By Katie Cantrell, Tikkun
While perusing the items at a quaint antique store, I happened upon a catalog from the 1920s advertising farm-fresh food. It featured cabbage for two cents per pound, a dozen eggs for 44 cents and a half-gallon of milk for 33 cents. The shop owner told me that he was perplexed by the prices because, adjusting for inflation, it should cost roughly $4 for a dozen eggs and $8 for a gallon of milk in today's dollars. Consumers today pay less than half of what we would expect to pay based on historic prices.
The antique store owner, like most Americans, didn't realize that we currently spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than ever before. While on its face that may seem beneficial, this system of cheap food relies on billions of dollars of externalized costs that are kept hidden from consumers.
Externalized costs are negative effects of producing or consuming a good that are imposed on a third party and not accounted for in the sticker price of an item. Among food products, there is no greater discrepancy between printed cost and true cost than with animal products. When we take a closer look at meat, dairy and eggs, externalized costs become apparent in four primary areas: animals, health, social justice and the environment.
Although we use terms like “pork" and “beef" to obscure the origins of meat, by now most adults know that their farmyard friends are ending up on their plate. But few people realize just how many animals are killed for food or how drastically the lives of those animals vary from the cheery songs we sang as children.
Nine billion land animals are raised and killed for food every year in the U.S. Of those billions of animals, 99 percent are raised on factory farms. Technically known as “concentrated animal feeding operations" or CAFOs, factory farms are defined by dense quantities of animals kept in intensive confinement for their entire lives.
A single facility will house tens of thousands animals, often in cages or crates so small that they cannot even turn around. The animals are unable to engage in the most basic of natural behaviors; the only time they see sunlight or breathe fresh air is when they are shipped to slaughter. Increasingly, even brands that label themselves “organic" or “cage-free" raise thousands of animals in factory farming conditions.
Surveys show that 95 percent of Americans believe that farm animals should be treated well, but 99 percent of farm animals are raised in conditions that closely resemble a horror movie. Recognizing this disparity, agribusiness corporations go to great lengths to hide the unsavory truth from concerned consumers. In response to a string of shocking undercover investigations—revealing “downed" dairy cows jabbed with forklifts, chickens laying eggs on top of rotting corpses of cagemates, pigs beaten with metal poles—agribusiness began lobbying for so-called “ag-gag" laws. Rather than improving conditions and increasing inspections, agribusiness pushed to criminalize unauthorized photography and videography at food production facilities, a change that would make felons of undercover investigators and whistleblowers. Almost thirty states have introduced some variation of these bills and eight states have passed them (although Idaho's was recently struck down as unconstitutional).
However, these bills have had an unintended consequence; formerly oblivious consumers are forced to question, “What are these corporations trying to hide?" People are beginning to realize that the bucolic label and low price on animal products hide some unsavory truths.
Animals are not the only ones suffering and dying as a result of the enormous amount of meat that Americans consume. Every day, more than 3,500 people die from heart disease, stroke and cancer—as many fatalities as if six 747 jets crashed and killed everyone on board. While people would stop flying if six jets crashed on a daily basis, we have come to accept it as a matter of fact that thousands of people will die daily from preventable diseases.
A study of more than 6,000 adults, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that people with diets high in animal protein were 74 percent more likely to die before the end of the study than people with diets low in animal protein. The study also found that people with high protein diets were four times more likely to die of cancer—the same mortality risk as smoking cigarettes.
Several studies have shown that vegetarians are approximately one-third less likely to die of heart disease, diabetes or stroke. If a pill were shown to make these causes of premature death 33 percent less likely, it would be prescribed by every doctor in the country. Yet there is an even simpler, less expensive solution, one without any negative side effects.
Luckily, the health care world is beginning to take note. Kim A. Williams, the president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), lowered his own cholesterol levels by adopting a vegan diet and now hopes to put the ACC “out of business" by recommending a vegan diet to all of his patients. Kaiser Permanente recently advised all of its doctors that, “Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity."
