David Hume on Religion

I have truly enjoyed reading what many of the great thinkers have had to say about religion.   David Hume used his logical mind and his sharp wit to produce this summary of his logical argument against Miracles and religion in general:

I am the better pleased with the method of reasoning here delivered, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous friends or disguised enemies to the Christian religion, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy religion is founded on faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial, as it is, by no means, fitted to endure. 

To make this more evident, let us examine those miracles, related in scripture; and not to lose ourselves in too wide a field, let us confine ourselves to such as we find in the Pentateuch, which we shall examine, according to the principles of these pretended Christians, not as the word or testimony of God himself, but as the production of a mere human writer and historian. 

Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts, which every nation  gives of its origin. 

Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present: Of our fall from that state: Of the age of man, extended to near a thousand years: Of the destruction of the world by a deluge: Of the arbitrary choice of one people, as the favourites of heaven; and that people the countrymen of the author: Of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable: 

I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after a serious consideration declare, whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a book, supported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.

  

What’s a Religion?

While watching Going Clear:  Scientology and the Prison of Belief, one thing that was never resolved was what is a religion.  In the documentary it was clear that Scientology put massive pressure on the IRS for that status and of course the IRS caved, but when you think about it, what is the definition of religion for tax free status?  For that matter what is a religion and what is a cult?

Here are some of the guidelines according to the IRS for a church:

  • Distinct legal existence
  • Recognized creed and form of worship
  • Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
  • Formal code of doctrine and discipline
  • Distinct religious history
  • Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
  • Organization of ordained ministers
  • Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
  • Literature of its own
  • Established places of worship
  • Regular congregations
  • Regular religious services
  • Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
  • Schools for the preparation of its members

The IRS generally uses a combination of these characteristics, together with other facts and circumstances, to determine whether an organization is considered a church for federal tax purposes.  Churches (religious organizations) are exempt from telling the IRS where their money goes unlike non-profits.  Are you starting to see that we have a problem here Huston?

Now in my little atheist mind, it is all nonsense, but I like the idea of non-profits being able to keep their money and do “good” in the world.  I also like that the IRS checks up on them to make sure they aren’t pocketing the money.  But apparently no so with churches.  So when Ron L. Hubbard established Scientology as a religion (Church) he created the best money making scam ever.  However, what is really different from his nut jobs and the ones who are Catholic, Mormon, Islamic, or Evangelical Christian?  Legally very little.  So why are churches special?  So is not our government “respecting an establishment of religion” when it gives special tax breaks to churches?  Why not just hold them to the same standards as a non-profit?  Then we would know where all that money goes.

In answer to what is the difference between a religion and what is a cult, not much.  In my mind it just requires you to check your brain at the door, patake in faith-based thinking, and ignore reality around you.  Certainly some religions do enormous good, others enormous evil, but I have no idea why the very act of believing things on faith instead of rational thought deserves special tax breaks.  It is not that Scientology is really an abuse of the system, it is that they all are an abuse of the system. 

One other thought:  We have a political party, Republicans that seem to have established faith-based thinking around the economy, anything Obama, and of course about climate change.  Those beliefs are held fast no matter how much data is made available to them.  Shouldn’t we just recognize that the definition of a religion is faith-based reasoning and grant them tax eempt status too?

  

Going Clear

I watched the HBO documentary on the “Church” of Scientololgy tonight and was not shocked.  As I chronicled earlier today, faith requires you check your brain at the door and is the real problem with religion.  The nice thing about this exposure of Scientology is how clearly this made that point.  But I am harkened back to something Chistopher Hitchens said in the prologue to his book, The Portable Atheist:

The men who wrote the Declaration were men of an Enlightenment temper, who quite understood that religion could be (in the words of William Blake) a “mind- forg’d manacle.” 

If watching this does not convince you that faith based thinking is a very dangerous thing and you draw no parallels to what we are seeing today as this kind of thinking infuses everything we do, well then we truly have put on the blinders.  God bless us all.

