Carbon Neutral and Sustainable Are Simply Not Enough
To learn more and sign our petition, click here.
This week, there were thousands of academics, diplomats, lobbyists and pundits converging on New York for the United Nations emergency Climate Summit. Unfortunately, they were all arguing about the wrong topic. As a pseudo Eco-Economist, I feel compelled to shout:
“It’s the Economy Stupid!—Not the Environment.”
I know. I plagiarized the title. But it cuts straight to the point. That’s not in vogue anymore. We’re supposed to be politically correct so as not to offend anybody. We tend to defer to so called experts while we snack on digestible sound bites, lacking in substance.
Leading up to the UN Climate Summit, Burger King found itself in the cross hairs as the latest scape goat in this chronically superficial assault on unsustainability. The headlines read: “Burger King’s plan to merge with doughnut chain Tim Horton’s in Canada may be a bad sign for Southeast Asia’s rainforests.”
As if the merger changes anything with regard to their use of palm oil or the impact the two companies are already having independently on the environment.
We point fingers at Burger King because it means we get to side-step our own personal responsibility in the matter. Politicians and economists like to point the finger at Burger King because they don’t have to deal with the deeper systemic problems that underlie the broader issues—for which they are culpable. Environmentalists like to point the finger at Burger King because they’re a big target and the headlines bring in big donations.
There’s a lot of snack-talk today about climate change, environmental footprints, deforestation, sustainability and inequality. But, I prefer simple straight-forward talk. It reveals the true nature of things, more than the fancy-speak of talking heads.
I find it utterly dumbfounding, not to mention infuriating, that so many supposedly great minds have perpetuated the climate change and sustainability debate and yet there is still no honest statement of the problem and therefore, no hope of a clear solution. This is a classic example of diagnosing a symptom and not its cause.
I am the founder of an organization called InfiniteEARTH. We save rainforests. Specifically, we save peat swamp forests on the island of Borneo in Indonesia, one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet and home to the dwindling population of endangered orangutans. After seven years of hard work, we won the right to protect and manage nearly 65,000 hectares (162,500 acres) of Indonesian rainforest, all of which was under imminent threat of slash and burn conversion to palm oil plantations. You could fit most of Singapore inside our forest reserve, called the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve.
From that description, you might make the forgivable assumption that I am an environmentalist. But, I am not. Truth is, I’m not sure what an environmentalist really is, but I don’t think I’m one of them. Not really. The reason we haven’t solved our environmental problems is because we have environmentalists working on solutions to what is fundamentally a systemic economic problem.
Read page 1
I am many things. I’m an economist by education, an entrepreneur by default—since I am fatally allergic to the bureaucratic quagmire of politics, corporations or NGOs. I am an adventurer, a naturalist and most importantly a father.
But what I really am, if you peel back the labels, is an insatiable glutton, a financial fraud, an addict and a thief, to the extent that I steal from my children to fund my addictions. I am … just like you. It was the eventual realization of this long list of shortcomings, as a species, that led me to create InfiniteEARTH.
So, you see, InfiniteEARTH wasn’t created to save the rainforest in Borneo per se, even though that’s what we do. InfiniteEARTH’s Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve was meant to create a living, working example of how we can correct the underlying cause of a chronic economic problem, not put a band-aide on an environmental consequence. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it was created to provide restitution for an economic crime.
Our real problem is CREDIT. CHEAP, EASY CREDIT. Our current extractive economic model is based on credit. And we like it that way because it subsidizes our value meals at Burger King, the price of which accounts only for the cost of cutting down the forest for palm oil and pasture land, not for the environmental costs of replacing what was lost. But with this purely extractive cost model, we have all conscripted our children into debt slavery.
As with everything else about our modern global economy, we’ve kicked the can down the road, leaving our children to pay for our unsustainable lifestyles. That has to stop—immediately. But, I don’t have any illusions that it will. We are biologically programed to consume—gluttonously—a genetic leftover from thousands of years of food scarcity prior to the agricultural revolution. Our brains have not yet caught up to the reality that we do not have to gorge ourselves in fear of not knowing when the next meal is coming. Unfortunately, by the time our brain’s biology adapts to this fact, we’ll have depleted the Earth’s resources and broad scarcity will be the norm once again.
