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Cows on an organic farm in Switzerland. pidjoe / Getty Images

Factory farming is on the ballot in Switzerland, which could become the first country in the world to ban the agricultural practice linked to a host of environmental harms from animal cruelty to the climate crisis

The so-called Factory Farming Initiative will be decided this Sunday, September 25, according to the Swiss government website. 

Factory farming is on the ballot in Switzerland, which could become the first country in the world to ban the agricultural practice linked to a host of environmental harms from animal cruelty to the climate crisis

The so-called Factory Farming Initiative will be decided this Sunday, September 25, according to the Swiss government website. 

“We believe animal agriculture is one of the defining problems of our time. It is an issue whose time has come,” Philipp Ryf, co-president of the group Sentience Politics that introduced the initiative, said, as Plant Based News reported. 

Switzerland has long been a pioneer of animal welfare. Its 1978 Animal Welfare Act prohibited unjustifiable cruelty to animals and it became the first country in the world to prohibit battery cages for hens in 1996, according to Time. It’s also the only country to protect “the dignity of the creature” in its constitution, a change made in 1992, according to Plant Based News.

The new initiative would expand those constitutional protections to secure an animal’s right “not to be intensively farmed,” The Guardian reported. 

Already, factory farming in Switzerland looks much gentler than in the U.S. Currently, farms in Switzerland are limited to 300 veal calves, 1,500 pigs or 27,000 broiler chickens, according to Time. The new initiative, if passed, would up these standards using organic regulator Bio Suisse guidelines that limit pigs per barn to 1,000 and hens to pen to 2,000. Further, it would require that all livestock be able to access the outdoors and that the entire slaughter process be cruelty free. Farms would have 25 years to transition. 

“It’s true that we don’t have a lot of big farms in Switzerland,” legislator Martina Munz of the pro-ban Social Democratic party said, as Time reported. “But we have a lot of things we can do better when it comes to animal welfare. It’s not just the number of animals in the group, it’s also about how they’re kept, it’s about slaughtering and transportation.”

Sentience Politics managing director Silvano Lieger added that it’s currently legal to limit hens to the space of an eight-and-a-half-by-11 piece of printer paper, The Guardian reported. 

The ban would also extend to imported products and reduce the use of soya-based feed that is connected to deforestation. 

Opponents argue that Switzerland already has comparatively strict animal welfare laws and smaller farms that the new rules will negatively impact. Farmer Ueli Stauffacher told Time that if the initiative passes, he would have to choose between the equally financially damaging choices of reducing his chicken flock or building more barns. 

“People don’t understand how agriculture works anymore,” Stauffacher said. “Forty or fifty years ago, almost everyone had someone in their family who farmed, but that conduit is gone now. So you get people saying, ‘oh, poor animals.’ But they still want to eat meat.”

The ban is supported by the Small Farmers’ Association but opposed by the Swiss Farmers’ Union, which argues that it would lead to an increase in imports as consumers seek cheaper options and the ban on factory-farmed meat would not withstand existing trade agreements, according to The Guardian. 

As of now, the future of Swiss farming remains uncertain, with 47 percent of voters polling in favor of the ban and 52 against it. But campaigners hope that it will pull through so that Switzerland can inspire other countries that are reconsidering their relationship with meat in the wake of the climate crisis. 

“It is imperative that other governments, in particular the EU and in North America, should follow the lead and consult on the future of factory farming,” Pro Veg International Vice President Jasmijn de Boo told Plant Based News. “We need policies that at least set out time scales to downscale industrial animal farming and envisage the removal of subsidies for animal agriculture.”

Even if it doesn’t pass, however, its supporters say the ban has started an important discussion. 

“Every day, there are articles in the newspaper about it,” Ryf told Time. “People who have never heard about the conditions in Swiss farms are now thinking about them. All the politicians have heard the specifics, all the journalists, and they probably will keep on talking about it. So this, for us, is already success.”

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Wildfire smoke obscures the Seattle skyline in 2020. Lindsey Wasson / Getty Image

If you live in the Western U.S., you’ve probably woken up to an August or September morning like this: The sun rises orange through a pinky-brown haze, the wind blowing through your open window smells like burning plastic and the air quality on your IQAir app blazes red for “Unhealthy.” 

The reason? Smoke from the wildfires that have become more frequent and intense in the region as the climate warms. 

If you live in the Western U.S., you’ve probably woken up to an August or September morning like this: The sun rises orange through a pinky-brown haze, the wind blowing through your open window smells like burning plastic and the air quality on your IQAir app blazes red for “Unhealthy.” 

The reason? Smoke from the wildfires that have become more frequent and intense in the region as the climate warms. 

“This is the new summer on the West Coast: checking the air quality before going on a hike, getting anxious on a windy day because it means the fires are going to get worse. Scheduling camping trips, swimming lessons and soccer camp and then canceling them as smoke interferes,” Oregonian climate journalist Emma Pattee wrote in a Wednesday guest essay for The New York Times.

The next day, a University of Stanford research team published a study proving that the rise in Western wildfire smoke isn’t just a matter of anecdotal evidence or a few particularly dramatic incidents. The research, published in Environmental Science & Technology, found that smoke has added as many as five micrograms per cubic meter to daily concentrations of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 in the region over the past decade, erasing progress made in reducing the deadly form of air pollution.

“We have been remarkably successful in cleaning up other sources of air pollution across the country, mainly due to regulation like the Clean Air Act,” study co-author and Stanford earth system science professor Marshall Burke told The New York Times. “That success, especially in the West, has really stagnated. And in recent years this started to reverse.”