  

Indiana and the Present Nincompoops Who are Controling Our Government

The Governor of Indiana and possible Presidential hopeful, Mike Pence, was on ABC this morning explaining his “Religious Freedom” law.  See, in his tiny little brain protecting religious freedom means using the government to protect their rights to discriminate based upon religious grounds.  Don’t you feel freedom ringing through the land?  Now in this great land of ours, you really have all the religious freedom one could want.  You can believe what you believe and practice what you believe to your hearts content until you start to infringe on others rights. Then your religion becomes an instrument of oppression to others and Governor Nincompoop and his fellow evangelical Christian legislators are using goverment and religious belief to suppress the rights of others to not be discriminated against.

Think of it this way.  Say I am a white supremist living in Utah and I feel based upon my religious beliefs that blacks are an evil part of a tribe that migrated out of the Biblical desert with no souls and are inferior (actually many do believe this), then should I not as part of my “religious freedom” be able to practice my intolerance and persecution without any interference from Government? Welcome to the Mike Pence definition of religious freedom.  The freedom to be intolerant and discriminate.  You see, you are absolutely free to do as you please as long as it pleases me that you do it.  

Or we can just look at what the first Amendment’s Establishment Clause says, prohiting the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.  Now on the face of it, the Indiana law doesn’t establish a religion per se, but it establishes that the beliefs of some can over ride the rights of others and in affect establishes a religious law.  Gays are second class citizens based upon your religious criteria and they do not deserve equal access to the public square.  Your religion and religious beliefs trumps the rights of gays and we have just established a national religion.

The only thing dumber than these guys are Log Cabin Republicans that can’t figure out their party hates them on religious grounds.

I will leave this thought with you on “religious freedom” from my favorite atheist, Christopher Hitchens:

If anything proves that religion is not just man- made but masculine- made, it is the incessant repetition of rules and taboos governing the sexual life. The disease is pervasive, from the weird obsession with virginity and the one- way birth canal through which prophets are “delivered,” through the horror of menstrual blood, all the way to the fascinated disgust with homosexuality and the pretended concern with children (who suffer worse at the hands of the faithful than any other group). Male and female genital mutilation; the terrifying of infants with hideous fictions about guilt and hell; the wild prohibition of masturbation: religion will never be able to live down the shame with which it has stained itself for generations in this regard, anymore than it can purge its own guilt for the ruining of formative periods of precious life.

  

Through Atheist Eyes

As you watch the world tumble, you wonder how people can really believe in god.  For me it is obvious, and for them it is also obvious (my disbelief, their belief).  We see the world through two different lenses.  For instance, we have had this discussion whether Islam is the problem in the Middle East.  There are those (religious biased) who see radical Islamist as not even religious.  Then there is me who sees all religion as the problem and of course Islam represents how religion and religious belief can take you off in irrational directions*.  Now that is not to say that atheists couldn’t be just as irrational, but atheism is not a belief system with rules, it just says there is no god.  Religion brings a whole dogma of belief and faith-based fact that by definition, is not subject to rational thought.  And that is the problem I see with religion.

I have been immensely enjoying Christopher Hitchens’ book, The Portable Atheist:  Essential Readings for the Non-Believer.  He takes you on a journey through history with those who have opposed the tyranny of religion, sometimes to the risk of their life and limb.  But what I find most interesting is that looking at religion from the outside, and without religious baggage, you see how ridiculous and shallow it is.  As you read through these writings what you find is that most see what I do, turning to religion out of fear and self-love.  And stepping back from religion and looking at it raises all kinds of questions about our sanity in accepting any of this.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from Christopher’s introduction that kind of make this point:

Looking from a historical perspective:

The human species has been in existence as Homo sapiens for (let us not quarrel about the exact total) at least one hundred and fifty thousand years. An instant in evolutionary time, this is nonetheless a vast history when contemplated by primates with brains and imaginations of the dimensions that we can boast. In order to subscribe to monotheistic religion, one must believe that humans were born, struggled, and expired during this time, often dying in childbirth or for want of elementary nurture, and with a life- expectancy of perhaps three decades at most. Add to these factors the turf wars between discrepant groups and tribes, between discrepant groups and tribes, alarming outbreaks of disease, which had no germ theory to explain let alone palliate them, and associated natural disasters and human tragedies.

