8 Disturbing Facts About Monsanto's Evil Twin—The Chemical Fertilizer Industry
What do you know about the worldwide chemical fertilizer industry? If you're like most people, not much.
There's plenty of press coverage and consumer awareness when it comes to genetically engineered food and crops and the environmental hazards of pesticides and animal drugs. But the fertilizer industry? Not so much—even though it's the largest segment of corporate agribusiness ($175 billion in annual sales) and a major destructive force in polluting the environment, disrupting the climate and damaging public health.
Learning the facts about chemical fertilizers and the companies who produce them will give you yet another reason to boycott chemical/GMO/factory farmed foods and choose organic and grassfed animal products instead. Remember, organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs or animal drugs.
Here's a list of underreported facts that raise disturbing environmental and regulatory questions about Monsanto's Evil Twin—the chemical fertilizer industry:
1. Chemical Fertilizer is the Largest Industry in Global Agribusiness
According to the ETC group, a watchdog organization that researches the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of industrial agriculture and GMOs, the world's seven dominant pesticide, GM and seed companies (including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer and Syngenta) represent a $93 billion market. The global, energy-intensive chemical fertilizer industry is almost twice as large, at $175 billion.
Like most of the other multinational players in Big Food Inc., the fertilizer industry has secretive, vertical or “cartel" like qualities that obscure operations and make regulation difficult. Increasingly, seed and GMO companies, farm equipment producers, pesticide/herbicide makers and crop and soil data producers work in each others' interest seamlessly and behind the scenes, according to ETC.
As ETC points out: “With combined annual revenue of over $385 billion, these companies call the shots. Who will dominate the industrial food chain? And what does it mean for farmers, food sovereignty and climate chaos?"
Industrially mined phosphorus and potash, along with synthetic nitrogen, are major components of the fertilizer industry. Up to 85 percent of the world's known phosphate rock reserves are located in Morocco. About 70 percent of potash comes from former Soviet states and Canada.
2. Fracking has Made U.S. a Huge Nitrogen Fertilizer Producer
In recent years, U.S. production of nitrogen fertilizer has boomed thanks to the falling price of natural gas used in its production. The reason for the cheap gas of course is fracking—the process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with pressurized water spiked with toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, fracking releases large amounts of climate disrupting methane and toxic chemical laden fracking liquids which can permanently pollute underground aquifers.
That's bad for the environment—but good for fertilizer companies. Thanks to low natural gas prices, after decades of importing nitrogen fertilizer from the Middle East, the number of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer plants is growing. The three leading domestic producers—Koch Industries, Orascom Construction Industries and CF Industries—are reaping the benefits.
Who's driving demand for all this nitrogen fertilizer? Monsanto.
Between 2005 and 2010, U.S. growers of genetically engineered corn, largely for GMO animal feed and ethanol, increased their nitrogen fertilizer use by one billion pounds. New nitrogen fertilizer plants are being situated close to the corn and soybean growers to feed demand more efficiently. “It is a highly concentrated and oligopolistic-type industry," said Glen Buckley, a fertilizer industry consultant who spent 30 years working at CF Industries, based in Deerfield, Ill.
3. Koch Industries is a Fertilizer Leader
In 2010, Koch Industries was named “the world's third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer," according to the Wichita Eagle. Koch, which along with Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations in the U.S., is infamous for its support of extreme right-wing politicians and climate deniers. Koch Industries is part of a large system “of buying, leasing, upgrading and expanding fertilizer manufacturing, trading and distribution facilities worldwide." It controls more than 65 terminals “where it wholesales nitrogen fertilizer to co-ops and grain elevators for sale to farmers, as well as selling to the chemical industry," reported the Eagle.
Not surprisingly, Koch's fertilizer unit, called Koch Agronomics, has drawn the ire of environmentalists. Pollution is “strictly monitored and legally permitted by federal, state and local governments," Steve Packebush, president of Koch Fertilizer and vice president for nitrogen for Koch Industries told the Eagle. But how strict are those guidelines, really?
4. Chemical Fertilizer "Enforcement" is Often Self-Monitoring
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the severe harm nitrogen fertilizer does to waterways, including to marine life and humans. Yet the agency's “enforcement" of harmful excessive farm runoff sounds a lot like an honor system.
Asked how National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, which allow farming operations to discharge nitrogen, are “enforced," the EPA says, “The permit will require the facility to sample its discharges and notify EPA and the state regulatory agency of these results. In addition, the permit will require the facility to notify EPA and the state regulatory agency when the facility determines it is not in compliance with the requirements of a permit. EPA and state regulatory agencies also will send inspectors to companies in order to determine if they are in compliance with the conditions imposed under their permits."
Self-monitoring by private industry is of course a government trend across the board. In the late 1990's the government rolled out the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program which took away the majority of those “pesky" federal meat inspectors' duties and allowed Big Meat to self-police its own slaughterhouses. Sometimes U.S. meat inspectors were openly defied and laughed at. HACCP was quickly dubbed Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray. Meat inspectors identified greater amounts of feces and contamination in meat soon after the program was instituted. Since then, self-policing by food producers has only been expanded.
5. Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollutes the Environment and Drinking Water
As most people know, nitrogen runoff from non-organic farms and feedlots into waterways causes hypoxic conditions—lack of oxygen—which regularly kill fish in shocking quantities.
Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water.
Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.
Excessive nitrates in drinking water, common in the corn-growing areas of the U.S, are known to cause deadly "blue baby" syndrome in infants and have been linked to cancer in adults. In combination with herbicide residues such as Syngenta's atrazine, nitrates become even more toxic, potentially causing brain damage and hormone disruption.