No amount of social conditioning alone will overcome this biological predisposition quickly enough to save us from the veritable cliff we’re headed for. So, at the very least, we have to start paying for the replacement costs of what we consume. That is the most profound reality of our time.
Therefore, the conversation we need to be having, post haste, is how we embed environmental replacement costs into everything we consume, so that we don’t leave our children environmentally bankrupt and enslaved.
This is not a political issue or an environmental issue and it’s not about Burger King or Tim Horton’s. This is undoubtedly an economic issue; but even further to its core, this is a moral issue.
We are living in a period of abundance and mass consumption unequaled in the course of human history. We currently consume at a rate of 1.5 times the Earth’s capacity to absorb our waste and regenerate the resources we’ve consumed. By the year 2050, when our population reaches 9 billion people, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support our insatiable demand for natural resources.
In a shameful frenzy to satisfy our insatiable appetite for mass consumerism, we are climbing up the backs of our children and short selling their futures. Our legacy and their inheritance is that we have left them environmentally bankrupt and financially enslaved.
The ongoing financial crisis and the chronic economic bubbles that precede them, are a result of the broader reality that everything we consume is highly leveraged, with the real total cost of ownership being far greater than its current price reflects. By paying only for the extraction costs of our non-renewable natural resources and not their full replacement costs, we are borrowing (stealing) from our children’s futures to subsidize the cost of the goods and services we consume today.
Read page 1
Just since the inception of InfiniteEARTH’s Rimba Raya project some six years ago, the world has lost 90 million hectares (220 million acres) of tropical bio-diverse forest, an area three times the size of Norway, slashed and burned and replaced with palm oil plantations for the production of packaged cakes, cookies, candy and crackers or cleared for cattle grazing for the production of fast food hamburgers.
For these frivolous things we have stolen from our children’s futures and for the first time in modern history we have condemned the next generation to a lower standard of living than our own.
Because of this simple fact, our extractive economic model simply doesn’t work anymore. Our environmental problems are the result of a chronic underlying economic ailment.
Launching clever campaigns to convince people to reduce, recycle, reuse, and repurpose is terrific, but it alone won’t solve the problem when half the planet is just beginning to consume and the population is set to double in span of my children’s lifetime. Tying ourselves to trees and standing in front of the bulldozers makes great news and calls attention to the problem, but does nothing to address the underlying causes. We need to be discussing the causal effect that our extractive economic model has on our unsustainable consumptive behavior.
Our current extractive economic model has existed since the dawn of mankind. We extract from nature’s bounty and we consume. Nature replaces what we consume. And the cycle continues. For some 10,000 years of human history, this model has worked. Nature’s incredible abundance and productivity always managed to out-produce what the world’s population consumed.
And then came the Industrial Revolution. That spurred an increase in consumption levels, the standard of living and a dramatic rise in global population. Sometime in the early years of the nineteenth century, the world’s population reached 1 billion.
My grandmother was born a century later in 1917, in the heartland of America. She is still alive today and at age of 97, she has seen the world’s population increase four-fold—all in the span of one person’s lifetime. My grandma’s family was poor—like most people in that era. Their standard of living was the rule, not the exception. When she was a child, my grandma was lucky to have one pair of shoes and one winter coat. She walked six miles to school—yes, in the snow and uphill both ways. She shared a single bed with 3 other siblings. Her family heated their modest home (that her father built himself) with the cast iron stove in the kitchen.
Today, she still lives modestly and well within her means. She is, after all, a product of the Great Depression and WWII. After a lifetime of never making more than $4 an hour at a department store and raising five kids, my grandma and grandpa somehow miraculously retired with a comfortable amount of savings that defies the laws of finance and is worthy of a Harvard Business School case study. She has outlived my grandpa by more than a decade and now lives alone. Her house is paid for and she lives on an $800/month social security check. Even at that, she still manages to put some of it aside for a rainy day. That kind discipline has never been seen in any generation since.
