One of the greatest minds of our time, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once predicted that unless we changed how we live and treat the planet, the human race would be extinct within 500 years. Our extinction would be a result of a combination of climate change, epidemics, famine, overpopulation and the over reliance on artificial intelligence. He passed away this year but before he died, he revised his prediction to humanity destroying itself within 100 years.
That’s within our grandchildren’s lifetimes!
While our ancestors have been around for about 6 million years, modern humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialization started only in the 1800’s. While we’ve accomplished a mind-boggling amount in that short time, we have also caused considerable damage to our planet which seriously threatens our own existence. It is our responsibility as caretakers for the only planet we live on right now to wake up, open our eyes and accept the reality of our predicament.
ECOCIDE: “the destruction of the natural environment, especially when willfully done”
- Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface Now they cover less than 6%.
- Mangroves have decreased by ½ worldwide.
- Seagrass Meadows in New England are down by 80%.
- Prairie High Grass has almost been completely wiped out.
- We are losing topsoil at a rate 13x greater than it can replenish itself.
These natural landscapes are crucial for planetary resource regeneration. In addition, they are areas where many animals bear and raise their young, especially mangroves where literally 100,000s of marine species breed. Once these crucial areas are gone, we’re done.
Everything in our world is interconnected. Watch this video about how the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone actually changed the flow of rivers if you don’t believe it. Another such amazing video shows how even plants in Alaska rely on the life cycle of salmon for their survival. The effect humans have on the Earth cannot be understated. We’ve been able to survive in environments all over the world, even harsh ones such as Antarctica and the Sahara Desert. Every year, we fell forests and destroy other natural habitats, driving species into smaller areas, into endangerment or extinction, because of our need to build more housing and to support industrial agriculture and factory animal farming just to house and feed our ever-growing population. In order to feed our ever-growing population, estimated to hit 10 billion by 2050, we will need to increase the amount of land we use by 50% and the amount of grain we need to produce between now and then will be more than what we have produced in the last 10,000 years combined. Our arrogant and egocentric opinion that the planet and its resources are here for our benefit is misguided. The 2050 date has another sad predicted statistic linked to it. At the rate of our use and disposal of plastic, by that date, there will be more plastic in the oceans by weight than all marine life!
The phrase “Everything is Connected” doesn’t just apply to the natural world. For example, our insatiable apatite for “things” is interconnected with nature, and not only because of the trash it generates. To make your smartphone, minerals only available from mines in the rainforest are needed. Your desire for that phone drives the destruction of the rainforest needed to get to a mine along with the use of minerals which are not replaceable. To mine those minerals, workers, usually quite poor, are put at significant risk and in many cases are injured or suffer lifelong illnesses because of exposures.
The Earth wants to heal. Just like our bodies, which have an amazing way of repairing itself, at any age and at any stage of illness, the Earth wants to heal as well. An example of this is the above mentioned video about how even the simple acat of reintroducing wolves to their natural envirnment in our national parks let to a re-balancing of the ecosystme, impacting even on how rivers flow. Another example is how more effecient the remaining tress are on the planet at carbon sequestration (absorbtion). We have destroyed more than half the planets trees in the last few centuries primarily. However, those remaining trees have developed a more robust ability to absorb and store CO2. Almost doubling what we estimated trees thousands of years ago used to absorb.
As early as 1992, the United Nations formed a committee on climate change and agreed that the main three issues were:
- Biodiversity (fewer and fewer animal and plant species) leading to
- Ecosystem collapse (loss of once lush areas which turn into dead soil or desert) all resulting in
- Climate change. As you lose plants, the climate warms since trees and plants are primarily responsible for carbon sequestration. 50% of what makes up plants is carbon. It all gets pulled out of the atmosphere. When you lose plants, not only do you lose the ability of those plants to pull back CO2, you burning of those plants (like the Amazon) releases all that carbon into the atmosphere.
ALL life on Earth came from the exact same genes but they are expressed in different ways. The Human Genome Project was supposed to show how complicated humans are but it revealed that we only have 20,000 genes that encode amino acids production. Corn has 30,000 such gene sequences and Pinot Noir wine grapes have 40,000. Even a flea has 30,000 genes. Certain bacteria have 100x more active genes than humans do. We share 99% of our genes with mice and 70% with sea urchins. We are not as special as we think. The sooner we appreciate this and realize that everything on Earth is connects and that small acts may trickle down and have huge impacts in other organisms and environments, the sooner we will start healing this planet.
We live in extremely toxic and concerning times. We have polluted our world to the point where known cancer-causing pesticides like glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup) can be measured in human samples of urine and breast milk as well as in the air from evaporation, in rainwater and in municipal drinking water supplies (in 70% of samples taken in a recent study). Plastic garbage “islands” twice the size of Texas are floating in the oceans and the areas of the world once covered permanently with ice are shrinking at exponential rates because of global warming.
The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees F). Above this temperature rise, even by half a degree, we will experience significantly worse droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Here is the link to the article.
Coal, oil and natural gas are called fossil fuels because they are formed by the remains of once-living organisms, or fossils. We remove them from the ground and burn them which generates gases (greenhouse gases) which get trapped in the atmosphere. This creates a thick layer around the Earth which then traps heat which creates a greenhouse-like environment. This phenomenon is what is called Global Warming. We have burned so much fossil fuel that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than in the previous 600,000 years combined. At this rate, the Earth will be about 7 degrees warmer than in pre-industrialized times which would essentially wipe out humanity. Despite environmental laws being passed in 1992 mandating decreased carbon emissions by industry, today, we have 50% higher rates of carbon emissions!
Individual people and simple acts of recycling and conservation have significant impact in the long-term and if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy this planet, we had better act quickly. This is a link to some daily habits you may have which are destroying the environment: 10 daily habits that are killing the environment.
“If the Earth improves because of our presence, then we will flourish. If it doesn’t, then we will die off”
Dr. James Lovelock.
That’s a powerful statement that concisely describes the challenge humanity faces. Because so many of our favorite things are harmful to the biosphere that gives us life, it will be for us to truly live in harmony with nature.
Here are a few indulgences which all of know well.
- GOLF. Golf is no ecological bargain.
- We consume 840 million golf balls per year in the USA.
- Worldwide, golf retail sales topped $13.4 Billion in 2018.
- Lawns are the most grown “crop” in the US. 40 million acres in the US. Although the bulk of these lawns belong to private homeowners, as far as community and public grounds are concerned, golf grounds are the biggest culprits. There are more than 15,000 golf courses in the US which represents about 43% of the courses in the world. This represents over 2.2 million acres of grounds, with the average being about 150 acres per course! It’s space for 14 million to live. Think of the amount of chemicals used to maintain those lawns and grounds! Other areas of concern are public parks, soccer and football fields and office grounds.
- SMOKING is even worse.
- Annually, smoking costs the USA over $300 billion in health care and productivity.
- Global consumption is 6.5 trillion cigarettes per year.
- Worldwide, 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered each year, the most littered item on Earth.
- SHOES. Most of us have far more shoes than we need. Including many we haven’t worn in years.
- The average man in the USA owns 12 pairs of shoes and the average woman owns 27!.
- Like the automobiles in America, over 90% of our shoes are not in use at any given moment.
- PETS. Here is the really tough one. Many people love their animals more than other humans or even life itself.
- The total pet population in the USA alone is 393 million. 68% of American households own at least one pet.
- According to the American Pet Products Association, we spent over $69 billion on pet products in 2017.
- Much of the 11 million tons/year of dog waste in the USA goes to landfills and the rest is left on the ground.
Is the Earth improving because of golf, smoking, shoes or even our pets?
The Bottom Line. Many of our lifestyle habits, pleasures and daily choices are not compatible with living in harmony with nature in the long run. Eventually, we’re going to have to make some hard choices about some of our favorite things. The vast majority of our populace will never willingly choose to make those choices on their own.
In his recent bestselling book “The Truth About Food“, renowned Yale University nutritionist David Katz, MD has a very scary commentary about health, nutrition and the environment (it’s actually how he signs each of his emails as part of his signature): “As I learn more from environmental experts, I find that our debates about diet for human health are apt to become moot very soon. The impact of our prevailing diets on the planet is fast becoming the only thing that really matters. There will be no point in debating diet for human health on a planet no longer hospitable to human habitation and we are blithely, and blindly blundering in that very direction.”
To be a good environmentalist, you need to do 5 things:
- Understand the fact that everything is connected. Nothing exists in isolation.
- Realize that nothing is free. Not the air or the water… Everything has a price.
- It’s up to you. You have to write a check. You have to lift a shovel. You have to talk to somebody. Although on a global scale, individual changes are insignificant, nothing changes if individuals do nothing.
- Don’t lose your sense of wonder.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
WHAT AND HOW YOU EAT HAS THE GREATEST IMPACT ON OUR ENVIRONMENT
4 of the top 10 behaviors (8 of the top 20) and solutions to reverse climate change have to do with food and eating. These include:
- Control refrigeration waste. Fridges, freezers, air conditioning… This is the #1 source of climate change gasses, 1000x more potent than CO2.
- Eliminating food waste. At the time of publication, data about the gases produced in landfills from food waste was not clear so it was not included. Had it been, food waste would be the #1 cause of climate change. Food waste accounts for the largest sector of what ends up in landfills! That having been said, Americans throw away 50% of all produce, equivalent to 60 million tons of material which could be turned into compost. Worldwide, 2.9 trillion pounds of food goes to waste (~33% of all produce). The average American wastes 225 pounds of food a year which equates to about $1600 of wasted money. The amount wasted in North and South America, Europe and Africa would feed over 800 million people. Financially, this waste costs industrialized countries over $680 billion and developing countries $310 billion. More food is wasted and thrown away because of “blemishes” and “imperfections” than can feed all the starving people on the planet many times over. All the wasted food decomposing accounts for the 3rd largest amount of CO2 production contributing hugely to global warming. Food waste is the biggest part of what goes into landfills! As far as meat is concerned, 26.2% of US meat is discarded, 21.7% (80% of the total) is at the consumer level.
- Eating a plant-based diet. Factory farms and the industrial agriculture to support them account for more greenhouse gases and climate change than all other modes of transportation combined worldwide. Simply substituting beans for red meat would result in a reduction of half the greenhouse gas emission called for by the Paris Accord. According to the UN, more than 80% of farmland is used for livestock but it only produces 18% of food calories and 37% of protein. It also accounts for 58% of greenhouse gas emissions, 57% of the water pollution, 56% of the air pollution and 33% of freshwater withdrawals. Animal products are so inefficient on many levels. The methane produced by ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, camels…) is 30x more potent as a climate warming gas than CO2. As it is, climate scientists feel that to have a significant impact on climate change, the entire European, British and US population would need to reduce meat consumption by 90% and dairy consumption by 60%.
- Regenerative agriculture. This describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity resulting in both carbon draw down and improving the water cycle.
The full list is described in the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.
The easiest and most important single thing we can do to help protect and restore the environment and decrease global warming is to decrease how many animal products (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) we consume. Even cutting back a bit like doing “meatless Mondays” helps. One person switching to eating just one plant-based meal a day for a year will save over 200,000 gallons of water and the carbon reduction equivalent of driving a car from LA to NYC. Switching to a plant-based diet has a greater impact on the environment than recycling, taking shorter showers or buying a Prius (or any other electric car for that matter). All of these simple measures are also important however. A new study, published in the journal Science, is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date into the detrimental effects farming has on the environment and included data on nearly 40,000 farms in 119 countries. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. Meanwhile, if everyone stopped eating these foods, they found that global farmland use could be reduced by 75%, an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined. Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction.
The amount of grain we feed our animals could easily feed the entire planet and starvation could be eliminated. Feeding animals for human consumption is very inefficient. Only 10% of what we feed animals gets turned into usable calories whereas 100% of the calories you get from plants gets used. As an example, if you ate 2000 calories from plants, you break down and use all 2000 calories. To get 2000 calories from chicken meat, it would take 18,000 calories of feed to raise that chicken. That’s 800% food waste. Not to mention all the water, electricity and other resources it would take to raise that chicken. And then you add in the inhumane treatment and slaughter.
Meat and dairy is also extremely inefficient. They provide 18% of the calories and 37% of the protein in our diet but use 83% of the farmland and produce 60% of agricultural greenhouse gases. Of all the soy and corn produced in the US (2 of the top crops in the US), 47% of the soy and 60% of the corn goes to feed animals raised for consumption.
Carbon Footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, device, car etc. Simply put, it estimates how much greenhouse gasses an activity creates. Dairy accounts for 25% of the carbon footprint caused by food production. 30% of humanity’s carbon footprint comes from food in general. This means that dairy production alone causes 8% the carbon footprint of all human activity. Just cutting out dairy (the most unnatural food humans consume) would get us at least half way to reversing global warming. Livestock alone account for 9% of global CO2 production however this is only a small problem compared with the 40% of global methane and 65% of global NO2 livestock produce which are 23x and 300x more toxic respectively to the ozone layer than CO2.
4 ways Industrial Animal Agriculture contributes to climate change:
- Livestock respiration. All those 20 billion animals exhale breathing producing lots of CO2.
- Burps and Farts. Ruminants (cows, goats and sheep) regurgitate and re-chew their food many times which requires massive amounts of bacteria to digest. The byproduct is METHANE which is 23x more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. In addition, after about 10-12 years, it breaks down into CO2. At the rate of escalation and with the anticipated needs, the amount of methane is predicted to increase 60% by 2030. Interestingly, by simply adding some seaweed to cows’ feed, methane gases can be reduced by as much as 99%. Click here for the full article. If such reductions can be achieved, why have they not been implemented? It’s mind boggling. As an aside, the cows eating a seaweed/kelp based diet produced significantly more milk than those fed the standard soy and wheat based diets, neither of which are a cow’s natural foods.
- 2.7 trillion pounds of manure produce massive amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O). This greenhouse gas is almost 300x more warming than CO2. It lingers in the atmosphere for 150 years. 65% of N2O emissions are from the livestock industry.
- All those animals must be transported to slaughterhouses and then to meat processing plants and then to the grocery stores. The livestock sector is responsible for 51% of all human-caused greenhouse gases.
6 simple ways to reduce our Human carbon footprint:
- Switch to energy-efficient lighting. Just 1 energy-efficient bulb saves 1300 lbs. of CO2.
- Unplug electronics. Even when off, electronics still use up energy.
- Drive smartly. Personal transportation account for most of the vehicle associated CO2 emissions worldwide.
- A hybrid car can save 7000 lbs. of CO2 yearly.
- Smaller cars use less fuel.
- Keep your tires inflated properly which saves gas and preserves tires longer.
- Carpool or take public transportation when possible.
- Insulate your home and check for leaks.
- Avoid dairy and meat. Estimates vary between 15-51% depending on what is included in the calculation. The World Watch Institute estimates that 51% of greenhouse gases are either a direct or indirect result of raising animals for human consumption.
- Decrease the amount of garbage, plastic and waste you generate. Although recycling is great, keep in mind that only 3% of what goes into the recycling bin actually gets recycled. The rest gets dumped into landfills or into the waterways. Most of our recycling gets sent to China where who know what happens to it!
In 2014, the World Wildlife Research Fund (WWF) released a report that between 1970 and 2010, in just 40 years, the worldwide population of wild vertebrates decreased by 52%. By 2012, that population decreased by another 6% for a total decrease of 58% in just 42 years. At that rate of decline, 100% of all wild vertebrate animals will be gone by 2026, which is called Year Zero, the year when all animals are gone.
In comparison, in the 10,000 years before 1970, the estimates are that the population of this same class of animals decreased by 68%. That’s just slightly more in 10,000 of human existence than in the last 45 years or so.
Animal agriculture is the #1 source of carbon emissions. It’s also the #1 source of land use on the plants. We are continuously destroying the forests primarily to provide grazing land for the animals we are raising to feed humans or to grow the crops destined to feed the animals raised to feed humans. If we just fed those crops directly to humans, there would be NO world hunger. We are using advanced geolocating technology to remove the last remaining fish out of the oceans. We are pouring a massive amount of toxins into the environment killing plants, insects, birds… Wild animals are being attacked on all planetary surfaces.
If we took all the land used for animal agriculture today and restored the forests which existed in 1800, we could sequester more carbon than we have added to the atmosphere since 1750, but we would restore all the wild animal habitats, saving all the animals.
“When the Earth is ravaged and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds and who by their actions and deeds, shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the Warriors of the Rainbow” –
Old Native American Prophecy.
Click here to go to the “Prevent Year Zero” website.
Click here to watch the “Prevent Year Zero” YouTube video.
BIODIVERSITY LOSS IS EVERYWHERE
This single best predictor of gut health, where 70% of our immune system resides and the vast majority of neuropeptides like serotonin and dopamine are made, is the amount and variety of plant food, meaning fiber, you consume. ALL life thrives on variety and our society is becoming more and more restrictive.
As our destruction of the planet marches on, more and more animal species are going extinct. The loss of species however does not only apply to animals. Plant biodiversity is at risk of rapid global declines and extinctions as well. These risks extend to agrobiodiversity, the domesticated and undomesticated plants, animals and microorganisms that contribute to food and agriculture, including those that provide pollination, nutrient cycling, pest control and other ecological functions supporting production systems. Global conservation assessments are available for 30% of known edible plant species, and 11% of these are classified as threatened, at risk of extinction.
Although the use of traditional crop varieties persists, of more than 6,000 different plant species cultivated for food, just 9 account for 66% of crop production:
- oil-palm fruit,
- sugar beet and
The first 3 alone account for 50% of the calories consumed by humans worldwide. 26% of the world’s 7,745 remaining local livestock breeds are believed to be at risk of extinction, and an estimated 33% of fish stocks are overfished. The likelihood of a bee, one of the world’s primary crop pollinators, being found in any given place in Europe and North America has declined by a third since the 1970s.
THE KILLING MACHINE vs THE BURNING MACHINE
Dr. Sailesh Rao is the Founder and Executive Director of Climate Healers, a non-profit dedicated towards healing the Earth’s climate. A systems electrical engineer from Stanford University, he worked on the internet communications infrastructure for twenty years and is one of the principle developers responsible for how the internet works today. In 2006, after being deeply moved by Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” about climate change, he switched careers and became deeply immersed, full-time, in the spiritual and environmental crises affecting humanity. He describes 2 fundamental “machines” driving climate change. The “Killing” machine and the “Burning” machine. He explains why addressing the killing machine, although on the surface seemingly less impactful on global warming than the burning machine, is more important and a much faster route to saving the planet.
- The Burning Machine. This is the system that leads to the production and burning of fossil fuels. This includes all modes of transportation, energy usage, drilling, water diversion and it’s secondary destructive effects, plastics production… As far as transportation goes alone, we know that all modes of transportation worldwide combined produce less emissions than our agricultural system.
- The Killing Machine. This is the system which raises and kills animals for food, destroys the forests to provide the grains to feed those animals, along with all the other issues involved around the animal agricultural industry.
Although it is certainly true that the burning machine generates at least 80% of the CO2 emissions, nearly 80 gigatons annually, and that the agricultural system accounts for 15-20%, this does not look at the issue from a systems perspective and take into account the various other climate destroying gasses and processes. For example methane produced by all the animals and the decomposing wasted food is far more impactful on global warming and climate change. So is Nitrous Oxide (NO2), which is hundreds of times more damaging. In addition, the fossil fuel burning machine also generates a lot of sulfur dioxide (SO2), more than 300 million tons, which actually has a cooling effect on the climate. The cooling effect of the SO2 actually makes the burning machine almost net neutral on global warming. It is a distraction to focus more on fossil fuels.
The FASTEST way to climate destruction is to reduce our consumption of animal products. This will have many immediate effects like:
- Immediate reduction in methane production, as well as CO2 and NO2.
- Immediate reclamation of land where plants, especially trees, can grow. This leads to immediate carbon sequestration. 50% of a trees composition is carbon all gathered from the atmosphere.
- Immediate reduction in food waste.
- Immediate improvement in human quality of life.
Just start with one meal and build up from there.
“Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis” Sailesh Rao
18% or 87%? How Much Does Animal Agriculture Really Contribute to Global Warming?
There is no question that the animal agriculture industry produces a tremendous amount of waste, pollutes the Earth and generates gases which contribute to global warming. There is considerable debate about how much it actually contributes to climate change however. The most conservative estimate is as low as 14%. On the other extreme, some well versed and documented climatologists suggest that it could be as high as 82%. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle but the point is that simply changing the food on your plate is the fastest and most impactful thing you can do to not only halt but reverse global warming and climate change.
The two most cited reports on animal agriculture’s impact on global warming (GW) are:
- “Livestock’s Long Shadow” (2006), a well meaning, albeit flawed report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
- “Livestock and Climate Change” (2009), a more comprehensive report and criticism of the FAO analysis written by 2 climate investigators, Robert Goodland, and Jeff Anhang, from the World Watch Institute (WWI). Anhang worked for the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation and Goodland was an ecologist and environmental consultant to the World Bank Group.
The analyses are quite different and came to pretty significantly different conclusions. The FAO report concluded that animal agriculture contributes 18% to greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) whereas the rebuttal analysis by the WWI, which pointed out flaws and omissions by the FAO report, showed how at least 51% of GGEs were caused by animal agriculture. In fact, even more recent analyses by the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other peer-reviewed scientific sources, indicates that the greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans as a result of the animal agriculture industry is actually 87%.
The key differences between the two reports are that the more thorough WWI report accounts for things like the exponential growth of livestock, large scale deforestation which both generates GHG while simultaneously destroying a major source of CO2 sequestration (forests), the dramatic reduction in the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity along with accelerating volatilization of carbon stored in the soil. Here are some of the important specific aspects of the FAO report which were wrong, omitted or outdated:
- It underestimated land use, not taking into account some croplands as well as lands used for such things as waste management.
- It undercounted methane production. Remember that methane is much more impactful than CO2.
- It undercounted livestock (data was overlapped from some geographic areas).
- It did not account for deforestation in some countries like Argentina
- It omits the requirement for animal products to be refrigerated, which uses compounds like fluorocarbons, which are 1000x more potent than CO2.
- It does not consider the emissions caused by cooking meat.
- It overlooks emissions caused by disposal of animal waste as well as unused animal parts.
- It did not account for the fact that methane impacts GW in a 25 year timeframe. The FAO used a 100 year timeframe, averaging CO2 levels, by which time, methane has turned into CO2, which it also did not account for.
- The FAO also referenced information dating back to 1964, clearly outdated.
Although the FAO report brought the matter of animal agriculture and global warming to the national stage, it was not thorough enough and, as a result, not as impactful as it could have been.
The graph below shows the results of some more recent assessments of the impact of food on the environment. The graph on the right include food waste, which is huge and mostly from personal/home waste.
A link to the full article is here.
A link to Dr. Rao’s paper is here.
HUMAN TRANSFORMATION and GLOBAL WARMING
Dr. Silesh Rao describes in his book Carbon Yoga how every momentous transformation in modern Homo Sapien history has been accompanied by revolutionary changes in 3 aspects of human lives:
- The way we communicate,
- The way we harness energy and
- The foods that we eat.
200,000 years ago, the first major transformation occurred.
- We developed spoken language.
- We discovered how to make and control fire. This changed how we interacted since we were no longer subject to light from the sun. It provided heat allowing us to expand where humans were able to survive. It allowed us to develop technologies to make tools and weapons. It also changed how we cooked food.
- We began eating meat which, as mentioned above, was a result of our being able to make better tools to hunt as well as our ability to cook meat, making it much more digestible. We lack the enzymes and bacteria to properly digest raw meat, unlike true carnivores. Cooking changed that.
These developments ushered in the era of divisions of labor with males being the dominant “hunters” and females the family nurturers. It also established the attitude of dominance over other living creatures, changing our relationship with them from living with them to using them. The ability to control fire also allowed man to survive the next ice age.
If you examine the fossil records as well as cores of ice from the poles, we discover that the cycle of ice ages and stable, hospitable climate, follows a predictable pattern. 10,000 year of habitable climate and 90,000 years of ice age. With the exception of catastrophic events like asteroids and volcanic eruption, this 100,000 year pattern continued for many cycles until the most recent one.
10,000 years ago, the second great leap “forward” occurred when the agricultural revolution took place.
- We developed writing.
- We harnessed the energy of animals such as horses, buffaloes and cows, allowing us to plough fields as well as travel, harness water along with many other mechanical tasks.
- We were able to grow whatever we wanted rather than relying on what Nature provided for us in the wild.
This also ushered in the era of humans changing the land, and thus stabilizing the climate. As we planted crops, we deforested more and more land, leading to more CO2 being released into the atmosphere, since forests sequester CO2. The way we tilled that land also started to change the climate. With monocropping and tilling, the land became less diverse and as a result, less productive. This of course changed massively during the industrial revolution, but it started back then. Although on the surface, this sounds like a negative thing, a certain amount of deforestation and tilling actually may have contributed to stabilization of the climate.
200 years ago, the industrial revolution began.
- The printing press was developed leading to mass dissemination of information.
- We began to harness fossil fuels for energy. Starting with whale blubber, the oil from which was used in street and home lamps, to coal to eventually petroleum products.
- With the development of machinery, domesticated animals were repurposed to be raised for food.
With mechanization, spurred on by massive population growth, the amount of land turned into crop land dramatically increased. In addition the size and scale of animal food-animal production also dramatically rose. Both of these played off on one another leading to the massive rises in global warming gases which now turned what was a climate-stabilization situation, to a destabilizing one.