And yet, for all these millennia, heaven watched with indifference and then— and only in the last six thousand years at the very least— decided that it was time to intervene as well as redeem. And heaven would only intervene and redeem in remote areas of the Middle East, thus ensuring that many more generations would expire before the news could begin to spread! Let me send a voice to Sinai and cement a pact with just one tribe of dogged and greedy yokels. Let me lend a son to be torn to pieces because he is misunderstood. . . . Let me tell the angel Gabriel to prompt an illiterate and uncultured merchant into rhetorical flights. At last the darkness that I have imposed will lift! The willingness even to entertain such elaborately mad ideas involves much more than the suspension of disbelief, or the dumb credulity that greets magic tricks.

See the roots of Religion:

Religion was our first attempt at philosophy, just as alchemy was our first attempt at chemistry and astrology our first attempt to make sense of the movements of the heavens. … All of these things cater to our inborn stupidity, and our willingness to be persuaded against all the evidence that we are indeed the center of the universe and that everything is arranged with us in mind.

Looking at it from wanting to believe and what it really is:

There are, after all, atheists who say that they wish the fable were true but are unable to suspend the requisite disbelief, or have relinquished belief only with regret. To this I reply: who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought- crime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died?

Looking at it from a rational point of view:

Richard Dawkins may have phrased it most pungently when he argued that everybody is an atheist in saying that there is a god— from Ra to Shiva— in which he does not believe. All that the serious and objective atheist does is to take the next step and to say that there is just one more god to disbelieve.

Looking at it from a realistic point of view:

We are unlikely to cease making gods or inventing ceremonies to please them for as long as we are afraid of death, or of the dark, and for as long as we persist in self- centeredness. That could be a lengthy stretch of time. However, it is just as certain that we shall continue to cast a skeptical and ironic and even witty eye on what we have ourselves invented. If religion is innate in us, then so is our doubt of it and our contempt for our own weakness.

Just some food for thought where we just ignore the unbelieveability of our beliefs.

*From Hitchens:  All religions must, at their core, look forward to the end of this world and to the longed-for moment when all will be reveqled and when the sheep will be divided from the goats, or whatever other bucolic Bronze-Age desert analogy might seem apt.”

 

  

Sunday is Step Back Day

I was at a family gathering last night and one of my fellow gatherers mention that he was just going to stop watching the news.  “It is just the same bad news, repeated over and over.”  That would be about it and I have a feeling his feelings on this are the norm.  So from one sense, it may be the death knell for 24/7 news.  We aren’t learning anything from it except we are all doomed.  Bummer.

I don’t really think we are all doomed just quite yet, the 24/7 news repackaged as entertainment is turning off their audience.  From my narrow perspective news should be like national service, not a profit center, but something that the giant media networks have to provide regardless of cost for the right to make the billions they make on other services using our airways.  But that distracts from the major point about news as entertainment that makes it worthless.  Here is an example:  If you drive by a wreck on the freeway, what do you learn as you pass by?  Nothing, but it does breakup the mundane.  So you slow down and stare. Same with our news coverage.  They are covering the wrecks on the freeway of life because it attracts rubber neckers, but does not inform.

I will give you two examples from last week.  What do you learn from the coverage of the building blowing up in New York?  That if you smell gas get the hell out?  It was a local story of little interest (in terms of informing us to make better decisions as citizens) but we got it 24/7.  Now let’s turn to the aircraft murder/suicide in France.  What did we learn?  Well basically when a nut job goes off the rails, it is very hard to prevent.  So the next time I fly do I interview the pilots?  Should they leave the cabin door open.  Oh wait!  Remember 9/11 and we wondered why it was so easy to get in there?  As someone who dealt with nuclear weapons and was part of a “human reliability program”, there is a limit to the one-off you can prevent.

