrast, in the west, it's a long way down the list behind the economy and crime."
Whatever the precise concatenation of causes, the evidence seems clear. We English speakers have a special problem when it comes to understanding and accepting climate science. In language, we're Anglophones; but in climate science, we're a bunch of Anglophonies.
Inside Anonymous' Cyberwar Against the Israeli Government
The shadowy hacker collective known as Anonymous has announced it will launch a round of cyber-attacks this Friday against the Israeli government, in retaliation for Israel's ongoing military intervention in Gaza. This onslaught would add to a wave of cyber assaults staged in recent weeks by hackers largely from the Middle East, Asia, and South America, who are supporting "OpSaveGaza," an Anonymous-backed campaign targeting Israeli government websites that has succeeded in temporarily taking down the sites of the Israeli defense ministry and the Tel Aviv police department.
This isn't the first time Anonymous has zeroed in on Israel; the collective has been launching cyber-attacks against the country for several years, with mixed results. "As a collective 'Anonymous' does not hate Israel, it hates that Israel's government is committing genocide & slaughtering unarmed people in Gaza to obtain more land at the border," an Anonymous spokesperson, using the Twitter handle @YourAnonCentral, tells Mother Jones. The spokesperson notes that there has never been any Anonymous action taken against Palestinian targets, including Hamas, the outfit governing Gaza and launching rocket attacks against Israel.
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California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste, Warning it May Be Contaminating Aquifers
This story was originally published on ProPublica.
California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state's drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.
The state's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal "poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources." The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.
The action comes as California's agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone. The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis.
The problem is that at least 100 of the state's aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.
"The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt," said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation in an email.
A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the US Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.
Those are the aquifers at issue today. The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the US EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined. They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws. Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981.
State officials emphasized to ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question. To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.
"We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected," wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.
Bohlen said his office was acting "out of an abundance of caution," and a spokesperson said that the state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities it was conducting according to California's fracking law passed late last year, which required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.
California officials have long been under fire for their injection well practices, a waste disposal program that the state runs according to federal law and under a sort of license—called "primacy"—given to it by the EPA.
For one, experts say that aquifers the states and the EPA once thought would never be needed may soon become important sources of water as the climate changes and technology reduces the cost of pumping it from deep underground and treating it for consumption. Indeed, towns in Wyoming and Texas—two states also suffering long-term droughts—are pumping, treating, then delivering drinking water to taps from aquifers which would be considered unusable under California state regulations governing the oil and gas industry.
In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California's injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state's authority could be revoked.
Among the issues, California and the federal government disagree about what type of water is worth protecting in the first place, with California law only protecting a fraction of the waters that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires.
The EPA's report, commissioned from outside consultants, also said that California regulators routinely failed to adequately examine the geology around an injection well to ensure that fluids pumped into it would not leak underground and contaminate drinking water aquifers. The report found that state inspectors often allowed injection at pressures that exceeded the capabilities of the wells and thus risked cracking the surrounding rock and spreading contaminants. Several accidents in recent years in California involved injected waste or injected steam leaking back out of abandoned wells, or blowing out of the ground and creating sinkholes, including one 2011 incident that killed an oil worker.
The exemptions and other failings, said Damon Nagami, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in an email, are "especially disturbing" in a state that has been keenly aware of severe water constraints for more than a century and is now suffering from a crippling drought. "Our drinking water sources must be protected and preserved for the precious resources they are, not sacrificed as a garbage dump for the oil and gas industry."
Still, three years after the EPA's report, California has not yet completed its review of its underground injection program, according to state officials. The scrutiny of the wells surrounding Bakersfield may be the start.
Car Loans Could Be the Next Subprime Crisis. Thanks, Republicans!
Would you buy a subprime-loan crisis from this man? A new New York Times investigation reveals that used car dealers are doling out giant loans to millions of poor Americans with bad credit. Many of these dealers are using the same negligent lending tactics that subprime mortgage lenders used before the 2008 financial crisis, including ignoring or fabricating information about borrowers' income, employment, and ability to repay.
Even though this new subprime market is a fraction of the size of the mortgage market, the used-car loan bubble poses substantial risks to banks still recovering from the recession. Delinquent loans are piling up. Banks had to write off an average of $8,541 on each delinquent auto loan in the first three months of 2014, the Times reports. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a federal Wall Street regulator, has warned that banks are taking on too many low-quality auto loans. And it's not just banks that would be affected if too many used car loans go sour. Auto lenders are pooling bad loans just as subprime mortgage lenders did, and then slicing them up and selling them to investors including hedge funds and pension funds.