PM 2.5 is a particularly insidious form of air pollution because the tiny particles can bury themselves in human lungs and in the bloodstream, according to Stanford News. Exposure is associated with heart and lung disease, but also mental health problems and cognitive disorders including dementia. The research team used a mix of artificial intelligence and models to determine how wildfire smoke contributed to PM2.5 pollution on a county-by-county level between 2006 to 2020, Stanford News reported. 

What they found was that many more people are now exposed to this danger. The number of people experiencing at least one day of unhealthy air every year, or days when the PM2.5 concentration from smoke was at least 100 micrograms per cubic meter, has multiplied by 27 from less than half a million 10 years ago to more than eight million today. 

“That was way higher than I was expecting, and that’s the average over multiple recent years,” Burke told Stanford News. “Many individual years, in particular 2020, have been much worse.”

What’s more, the number of people experiencing at least one day with more than 200 micrograms of smoke per cubic meter has ballooned by a factor of 11,000.

In the U.S., this heightened exposure is concentrated in the West, where it has erased progress from reducing factory and freeway pollution in some places, according to The New York Times. Because fires are concentrated in the West and Southwest, smoke exposure is increasing for both Hispanic people and high-income people, Stanford News said.

Outside of the U.S., wildfire smoke and air pollution are also increasing because of the climate crisis, though this was outside the study’s purview. 

“As the globe warms, wildfires and associated air pollution are expected to increase, even under a low emissions scenario. In addition to human health impacts, this will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants settle from the atmosphere to Earth’s surface,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, who was not involved in the research, told The Guardian. “We have seen this in the heatwaves in Europe and China this year when stable high atmospheric conditions, sunlight and low wind speeds were conducive to high pollution levels.” 

Within the U.S., the study authors pointed out that wildfire smoke is of special concern because it is considered an “exceptional event” by the Clean Air Act and therefore not regulated, according to Stanford News.

How to reduce exposure–both in the U.S. and abroad–is also trickier than installing scrubbers in a smokestack or reducing tailpipe emissions. 

“At the end of the day, the best type of policy is to proactively prevent these big fires in the first place,” University of California, San Diego environmental epidemolgilst Tarik Benmarhnia, who was not involved with the study, told The New York Times. 

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The 2016 adoption of the Kigali Amendment in Rwanda. CYRIL NDEGEYA / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Senate ratified a treaty Wednesday that could prevent half a degree Celsius — or a full degree Fahrenheit — of global warming by 2100. 

The legislative body voted 69 to 27 to approve the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The agreement, which has been ratified by 137 other countries so far, would end the use of climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is also the first international climate treaty the U.S. has joined in three decades, The New York Times pointed out. 

The U.S. Senate ratified a treaty Wednesday that could prevent half a degree Celsius — or a full degree Fahrenheit — of global warming by 2100. 

The legislative body voted 69 to 27 to approve the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The agreement, which has been ratified by 137 other countries so far, would end the use of climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is also the first international climate treaty the U.S. has joined in three decades, The New York Times pointed out. 

“Ratifying the Kigali Amendment along with passing the Inflation Reduction Act is the strongest one-two punch against climate change any Congress has ever taken,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement, referring to a landmark act passed in August that earmarked $370 billion for climate and energy programs.

The Kigali Amendment is the latest step in an international attempt to find a way to refrigerate without harming the planet. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that common air conditioner and refrigeration chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS) were actually thinning the ozone layer that protects Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, according to the U.S. Department of State. To prevent this, world leaders finalized the Montreal Protocol in 1987 to phase out the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. It was the first global treaty to be signed by every nation on Earth and has been called the world’s most effective and successful environmental agreement.

However, solving one problem led to another. Manufacturers began to replace CFCs with HFCs, which do not deplete the ozone layer but do contribute to the climate crisis and could represent seven to 19 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  

World leaders therefore established the Kigali Amendment in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2016 to phase out HFCs as well. According to the agreement, developed nations will reduce the substances to around 15 percent of 2012 levels by 2036, developing nations will reduce them to 20 percent of 2021 levels by 2045 and some especially hot nations will have until 2047 to reduce them to 15 percent of 2025 levels, according to The New York Times. Overall, the goal is to cut the use of HFCs by 80 to 85 percent by the late 2040s, UNEP said. 

One one hand, U.S. ratification of the treaty is largely symbolic. That’s because Congress passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act in 2020, which empowers the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate HFCs with a goal of cutting the production and importing of the chemicals by 85 percent in the next 15 years, The New York Times explained. On the other hand, the importance of the vote’s symbolic value should not be dismissed.

“This treaty shows that it’s not hopeless to solve climate change,” Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development President Durwood Zaelke told The New York Times. 

It also shows that the U.S. — which helped negotiate the amendment during the end of the Obama administration but withdrew from the Paris climate agreement under Trump — is back on the international climate bandwagon. 

“The United States is back at the table leading the fight against climate change,” President Joe Biden said in a statement following Wednesday’s vote. “As more countries join the United States in ratifying this amendment, we can prevent up to half a degree Celsius of warming this century, a significant contribution to fighting climate change and protecting communities from more extreme impacts.”

The ratification of the Kigali Amendment is hopeful and unique as a U.S. climate action in two other ways. It earned bipartisan support and it was backed by the business interests impacted by the decision. Republican Senator John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana was actually the lead sponsor of the 2020 act phasing out HFCs, and the ratification was backed by both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, according to The Washington Post.

“Businesses supported it because it drives American exports; climate advocates championed it because it will avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of the century; and world leaders backed it because it ensures strong international cooperation,” U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry, who also helped negotiate the deal in Rwanda, said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. 

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