By Mark Devries
The animal agriculture industry spends millions on deceptive advertising to persuade consumers that farmed animals roam freely on bucolic pastures. But I've been piloting drones over animal agriculture facilities for several years, and the video I've captured tells a far different story. Nearly all animals raised and slaughtered for food in the U.S. live in factory farms—facilities that treat animals as mere production units and show little regard for the natural environment or public health. Instead of creating widgets, these factories confine, mutilate and disassemble animals who feel pain and pleasure just like our dogs and cats.
Aerial views of the first factory farms I visited—pig facilities—didn't capture grass and rolling hills, but instead exposed rows of windowless metal buildings. Each confined thousands of intelligent, sensitive pigs who spent their lives on concrete floors in crowded pens. The footage also reveals what appear to be red lakes but are in fact giant, open-air cesspools. Waste falls through slats in the pigs' concrete flooring and is flushed into these massive pits, which sometimes have the surface area of multiple football fields. To lower the levels of these cesspools, many facilities spray their contents into the air where they turn into mist and drift into neighboring communities.
In North Carolina, this practice has been associated with spikes in blood pressure among community members and increased asthma symptoms among nearby schoolchildren. I spoke with neighbors who described walking outside and falling down in their own front yards because the stench of these factory farms made it so difficult to breathe.
I recently piloted drones over factory egg farms, perhaps the most industrialized sector of animal agriculture, with each shed confining thousands of hens and some facilities holding over a million. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought the 24 sheet-metal buildings were airplane hangars or industrial storage facilities. Mercy For Animals undercover investigations have revealed that hens inside such facilities spend their lives trapped in cages so small the birds can't even fully spread their wings. Such confinement is so intensive that many hens die and decompose among cagemates still producing eggs to be sold as food.
Indeed, drones have put to bed the myth of Old MacDonald's farm. Armed with the truth, we must take responsibility. The practices exposed only exist because people purchase products of factory farms. Each of us has the power to stand up and vote against this industry by simply leaving animals off our plates.
Mark Devries serves as special projects coordinator for investigations, with a focus on directing short-form documentaries about factory farming and animal rights. Before joining Mercy For Animals, he directed Speciesism: The Movie and conducted the world's first drone-based investigation of factory farming. The movie is widely used as an introduction to animal rights, and the drone footage has amassed tens of millions of views globally. Mark is also an attorney licensed to practice in Washington, DC.
By Rachel Krantz
When I spotted fellow vegan James Cromwell in line for food at an advance screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, I couldn't help but try to talk to him. Recently arrested at a protest against SeaWorld, the Babe and Six Feet Under actor is a remarkable environmental and animal activist.
"Can you believe they're serving chickens here?" I asked him. "I mean, I guess it's a little better for the environment than eating cows, but it's still ironic to be serving animals at a party for a documentary about climate change."
"Yeah, really!" Cromwell answered. "Besides the damage it does to the atmosphere from methane release, and the terrible torment of the animals, it is destroying us spiritually. You eat one hamburger and have no idea of the process that led to that one hamburger, how many animals suffered, how much waste, what it does to us, and what it does to the planet."
Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Sequel' Conveniently Leaves Out This One Big Truth https://t.co/WJ5yf4U224 @SoilAssociation @eatsustainable— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502243704.0
He's right. We aren't serious enough about the impact our diet has on the environment, despite overwhelming evidence. For instance, to produce one hamburger takes as much water as two months' worth of showering. Additionally, the livestock sector is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide. And according to the World Bank, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 90 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction, with more than 80,000 acres of forest—and 135 animal and plant species—lost each day.
Study Links Most Amazon Deforestation to 128 Slaughterhouses https://t.co/K6CRKZr9Tc @lunchboxbunch @TheVeganSociety— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1501364707.0
Simply put, animal agriculture is one of the main culprits behind climate change. An Inconvenient Truth failed to address this, and people have been wondering whether the sequel would make up for it, particularly since it again stars Al Gore, who himself went vegan after realizing the connection between animal agriculture and global warming. Unfortunately, as James Cromwell and I were about to find out, the sequel likewise failed. And that's truly disappointing.