Her lifestyle today, however, far exceeds that of even the wealthiest people of her childhood. Today, she lives in Florida, has a car and a house three times the size of the one she grew up in. She has a closet full of clothes, a dishwasher, a microwave, central heat and air-conditioning. She goes out to eat—often. She still travels—by airplane. She spoils her great-grandchildren with too many Birthday and Christmas gifts.
My grandma is not alone. The other seven and a half billion people with whom she now shares this fragile planet, have the same things, many have more, and the rest want what she has. And that means there are going to be a lot more Burger Kings and Tim Horton’s, not because they’re evil, but because we consumers keep craving what they’re offering, all the while passing the bill to our children.
To make matters worse, instead of addressing how we embed environmental replacements in the cost of everything we consume, environmentalists have only exacerbated the problem by focusing on corporations and giving the consumer a free pass. To be fair, that’s probably because we don’t donate to people who tell us we’re part of the problem. Or, maybe because they’re also consumers and that means confronting their own personal responsibility. Some of them even say that paying for environmental replacements is akin to a sin tax, which means it’s better to do nothing I guess. We conveniently carry out this endless debate inside a house of mirrors, where blame is deflected in a dozen different false directions.
We all really need to start being honest with ourselves and with our children.
My daughter’s birthday is coming up soon. She’ll be twelve. I’d like not to feel like a hypocrite when I give her the present I bought for her, knowing that I bought it on credit that she will have to repay. I’d like to be able to tell her that she and her little brother will have a better standard of living than I had, that things are getting better, not worse. I’d like to be able to say I did everything I could to make sure that’s true. But I can’t. Today, I’m still a liar and a thief. And so are you. Today, I still steal from their piggybanks to pay for my cravings. And so do you. Today, things are not getting better. I hope that will change. But, for that to change, we have to change the narrative.
We have an economic problem that is causing irreparable damage to this planet and threatening the survival of mankind. One of the most efficient and most immediate ways to begin correcting that, is to start paying for the total replacement costs of the natural resources used in the things we consume, not just for their extraction costs.
It’s the Economy Stupid! Is there an economist in the house?
To learn more and sign our petition, click here.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
- 18 Cookbooks for Building a Diverse and Just Food System ... ›
- 19 Individuals and Groups Building Stronger Black Communities ... ›
- 8 Cookbooks We're Reading This Fall - EcoWatch ›
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded its list of potentially toxic hand sanitizers to avoid because they could be contaminated with methanol.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- Why Hand-Washing Really Is as Important as Doctors Say - EcoWatch ›
- If You're Worried About the New Coronavirus, Here's How to Protect ... ›
- Vodka Won't Protect You From Coronavirus, and 4 Other Things to ... ›
By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
- 4 Exciting Dam-Removal Projects to Watch - EcoWatch ›
- Jump-Starting the Dam Removal Movement in the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Boom: Removing 81 Dams Is Transforming This California Watershed ›
- Sea Level Rise Is Speeding up Along Most of the U.S. Coast ... ›
- Protecting Mangroves Can Prevent Billions of Dollars in Global ... ›
- Flooding Risk for U.S. Homes: Millions More Are Vulnerable Than ... ›
- 300 Million People Worldwide Could Suffer Yearly Flooding by 2050 ... ›
- Sea Level Rise Could Put 2.4 Million U.S. Coastal Homes at Risk ... ›
By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
- 7 Amazing New Fish Species Discovered in 2017 - EcoWatch ›
- Millions of Seahorses Wind Up Dead on the Black Market for This ... ›
Presidential hopeful Joe Biden announced a $2 trillion plan Tuesday to boost American investment in clean energy and infrastructure.
- Green New Deal Champion AOC Will Serve on Biden Climate Panel ... ›
- Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces Unveil Improved Climate Policy ... ›