Category Archives: Meat's Not Green

S.O.S. Save Our Seas!

When we think about animal abuse and environmental destruction on factory farms, we think about cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, but we often don’t think about fish. However, fish are abused just as awfully as land animals and fishing is destroying our planet just as quickly as factory farms are.

Aquacultures (Fish Farms)

Aquacultures are essentially underwater factory farms. The fish are over-crowded into tanks fully of filthy water (pools full of of fish feces, hormone and antibiotic-laden fish feed, and diseased fish carcasses) and fed a diet that consists of corn, soy, antibiotics, and hormones. Because of the extremely cramped conditions, cannibalism is common.

From the book Eating Animals:

The Handbook of Salmon Farming, details six “key stressors in the aquaculture environment”: water quality, crowding, handling, disturbance, nutrition, and hierarchy. To translate into plain language, those six sources of suffering for salmon are: (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals begin to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; (5) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (6) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalization. These problems are typical. The handbook calls them “integral components of fish farming.”

In the filthy tank water, sea lice thrive. These lice attack and feed on the fish, creating painful open wounds and sometimes even eating down to the bone on a fish’s face. This is so common that it has a name: “the death crown.” Salmon farms generates sea lice in numbers 30,000 times higher than naturally occur.

Lesion due to sea lice

The fish that manage to survive the fish farms (a 10 – 30% death rate is seen as good by the salmon industry), are starved for 7-10 days prior to slaughter, to diminish their bodily waste. They are then killed by having their gills sliced off and being tossed aside to bleed to death. The fish convulse, in no doubt what is pain.

For more about fish farms, read my previous post here.

Wild Fish

So, with fish farming being just as bad as factory farming, are wild-caught fish a better alternative?

The most common ways of fishing are longline fishing, trawling, and purse seines. Longlines are heavy fishing lines, covered in hooks,  that can stretch as far as 75 miles. Hundreds of these lines can be deployed by a single boat and there are thousands of boats in commercial fleets. An estimated 27 million hooks are deployed every day.

But longlines don’t just kill their target species (like tuna or salmon). One study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch in longline fishing every year, including 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles (including many endangered species), 75,000 gulls and sea birds, and 20,000 dolphins and whales.

Among longline bycatch are birds (left) and sharks (right)

And this doesn’t even come close to comparing to the bycatch deaths caused by trawling. As the trawl is pulled along the ocean bottom, it not only sweeps shrimp, but also everything else in its path into a funnel-shaped net. It doesn’t matter what ends up in the net – fish, sharks, rays, crabs, squid, turtles – all will die.  The average trawling operation throws 80-90% of the animals is catches back into the ocean, dead. The least efficient operations actually throw more than 98% of their catch, dead, overboard.

Typical shrimp bycatch

We are literally destroying the diversity, vibrancy, and entire ecosystem of the ocean. It’s like clear-cutting a forrest with thousands of species in it to create a massive field. One quarter of the world’s fisheries are already classified as over-fished or depleted, and the rest are being fished harder than ever. It is predicted that the remaining commercial fish species will be exhausted by 2050, meaning no more wild fish, at all.

For every 10 tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans 50-100 years ago, only one remains today. Second only to climate change, overfishing is our biggest sustainability problem. On a daily basis, we remove tons of life from beneath the waves, in shockingly destructive ways. Bottom trawlers with giant nets rake the ocean floor, decimating coral reefs and scooping up all animals that are in the way. If the ocean ecosystem dies, the O2/CO2 balance in the atmosphere gets all out of whack and then we’re really screwed.

Longlines and trawling aren’t just ecologically devastating, they are also cruel. In trawlers, hundreds of different animals are dragged for hours, crushed together, bashed against corals and rocks, and then pulled from the water, causing painful decompression (the decompression sometimes causes the animals’ eyes to pop out or their internal organs to come out of their mouths). On longlines, the animals face a slow death. Some live on the line until they are pulled up and killed, some die from the injury caused by the hook, and some are held captive as they are attacked by predators. 

Purse seines are net walls dropped around a school of fish, and any other creatures in the vicinity, then the bottom of the net is tightened and pulled onto the deck. Fish tangled in the net are pulled apart, but most of the animals die on the deck, where they slowly suffocate, or have their gills cut off while conscious and are left to bleed to death. Sometimes the fish are tossed onto ice, to keep them “fresh,” which actually prolongs their death. According to a study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, fish die slowly and painfully over a period as long as 14 minutes when tossed into ice.

