It is with a heavy heart that I announce my resignation from my leadership role as the CEO of Less Meat Less Heat. I hope you will take the time to read and understand my reasons for doing so as I have in my best attempts to explain and communicate them to you. Ultimately my decision stems from the understanding that, as Albert Einstein so eloquently put it, that ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’. That ‘thinking’ is more than just a thought but rather the overarching paradigm of the perpetual-growth capitalistic socio-economic model within which we live. But before I dive into a deeper discussion of my reasoning, I’d like to take you on a little journey.
Less Meat Less Heat (LMLH) has come a long way from its humble beginnings as an idea I had on a particularly pensive walk back when I was living in Amsterdam about three years ago. I originally conceived LMLH out of necessity from the realisation that we cannot solve the climate crisis through the transition to renewable energy alone, as I later argued here. I was ultimately frustrated at both the grass-roots climate movement and our international geo-political response to the climate crisis for being so narrow-mindedly focused only on the transition from fossil-fuels to renewable energy, since this left out both a third of greenhouse gas emissions as well as massive opportunities for sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere – trees.
Although we worked hard at changing their minds, not much has changed since, with LMLH still being in the minority of organisations attempting to address climate change through diet change, alongside the vital decarbonisation of society (side note – Al Gore did briefly mention the impact of livestock agriculture at his presentation at COP23, however this only accounted for about 10 seconds of a half-hour-long presentation). LMLH was ultimately conceived to fill a gap in the marketplace of ideas required to solve the climate crisis and this is precisely why I was so passionate about LMLH until recent months. I still believe it to be a vital part of the global grass-roots climate movement, so I hope we can find someone to take over my role as CEO, however I understand due to the high demands of the role and non-existent pay, this may take some time.
Before I dive into a discussion of my reasoning and train of thought I would like to thank you all for your amazing work, passion and determination over the years. Over the past 3 years we have achieved a lot at LMLH, from building a movement both on social media and in real life that spans the world to crowdfunding, developing and publicly launching a multi-platform smartphone app that had been used by thousands to learn about the climate impacts of their food choices, just to name a few key milestones. Let’s not forget that we actually represented our growing movement at two international UN climate talks – COP21 and COP23! I have learned a lot throughout this incredible journey and had a lot of fun along the way. From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to extend a BIG THANK YOU in the form of virtual hugs and kisses (redeemable in person next time we meet) to all volunteers and supporters no matter how big or small your involvement – none of this would have been possible without your hard work and support.
My thinking has since evolved greatly towards a deeper understanding of the structural, systemic root causes of the social justice and environmental symptoms we are battling – climate change being just one of many. Dr Samuel Alexander taught me in his paradigm-shifting course ‘Consumerism and the Growth Economy’, to question the assumptions underlying any problem, which is ultimately how I arrived at LMLH in the first place, questioning the assumption that we could solve climate change through a transition towards renewable energy alone, as I denoted above. Elon Musk taught me to take this thinking a step further by starting from first principles while Peter Joseph rounded out this way of thinking by teaching me to zoom out and think of the problem from a structural, systemic perspective. Applied to climate change it looks something like this:
- Identify and define your current assumptions:
- The climate change effects we are currently experiencing are predominantly caused by human activity (anthropogenic).
- The human activities that are contributing most to the climate crisis is the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transport and rising emissions from the increasing consumption of ruminant livestock also causing the destruction of carbon sinks (forests).
- We know how to solve the climate crisis and have the technology to do so but we are lacking political will.
The first two points are backed up by solid science (with more consensus than on the theory of gravity!), however the third point is an observational value judgement which requires us to zoom out and see it from a systemic, structural perspective. Digging deeper we find that the lack of political will at the UN climate talks 23 years on is largely due to corporate influence from the fossil fuel industry. This is exacerbated by the fossil fuel industry spreading doubt around the science of anthropogenic climate change as revealed in the book and documentary of the same name, Merchants of Doubt.
Although many progressives campaign for the removal of financial influence from politics, it is hard to envisage this actually occurring when you consider the fact that 69 of the world’s top 100 economies are in fact, corporations, most of which span across many countries and pay little tax. A recent study from Princeton University found that, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” That’s right – the average citizen exerts little to no influence on both policy and the outcomes of the actual elections themselves. I recall experiencing this first hand at COP21 when our Climate Action Network delegation were advised that the US delegation would not proceed with the climate talks unless they were assured that the final outcome would not be legally binding, since if it were it would not be passed by the fossil-fuel industry-controlled senate. According to Transparency International’s global corruption reports, the situation is prevalent in most countries around the world. Further discussion of this ubiquitous phenomena is outside the scope of this piece, however I would recommend reading The New Human Right’s Movement if you would like to learn more.