My point is that news is not informing us about what we can control in our lives and presenting us with policy options.  It is simply chasing ambulances because this attracts a larger audience (that includes food fights with politicians) but teaches us nothing.  Let’s look at the Middle East.  It is blowing up and we are on various sides with different allies depending on the location and politics.  Does this make any sense whatsoever?  Yet the coverage is focused on the blowups without any context.  Real news, at least useful news would put all this into context of a narrative.  But this our media shys away from because they do not appear to be unfair and unbalanced.  But without the context it is all meaningless.

The Middle East is blowing up because ancient abuses have not been addressed in a religious, sectarian, tribal society. Tyrannical  governments in the age of global communications are being challenged. Some of those challenges are worse than the status quo.  So we are picking sides, I think, making matters worse.  We seem to be repeating our South American foreign policy which was to support bad regimes if they did not support the Russians.  It’s a disaster and we become part of the problem.  The Middle East is a cesspool of tyrannical regimes and radical religious strife.  Why should we take sides at all and become part of the problem?  Well it is justified on the basis of national security (Iraq), and humanitarian concerns (Libya).  Does this make any sense whatsoever if the governments we would have to support would have to be tyrannical and against most of our basic beliefs about liberty, tolerance, and justice?  See any of this discussed on the news?

So let’s step back and really think about what is and is not important.  And by that, let’s consider what we can really control and make a positive impact on.  Let’s just forget politics for a minute and focus on reality.  What are the biggest threats and what should we be doing about them?  You know, solutions not posturing.  So I will list them in what I think are our greatest threats/issues and the obvious way forward which we seem paralyzed to do:

  1. Global Warming – Here we have a direct attack on what we consider normal and our way of life.  California is now talking about shifting power sources because hydro-electric is going dry due to the drought.  The East is facing stronger and colder storms in the winter.  Along with sea level rise, we are having much larger tidal surges and flooding.  Global warming is not some made up threat, it is real, it is already having an impact, and could disrupt both water and food sources in the near future.  You think the wars over oil were a big deal, wait to you see the one over water and food. Those who deny it are immoral creatures pandering to the ignorant who hate government.  But we can do something about it that will greatly help item 2 below.  We can use the predictions to build infrastructure to ameliorate these effects in the future.  We can make adjustments in how and where we grow our food to take advantage of these changes.  It will take planning and proactive action.  All we have to do is do it.  Agree to the problem and start implementing strategies.  Do you see this as the leading story on the news while it is our biggest threat to our national security?  No those morons are still discussing competing scientific theories to avoid alienating their conservative audience.
  2. The Economy – We have a ton of data, from the Depression, the Lessor Depression, from Japan, and from Europe, and yet we can do nothing because politics, specifically conservative politics, holds on to an ideology about the economy that paralyzes us, that favors the wealthy class.  What do we really know?  Spending stimulates the economy.  Debt is normal and reasonable levels of debt are necessary to invest in our future.  Interest rates and inflation are not a function of debt if there is little demand.  Demand, not supply drives our economy.  Finally and most importantly, our policies of favoring the “job creators” over the last 50 years has brought upon the greatest transfer of wealth from the many to the few in the history of our world.  Conservatives would have us continue these policies only more focused and severe.  What in the world are we thinking?  We need to look at policies that reasonably redistribute this wealth and invest it in our future.  It is as simple as that.  See any debates about that?  You could eat the Republican candidates for lunch if you focused on the economic policies they favor and see how they have fared in our past.  But instead we get Ted Cruz claiming there is no global warming and no journalist challenges him.
  3. The Middle East – This one is a no-brainer.  It is not our future to determine, it is theirs.  For better or worse, we have to let the people decide their fate and then live with it.  ISIS is horrible, but once they institute a government and people have to live under it (they are letting themselves be conquered), they may be short-lived.  But our entry into picking a side just focuses the hate on infidels and distracts from the internal issues that have to be resolved by the people themselves.  We need to start walking our talk (and not John McCain’s) about freedom, liberty, and tolerance.  We only support those who support those principles.  We do not prop up (Saudi Arabia) governments who just keep the lid on unresolved issues.  Sooner or later it is going to blow off and we will be part of the problem.  In the near term, support humanitarian aid and get out of the bombing business.  Let the region sort it out while we press our principles.  It is as simple as that.  As long as we dabble in picking sides between worse and worser, we are the problem.
  4. Iran and Russia – Iran presents a problem and the negotiations are the right approach.  Again this is a no-brainer.  Tougher sanctions are meaningless without the support of the rest of our partners and they are not going to go for it unless Iran goes off the reservation.  So we continue down this path.  Iran with a nuclear weapon may force a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.  One might say we started it when we helped Israel get one.  Now we must do what we can to limit the damage peacefully.  A strike on Iran would probably open up Pandora’s box with a full-scale crusade type war in the Middle East with the West seen as the enemy.  As for Russia, be careful what you wish for.  Once you have acquired territory, you have to govern it, and the Berlin Wall fell because Russia and the communist  promise failed to deliver.  We want to contain them and violence as best as possible until they fail once again.