TODAY, we are poised to undergo another transformation. The VEGAN metamorphosis. The most important one. The one which will save the planet, the animals and our own kind.
- The internet has revolutionized how we communicate, making not just communications but the ability to get any information instantaneous and at our fingertips.
- We are learning to harness the power of nature through solar, wind and non destructive water energies.
- The diet is transitioning from an animal based diet to a plant-based one. The new diet is based on food from locally grown farms without having to rely on huge operations and massive transportation infrastructure. The proportion of the population going vegan is rising and gaining momentum. If we can keep this momentum going, we may be able to save our planet and ourselves.
EARTH’S LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEMS
In 2009, 28 of the leading Earth systems and environmental scientists gathered to discuss climate change. They came up with 9 planetary support systems and defined what were the limits of the operating space for humans to work with for each system. At that time, more than a decade ago, human activity had already surpassed safe boundaries for at least 3 of the systems, but all of them are stressed. They are listed below. Keep in mind that the data listed is 2009 data. At that time, the world’s population was 6.8 billion. In 2020, the population is 7.8 billion, a 15% increase. All the usage data is at least that much more.
- LOSS OF SPECIES. In 2009, we were already causing the extinction of over 100 species per million species per year. It’s significantly more now. At that time, the “safe operating variable”, or SOL was 10/million/year. We are exceeding the SOL by 10x. And even this number was felt to be too negligent since the background, non-human SOL was 0.1 species/million/year. Regardless of what is “safe”, we are WAY over our limit. The estimate is that by 2026, there will be no more wild vertebrate animals left on Earth. This loss has many causes including human harvesting, like trawling the oceans killing billions of fish, loss of habitat, poaching and hunting and the animals themselves are also subject to the ravages of climate change.
- BIOCHEMICAL PROCESSES. Humans are extracting 120 million tons of nitrogen from the atmosphere annually, interfering significantly with the planetary nitrogen cycle. The SOL is 35 million tons, which we exceed by 3.5x. In addition, humans generate 9 million tons of phosphorus, below the 11 million safe benchmark. However, before the industrial revolution, the human impact on both of these was essentially zero. A significant contributor to the nitrogen imbalance is the massive amount of nitrogen fertilizers used in the agricultural industries.
- CLIMATE CHANGE. This limit is determined by measuring 1) atmospheric CO2 and 2) radiative forcing, the difference between solar irradiance (sunlight) absorbed by the Earth and energy radiated back to space. As far as CO2 is concerned, we are well past the “safe” limit of 300ppm. We are, as of 2018, at 440ppm. Pre-industrial levels were at 280ppm. Scientists estimate the safe radiative forcing limit to be 1.0 Watt/m2. Even with the negated effects of aerosols like SO2 (see below), humans still exceed this by at least 1.5x. As far as CO2 is concerned, once again the animal agriculture industry is responsible for upwards if 50% of CO2 production.
The SOL for the remaining systems were not surpassed as of 2009, but we were coming dangerously close and have most certainly surpassed many of them since then.
- OCEAN ACIDIFICATION. We are at 80% of the SOL. Almost 25% of the anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 is absorbed by the oceans. The CO2 combines with the water forming carbonic acid, leading to ocean acidification. Between the rises in ocean temperatures because of warming (the oceans also absorb a lot of heat) and the acidification, much marine life, especially shelled creatures, are impacted severely. By decreasing animal agriculture, you remove the CO2 produced by the animals while allowing for forests, major CO2 sequesters, to regrow. It’s a win-win. You also eliminate the methane, which is eventually converted into CO2.
- LAND USE. We have converted more than 75% of the safe estimated limit of 15% of our land to cropland, which is primarily used for animal agriculture. This is progressing faster and faster every day. Along with the loss of land is the loss of rainforest, an important source of animal and plant diversity, oxygen, medicines as well as CO2 sequestration.
- FRESH WATER USE. About 71% of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5% of all Earth’s water. Only 3% of the earth’s water is fresh and 2.5% of the earth’s freshwater is unavailable, locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, atmosphere, and soil. Much of it is highly polluted or lies too far under the earth’s surface to be extracted at an affordable cost. Only 0.5% of the earth’s water is available fresh water for us to use. Humans use about 62% of the maximum 4000 km3/yr. About 55% of freshwater used by humans goes towards animal agriculture with another 25% going towards the fossil fuel industry.
- OZONE DEPLETION. With elimination of some fluorocarbons from aerosol sprays, this has been slowed down but as of 2009, about 50% of the ozone had been depleted. Much of this is due to the atmospheric conversion of methane into CO2, a hidden CO2 source. Keep in mind that this is why methane is tens of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 alone. As a result of ozone depletion, more of the sun’s radiant heat can enter our atmosphere and get trapped.
- ATMOSPHERIC AEROSOL LOADING. Aerosols can be naturally occurring, for example as fog, geyser mists and even naturally occurring forest fires. Those which are concerning are man made ones. They can be as simple as tobacco smoke and spray cans to complex aerosols such as those produced by coal and other industrial plants. Man made aerosols contain hundreds of chemical compounds. Although aerosols like Sulphur dioxide (SO2) actually have a cooling impact on the radiative forcing/global warming effects, it comes at a cost. These aerosols pollute the air, cause acid rain, impact on all animal respiratory systems and account for over a million premature human deaths annually. Aerosols also impact on monsoons and global circulation systems. Because of these conflicting impacts, “safe” levels can’t be estimated.
- CHEMICAL POLLUTION. No safe limits can be established. Some pollutants can be reversed, but some chemicals cause irreversible damage. Since the advent of plastics, not one atom has left the planet and at last calculation we have dumped over 9 billion tons of it into our environment. It eventually gets into the food chain and into humans. The list of chemicals is lengthy. Agricultural chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and insecticides. Heavy metals, dioxins and Persistent Organic Pollutants all poison the air, water and air. 70% of air and water samples in the US now are contaminated with glyphosate, the most ubiquitously used agricultural chemical which is the active ingredient found in Roundup. Levels can be measured in the tiny bodies of the tiniest ants in the most remote parts of the Amazon jungle.
Going vegan, or at least drastically cutting back on animal product consumption, will have a significant and immediate impact on 8 of the 9 listed Earth support systems. It really is the easiest, and fastest way to reverse climate change. And in doing so, we can all become healthier at the same time.
CARS & CITIES vs MEAT
OF ALL DIETARY APPROACHES, AN ORGANIC VEGAN DIET HAS THE SMALLEST ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT, BY FAR. When people think about things they can do to help the environment and stem the accelerating global warming that’s occurring, they think about recycling and reducing car emissions. Recycling and composting are discussed in more detail here but just be aware that less than 3% of what you put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled and the rest ends up in our waterways, landfills and eventually in our bodies! It’s estimated that we consume one credit cards worth of plastic a week in our food! It’s still important to recycle it but it’s more important to reduce ALL the waste you create. As far as car emissions are concerned, the fact is that the emissions created by all modes of transportation worldwide combined is still much less than what is generated by the animal agriculture industry. Here are some startling statistics which may make you re-think your approach:
- Raising animals to be killed for food releases 100 million tons of methane into the atmosphere yearly. Methane is 23x more potent in trapping heat than CO2.
- The average car driving all day long releases 3 kg of CO2. The production of 1 hamburger release 75 kg of CO2, 25 x more. Stated otherwise, eating one hamburger causes the same amount of atmospheric damage as driving a gas-powered car for 3 weeks straight.
- If every American skipped only 1 meal of chicken a week and substituted plant foods, the CO2 savings would be equal to taking 500,000 cars off the roads.
- Cattle manure is a huge problem as well. It contains nitrous oxide, 300x more potent than CO2, and ammonia.
- In one month of going vegan, you will:
- Avoid the death of 33 animals.
- Conserve 33,000 gallons of water.
- Destruction of 900 square feet of rain forest.
- Prevent an additional 600 lbs. of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere.
- Save 1200 lbs. of grain to feed animals.
- Ranked by their carbon footprint, either per pound of protein or calories, and using soy protein as the baseline:
- Beef is roughly 73x worse.
- Lamb or milk is 15x worse.
- Pork is 9x worse.
- Chicken is 6x worse.
- Eating 1 less beef burger a week is equal to taking your car off the road for 320 miles.
- Skipping meat and cheese for a week is equivalent to taking your car off the road for 5 weeks.
- Skipping steak once a week is the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 3 months.
- If the entire US didn’t eat meat or cheese for 1 day a week, it would have the same effect as not driving 91 billion miles or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
- More than 50% of all the usable land on the planet is dedicated to raising meat for human consumption or growing food to feed the animals raised for human consumption. Just to compare, if you combine all human habitation (cities, roadways…), it only covers 0.5% of the worlds land, 1/100th of what we dedicated to animals for food.
- All the grains we grow for animals could easily feed the entire population of the planet, and then some.
Just to throw in a few ethical stats in here:
- It takes 5 tons of wild caught fish to feed 1 ton of farmed salmon.
- An estimated 1 million pigs die from crushing, freezing, dehydration or disease on their way to the slaughterhouse annually.
- A family of 4 would save 200 animals a year if they went 100% plant based.
ELECTRIC CARS vs THE CAR YOU PROBABLY OWN (GAS)
Although there are some unfounded arguments about electric cars, the facts are clear that their environmental footprint is significantly better and switching, at any time, is better for the environment. Within a year, or driving about 6000 miles, the effects of switching have neutralized themselves, even considering the waste of getting rid of the old car.
Batteries. Doesn’t it take a lot of energy and rare metals to make them? Battery technology is not perfect but guess what, all cars, including gas vehicles, have batteries. Electric cars just have bigger ones. The environmental impact and global warming effects of the large battery in an electric car is insignificant in comparison to the waste generated by conventional vehicles. In addition, the pollution/waste created by batteries is on the ground and easier to address than the climate warming gases which are in the atmosphere.
Isn’t it wasteful to get rid of a gas-powered car if you already have one? Should I just drive until it’s “end of life?”. Simply put, no. The environmental benefits of immediate replacement offset the switch in a very short period of time.
Catalytic converters, which convert the car exhaust to less air polluting chemicals, are expensive and contain many heavy metals. Electric cars don’t use them since they don’t produce any fumes. They are very expensive and there is now a black market for them because of the precious metals contained within them. As a result, there has been a wave of theft, stealing these converters for sale.
Electric cars are helpful for sure, but not the definitive sole answer. For example, if the Chinese population switched over to all electric cars, it would be a climate/pollution disaster since 47 of their power grid comes from burning coal. The increased energy demands would lead to massively more pollution. It does take twice as much energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one. In addition, mining for the rare minerals for batteries is a very energy-intensive process, which is also very inefficient, making use of only 0.2% of what is pulled from the ground. The other 99.8%, now toxically contaminated material, gets thrown back into the Earth, untreated causing massive pollution itself.
The best answer is DRIVE LESS!
THAWING PERMAFROST and GLOBAL WARMING GASES
Abrupt permafrost thaw has scientists worried and researchers are scrambling to figure out how much methane will be released.
Alaska’s landscape is changing. One striking example: during the past six decades, the number of thermokarst lakes in Fairbanks, the state’s third-largest city, has doubled. These are lakes that form when permafrost thaws, causing the ground to subside or collapse and then fill with water. Increased warming means more thawing and more lakes. Permafrost is defined as ground that remains at or below freezing for two consecutive years. Because the Arctic is warming 3x faster than the rest of the planet, these formations are becoming an increasingly common feature across the state, especially in the interior, where the permafrost layer is often just below the 32-degree threshold required to keep the soil frozen. Even modest increases in temperature can lead to landscape-scale changes or abrupt thaw events such as slumps and landslides.
Many structures, including homes need to be relocated and the power line and road rebuilt to withstand the influx of water and shifting ground. This is easy enough to imagine.
But the thawing permafrost in Alaska is connected to other big questions scientists are scrambling to understand: how much methane and CO2 will be emitted from ancient carbon stored in the ground as it heats up, and what kind of impact will this have on future warming?
As the ground warms, organic matter, such as dead plants and animals compressed and frozen for thousands of years, is made available to microorganisms, which convert the material into CO2, methane, or nitrous oxide. Scientists have a pretty good idea how much carbon is stored in northern soils: more than 2x what humans have already emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which started ~1750.
But researchers know far less about how much of that carbon will be released over time and precisely what form it will take: methane or carbon dioxide. On a 20-year timescale, methane is about 80x more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, so it has greater effects in the short term but does not remain in the atmosphere as long. In addition, permafrost varies considerably across the Arctic region. The Fairbanks area, for example, is on “discontinuous permafrost,” meaning it is not uniformly frozen. But on Alaska’s North Slope, the ground is solidly frozen, and the ice-rich permafrost can be hundreds of feet deep. The rate of thaw and subsequent emissions can also be shaped by vegetation type and the presence of water.
Thermokarst lakes are hot spots for gas emissions, particularly methane.
How much methane and carbon dioxide will be emitted from ancient carbon stored in the ground as it heats up, and what kind of impact will this have on future warming?
These lakes have the highest emissions of any kind of land surface type in the Arctic. While thermokarst lakes make up only a small percentage of the Arctic landmass, they could still be a significant source of added methane, on top of what humans are already putting into the atmosphere via oil and gas emissions and agriculture. If methane emissions from thermokarst lakes were included in models, the climate feedback from permafrost thaw would double over the next 80 years. Even though it remains a relatively small figure compared with emissions from burning fossil fuels, the greenhouse gases released from thawing permafrost will make it that much more challenging to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The release of methane from thaw events is likely to amplify climate warming beyond most current Earth system model projections.
There are several reasons why thermokarst lakes are such large emitters. One is that they are mostly atop what’s called yedoma, carbon-rich permafrost that formed during the Pleistocene more than 10,000 years ago. Unlike soil that has previously been exposed to warming, there’s a huge amount of organic material for microbes to consume. In addition, water itself is good at storing heat, which disrupts the annual freeze-thaw cycle that has defined the region for thousands of years. Lake surfaces still freeze, in most cases, but the water below the surface acts like a layer of insulation even during the depths of winter. This means the permafrost underneath lake beds is thawing at a much faster rate than it normally would, meters instead of millimeters a year. This is what scientists refer to as “abrupt thaw”, a process that has not been fully incorporated into climate modeling and which could pose the greatest risk to the climate as permafrost disappears. At the same time, the water also creates an anoxic (low oxygen) environment, which leads to the production of methane as well as CO2.
Scientists know far more about Alaska than the rest of the Arctic, leaving important questions unanswered. Siberia for example, which makes up 70% of the Arctic land area, has not received as much attention. And that makes it difficult for researchers to generalize about the scale of emissions from thawing permafrost.
But in the case of Alaska, scientists believe that the balance has already shifted. The state has become a net emitter of carbon rather than a place that stores it.
What does this all mean for efforts to address global climate change?
It only underscores what science has long affirmed . Human emissions will have to be substantially reduced to avoid catastrophic warming. We need to be at not only zero emissions but really negative emissions territory to help stabilize the environment. The uncertainty also leaves open the possibility that methane emissions from thawing permafrost will trigger a feedback cycle that could dramatically accelerate warming. Even if only 10% of the carbon stored in permafrost is released into the atmosphere over the next 80 years, it would be equal to about 25% of what humans have already emitted since the Industrial Revolution.
THE GLOBAL MEAT CRISIS
Despite all the awareness about the importance of cutting back on meat, the demand and consumption of meat, often looked upon as a status symbol, is continuing to rise. This is particularly true in countries like China and India where the rising middle class looks upon meat as a status symbol. Traditional plant-based diets are being abandoned in favor of more traditional Western- style diets. Along with that has come a massive surge in Western diseases like diabetes and heart disease, previously rare in their cultures. As Dr. Ornish says “They want to be like us and eat like us and now they are starting to die like us”.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, worldwide yearly, per-person meat consumption has risen between 1964 and 2015 as follows:
- East Asia has increased by 6x from 19 lbs. to 110 lbs. per year!
- Developing countries have tripled consumption from 22 to 69 lbs.
- Latin America more than doubled from 69 to 44 lbs.
- Industrialized increased by 36% from 135 to 201 lbs.
There are 3 times more livestock in the world than there are people:
- Chickens – 19 billion
- Cows – 1.5 billion
- Pigs – 1 billion
- Sheep and Goats – 2 billion
Global agriculture is dominated by livestock production and the grains grown to feed it. This animal agricultural system contributes to at least 30% of greenhouse gas emissions (more than all modes of transportation worldwide combined), global warming, planetary sustainability and, ironically to world hunger. At the present rate of consumption, by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock with go up to 80%.
- Cows produce 150 billion lbs. of toxic methane from farts and burps a year.
- Cows use up 80-90% of water consumption in the US. 55 trillion gallons a year.
- 5000 gallons are required to produce 1 lb. of beef.
- 1000 gallons are needed to produce 1 gallon of milk.
- Cows occupy 45% of the earth’s landmass.
- Producing cows is responsible for 90% of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest.
- 82% of the starving children in the world live in the areas where most of the worlds livestock is produced.
9 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT FARMED FISH
If you eat seafood, unless you catch it yourself or ask the right questions, odds are that it comes from a fish farm. Farmed fish now accounts for 50% of the fish eaten in the U.S and is seen as a way to meet the world’s growing demand. But is fish farming really the silver bullet to solve the Earth’s food needs and reliably satisfy the seafood cravings of three billion people around the globe? There is always a price to pay.
While some fish farms can follow sustainable practices, most can’t. And with this industry regularly touted as a paragon of food production, whether you eat seafood or not, you should know these seven key concerns about farmed fish.
- Farmed fish is not as nutritious as wild. The nutritional benefits of fish can be lower, depending on the fishs’ diet. Take omega-3 fatty acids, for example. Wild fish don’t make omega-3’s, they get them from marine algae. Farmed fish, however, are often fed corn, soy, or other vegetable oils that contain little to no omega-3’s. When fish consume this type of feed, they can accumulate higher levels of saturated fats and have a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which is not healthy.
- The farmed fishing industry impacts wild species. While some farmed fish can live on diets of corn or soy, others need to eat fish, and lots of it. Tuna and salmon, for example, need to eat up to 5 pounds of fish for each pound of body weight. The result is that prey (fish like anchovies and herring) are being fished to the brink of extinction to feed the world’s fish farms. Aquaculture and commercial fishing’s voracious hunger is principally responsible for declines of whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, tuna, bass, salmon, albatross, penguins, and other species.
- Fish experience pain and stress. Contrary to the popular belief and wishful thinking of many a fisherman and fish-eater, fish can experience pain and stress, as well as all other emotions, just like any other creature. Farmed fish are subject to the routine stresses of hyper-confinement throughout their lives or through exhausting harvesting methods. The recognition that fish do experience stress and pain has called for improved welfare practices of farmed fish.
- Farmed fish are subject to diseases, which spread to wild fish populations. Conventionally farmed fish are packed in their net or pen as tightly as “sardines in a can”. These unnatural conditions give rise to diseases and parasites, just like in other factory farmed environments. Most of these diseases migrate off the farm and infect wild fish populations. On Canada’s Pacific coast, sea lice infestations are responsible for mass kill-offs of young salmon, increasing their likelihood of dying from sea lice by 73%. The damage doesn’t end there, because eagles, bears, orcas, and other predators depend on salmon for their existence. Drops in wild salmon numbers cause these species to decline as well.
- Fish farms damage local ecosystems. Antibiotics and chemicals may be used on fish farms to control the spread of disease and parasites. This can damage local ecosystems in ways we’re just beginning to understand. One study found that a drug used to combat sea lice kills a variety of non-target marine invertebrates, travels up to half a mile, and persists in the water for hours.
- Farmed fish try to escape their unpleasant conditions, and who can blame them? In the North Atlantic region alone, more than 2 million runaway salmon escape into the wild each year. The result is that at least 20% of supposedly wild salmon caught in the North Atlantic are of farmed origin. The percentage is likely much higher since the only available data regarding this is from 1999. Escaped fish breed with wild fish and compromise the gene pool, harming the wild population. Embryonic hybrid salmon, for example, are far less viable than their wild counterparts.
- The Jevons Paradox. In a nutshell, the more fish farms which are created, the more wild fish is harvested. This counterintuitive economic theory says that as production methods grow more efficient, demand for resources actually increases, rather than decreasing, as you might expect. Accordingly, as aquaculture makes fish production increasingly efficient, and fish become more widely available and less expensive, demand may increase across the board. According to this theory then, fish farms would actually drive more fishing, which can hurt wild populations. The net result is that fish farming might crank up the pressure on already-depleted populations of wild fish around the world.
Farmed fish are anything but sustainable, healthy or the solution to our feeding problem. With higher incidence of disease, chemical use, waste, and pressure on wild species, fish farms remain a controversial subject. While these examples of fish farming harms presented are backed by evidence, they are not true for every fish farm. Some farmed fish are even more sustainable and healthful compared to their wild counterparts. If you want guidance on selecting a sustainable fish to eat, check out these resources from Seafood Watch (a program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium) and the Environmental Defense Fund.
One solution is to just stop eating seafood. You don’t need it to be healthy and in reducing consumption, you save animals as well as the environment. If you must consume seafood, choose to cook it yourself and shop for sustainable seafood, wild or farmed. Click here for some resources.
HOW DO WE FEED ALL THE PEOPLE?
There is a big shortfall between the amount of food we produce today and the amount needed to feed everyone in 2050. Today’s (2018) population is just over 7 billion. Almost a billion of them go hungry every day but we already grow enough food to feed everyone if we just fed it to the people and not to the livestock! The monster agro-chemical companies would have us believe that they are feeding the world and solving starvation but this is simply not true. They only account for 28% of the food produced on the planet and when you consider that the bulk of what they make, like soy and corn, is fed to livestock or goes into producing such poor “foods” as high fructose corn syrup, the amount of “food” for humans they produce is much less. The fact is that 70% or more of the food consumed by humans is generated by small, local farmers, growing their produce and animals on farms smaller than 5 acres. In addition 40% of those farmers are women. Support them! In the US, farmers have been forced to leave this honorable and vital job because of the growth of the industrialized system. It simply becomes too expensive for farmers to keep up. In the US, we have fewer farmers than we have people incarcerated in our prisons! In Mexico, because of this phenomenon and the disappearance of peasant farmers and small business entrepreneurs, 1/3rd of the Mexican economy has become one based on crime. Drugs, gangs, money laundering, even prescription drug production and smuggling. Many small farmers who stop farming end up moving from their urban homes into big cities looking for jobs. They basically become “environmental refugees”.
There will be nearly 10 billion people on Earth by 2050. As the middle class grows, people will increasingly consume more resource-intensive, animal-based foods. At the same time, we urgently need to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agricultural production and stop conversion of remaining forests to agricultural land. We CANNOT keep up with the demand.
Feeding 10 billion people sustainably by 2050, then, requires closing three gaps:
- A 56% food gap between crop calories produced in 2010 and those needed in 2050 under “business as usual” growth. We need to produce more food in the next 30 years to feed the additional growing population than we as a species have produced in the last 10,000 years! It’s estimated that our beef consumption alone will increase by 88%.
- A 593 million-hectare land gap (an area nearly twice the size of India) between global agricultural land area in 2010 and expected agricultural expansion by 2050.
- An 11-gigaton GHG (Green House Gas) mitigation gap between expected agricultural emissions in 2050 and the target level needed to hold global warming below 2°C (3.6°F), the level necessary for preventing the worst climate impacts.
We MUST change our eating habits if the human race is to survive. The simplest way is to cut back on animal products. Not necessarily eliminate them, which would be ideal but is just not realistic, but even cutting back makes a huge impact.
NATURE ALWAYS WINS – SHE DOES NOT NEGOTIATE
“Those who do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it” George Santayana.
If we do not act soon and change our ways, the human species is doomed. The UN has even chimed in on the topic of climate change stating that we have perhaps a dozen years to not only stop how humanity is abusing the planet but to reverse our behaviors. After that point, there is no going back. They also estimate that at the rate that our soil is being depleted and decimated, we have at most 60 harvests left before we can no longer grow anything in the soil. We may destroy ourselves but Mother Nature always wins and the planet will live on, just without the scourge of humanity abusing it. Here are a couple of historical events from which we should learn about supply, demand and extinction.
During World War 2, in 1943, a small American contingent of soldiers were stationed on the remote, 144 square mile island of St. Matthews, off the coast of Alaska. As a backup plan in case supplies could not be delivered, 29 reindeer were brought to the island. As it turned out, it was not necessary to eat the deer and they were left behind. Without any predators and with abundant grass to graze on, they flourished, became fat and reproduced to a population of more than 6000 within only 20 years Although this sounds like a happy story of survival, it’s actually a cautionary tale of how there needs to be a balance between population growth and overuse of resources which humanity mirrors. By 1985, only another 20 years later, all the reindeer were all dead. With no predators, they kept reproducing and feeding on the only resource they had, the grass, which they ate down to the rock. Then with nothing left to eat, they starved and died off. Humanity is headed that way fast. We have more than enough grain to feed the planet but we insist on feeding most of it to the farm animals grown for our gluttonous appetite.