Thoughts

Although one can realistically expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

What would it take to convince you not to eat fish? Would you still choose to eat fish if the label told you how many sea-lice lesions were on the body prior to slaughter? What if it told you that the fish’s eyes were bleeding from the pollution in the factory farm water? Or if it listed that for the 1 pound of shrimp you’re buying, 9 pounds of rays, sharks, or even dolphins were killed? Or that the boat that caught your fish is contributing to the complete and total decimation of the ocean ecosystem? Are sushi, tuna, or salmon really that important to you?

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Breakfast: Smoothie with mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) and banana
Lunch: Vermicelli noodle bowl with tofu and veggies from the Vietnamese restaurant by my office
Dinner: Quick & easy chili (even though it was 107 degrees here today): pinto beans, black beans, crushed tomatoes, green chilies, onion, jalapeno, chili powder

Why Vegetarian Is The New Prius

First, allow me to re-iterate some of the facts from my last year’s Earth Day post:

Some of meat’s contribution to environmental degradation is intuitive.

It’s more resource and energy efficient to grow grain and feed it directly to people than it is to grow grain and turn it into feed that we give to calves until they become full-grown, that we then slaughter to feed to people.

Some of meat’s contribution to environmental degradation is gross.

“Manure lagoons” are the acres of animal excrement that sit in the sun steaming toxic gasses like nitrous oxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane into the atmosphere. These cesspools often break, leak or overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution, and drug-resistant bacteria into our water supplies.

Giant Manure Lagoon

And some of meat’s contribution to environmental degradation might make us chuckle.

Cow gas is a real contributor to global warming. (It’s mainly burps, not farts.) Ruminates (like cows, sheep, and goats) give off methane when they chew their cud and belch.

But here’s the Meat of It…

If ditching the meat is the best way to save our planet, why aren’t environmental groups telling people to do it? Because it doesn’t poll well! I know better than anyone that people don’t like being told that they should eat less meat. I don’t know why there is such a strong visceral reaction to this one particular issue (as compared to being told you should drive a Hybrid instead of an SUV), but it’s there and it’s severely hindering the cause.

And the real pity of it is that compared with buying a Hybrid vehicle, or buying Energy Star appliances, or installing insulation in your house to reduce heating leakage, or making a tedious commute on the bus every day, or riding your bike to the grocery store, or basically any other green thing you could possibly do, eating pasta on a night when you’d otherwise have made fajitas is pretty much the easiest, and it could have the largest impact if you did it just once a week! Given that eggplant parmesan, bean burritos, and vegetable stir-fry are all delicious, this is not the world’s most onerous commitment.

For the sake of the planet, don’t ignore the impact of what’s on your plate.

For lots of delicious vegetarian recipes check out my recipes page, and this list of really quick and easy vegan and vegetarian meals.

Happy Earth Day!

 

World Water Day 2011

International World Water Day was started in 1993 by the United Nations and is held annually on March 22nd “as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.”

In the US, where we regularly indulge in overabundance, we don’t often worry about conserving water. We think that concerns over a lack of fresh water only effect under-developed countries and far-away continents. But while access to clean, fresh water in third world countries is no doubt a serious concern, we don’t even realize that we are squandering our own fresh water resources right here in America.

In the US, we are depleting our underground aquifers faster than we can replenish them. The largest underground freshwater supply in the world, The Ogallala Aquifer, spans over a vast area of the US including portions of 8 states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas). It is being depleted by 13 trillion gallons a year and it is going to run out. The area in Northwest Texas is already dry. They can’t get any water from their wells and once booming agricultural towns have collapsed.

Part of the problem is that the Ogallala Aquifer doesn’t recharge from rainfalls or rivers. It is called “fossil water” – once it is used, it is gone. And the Ogallala Aquifer is being used faster now than ever, as it provides 30% of the agricultural irrigation water in the US. Some estimates say that it will dry up in as little at 25 years.

The regions overlying the Ogallala aquifer have been called the “breadbasket of America” because they are some of the most productive regions for ranching livestock, and growing corn, wheat, soybeans, and alfalfa in the US. Without the Ogallala Aquifer, America’s heartland food production collapses. No water means no irrigation for the crops grown across these states to feed both people and livestock. And each year, the Ogallala Aquifer drops another few inches as it is literally being sucked dry by the tens of thousands of agricultural wells that tap into it.

So as you can see, water conservation, even here in the US, is absolutely critical.