It is easy to vilify the corporations but trickier to identify the system that gave rise to them in the first place – the c word, whose questioning is often retorted with accusations of Marxism and communism – capitalism. We have lived in a paradigm of capitalism single-mindedly focused on perpetual economic growth at all costs since the industrial revolution, with most of the exponential growth occurring since the end of World War II. This has resulted in our surpassing several physical planetary boundaries that allowed our modern societies to exist and flourish in the first place. Capitalism has not only driven climate change through the rapidly increasing burning of fossil fuels for energy, rising meat consumption and destruction of carbon sinks as denoted earlier, it has also corrupted our response to the climate crisis through doubt-mongering and political dithering. When you couple this sobering fact with an understanding that year-on-year economic growth is exponential, not linear (as simply explained in the highly recommended The Crash Course series here), we have a recipe for almost-certain disaster towards greater inequality, environmental destruction and all of the suffering that both factors exacerbate. Since we live in a globalised society, climate-induced shocks in one country create a butterfly effect-like consequences all around the world as we have seen in Syria in recent years just to name one example that is usually not connected to climate change.
Climate change is hence just one of many externalised costs of production economists refer to as negative externalities. Negative externalities are costs that the public and environment bears and are the key reason why we have such affordable goods and services that result in such dire environmental consequences such as climate change and pollution – they are simply left of out of the price. Therefore, we can eat $5 hamburgers and fly internationally for not much more – we don’t pay the true environmental and social cost of producing those goods or delivering those services. Research shows that when the true environmental costs of production are factored in, none of the world’s industries would be profitable any longer. Hence capitalism privatises the profits to the shrinking few (8 men have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the human race) while more and more of us bear the costs. As a side note, rising income inequality has been linked to many pernicious social effects, from increased violence to deteriorating mental health just to name a few (related documentary is on Netflix).
I could go on but in the interests of brevity and respect for your time I will move on. To summarise the above points, we are governed by the global system of capitalism which requires perpetual economic growth with no respect for physical planetary boundaries which we rely on for life as we know it, or political attempts to control it over the long term (we all saw how easily environmental laws can be reversed or even ignored in recent years). Hence, therefore attempts to promote ‘sustainable consumption’ are doomed to fail in the long term. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try to live more sustainably in our own lives and just do as we please, but that we should let go of the idea that we can have a truly sustainable capitalistic society in the long term. Naomi Klein recently echoed this understanding as it relates to climate change in her documentary and book of the same name, This Changes Everything. Legendary post-apocalyptic author Margaret Atwood echoed these sentiments in her piece It’s not just climate change, it’s everything change’.
Simply put, we cannot solve the climate crisis within the paradigm that created it – capitalism. Furthermore, politically-mandated economic growth coupled with externalised public costs are a recipe for the collapse of civilisation as we know it. Esteemed investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed put it in the recent piece Beyond Extinction Transition to post-capitalism is inevitable
“The risk of civilizational collapse — and outright extinction — is perhaps the clearest signal that there is something deeply wrong with the global system in its current form. So wrong, that it is right now on a path to self-annihilation.
The science of impending doom does not prove the inevitability of human extinction, but it does prove the inevitability of something else: the extinction of industrial civilization in its current form.
The endless growth model of contemporary global capitalism is not just unsustainable — it is on track to destabilize the Earth System in a way that could make the planet uninhabitable for society as we know it.”
Therefore, it is not just our relatively safe and somewhat predictable climate that it is at stake here, it is modern industrial civilisation as we know it that we risk unless we connect the dots.
What’s next for LMLH?
This is a difficult question to answer at this point since one of the downsides of being a founding director of an organisation is that everything is led and coordinated by yours truly. Hence without me at the wheel there will likely be a drastic slowdown in activity until a time when we find someone else to take over. I’ve been convinced by eager volunteers that some activities can continue, such as building the movement through social media, screening events and the occasional fundraising BBQ to keep the [digital] lights on. I believe this to be possible, however programs such as upgrade of The Climatarian Challenge, Skip Beef for the Reef and the LMLH schools program will have to be put on hold until further notice. This is unfortunate to say the least, but I don’t see any other way until we find a suitable candidate to take over my role. If interested or know someone who would be then check out and share the job description for the role. Should you have any ideas on how the organisation can move forward then please do let me know in the comments below.
What’s next for me?