There have been many apparently thriving cultures that have mysteriously disappeared or dwindled after peaking. Ancient Rome at one point had over a million people living in it. The Aztec empire was vast, and then without any obvious reason, it vanished. A fairly well documented example of a thriving culture which destroyed itself is the one which existed on Easter Island, off the coast of Chile. There, we discovered over 900 massive stone statues which were carved and transported many miles using logs and placed along the coast. The Easter Islanders were a fishing and seafaring population. Stowaway rats however were introduced to the island but they were not perceived as a nuisance since they only ate the seeds of the palm trees, not the human food. As the inhabitants cut down the trees and the rats ate the seeds, no new trees grew. Eventually, there were no more trees. As a result, they could no longer make boats so the supply of seafood dwindled since they couldn’t fish efficiently. In addition with no more seeds, the rats started to eat all the human food. Fossil records of grave sites showed that the inhabitants stated to cannibalize themselves. They found human teeth marks in human bones. They blindly used up their resources and then suffered a gruesome fate as they starved. We are headed that way. The “zombie holocaust” may not be such a post-apocalyptic piece of fiction.
There have been many examples over time of apparently thriving civilizations suddenly reaching a mass tipping point and then disappearing, in many cases with evidence of cannibalization as resources dwindle.
We are headed that way again, but on a planetary, specie level if we do not act. Stop factory farming. Stop consuming animal products. Stop being wasteful and gluttonous. Or, Mother Nature will stop us herself.
ANIMAL WASTE AND HUMAN AND PLANETARY HEALTH
Animals raised for food produce approximately 130x more waste than the entire human population combined. When you concentrate these animals in massive factory farm facilities, it is incredibly difficult to keep these giant facilities clean without using a massive amount of water. To run the flushing systems that clean excrement off the floors of dairy farms, 150 gallons of water are required per cow, every day. The majority of water used in factory farms does not go towards hydrating animals, but rather to cleaning and processing animals during slaughter. Once this water is polluted with animal waste, it is so polluted with antibiotics, hormones and bacteria that it cannot be returned to the water system.
This waste ends up being stored in massive open-air lagoons that can stretch the length of several football fields. These cesspools are not spill proof and are prone to leaks. Some farmers also routinely drain their cesspools by spraying the waste onto neighboring lands. Between these two factors, there is an extremely high likelihood that factory farm waste will end up in local water supplies. When this happens, the excess nitrogen and phosphorus from manure causes massive algae blooms that take up all the water’s oxygen, killing all other marine life (think “Red Tide” in Florida). High levels of toxins found in farm animal waste have also been noted in domestic water supplies which poses a serious risk to public health.
Although factory farms produce an enormous amount of waste and pollution, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, they are largely exempt from standard air and water pollution regulations. To get an idea of what sort of damage factory farms are causing to our water supply, here are some shocking facts.
- Only 45% of animal farms have permits to drain the waste from their cesspools but an estimated 75% contribute to pollution, unregulated.
- Animal waste contains concentrations of pathogens like Salmonella, E. Coli and Cryptosporidium, that can be 100x higher than in human waste.
- More than 40 diseases can be transferred to humans though manure polluted waterways.
- According to the EPA, manure is also a source of salts, heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides and hormones.
- As much as 75% of antibiotics pass into animal manure unchanged. The presence of antibiotics in waterways leads to the proliferation of multi drug resistant superbugs which cause over 10,000 human deaths annually.
- Ammonia, a toxic form of nitrogen which forms during waste disposal, can be carried more than 300 miles through the air before being dumped back into the water causing algal blooms and killing fish.
- Toxic algal blooms deplete the water of oxygen and can cause skin irritation, memory loss along with other cognitive problems in local people.
- Nitrogen from the waste is converted into nitrate and can result in fatal blue baby syndrome (decreased oxygen in the blood caused by nitrates in drinking water).
- The hormones which pass into manure and contaminate waterways have caused reproductive problems in fish and can also pass long into humans causing similar problems.
- In the US alone, livestock produces almost 400 million tons of excrement a year. The average beef cow eats 90 lbs. of food a day and poops 15x a day. That’s 65 lbs. of poop a day, or 12 tons a year. A lactating cow generates even more poop, 150 lbs. a day (27 tons a year). Add to that all the pigs, sheep, chickens, fish… Unlike human poop which is mostly processed through sewage, livestock poop is stored in massive, foul, untreated waste lagoons or sprayed raw onto fields as fertilizer. The toxic runoff carries nitrates, phosphorus, bacteria, viruses and drugs like steroids and antibiotics into local water and runoff. It kills wildlife like fish and even causes respiratory issues and many other conditions in people living nearby since the poop gets into the air by spraying or drying and turning into dust. In a NC study, kids living near such industrial animal farms had a 23% prevalence of asthma as well as other neurological problems. The amount of excrement humans produce is a tiny fraction of what livestock produces. And think of all the methane!
“THE GREATEST THREAT TO OUR PLANET IS THE BELIEF THAT SOMEONE ELSE WILL SAVE IT”.
YOUR DOG and CAT ARE TERRIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
As important as pets can be to our mental health with respect to companionship and emotional support, unfortunately, pet-ownership also comes with a great cost. In addition to all the animal abuse which occurs in the pet breeding industry, pets themselves generate tremendous amounts of waste and contribute in a major way to climate change. The most popular pets in the US are:
#1 Freshwater Fish. Freshwater fish are the most common pet in the US. There are about 171 million of them. Freshwater fish owners in the US say that they prefer to domesticate them because their maintenance is simple and fun. Fish are also considered as home décor for owners. Freshwater fish are common in the US because they help in reducing stress and pressure since watching them is comforting.
#2 Cats. In the United States, cats are ranked as the second most popular pets; there are about 93.6 million cats. Cats outnumber dogs in the region because they are compact, meaning, a household can manage more than one cat.
#3 Dogs. Dogs are the third most common pet in the United States. The number of dogs in the US adds up to 79 million. Dogs are important in the US and are counted as members of a family. There are different dog breeds but the most common ones are the Dachshund, German Shepherd and the Labrador retriever, the most popular dog breed in the world.
#4 Birds. There are many bird species in this world but only a few can be tamed. In the United States, birds are popular pets, and there are about 15 million in total. Some of the bird species tamed in the US include doves, cockatiels, finches, lovebirds, and budgerigars. Certain types of parrots, like African Greys, can live for more than 80 years, often outliving their owners. Provisions need to be made for their care in the event of the owner’s death.
Other Pets. Other popular pets in the U.S include small pets such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, and fancy rats. Small pets number about 16 million. Reptiles, horses, and saltwater fish round out most of the rest.
Global meat and dairy production represents at least 15% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions (some estimates are as high as 50%). This is more than all the emissions produced by every mode of transportation combined on the planet. The meat consumed by dogs and cats is responsible for 30% of that meat consumption and subsequent greenhouse gas production. In the U.S., the 70 million dogs kept as companions largely eat meat-based diets. If you put all the American dogs, cats and other pets on their own island, they would rank 5th in global meat consumption, behind Russia, Brazil, the U.S. and China.
Around 8% of Americans describe themselves as vegetarian or vegan, and an additional 31% say they actively reduce their meat consumption. As people move away from eating meat, they are also doing so for their pets. People’s increasing interest in meatless diets is spreading to how they feed their pets. Myron Lyskanycz is CEO of the pet food company Halo, which sells both meat and vegan pet food. Its meat-free products now account for 20% of dog food sales. Vegan sales are projected to grow quickly over the next decade.
A plant-based diet for dogs is not as ridiculous as it might seem. Free-ranging dogs in other countries which survive by scavenging have been found to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates (biscuits, bread, rice) and relatively low in animal protein sources such as scraps of meat or remains of carcasses. Domestic dogs are better adapted to a diet that is higher in carbohydrates than their wolf-like ancestors because of changes in foraging behavior and a better ability to digest starch. Dogs are 5x better at digesting starch, found in grains, beans and potatoes, than wolves. They make digestive enzymes similar to ones found in herbivores such as cows and rabbits.
While dogs like the smell and taste of meat, the diet given to them as puppies is likely to strongly influence their taste preferences when they are adults.
Much of the pet food available today includes bone meal and other leftovers of animals less popular in human diets. There is a move by some pet food companies to persuade pet owners to buy food made from higher quality meat. Marketers are attempting to convince consumers that their dogs are wolves and that their cats are lions and, therefore, must have high-animal content diets. But dogs aren’t wolves and cats aren’t lions. People are being duped into spending more money on products their animal doesn’t need and that, from an environmental perspective, is worse than the cheaper grain-filled brands. In addition, non-organic pet foods contain as much if not more chemicals than the food eaten by humans. Studies have shown that glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) concentrations are 10x higher than what is seen in humans eating a conventional, non-organic diet.
That said, there are limits to switching pets away from a meat-based diet. While dogs can live on a diet of vegetables, cats are carnivores and need certain nutrients within meat in their diet.
Cats are carnivores and need nutrients in their diet which they get from meat whereas dogs are omnivores and even their wild ancestors had vegetables in their diet. They have since become more suited with evolution for a plant-based diet. With cats, it’s different. On paper you can get all the nutrients in a plant-based diet with formulation, but we do not yet have enough evidence to know if the products currently on offer meet those needs.
Another pet food company is addressing the cat problem with slaughter-free meat. California-based Wild Earth, says it wants to reinvent pet food with slaughter-free or lab-grown meat, as well as plant-based food. They are using plants and fungi, which is very high in protein, as a first step in replacing meat.
America’s pets produce about 5.1 million tons of feces in a year, as much as 90 million Americans. If all that were thrown in the trash, it would rival the total human trash production of Massachusetts.
Compared to a plant-based diet, meat requires more energy, land and water to produce, and has greater environmental consequences in terms of erosion, pesticides and waste, Okin noted. Previous studies have found that the American diet produces the equivalent of 260 million tons of CO2 from livestock production. By calculating and comparing how much meat 163 million cats and dogs eat compared to 321 million Americans. The nation’s dogs and cats eat about 19% as many calories as the nation’s people, on par with all the calories consumed by the population of France in a year. Because dog and cat food tends to have more meat than the average human diet, this means that dogs and cats consume about 25% of the total calories derived from animals in the United States.
In addition to all to poop, think about all the plastic bags used to seal up that poop. All that plastic adds to the trash. All the bags of dog food add to the trash. All the cat litter, most of which is clay or chemical based. All the animal toys, cages, beds… It is incredible.
While 95% of freshwater fish are bred in captivity, 95-99% of marine (or saltwater) fish in the aquarium trade are collected from the wild. Globally, it is estimated that over 1 billion ornamental fish (freshwater and marine) from some 5,400 species are traded annually for the aquarium industry. This does not include the invertebrates, crustaceans, live rock, corals, and plants that are also part of the ornamental fish trade.
The United States is the number one importer of ornamental fish, followed by the entire European Union (27 countries) and Japan. The majority of captive-produced freshwater fish come from Southeast Asia and Florida, while most marine fish are exported by Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, the Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. At least 10 million ornamental fish, from 1800 different species, were imported into and 1.3 million exported from the United States in 2014, with over 83% of these fish caught in the wild. This understates the number of fish in the US aquarium trade, as it doesn’t include fish traded domestically.
For ornamental fish, particularly those from the wild in high demand, the biological and ecological consequences of the trade are devastating, resulting in localized species depletion and extinction. Fish endemic to a particular area and those with life history characteristics making them slow to respond to population perturbations are particularly at risk.
Other impacts from the trade include destructive fishing practices and the significant capture-to-tank mortality of many species, as high as 80%. The use of toxins like cyanide to capture fish can kill or impair both target and nontarget species, while also killing coral or impairing its ability to provide shelter or food to marine life. Despite established guidelines eliminating such practices, reportedly such poisons continue to be widely used. In addition, some collectors physically destroy coral to capture target fish.
If the fish don’t die during collection, a large number die in captivity both before and after they are sold to hobbyists. Depending on the source of the fish, many wild-caught animals spend days or weeks in transit before arriving at your local pet store; mortality rates from stress, injury, disease, or mistreatment exceed 80%. While industry guidelines are intended to reduce capture-to-sale mortality, it is unclear how many traders comply with the standards, or if they are effective.
For those fish that do survive, some are intentionally or accidentally released into the wild. In some cases, these species can become invasive and adversely impact local ecosystems by outcompeting native fish, disrupting predator-prey dynamics, and transmitting diseases. Imported Lionfish, for example, have been dumped into the wild by home aquarium owners for the past 25 years, and have become an enormous ecological threat to Atlantic coastal waters in the United States and the Caribbean.
Freshwater species tend to be easier to maintain in captivity, generally have lower mortality rates and, since most are captive bred, don’t pose as great a risk to wild fish stocks. Nevertheless, they too suffer in captivity and the conservation implications of their trade are not benign. A large number of freshwater fish are collected from the wild, particularly in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Peru, and East African countries. For these species, over-collection can result in localized depletion and extinctions, capture-to-tank mortality can be high, and they also can become invasive species if released.
Despite the massive trade in fish for aquariums, there are very few aquarium species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Given the quantity of fish in trade, evidence of over-collection impacts, and lack of credible information about the impact of trade (and other threats) on many species, CITES protections may be warranted. Without international restrictions on trade, the fate of thousands of fish species is controlled by national laws which, in many countries, are woefully inadequate.
Pets can be life-savers. Having a pet is great for you and for the pet, especially if it is a rescued animal. But you don’t have to have 5 cats, 3 dogs, a fish tank and gerbil. One pet, maybe 2 is plenty.
PANDEMICS: THE ANIMAL CONNECTION
Below is a much shortened summary, and somewhat editorialized transcript of a very prophetic 2008 lecture by Dr. Michael Greger, MD, the founder of Nutritionfacts.org. Since its publication, we have had a few more major infections such as MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) and now Covid-19, aka SARS-2. Both he, and the World Health Organization, made predictions which we are in the middle of today.
For the full video and transcript, check out his lecture on YouTube.
A shortcut to the transcript in PDF format is here. Pandemics History and Prevention
Essentially, almost all infections humans have suffered with in the past or are struggling with today, especially the viral ones, originated from animals. Most modern day infections and plagues over history, began around 10,000 years ago, when we started to domesticate, slaughter and eat infected animals. Although many of these microbes do not cause disease in their host animals, when they jump ship and infect humans, our immune systems have no experience with these viruses and we get sick.
- COVID-19 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 2 or SARS-2) probably originated from bats but the pangolin, which the bat infects, is also implicated.
- SARS-1 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 1) came from Civet Cats, eaten as a delicacy and used to “flavor” coffee beans by feeding them the beans and harvesting them from their poop.
- MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) comes from Camels, also probably from bats as the original host.
- HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus which caused AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) came from monkeys and the virus jumped to humans when we started to hunt and eat them in larger quantities.
- Hepatitis C is thought to have come from horses.
- Smallpox is a mutation of the Camel pox virus.
- Measles came from cows and sheep
- EBOLA came from apes.
- Whooping Cough came from pigs.
- Typhoid from chickens.
- Influenza (The Flu), also from chickens who got it when they were co-mingled with ducks.
- Leprosy came from buffalo.
- Common Cold viruses like rhinovirus, adenovirus and coronavirus also came from horses.
- Monkeypox arrived through the exotic pet trade.
- West Nile Virus comes from smuggling exotic birds into the US.
- Strep Suis, a lethal bacterial infection from overcrowded pig farms in China
- Nipah Virus from pig farms in Malaysia…
- Trichinosis comes from pork meat.
- Salmonella comes from contaminated chicken and eggs. ALL vegetable salmonella outbreaks started when infected humans or animal waste contaminated the crop!
- E.Coli. Basically animal poop contaminating any food.
By cohabitation with animals, we become exposed to their microbes.
When we started to mass-produce animals on massive, congested farms, various new and more troublesome infections started to develop like Mad Cow disease, Bovine Leukemia Virus as well as numerous viruses we now contract from eating chickens and pigs. We also took herbivores and started to force feed them their own meat!
When we started to cut down the rain forests, we became exposed to EBOLA and HIV from apes, as well as all the so-called hemorrhagic fevers (where you bleed from all your orifices) like Lassa Fever and Rift Valley Fever.
When we started crowding out the animals by over development, we started to change patterns of predation. As an example, as over-development led to fewer coyotes and predatory birds, deer and mice had no more predators, leading to overpopulation and more ticks and now an explosion of Lyme disease.
Taste for exotic meat is also a big problem. 26 different primates are hunted for their meat. Bat meat is a real problem as well. Although many infections like SARS-1, MERS and COVID-19 appear to come from specific animals, Civet Cats, Camels and Pangolins respectively, the common denominator seems to be bats which infects those animals to begin with.
We are changing the way animals live, contributing to the emergence of these new diseases. But there’s one way we have changed our relationship with animals that really out shadows all the rest. In response to this torrent of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, the world’s three leading authorities got together for a joint consultation. The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the World Organization for Animal Health (the world’s leading veterinary authority), got together to uncover the key underlying causes of this age of emerging plagues. They came up with four main risks:
- The increasing demand for animal protein the world over. This is #1. People are obsessed with getting enough protein and have the erroneous belief that protein only comes from meat.
- The exotic pet trade. Wild animals should be left wild. We are in the midst of the largest mass extinction event in our planet’s history already.
- The bush-meat trade. Regular beef, pork and chicken are not enough. We MUST have primates, rare cats, birds and bats?
- Domestication of animals. Yes we started this 10,000 years ago, but never before in the overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, especially cows, pigs and poultry.
A quote from the World Health Organization, again in 2008, 12 years ago:
“The bottom line is that humans have to think about how they treat their animals, how they farm them and how they market them. Basically, the whole relationship between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom is coming under stress. In this age of emerging plagues, we now have billions of feathered and curly-tailed test tubes for viruses to incubate and mutate within billions more spins at pandemic roulette. Along with human culpability, though, comes hope. If changes in human behavior can cause new plagues, well then, changes in human behavior may prevent them in the future.”
CLIMATE CHANGE and GLOBAL WARMING
In a nutshell, CLIMATE CHANGE represents all the consistent changes in our weather which are above and beyond anything normal or expected cycles. It’s the more frequent and more severe storms, the floods, the rising oceans, the more frequent tornadoes and earthquakes as well as the number and severity of wildfires. All these events occur naturally, but when a “100-year flood” happens two years in a row as has happened in the US in 2018 and 2019, somethings up. GLOBAL WARMING is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. Frequently used interchangeably with the term CLIMATE CHANGE, the latter refers to both human and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature but is also the long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates. However, whatever “natural” changes may be occurring, human activity also accelerates those as well.
Since the pre-industrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased Earth’s global average temperature by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the current warming trend is solely the result of human activity since the 1950’s and is proceeding at an unprecedented rate over decades to millennia.
We tend to focus on CO2 however, it is only a small part of the problem. Methane, produced primarily by the billions of cattle raised on the planet, is 86x more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Another toxic gas nitrous oxide is 310x as powerful.
Greenhouse gases create a blanket over the atmosphere, which trap and retain heat from the sun which would otherwise bounce off the earth and back into space. Sources of these gases include not only human-generated activity such as industry and transportation, but also animals as part of digestion and the whole system of industrialized agriculture, plants through simple photosynthesis, metabolism as well as decomposition, and even the earth itself. Some trapping of heat is necessary but any surplus leads to gradual increase in the earth’s temperature leading to global warming and resultant changes in climate patterns.
The earth tries to control the temperature by absorbing it into the ground itself but primarily into the oceans. As ocean temperature levels rise, polar ice caps melt. They also melt as a result of shorter and warmer winters. As the amount of snow in the polar regions decreases, less and less sunlight is reflected back into the atmosphere. The more land becomes exposed, the more the rays are absorbed and overall the faster the temperature rises. This “reflection/absorption” phenomenon is called the Albedo effect and this pattern of less reflectivity, increased heat absorption and subsequent temperature rise is an example of “runaway” climate change, which is irreversible.
Despite our best efforts, humanity has generated ½ of all artificial emissions in the last 30 years than it has in all of human existence. We are simply reproducing too quickly and we are not reducing our generation of gases enough to make a difference.
There are many things we as individuals can do to reduce our carbon footprint, decrease pollution and in turn global warming and resultant climate change. Although we can’t save the planet by simply changing how we live as individuals, we also can’t save the planet as a whole species without making changes as individuals.
Individual choice doesn’t just affect the individual. They affect everyone and everything.
There are 4 basic human behaviors and activities which we, as a species, MUST do to reverse climate change. They are broad but have an extremely long and impactful reach. They include:
- Stop having so many children
- Stop flying – 12%
- Stop driving cars – 75% of CO2 emissions (cars are about half that)
- Eat fewer animal products.
OVERPOPULATION. There was a time when the West thought that the Chinese strict, 1-child policy was barbaric. Now it seems that they had the right idea. Earth and climate scientists feel that for the Earth to be able to sustain itself, regenerating fossil fuels at a rate which can replace what we use, that the population should not grow far past a few billion people. We are not at 7 and the predictions are that our rate of growth, we will have well over 10 billion by 2050. We can in no way sustain a population of that size the way we are eating and consuming our resources. Not only is having fewer children not a ridiculous notion, it is our responsibility.
AIRLINE TRAVEL. The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates and gases which contribute to climate change and global dimming. Airplanes emit particles and gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) water vapor, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, lead, and black carbon which interact among themselves and with the atmosphere. Globally, about 8.3 million people flew daily in 2014 (three billion occupied seats per year), twice the total of 1999. In 2018, global commercial operations emitted 918 million tons of CO₂, 2.4% of all CO₂ emissions: 81% for passenger transport and 19% for freight operations. Adding the other greenhouse gases, airline travel generates 3.5% of man-made greenhouse gasses. At high altitudes, contrails – the white lines we see in the sky – are formed in the wake of aircraft. These high altitude clouds are too thin to reflect much sunlight, but the ice crystals inside them can trap heat. Unlike low-level clouds, which have a net-cooling effect, contrails contribute significantly to global warming, effectively boosting the aviation industry’s share of greenhouse gas emissions to around 4.9%.
The duration of the flight is of little consequence since the vast majority of the fuel usage, pollution and CO2 emissions occur during take-off and landing. Still, a single transatlantic flight from London to New York can grow your personal carbon footprint by as much as the entire annual heating budget of the average European. In addition, airline travel contributes to pollution and disease in the following ways:
- Contribute to pandemics by allowing for mass, rapid spread of infections to all corners of the planet.
- Water pollution. In addition to the petroleum by-products, there are the deicing chemicals which are used in massive amounts and make their way onto the water supply. As well, there are frequent spills.
- Noise pollution
- Land use. Airports take up massive amounts of land, mostly covered by buildings and concrete. There is no water absorption and very little sun reflection.
- Radiation Exposure
CAR TRAVEL. There is a lot about how wasteful automobile travel is on this page. It’s wasteful and contributes to climate change in many ways. 70% of wheeled vehicle use worldwide is in the form of personal, small vehicle travel so what we do as individuals is very relevant. Conserve trips. Don’t drive frivolously, walk, ride a bike, consider an electric car, car-pool… all these things help but just drive less.
EAT FEWER ANIMAL PRODUCTS. LESS MEAT, DAIRY, EGGS and FISH. Also discussed in many other sections, the industrial meat and dairy industries create more greenhouse gasses than all modes of transportation worldwide. If cattle and cows were a country, they would have more greenhouse gas emissions than all 28 countries of the European Union combined. As the world of plant-based foods and vegan movement is growing, Americans continue to crave meat, having eaten more on average in 2019 than years before. In addition, a 2018 study by climatologists concluded that Americans and Europeans would have to reduce meat and dairy consumption by 90% and 60% respectively to have any impact on climate change reduction. Consider how quickly the population, along with its appetite for meat, is growing in the developing world and it seems as if dietary change is an irreversible task. We WILL all be vegan eventually, whether by choice or because our present system of food production is unsustainable and the Earth will not allow it.
Although we focus on CO2 as the main culprit causing global warming (and it is), there are many others which contribute. That having been said, it is easier to look at these compounds as “CO2 equivalents”, meaning how do they compare to CO2 , in part because it makes the discussion simpler, but also in part because some of the compounds eventually break down and CO2 is a resultant component anyway. Each greenhouse gas (GHG) has a different global warming potential (GWP) and persists for a different length of time in the atmosphere.
The three main greenhouse gasses (along with water vapor) and their 20-year global warming potential (GWP) compared to carbon dioxide are:
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) NOTE: Any carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere will hang around for a long time: between 300 to 1,000 years. All this time, it will be contributing to trapping heat and warming the atmosphere.
- Methane (CH4), which is 84x as potent as CO2. This means that releasing 1 kg of CH4 into the atmosphere is about equivalent to releasing 84 kg of CO2. Methane’s 100-year GWP is about 28x CO2, but it only persists in the atmosphere for a little more than a decade. The 100-year GWP is used to derive CO2e.
- Nitrous Oxide (N2O), which is 284x as potent as CO2 . This means that releasing 1 kg of N2O into the atmosphere is about equivalent to releasing about 298 kg of CO2 . Nitrous oxide persists in the atmosphere for more than 100 years, a century. Its 20-year and 100-year GWP are basically the same.
Water vapor is not considered to be a cause of man-made global warming because it does not persist in the atmosphere for more than a few days.
There are other greenhouse gasses which have far greater global warming potential (GWP) but are much less prevalent. These are sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
There are a wide variety of uses for SF6, HFCs, and PFCs but they have been most commonly used as refrigerants and for fire suppression. Many of these compounds also have a depleting effect on ozone in the upper atmosphere.