As a kid, I was taught to conserve water by taking faster showers, turning off the faucet while I brushed my teeth, and making sure the garden hose wasn’t dripping. But I was never taught that the one thing that has the most impact on water conservation is what I choose to eat.

Irrigation accounts for 40% of all freshwater usage in the US and all this irrigation is needed to water all of our crops (20% percent of US land is cropland). But the really remarkable statistic is that 70% of all US crops are fed to livestock!

It takes 108 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of corn, 119 gallons for 1 pound of potatoes, 132 gallons for 1 pound of wheat, or 216 gallons of water for 1 pound of soy. But it takes a whopping 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef! (This includes the water that was needed to irrigate the crops – corn/soy/grass – in the cattle’s feed, as well as the water it drank).
[All figures are from this National Geographic site.]

Let’s put this into perspective:

If you take a daily seven-minute shower using a standard 3-gallon-per-minute showerhead, you’re using about 150 gallons of water per week, or 7,800 gallons of water per year. But if you switch to a 2-gallon-per-minute low-flow showerhead, you use about 100 gallons of water per week, or 5,200 gallons of water per year. By going low flow, you save 2,600 gallons of water per year, which is excellent.

But by giving up only three pounds of beef per year, you’d save 5,400 gallons of water – that’s more than an entire year’s worth of showers with a low-flow showerhead. Think about that. Really think about it… I’m not talking about giving up all beef, I’m talking about eating only three less pounds of beef for the ENTIRE YEAR. You would save more water by eating three less pounds of beef a year than you would by not showering at all for the entire year.

Beef isn’t the only culprit. All animal agriculture (including dairy & eggs) is quickly depleting our finite fresh water resources.  Growing plants to feed to animals that we eat, instead of just eating the plants directly, is extremely inefficient and wasteful. On average, a vegan (indirectly) consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average American diet. Reducing the amount of meat you eat is the most effective way to conserve water.

For more information about the meat industry’s effect on our environment, check out this extremely thorough report by the United Nations, Livestock’s Long Shadow. Chapter 4 is about water.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with mixed frozen fruit, flax seed (for omega-3), and almond milk
Lunch: Thundercloud‘s Nada Chicken Parm sub (no cheese, add hot peppers!)
Dinner: Pinto bean tacos with homemade guac, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, and salsa

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

Today is Blog Action Day 2010. This annual event, organized by change.org, is held every October 15 to unite the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year’s topic is water. Today thousands of bloggers from over 125 different countries will come together to write about water issues in their communities and around the world.

Why Water?

In industrialized countries, we don’t tend to worry much about water, but while we carelessly pollute and squander water in the US, others around the world struggle to find water that is safe to drink.

The problem of scarce clean water
Nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean water, which causes a litany of struggles, diseases, and death.

  • – 40 Billion Hours: African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 40 pounds to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. More Info
  • – 38,000 Children a Week: Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. More Info
  • – Wars Over Water: Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa. More Info
  • – A Human Right: In July, to address the water crisis, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right over. But we are far from implementing solutions to secure basic access to safe drinking water. More Info

Water over-consumption in industrialized countries
While the developing world faces a water crisis, those in industrialized countries consume far more than their fair share.

  • – Food Footprint: It takes over 6 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That means it would take about 2 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the US. More Info
  • – Technology Footprint: The shiny new iPhone in your pocket requires 2 cups of water to charge. That may not seem like much, but with over 80 million active iPhones in the world, that’s 10.5 million gallons to charge those alone. More Info
  • – Fashion Footprint: That cotton t-shirt you’re wearing right now took 400 gallons of water to produce, and your jeans required an extra 1,797 gallons. More Info
  • – Bottled Water Footprint: The US, Mexico and China lead the world in bottled water consumption, with people in the US drinking an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year. Over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture those water bottles, 86% of which will never be recycled. More Info

Water and the environment
The disregard for water resources in industrialized countries impacts more than humans – it causes environmental devastation.

  • – Waste Overflow: Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources. This not only negatively impacts the environment but also harms the health of surrounding communities. More Info
  • – Polluted Oceans: Death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters costs the global economy $12.8 billion a year. More Info
  • – Uninhabitable Rivers: Today, 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of America’s lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life. More Info

Animal agriculture and water
Nearly half of the water used in the US is squandered on animal agriculture. Between watering the crops grown to feed farm animals, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning the filthy factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply.