Although I can be stubborn at times, I am humble enough to admit that I don’t have all the answers. Therefore, I feel it’s only fitting to bring our old friend Albert Einstein into the mix with another pertinent quote, “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” I do, however, have some idea of the vision of the future I would like to work towards. I would like to work towards a global society that is not just sustainable but regenerative (vital when you consider the sick state of our ecosystems), one which builds community rather than destroying it and one which promotes values of altruism and collaboration rather than individualism and greed. Hence, I plan on taking my time to research the projects out there that fit this criterion, meet the people working on them and either join an existing project or begin a new one. As a side note, I have been constantly inspired by the ideas coming out of The Zeitgeist Movement so will definitely be reconnecting with them soon. Whatever I pick, it would have to generate a passionate ‘hell yeah‘ from me to be considered. I also think I need a break as I have worked tirelessly on LMLH and difficult family circumstances I’d rather not divulge for the time being. I look forward to at least a month of relaxing, surfing, leaning Spanish and reading lots of fiction (bring on Montanita!).
I would like to work towards a global society that is not just sustainable but regenerative (vital when you consider the sick state of our ecosystems), one which builds community rather than destroying it and one which promotes values of altruism and collaboration rather than individualism and greed.
– Igor Voronkov
I LOVE THIS!
Great piece Igor! You might find this Facebook group of interest. It seems to align with your views. It’s called:
Join The Degrowth Revolution
Sorry to hear about your decision but I hope you take a well earned break and find something to keep you inspired.
Great to see you in London
Thanks for your support and understanding Chris. I’m sure our paths will cross again and all the best with DUB. 🙂
I’m studying a master of climate change at ANU in Canberra and have read many of the same references plus a whole lot of other material and have come to the same conclusion that you describe in this blog post – that capitalist consumerism and economic growth are unsustainable and that our global society is headed for an existential collapse unless we can bring about a radical and massive transformation within the next few decades. So I’ve been looking also for solutions to figure out how I can be effective. The Great Transition Initiative (http://www.greattransition.org/) is working on these issues. Closer to home, The Australia Institute (http://tai.org.au/) are attempting to blast holes in the capitalist paradigm; Martin Tye defines ‘dynamic balance’ (http://book.dynamicbalanceproject.org/) as an alternative; Julian Cribb published ‘Surviving the 21st century’ last year with solutions for overcoming ‘humanity’s ten great challenges’ (http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319412696); Duncan Green is examining ‘How change happens’ (http://how-change-happens.com/). Of course there are loads of other people and groups working on a variety of initiatives. LMLH has been a great tool for me to start conversations with friends and family about that little-known aspect of climate change, so I sincerely hope you find a project to throw your passion into. And please keep us informed about whatever it is!
Regards, Kirsten Duncan
(http://ourclimateandyou.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/ourclimateandyou/?notif_t=page_user_activity¬if_id=1500181296354814)
Thank you for your considered reply and great to see that we have shared a similar journey (I’m not crazy, and if I am, at least I’m not alone!). 🙂
I have not heard of The Great Transition Initiative, but I will check it out. Thank you for all of the other resources you have linked me to – I have not heard of any of them aside from The Australia Institute so have lots of exciting exploration to do. Much appreciated.
May I ask, how do you spend your time? Is systems change a central feature of your life or a side project that may become said central feature (as side projects we are passionate about frequently do)?
I will definitely keep you posted, and who knows, we may even work together if the rabbit hole I go down is of interest to you.
Have a consideration of Citizens’ Climate Lobby which works “to create the political will for a livable world”. CCL would certainly benefit from involvement of someone of your commitment. And you may find it benefits you in turn!
Replied above (sorry for the delay).
Try Citizens’ Climate Lobby which exists “to create the political will for a liveable world”. You may find this a good way of taking effective action and CCL could surely benefit from someone with your vision and drive. And you may find that you derive personal satisfaction from this effective action too. Good luck in any event and enjoy your deserved break.
Do CCL campaign on dismantling the growth paradigm of neo-liberalist economics? I have a few friends working there and although they are doing fantastic work, it does not seem to be structurally oriented at systems change. I am open to being proven wrong. 🙂
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Hi Pate, I have provided the references for all of my data sources with hyperlinks where relevant, please click on them and read the primary research.
Your blog has taken my head out of sand on a few aspects – thank you very very much for introducing the crash course and TZM to me !! Your blog is a perfect example of a very positive butterfly effect !
Thank you for your support Ishita, I’m glad my words piqued your curiosity. Let me know what insights you get after completing Crash Course.
Great read Igor after hearing it for myself in Sydney.
Has raised lots of areas I’m now going to explore and educate myself further.
Thank you for sharing.
No worries, thank you for taking the time to read my story. Let me know how you go on the areas you end up exploring.