One of the main reasons car dealers are courting another subprime meltdown is that congressional Republicans pushed to amend the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in order to exempt auto dealers from oversight by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Granted, lawmakers from both parties were under lots of pressure from dealers as the massive legislation was being drafted. Between 2009 and 2010, the industry spent nearly $8.5 million on lobbying. The industry argued that because it was part of Main Street, not Wall Street, car dealers didn't need to be included in the Dodd-Frank bill, which was designed to prevent the kinds of high-finance shenanigans that caused the 2008 financial crisis.
The dealer exemption ultimately "made it into the House bill because Democrats jumped on board," says one consumer advocate who opposed the provision, "but Republicans were certainly the main driver behind the exclusion." Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), a former Orange County Saab dealer, proposed the amendment to Dodd-Frank that would exclude auto dealers—his former colleagues—from CFPB oversight. On October 22, 2009, the measure came up for a vote in the House financial services committee and passed 47 to 21. Twenty-eight out of twenty-nine Republicans voted in favor, as did 19 of 42 Democrats. The Senate's version of Dodd-Frank originally did not contain the Campbell amendment. But in May 2010, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas introduced a provision that would all but force his colleagues to accept the House's amendment when the two chambers met to hammer out a final bill.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Brownback repeated the industry's line. "There's not a single auto dealer on Wall Street," he said. "None of them. Not a one. You can go up there today and try to buy a car and you can't get one. These are Main Street businesses." The Brownback provision passed 60 to 30, with 37 Republicans, 22 Democrats, and 1 independent (Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut) voting in favor. The dealer exemption stayed in the final bill.
Car dealers are subject to other types of federal financial rules, but if it weren't for Campbell and Brownback's efforts, there'd be another watchdog overlooking shady auto dealers, consumer advocates say. The Federal Trade Commission has the authority to crack down on car dealers, but has not yet done so. The FTC is slower to act than the CFPB, advocates say, in part because Congress controls its funding. The CFPB is financed by the Federal Reserve. (The FTC declined to comment on whether it is investigating car dealers' negligent lending practices, but noted that the agency has previously taken action against dealers "for deceptive and unfair business practices.")
The CFPB can police dealers indirectly through its oversight of auto lenders who pay dealers a commission for making loans. But because the CFPB has no direct oversight of sketchy car dealers, "abuses continue for longer than they should," says Chris Kukla, the senior vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending. Lisa Donner, the executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, agrees. If Republicans hadn't gotten their way, "There'd be a supervisor paying attention in a different way. We might not be seeing what we are seeing now."
Here's Why Wall Street Reform Is Still in Limbo
Four years ago today, with a who's who of congressional Democrats standing over his shoulder, President Barack Obama signed into law the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, hailing it as the answer to preventing future financial meltdowns. "For years," the president said at the signing ceremony, "our financial sector was governed by antiquated and poorly enforced rules that allowed some to game the system and take risks that endangered the entire economy."
But, years later, much of Dodd-Frank has not been implemented and the risks to the economy remain. According to law firm Davis Polk, which has been tracking the law, just 52 percent of the rules mandated by Dodd-Frank have been finalized by federal regulators. Another 23 percent have been proposed but not yet ironed out, and regulators haven't even gotten around to crafting 96 required rules—24 percent of the total bill.
Much of Dodd-Frank remains to be implemented Davis Polk
Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, co-author of the law, isn't too concerned with the slow rollout. "Not all rules are equal, in the first place," he said. "In fact, the rules are being steadily approved. And it's also the case that the financial institutions are abiding by some of those rules in principle even before they're adopted, because if you're a large financial institution you're not going to try to take advantage of a little bit of a delay and then have to stop things when it happens."
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The Last Hope for Extending Long-Term Unemployment Insurance May Have Just Gone Poof
It's been seven months since Congress let long-term unemployment insurance benefits lapse, but last week only brought more bad news for the job seekers hoping that House Republicans might relent and allow a vote on extending benefits. When the House passed a temporary patch to the Highway Trust Fund on Tuesday, they tapped into an idea called pension smoothing to pay for the cost—an accounting trick that changes the formula companies use for contributing to pensions, but a necessary measure since Republicans in the House have refused to approve spending unless it's offset by new revenue. The only problem? That was the same mechanism Democrats had planned to use to pay for an unemployment insurance bill, leaving liberals at a loss for how to convince the GOP to get on board with an extension of unemployment benefits.
"The Republican majority says suffer some more, families, you deserve it," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said outside the Capitol last Wednesday afternoon. "Stop fiddling while Rome burns, while these folks have nowhere to go."