Health professionals are increasingly warning patients that the “value meal" isn't so cheap when you factor in long-term health care costs.
While the personal health impacts hit close to home, the other human costs of factory farming remain hidden from view.
Slaughterhouse workers face the most dangerous job in the country. Their injury rate is thirty-three times higher than the injury rate of other factory workers, yet they usually have no health insurance or job protections. Many suffer from cumulative trauma injuries that cause lifelong debilitating pain. Often, workers are undocumented, leaving them vulnerable to sexual harassment and wage theft.
On top of this, they face a deeply disturbing job. Many slaughterhouse workers develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from seeing so much suffering and death on a daily basis, much like soldiers returning from war. Since they have no access to basic health care, let alone mental health care, many turn to alcohol or drugs in order to numb the pain. Domestic abuse and sexual assault rates are higher among slaughterhouse workers; researchers theorize that this is due to the desensitization to violence and mental illness caused by the job.
If we could not bear to slaughter an animal ourselves, why pay someone else to do our dirty work for us?
In addition to impacting workers, factory farms and slaughterhouses also have dire impacts on local communities. Factory farms are almost always located near low-income communities of color, resulting in what is deemed “environmental racism."
One study found that people living within one mile of a pig factory farm were three times more likely to carry MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. Families near factory farms also suffer from asthma, heart palpitations and migraines, among a myriad of other health problems, as a result of continually breathing fecal matter and toxic gases wafting from 20-million gallon manure lagoons. A must-watch video on YouTube, Spy Drones Expose Smithfield Foods Factory Farms, recently revealed this environmental injustice firsthand, with elderly neighbors describing a rain of pig feces deluging their homes.
These frontline communities must bear the brunt of our food choices; they are the ones paying the true cost.
California's ravaging drought and raging wildfires have become the recent face of environmental disaster. As citizens struggle to find solutions, many bemoan the fact that fracking and bottled water are stealing the public's ever-dwindling water supply. Those are, of course, serious issues; yet few realize that the single largest consumer of water in California is the meat and dairy industry.
When we go to the supermarket, there's no sign saying that one gallon of milk requires 600 gallons of water to produce. When we go to a restaurant, there's no footnote on the menu advising that eating a veggie burger instead of a hamburger would save as much water as skipping a month's worth of showers. The true water cost of food, rather than being made apparent to consumers, is often kept hidden.
The Food Empowerment Project, a Northern California–based food justice nonprofit, wanted to learn how much water was being used by a local Perdue chicken slaughterhouse. The government refused to release the information, so FEP filed an open records request and learned that in 2012 the slaughterhouse was using more than 312,000 gallons of water per day. To put it in perspective, the slaughterhouse was using as much water in a single day as a typical household uses in three years.
Not only are consumers thus being kept in the dark about the true impacts of their food choices, they are also left footing the bill. At a time when families can incur fines of up to $500 per day if they don't meet mandatory reductions in water use, the city of Petaluma is set to approve an expansion of the water-guzzling slaughterhouse.
California is emblematic of the growing global water crisis. One in seven people worldwide lacks access to clean drinking water. Globally, as well as locally, animal agriculture plays a large role. Meat production accounts for up to a third of all freshwater use worldwide. That figure will only grow as the demand for meat increases in newly industrialized countries like China, India and Brazil.
Unfortunately, the global population is also growing, placing increased strain on limited resources. Add environmental degradation and you have a perfect storm. Growing meat consumption will limit the land and freshwater available for direct human consumption. Research suggests that crop yields will begin to decline as soon as 2030 due to increased heat and shifting weather patterns from climate change. We have lost half of all the topsoil on earth in the last 150 years as a result of monoculture farming, deforestation and overgrazing (much of which can be traced to animal agriculture).
Luckily, there is a feasible way to ease this crisis. “Sustainable and healthy diets will require a move towards a mostly plant-based diet," said Colin Khoury, a biologist at the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. The Stockholm International Water Institute warns that we must limit meat consumption to just 5 percent of total calories (it currently comprises 30 percent of Americans' total calories) in order to avoid severe global food and water shortages.