In some rural areas, fertilizer pollution levels are 10 times beyond so-called “allowable levels," although golf courses and homeowner fertilizer and pesticide use in urban areas also contribute to the problem. Last fall, the Des Moines Water Works sued three neighboring farming counties over their nitrate discharges but, reported the Associated Press, "the litigation has provoked intense criticism from Iowa's powerful agricultural industry, which argues that farmers are already taking voluntary measures to control them."
6. Nitrogen Fertilizers Harm Workers and Communities
Anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen compound compressed into a clear, colorless liquid for easy application, is extremely dangerous to workers and neighboring communities. It poses explosion and fire hazards as well as respiratory risks.
"It [Anhydrous ammonia] must be stored and handled under high pressure, requiring specially designed and well-maintained equipment," says the University of Minnesota's extension site. "In addition, to ensure their safety, workers must be adequately educated about the procedures and personal protective equipment required to safely handle this product."
In 2013, an anhydrous ammonia explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage near Waco, Texas, killed 15 and injured 160 and caused 150 buildings to be razed. (At the time, Gov. Rick Perry was in Chicago recruiting businesses to relocate in Texas, where safety regulations were more lax and would not cut into their profits).
In 2006, railroads asked to be relieved of their common carrier obligation to haul fertilizer products like anhydrous ammonia or to be protected by a liability cap. Accidents like last year's in South Carolina, where people within a 1.5- mile radius of a derailed train carrying ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonium were evacuated, occur regularly.
Yet the Fertilizer Institute trade group said, “The historically high safety record of anhydrous ammonia transport by rail has been achieved over the years by the fertilizer industry, the railroads and tank car manufacturing and leasing companies working in a close cooperative effort."
7. Chemical Fertilizers Destroy the Soils' Natural Ability to Sequester Excess Atmospheric CO2
According to GMO no-till advocates, adding nitrogen fertilizer to soil, is supposedly “climate friendly" because it allegedly helps crops draw CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil as organic carbon. But University of Illinois soil scientists disputed this view in The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration, a research paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality:
"…excessive [fertilizer] application rates cut profits and are bad for soils and the environment. The loss of soil carbon has many adverse consequences for productivity, one of which is to decrease water storage. There are also adverse implications for air and water quality, since carbon dioxide will be released into the air, while excessive nitrogen contributes to the nitrate pollution problem."
Not surprisingly, much of the organic carbon decline the researchers identified occurred in the fertilized soil found in corn belts.
The ETC group agrees with the University of Illinois researchers.
There is growing recognition that synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHG). The estimated cost of environmental damage from reactive nitrogen emissions is between $70 billion and $320 billion in the European Union alone."
8. Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Chemical Fertilizers Are a Major and Persistent Greenhouse Gas Pollutant
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is responsible for approximate 5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Nitrous oxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's nitrogen cycle and has a variety of natural sources. However, human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management and industrial processes are increasing the amount of N2O in the atmosphere.
The primary cause of N2O contamination of the atmosphere are the nitrogen fertilizers used in industrial (non-organic) agriculture.
Nitrous oxide molecules, in comparison to other greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, an average of 114 years. NO2 also has much more potent heat-trapping characteristics. The impact of one pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide.
Although transportation, industry and energy producers are significant and well-recognized GHG polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated," industrial food and farming. Industrial food and farming accounts for a huge portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA's ridiculously low estimates range from 7 percent to 12 percent, but some climate scientists believe the figure could be as high as 50 percent or more. Industrial food and farming also destroys the natural capacity of plants and soils to sequester atmospheric carbon.
Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including nitrous oxide, which are responsible (along with methane) for at least 20 percent of global warming.
Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed or produce ethanol. Given that about 80 percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing factory-farmed meat, dairy and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the over-production and over-consumption of factory-farmed meat and animal products.
The most climate-damaging greenhouse gas poison used by industrial farmers is synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems, which generate their own large share of GHGs during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms.
German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5 percent of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today.
During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, both the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb-making capacity have soared. By the 1990s, more than 90 percent of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic.
According to the USDA, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen, the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of GHG for every pound produced. That's 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.
Regenerative Organic Farming and Ranching Can Drastically Reduce GHG Emissions
The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, greenhouse gas damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will require wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of millions of chemical farms, feedlots and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens.
If we carried out a full environmental impact statement on industrial and factory farming synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use, we would never give these practices a permit for agricultural use. Ironically, although factory farming is responsible for more GHGs than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under proposed EPA regulations designed to limit GHGs, unless citizens demand it. We must demand that methane pollution from factory farms and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer pollution on chemical farms be highly taxed and regulated in the short term and phased out, as soon as possible. We must substitute instead cover crops, compost and compost tea, as currently utilized in organic farming and ranching.
In the meantime, consumers should boycott all foods and products emanating from Monsanto and its Evil Twin: the chemical fertilizer industry.
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
- The 10 Hottest Climate Change Books of Summer - EcoWatch ›
- 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Activists - EcoWatch ›
- 26 Children's Books to Nourish Growing Minds - EcoWatch ›
Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
- Researchers Develop Solar Paint That Turns Water Vapor Into ... ›
- Paint: The Big Source of Ocean Microplastics You Didn't Know ... ›
- This White Paint Could Reduce the Need for Air Conditioning ... ›
Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
For a deeper dive:
- Scientists Alarmed at Surging Atmospheric Methane, CO2 - EcoWatch ›
- New 3D Methane Models Help NASA to Track Global Trends ... ›
- New Satellite Data Reveals One of the Largest Methane Leaks in ... ›
- Environmental Defense Fund to Launch a Satellite That Will Monitor ... ›