Instead, too much of the new documentary was devoted to spotlighting former vice president Gore as a leader, rather than informing viewers about the many concrete actions they can take to limit their carbon footprint, like adopting a plant-based diet.
At the end of the film, the audience is asked to take the pledge to #BeInconvenient, to keep demanding that schools, businesses and towns invest in clean, renewable energy. "If President Trump refuses to lead, Americans will," the call to action reads, encouraging viewers who want to fight climate change to use "your choice, your voice, your vote." This is great, but aside from a few seconds where Gore mentions that "agriculture is another major cause" of CO2 emissions, the link between climate change and eating animals is entirely left out of the film.
And any environmentalist worth her salt should find that outrageous.
The link between our diet and the environment is both direct and strong. To give you an idea, if every American committed to just one meat-free day a week, the impact would be equivalent to switching all our gas-powered cars to hybrids. In fact, according to research published in the journal Climate Change, if you adopt a plant-based diet, you'll cut your carbon footprint in half.
Yet these facts are nowhere to be found in this supposedly environmentalist documentary.
Perhaps the filmmakers thought that mainstream viewers couldn't handle the truth. I like to think otherwise.
It's time for environmentalists to face reality and start acknowledging the impact animal agriculture has on climate change. As Cromwell told me, "You can't consume another creature out of sloth, ignorance, and unconsciousness and then switch that off and go with dedication and consciousness in another area of your life. You have to be conscious in the entire course of living."
To call yourself an environmentalist and ignore what eating animals is doing to our planet is hypocritical and perpetuates the selfishness that got us into this mess in the first place. If you really care about the environment, take the film's pledge to #BeInconvenient, and tell everyone you know that one of the biggest things they can do to fight climate change is to leave animals off their plates. Whether or not they find your statement inconvenient, it's the truth.
Reading books about the environment can be a great way to not only stay informed about issues facing the natural world, but also to become inspired to take action in your community and make a positive contribution to the planet.
In this article, we'll introduce you to some of the best books about climate change and other eco-issues, including pollution, the use of fossil fuels, and environmental policy. We'll also give you a few recommendations for children's books about climate change, ocean plastics, plants and more.
6 Best Books About the Environment for Adults
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best New Release: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
- Best Book About Climate Change: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
- Best Book About Activism: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
- Best Book About Pollution: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
- Best Book About Social Impacts: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
- Best Book About Food: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Best New Release: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
"All We Can Save" is a thought-provoking compilation of essays, poetry and art from dozens of women working to solve climate change in the U.S., from scientists and lawyers to farmers and teachers. The collection's editors, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson, focus on representation within the book, making sure to include voices from all walks of life in the conversation.
Reader Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars with about 500 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: This Los Angeles Times bestseller book will leave you feeling hopeful and armed with ideas for how to tackle climate change independently, whether it's supporting climate journalists, marching in the streets or simply talking about the issue with your loved ones and neighbors.
Best Book About Climate Change: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
To get up to speed on global warming and the ensuing ecological crisis, we recommend checking out David Wallace-Wells's "The Uninhabitable Earth." The book presents both the latest research on a variety of climate-related topics and an informed look into how the crisis may play out to affect global politics and capitalism, incite food shortages and climate wars, and change the trajectory of humanity.
Reader Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 2,500 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: It's not exactly light reading, but this New York Times No. 1 bestseller is well-researched (and well-cited), presenting thought-provoking information about the future of our planet in an accessible way.
Best Book About Activism: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
If you're looking for something to get you inspired, check out Greta Thunberg's "No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference." The book is a collection of speeches that Thunberg, a teen activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has given about the climate crisis to leaders at the United Nations and on Capitol Hill, as well as to fellow youth activists at climate marches and Fridays For Future gatherings across the globe.
Reader Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with over 800 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: Thunberg's unflinching voice and profound calls for action will leave you brimming with a mix of frustration and hope for the next generation of climate leaders — plus a healthy urge to pen strongly worded letters to your elected officials.