  • 4,000 Gallons: According to a special report in Newsweek, “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.” It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce a meat-based diet, but only 300 gallons of water a day are needed to produce a vegetarian diet. More Info
  • Pollution: Besides just wasting water, factory farms also pollute it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal factories pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. The major sources of pollution are from antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, sediments from eroded pastures, and animal wastes. More Info
  • Poop: Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, except there are no sewage systems to dispose of the waste from factory farms. Much of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the US is stored in sprawling brown lagoons. These lagoons often spill over into surrounding waterways and cause massive destruction. In 1995, 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river, killing 10-14 million fish. This spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster. In West Virginia and Maryland, scientists have discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this freakish deformity is the result of factory-farm run-off from drug-laden chicken feces. More Info

  • Causing Illness: Besides the environmental problems caused by farmed animal waste, the dangerous fecal bacteria from farm sewage (including E. coli) can also cause serious illness in humans. Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution issued this warning about animal waste: “…it’s untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased… It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with, and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick…Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated… Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.” More Info
  • Using Rivers As Sewers: The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states yet, amazingly, the federal government continues to allow factory farms to use our rivers as sewers. More Info

Solutions

There are some very simple things that we can all do to make a difference, like eating less meat and drinking from reusable bottles (like Nalgenes) instead of disposable ones. And while these things are fantastic, we need to do more than this to change the course of our destiny.  Money is a good start. Donate to Charity: water. Just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years. Americans spend more that $15 billion a year on bottled water (that’s more than on ipods or movie tickets). Why don’t we put that money toward changing the world and saving lives instead?

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Breakfast: Smoothie with banana, pineapple, strawberry, and almond milk
Lunch: Bean salad (kidneys, green beans, chickpeas, navy beans, vinegar & oil) and fresh artisan bread
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Dinner: Amazing vegan pizza from Whole Foods (with roasted red pepper hummus, spinach, olives, artichoke hearts, red and yellow bell peppers)
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The Good Life Doesn’t Have to Cost the Planet

I’m still working on getting into a daily rhythm here in Austin. It’s been just over a week since I moved here, so between starting a new job, trying to unpack, and struggling to run in 100 degree heat, you’ll have to bear with me as I slowly ramp back up on the blogging habit. In the meantime, here is an awesome article by John Robbins (bolding of text was added by me).

John Robbins could have inherited the well-known Baskin Robbins ice cream chain, but instead he has dedicated his life to advocating for a more compassionate, just world. Through his books, Robbins is inspiring readers to shift their focus from acquiring wealth to living compassionate, sustainable lives.

It’s important to be thrifty and save. But a truly fulfilling life requires more than frugality. It also requires, I believe, a sense of purpose that is connected to something greater than ourselves. For me, this means living with gratitude and respect for all life, caring for others, and being part, if I can, of restoring the earth.

For the ten years that my wife, Deo, and I lived on an island off the coast of British Columbia, we grew 90 percent of our own food. Everything we grew was entirely organic. Although the phrase “carbon footprint” didn’t exist back then, ours was very small.

We had no livestock because we didn’t want to kill animals for food, since there was other food we could grow or buy that provided all the nourishment we needed. Some may think I am overly sentimental, but I’ve known too many animals who’ve felt like family to me. When I see a wild bird in flight, my instinct is not to grab a gun to shoot and kill it. My desire is to appreciate its beauty and understand its place in the web of life.

In the years since our time on the island, I’ve learned a great deal about how animals are treated in modern factory farms, and what I’ve learned has changed me yet again. I won’t describe it in gory detail, because you’ve probably seen pictures or heard stories of how bad it is—of the concentration camp conditions these animals are forced to endure. But I will tell you that in reality it’s every bit as bad as—or worse than—you’ve heard.

All of the animals involved in modern meat production—cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and so forth—are kept in conditions that violate their essential natures, that frustrate even their most basic needs, that cause them incomprehensible suffering. You don’t have to be a vegetarian, nor even a particularly compassionate person, to be disgusted by the level of cruelty that takes place every day in modern meat production. Julia Child, the famous chef, author, and TV personality, used to dismiss vegetarians as sappy. But when, late in her life, I took her to visit a veal production facility, she was horrified by what she saw. “I had no idea it was so severe,” she told me.