Reducing meat consumption would have the added benefit of curbing climate change. A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that animal agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation industry—more than all planes, trains and cars in the world combined.
Scientists agree that if we are to avoid global catastrophe, we must limit global warming to no more than 2 C. Climate modeling has shown that the only way to meet that target is by incorporating diet change as well as renewable energy. Two recent peer-reviewed studies found that by 2050, agriculture emissions alone (chief among them, animal agriculture) will use up all our carbon budget, requiring zero carbon use by every other sector. Since that is “impossible," according to a report by the independent UK policy institute Chatham House, “dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2 C."
Often sustainable/local/humane meat is touted as the answer to factory farming—an ethical panacea that allows environmentalists to continue to enjoy their meat. However, the problem is a matter of scale. Factory farming arose as an efficient way to produce enough meat for people to eat animal products at every meal. It is impossible to meet the current demand for meat sustainably. There is not enough pasture in the U.S. for 9 billion animals and ecosystems across the West are already suffering from overgrazing, even from the tiny percentage of animals that are currently raised on pasture. The only diet that is sustainable on a global scale is one that is primarily plant-based.
This solution can be empowering on an individual level; our daily food choices have a tremendous impact. If everyone in the U.S. were to abstain from eating meat and cheese just one day a week, it would save carbon emissions equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road. While convincing millions of people to never drive again is unlikely, convincing them to not eat meat one day a week is increasingly feasible; over a quarter of Americans currently report participating in Meatless Mondays.
The next time you see chicken breasts on sale for $2.99 per pound, perhaps you will recognize that the money you pay is merely the tip of the iceberg—the slaughterhouse worker with tendonitis and PTSD; the chicken whose miserable, short life was taken; and the community giving 300,000 gallons of water per day to the slaughterhouse paid the true price.
The ultimate irony is that the very people buying these “cheap" products will wind up footing the bill for externalized costs. Taxpayers underwrite billions of dollars in government subsidies that provide steeply discounted feed for animals on factory farms. While corn, soy, meat and dairy are all subsidized, fruits and vegetables are deemed “specialty crops" that receive less than 3 percent of all federal subsidies. Thus, taxpayers are forced to fund a system that will cost them trillions of dollars in health care and environmental costs while ensuring that large parts of the population cannot afford or access healthy, sustainable foods.
Meanwhile, agribusinesses use their surplus profits to lobby the government to ensure that they will not have to pay for any of their externalized costs. In addition to politicians who vote according to the desires of big-ag trade groups, a “revolving door" exists at all levels of government—from factory farm managers sitting on state Boards of Agriculture, to former lobbyists for Monsanto and the Cattlemen's Association holding positions of power at the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The results are often staggering regulation failures, such as factory farms' exemption from the Clean Air Act.
Some propose market-based solutions to the environmental crisis of our modern food system, such as a “sin tax" on meat or cap-and-trade regulation of methane gas from factory farms. Each of those plans has its own merits and drawbacks, but the unfortunate reality is that they are irrelevant in our current political system. Until we get money out of politics, it will be impossible to muster the political willpower to take on one of the most influential lobbies in the country.
So where does that leave us? It is certainly important to call your representative when the next Farm Bill negotiations roll around in 2017. Supporting legislation that limits the influence of corporations, such as the “Move to Amend" the Constitution to overturn corporate personhood and Citizens United, could eventually lead to a political system that works for the interests of people rather than those of corporations.
In the meantime, perhaps the most hopeful sign of change is the millions of dollars in venture capital now flowing to plant-based food start-ups. Innovative companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Hampton Creek and New Harvest are striving to create the taste and texture of animal products without any of the animal suffering, cholesterol, manure runoff or methane. As Hampton Creek CEO, Josh Tetrick, said, “We just have to make it ridiculously easy for regular folks everywhere to do the right thing." By making plant-based foods accessible, delicious and cheap, these companies might be able to circumvent political and regulatory gridlock to make factory farming obsolete.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By Courtney Lindwall
Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.