Best Book About Pollution: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson is widely accepted as a key figure in the history of environmentalism, as her 1964 book "Silent Spring" sparked revolutionary policy changes that protected natural resources from air to land to water.
The book alerted the public to how widely used chemicals and pesticides including DDT negatively affected not only human health, but also posed grave threats to natural spaces. As such, it inspired a new generation of activists and continues to be "required reading" for environmentalists today.
Reader Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 2,500 Amazon ratingsWhy It's a Must-Read: While it follows the journey of chemicals circulating through ecosystems and provides historical context for environmental issues we're still facing today, "Silent Spring" is written with exceptional prose that holds up decades after its initial publication.
Best Book About Social Impacts: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
In "Rising," journalist Elizabeth Rush explores how climate change is taking a toll on wildlife and how people in low-lying coastal areas are already being forced to flee to higher ground or risk their lives weathering intensifying storms and sea-level rise.
Rush weaves together insightful interviews with climate scientists and compelling stories from coastal communities across the U.S. The result is a haunting look at one of the initial social impacts of climate change that's sure to worsen with time.
Reader Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: "Rising" interlays science and personal narratives to create an impactful illustration of how sea-level rise is threatening our coastlines and what's in store as the environmental crisis continues.
Best Book About Food: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" explores how our diets affect the world around us, delving into the U.S. agricultural industry and the politics around what we eat. It's an eye-opening look at food that touches on policy, economics, and the revolution of our relationship with the natural world.
Reader Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 3,100 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: "The Omnivore's Dilemma" will make you consider not only how what you eat affects your body, but also the bigger impacts of the American diet and how you may be able to live more sustainably by changing your food choices.
5 Best Children's Books About The Environment
It's never too early to teach your children about environmental stewardship and the importance of protecting the natural world. These five fiction books touch on critical environmental topics in informational yet entertaining ways that kids can relate to:
- Best Children's Book About the Environment: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- Best Children's Book About Climate Change: The Lonely Polar Bear by Khoa Le
- Best Children's Book About Ocean Plastics: Rocket Says Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon
- Best Children's Book About Ecology: The Magic and Mystery of Trees by Jen Green
- Best Children's Book About Activism: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Best Children's Book About the Environment: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
A classic work of Dr. Seuss, "The Lorax" is an excellent introduction to the dangers of environmental degradation and the importance of speaking up when it counts. In the story, unique and beautiful Truffula Trees are clear-cut until all that's left of the species is a single seed. The last remaining Truffula seed is entrusted to a child who can go on to save the forest, proving that even young kids can make a positive impact on the environment.
Reading Ages: 3 to 7 years old
Reader Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars with over 7,700 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: Told in Dr. Seuss's signature rhymes and imaginative illustrations, the story of the Lorax is one that still rings true 50 years after it was originally printed.
Best Children's Book About Climate Change: The Lonely Polar Bear by Khoa Le
Climate change can be tough for kids to wrap their heads around, but "The Lonely Polar Bear" serves as a subtle introduction to the topic. In the book, a polar bear wakes up after an Arctic storm to find himself all alone, his mother and brother nowhere to be found. He soon makes friends with a little girl and wanders across the Arctic to find his family, meeting other animals that are dependent on the shrinking polar environment including elk, wolves, whales and puffins.
Reading Ages: 6 to 12 years old
Reader Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 100 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: Along with teaching about climate change and the melting Arctic, "The Last Polar Bear" explores the biodiversity of polar wildlife and the importance of friendship.
Best Children's Book About Ocean Plastics: Rocket Says Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon
"Rocket Says Clean Up!" tells the story of Rocket, a science-loving kid who is visiting her grandparents at the beach. Rocket's plans to surf all vacation are thwarted when she finds a baby sea turtle tangled in plastic and decides to do something about all of the trash polluting the coast. Through educating fellow beachgoers and organizing a cleanup, Rocket clears the beaches and allows the little turtle to safely return to its home.
