‘The Last Pig’ Doesn’t Offer Easy Answers on Animal Farming
By Monica Stanton
When I sat down to watch The Last Pig, I did so with the slight trepidation of a seasoned environmental filmgoer. But my worries were unfounded. While films about factory farming are known for using gruesome exposé footage to proclaim an ardent animal rights message, director Allison Argo's picturesque, meditative documentary does the opposite. The film gives us idyllic scenes of the relationship between a small-scale pig farmer and his happy herd—and then it gradually unravels the logic of this utopia.
Argo is best known for her documentaries focusing on endangered animals and conservation. Her production company, ArgoFilms Ltd., has produced 19 films and won awards, including six national Emmys and the duPont-Columbia award for journalism. Argo has said that she was hoping to make a film about the ethics of eating animals for some time, and when she discovered pig farmer Bob Comis's reckonings with his vocation in Salon and HuffPost, she knew he was the right subject. Argo's team began filming Comis while he was still farming pigs for consumption, and they were there to capture the transition when he eventually decided to send his last pig to the market and give up animal farming for good.
With countless long landscape shots in upstate New York set against a lively orchestral score, the film first follows Comis on his mission to offer a more ethical alternative to factory-farmed meat. Much like proponents of peaceful parenting, Comis explains that he herds his pigs and retrieves attempted escapees through strategies that play to their higher faculties (such as their attachment to the rest of the herd) rather than through confinement or punitive measures. Strikingly, it seems that this loving care flows in both directions. We learn that Comis started raising pigs at a time when he was battling clinical depression, and his communion with the animals helped him cope.
I often wonder what motivates viewers to see activist films like this one when they know they'll encounter saddening scenes of animal death. Argo's film makes the payoff clear from the start: It's the cute pig footage. Reels and reels of almost painfully adorable pig footage. Yes, the shots of misty early morning farmland and autumnal forests in upstate New York are gorgeous, but they pale in comparison to the endless close-ups of these porcine beauties. In one of the film's most joyous scenes, we watch the pigs splash, stomp, nuzzle and roll around beneath a spewing fountain of water at mud bath time. Amidst the frenzied action, the camera focuses for a long moment on a sow blissfully lounging at the shore of the mud pit, nestling contentedly into the earth as she watches her family frolic.
In one of many sweeping landscape shots, farmer Bob Comis feeds his herd. The Last Pig
These stunning shots aren't the mere aesthetic flourishes of award-winning cinematographer Joseph Brunette. They are integral to conveying Comis's gradual reckoning with his obligation to, as he puts it, peddle in the death of the intelligent creatures he cares for. At one point, we watch a series of naptime close-ups on sleepy brown pig eyes, sparkling dust particles swirling around their lashes. Comis's voice-over comes in: "After 10 years of looking into pig eyes, I've come to understand that they're never vacant. There's always somebody looking back at me."
When the film transitions from these joyful pig bathers and content pig nappers to the inevitable slaughterhouse, we understand Comis's internal conflict. The camera doesn't linger on the gore, but the lifeless bodies of these once-lively friends are enough to give us pause. And when Comis finally decides he must transition to plant farming, we remain in that pause. It's not exactly a happy ending. Comis sends the titular last pig to slaughter, and we're left with quiet final scenes of his solitary vegetable harvesting. The crop shots are as beautiful as always, but Comis worries he won't be able to make a living, and it's hard not to imagine that he misses the pigs. I certainly do.
Unlike the clear message of a film like Eating Animals, The Last Pig doesn't give us an easy dichotomy between "good" small farms and "evil" factory farms. Instead, it invites us to linger in the discomforting space between our values and our practices. Why should pigs be commodities when dogs are companions? Does "happy pigs make happy meat" really make sense? While environmental degradation and urgent attempts at climate action are both hurtling forth at breakneck speed, Argo's film forces us to slow down and ask why, and for whom, we take action in the first place.
"The Last Pig" began filming in 2014 and was boosted by an Indiegogo campaign to wrap up in early 2017. It just finished its festival run this past fall, with 34 festivals and several awards. The film is slated for public release in autumn 2019. If you'd like to bring "The Last Pig" to your community, you can set up a screening to start a dialogue.
Monica Stanton is a news fellow at Stone Pier Press, an environmental publishing company with a food focus.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.