The following table shows the 100-year global warming potential (GWP) for greenhouse gasses reported by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The column on the right shows how much that chemical would warm the earth over a 100-year period as compared to carbon dioxide. For example, sulfur hexafluoride is used to fill tennis balls. The table shows that a release of 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of this gas is equivalent to 22,800 kg or 22.8 tons of CO2 . Therefore, releasing ONE KILOGRAM of sulfur hexafluoride is about equivalent to driving 5 cars for a year!
|Greenhouse Gas||Formula||100-year GWP (AR4)|
CLIMATE CHANGE and EXTREME WEATHER
You have to have your head buried in the sand not to be aware of the extreme weather we have experienced in the last decade. Unfortunately, only 42% of Americans believe that climate change will pose a threat to them during their lifetime despite the fact that it ALREADY has had an impact. In 2017, the US alone was affected by 16 extreme weather and climate disasters, each costing at least $1 billion dollars in damage, cumulatively costing over $306 billion and sadly well over 1000 deaths. This includes Hurricane Harvey which resulted in the worst rainfall ever recorded in the US. Not one major TV outlet made any mention at all about how Harvey may have been related to global warming which is undeniable. In fact, only 4% of the major stories from all types of media outlets addressing those 16 weather events mentioned anything about climate change. Our media is as much in the pay of industry as the politicians. With respect to Harvey, sadly, we are now finding out about the toxic pollution which resulted from this storm. All the petrochemical plants in that area were affected in a major way and the impact all the spillage had on the environment and public health is immeasurable. Also, quite sadly, these companies did nothing to change their ways and all is back to “business as usual”.
Tremendously destructive storms like Katrina and Sandy, “Biblical flooding” in South Carolina as well as in many other parts of the world, massive fires killing many and destroying homes and properties, record-setting heat in Australia… all indicators of an ever more volatile planetary climate. India saw record temperature in 2019 topping 124 degrees. Throughout history, there have always been “100 year” storms or devastating weather events but they seem to be occurring with greater frequency since recorded history began. This is all related to human activity, pollution, destruction of our environment and subsequent changes in our climate. We must change our patterns of behavior or there will be no more environment for our descendants to live in and enjoy.
Global sea levels have been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades. In 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches above the 1993 average, the highest annual average in the satellite record (1993-present). Sea levels continue to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year. Because of the overly warm summer of 2019, more than 680 billion tons of Greenland’s ice sheets melted raising global ocean levels by 2.2 mm!
Warm water takes up more space than cold water which is part of the mechanism of rising ocean levels. The melting snow and polar ice caps are also certainly contributing.
Higher sea levels mean that deadly and destructive storm surges push farther inland than they once did, which also means more frequent flooding. Disruptive and expensive, nuisance flooding is estimated to be from 300% to 900% more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was just 50 years ago. When these floods occur, the toxic manure storage pools overflow spreading disease downstream in enormous volumes.
The two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) and increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets. The oceans are absorbing more than 90% of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity. This increased warmth also results in more water evaporation and increased winds which are directly related to worse storms like the one in Harvey in Texas in 2017. The oceans also absorb 30% of the CO2 in the environment. As CO2 levels go up, the oceans are becoming more and more acidified, causing marine life to die.
The polar icecaps are crucial in terms of helping control global warming and are simultaneously impacted by it. The degree of ice retreat has been shocking and the most recent consensus is that if nothing changes, all the ice in the Arctic will be gone by 2030, +/- 10 years. If we are on the “-” side, we are only a couple of years away!
With continued ocean and atmospheric warming, sea levels will likely rise for many centuries at rates higher than that of the current century. In the United States, almost 40% of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where sea levels play a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, 8 of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast.
The total quantity of intentional carbon burning and planetary damage that has occurred over the last 400 years, over 50% has happened in the last 30 years (since the premier of Seinfeld in 1989). 85% has occurred since the END of WWII.
30 years ago, the carbon concentration of the planet was 340 ppm (parts per million). This was already 60 ppm greater than the pre-industrialized average of 280 ppm and 10 ppm below what climate scientists thought was safe. The feeling was that if the levels rose above 350 ppm, things would really start getting out of control. Since that time, not only have we gone past the 10-ppm safety buffer, we exceeded it by 75 ppm! We are at now at 415 ppm. This was done knowingly. Al Gore had already come out with “An Inconvenient Truth” describing the reality of climate change. The UN had already established its climate change body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And since that time, we have done all that damage, more than in all the millennia before! Every year gets worse and worse at an exponential rate. We are now doing as much damage in 10 years as the first 250 years of industrialization. The damage is speeding up.
We are now at 1.1 degrees of global warming, hotter than ever in human history. We are clearly already seeing worsening storms, fires, economic impacts… At 2 degrees, climate experts predict that we start to see even more significant problems. We are on track for 4.3 degrees by the end of the century. At that level, every beach and coastal town on the planet will be underwater.
With all the attention climate change has been getting in the last few decades, 2020 is projected to be the hottest year on record with numerous records having already been broken. In addition, with respect to greenhouse gasses, humanity has generated more in the last 30 years than in all of human existence up to that point.
“The Uninhabitable Earth” David Wallace-Wells
CLIMATE CHANGE MYTHS
“The Earth is warming faster than at any time in human history, and humans are the ones causing it”
This was the consensus statement of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, where 13 federal agencies and more than 350 scientists came together for discussions.
Climate change is already affecting people, and the more carbon we produce, the more dangerous the effects over the coming century. Nevertheless, many people continue to believe and propagate some misleading myths. Here are five common ones.
Myth № 1: Climate Scientists Are Just in It for the Money.
When the second volume of the National Climate Assessment was released on Nov. 23, politicians like former senator Rick Santorum (PA-R) and Tom DeLay (R-Tex), former House majority leader, announced on CNN that climate scientists “are driven by the money that they receive” and that the assessment was “made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.” The fact is that climate scientists make nothing on their work. What company would fund research proving that their own activities and products are destroying the planet? It’s like the meat industry funding research into how unhealthy industrialized meat production is for human health. Scientists’ purported sins include fabricating data, selling out to “big green”, which supposedly tethers grant money to doom-and-gloom findings, and fanning the flames of hysteria to further our nefarious agenda.
The reality is that nearly every climate scientist could make much more in different fields such as the oil industry. The money received in grants doesn’t go into their pockets. One scientist revealed that a grant from the National Science Foundation provided a mere $37,000 a year salary, all of which went to paying for the proposed work, including a graduate researcher, a computer and publication fees. Santorum, meanwhile, receives a substantial income from serving as a consultant to Consol Energy, a coal company, and DeLay has received nearly $740,000 from the oil and gas industry.
Myth № 2: The Climate Has Changed Before. It’s Just a Natural Cycle.
When the first volume of the National Climate Assessment was released, White House spokesman Raj Shah responded that “the climate has changed and is always changing.” President Trump himself has embraced this position, claiming that the climate “will change back again.” This line is a popular one with people who dismiss climate change by maintaining that we’ve had ice ages before, as well as warm periods, and so the warming we’re seeing now is just part of natural cycles and what the Earth has always done.
But we can look at the natural factors that affect the climate. Over the past few decades, energy from the sun has been going down, not up, so if changes in the sun’s energy drove our temperature, we should be getting cooler, not warmer. Others argue that we’re getting warmer because we’re recovering from the last ice age. But ice ages, and the warm periods in between, are caused by the Earth’s orbital cycles, and according to those cycles, the next event on our geologic calendar is another ice age, not more warming.
We can also rule out volcanoes, which do produce heat-trapping gases, but less than 1% of the CO2 that humans produce. And big eruptions, when they happen, cool the Earth instead of warming it. That’s called a nuclear winter. In other words, the climate change we’re experiencing now definitely isn’t natural.
Myth № 3: Climate Scientists Are Split on Whether It’s Real.
We often hear that climate scientists are split 50–50 when it comes to whether or not global warming is occurring. “Each side has their scientists,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Politico in 2014. Trump echoed that rhetoric on “60 Minutes” this October, telling Lesley Stahl, “We have scientists that disagree” with human-caused global warming.
In reality, 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and that humans are causing it. At least 18 scientific societies in the United States have issued official statements on climate change. It’s been more than 50 years since U.S. scientists first raised the alarm about the dangers of climate change. The public confusion has been manufactured by industry interests and ideologues to muddy the waters. It’s just like the tobacco industry who famously told their staff that “Our product is DOUBT” implying that if the public remains confused and uncertain, the issue will stagnate.
Myth № 4: Climate Change Won’t Affect Me.
While 70% of American adults agree that climate change is happening, only 40% of those surveyed believe it will harm them personally. Sure, it’ll hurt polar bears, and maybe people who live on low-lying islands in the South Pacific. But the world has warmed by just 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, since 1900. What’s the big deal?
Climate change touches everything, from our health to our economy to our coasts to our infrastructure. It makes heat waves stronger, heavy precipitation events more frequent and hurricanes more intense, and it nearly doubles the area burned by wildfires. It supercharges natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the Camp Fire in California, as those suffering the effects of these events know firsthand. Climate change is no longer a distant issue in space or time: It’s affecting us, today, in the places where we live today.
Myth № 5: It’s Cold Outside. Global Warming Can’t Be Real.
Whenever a cold snap brings out our winter parkas, there’s a politician or pundit saying, “Global warming? Global cooling, more like it!” Trump has done so repeatedly, tweeting just before Thanksgiving, “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?” In 2015, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) brought a snowball to the Senate floor in an attempt to reject the reality of climate change. How ignorant.
Cold weather doesn’t rebut the data showing that the planet is warming over climate time scales. Weather is what occurs in a certain place at a certain time. Climate is the long-term average of weather over decades. Global warming or not, cold days still occur, particularly in winter. But since 2000, we’re seeing far more new hot-temperature records than cold ones. In 2017, we saw more than 10,000 cold-temperature records broken across the United States. That is unusual, but more unusual is that more than 36,000 high-temperature records were broken.
CLIMATE CHANGE DECEPTIONS
The companies and forces for humans to keep buying, burning and consuming are pretty powerful. Every television commercial break results in an inundation of ads about drugs we need, junk food we should eat and newer and better cars and phones we should buy. We are taught from a very early age that it is normal to mass produce animals so we can kill and eat them. That we must consume dairy to get calcium and meat to get protein. Adolf Hitler was quoted as saying “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”. He apparently also went on to say that “The lie can be maintained only for such a time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie”. To that list I would add the “health” consequences which are quite evident if you look around at the obesity and chronic disease crisis around us. The same goes for climate change. Although there are many contributors to climate change, and certainly burning of fossil fuels is among them, the industry of raising animals for consumption is far and away the greatest contributor, with some reports blaming this industry on over 80% of production of greenhouse gasses. But the forces to keep us consuming animal products are powerful. We need to stop the lies and deceptions. Here are a few.
- TIMELINE Deception. Climate change did not start with the industrial revolution 200 years ago as many people think. It started as man started to evolve, develop the use of fire, domesticate animals and develop agriculture. In fact, in the few hundred thousand years more modern homo sapiens have been on the planet, our behavior has warmed the planet more than in the last 200 years. That’s not a good commentary on what we’ve done in the last 200 years, but it does show that this process started a long time ago. Following climate science, ice ages have occurred naturally in a cycle. The last ice age was to occur ~ 10,000 years ago. It didn’t because man had started to warm the planet thousands of years before. That is great for humanity, but not for the natural atmospheric cycles which have produced this amazing planet we live on.
- ~500,000 years ago, humans learned to control fire. This not only provided heat and light, it also provided a means to cook the raw meat, making it more digestible. It also led to our eventual ability to clear land and grow crops. All of these activities started to contribute to global warming since it started the process of tree and grassland elimination, leading to less carbon sequestration, and burning of trees releasing the carbon stored within them.
- ~150,000 years ago a major shift in man’s evolution occurred with modern homo sapiens first arriving on the scene. This led to an expanded ability to process, rationalize and control our environment. We learned to develop and use tools. We also started to organize and develop hierarchical groups. This eventually led to gender roles, the first step in man starting to thinking of individuals rather than the greater whole.
- ~50,000 years ago humans formed a partnership with wolves, eventually learning to domesticate them into what today are dogs. This occurred at least 10,000 years before we domesticated horses or livestock. Initially, they protected humans by alerting them to predators in exchange for food. Although eventually dogs were certainly companions, they also allowed humans to hunt more efficiently. The dog’s much superior senses allowed them to track and kill animals for meat, which did allow them to survive and evolve even faster. This led to our ability to travel farther, eventually leaving Africa spreading all over the world.
- ~10,000 years ago, we started to grow crops on our own. This is when in essence climate change really started to accelerate since we were clearing more and more land to grow more and more crops, releasing more and more CO2. Fossil and climatic evidence reveals that CO2 and Methane levels started to rise at that time. By the time the industrial revolution came around ~200 years ago, the planetary average temperature had already risen to a greater degree than the rise since the industrial revolution started. But another way of looking at it is that it took humans only 200 years for industrialized countries to raise the temperature of the planet as it did all of humanity in the preceding 500,000 years.
- CO2 Deception. Once CO2 is in the atmosphere, it’s there essentially forever, or at least for the duration of our lifetimes. It will not get “re-captured” unless there is something to capture it. The way the planet has depth with CO2 of the millions of years is by creating a natural CO2 filter, the land and the trees. Otherwise, it has to just dissipate which takes between 300-1000 years. Although the land can retain some CO2, it is not very efficient. Trees retain a lot more CO2. We must let the trees regrow.
- METHANE Deception. The climate change discussion has been dominated by CO2. We are ignoring some of the more important, and more simply reduced gasses however, like methane. The argument that because methane lasts in the atmosphere for only 10 years, it is not a gas of concern is completely ignorant. Methane is actually 84x more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 is for 2 simple reasons. Ruminant animals (cows, sheep, goats, deer…) generate massive amounts of methane. Much more than the amount of CO2 generated by humans in all industries. Once in the atmosphere, eventually it is removed by oxidation into water (H2O) and CO2 which, as mentioned above, does not degrade for 100s of years. By reducing, or stopping the methane production, easily done by reducing the amount of ruminant animals on the planet (ie stop or reduce consuming meat), global warming would almost come to a halt, and the process of reducing CO2 can start again.
- LAND USE Deception. The notion that economic growth comes from livestock and agriculture is completely erroneous. The simple fact is that if we fed the grains we grow to feed the animals to humans, there would be no starvation on the planet and we would be much better off. Growing animals to feed humans is extremely calorically efficient, environmentally destructive and ethically, inexcusable. Livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. This means that what we eat is more important than how much we eat in determining the amount of land required to produce our food. More than 25% of the Amazon rainforest alone (1/3rd of all rainforests globally) is already gone and scientists say that once we go past 30%, the forest will lose its capacity for regeneration. At the rate of present destruction, all the rainforests on the planet will be gone by 2100.
ALTERNATIVES TO FOSSIL FUELS
Before discussing this topic, it’s important to make a few points. First, although the burning of fossil fuels is tremendously damaging to our environment and planet, it is only one part of the picture when it comes to climate change. The animal agriculture industry is even more destructive. So any discussion about climate change which does not include reducing animal product consumption and the continued destruction of land for this industry is incomplete, if not useless. In fact, reducing fossil fuel burning without addressing the animal agriculture industry will actually accelerate climate change. This may sound contradictory, but the simple fact is that burning fossil fuels not only generates compounds such as CO2 and methane which trap heat, raising global temperatures, but it also produces aerosol such as sulfur dioxide, which actually have a cooling effect on the planet. The net temperature effect of burning fossil fuels is closer to neutral. Those gases are not healthy and we must reduce burning these non-renewable fuels, but it must be in concert with reducing meat and dairy consumption, reducing cattle and allowing these devastated, grazing and feed-crop growing lands to wild, forested, CO2 sequestering lands. Now, moving on to alternatives.
Many nations count on coal, oil and natural gas to supply most of their energy needs. Eventually, the world will run out of them, or it will become too expensive to retrieve those that remain. Mining, drilling, fracking are all expensive and incredibly destructive practices. Fossil fuels also cause air, water and soil pollution, and produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The reason they are called fossil fuels is because they are all made from decayed plants and animals that have been preserved in the earth’s crust by pressure, bacterial processes and heat. It takes millions of years for these organisms to chemically change into fossil fuels. We don’t have millions of years. We barely have a few hundreds and some believe that even that is optimistic.
Renewable energy resources offer cleaner, less destructive alternatives to fossil fuels. They are not completely problem-free, but they produce much less pollution, less land and animal destruction, fewer health problems and fewer greenhouse gases, and by definition, will not run out. Here are our main sources of renewable energy:
SOLAR ENERGY The sun is our most powerful and continuous source of energy. The technology used to harvest the sun’s energy is constantly evolving, including water-heating rooftop pipes, photo-voltaic cells, and mirror arrays. Rooftop panels are not intrusive, but large arrays on the ground can compete with wildlife habitat. It is estimated that an area 100×100 miles, a tiny fraction of the US landmass, covered with solar panels would generate all the electricity all of the US would need. As the technology is evolving, the cost is also continuously going down. Remember that all technology is costly at first to develop. The first iPhone cost millions of dollars. Not, you can buy a used one for a few hundred.
WIND ENERGY The energy of the wind has been used for centuries to sail ships and drive windmills that grind grain and collect water for irrigation and human consumption. Today, wind energy is captured by wind turbines and used to generate electricity. Issues periodically arise about where turbines are installed, as they can be problematic for migrating birds and bats however the loss of animal life from wind is a fraction of what is lost by harvesting and using fossil fuels. Some countries like China are investing heavily in this technology.
HYDROELECTRICITY Water flowing downstream is a powerful force. Water is a renewable resource, constantly recharged by the global cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Flowing water can be used to power water wheels that drive mechanical processes. Captured by turbines and generators, like those housed at many dams around the world, the energy of flowing water can be used to generate electricity. Tiny turbines can even be used to power single homes.
While it is renewable, large-scale hydroelectricity can have a large ecological footprint. There are arguments about the damage and loss of habitat created by dams, but again, it’s all relative and once again, this means energy production is overall pretty clean.
BIOMASS ENERGY Biomass has been an important source of energy ever since people first began burning wood to cook food and warm themselves against the winter chill. Wood is still the most common source of biomass energy, but other sources of biomass energy include food crops, grasses and other plants, agricultural and forestry waste and residue, organic components from municipal and industrial wastes, even methane gas harvested from community landfills. Biomass can be used to produce electricity and as fuel for transportation, or to manufacture products that would otherwise require the use of non-renewable fossil fuels.
HYDROGEN Hydrogen has tremendous potential as a fuel and energy source. Hydrogen is the most common element on Earth. For example, water is two-thirds hydrogen, but in nature, it is always found in combination with other elements. Once isolated, hydrogen can be used to power vehicles, replace natural gas for heating and cooking, and generate electricity. In 2015, the first production passenger car powered by hydrogen became available in Japan and the United States.
GEOTHERMAL The heat inside the Earth produces steam and hot water that can be used to power generators and produce electricity. It can also be used for other applications such as home heating and power generation for industry. Geothermal energy can be drawn from deep underground reservoirs by drilling, or from other geothermal reservoirs closer to the surface. This application is increasingly used to offset heating and cooling costs in residential and commercial buildings.
OCEAN ENERGY The ocean provides several forms of renewable energy, and each one is driven by different forces. Energy from ocean waves and tides can be harnessed to generate electricity. Ocean thermal energy, from the heat stored in seawater, can also be converted to electricity. Using current technologies, most ocean energy is not cost-effective compared to other renewable energy sources, but the ocean remains an important potential energy source for the future.
NUCLEAR A very hot topic among environmentalists, especially given the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, both of which continue to spew contamination into the environment. Although nuclear energy is not technically “clean” because of the production of radioactive waste which lasts for 1000’s of years, it is a rather attractive alternative for some practical reasons.
- Nuclear energy protects air quality. Nuclear is a zero-emission clean energy source. It generates power through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the United States avoided more than 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. That’s the equivalent of removing 100 million cars from the road and more than all other clean energy sources combined. It also keeps the air clean by removing thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants each year that contribute to acid rain, smog, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Nuclear energy’s land footprint is small. Despite producing massive amounts of carbon-free power, nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source. A typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility in the United States needs a little more than 1 square mile to operate. NEI says wind farms require 360 times more land area to produce the same amount of electricity and solar photovoltaic plants require 75 times more space. To put that in perspective, you would need more than 3 million solar panels to produce the same amount of power as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430 wind turbines (capacity factor not included).
- Nuclear energy produces minimal waste. Nuclear fuel is extremely dense. It’s about 1 million times greater than that of other traditional energy sources and because of this, the amount of used nuclear fuel is not as big as you might think. All of the used nuclear fuel produced by the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the last 60 years could fit on a football field at a depth of less than 10 yards! That waste can also be reprocessed and recycled, although the United States does not currently do this. However, some advanced reactor designs being developed could operate on used fuel.
The downsides of nuclear are obvious:
- Nuclear waste, when released by accident or poor storage, contaminates the earth, kills animals and causes massive human disease and death.
- Nuclear plants use tremendous amounts of water to cool the reactor. In fact, this is one of the problems with the ongoing problem at Fukushima. The plant was built over a river which flowed continuously to the sea from nearby mountains. This was convenient from the perspective of having a continuous source of water to cool the reactors. However, the plant still to this day is leaking radiation through this underground river into the clean water off the coast contaminating water, land and sea life. Radiation from this plant has been measured even on the US coast.
- Storing the waste has proven to be unsafe. As we have seen in the South Pacific Islands where nuclear tests were done, even the concrete domes of storage facilities have undergone deterioration and nuclear leakage has been noted. The same is happening at Chernobyl, where the “sarcophagus” encasing the melted down reactor, is falling apart.
- It is VERY expensive to run, and more importantly, insure. These facilities are basically un-insurable because of all the risks. As technology proceeds, nuclear will become safer and more efficient.
A SIMPLE BURGER’S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
Where does your food come from, how did it get there and how does it impact you and, more importantly these days, the health of the environment and planet? In a word, SIGNIFICANTLY. The story of a simple soda or a burger typically starts in a place like Iowa or Brazil and eventually ends up at your local drive through window. There are a lot of steps in between and those steps are destroying the planet. By buying those products, you are supporting that destruction.
First you need food which feeds conventional cows, the vast majority of which are raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. The main crops are corn and soy, grown on massive mega-farms. These farms are causing major problems.
The vast majority of the crop seeds, including 60% of vegetable seeds, sold in the world, are controlled and sold by 4 “Big Agg” companies. There used to be hundreds of seed companies but they have been bought out and consolidated into monopolies by massive chem/agro companies. In addition, and not surprisingly, the chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, sprayed on their resulting plants are also produced and sold by the same companies.
- Bayer-Monsanto. Best known for the most used and toxic chemical on the plant, Roundup, Monsanto was purchased by German company Bayer.
- Dow-Dupont. This mega company was so big that in 2019, it dissolved into 3 companies, massive in their own right:
- Corteva Agriscience.
- ChemChina-Syngenta. Swiss agro-chem company was purchased by ChemChina in 2016.
- BASF. Dutch company founded in 2000.
This monopoly results in more expensive seeds and fewer choices. As a result of such monopolies, along with modern, very destructive mono-cropping farming practices have resulted in a 90% reduction in plant food biodiversity and 50% drop in livestock biodiversity. In addition the plants we grow today have lost nutritional value and resilience. The changes in climate have led to bore crop loss, leading to more chemical use, less crop resilience and more climate change. IT’S A VICIOUS UNENDING CYCLE. On smaller, multi-crop farms, there is more biodiversity, healthier soil and healthier plants. An example of how we are paying for this loss of resilience is how farmers in the Midwest were not able to recover after the flooding in 2019. The government gave $ 20 billion dollars to support the farmers because of the damage. The storms were caused by climate change, caused by the farming industry itself, and because the soil was not healthy, it could not absorb all the water, flooding occurred and as the water receded, more topsoil was washed away.
CORN is a classic example. The most cultivated crop in the US, only 1% is actually directly consumed by humans. All the rest is used as:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup and other food additives such as food starch. This is NOT the same as human consumption since these substances are so hyper processed, they are detrimental, not beneficial to health.
- Food for the animals we are growing to supply humanities insatiable lust for meat.
How these crops are grown is extremely damaging. First, modern farming practices including mono-cropping, using chemicals and constantly mechanically tilling the soil results in the loss of healthy soil.
Secondly, we are destroying and losing soil constantly. Every year, forest areas and healthy agricultural land equal to the size of N. Korea, 12 million hectares, are lost, turned into desert because of how we treat the soil. The soil is turned into dead dirt or desert because forests are converted into pastures, CAFOs or for fields to grow the crops to feed those animals.
Thirdly, we are depleting the fresh water supplies. 70% of the world’s freshwater is used in agriculture, mostly to grow food for animals, not humans. Animals are supposed to be eating grass, grown on range lands and drinking rainwater, not eating corn and soy, grown using fresh water from aquifers. We are seeing tremendous loss of water reservoirs. In the US, we are depleting the Ogallala Aquifer in the Midwest, the main water source for irrigation for the majority of the Midwest farms, is being depleted at a rate of 1.3 trillion gallons faster than what rainwater can replenish. It is not sustainable. The various droughts all over the world, including the recent one in California, is all a result of climate change, primarily caused by how we grow food and our demand for meat. If you grow food in depleted soil, the soil can’t hold water, the water runs off into rivers and streams, or it just floods the fields like it did in the Midwest, and you end up having a water crisis. When you actually have organic matter in the soil, only 1% organic matter in an acre of land can hold 27,000 gallons of water. With 5-10% or organic matter, you can hold 100’s of thousands of gallons of water that will protect the soil and the plants from drought and cause more resilience.
In addition the way we grow crops today worsens climate change. It drives more CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s increasing the Nitrous Oxide (NO2), which is 300x more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 because of the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Factory farming of animals leads to massive production of methane.