Reading Ages: 3 to 7 years old
Reader Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars with over 600 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: This inclusive children's book shows young kids that our beaches are in trouble but that we can still turn the tide on ocean plastics. It also includes a section on sustainability and how readers can take action and clean up their own communities.
Best Children's Book About Ecology: The Magic and Mystery of Trees by Jen Green
In a way that's easy for kids to understand, Jen Green's "The Magic and Mystery of Trees" explains the intricacies of these organisms, from their web of roots that tangles underground to how they communicate with one another. The book even has sections that address the threats against trees and how we can help them thrive, bringing kids into the conversation around conservation.
Reading Age: 3 to 9 years old
Reader Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: "The Magic and Mystery of Trees" eases kids into the subject of ecology and will leave your children filled with wonder at the natural world.
Best Children's Book About Activism: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
In "Hoot," a teen and his friends attempt to stop the construction of a new restaurant that would destroy an endangered burrowing owl habitat. A Newbery Honor winner and No. 1 New York Times bestseller, "Hoot" is a classic environmental book that proves anyone can make a difference by standing up for a cause they believe in.
Reading Age: 9 to 12 years old
Reader Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with over 2,500 Amazon ratings
Why It's a Must-Read: Although it's written with young teens in mind, Carl Hiaasen's representation of Florida's wild spaces and its colorful inhabitants — both human and animal — will give parents just as much enjoyment out of reading this book.
By Rachel Krantz
Feel-good cheers in the audience abounded, but in my seat, I was seething over the truth that was conveniently omitted from the new sequel to An Inconvenient Truth: that the most significant thing we as ordinary individuals can do every day to fight climate change is to adopt a plant-based diet. Al Gore himself went vegan in 2014, but aside from a split-second where he mentions that "agriculture is another major cause" of CO2 emissions, the subject is entirely left out of the film.
And that's disgraceful.
You want me to #BeInconvenient? OK, here are some facts: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the livestock sector is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide pollution, and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide. According to the World Bank, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 90 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction. The rainforest is our planet's lungs, and we are destroying it simply to make enough space to kill more animals. More than 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest—and 135 animal, plant and insect species—are lost due to this destruction each day.
If that kind of devastation is too massive to comprehend, consider these more convenient truths: If every American committed to just one Meatless Monday a week, it would be the environmental equivalent of all of the cars on the road switching from sedans to hybrids. The link is so significant that according to research published in the journal Climate Change, if you adopt a plant-based diet, you'll cut your carbon footprint in half.
Yet the bulk of An Inconvenient Sequel focuses on former Vice President Al Gore's quest to save the world, and the behind-the-scenes drama at the Paris climate accords. While it's inspiring to watch Gore help convince India's leaders to use more solar energy, far too much of the documentary is devoted to spotlighting him as a leader rather than informing viewers about the many concrete actions they can take to limit their own carbon footprints.
Telling viewers to fight back simply by taking the hashtag pledge to #BeInconvenient and ambiguously "vote with their choices" is a cop-out. What about the very concrete choice we can all start making today to leave animal products off our plates? Perhaps the filmmakers thought mainstream American viewers couldn't handle that message. After all, when we're still trying to get parts of the country and politicians to admit climate change is real, the bar is awfully low when it comes to confronting reality—even transportation's impact on the climate went unmentioned in the film.
But Gore is right when we he argues that we don't have any time to waste. If sea levels continue to rise at current pace, scientists estimate that New Orleans and Miami will be underwater by the end of the century. Due to our warming oceans, weather events are becoming more and more extreme—as Gore says, "every night on the evening news is like a walk through the Book of Revelations." Lobbying for solar power alone isn't going to cut it.
So yes, by all means, #BeInconvenient. Demand alternative energy reforms, vote in every election, and consider making the ultimate environmental statement by leaving animals off your plate—if not for their sake and your health, then for humanity. Because here's one of the most uncomfortable truths: We talk about climate change as if Earth's destruction hangs in the balance. But the truth is, the planet will persevere. It is mankind—and the many species we should be stewards of—that may not.