All this leaves me with a question that I think we need, as a society, to ask: How is it that we call some animals “pets,” lavish our love on these animals, and get so much in return—and yet then we turn around and call other animals “dinner” and feel justified, by virtue of this semantic distinction, in treating these animals with any level of cruelty so long as it lowers the price per pound? The cruelties inherent in modern meat production are so intense that it’s hard to eat these products and honor compassion at the same time. If you eat any kind of meat, you might want to purchase products that you know to be truly free-range and organic, such as those with the “Animal Compassion” logo from Whole Foods Market.

Because I so deeply deplore cruelty to animals, and I’ve been publicly active in bringing attention to the systematic cruelty in modern meat production, people often ask me if my reluctance to eat meat stems from ethical reasons. Yes, it does, and yet over the years I’ve learned something else that has also affected me greatly. As a concerned citizen of our beautiful but endangered planet, I want to do whatever I can to help protect the fragile biosystems on which so much depends, so that your children and mine, and all generations yet to come, might have a chance for a viable future.

What does that have to do with eating meat? A lot more than you might think. In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations released a seminal report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” The report states that meat production is the second or third largest contributor to environmental problems at every level and at every scale, from global to local. It is a primary culprit in land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, species extinction, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. Henning Steinfeld, a senior author of the report, stated, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is needed to remedy the situation.”

As Ezra Klein wrote in The Washington Post in 2009, “The evidence is strong. It’s not simply that meat is a contributor to global warming; it’s that it is a huge contributor. Larger, by a significant margin, than the global transportation sector.” In his influential documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore presents a compelling argument for the seriousness of human-induced global warming. But for some reason he asks us to change our lightbulbs while never asking us to change our diets. Seeing this omission, I’ve realized how deeply we are conditioned to think of meat eating as the reward for affluence and how difficult it can be to question it. Meat eating has held such a central place in the old good life that it can just slip by, unquestioned.

But question it we must if we are going to take seriously our responsibility to the planet. Cattle are notorious for producing methane, which is one of the four primary greenhouse gases. You may find it difficult to take cow burps and flatulence seriously, but livestock emissions are no joke. Methane comes from both ends of the cow in such enormous quantities that scientists seriously view it as one of the greatest threats to our earth’s climate.

And there’s more. The FAO report states that livestock production generates 65 percent of the nitrous oxide (another extremely potent greenhouse gas) produced by human activities. The FAO concludes that overall, livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and planes in the world combined.

Similarly, a 2009 report published in Scientific American remarked that “producing beef for the table has a surprising environmental cost: it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.” The greenhouse gas emissions from producing a pound of beef, the study found, are 58 times greater than those from producing a pound of potatoes.

Some people thought the Live Earth concert handbook was exaggerating when it stated that, “Refusing meat is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint,” but it wasn’t. This is literally true. Even Environmental Defense, a group that was called George W. Bush’s favorite environmental group for its less-than-radical stands, calculates that if every meat eater in the United States swapped just one meal of chicken per week for a vegetarian meal, the carbon savings would be equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road.

People have begun comparing eating little or no animal products with driving a Prius (“Vegetarianism is the new Prius”) and likewise compared eating meat with driving a Hummer. But this comparison, as striking as it is, actually understates the amount of greenhouse gases that stem from meat. In 2006, a University of Chicago study found that a vegan diet is far more effective than driving a hybrid car in reducing our carbon footprint. Scientists who have done the calculations say that a Prius driver who consumes a meat-based diet actually contributes more to global warming than a Hummer driver who eats low on the food chain.

Then, in late 2009, Worldwatch Institute published a seminal report that took things further. The thoughtful and meticulously thorough study, written by World Bank agricultural scientist Robert Goodland, who spent 23 years as the Bank’s lead environmental adviser, and Jeff Anhang, an environmental specialist for the Bank, came to the conclusion that animals raised for food account for more than half of all human-caused greenhouse gases. Eating plants instead of animals, the authors state, would be by far the most effective strategy to reverse climate change, because it “would have far more rapid effects on greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations-and thus on the rate that the climate is warming-than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”

I often see very well-intentioned people going to all sorts of lengths to live a greener lifestyle. It’s sadly ironic that they sometimes ignore what would be the single most effective thing they could be doing. If we are really committed to saving the environment we need to know where our leverage is. We need to focus on where we can get the most benefit. Eating lower on the food chain is a real boon to the whole earth community. The good life doesn’t have to cost the planet.

The question we will collectively answer with our lives in the coming years is this: Are we going to take the earth’s needs into account, or are we going to indulge our appetites without regard for the impact we’re having on the environment?