Clearly, something isn't working, but as a consumer, I'm sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers' shoulders. While I'll continue to do my part, it's high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.
An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers—as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics—bet they could continue deluging the market with their products.
There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill—the "Extended Producer Responsibility Act"—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.
Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
"The New York bill would be a foundation on which a modern, more sustainable waste management system could be built," says NRDC waste expert Eric Goldstein.
In New York City alone, the proposed legislation would cover an estimated 50 percent of the municipal waste stream. Importantly, it would funnel millions of dollars into the state's beleaguered recycling programs. This would free up funds to hire more workers and modernize sorting equipment while also allowing cities to re-allocate their previous recycling budgets toward other important services, such as education, public parks, and mass transit.
The bills aren't about playing the blame game—they are necessary. Unsurprisingly, Americans still produce far more trash than anyone else in the world, clocking in at an average of nearly 5 pounds per person, every day—clogging landfills and waterways, harming wildlife, contributing to the climate crisis, and blighting communities. As of now, a mere 8 percent of the plastic we buy gets recycled, and at least six times more of our plastic waste ends up in an incinerator than gets reused.
It's easy to see why. Current recycling rules vary widely depending on where you live—and they're notoriously confusing. Contrary to what many of us have been told, proper recycling requires more than simply looking for that green-arrowed triangle, a label that may tell you what a product is made out of and that it is recyclable in theory, but not whether that material can be recycled in your town—or anywhere at all. About 90 percent of all plastic can't be recycled, often because it's either logistically difficult to sort or there's no market for it to be sold.
That recycling marketplace is also ever changing. When China, which was importing about a third of our country's recyclable plastic, started refusing our (usually contaminated) waste streams in 2018, demand for recyclables tanked. This led to cities as big as Philadelphia and towns as small as Hancock, Maine, to send even their well-sorted recyclables to landfills. Municipalities now had to either foot big bills to pick up recyclables they once sold for a profit or shutter recycling services altogether.
According to Goldstein, New York's bill has a good shot of passing this spring—and it already has the support of some companies that see the writing on the wall, or as the New York Times puts it, "the glimmer of a cultural reset, a shift in how Americans view corporate and individual responsibility." If the bill does go through, New Yorkers could start to see changes to both local recycling programs and product packaging within a few years.
What makes these bills so groundbreaking isn't that they force manufacturers to pay for the messes they make, but that they could incentivize companies to make smarter, less wasteful choices in the first place.
New York's bill, for instance, could help reward more sustainable product design. A company might pay less of a fee if it reduces the total amount of waste of a product, sources a higher percentage of recycled material, or makes the end product more easily recyclable by, say, using only one type of plastic instead of three.
"Producers are in the best position to be responsible because they control the types and amounts of packaging, plastics, and paper products that are put into the marketplace," Goldstein says.
Bills like these embody the principles of a circular economy—that elusive North Star toward which all waste management policies should point. By encouraging companies to use more recycled materials, demand for recyclables goes up and the recycling industry itself is revitalized. What gets produced gets put back into the stream for reuse.
If widely adopted, we could significantly reduce our overall consumption and burden on the planet. With less paper used, more forests would stay intact—to continue to store carbon, filter air and water, and provide habitat for wildlife and sustenance for communities. With less plastic produced, less trash would clog oceans and contaminate ecosystems and food supplies. In turn, we'd give fossil fuels even more reasons to stay in the ground, where they belong.
That would be my Earth Day dream come true—with little hand-wringing of fellow guilt-stricken individuals required.
Courtney Lindwall is a writer and editor in NRDC's Communications department. Prior to NRDC, she worked in publishing and taught writing to New York City public school students. Lindwall has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. She is based in the New York office.
- 3 New Films to Watch This Earth Week - EcoWatch ›
- Earth Day 2021: Join the Global Youth Climate Summit - EcoWatch ›
By Alexandria Villaseñor
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.