The cost of climate change will cause trillions of dollars as we need to deal with the ramifications such as rising sea levels and destruction of the coastal populations (which is the majority of the planet), along with climate-change refugees, food requirements, political upheaval…
As CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere because of how we farm, the oceans are acidified. The oceans are the greatest carbon sink (reservoir). As the oceans acidify and warm up, the phytoplankton die. These tiny organisms are at the bottom of the food chain for many fish species. They are also the most prolific producers of oxygen on our planet. It’s not the trees. It’s the phytoplankton.
Next we have nitrogen issues. We use 200 million tons of nitrogen based fertilizer a year. This nitrogen fertilizer comes from a high energy intensive process which uses tons of natural gas, the majority of which comes from fracking which releases tons of methane and poisons the water supply underground. It is not exactly an environmentally friendly practice. That fertilizer not only causes damage from the use of fossil fuels to make the fertilizer, it also drives huge amounts of climate change by releasing NO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, as the nitrogen runs off into the streams, rivers, lakes and eventually the oceans, it kills everything in its path. The “red tide” and other algal blooms which have plagued coastal areas are becoming more frequent. Lake Erie had an algal bloom which was creating toxic drinking water for the residents. In the Gulf of Mexico, nitrogen runoff kills 212,000 metric tons of fish every year. In the Gulf, there is an ocean dead zone the size of New Jersey. The algal blooms, which result from the nitrogen, such out all the oxygen and the sea-life dies. There are 400 such ocean dead zones worldwide, cumulatively the size of all of Europe. These areas used to supply food for ½ a billion people in the world.
Add to all this, the pesticide poisoning of farm workers. The poisoning of insects and birds. The loss of biodiversity. Living near a CAFO and having to deal with cleaning all the manure polluting the environment as occurred during the recent floods in 2018 in North Carolina with all the hog and chicken farms flooding all the neighboring areas. Floodwaters caused the worst damage to North Carolina’s hog farms in nearly two decades, with more than 5,000 animals dying and several dozen waste lagoons releasing pollutants into waterways. Fast food and farming workers are the biggest sector of employees in the American economy with over 20 million people in the industry. They are often poor, using food stamps, with the least healthy diets leading to the highest degree of chronic diseases. Add to that all the antibiotic use, used to stimulate animal growth and to prevent infection. 80% if the antibiotic use, approximately 24 million pounds, in this country goes to the animals, not humans however, the humans consume these antibiotic residues nonetheless. This all leads to antibiotic resistance which kills 700,000 people worldwide.
If the REAL cost of food was calculated and implemented, all this would end because that $2 value meal burger would cost over $1000! Soda should cost $100 a can because of how we grow corn generating the high fructose corn syrup.
What can we do? Lots, but it takes effort. We could support regenerative agriculture. We could stop the marketing of junk food to kids. We could incorporate the true cost of food into the price tag. We could reduce food waste, as much as 40% of what you buy, the vast majority of which occurs at home. The land used to grow the food we throw out is the size of China. The food waste in the US, which ends up in landfills and is actually the #1 component of landfills, results in enough greenhouse gasses to put it just behind the entire country of China or the US as an entity.
We have far more than enough food to feed all the 800 million hungry people in the world, 6x over! Some cities are taking action. San Francisco is mandating composting. In France, it is mandated to compost and it is a jail-able offense if you throw out food.
The impact on the climate cannot be understated. In 2017, there were 712 extreme weather events resulting in $312 billion in economic losses. This was triple the losses of the year before. In 2010, there were only 41 extreme weather events. Heat waves, flooding, hurricanes diseases from all these increase humidity… The cycle is huge.
Here is one of the problems. 73% of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and 90% of the House Agriculture Committee received donations from Monsanto, now owned by Bayer. Add to that other companies making donations, and it is likely 100% of influence. Money always wins.
We are presently in the midst of the 6th mass extinction. The other 5 were caused by natural disasters. We can obviously only hypothesize but the most likely causes were volcanic eruptions, asteroid collisions, and sea level falls leading to global warming, global cooling, methane eruptions and anoxic events (when the earth’s oceans lose their oxygen). The present one is all man-made.
Since 1970, there has been a 58% decline in the number of wild fish, mammals, birds and reptiles worldwide. Species are becoming extinct at a rate 1000x more than in the 60 million years before humans came along. The rain forest destruction results in the loss of 137 plant, animal and insect species every day. We are losing 30 thousand species a year from the planet. 75% of the animals on the endangered species list are there because of farming or ranching.
4 ways we are driving this 6th extinction:
- With globalization of human trade and agriculture, we have introduced invasive species into new ecosystems. These have competed with and have choked out native species leading to their extinction. As an example, the Great Lakes ecosystem has been severely damaged by more than 180 invasive and non-native species. Species such as the zebra mussel, quagga mussel, round goby, sea lamprey, and alewife reproduce and spread, ultimately degrading habitat, out-competing native species, and short-circuiting food webs
- Humans have become the “top predator” consuming upwards of 40% of the planet’s animals, killing them off through exploitation and destruction of their ecosystems. In 55 years, we have wiped out 90% of the oceans top predators.
- We have artificially altered evolution through domestication and genetic manipulation of animals and plants.
- Our technology has evolved to the point where it is now acting independently. This is now referred to as the “techno-sphere” which is the sum total of all human-made machines and objects along with the systems that control them. Our techno-sphere weighs 30 trillion tons and is very poor at recycling its own materials (unlike the biosphere or atmosphere). This causes tremendous damage. As an example, there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans threatening 700 different marine species due to threat of ingestion, entanglement and pollution in general. There is no part of the oceans not polluted by plastic, including the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench (6 miles down).“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” Albert Einstein.
We must change our behaviors and respect all the environment and all the animals on earth if we humans are to avoid extinction as well.
PLASTIC and MICROPLASTICS
Plastic is material consisting of any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and so can be molded into solid objects. Plastic was developed in New York in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. Used for a variety of industrial and construction uses initially, it started being used for disposable household objects and as packaging in the 1950’s. Since then, we have produced over 9.2 billion tons of plastic and every single particle is still in our environment, our animals and now, in our bodies. 1/2 of all that plastic is single-use, throw away plastic and less than 9% of all the plastic has been recycled. Today, less than 3% of what you put into recycling bins actually gets recycled. The rest is sitting in landfills and floating around in the oceans, degrading only from UV light and the churning action of waves. It gets degraded into tiny particles that fish and birds can’t distinguish from edible organic matter like plankton. You can’t buy a fish that is not contaminated with plastic. Even farm raised fish, out of the ocean, is contaminated with plastic, along with much worse things than plastics!
80% of the ocean litter comes from plastics.
Various animals, especially birds and fish, are dying in record numbers because they can’t distinguish plastic in small particles from real food and they eat it and feed it to their young. Read this article about the devastation plastics have had on Midway Atoll in the North Pacific along with their decimated Albatross population. A recent study of fish in the Great Lakes revealed that 100% of them were contaminated by microplastics and 73% of wild Pacific Northwest fish were contaminated. What’s even worse is that most municipal water coming from the Great Lakes are also contaminated and people are drinking it right out of their taps (article). A study of municipal drinking water revealed that 94% of them contained plastic microfibers. Bottled water is not better with 93% of samples tested from the top 11 manufacturers being contaminated with microplastics. This is in addition to the 38 different pollutants identified in water bottles from these same manufacturers.
Worldwide, we dump over 8 million metric tons of plastic into the oceans every year and that number is expected to double by 2025. Alarmingly, a 2016 World Economic Forum report said that the world was on track to have more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. It takes 500 years (half a millennium) for plastic to completely break down.
Plastic pollution news usually takes the form of toothbrushes and the Great Pacific Garbage patch, but much of the plastic in the ocean is not even visible. Because of the size of the plastic, it’s difficult to estimate and know just how much plastic is in the oceans. The plastic we can see is only estimated to be 0.5% of the total plastic polluting our oceans. The surface plastic is only part of the plastic pollution problem. Plastic is more like a chemical dissolved in the water than floating in it. Scientists are now studying how much plastic ends up on the ocean floor, estimated to be around 196 million tons in the deepest part of the oceans, and they are concerned about how plastic breaks down so much it’s almost undetectable.
What is known is that we need to reduce our use of plastics. There are products you may be using or habits you may have that contribute to plastic pollution. Learn more about how the use of Teabags, Cotton Swabs, Laundry, Contact Lenses, Glitter and Sheet Masks pollute our oceans so you can make more informed decisions going forward. There are also numerous simple actions and switches that can help cut plastic out of our lives including, making your own cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, household cleaners, using mason jars, reusable bags/bottles/straws, and avoiding micro-beads!
Individuals can make a difference. As mentioned above, 50% of all the plastic ever made is single-use plastic.
- Stop using straws. Americans use and throw out 500 million straws every single day. If you must use one, choose paper or bring your own. Lots of companies sell reusable stainless steel straws. A good on is Final Straw.
- Stop using plastic bags. Carry your own re-usable bags.
- Stop buying packaged foods.
- Stop buying plastic water bottles (they are so unhealthy anyway) and carry around a glass or stainless steel re-usable bottle. Britons throw away 35 million plastic water bottles a day and only 1/2 of them even make it into recycling bins. Less than 10% of those actually get recycled.
- Stop using single-use coffee cups. They are lined with plastics. Bring your own reusable cup. In England, 2.5 BILLION coffee cups are thrown away a year and only 2.5% are recycled. Because of the plastic lining, most municipalities do not recycle them.
- Stop buying clothing made from artificial fibers. These are almost always made from plastics. The chemicals do get absorbed through your skin. Choose organic cotton, wool, hemp or bamboo.
- Dry your clothing on clothes lines if possible. The smell better, you don’t generate microplastics which get dumped into the waterways, you save energy and the clothes last much longer.
There are so many opportunities to limit our plastic use. It starts with us. Recycling can seem like an inconvenience but every little bit counts. Many countries are starting to charge for, limit or ban use of things like plastic straws (England) or plastic bags (Ireland imposed a 33-cent fee per bag at stores and use dropped by 94% in just 3 weeks). Many schools and municipalities and even countries are starting to outright ban plastic bags and straws. Every little bit helps.
The amount of plastic production (in metric tons) per year follows a steep curve:
- 1950 – 2 million. The dawn of the plastics era.
- 1970’s – we were up to 50 million.
- 1990’s – 150 million.
- 2000 – 213 million. Production exploded as the Asian economies took. tons in
- 2010 – 313 million.
- 2018 – more than 400 million metric per year! About half of this is single-use plastic: the bags, bottles, spoons, straws, sachets, and wrappers that make modern life convenient and utterly disposable. Most of it has nowhere to go.
Don’t feel good about yourself because you recycle. For all our careful sorting, less than 5% of plastic in the U.S. gets recycled. That’s not a typo. The only types of plastic that are widely recycled are #1 PET (soda and water bottles) and #2 HDPE (milk jugs and laundry-detergent containers), and even they are guaranteed to be recycled only if they’re clean, pure, and not mixed with non-recyclables. Almost everything else gets incinerated or dumped into the ground or the sea.
In the U.S., which has a well-developed waste-management system, only about 2% of recycled plastic gets mishandled, meaning it could potentially wind up in the ocean. For developing countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, 70-90% goes into the drink. Until 2018, when China stopped accepting most of our recycling, a lot of that plastic started out in America. Chinese recyclers picked out the usable bits and disposed of the rest most of it ending up in the South China Sea.
In 2010, scientists estimate, the oceans contained about 8 million tons of plastic. Now we add that much every year. Today there are about 75 million tons of plastic in the marine environment, and in five years we can expect 150 million metric tons. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic by weight than sea life in the oceans.
In 239 plastic cleanup sites around the globe, Coca-Cola was the most common brand of plastic products cleaned up, followed by PepsiCo and Nestlé Waters. Polystyrene, used to make such products as disposable plastic cutlery and dinnerware, CD “jewel” cases, smoke detector housings, license plate frames and plastic model assembly kits was the most common material, followed closely by PET, the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used in fibers for clothing, containers for liquids and foods.
A disturbing new study estimates that each week, we are eating, swallowing or breathing in about 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic each week, an amount equal to the weight of one credit card.
This plastic contamination comes from “microplastics”, particles smaller than five millimeters, which are making their way into our food, especially seafood and even sea salt, drinking water and even the air. Even beer has been shown to be contaminated. The average wash load of clothes launches 700,000 plastic microfibers. A single car trip whips clouds of microparticles off our tires.
MICROPLASTICS. This is basically what it sounds like; tiny microscopic pieces of plastic. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size, and can be anything from microscopic to the length of a grain of rice. Because plastic can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, each piece of microplastic simply gets smaller and smaller, circulating indefinitely.
Microplastics are already widespread in the natural environment and can be found in oceans, rivers, rain, ice cores, plants, wild animals, the air we breathe, and now, in us too.
According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) funded study from 2019 titled “No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion from Nature to People”, people consume on average around 2000 tiny pieces of plastic every 7 days. That’s around the size of a credit card. That’s 52 credit cards a year!
Microplastics come from numerous sources including:
- Degraded larger pieces of plastic through sunlight and the action of the waves in the seas into tinier and tinier particles.
- Clothing. See below for details.
- Tire dust. The rubber breaks down and forms a fine dust which contaminates everything.
- Microbeads, which are used in various personal care products like facial scrubs, shampoo and even toothpaste.
- Teabags. YES, teabags. Many tea manufacturers use plastics in the formation of their teabags. A single bag releases around 11.6 billion microplastic particles, and 3.1 billion even smaller nanoplastic particles, into a single cup. This can be thousands of times higher than the amount of plastic previously found in other foods and drinks.
Fish misidentify these as plankton and eat them. A surprising major source of microplastics is our clothing. Our grandparents wore almost exclusively natural fibers like cotton and wool. These days, 70% of what we wear is synthetic. In 2016, more than 50% of the textiles produced worldwide were synthetic. Synthetic fabrics are textiles made from man-made rather than natural fibers. Examples of synthetic fabrics include polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, spandex, latex, Orlon and Kevlar. These are essentially all various forms of plastic. In the same way that dryers produce lint, hundreds of thousands of microfibers from our clothing get broken down and released in the drainage water from our washing machines to the tune of 750,000 lbs. a day in the US alone. Front-end loading machines generate significantly fewer fivers than top-loaders. 1/3rd of the plastics in the oceans are from microplastics
These microplastic fibers end up in our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. Sadly, they also end up in our drinking water as mentioned above. Microplastics are powerful binders of various carcinogenic toxic compounds which then get released into our bodies when we consume them. The average person ingests almost 6000 synthetic plastic fibers each year. We consume about a credit cards worth of plastic each week. A small recent study revealed that all (100%) participants in a study examining stool samples for plastics had at least 9 of the top 10 microplastics present in their gastrointestinal tracts! These subjects were from all corners of the world indicating the degree of our environmental contamination. One study found as many as 2,400 pieces of microplastic in eight fluid ounces of bottled water.
4 easy ways to reduce your plastic use includes:
- Don’t use STRAWS. Americans use and throw out 3 million a day. At restaurants, ask that they not give you one. The message will get across eventually. Many restaurant chains are eliminating plastic straws already. You can bring your own reusable straw.
- Stop using plastic water bottles. 3 million water bottles are used every hour in the US alone. Carry a glass or stainless steel refillable bottle.
- Avoid single use coffee or beverage cups. They are usually lined with plastic which makes them not eligible for recycling and they get put in landfills. Bring your own.
- Re-Use grocery bags. 1 million plastic bags are used worldwide every minute. Avoid the plastic ones they give you. Although there are bins to recycle these, most of the time they end up in landfills.
Here are a few additional statistics:
- 1.4 billion plastic bags are used every day worldwide.
- 1.5 million tons of plastic is used every year in making water bottles.
- 70 million water bottles are used every day in the US.
- 5 million straws are used every day in the US.
- Of the 300 million tons of new plastic produced annually, less than 10% (closer to 3%) gets recycled.
- 98% of Americans test positive for Endocrine disrupting chemicals which leach from various plastics. Even tiny amounts disrupt hormone function.
- 22% of plastic collected for recycling in the US was exported.
- Only 9% of plastic placed into recycling bins actually gets recycled. The rest gets put in landfills or into our waterways.
- China and Indonesia imported ½ of the US plastic waste. There, it gets sorted and sold and the rest gets thrown out, ending up in our oceans.
It is so important to do everything we can to reduce not just plastic waste but ALL forms of waste.
Follow the 5 R’s of minimizing waste:
- REFUSE: If you don’t want or need it, don’t get it. An example are straws at restaurants. Ask the server not to bring you one with your beverage.
- REDUCE: We need much less than we think we need.
- REUSE: Everything can be re-purposed or replaced with something used. Swap anything single-use with reusable things like plastic cutlery, beverage containers or grocery bags.
- RECYCLE: If you must, recycle but be aware that only 9% of what you put in the bin actually gets recycled. Organic material does NOT compost in landfills either.
- ROT: Compost everything you can. Again, organic matter does NOT compost in landfills. There is not enough oxygen for that because there is too much compression from all the garbage. Landfills decompose very slowly by anaerobic (non-oxygen) decomposition creating methane.
A few great references to learn how to reduce plastic use along with waste in general are:
Although we have been very focused on plastic polluting the environment, especially the oceans, there are a lot of things that are warming, acidifying, sterilizing and killing our oceans. The top 6 ocean polluters are:
- Sewage from humans but mostly animal production farms also known as CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Just the sound of it is creepy.
- Industrial chemicals, the largest component of which (20%) are the dyes used in the clothing industry.
- Runoff from our land and streets. All the petrochemicals used to make roads, concrete and a slew of other chemicals including pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, all are washed away to our sewers, streams, rivers, lakes and eventually, the oceans.
- Oil Spills. These can obviously be devastating to the oceans and environment but we are not even seeing what is going on under the surface. It’s pretty devastating. Worldwide, there are over 1400 such rigs and 7 regions have over 100 rigs in a concentrated area. The Gulf of Mexico is the worst with over 220. The next closest area is the North Sea with almost 200 and the it drops off in Asian seas.
- Ocean mining. Although we are very early in exploring and implementing this practice, its environmental impact both on the ocean waters and the delicate ecosystems at the bottom of the ocean are undeniable.
- Littering and dumping. This is all the garbage and plastics humans generate and throw out.
That having been said, the plastic and the garbage we generate is the easiest and quickest to address since we have total control over what we buy and what we do with it. Planet Earth has a plastic problem. Particularly our oceans are becoming increasingly polluted with plastic and general waste, which is why the Ocean Conservancy hosted an international cleanup event in 2012. Over half a million volunteers participated in the International Coastal Cleanup, covering a distance of nearly 18,000 miles. Not only did the findings of the cleanup show the pressing necessity of saving our coasts from further pollution, but they also revealed the impact our everyday lives and the products we use have on the environment. The Ocean Conservancy compiled a list of the top 10 items that were found. Five out of ten are plastic products. Product pieces are in brackets.
CIGARETTES (2,117,931). The number one item found on the clear-up was cigarettes and cigarette filters. Over 2 million were found in the coastal clear-up. They make their way through drains and gutters and find themselves in the ocean. Animals and birds can mistake the butts for food and ingest them, along with the toxins present in cigarettes.
FOOD WRAPPERS / CONTAINERS (1,140,222). The next worst offending ocean pollutant are food wrappers and containers. Over a million were found. Most of these wrappers are not biodegradable and just sit at the bottom of sea floors, waiting for a sea animal to potentially ingest and choke on them. The plastic takes hundreds of years to completely decompose but what is worse are the tiny particles which are consumed by animals. You can’t find a sea bird or any aquatic animal not contaminated by plastic.
BEVERAGE BOTTLES (1,065,171). The number of plastic bottles being sold is predicted to rise even higher in future years. Around 20,000 bottles are bought every second which leads to a colossal amount of plastic waste which ends up in the ocean. Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that by 2050 the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the amount of fish. Around 1 million beverage bottles were picked up.
PLASTIC BAGS (1,019,902). Over a million plastic bags were found. Sea animals are regularly found to be tangled up in plastic bags, with some even being choked to death by them.
CAPS / LIDS (958,893). Bottle caps are small enough to be swallowed whole by birds or sea animals. This type of pollution can jam animal airways, or sit in their digestive systems causing them great discomfort and pain. Almost 1 million were found with many more still in the sea.
CUPS, PLATES, FORKS, KNIVES, SPOONS (692,767). Over ½ a million were gathered. Sharp objects which are not biodegradable can last in seas for hundreds of years and can cut or injure sea animals.
STRAWS / STIRRERS (611,048). Plastic straws are fortunately being used less frequently, however, the previous damage to the ocean by plastic remains. Even if plastic straws have no place in our future, there are still hundreds of thousands of them still left in our oceans from our collective past.
GLASS BEVERAGE BOTTLES (521,730). Towards the bottom of our list, we see glass beverage bottles being picked up ½ a million times in our oceans. Glass may sink, but it never disappears. Those who say that glass is made of sand forget that humans add things to it for aesthetics or functionality.
BEVERAGE CANS (339,875). Aluminum cans were found to be lining the ocean floors, leading to further pollution. Metal cans are lined with serrated edges which can injure animals, just like cutlery and glass. In addition, they are lined with plastics which leach out into the water.
PAPER BAGS (298,332). People forget that paper bags can possess a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. Where we can, we need to ensure we recycle all our items.
WHALES and CLIMATE CHANGE
There is growing scientific evidence that whales play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere and regulating global climate. Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives, which can be as long as 100 years. When they die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, locking that carbon away for hundreds of years. This is a literal carbon sink. Each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average. A tree, meanwhile, absorbs only up to 48 lbs. of CO2 a year.
Part of whales’ carbon capture potential is connected to their role in increasing the production of phytoplankton. These microscopic marine organisms are critically important to life on Earth, generating about 50% of the atmosphere’s oxygen and capturing about 40% of all CO2 produced. As whales rise up through the ocean to breathe and migrate across the globe, they leave a trail of iron- and nitrogen-rich waste behind them, providing ideal growing conditions for phytoplankton. And more phytoplankton means more carbon capture. Since 1950, the phytoplankton amounts have dropped by 40%, a result of fewer whales as well as increased ocean temperatures and oceanic pollution.
If whale populations were able to be restored to their pre-whaling number of about 5 million (presently the population is around 1.3 million) this could significantly boost the quantity of phytoplankton in our oceans and the carbon they capture each year. Hence supporting international efforts to restore whale populations is an incredibly effective way to fight climate change.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a compound originally developed in the 1920’s as a mimetic estrogen (estrogen imitator) to treat women with low levels of estrogen because of menopause or other conditions. It was never used for that purpose however. It was however used in the animal agriculture industry and was fed to animals since it was found to “fatten them up”. It was discovered that when altered, BPA actually formed a resilient polycarbonate plastic, now used in almost all plastics as well as liners of most food storage containers like bags and cans. There are also now over 300 version of bisphenol. It is well known that BPA still maintains it’s estrogen mimetic properties and is now more commonly is called a “hormone disruptor”. It has numerous dangerous effects on the body including causing cancer, autoimmune diseases, even raising blood pressure immediately after consuming canned beverages. Compared with drinking out of glass containers, drinking out of cans lined with BPA leads to a 1600% spike in blood levels of BPA. It should be avoided as much as possible. A short list of items which contain BPA include:
- Food Containers including most cans.
- Plastic containers for processed foods and even meat and vegetable wrappers.
- Beverage cans including soda and beer cans.
- Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups
- Store Sales Receipts. BPA levels are measurable in the blood after handling them. 100x increase if your hands are wet or if you used hand sanitizers!
- Protective and Corrective Eye-wear
- Compact Discs and DVDs
- Children’s (and Adult) Safety Equipment
- Commercial and Industrial Products
- Coatings of all kinds
- Electronic Equipment
A few facts about BPA:
- Even a single dose of BPA obtained from one bottle of water or from handling a cash register receipt with wet hands impairs insulin sensitivity.
- BPA disrupts hormones and can impair fertility.
- It leeches out much more from plastics when it’s heated by 55x.
- BPS and some of the BPA replacements have been shown to also impair endocrine function. There are actually over 300 types of bisphenol.
- We do metabolize it and it’s excreted through urine and sweat. Its half life is 5 hours however so it basically takes 1 day (24 hour) to clear one dose of it. If you use plastics continually, you are continuously trying to clear these chemicals.
- BPA is inactivated by the liver however once it crosses the placenta in a pregnant woman it gets activated again which is why it’s more dangerous for the developing fetus.
- As bottles age, more BPA gets leached out which is partly why you should not reuse plastic water bottles, even the “BPA-Free” bottles from companies like Nalgene.
A great resource for looking up if a product contains BPA is on the Environmental Working Groups database page found here. You will start noticing many items, especially cans have the statement “BPA-Free” on it. This does NOT mean it is safe. The BPA was probably replaced with a similar compound Bisphenol S (BPS) which has similar hormone disrupting effects. Use glass or stainless steel jars to store food and avoid as much plastic and aluminum cans as you can. Many products are available in glass jars.
We have used and released so much BPA into our environment, that BPA can be measured in the bodies of tiny ants deep in the Amazon rain forest. It is released into the air in microscopic amounts and the BPA makes its way into the clouds and the rain spreads is ALL over the world. EVERY human on the planet has measurable amounts of BPA, among other chemicals, in our bodies. Even DDT, banned more than 30 years ago, can be measured in newborn infants as it is passed along to them through their mothers milk.