I guess what I am telling you is that the news is focused on the sensational, and the scary the better to attract rubber neckers to watch their commercials.  The reality is that almost all of our problems are solvable and we just are not talking about solutions, just being Chicken Little to maximize ratings.  We deserve better than that.

Note:  Think about this:  Back in the 80’s we helped arm and train the locals to throw the evil Russians out of Afghanistan. It was a wildly successful program.  It also created and armed the Taliban and created the world we live in today.  Be careful what you wish for.

  

Scary Trends in the Slow Decay of Civilization

Are we what we watch on TV?  Have you noticed the number of shows that dabble in fantastical, the magical, or religious?  What is it with all the zombie stuff?  We seem to be fixated or entertained, or maybe both, on things unbelievable based upon reality as we know it.  Now religion, which is ingrained in our society is of course magical and examined in the cold hard light of the natural world as we know it, is unbelievable.  So the question I guess I am asking is, given the natural world (reality), is that not enough and we have to invent magic, mayhem, and monsters to spice it up?  Do we actually believe in them?

Now, that is not to say I don’t enjoy some of the shows.  Grimm is one of my favorites, but with half the people in the world Wesen, don’t you think others might quickly catch on?  How many necks can you bite out before somebody asks serious questions?  Where is CSI and their magical forensic powers?  And if a Blutbat and a Fuchbau couple, wouldn’t there be a whole new species of wesen?  In Dig, I am enjoying the plot, but really, don’t we have enough trouble with people believing these religious prophesies where if they just do certain things, the Messiah or whoever will come for the final judgement day or amazing power will be released?  Don’t even get me started on Constantine and angels who aerodynamically could not possibly fly.  Then there is Sleepy Hollow and the whole cast of Purgatory’s members.  I simply can’t watch most of these because it is just too ridiculous.

Then there is Supernatural, Forever (please lose the watch chain and at least get into the 20th century), Flash, 12 Monkeys, Helix, The Walking Dead, and Arrow, some of them I watch and enjoy, sort of.  But what does it say that we wallow in entertainment that denies the natural world as we know it?  Do we yearn for the supernatural because our own reality is so boring?  Do we hope for superpowers because we feel so emasculated in our own world?  Do some of us think any of this is really possible?

The other trend I see is the lack of professionalism and competence expressed by the main characters in really popular shows.  In NCIS, are they really that unprofessional as they examine a crime scene while chit chatting about their sex lives?  Does anyone really believe that multi-tasking works.  At least Sherlock is focused.  Don’t even get me started about Backstrom. In NCIS Los Angeles they seem to be able to teleport around LA and traffic is never an issue.  Then we have CIS which are unbelievably competent.