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released at the end of 2007, was the largest and most detailed summary of the climate change situation ever undertaken. Its authors included thousands of scientists from dozens of countries. It unequivocally predicted serious risks and damages to species, ecosystems, human infrastructure, societies, and livelihoods in the future unless drastic action to reduce warming was taken.

Summarizing our current predicament, the Worldwatch Institute says that if we do not radically change course, “Children born today will find their lives preoccupied with a host of hardships created by an inexorably warming world. Food supplies will be diminished and many of the world’s forests will be destroyed. Not just the coral reefs that nurture many fisheries but the chemistry of the oceans will face disruption.”

And one more thing: We all know that everyone needs to eat, but we tend to overlook the fact that it’s not efficient to cycle grain through animals. The production of a pound of feedlot beef requires sixteen pounds of corn and soybeans. That’s why the noted author Frances Moore Lappé called modern meat production “a protein factory in reverse.” From the point of view of world hunger, if you feed corn and soybeans to livestock, you’re actually wasting most of the protein and other nutrients that you’ve grown. If you think about the vast numbers of people who are starving on our planet, it begins to look like a crime against humanity to take 80 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. today and feed it to livestock. But that is exactly what we are doing, so we can have cheap meat. Cheap, that is, if you don’t count the human suffering that is and will be caused by climate deterioration, the cruelty to billions of animals, and the unmet food needs of hundreds of millions of people.

It’s striking to me how much correlation there is between the food choices that are the healthiest, those that are the least expensive, and those that are most socially and environmentally responsible. It is a fact of singular significance today that eating lower on the food chain—eating more plants and fewer animals—addresses all of these goals in a positive way.

While efforts to use government as an agent of social change don’t have the best reputation, this could be an instance in which such an approach might be useful. Since we have taxes, why don’t we tax the things that are bad for the world and use some of that money to lower the price of things that are good? This would be a revenue-neutral way of fostering a better world. For example, what if we taxed agrochemicals and used the revenue to subsidize organic and other safe forms of growing food? What if we taxed junk food and used the income to subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables? What if we taxed white bread and used the revenue to lower the price of whole wheat bread? What if we taxed products that are responsible for a disproportionate share of greenhouse gases, such as meat, and used the money to subsidize vegetable gardens and fruit orchards in every school and neighborhood in the country?

The results would be impressive: We’d have genuinely happy meals, because we’d be eating far better and at far less expense. We’d be so much healthier as people that what we’d save in medical bills would go a long way toward solving the crisis in the health care system. And we’d dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and thus have a more stable climate.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with 1 peach, frozen mango, spinach, and soy milk
Lunch: Brown rice medley (some fancy mixed rices from Whole Foods) with pinto beans and a cucumber and tomato salad
Dinner: A large baked potato with olive oil, garlic salt, minced onion flakes, and fresh rosemary – this was really delicious!!

Happy Earth Day!

“If we treated others as we wish to be treated ourselves, then decency and stability would have to prevail. I suggest that we execute such a pact with our planet.”

Stephen Jay Gould

According to polls, three-quarters of us define ourselves as environmentalists. We recycle our garbage, switch our lightbulbs to CFLs, take our reusable bags to the grocery store, and maybe even hang our wash on the line to dry. But, in reality, most of us are “environmentalists” until we sit down to eat.

To truly cure Mother Earth’s ills, we can’t do it on a diet of chicken, fish, pork, and beef. Try as you might, you simply aren’t an environmentalist until you start eating green.

Environmental Groups (including the National Audubon Society and theUnion of Concerned Scientists) declare that raising animals for food has a worse effect on the planet than just about anything else we can do.

America’s meat addiction is steadily poisoning and depleting our clean water, arable land, and fresh air.

Pollution
The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than the entire transportation industry.  It also causes more water pollution in the US than all other industries combined because the animals raised for food in the US produce 130 times more excrement than the human population. Every year, factory farms dump 220 billion gallons of animal waste onto farmland and into our waterways.

Land
Animal agriculture is responsible for 85 percent of US soil erosion.  Grazing occupies 26% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production requires about one-third of all arable land. About 70% of all grazing land in dry areas is considered degraded, mostly because of overgrazing, compaction and erosion attributable to livestock activity. Twenty times more land is required to feed a meat-eater than to feed a pure vegetarian.

Water
Raising animals for food requires more water than all other uses of water combined.  It literally consumes more than half of all the water used in the United States. (It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.) Plus, animal agriculture causes more water pollution than any other industry due to runoff and dumping of animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken, and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. The sector also generates almost two-thirds of anthropogenic ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.