After experiencing California's wildfires, I researched the connection between wildfires and climate change. Even though I was only 13 at the time, I realized I needed to do everything in my power to advocate for our planet and ensure that we have a safe and habitable Earth for not only my generation's future, but for future generations. Every day, our planet is increasing its calls for our help. Our ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; heatwaves and droughts are increasing. We're seeing more frequent wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events. Climate change is happening right now, and people all over the world are losing their livelihoods — and even their lives — as a result of the growing number of climate-fueled disasters.
My activism started with the youth climate strike movement, which began when Greta Thunberg started striking in front of the Swedish Parliament in 2018. However, I want to acknowledge that young people, especially youth of color, have been protesting and demanding action for the planet for decades. I'm honored to follow in the footsteps of all the youth activists who paved the way for my activism and for the phenomenal growth of the youth climate movement that we have seen since 2018.
My experiences in the youth climate movement have allowed me to see that one of the greatest barriers we have to urgent climate action is education. Because of the lack of climate education around the world, I founded Earth Uprising International to help young people educate one another on the climate crisis, which ultimately has the effect of empowering young people to take direct action for their futures.
The primary mission of Earth Uprising International is increased climate and civics education for youth. Climate literacy and environmental education are the first steps to mobilizing our generations. By adding climate literacy to curricula worldwide, governments can ensure young people leave school with the skills and environmental knowledge needed to be engaged citizens in their communities. A climate-educated and environmentally literate global public is more likely to take part in the green jobs revolution, make more sustainable consumer choices, and hold world leaders accountable for their climate action commitments. Youth who have been educated about the climate crisis will lead the way in adaptation, mitigation, and solution making. Youth will be the ones who will protect democracy and freedom, advocate for climate and environmental migrants, and create the political will necessary to address climate change at the scale of the crisis.
So this year, for Earth Week, I am thrilled to be organizing a global youth climate summit called "Youth Speaks: Our Message to World Leaders," on April 20. Together, in collaboration with EARTHDAY.ORG and hundreds of youth climate activists around the world, the summit will address our main issues of concern, including climate literacy, biodiversity protection, sustainable agriculture, the creation of green jobs, civic skill training, environmental justice, environmental migration and borders, the protection of democracy and free speech, governmental policy making, and political will.
From this summit, youth climate activists from all over the world will be creating a concise list of demands that we want addressed at President Biden's World Leaders Summit, occurring on Earth Day, April 22. We believe that youth must inform and inspire these critical conversations about climate change that will impact all of us!
For more information about our global youth climate summit, "Youth Speaks: Our Message to World Leaders," go to www.EarthUprising.org/YouthSpeaks2021. There, you will find information about how to participate in our summit as well as be kept up to date on the latest agenda, participants, and follow along as we develop our demands and platform.
The youth will continue to make noise and necessary trouble. There is so much left to be done.
This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Jessica Corbett
As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.
"Today is a watershed moment in the history of the U.S. Department of the Interior," declared Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. "With Secretary Haaland's actions today, it's clear the Interior Department is now working for communities, science, and justice. We are grateful for her leadership and bold action to put people over polluters."
"Today's orders make certain that the Interior Department is no longer going to serve as a rubber-stamp for the coal and oil and gas industries," said Nichols. "Secretary Haaland's actions set the stage for deep reforms within the Interior Department to ensure the federal government gets out of the business of fossil fuels and into the business of confronting the climate crisis."
BREAKING: Interior Secretary Deb Haalaned just repealed Trump-era policies that prioritized Big Oil execs above com… https://t.co/m1d2uolRWV— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1618595500.0
Secretarial Order 3398 rescinds a dozen orders issued under the Trump administration which an Interior statement collectively described as "inconsistent with the department's commitment to protect public health; conserve land, water, and wildlife; and elevate science."