But the king of incompetence is The Following.   I have no idea how this show stays on the air as they repeatedly get there too late, no one ever gets saved, and the bad guys always get away. The failure to follow even basic police procedure is monumental, and does it ever occur to anyone that the local police could probably get to the scene quicker than they can?  Oh, and generally across all these shows, they never call for backup or follow even a semblance of real police procedure which would prevent most of their failures.   And with the CSI Cyber showing us that leadership is just being tough and being able to read a liar (which has been shown to be false), our view of professionalism is based on fantasy land.  And I almost forgot, you always know who did it because it is the guest star.

So what I am wondering is, are we becoming what we watch?  Do we really yearn for special powers?  Do we really believe any of this could really happen?  Do we really believe the world works like this?  And do we believe that the lack of professionalism shown by most of these characters is a role model?  Or is it just an escape from the mundane and is a phase we are going through.  Well I still have Madam Secretary, The Blacklist, Broadchurch, Downton Abbey, and Masterpiece Mystery.  But not for long if present trends continue.  Beside if you want sex, violence, and incompetence then just turn on the news.  Maybe that is the issue.

 

  

Indiana’s Religious Intolerance Law

Well the conservative Republicans in Indiana have convinced themselves that religious freedom means the freedom to discriminate based upon their religion.  In this particular case, under the guise of religious freedom, businesses can discriminate against gays.  Do they even see the flaw in their irrational logic?  What if their religion decides that black or Jewish is bad.  Under this logic they can then just pass another law justifying this discrimination.  Don’t you just love religion?

Now here is the really funny thing.  They have their religious freedom.  They can choose not to be gay, not marry gays, and in fact, not even inquire into someone else’s sexuality.  But instead they want the freedom to condemn these people publically and deny them their right to commercial services.  Whose rights exactly are being violated?  And where does it stop?  We are on a fast train going backwards and Indiana is another state I will never set a foot in.  I hope most people feel that way as freedom loving conservatives prove once again that the only freedom they care about is their freedom to force their beliefs on the rest of us.  They now have the freedom to fully express their intolerance in Indiana.

  

Are You Confused About the Middle East?

People are trying to figure out if we are with or against Iran, and who exactly does Iran back?  It is really very straight forward.  This is a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites.  Iran is Shiite and aligns themselves with Shiites.  They are fighting ISIS because they look at Shiites as heretics.  They are aligned with Syria because they are Sunni.  In Iraq they are against ISIS and backing the Shiite controlled government.  They hate Saudi Arabi because they are Sunni.

Meanwhile the United State’s interests are quite different.  They want “legitimate” governments to survive as a balance between Sunnis and Shiites so the civil war stays in check.  We support the government (mostly Shiite) in Iraq but are pushing for Sunni inclusion to stem another sectarian war there.  We were against Assad much as we were against Gaddofi (Lybia) because he was a brutal dictator who was actually sowing the seeds of civil war withhis brutality (Assad is Shiite hence the support from Iran).  But then ISIS got the upper hand so we are against them and for a less radical government that may not be possible.  In Yemen, it is vestiges of al Qaeda (Shiites) that Iran supports and we and Saudi Arabia are fighting.

Now is it clear?  What should our strategy be?  I have yet to hear anyone intelligently discuss that.  They all can criticize, but coming up with a rational and strategic plan for the future is missing in action.

  

Food, Water, Free Speech, and Sustainability

We have this mantra that says we have to be business friendly and our economy will take off.  Now sure there is some truth in it.  But what may make money for other people may not be healthful for the rest of us.  And here is the big point:  In a free and open society we need to make our own choices based on being informed about those choices.  Think about how the food industry fights almost every labeling requirement.  Think how they have worked to water down the meaning of the word organic until it is almost meaningless.  Why not label things GMO?  I don’t think it hurts anyone, but give people a choice.  Oh, and why not post the nutritional content and calories of foods so we can make an informed choice?  Because it hurts their bottom line if that choice says we don’t want that Big Gulp.