Deforestation
The primary cause for deforestation in America is not urban development. For each acre of American forest that is cleared to make room for parking lots, roads, houses, and shopping malls, 7 acres of forest are converted into land for grazing livestock and/or growing livestock feed. Two-thirds of the rain forests of Central America have been cleared, in part to raise cattle whose meat is exported to profit the US food industry. Some 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, and feed crops cover a large part of the reminder.

Energy
Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the US (with the air pollution that entails).

Animals
You can’t be concerned about our environment without caring about our fellow inhabitants.  Animals are made of flesh and blood, have complex social and psychological lives, and feel pain just as humans do. More than 25 billion are killed by the meat industry each year, and they’re killed in ways that would horrify any compassionate person.

The good news is that you can make a big difference, starting today! The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook states that “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.” Researchers at the University of Chicago found that going vegan is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a standard American car to a Toyota Prius.

If every American ate meatless for just one day per week, the effect would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road.  If every American removed just one serving of meat from their diet each week, it would be the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road. Go green. Eat meatless.

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

-Gaylord Nelson, former governor of Wisconsin, founder of Earth Day

Belgian City does “Meatless Thursday”

Thursdays were declared “Veggie Day” in the city of Ghent!  The Belgian city has decided to go veg for one day a week in an effort to highlight the environmental and health costs of eating meat.

The city authorities in Ghent, some 30 miles west of Brussels, are asking residents to get involved and opt for vegetarian meals at least one day a week.  Ghent is the first city in Europe to try such a scheme.

According to the city’s campaign publicity (and as we all know from reading this blog!), eating less meat can help to minimize the ecological footprint of your food because stock breeding has a detrimental impact on the environment. It points to data from the United Nations which says livestock is responsible for generating around 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It is also hoped that Veggie Day will have a positive health impact in the fight against diet-related illnesses such as obesity, cancer and diabetes.

Organizers provided residents with meat-free recipes and a list of vegetarian restaurants at a “launch party” in the center of the city. (Ghent claims to have more vegetarian eateries per inhabitant than Paris, London and Berlin.) Demonstrations were also on offer to people looking for green cooking tips.

 Kudos to Ghent for being so progressive and I hope other cities will soon follow suit!

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Breakfast: Cranberry walnut toast with margarine
Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwich and tater tots from Sonic (and a Limeade, of course)
Dinner: Made a huge pot of Vegetarian Chili for my family. (They loved it!)

Eggs And The Environment

It’s not just pig farms that produce massive pools of waste.  Olivera egg ranch in northern California has a 16.5 acre lagoon filled with waste sludge from its more than 700,000 caged hens.  The stench and eye-burning fumes cause headaches and nausea for the neighbors.

Waste lagoons like this (which are on all factory farms) are the leading cause of soil and groundwater contamination in the US and contribute greatly to the vast greenhouse gas emissions that fuel the global warming problem.

Even though factory farms are responsible for more than 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (which is much larger than the carbon footprint of the transportation industry), and 37% of those gases are derived from methane (which has 23 times the global warming impact of CO2), the farming industry is not subject to industrial emissions standards required by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Just before leaving office, the Bush administration issued a regulation exempting farms from reporting to federal regulators the releases of air pollution from animal waste. (Really?!)  The regulation is being challenged by environmental groups in federal court.

brown_lagoon

Massive Waste Lagoon

 When you buy conventional eggs, order eggs at restaurants, or eat items that contain eggs,  you are contributing to this industry.

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Breakfast: Pancake breakfast (hosted by the building manager to welcome new tenants to our office building)
Lunch: Salad bar from Harris Teeter
Dinner: Meatless crumbles and black bean tacos (cooked in a pan together with taco seasoning), with Daiya vegan cheese (it melts!), cilantro, tabasco, and tortillas from San Antonio
tacos

Expensive Excrement (yet another poop post)

Two weeks ago, a Kansas City, MO court awarded $11 million to 15 people in a case about pig poop.  The plaintiffs sued Premium Standard Farms (a pig CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) over the cesspits of pig manure causing nauseating odors and swarms of flies.

In their testimony, the 15 plaintiffs said that the odors and flies forced them to remain indoors with the windows shut.  This situation makes it difficult to invite people over, or enjoy outdoor activities with their children.  One woman who sells Mary Kay cosmetics said it hinders her from having cosmetic parties at her house.