As mentioned above, BPA was first developed before 1920 as a synthetic estrogen medication. In the 1950’s, industry realized that it could be made into polycarbonate plastic. Since that time, it has become the most widely used plastic worldwide. It is used almost universally to line bottles and cans, despite knowing its hormonal effects. In particular, cans of tuna, soups and acidic produce like tomatoes are affected.
Our government says that exposure up to 50 micrograms per kilo a day is safe. This is a pretty small amount and it is very uncommon to get such exposure. In fact, even in the Chinese factories where BPA is made, workers get exposed to 70x lower doses than the US government allowance. Despite that, almost all men working in such plants have decreased sperm counts and motility, a clear sign of hormonal disruption. In the US, the general population gets less than 1000x the safety limit yet we have seen a significant rise in various hormone-related diseases. BPAs effects have been implicated in:
- Thyroid diseases.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Weight control problems.
- Liver function.
- Immune function.
The core assumption when determining toxic levels of drugs is that “the dose makes the poison”, meaning that the higher the dose of a toxin, the greater the damage. But this is NOT the case with hormone disrupting drugs like BPA. Determining toxicity usually involved animal testing. Animals are exposed to known toxic levels and the dose is decreased until no more side effects are noted. A safety buffer is added in and the “Safe” dose is set for humans. But with hormone-disrupting compounds, once the hormone receptors are bound, usually by tiny doses of chemicals, any additional hormone or chemicals do little more since no receptors are available. This is why extremely tiny doses of BPA can cause a lot of disruption. The actual safe exposure level is MUCH lower than what our government has set today. Why is BPA banned in baby bottles and sippy cups but nowhere else? There is a serious disconnect between what is safe and what is recommended. It’s the same philosophy of saying that pregnant women should not consume fish because of mercury contamination because of the developing fetus but it’s OK after the baby is born. It’s bad not only for the baby, but for ALL people.
STUDIES ARE DECEPTIVE
An FDA study looked at the excretion of BPA in peoples urine. It was collected over 24 hours and levels were measured. It was determined that the amounts of BPA were minimal and not concerning. The problem is this: the average human produces 1-2 liters of urine a day. These participants were encouraged to drink as much writer as possible and on average produced 6 liters of urine, more than 3 times the normal amount. Of course levels would be small.
RECYCLING and COMPOSTING
Although it would make sense to discuss this topic on the page discussing environmental issues, there is a whole section on this on my Important topics involving FOOD, EATING & HEALTH page . In a brief summary, although we may feel good about ourselves when we recycle, the vast majority of this material ends up in landfills and the oceans anyway. Almost all of our recycling in the US is exported to countries like China, who sift through it, sell and recycle what they can and throw the rest away. ONLY ~ 3% of what you put into the bin actually gets recycled. In fact, China, the biggest importer of recycling, only recycled 1% of what the US sent them in 2018. It’s much better to reduce our garbage and “recyclable” material than to just assume we are doing good by recycling.
Single streaming is worse than separating out paper, plastic, glass and metal. Even paper, the seemingly easiest thing to recycle, only gets actually recycled 66% of the time, and much less if it is in single stream bins. In fact, after wasted food, cardboard is the second largest component of landfills accounting for 31% of it. Think abut that the next time you order something on-line. Only 27% of glass and 8% of plastics gets recycled.
All that unrecycled stuff ends up in landfills or the oceans. You may also be surprised to find out that less than 30% of the clothing donated to organizations like Goodwill or other charity organizations get re-used. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t donate though. Someone in need may benefit. However, the focus on buying less again becomes more important.
A great resource about what and how to recycle is www.How2recycle.info.
Great composting bin: Envirocycle. Don’t have much room or live in an apartment, check out this site. Want to grow a garden indoors, check out Aggressively Organic. They provide an affordable solution for small spaces.
As crazy as it sounds, hotels worldwide throw out 5 million, almost completely unused bars of soap, a DAY. That’s 2 billion a year! There is an amazing soap recycling program, providing recycled soaps to poor and underprivileged people worldwide: Project Soap
TOILET PAPER’S MASSIVE IMPACT
It is no surprise that we are an incredibly wasteful society. The amount of garbage we generate is staggering. The amount of food waste is pathetic. We do things every day without thinking about their impact on the world around us and how that will impact our future generations. Toilet paper (TP) is a great example.
The average American uses between 85-140 rolls per year. Although China uses the most worldwide, just over twice the amount of TP Americans use, their population is 5x greater than ours. So Americans, per capita, use the most. By FAR!
The US alone is responsible for 31.1 million trees per year being cut down including 1,500 sq miles of Canadian boreal forest destroyed to generate TP for Americans. All this tree destruction releases 25 metric tons of CO2.
Worldwide, 42 million tons of TP is used every year. That’s 184 billion rolls or 13.5 billion miles of TP. All this TP could go around the planet every 10 minutes, or travel to the sun and back every 7 days. It could also cover an area almost 3 times the size of France every year.
All of this TP used globally annually has a significant environmental impact. The productions requires:
- 712 million trees
- 23,814 sq. miles of forests cut down or burned.
- 1,165 millions tons of water
- 78 million tons of oil
Why recycling works. TP made from recycled paper requires no trees being cut down. Put differently, the difference between using new TP and TP made from recycled materials is 712 million trees. In addition, recycling saves about 50% of the water usage and 33% of the energy. Recycled TP and home tissue products are widely available. I
As an aside, 70% of the world does not use TP. Just soap and water! Just sayin’.
Clearly, our use of TP is a problem, but this issue is representative of how we live our lives. We live with our modern day conveniences but rarely appreciate their impact on the world around us. Food waste is another good example as mentioned in another section. The impact our pets have is another. Our overuse of cleaning products, another. The list goes on and on. I am not saying that we don loincloths and live like the cavemen, but just a little more awareness of how we live, and making small adjustments can make significant impacts on our health, the health of all those around us, including the animals, and the planet in general.
PAPER vs PLASTIC. NOT SO STRAIGHT FORWARD
There is no question that the most environmentally friendly approach to using bags when shopping is not to shop! If you must shop, bringing your own bag is the next best thing. If you have forgotten your bag, most people think that using paper is better since it can be recycled but it is not that straight forward.
The answer to which is better for the environment comes down to:
- how much energy is used to make the bag during manufacturing?
- how durable is the bag? (i.e. how many times can it be reused?)
- how easy is it to recycle?
- how quickly does it decompose if thrown away?
It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic one.
Unlike plastic bags, which are produced from the waste products of oil refining, paper requires forests to be cut down to produce the bags. The paper manufacturing process also produces a higher concentration of toxic chemicals compared with making single-use plastic bags. Paper bags also weigh more than plastic which means that transportation requires more energy, adding to their carbon footprint.
Carbon footprint and environmental impact estimates suggest that paper bags need to be reused at least three times, one fewer than plastic bags for life to be of equal benefit. Cotton bags on the other hand require the most number of reuses, at 131. That’s because of the high amount of energy used to produce and fertilize cotton yarn.
But even if a paper bag requires the fewest reuses, there is a practical consideration: will it last long enough to survive at least three trips to the supermarket? Paper bags are not as durable as thicker, reusable plastic bags, being more likely to split or tear, especially if they get wet.
It is unlikely the paper bag can be regularly reused the required number of times due to its low durability. Cotton bags, despite being the most carbon intensive to manufacture, are the most durable and will have a much longer life.
Despite its low durability, one advantage of paper is that it decomposes much more quickly than plastic, and therefore it is less likely to be a source of litter and pose a risk to wildlife.
Paper is also more widely recyclable, while plastic bags can take between 400 and 1,000 years to decompose.
So what’s best?
Paper bags require marginally fewer reuses than thicker plastic bags to make them more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic bags. On the other hand, paper bags are less durable than other types of bags. So if customers have to replace their paper ones more frequently, it will have a greater environmental effect.
But the key to reducing the impact of all carrier bags, no matter what they are made of, is to reuse them as much as possible. Many people forget to bring their reusable bags on their weekly supermarket trip, and end up having to buy more bags at the till, she says. This will have a much bigger environmental impact compared with just choosing to use paper, single use plastic or cotton.
Food waste is a shocking phenomenon. 40% of the food Americans buy gets thrown out and the average American household loses $1500 a year on wasted food. It’s an environmental issue not only because of the volume of garbage food generates (food waste is the largest component of landfills) but that decomposing, wasted food, both animal and organic, produces a tremendous about of methane leading to global warming.
The number is shocking and staggering. Food waste results in 160 billion pounds of wasted food which ends up in landfills and accounts for $168 billion in wasted money. It accounts for at least 20% of methane produced leading to global warming.
If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd leading producer of greenhouse gasses after the US and China.
Food losses can be divided into 2 types: FOOD LOSS and FOOD WASTE.
- FOOD LOSS is what occurs at the front end of the food industry and include things like growing and harvest losses, processing issues and post-production disposal. The bulk of this type of loss occurs in developing countries where infrastructure is not as good. 1/3rd of global food production is wasted. This is more than what we could use feed the 1 billion people who go to bed hungry every night.
- FOOD WASTE is what occurs on the back end. This is more of an issue in the “developed” world. This includes “cosmetic” issues for an example if a carrot is not perfectly straight, or if an apple is not perfectly round, some grocers will throw them out since they won’t fit nicely into the bin or look attractive enough to consumers. It also includes the food that goes bad sitting on the shelves, in our refrigerators or what gets scraped off our plates because we are too full or too spoiled not to eat it.
There are 6 basic categories of food loss (outlined in the article “Losses, Inefficiencies and Waste in the Global Food System”):
- Agricultural production. Both grown for human and livestock consumption. This includes agricultural residues like roots of a crop, straw along with unharvested crops and losses during harvest.
- Livestock production. See below for a more detailed description.
- Handling, storage and transportation.
- Processing. Spoilage on the shelves, “Unattractive” fruits and vegetables being thrown out…
- Consumer waste, which occurs between the food reaching the consumer and being eaten.
- Over-consumption. This is simply the notion that we eat more than what we need. Anything beyond true nutritional needs is a waste.
Livestock accounts for the greatest amount of waste in the food sector. One of the issues involved in food waste is all the unnecessary death that the food industry creates. Ethical issues aside, we voluntarily generate enormous amounts of waste. Some examples include:
- In 2001 in the UK there was an outbreak of Hand/Foot/Mouth disease, a viral infection which primarily affects animals and which rarely gets transmitted to humans. It is not dangerous to us. Rather than inoculate the animals (which costs money) and because of fear of the impact of global market sales, 6-10 million potentially affected cows, pigs and sheep were slaughtered, put in huge pits and burned. The vast majority of these animals were perfectly healthy.
- In 2003, there was an outbreak of Avian Influenza which resulted in 1 human death worldwide but 30 million birds were killed as a preventive measure. This infection is 100% man made since we created the environment for this virus to flourish.
- In 2015, another Avian Flu outbreak, this time in the US, resulted in 43 million birds being killed in various states. Not one person died from this outbreak.
- Worldwide, 60 billion farm animals are slaughtered annually for food. !0 billion in the US alone.
- 40% of the fish killed annually is “by-kill”, animals killed by accident by getting caught in nets or fishing lines. This accounts for 38 tons of dead fish and other sea life. The conservative estimates are that this many sea creatures perish as by-kill:
- 300,000 small whales and dolphins.
- 250,000 endangered turtles.
- 300 sea birds, some of which are endangered like albatross.
- 50 million sharks. This is in addition to the 100 million caught intentionally for food or trophy!
- Trolling for shrimp generates 10 lbs. of by-kill for every 1 lb. of shrimp caught.
The animal agricultural industry itself is tremendously wasteful and dangerous. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of emerging infectious disease is caused by this incredibly dirty industry. These are called zoonotic diseases, ones transmitted from animals to humans. Salmonella infections in egg, Campylobacter infection in chicken, Listeria in pork products… all lead to massive recalls and food waste. All the recalls of fruits and vegetables are also caused by these animal-borne infection, not originating from the plants but from contamination from waste disposal from the animal industry. Plants can be infested with innocuous albeit gross bugs like aphids and worms or even covered in mold but any bacterial contamination is from animals or humans. Each minute, 7 million lbs. of excrement is produced by agricultural animals and this excludes fish. Much of this waste leeches or is just spilled intentionally into waterways or is sprayed into the air by huge compressors. This particular way of disposing of excrement is linked with various respiratory and skin diseases in local populations who breathe in and come into contact with this contaminated air.
Also consider all of the waste generated by the extra body parts of the 60 billion farm animals slaughtered annually worldwide (10 billion in the US alone) not used for food. On average, 50% of animal flesh is not usable for regular human consumption and is turned into various other products but mostly, it turns into waste. These parts includes bones, bladders, diaphragm, stomach, lungs, fat, sphincter muscles, heads, feet, hooves, udders, skin, hair, liquids like blood and urine and solids like feces. Most of this is hauled off from the farms in tanker trucks and sent to incinerator plants or poured into municipal sewers. Although some of this animal tissue is converted into feed for other animals, a disgusting prospect itself, some of these animal parts are turned into various other products you may not be aware of:
- Fat is rendered into tallow, a more stable form of fat mostly made up of triglycerides. Tallow is a key ingredient in lipstick and eye mascara.
- Blood and bone is rendered in to blood or bone meal for fertilizer.
- Feathers are rendered into feather meal which is then mixed into animal feed.
- Many pet foods add rendered waste including beaks, feathers and hair.
- The amount of blood is huge. It is stored in huge vats and then hauled away by trucks within days, treated with chemicals to reduce bacteria and then dumped in sewers, landfills or spread on land. Some of the blood used in pet food and some in human foods like blood sausage and black pudding.
- Gelatin, used in such products as gel caps for medicines and vitamins, Jello, gummy bears, chewing gum and marshmallows, comes from boiled skin, ligaments, snouts and hooves.
- Keratin, from horn, hooves, feathers and hair is also used in hair care products, lotions, body washes and other cosmetics.
- The 50% of chicks unfortunate enough to be born male in egg hatcheries are immediately killed and ground up live and turned into fertilizer and farm animal feed, including feed for other chickens. Hatchery waste is also fed to zoo animals and some is sent to landfills.
- Fish industry waste is “recycled” into fish meal and fed to farm animals.
FOOD WASTE – FOOD IS NOT GARBAGE
American households are responsible for the largest amount of food waste worldwide. Estimates of US household food waste totals 160 billion pounds, or 470 pounds of food per person annually. 50% of all produce Americans buy is thrown away. This translates into $165 billion dollars of wasted food. This food ends up in landfills and accounts for 20% of the methane emissions. The average American generates 4.4 lbs. of trash overall a day. Globally, this number is 2.6 lbs. of trash per day per person. Still not great, but significantly better than us.
For food to decompose, it needs bacteria, moisture, oxygen and a relatively small volume. The food waste in our landfills, the major component of all the waste there, does not have these conditions and the food rots releasing methane, 23x more potent than CO2 in trapping heat in our atmosphere. It takes a head of lettuce 25 years to decompose in a landfill as compared with only a few weeks in a compost pile in your backyard.
These landfills have also become feeding and breeding grounds for various animals such as rodents, raccoons and even dogs and cats. Birds have become so dependent on the food they get from landfills that their migration patterns have been altered. Think of it. Evolutionary behavior patterns, developed over millennia, changed in just a few decades because of our wasteful garbage habit. In addition, these fills are so overrun with birds that they create air traffic problems for planes and airports.
Confusion about food labeling and inappropriate disposal accounts for 20% of food waste at an individual level as well. Labels such as “Sell by”, “Best Before” and “Use by” are completely unregulated and most cases have nothing to do with spoiling or safety. They are provided by companies as suggestion as to when the food may be at its “peak quality” NOT when it is no longer safe to eat. Just because an item is past its “best by” date does not mean it is bad and rather than just throwing it out over misplaced concerns over spoilage, use your common sense. Literally, use your senses. Smell, taste and appearance. If it’s moldy, smells bad, is under pressure or has a sour taste, compost it (don’t just throw it out). If not, it’s most likely fine. Storage and temperature are the keys to keeping food safe and increasing their longevity. Keep your fridge below 40 degrees or below. Keep food in appropriate containers, preferably glass or stainless steel rather than plastic which leaches chemicals. Things which should be in a sealed container, keep them sealed. If they need ventilation, use porous or paper bags. Use your fridge compartments appropriately. That’s why they are there.
Don’t be so concerned about produce appearance. A little brown is OK. Slightly wilted leaves can easily be refreshed by soaking in ice water. A little bruising or sprouting is fine. DON’T WASTE IT! Turn lemons, oranges or apples into juice. Blend them into smoothies. There are many options which do not involve just throwing it out.
The school food systems are also incredibly wasteful. Just like the fast food and beverage companies which have a stronghold on our kids’ health (most schools have contracts with these companies), so too does the dairy industry. In most school districts, in order to get an exception for a child to get a milk-alternative beverage, an actual doctors note is required. To add insult to injury, 39% of all the milk shipped to schools is wasted either because it expires or is just dumped.
FAST FASHION and FASHION WASTE
Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speeds. It was all too good to be true. All these stores selling cool, trendy clothing you could buy with your loose change, wear once and then throw away. Suddenly everyone could afford to dress like their favorite celebrity, or wear the latest trends fresh from the catwalk.
The life cycle of clothing was about 8 months in 1998. This decreased to 3 months by 2000 and today, clothing is purchased and tossed in about 3 DAYS!
Shopping for clothing used to be an occasional event. Something that happened a few times a year when the seasons changed, or we outgrew what we had. But clothes became cheaper, trend cycles have sped up and shopping is now a form of entertainment. Fast fashion is made up of cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed. This change occurred in the 1990’s and this was the beginning of Fast Fashion and the global chains that now dominate our streets and online world. Although Fast Fashion sounds like something good, after all, who doesn’t like less expensive clothing but cheaper financially is only achievable by the product itself being significantly cheaper, or of lesser quality, as well. This trend however has had a significant impact on people, animals and the planet.
In 2013 a horrific accident woke the world up to the human impact of the garment trade when the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers. Consumers really started questioning Fast Fashion and wondering what was the true cost of those $5 t-shirts.
Fast Fashion’s impact on the planet is huge. The pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means that environmental corners are more likely to be cut. Fast Fashion’s negative impact includes its use of cheap, toxic textile dyes. As a result, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture.
Cheap textiles also increase Fast Fashion’s impact. Polyester is one of the most popular fabrics. It’s derived from fossil fuels, contributing to global warming, and can shed microfibers that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans when it’s put through a wash. But even “natural fabrics” can be a problem. Cotton requires enormous quantities of water and pesticides in developing countries. Cotton is actually the crop which uses the most pesticides and herbicides worldwide. This results in risks of drought, creates huge amounts of stress on water basins, biodiversity and soil quality as well as creating competition for resources between companies and local communities. While the processing of leather also impacts on the environment, with 600 lbs. of chemicals being added for every 2000 lbs. of animal hides tanned.
The speed at which garments are produced also means that more and more clothes are disposed of by consumers, creating a huge amount of textile waste. In the UK alone, 235 million pieces of clothing were sent to landfills in 2017.
As well as the environmental cost of Fast Fashion, there’s a human cost. Fast Fashion impacts garment workers, who have been found to work in dangerous environments, for low wages and without basic human rights. The farmers work with toxic chemicals which have devastating impacts on their physical and mental health, a plight highlighted by the documentary “The True Cost.” Many of these farmers become so indebted to the chemical companies and become so depressed that they kill themselves, many by drinking the chemicals they are forced to spray on their crops, rather than face the familial embarrassment and financial hardships they have become slaves to. At least 200,000 such suicides have been reported in Indian farmers alone.
Animals are also impacted by Fast Fashion, as the toxic dyes and microfibers are released in waterways get ingested by ocean life. When animal products such as leather and fur are used, animal welfare is put at risk. A recent scandal revealed that real fur, including cat fur, is actually being passed off as faux fur to unknowing shoppers in the UK. The truth is that there is so much real fur being produced under terrible conditions in fur farms, that it’s actually cheaper to produce and buy real fur than faux fur.
Finally, Fast Fashion can impact consumers themselves, encouraging the “throw-away” culture because of both the built-in obsolescence of the products and the speed at which trends change. Fast Fashion makes us believe we need to shop more and more to stay on top of trends, creating a constant sense of need and ultimate dissatisfaction. The trend has also been criticized on intellectual property grounds, with some designers alleging that their designs have been illegally mass-produced by retailers.
Who are the big players? Many of the retailers that we know today are Fast Fashion big players, like Zara or H&M. The term “Fast Fashion” was coined by the New York Times in the 1990’s to describe Zara’s mission to only take 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores. Other big names in Fast Fashion include UNIQLO, GAP, Primark and TopShop. While these brands were once seen as radically cheap distributors, there now are even cheaper and faster alternatives, like Missguided , Forever 21 , Zaful , Boohoo and more recently, Fashion Nova .
Is Fast Fashion Going Green? It’s just lip service.
As an increasing number of consumers call out the true cost of the fashion industry, and especially Fast Fashion, we’ve seen a growing number of retailers introduce sustainable and ethical fashion initiatives such as in-store recycling schemes. These schemes, allow customers to drop off unwanted items in “bins” in the brands’ stores. But it’s been highlighted that only 0.1% of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber. The real issue with Fast Fashion is the speed at which it is produced, putting a huge pressure on the people and the environment. Recycling and small eco clothing ranges are not enough to counter the “throw-away culture”, the waste, the strain on natural resources and the issues created by Fast Fashion. The whole system needs to be changed.
In addition to the waste, the garment industry, especially the leather industry, is horrifically unhealthy. The process of tanning (preventing animal skins from decaying) involves vast amounts of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Chromium and cyanide runoff from these tanneries is considered the #1 threat to water pollution and ocean dead zones worldwide. Tannery workers are subjected to numerous workplace hazards. They have significantly increased rates of cancers such as lung, testicular, soft tissue sarcoma, bladder and blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. The CDC found that the incidence of leukemia in a county in Kentucky near a tannery was 5x the national average. In India, the leather industry is significantly worse. Regular deadly accidents; workers cleaning underground waste suffocating from the fumes; workers getting caught and drowning in toxic sludge; fevers, eye inflammation, rashes, cancers of numerous types. It is horrifically unhealthy and abusive.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
British designer Vivienne Westwood says, “buy less, choose well and make it last.” Buying Less is first. Appreciate and re-purpose what you already have. Don’t worry about small imperfections. No one really notices anyway. Choose Well is the second step Choose eco-friendly fabrics. There are pros and cons to all fiber types, but hopefully we have several material guides to help you, such as denim, linen, cotton and more. Finally, we should Make it Last and wear clothes until they are worn out. Here is a useful guide to making clothes last “Ultimate guide to making clothes last longer”
If you can, choose organic cotton products. Cotton is the most heavily sprayed commercial agricultural product, much more than even soy and wheat. In addition organically grown cotton uses 90% less water to grow than conventional, chemically sprayed cotton.
How ethical is your favorite brand? Find out on the Good On You app.
“The True Cost.” is a great documentary describing fast fashion’s impact on people, the animals and the environment.
Outerknown. Sustainably and organically made modern, trendy clothing.
We don’t think much about the notion that our clothing can make us sick, but it can and it does. Think about this: the denim industry is required by law to dispose of unused scraps of material as if they were toxic waste. It can’t just go in regular garbage. Why? Because it IS toxic. The chemicals like dyes used to color the denim and formaldehyde, used to preserve it and prevent insects from eating it during transport, are toxic and you better believe that those chemicals get absorbed through your skin into your body. The dyes contain many chemicals including heavy metals. And washing them, even many, many times, does not wash away all the chemicals.
Just like any other chemicals from personal care products, “if it is on you, it is in you”.
The same goes for all synthetic clothing. Mostly made from plastic compounds, they do leach chemicals, many known to be endocrine (hormone) disruptors which wreak havoc on our hormonal systems. They also increase the risks of various cancers. Also, the more you sweat and the higher the heat, the more chemicals leach out. What do most people work out in? Synthetic materials which are supposed to wick away sweat. They are advertised as being ‘antimicrobial” and thus less prone to body odor but what do you think makes them antibiotic? Chemicals. They kill the bacteria on your skin. That is not good!
Here is a list of 5 toxic fabrics to try to avoid:
- POLYESTER Polyester is one of the most popular and most used synthetic fabrics. Even though it can be produced with a blend of natural components, like cotton, to prevent wrinkles and tears, its effect on our health is still harmful. Polyester does not allow the skin to breathe. In addition, as body temperature rises and you sweat, chemicals from this fabric are released and are absorbed by your skin. This can cause a variety of problems and irritations like rashes, itching, redness, eczema, and dermatitis.
- RAYON (VESCOSE). Rayon is a fiber that is made from cellulose that is chemically converted from wood pulp. Not only is the production of this material dangerous, but wearing it can also be unhealthy. Rayon fabric can emit toxic substances that can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, chest and muscle pain, and insomnia. In addition to all that, its production is heavily polluting the environment.
- NYLON. Nylon is a synthetic thermoplastic linear polyamide (a large molecule whose components are bound by a particular type of bond) that was first produced in 1935 by DuPont. Socks, lingerie, underwear, pantyhose, and so many different everyday clothes are made from nylon. It is durable and not very expensive to produce, which is why it’s popular. Clothes made from nylon do not absorb sweat from the skin, which can cause bad odors and skin infections. While in its production, the fabric gets bleached or dyed with different chemicals. Wearing it on your skin can cause a variety of irritations as well.