Now I am not one who thinks you should outlaw certain foods because they are unhealthy.  But on the other hand, choices have consequences for the rest of us.  If a large portion of our population is obese because of their food choices, we all pay for that in our health insurance.  So I would not outlawed the size of a drink, but I would require them to at least give the customer the information to know what they are doing to their bodies.  And there is certainly not an objection from me with a sugar tax so that the cost of ingesting mass amounts of refined sugar is borne by those who choose to do it.

But yesterday I was bundling up the newspapers from this weekend for recycling and I notice an article in the SF Chronicle that caught my eye.  Apparently a federal panel of nutrition experts told the federal government that consuming beef was not only bad for humans, but destructive to the environment.  Sustainability isn’t just for San Francisco or Portland anymore, according to these preliminary recommendations. It is an attempt to point out the impact to the environment that our food choices make.  Of course there was immediately backlash from the meat industry and their drones in Congress.  As the SF Chronicle tells us:

… every five years, a food fight ensues because huge amounts of money are at stake, including the nation’s $10 billion-plus school lunch program. This is the first year, however, that the government’s advisory panel has significantly weighed environmental issues, drawing in a debate with a flavor that’s historically reserved for oil pipelines and auto emissions.

Now don’t get distracted by the arguments.  It is about the money.  It is also about knowledge provided to the consumer.  Of course like all things, the meat industry is very short-sighted in that if sustainability of their meat products becomes a major issue, it opens all kinds of markets to those who do farm sustainably.  But my point is just that business is not interested in consumer knowledge except that knowledge gain in their commercials.  No, we don’t need no stink’in gov’ment regulation.

But the real question is about whether we ought to be worrying about farming sustainability.  I would say a huge yes.  Let me explain.  In the  “wet” months of January and February, California has received less a third of normal rainfall and March is heading to be the driest month on record.  Is this just a normal drought or is this the world to come because of global warming?  Well the models say this could be the world to come.  We may have wetter years but on average things are going to get drier with warmer storms when we do get them. So water usage and sustainability is really important.

If you look at California, here are some interesting numbers.  First is water usage by user in California:

Sacwateruse.updated

 

Statewide argriculture accounts for 80% of Human usage.

To add to this, the state has looked at water usage based on a dry year and agriculture uses 52 % of the total water supply.  Note that Urban use is small and yet most of the conservation focus is on that sector (get water only when ask for it at a restaurant, watering landscaping only 3-days a week, etc,).  Here is another interesting graphic published by the state:

Plant Water Usage

 

We can see that the biggest water user is alfalfa and dairy cows eat about 70% of the alfalfa produced in California (beef cows eat the rest).  While almonds take up to 10% of the water supply, and use more water per plant, the king is alfalfa that is for beef or beef products (like cheese).  Farmers are business men and they grow what produces the greatest return.  And to keep food prices low (and California produces one-third of our vegetables and two-thirds of our nuts and fruits each year) water is heavily subsidized.  To say the least, the stakes are high and the market-place is driving the wrong choices (water intensive crops) as our water supply dwindles.  Let’s face it, if there was less demand for beef, precious short supplies of water would be more available for crops that are better for us and may sustain us.

So I will just leave you with this:  Maybe instead of fighting sustainability evaluations, we might wake up and find out our very survival depends upon it. Instead of warping the market place by hiding information from consumers, we should let the market place work once Americans understand the real choices they are facing as water in the West diminishes.

Note 1:  The study on water usage in agriculture is a great and scientific look at irrigation methods and crops we should be growing.  But if you are a conservative, we don’t need any of that study and data stuff.  Note that many of us who grow grapes drip our crops and use instrumentation to minimize water usage.  Stress the crop to the maximum and then water.  It actually lowers production, but increases quality.  The other source is a good look at the industry as a business and why many farmers are their own worst enemy.  Both are very good reads if you care about where we are going.

Note 2:  “it takes more than a gallon of water to grow a single almond, and it may take 220 gallons of water to produce a large avocado. But pound-for-pound, there’s an order of magnitude more water needed to get meat and dairy to your plate. A stick of butter requires more than 500 gallons of water to make. A pound of beef takes up to 5,000 gallons.”