Some of the most descriptive testimony came from a video of a cesspit, which is a holding tank for pig manure, urine, and afterbirth. Premium Standard Farms has 50 cesspits, housing the waste of over 200,000 pigs annually.

Robert Lawrence, a medical doctor from Johns Hopkins University, testified, “This cesspit has a mat of flies and maggots that is at least 6 inches deep.” He continued, “Trillions of maggots lead to trillions of ‘filth-flies.’ ” At one point, he even apologized to the jury, “I’m sorry. This is really disgusting.”

Of the 15 plaintiffs, 13 received $850,000.  The 14th received $250,000 because she and her husband still farm the land, but live elsewhere. The 15th, daughter of one couple, received $75,000 because she lives elsewhere.

That’s some expensive shit.

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Breakfast: Bean and soy cheese taco
Lunch: Very large fruit salad with cottage cheese (this was the veggie option at a catered lunch)
Dinner: Pasta with pesto sauce

Post About Poop, Number 2 (pun intended)

This post isn’t actually related to the first Post About Poop, except that they both do happen to be about, well, poop.

In the past 40 years, the US has effectively reduced the manmade pollutants that left our waterways dead, discolored, and occasionally flammable. But sadly, we’ve managed to smother the same waters with the most natural stuff in the world: manure. 

According to scientists and environmentalists, animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become a modern pollution problem. The country simply has more dung than it can handle.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, air pollutants that cause acid rain have been cut by 56 percent. The outputs from sewage plants have gotten 45 percent cleaner.  But, according to Cornell University researchers, the amount of one key pollutant – nitrogen – entering the environment in manure has increased by at least 60 percent since the 1970s.

The reason for manure’s rise as a pollutant is the shift in agriculture. In recent decades, livestock raising has shifted to a small number of large farms. At these places, with thousands of hogs, or hundreds of thousands of chickens, the traditional, self-contained cycle of farming (manure feeds the crops, then the crops feed the animals) is completely broken.  The result is too much manure and too little to do with it.

Crowded together in megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields. That excess manure gives off air pollutants, and it is the country’s fastest-growing large source of methane, a greenhouse gas.  It washes down with the rain, helping to cause the 230 oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that have proliferated along the U.S. coast. In the Chesapeake Bay, about 1/4th of the pollution that leads to dead zones can be traced back to the rear ends of cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

Air
In the air, that extra manure can dry into dust, forming a “brown fog.” It can emit substances that contribute to climate change (methane and nitrogen). And it can give off a smell like a punch to the stomach (ever been to Lubbock, TX?).

“You have to cover your face just to go from the house to the car,” said Lynn Henning, a farmer in rural Clayton, MI, who said she became an environmental activist after fumes from huge new dairies gave her family headaches and burning sinuses. The way that modern megafarms produce it, Henning said, “Manure is no longer manure. Manure is a toxic waste now.”

Water
In the water, the chemicals in manure don’t poison life, like pesticides or spilled oil. Instead, they create too much life, but the wrong kind. The chemicals in manure serve as fertilizer for unnatural algae blooms that drain away oxygen as they decompose.

Scientists say the number of suffocating dead zones (oxygen-depleted areas where even worms and clams climb out of the mud, desperate to breathe) has grown from 16 in the 1950s to at least 230 today. The Chesapeake’s is usually the country’s third largest, after the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie.

Laws
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as other pollution problems have, like human sewage, acid rain, or industrial waste.

The Obama administration has made moves to try to change this but has already found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the politics of poop. Around the country, agricultural interests have fought back against moves like these, saying that new rules on manure could mean crushing new costs for farmers.

The Environmental Proection Agency (EPA) does not set strict rules, but instead issues “guidelines” that apply only to the largest operations. The guidelines might limit how much manure farmers can spread on individual fields, or order them to plant grassy strips along riverbanks to filter manure-laden runoff, but do not set a hard cap on how much manure can wash off of farms. These guidelines have only been in place since the 1990s.

Last fall, the US Department of Agriculture considered a change to its guidelines, to limit the amount of manure farmers could apply to their fields, but they scrapped the idea, saying the issue needed “more study.”

This month, the EPA announced that reducing manure-laden runoff was one of its six national enforcement initiatives. We can only hope that this will result in stricter regulations.

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Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Large spinach salad and hummus with pretzels
Dinner: A steamed artichoke (my favorite food EVER) with a side of red potato, chopped and cooked with onion and garlic
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