- ACRYLIC. Acrylic fabrics are made of acrylonitrile, which is a carcinogen and a mutagen. Exposure to this substance can cause different problems with your health. Among them are headache, nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, limb weakness, and many more. Acrylonitrile does get absorbed into your skin. Also, the manufacturing of acrylic is a huge cause of environmental pollution.
- SPANDEX / LYCRA / ELASTANE. Spandex was developed by chemical megacompany Dupont in 1953. Spandex is made from the synthetic polymer polyurethane. These types of fabrics are extremely stretchy and a lot of tight clothes are made with them like sports bras, leggings, T-shirts, shaping underwear, tights, bikinis, etc. Like other synthetic fabrics, they are made from harmful chemical substances like polyurethane, that is also known to be a carcinogen. Prolonged contact with these fabrics can cause skin irritations like dermatitis.
Choose natural, dye free fibers like cotton or linen. They may be a little warmer but they are certainly healthier. Also, keep in mind that cotton is one of the most chemically sprayed cross so try to get organic cotton.
However, keep in mind that , as crazy as it sounds, clothing companies are not required to disclose which chemicals are used in making their clothes. Furthermore, there is no regulation requiring clothing companies to prove what is on their labels. A company might claim that it uses “100% organic cotton” when in reality, it is a 50:50 blend.
Here is a list of safer fabrics to wear:
- COTTON. It’s breathable, absorbs liquid from the skin, protects against heat in the summer and cold in the winter, and it’s hypoallergenic and durable. It’s one of the best fabrics you can wear to treat your skin to the most comfort.
- CASHMERE: This is a very precious and valuable material. No heavy chemicals are used to create the smooth silky feel of cashmere, and it is amazing and nice to feel on the skin on its own.
- HEMP. This textile has been serving people for thousands of years. It is well-known for its strength and durability. It’s the best natural material when it comes to holding shape and not stretching. Also, the more you wear it, the softer it gets.
- SILK. Not only does this soft fabric have a luxurious texture, but it also has a bunch of health benefits! It can slow down aging, help with eczema and asthma, have an anti-fungal effect, help to avoid allergies, and improve sleep!
- BAMBOO. It’s an interesting new alternative to traditional natural fabrics. Textiles made of bamboo are just as soft and silky as other natural fabrics, but also hypoallergenic, highly breathable, and thermo-regulating. It can absorb moisture from the skin even better than cotton and protect you from UV rays like merino wool. Also, it’s biodegradable.
- LINEN. It’s a highly comfortable and durable material. It is also easy to take care of and is suitable for every season. Like some other natural textiles, it has hypoallergenic properties, will feel extra comfortable, and will allow your skin to breathe.
WOOL is not on this list and the notion that it is sustainable and somehow harvested without harm to sheep is a complete myth. Most sheep used for wool are also eventually slaughtered for meat. They are treated horribly and have a miserable existence. Wool production actually uses 367x more land than cotton and generates 5x the greenhouse gases. In addition, to clean the wool, massive amounts of water and chemicals are used before it can be made into the clothing we wear.
WOOL is NOT NATURAL OR SUSTAINABLE
Wool is the leading global source of animal fiber used, not only in the clothing industry, but various other products like upholstery, blankets, carpeting and carpet pads, windings for baseballs, felts for piano hammers, and fabric for billiard and gaming tables are just to name a few. Although well marketed as a natural, sustainable material, produced from well cared for sheep, wool production is anything but those things. The wool industry is a slaughter industry working hand in hand with the meat industry. It is one of the most destructive industries around. Wool is a scaled product, a result of our modern industrial, chemical, ecological and genetic interventions. It’s a significant contributor to the climate crisis, land degradation, water use, pollution and biodiversity loss. The animals are not raised on beautiful pastures.
In 2019, wool accounted for just over 1% of all fibers produced worldwide, natural or synthetic. 1.5 million pounds (2500 tons) were produced from 1.7 billion sheep. The top producers of wool are Australia (25%), China (18%), US (17%) and NZ (11%). A smattering of other countries produce 2-3% each. Globally, the wool market generates $4.5 billion and China imports over 50% of the world supply of wool. The 5 major apparel types which drive the wool market are women’s overcoats (27%), men’s trousers, suits, overcoats and jackets, all ~15%.
Wool must be heavily processed before it can be used as fabric. Tons of chemicals as well as vast amounts of water are used in the cleaning process. This leads, not only to water waste, but massive chemical contamination of waterways. Add to that the water used to raise crops to feed all those sheep and the results are incredibly wasteful. The wool industry has a climate cost 3x greater than acrylic and 5x more than cotton. Small ruminants like sheep and goats are responsible for significant CO2 production, equivalent to taking 103 million cars off the road for a year.
From an ethical standpoint, these sheep are not happily grazing and occasionally have their wool shorn. They are mistreated and subject to many violent and ethically unacceptable practices.
For much more detail on the destructive aspects of the wool industry and its impact on our health, their health as well as planetary health, look up the following article Shear Destruction.
“Better Living Through Chemistry”
DuPont slogan for over 50 years.
PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES, FUNGICIDES and FERTILIZERS
The concept of pest control is not new. Sumerians used sulfur-based compounds to control insects and mites more than 2000 years ago. In the late 1800’s, arsenic-containing pesticides were used to control beetles on potato crops. As lead became used in paints, it was combined with arsenic to make lead-arsenate pesticides. In the 20th century, organophosphate pesticides were developed from nerve gas agents used during WW2. These compounds, still used extensively today, impair the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. In 1873, DDT was developed in Germany to combat malaria and typhus by controlling the mosquito population. The introduction of chemicals has since progressed at lightening speed.
These chemicals should all be called BIOCIDES, since they kill all life at many levels, not just their specific targets. As mentioned above, we have used pest and weed killers to the point where some of them are now measurable in people’s urine and breast milk. Even chemicals banned as long ago as 30 years are still measurable in newborn infants because they are fat soluble and are passed along from the mother (watch the video “10 Americans” about the chemicals present in our newborns)! Some food product studies have revealed 100% or near 100% contamination with various cancer-causing chemicals. It is more important than ever to try to buy products that are as clean as possible. A 2018 survey of conventionally (non-organically) grown strawberries revealed that 99% were contaminated with chemical residues and 20% had at least 10 different types of chemicals identified. The average was 7.8 chemicals, compared with 2.1 for all other produce. The highest contamination identified was with 22 different chemicals on ONE strawberry! There were up to 81 different kinds of pesticides and herbicides identified. Overall contamination was up from 2015 and 2016. It’s getting worse, not better. Conventional tomatoes have had up to 35 separate chemicals isolated on them.
Although some conventionally grown crops have only small amounts of these chemicals on them and a lot of it can be washed away, some still gets into your body. They clear quickly since most are water-soluble but if you consume them day in and day out, they do slowly build up. These chemicals have been proven to be carcinogens (cancer causing), neurotoxins, hormone disruptors and cause developmental delays. Despite that our own USDA continues to allow their use. They also have been found to cause neurological damage especially in infants and young children. It’s no coincidence that since the dramatic increase in use of glyphosate in 1996, the rate of various diseases, especially autoimmune and neurologic diseases has soared. The autism rate has gone up from 1:5000 for pure autism in 1975 to 1:36 in 2017 (this also includes autism spectrum disorders). Since 2012, there has been an almost doubling every 2-3 years. At this rate, 1:3 will be affected by 2035.
In addition to the foods we eat, a few surprising products most people don’t think about which are also heavily contaminated with various fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are COTTON and TOBACCO. The clothes you wear, the sheets you sleep on and the tobacco products you may be using are also contributing to your toxic load. If you can, choose organic cotton products. Cotton is the most heavily sprayed commercial agricultural product, much more than even soy and wheat. In addition organically grown cotton uses 90% less water to grow than conventional, chemically sprayed cotton.
This is a short list of some of the conditions caused by these chemicals:
- ADHD and Autism (in 2017, the rate was already 1:36, double of what is was 6 years before and up from 1:5000 in the 70’s)
- Alzheimer’s disease (#3 killer today) and Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
- Cancer (various blood and solid types). Today, excluding skin cancer, 1:2 men and 1:3 women will get some kind of cancer in their lifetimes.
- Celiac disease and gluten intolerance
- Chronic kidney disease
- Diabetes. Rates are skyrocketing with 1/3rd of Americans living with diagnosed diabetes.
- Heart disease and Respiratory illnesses
- Inflammatory Bowl Diseases
- Liver disease
- Pregnancy problems (infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects)
- Obesity and Hypothyroidism
- Reproductive problems (today, 1:4 men and 1:3 women have reproductive issues, much of which is thought to be related to chemicals, particularly glyphosate)
GLYPHOSATE. Here is a more detailed list also explaining the direct effect of glyphosate, one of the worst of the chemical offenders: Diseases Associated with Glyphosate. Although we focus on the popular herbicide Roundup as the main source of glyphosate (and it is), there are over 750 products containing glyphosate for sale in the United States. Glyphosate Fact Sheet.
The Mississippi river takes the brunt of chemical contamination because of its vast drainage area. It collects about 80% of the Roundup in the US. The final 90 miles of this river, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, is called “Cancer Alley” since it has the highest rate of cancer cases in the world.
The world, mostly the US, has used so much glyphosate that it has been identified in tiny ants in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, never seen before by humans and thousands of miles from the nearest human settlements. It can me measured in 85% of rain and air samples in the US. Yes, you are drinking it and breathing it in everyday.
Most European countries have banned them many years ago. But in the US, glyphosate use has increased by 50x between 1995 and 2022! Glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in Roundup, is now being marketed as a desiccant (drying agent) to stabilize crops and remove leaves which makes harvesting crops easier. The USDA has allowed an increase of 300% in the allowable amounts of glyphosate they can apply to agricultural products. Glyphosate works by blocking an enzyme pathway which makes essential amino acids (the ones our bodies cannot make). This is called the shikamate pathway and it only occurs in soil bacteria, fungi and plants. Not in any animals including us. The problem is that by turning off this pathway in plants, those plants then become less nutritious and don’t absorb the essential amino acids our bodies need. The only reason that animal products have some essential amino acids is that they get it from the plants they eat so they are also affected. When we don’t consume these essential amino acids, we can’t make the proteins our bodies need.
In the US alone, farmers use over 300 million tons of Roundup/glyphosate per year. Worldwide, we use 4.5 billion pounds of it yearly. One result of pesticide and herbicide overuse is the development of herbicide resistant “superweeds” and “superbugs”, much like antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans from overuse of antibiotics. 50% of US farms are contaminated with these weeds which are much more aggressive and grow much larger than standard weeds choking out everything around them. The drug company’s response to this is to use more concentrated forms of glyphosate (which caused the problem in the first place) and add older, more potent and dangerous herbicides to the mix. This is known as the “pesticide treadmill” and it won’t stop until consumers stop buying products grown with pesticides and herbicides, demand transparency and go organic.
Chemically treated land becomes dead in a very short time, hence the need for fertilizer and soil supplements. Only 1 application of roundup kills 50% of the earthworms, crucial for soil health and aeration. It also kills the fungi and micro rhizomes which are the one of the most crucial contributors to soil health. It is a myth that these chemical increase crop yields. In fact, they do the opposite while destroying the land and causing massive disease.
Insects like the bee and butterfly are vital to our survival. These pollinators are responsible for at least 30% of the food we eat. Roundup has devastated the bee and monarch butterfly populations. In the case of bees, the chemical has directly caused them to die and their colony numbers to drastically decline to extreme levels. With butterflies, specifically the Monarch Butterfly, the chemical kills the Milkweed plant which is the butterfly’s primary source of nourishment. There has been an 80% decrease (over a billion) in the Monarch Butterfly population in the last 25 years (not surprisingly around the time that Roundup was starting to be used in significantly greater amounts).
Keep in mind that Roundup is not only used as a herbicide. As mentioned above, it is also used as a desiccant (drying agent) which makes it easier to harvest. This is important because even the non-GMO, Roundup-Ready crops, are sprayed with Roundup for this purpose. The plants are dying already, so why not just spray them to dry them and harvest them faster!!! In addition, using glyphosate (found in Roundup) is used as a means to produce more fruit in a shorter period of time. It “stresses” the soil. By killing everything in it, it is less nutritious. Plants sense this decreased nutrition and their stress response is to produce more progeny (fruit and seeds) in an attempt to reproduce more and survive.
Recently, multi-million dollar verdicts have been returned against Monsanto because of the cancer-causing effects of Roundup. As part of the scientific scrutiny, some other disturbing facts have surfaced. There are over 27 different configurations of Roundup and over 400 additional chemicals identified which are NOT even listed on the product label! Not only do we have to worry about the chemicals we know about. We now have to worry about the chemicals we don’t even know about!!
THE US IS THE ONLY INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTY WHICH HAS NOT BANNED OR SIGNIFICANTLY RESTRICTED ROUNDUP, AND GLYPHOSATE USE!
DDT. This is one of the most controversial chemical compounds in recent history. Originally developed as an effective insecticide, its potent toxicity is unfortunately not limited to insects. Banned by many countries including the United States, DDT is nonetheless still used both legally and illegally in some places.
DDT, also known as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, belongs to a class of pesticides known as organochlorides. It’s a solid, colorless, crystalline, synthetic chemical compound that can’t be dissolved in water. It is however easily dissolved in organic solvents, fats or oils. Because it is fat soluble, DDT can build up in the fatty tissues of animals that are exposed to it. This accumulated build-up is known as bioaccumulation. The EPA describes DDT as a “persistent, bio-accumulative toxin”. Because of this bioaccumulation, DDT remains in the food chain, moving from small animals like crayfish, frogs, and fish into the bodies of animals that eat them. As larger animals eat smaller animals, the DDT builds up. Therefore, DDT levels are often highest in the bodies of animals near the top of the food chain, notably in predatory birds like eagles, hawks, pelicans, condors and other meat-eating birds. It also accumulates in larger mammals like beef and pork partly because they are fed or consume contaminated grains and other feed “meal”, often made from the carcasses of other animals including seafood. Humans are at the top of the food chain in mammals and thus also accumulate the DDT they eat mostly from the animal products we consume. In fact, because DDT it is so fat-soluble, the only way humans can rid themselves of this toxin is through breast milk. This is why today, even 50 years after it was banned in the US (1973), everyone, including newborn babies, have DDT in their bodies! It gets passed along when mothers breastfeed their children. A recent Red Cross survey of donated blood blood identified DDT in 90% of those under 20. In the same survey, 90% of all donors had PFOS identified in their blood. This is th forever chemical which is in Teflon. This toxic compound does not just coat cooking pans and baking dishes. It is used to make everything more slipery, including such everyday products like tooth floss and all thosse wrappers you get you burger or burrito wrapped up in!.
DDT has serious health effects on humans. According to the EPA, DDT can cause liver damage including liver cancer, nervous system damage, congenital disabilities and other reproductive harm.
For more information about DDT, click here. THE HISTORY OF DDT
ATRAZINE and LETROZOLE – A SAD IRONY
Atrazine is the second most commonly used herbicide in the US behind glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup. It turns on the enzyme aromatase, which is responsible for converting testosterone into estrogen. By increasing estrogen levels, atrazine contributes significantly to the development of breast cancer. Syngenta, the company which makes atrazine, also happens to make a pharmaceutical drug Letrozole, which is an aromatase-inhibitor. So the same company which makes the herbicide which causes cancer, also makes the drug which treats cancer through an opposing mechanism.
2,4-D. 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) is one of the cheapest and most common weed killers in the country. This toxic herbicide comes with known health risks, but it’s still being used on crops, in parks, and maybe even in your own backyard. Developed by Dow Chemical in the 1940’s, this herbicide helped usher in the clean, green, pristine lawns of postwar America. But the chemical poses a danger to both human health and the environment.
The pesticide, which allows not just grasses but also fruits and vegetables to flourish, attacks both the roots and leaves of weeds by making the unwanted plant’s cells grow out of control. It is basically like inducing cancer in the plant to kill it or drastically slow its spread. It’s used widely in agriculture in soybean, corn, sugarcane, and wheat fields, and it turns up in most “weed and feed” products as well as in many lawn treatments. The herbicide was once considered clean and green but is no longer safe by today’s standards.
Exposure to 2,4-D is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a blood cancer) and sarcoma (a soft-tissue cancer). The latter is particularly deadly. But both of these can be caused by a number of chemicals, including dioxin, which was frequently mixed into formulations of 2,4-D until the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared 2,4-D a possible human carcinogen, based on evidence that it damages human cells and, in a number of studies, caused cancer in laboratory animals.
2,4-D is also an endocrine-disrupting chemical which mimics or inhibits the body’s hormones, like the chemical BPA in plastics. 2,4-D impedes the normal action of estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones. Dozens of epidemiological, animal, and laboratory studies have shown a link between 2,4-D and thyroid disorders. 2,4-D can also decrease fertility and raise the risk of birth defects. Developing fetuses, infants, and children are at highest risk of these problems.
Despite concerns about the health risks, in 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the combined use of 2,4-D and the popular and deadly weed killer Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate, the worst offender worldwide. Enlist Duo, as the combo is called, was already legal in at least 34 states. It is used mainly on big farms, where it is sprayed on genetically modified crops called “Enlist Soy” and “Enlist Corn” that have been engineered to be resistant to the poisons.
In other words, farmers can now douse their fields with high concentrations of the weed killer without worrying that it will also destroy their crops. Originally, plants genetically engineered to resist Roundup were sprayed with that herbicide alone. But when the weeds it was intended to kill also developed resistance, 2,4-D was added to make the mix more effective. These chemicals by themselves can be problematic, but when you start combining them with other toxic chemicals, you’re just creating a new problem in order to solve another problem.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that by 2020, the use of 2,4-D on America’s farms could increase as high as 600% now that it has been approved as part of Enlist Duo. Combine increased use with the potential for increased developmental, cancer, and other health impacts, you could create a perfect storm of hazard and exposure coming together.
Also alarming is the fact that 2,4-D sticks around in the environment. Depending on the formulation, it can drift through the air from the fields where it is sprayed or be tracked inside homes by pets or children. By the EPA’s own measure, 2,4-D has already been detected in groundwater and surface water, as well as in drinking water. Australian scientists reported in 2012 that it was found in more than 90% of samples taken from agricultural catchments bordering the Great Barrier Reef, and it is toxic to fish. It can also poison small mammals, including dogs who can ingest it after eating grass treated with 2,4-D.
The easiest way to avoid 2,4-D is to avoid the products that contain it. You can ask your town whether 2,4-D is used in specific parks. You can also visit the website of the National Pesticide Information Center, which has easy-to-read fact sheets on 2,4-D and most other pesticides. If you think you, your child, or your pet have been in contact with plants recently treated with 2,4-D or any other pesticide, contact a poison-control center.
ARSENIC. Although arsenic is a naturally occurring compound, it was used for many years, starting in the 1800’s, as a pesticide. In the south particularly, massive amounts were used until it was partially banned for use in the 1980’s (it is still approved for use on cotton crops). Rice is known to be an “arsenic sponge” and absorbs lots of it from the environment. In fact, rice was originally planted in some places to try to get rid of the arsenic. There was so much contamination that it didn’t work. So what did they do? Might as well sell the rice to unsuspecting consumers and it is still going on. There are some rice brands that are so contaminated that only one serving contains more arsenic than what the FDA recommends in 1 year of exposure! Californian and East Indian rice sources are healthier options. Just because it is labeled as USDA Organic does NOT mean that it is arsenic free or safe to eat. The organic label just refers to how it is grown and which products can be used on them, not WHERE and in what kind of soil it was grown in.
BT Toxin. Bt toxins are a diverse family of protein toxins produced in nature by the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis, (BT) a gut pathogen of many species. Naturally occurring toxins of BT, known as Cry toxins and Cyt toxins, are believed to all have very limited toxicity range. These toxins exist in nature as crystals packaged around DNA. Through a complex sequence of unpacking and protein processing steps, these molecules are converted to active toxins and kill their specific microbial targets by creating holes in the membranes of their gut lining. Although the chemical industry insists that this only occurs in insects and not mammals, the evidence shows that the opposite is true.
Commercially, genetically modified Bt toxin-expressing corn (the most common crop affected), cotton and soybeans are widely grown around the world. Every cell of these manufactured plants secrete this toxin continuously. GMO Bt crop varieties synthesize these Bt toxins and can contain numerous different Bt transgenes, each with somewhat different pest control properties. The toxin is administered on purpose to kill insects. As a spray, it only becomes active when exposed to the alkaline environment of the insect’s intestinal tract. In the genetically modified version, which again is secreted by the plant continuously and does not have to be sprayed on, this safety mechanism is bypassed and the toxin does not have to be exposed to the gut environment and is immediately toxic. It not only pokes holes in the gut wall, it destroys the lining and also kills healthy gut bacteria. This occurs not only in insects but humans as well. As a sprayed-on application, it can be washed off. Inside GMO corn, it can’t be washed off and we consume a dose 1000’s of times higher than in the spray form. It can create leaky gut which allows other compounds to enter the bloodstream which is associated with numerous conditions.
The Bt toxin, known to be highly toxic to human embryo kidney cells, can now be measured in newborn fetal blood. A study in Canada identified it in 93% of the pregnant women and 80% of their fetuses measured from cord blood. Developing embryos do not have an intact blood brain barrier and are more susceptible to various toxins and chemicals, including Bt. For more information about chemicals identified in newborn babies, check out the YouTube video “10 Americans”.
As mentioned on a the Important things to remember about FOOD, EATING and HEALTH page, although chemicals are mostly on the surface of fruits and vegetables, some are actually designed to penetrate through the skin to reach the flesh. Some are even injected directly into the root system of plants like strawberries and potatoes. Washing helps for some of them, especially if you use a baking soda and water soak first, but for others, washing and even peeling will not help. Avoiding them altogether, especially the “Dirty Dozen“, is still the safest.
TRIBUTYLTIN (TBT) is a biocide which for many years was used on the hulls of boats since it was found to inhibit the growth of barnacles, algae and other marine organisms. Copper used to be used for this purpose but painting on a chemical was a lot easier than nailing copper sheaths onto the hull was a lot easier. Although it’s been banned in the marine industry because of its devastating destructive effects on marine life, it is still used to stabilize plastics in food packaging. It is now known to be a hormone disruptor, having a major impact on obesity and not only in the person injecting these compounds, but even 3 generations down the line.
TBT selectively activates the peroxisome proliferator receptors (PRARs) receptor on cells. PRARs attach to specific parts of the DNA sequence, activating genes downstream to them. PRARs have been the interest of pharmaceutical companies developing drugs to treat diabetes but the difference is in the types of cells the medications and TBT target.
Phthalates, used in packaging as well as many personal care products like shampoos, are particularly good at interacting with PRARs. Phthalates, TBT and other PRAR-stimulating chemicals disrupt the metabolic function of the liver, causing mismanagement of calorie processing and diverting consumed food into fat rather muscle.
MoCap is a commercially available insecticide and nematicide (kills nematodes). It’s active ingredient is Ethoprop (O-Ethyl S, S-Dipropyl Phosphorodithioate). Although classified as a “restricted use” compound, you can easily buy it at home improvement stores and order it on Amazon in the US. Allowable amounts identified on strawberries sold commercially is 5ppm in Canada but 40ppm, 8x more, in the US. Mexico, a large strawberry importer, allows 100ppm. That is why strawberries are always one of the top produce items in the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” plants to only buy organically.
Here is a brief history of soil depletion and the use of chemicals: History of Soil Depletion, Chemicals and Disease Risk.
GMO Seeds. 70% of the seeds sold worldwide are controlled by 3 companies. 1) Bayer (new owners of Monsanto), 2) Dupont and 3) Chem China. All three companies started, and continue to function, primarily as chemical companies and not surprisingly, they also develop and sell the pesticides and herbicides which their seeds/plants are not affected by. Quite a monopoly.
LAWNS ARE DESTROYING THE PLANET
Americans are obsessed with their lawns. 63,000 square miles of America are covered with lawns. That’s 40 million acres; about the size of Texas. It’s the most grown crop in the United States and it’s not even one that anyone can eat. It is also the crop which uses the most water.
It’s primary purpose is to make us look and feel good about ourselves. Lawns are tremendously wasteful. In addition to all the wasted family time spent manicuring the grass, lawns require the equivalent of 200 gallons of drinking water per person per day.
Herbicides account for the highest usage of pesticides in the home and garden sector with over 90 million pounds applied on lawns and gardens per year. Suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticide applications per acre (3.2-9.8 lbs.) than agriculture (2.7 lbs. per acre on average). Joe Shmo on the corner uses more pesticides and herbicides that the average farmer! Why, because for a farmer, chemicals are money and they run their businesses on a shoestring budget, often living on loans, one year after the other. The average homeowner just goes down to Home Depot, picks up a cheap bottle of Roundup and starts spraying away. The craziest part is that the “weeds” most commonly targeted by lawn and garden manicurists, the lowly dandelion, is the most nutritious thing you can eat, averaging 10x the phytonutrient density than the next most nutritious green, spinach.
Pesticide sales by the chemical industry average $9.3 billion. Annual sales of the landscape industry are over $35 billion. Included in that price are the most commonly used pesticides per pounds per year are: 2,4-D (8-11 million), Glyphosate (5-8 million), MCPP (Mecoprop) (4-6 million), Pendimethalin (3-6 million), Dicamba (2-4 million).
Only 14% of lawn owners use strictly “non-toxic” products on their lawns. The majority are spraying harmful chemicals. 78 million households in the U.S. use home and garden pesticides.