DeLauro was one of a string of speakers at the fifth Witness Wednesday event, a regular gathering convened on the Capitol lawn by the Center for Effective Government to highlight the stalled legislation. At the event, a series of Democratic House members—including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)—and the heads of various nonprofits read letters from unemployed Americans calling for Congressional action. But there was a distinct lack of unemployed people in attendance to speak for themselves; as a spokeswoman for the Center for Effective Government told me beforehand, it's a constituency that typically lacks the funds to travel to DC to press their cause. (There are plenty of unemployed people in DC, of course, but they also lack elected representation).
The absence of widespread public pressure has been part of Democrats' problem as they push for renewing benefits. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), the sponsor of the House's unemployment bill, told me he doesn't think Republicans will budge unless public pressure mounts. "People outside of Washington have to get engaged. We can't fix it alone."
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Slaughter-Free Milk Is Great for Cows, But Not the Environment
If you don't eat beef because you feel sorry for those cows in Chick-fil-A ads, then you probably shouldn't drink milk either. The typical male calf born to a dairy cow becomes veal. The typical female is milked for five years—a quarter of her natural lifetime—then sent to the abattoir to become pet food or low-grade hamburger meat. Elsie the Cow, Borden Dairy Company's famous cartoon logo, is smiling only because she doesn't realize that she's about to get euthanized with a cattle gun.
Yet if you're an ethical vegetarian who still can't bear to give up milk, you now have another option: slaughter-free dairy, which comes from farms where cows never get killed. Since 2011, the UK-based Ahimsa Dairy has offered slaughter free-milk and cheese to customers in London. In February, Pennsylvania's Gita Nagari Creamery, which has supplied no-kill milk to the local Hare Krishna community for many years, began offering it to the public through subscription and mail order—for a whopping $10 a gallon. The price includes a $2.50 cow retirement fee and $1.50 for "boy calf care." Less than half of its 60-head herd gets milked; the rest of the animals pull plows or spend their golden years lackadaisically chomping grass.
"For us, the cows or oxen or bulls are seen as extended family members," says Pari Jata, the co-president of Gita Nagari Creamery. "It's very important for us to protect them in their retirement. We take care of them just as one would take care of elderly parents in their old age."
The slaughter-free milk movement takes its cues from India, where many vegetarian Hindus drink milk but consider cows sacred animals that should never be consumed for meat. Yet increasing numbers of Gita Nagari and Ahimsa customers are Westerners who eschew meat for ethical reasons. Both dairies have considered selling their milk in stores; Ahimsa is in talks with a major retailer.
As vegetarianism gains popularity, slaughter-free milk could become a bona fide food trend—but there's a catch: It might take a toll on the environment. Cows are already the nation's single largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas produced by oil extraction, decomposing trash, and the guts of grazing animals that's as much as 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A single cow farts and belches enough methane to match the carbon equivalent of the average car. According to a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, the world's 1.4 billion cows produce 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gases—more than the entire transportation sector. Since the turn of the 19th century, global methane emissions have increased by more than 150 percent, and cows are largely to blame.
If all dairies became slaughter-free, we'd need three to four times as many dairy cows to produce the same amount of milk, which would mean adding at least 27 million additional cows to our herds. Those added cows would each year produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to four large coal-fired power plants. We'd also need more meat cows to keep up with the demand for products such as veal and dog food. Pasturing all of these cows would displace wildlife or agricultural crops, straining biodiversity and increasing food prices.
Jata knows there's a potential for the slaughter-free milk trend to go bad—just like the craze for tofu and soymilk contributed to the spread of soybean plantations in South America's rainforests. "Where does it end?" she asks. "For us, as a community, we bring it all back to local food sources and local practices that are self-contained but shared, so it doesn't create this mass corporation-style approach to everything."
Small, humane dairies can certainly find other ways to mitigate their environmental impacts. The Gita Nagari and Ahimsa dairies employ cow manure to fertilize their organic vegetables and bull power to plow their fields, avoiding carbon-intensive tractors and chemical fertilizers. And the Gita Nagari dairy uses an anaerobic digester to convert manure into a gas that residents of the dairy use for cooking—but this sort of thing would be hard to implement on a larger scale.
For Nicola Pazdzierska, the co-director of the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation, the price and environmental impact of slaughter-free milk underscores the need to rethink our relationship with dairy products. "We're not saying more cows," she told me. "We're saying possibly even fewer cows, but kept in better circumstances." She went on: "We think milk is a precious foodstuff. If you pay more for it, you value it more. You use it more thoughtfully. It should be treated with respect."