Specifically, she revoked: S.O. 3348; S.O. 3349; SO 3350; S.O. 3351; SO 3352; S.O. 3354; S.O. 3355; S.O. 3358; S.O. 3360; S.O. 3380; SO 3385; and SO 3389. Implemented throughout former President Donald Trump's term, they related to "American energy independence," the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, and leasing and permitting for energy projects, among other topics. With the order, Haaland reinstated the federal moratorium on coal leasing.
Haaland's other measure, Secretarial Order 3399, establishes a departmental Climate Task Force that will identify policies needed to tackle the climate emergency, support the use of the best available science on greenhouse gas emissions, implement the review and reconsideration of federal gas and oil leasing and permitting practices, identify actions needed to "address current and historic environmental injustice" as well as "foster economic revitalization of, and investment in, energy communities," and work with state, tribe, and local governments.
The department also noted that "the solicitor's office issued a withdrawal of M-37062, an opinion that concluded that the Interior secretary must promulgate a National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program consisting of a five-year lease schedule with at least two lease sales during the five-year plan," which allows DOI "to evaluate its obligations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act."
Today, @SecHaaland revoked a dozen pro-Big Oil and anti-environment orders from the Trump administration. Little by… https://t.co/p0tHEciEct— Western Values Project (@Western Values Project)1618606421.0
Haaland — a former congresswoman and first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary whose confirmation was celebrated by climate campaigners, Indigenous leaders, and various progressive advocacy groups — said Friday that "from day one, President Biden was clear that we must take a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, strengthen the economy, and address environmental justice."
"At the Department of the Interior, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make our communities more resilient to climate change and to help lead the transition to a clean energy economy, Haaland continued. "These steps will align the Interior Department with the president's priorities and better position the team to be a part of the climate solution."
"I know that signing secretarial orders alone won't address the urgency of the climate crisis. But I'm hopeful that these steps will help make clear that we, as a department, have a mandate to act," she added. "With the vast experience, talent, and ingenuity of our public servants at the Department of the Interior, I'm optimistic about what we can accomplish together to care for our natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations."
Haaland's orders were welcomed by environmental and climate groups as well as other critics of fossil fuel development on public lands and in federal waters.
Kristen Miller, conservation director at Alaska Wilderness League, said the orders "are another important step toward restoring scientific integrity, meaningful public process, and the longstanding stewardship responsibilities for America's public lands and waters at the Department of Interior. This is the type of bold and visionary leadership we need if we're to effectively fight climate change, tackle the extinction crisis, and prioritize environmental justice and tribal consultation."
"We applaud the secretary's actions to ensure meaningful consultation and elevate strong science, especially around climate change, into decision-making across the department," Miller added. "And we thank the secretary for reversing the Trump administration's energy dominance agenda in the Arctic Ocean and the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, and look forward to working with her on a different management direction for the western Arctic that focuses on addressing the climate crisis and protecting its extraordinary wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and cultural values."
Environment America public lands campaign director Ellen Montgomery said that "Haaland is building on President Biden's strong start by restoring conservation as a priority for the Department of the Interior. Our public lands and waters should be protected for the sake of the wildlife and people who depend on them. They should not be mined and drilled to extract fossil fuels — an antiquated 20th-century pursuit that pollutes our air and makes climate change worse."
"The Interior Department is in a powerful position to drive bold action for the climate in the United States," said Nichols of WildEarth Guardians. "Haaland's actions today confirm that President Biden and his administration are seizing the opportunity to rein in fossil fuels and make climate action and climate justice a reality."
"We can't have fossil fuels and a safe climate and today's orders take a major step forward in acknowledging and acting upon this reality," he said. "If we truly have any chance of protecting peoples' health, advancing economic prosperity, and achieving environmental justice, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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!
- 3 New Documentaries to Watch While Quarantined This Earth Day ... ›
- Movies to Watch This Earth Day: EcoWatch Staff Picks - EcoWatch ›
- 3 New Environmental Docs to Watch This Fall - EcoWatch ›
- Earth Day 2021: Join the Global Youth Climate Summit ›
- Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day – It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts ›
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 ›