HEALTH & EXPOSURE RISKS. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system. Studies find pesticide residues such as the weed killer 2,4-D and the insecticide carbaryl inside homes, due to drift and track-in, where they contaminate air, dust, surfaces and carpets and expose children at levels ten times higher than pre application levels.
CHILDREN & PESTICIDES. Children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that make them more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxins. The National Academy of Sciences estimates 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first 5 years of life. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds home and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia by almost 7x. Studies show low levels of
exposure to actual lawn pesticide products are linked to increased rates of miscarriage, and suppression of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Exposure to home and garden pesticides can increase a child’s likelihood of developing asthma. Studies link pesticides with hyperactivity, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction. Children ages 6-11 have higher levels of lawn chemicals in their blood than all other age categories. Bio-monitoring studies find that pesticides pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk.
WILDLIFE, PETS & PESTICIDES. Studies find that dogs exposed to herbicide-treated lawns and gardens can double their chance of developing canine lymphoma and may increase the risk of bladder cancer in certain breeds by 4-7x. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides: 16 are toxic to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 11 are deadly to bees. Pesticides can be toxic to wildlife and cause food source contamination, behavioral abnormalities that interfere with survival, and death. Lawn and garden pesticides are deadly to non-target species and can harm beneficial insects and soil microorganisms essential to a naturally healthy lawn. In the agricultural industry, only 1 application of Roundup (glyphosate) kills more than half the earthworms which are crucial to soil health and plant growth and nourishment. Because of the frequent applications, all the earthworm, not to mention all the other soil microbial life, is decimated.
PESTICIDES IN THE WATER. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, and 23 have the potential to leach. Runoff has resulted in a widespread presence of pesticides in streams and groundwater. 2,4-D, found in weed and feed and other lawn products, is the herbicide most frequently detected in streams and shallow ground water from urban lawns. Of the 50 chemicals on EPA’s list of unregulated drinking water contaminants, several are lawn chemicals including herbicides diazinon, diuron, naphthalene, and various triazines such as atrazine. Runoff from synthetic chemical fertilizers pollutes streams and lakes and causes algae blooms, depleted oxygen and damage to aquatic life. THE
REGISTRATION SYSTEM & PESTICIDE REGULATION (OR MORE APPROPRIATELY – LACK OF REGULATION). The health data assessed by EPA for the registration of pesticides comes from the manufacturer of the pesticide. EPA is not obligated under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to review peer-reviewed scientific literature. The U.S. GAO has told Congress on several occasions that the public is misled on pesticide safety by statements characterizing pesticides as “safe” or “harmless.” The EPA states that no pesticide is 100% safe.
POLLINATORS – “The Birds and the Bees”
Worldwide, there are over 200,000 species of pollinators. Although we think immediately of the bees, which still are the main actors, there are many other species which pollinate. These include:
- Birds like hummingbirds
- Primates like lemurs
- Crawling insects like beetles
- Flying insects including wasps and flies
All kinds of animals interact with plants. They move genetic material around. Sometimes from plant to plant and sometimes inside the individual flower. They provide food for us and food for plants.
Angiosperms are vascular seed plants in which the ovule (egg) is fertilized and develops into a seed in an enclosed hollow ovary. The ovary itself is usually enclosed in a flower, that part of the angiospermous plant that contains the male or female reproductive organs or both. These plants must have some kind of pollination to reproduce and survive. Sometimes it is wind and sometimes water but for ~80% of flowering and fruiting plants, they need some kind of other vehicle like an animal which moves the pollen from flower to flower. The animals are getting a resource from the flower as well. Carbohydrates from the nectar and the pollen itself.
Plants do amazing things to attract pollinators:
- Flowers that only bloom once in the amazon attracting pollinators who travel from many miles away because of a strange odor.
- Some have ultraviolet (UV) landing strips on certain plants and flowers because birds can see the UV light spectrum.
- A beak will match a flower that is tubular or a long tongue will match a flower that has certain pollen that has to be gathered from the sides.
There are 2 types of pollination. Sometimes it’s just moving the female material to the male part within the same flower (the pistil and the stamen). Other times, it is moving genetic material from plant to plant. With some crop species, there are male and female so the genetic material must move for the plant to survive. It’s essentially sexual reproduction. It’s “sex in the garden” and where the term “birds and the bees” comes from.
As mentioned above, ~ 80% of flowering and fruiting plants rely on pollination. Certain fruits and vegetables require pollination. A good example are almonds. You don’t get an almond unless you get a bee visit. Almonds are the largest export from California which is why almond pollination is such a big deal in the honey bee industry. Almost 70% of all the bees in the US are trucked to California for the almond pollination season.
Other crops requiring pollination are pears and cherries in the Pacific NW. Cherries and Apples in Michigan. Blueberries from Maine. The same bees are transported to Florida, Texas or South Dakota for the summer. The bees are transported in trucks at night to help keep them cool. They are moved using forklifts. They must have a supply water and food. The bees are also co-mingling with local insects which can also spread disease. The transportation system is very challenging so many farms are starting to keep their own bees.
Other crops which rely on pollination include:
- clover and alfalfa which cattle consume so even meat production can be affected.
There are 4000 species of bees in the US. There are 20,000 species worldwide. Honey bees are actually not native to the US. They came with colonists from Europe and used to be called “white man’s flies” by native Americans.
The reason bees are in trouble is multi-factorial. Obviously, pesticides are a major factor. Other contributors include pathogens introduced from other species and parasites. But the biggest contributor is lack of real estate. They don’t have a place to forage for food nor do they have good food sources. If you are well nourished and exposed to some pesticides or parasites, you can usually deal with it but if you are starving at the same time, you are not as resilient. The same is happening with the bees. Many of the plants we use in our home and park environments are ornamental and are not good sources of food for the bees. Cover crops can provide both food for the bees and enhance the soil since bees are ground nesters. The bees are not just pollinators, they are maintainers of our ecosystem. Although pesticides have been demonized, they are helpful but only if used conservatively and smartly. Some pesticides are worse for the bees than others like nicatinoids, which are being slowly more regulated in the US. Not so much in other places like developing countries.
The European Union is much more progressive when it comes to chemical controls. Many have been banned. Not only are the type and amount of pesticide use important, the timing of pesticide use is crucial. If they spray when plants are blooming, that is the worst time for the pollinators since they are most active. The simple act of limiting pesticide use when plants are blooming can have a huge positive impact on pollinator health.
Pathogens harming bees include bacteria, viruses and other microbes. Some diseases are specific to geographic areas but because of all the transportation of bees, these infections move around, just like in human populations. There is also a mite issue. Virtually every bee hive in the US has been infested with a mite called a varroa mite. They are very destructive and kill the bees’ offspring. It is an infestation which originated in China. It’s a vector for all other pathogens as well.
Climate change is also quite impactful. Everything that affects the environment affects pollinators first. They have nowhere else to go. They tell time by temperature. If the plant that they need for their resources emerges at the wrong time or if extreme weather takes away those plants, these things affect them first. They can’t adapt the way we can.
You can help by planting plants which the bees can feed off of. Bees are peaceful, not something to be afraid of. Unlike wasps, they rarely sting anyone. Also, limit or eliminate use of herbicide or pesticides. Hobbyist beekeeping is good but not often maintained. The average is 3 years. It’s better to plant native, local plants which feed the bees or butterflies. The Monarch butterfly population has been devastated, primarily because of the herbicide glyphosate, the main ingredient in the popular Roundup weed-killer every single hardware and home “improvement” store sells. It kills all kinds of beneficial plants including milkweed, the primary source of nourishment for butterflies. Plant it at home and you will help the butterflies. Stop using roundup and other chemicals and everyone will be better off also.
Although we think bees as producers of honey, they make a few other very important products like Royal Jelly and a substance called Propolis. For more information about this, please visit my Animal page. Click HERE.
In a nutshell, bees dying off because of a combination of things, all man-made, and they include:
- Global warming
- Loss of habitat
- Colony collapse disorder (mite infection)
WHYDON’T SOME VEGANS EAT HONEY?
Vegans do not consume any foods which come from or are produced by animals. Some very strict vegans even avoid foods which are commercially pollinated by bees as these bees are abused. Some foods commonly produced this way include almonds and avocados so this can be a real big issue for many people. The issue of products “produced by” animals is sometimes obvious, for example in the case of dairy products such as cheese and milk. But in some cases, these products are more vague. Honey is one of these gray zones.
There is no question that bees are just as sentient as any other animal and are deserving of protection. Bees have a brain and nervous system, and have been shown to demonstrate emotions and even exhibit pessimism, a significant sign of intelligence.
In the commercial honey industry, there are several unethical practices that are carried out on bees, including instrumental insemination (yes, this is actually possible), where typically between 8 to 12 drones are crushed to death and have their semen extracted from them. The queen bee is then restrained and has the semen injected inside of her. The queen bee will often have either one or both of her wings clipped, which is done as a means of identifying the queen bee and also to prevent swarming, which is where a single bee colony will split into two or more distinct colonies. This is bad for business as it reduces the honey production from that hive.
Queen bees can be purchased online. They already have had their wings clipped and they can be mailed to your house.
Another terrible practice is intentional culling (killing off) of bees. When the honey has been harvested, the hives are often destroyed for the winter since it’s cheaper to kill off the entire hive than it is to make sure they have food during the winter months. Bee farmers will also often cull hives who aren’t displaying the ‘right’ temperament.
There are a number of ways that beekeepers will cull bee colonies. Practices include sealing off the hive and then pouring gasoline into the hive, drowning them with soapy water or gassing them to death with carbon dioxide. Alternatively some beekeepers will trap the bees in large industrial bin bags, which are then left in the sun to ensure the bees either suffocate to death or die due to the increasingly high temperatures in the bag. Sometimes beekeepers won’t cull the entire hive, but will instead “de-populate” a certain number of bees, or kill the queen.
Honey is a bee’s food. It is produced by bees by them swallowing nectar from plants, regurgitating it and then repeating this process many times. It takes about 12 worker bees an entire lifetime to create a single teaspoon of honey. However, because we take the honey, if the bees aren’t culled, they will be fed a sugar syrup which is missing many of the essential aspects of the honey that the bees require to be healthy. Couple this with the fact that honey bees are selectively bred, meaning that the population gene pool is narrowed, they are consequently at a significantly higher risk of diseases and large-scale die offs.
Furthermore, honeybee hives are regularly traded locally and internationally, allowing the rapid spread of diseases and parasites, such as deformed wing virus and Varroa mite infections. These pathogens can affect wild bumblebee populations and spread between wild bee species when they visit the same flower.
It is a myth that we need to eat honey because bee populations are in decline. It’s no secret that bee populations are in decline across the world, but in the past 50 years, the honey bee population has increased by 45%, so is the honey industry actually helping?
There are well over 270 bee species. Honey bees, being but one of these species, can actively harm wild bee populations because they compete directly for nectar and pollen. Meaning that wild bees can be outcompeted. Initiatives such as urban beekeeping put more pressure on wild bees and worsen the decline. It is important for natural ecosystems that there are a variety of pollinators, as different pollinators will pollinate different plants.
Honey bees are extremely efficient at collecting pollen and returning it to their hives, but as a consequence they transfer little to the flowers they visit. They are much less effective at pollination than wild bees, and when honeybees occur in high numbers, they can push wild bees out of an area, making it harder for wild plants to reproduce, which is a huge problem because a lack of wild flowers is one of the main factors behind the decline in bee populations.
The Department of Zoology at Cambridge University made the following statement:
“The crisis in global pollinator decline has been associated with one species above all, the western honeybee. Honey Bees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows. But honeybees can roam beyond any enclosures to disrupt local ecosystems through competition and disease. Keeping honeybees is an extractive activity. It removes pollen and nectar from the environment, which are natural resources needed by many wild species of bee and other pollinators. Saving the honeybee does not help wildlife. Western honey bees are a commercially managed species that can actually have negative effects on their immediate environment through the massive numbers in which they are introduced.”
Ultimately, the production of honey has serious ethical concerns and from an environmental perspective, is contributing to the very problem that many of us think we are helping by purchasing honey in the first place.
If we really want to protect wild bees, we should focus on creating wildflower meadows and using our outdoor spaces more effectively in order to maximize the pollinator potential of a natural world. The best way we can do this is by adopting a vegan lifestyle and repurposing land that is currently used for animal agriculture. The most comprehensive study ever conducted on farming’s impact on the environment, concluded that we could free up 75% of current agricultural land by switching to a plant based diet. Click here for a link to this study.
Now that’s a lot of land for wild bees and pollinators.
COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER
Honeybees were domesticated before recorded history. In addition to producing honey, bees are essential for pollinating crops, from field crops to tree fruit and nuts to berries. It’s estimated that as much as 75% of the world’s crops overall require pollination by insects and bees are the main insect pollinator. It’s also estimated that if the bees were to disappear, as they are slowing doing, 90% of the fruit and vegetables we buy in grocery stores would be gone. Nearly 1 million tons of honey are produced worldwide each year, with China as the world’s largest producer of honey at almost 400,000 tons. We seem to have conveniently forgotten that bees make honey since it’s their ONLY source of nourishment.
Colony Collapse Disorder is a term coined to describe the disappearance or death of entire bee colonies. It’s reached epidemic levels. While there are many associated factors, no single cause has been identified. The 3 main issues involved with the decreases in colonies and the bee population in general are 1) Habitat loss, 2) Pesticides and 3) Infections.
HABITAT LOSS. This not only includes the loss of physical areas to pollinate because of urbanization, development and loss of natural environments but also because of mono-cropping. Because most farmers tend to plant only one crop, or massive fields of one crop next to another, there is not much variety of plants for the bees to pollinate and cross pollinate. Pollinators like variety. This is what keeps them and our wild environment healthy. Mono-cropping also leads to limited bloom periods which is when bees gather their pollen. Mono-crops also develop more concentrated plant-specific invasive insects and weeds, leading to more chemical use over farms which have multiple crops or rotate crops more frequently.
PESTICIDES. Thought now to be the main contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder the toxic effects of Neonicotinoids in particular are clear. Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. They impact on the bees’ neuro-reasoning abilities. Compared to organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonicotinoids cause less toxicity in birds and mammals than insects. In 2013, the European Union and a few non-EU countries (NOT the US however) restricted the use of certain neonicotinoids and in 2018, the EU banned them altogether. Several states in the United States have also restricted usage of neonicotinoids out of concern for pollinators and bees but most have not. The nicotinic receptors that these chemicals bind to are the same ones that nicotine from tobacco binds to and have similar effects. In fact, studies have shown that bees preferentially drink water laced with these pesticides rather than sugar water. The addictive effect of stimulating the nicotine receptors disorients them and they can’t make it back to the hive and die.
INFECTIONS. Numerous types of infections have plagued bee populations. The most dangerous seems to be Foulbrood. If this larva is found in a beehive, the beekeepers are required to destroy, usually by burning, the entire hive since it is so infectious.
MONOCROPING. Farmers tend to grow massive fields of one crop. Year after year of growing the same thing is horrible for the soil but also horrible for the bees. They need variety and these massive fields of individual crops have contributed to their demise.
BEE KEEPING. It’s not as beneficial as you might think. Bee keeping is actually harmful to the native, wild bee population. Beekeeping increases competition for already limited resources. As humans continue to monocrop, destroy wild lands and as the amount of wild plants decreases, there is less and less food for the bees. What helps the bees the most is to plant wild flowers and flowering trees on your property.
Most wild bees do not establish hives in the traditional sense. Most actually burrow in the ground or form nests in wildly preserved forests and fields. This is another reason to preserve as much wildlands as possible.
DISEASES OF BEES
There are thousands of different species of bees in the world, but the two most important for beekeeping are the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, and the eastern honey bee, A. cerana. Bees are social insects living in hives consisting of one queen, many workers, all female, and a few drones, the males whose only role is to mate with the queen. The queen, the only fertile female, lays eggs in the hexagonal cells made of beeswax in the comb. These quickly hatch into larvae, which are fed royal jelly by the workers for the first few days. When they pupate the cells are capped, and the adults emerge several days later. The life cycle of bees can be as little as 12 days. The term “brood” is used to refer to the embryo or egg, the larva and the pupa stages.
Bees, like all animals including humans, are susceptible to bacteria, viruses, and parasites. When in a state of optimum health and nourishment they have better resistance. Environmental challenges, including chemical products to protect crops from insects and weeds, can have detrimental effects on bee health, particularly when they host pathogens. These pathogens are all spread by movement of bees and equipment, movement of supplies, and shipping of bees (queens, eggs, etc.) all over the world, wherever bees are raised.
Six diseases of bees, none of which are threatening to humans, are listed in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code:
- Foulbrood of honey bees, American and European forms
- Acarapisosis of honey bees
- Small hive beetle infestation (Aethina tumida)
- Tropilaelaps infestation of honey bees
- Varroosis of honey bees.
American Foulbrood (AFB) is a serious disease of honey bees. It is caused by a spore forming bacteria called Paenibacillus larvae. It occurs throughout the world. The bacteria kill the larvae in the brood cell. In infected hives the colony has a mottled look due to empty cells, there may be a typical smell, and the brood is slimy. AFB is spread by bacterial spores formed in infected larvae which are very resistant and survive many years. The spores spread the disease by transfer of wax, of queens, in exchange of combs, or of contaminated honey. The diagnosis is confirmed by identifying the bacteria by molecular means, by culture or microscopy. Treatment with antibiotics will destroy the vegetative bacteria, but does not kill the spores, so the disease will recur. Therefore, it is often recommended to burn the hive and equipment, as this may be the only way to destroy the spores.
European Foulbrood (EFB) of honey bees is caused by the bacteria Melisococcus plutonius. In spite of the name, it is found in North and South America, the Middle East and Asia. Like AFB, EFB bacteria kill the larvae leaving empty cells left in the comb. The disease is spread by mechanical contamination of honeycombs, and tends therefore to persist from year to year. It can also be spread by bees that survived infection as larvae, and spread the bacteria in their feces.
Acarapiosis is caused by a microscopic mite, Acarapis woodi, called the tracheal mite, an internal parasite of the respiratory system of adult bees that feeds on hemolymph. Acarapiosis has been found in North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. The mortality rate varies, but a heavy infestation causes high mortality. They spread to bees by direct contact, and newly hatched adults are most susceptible. Diagnosis is by visualizing the mites in the trachea.
Small Hive Beetle Infestation: The small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, is a scavenger and parasite of honey bee colonies. The beetle is native to Africa, but was introduced to the US, Egypt, Canada, and Australia by commercial movement of bees. Considered a minor pest in its home range, it has become a major problem in introduced areas. Both adult and larval beetles feed on larvae, pollen, honey and bee brood. The adult female lays her eggs in the hive. The larvae hatch and feed on brood, pollen and honey, then leave the hive to pupate in the soil, where the adults hatch, then fly to look for new hives. Spread can therefore be rapid, as the adults have a range of several miles. When infestation is heavy, the bees may desert the hive.
Tropilaelaps: There are several species of Tropilaelaps mites, notably Tropilaelaps clareae and T. koenigerum. Each species has a different geographic range, but they are all found in Asia. These mites are external parasites which feed on brood (bee larva and pupae) and cause an irregular pattern of sealed and unsealed brood, as well as deformities in adults. They spread by direct contact from bee to bee or by movement of brood.
Varroosis: Varroosis is caused by a mite, an external parasite of adults and brood. There are four species of varroa mite, but Varroa destructor is the most important. They are found throughout the world except for Australia and the south island of New Zealand. Known to spread a virus that causes deformed wing disease, adult bees affected with varroosis also have shrunken abdomens. Early signs of infection normally go unnoticed, and only when infection is heavy does it become apparent, with adult mites being seen on bees. The infection spreads by direct contact from adult bee to adult bee, and by the movement of infested bees and bee brood. The mite can also act as a vector for viruses of the honey bee.
For more information, visit the World Organization for Animal Health website.
BACKYARD BEEKEEPING – IT DOESN’T HELP THE BEES!
In response to the decreasing bee population, many people worldwide have taken to backyard beekeeping but saving the bees doesn’t mean breeding honeybees and stealing their honey. Much of the backyard beekeeping industry is rooted in speciesism, a term used in philosophy regarding the treatment of individuals of different species. Beekeeping assumes that we have a right to steal honey, beeswax, and the honeycomb from bees who work hard to produce it for themselves. And bees do work very hard. As mentioned in the section above, it takes 12 bees a lifetime to produce just 1 teaspoon of honey.
If you’re thinking about getting into backyard beekeeping, here are some things you should know:
Backyard Beekeeping Doesn’t ‘Save the Bees’
When scientists talk about “saving the bees,” they aren’t talking about the species most backyard beekeepers raise. The most common species used for backyard beekeeping is the European honeybee, a non-native, domesticated species imported to North America to be used in agriculture. These colonies compete for resources with native bees, who are actually much better pollinators and are the ones facing extinction, and other insects. Honey Bees are not the only pollinators out there. First of all, there are a few hundred varieties of bees. Secondly, many other insects and even mammals such as rodents and birds, are active pollinators, and are just as important to our world ecosystem.
While honeybees are more interested in nectar, native species actively collect pollen. They’re also much better at pollinating native plants, which supports overall biodiversity and ecosystem health.
The best thing you can do to help bees is to support struggling native species by making your yard a friendly haven, full of bee-friendly native plants and bee houses. Mason, leafcutter, and miner bees are just a few of the species you might spot, but there are more than 4,000 types native to the U.S.!
Other Issues With Backyard Beekeeping
Many backyard colonies die because people don’t realize just how much work and responsibility are involved in keeping a thriving hive. Honey bee colonies are highly susceptible to disease, poor nutrition, and parasites. Varroa mites can infest colonies, where they feed and live on larvae, pupae, and even adult honeybees, which can eventually lead to the spread of diseases and viruses, colony collapse, and death. Novice beekeepers might not have the knowledge, funds, or experience to manage infestations, which can also spread to nearby hives.
Bees produce honey and build comb from beeswax in order to nourish themselves and support their hives. Stealing their hard work is inherently speciesist. Their honey belongs to them, not to us. Many people take up backyard beekeeping in order to have their own source of honey, while claiming to support bee populations. But most native species either don’t produce honey or don’t produce enough for humans to collect. If you really care about the well-being of these friendly pollinators, leaving them alone and simply turning your yard into a bee-friendly place are the best things you can do for them.
If you’re already caring for bees in your backyard, be sure you’re well versed in the proper care techniques so you can protect them from disease, Varroa mites, and other harm.
Do More to Help Bees
There are plenty of delicious sweeteners you can use instead of honey, including agave nectar and maple syrup. Be sure to buy beeswax-free cosmetics and soy-based candles for your home. Finally, support the local bee population by planting pollinator-friendly native plants, putting bee homes or hotels in your yard, and avoiding the use of pesticides.
OCEAN DEAD ZONES
Since 1940, we have dumped 40,000 different types of chemicals into our oceans wreaking all kinds of havoc. In some places, there are zones called “dead zones” where there is no longer ANY life whatsoever in the water. In 1960, there we 49 known ocean dead zones. Today, around the world, there are over 600. These are areas where there is no life in the water whatsoever other than possibly algae like the “red tide”. These zones typically occur at the mouths of large rivers where they flow into the ocean, downstream from either factory animal farms, commercial agricultural farms using a lot of pesticides, chemical and industrial plants or all of these. There is an ocean dead zone the size of the entire state of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 ton of fish die each year because of these chemicals, in addition to the sea life which dies from the lack of oxygen and algae blooms which are devastating.
Although you would think that the chemical plants must be the source of the deadly chemicals, the vast majority of these zones are a result of the animal waste from factory farms as well as the pesticides used in the feed that they consume or the large commercial crop farms. The dead zones usually are a result of an imbalance of nitrogen to oxygen. Both are important for life but when there is an excess of nitrogen, which is in very high concentrations in pesticides, herbicides and animal waste, there is less oxygen available and the waters become deadly. The nitrogen also acts as a fertilizer for algae which then overgrows and chokes out all other animal and plant life. In addition, the chemicals and waste products from these farms and plants are directly toxic to life.
Another way the oceans and sea life are suffering has to do with CO2. Oceans absorb 30% of the CO2 in the air. As levels rise, oceans become more and more acidified and this kills marine life.
One other extremely concerning impact of pollution on waterways and more specifically on its inhabitants has to do with the “feminization” of the fish population. Many chemicals as well as all the plastics which pollute our waters leach out chemicals which are known as hormone disrupters. They cause a myriad of health problems and in male fish, it is causing them to express female characteristics. About 85 percent of male small-mouth bass collected in national wildlife refuges in the Northeastern U.S. had eggs growing in their testes. Pollutants that mimic sex hormones are the suspected culprit.
Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. Seawater is slightly basic (meaning pH > 7), and ocean acidification involves a shift towards pH-neutral conditions rather than a transition to acidic conditions (pH < 7). An estimated 30–40% of the carbon dioxide from human activity released into the atmosphere dissolves into oceans, rivers and lakes. Between 1751 and 1996, surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.25 to 8.14, representing an increased acidification of almost 30%. Increasing acidity is thought to have a range of potentially harmful consequences for marine organisms, such as depressing metabolic rates and immune responses in some organisms as well as destroying coral by causing coral bleaching.
Acidification has massive implications for the ecosystems that rely on shellfish and the role they play in the environment. For example, an adult oyster is capable of filtering 25-50 gallons of water a day! Fifty years ago, the native oyster population could filter the entire Chesapeake in five days. Fishing and disease outbreaks have reduced oysters to just 1% of their historic population. Restoration efforts are underway in many places around the nation, but acidification could threaten that work. Oyster reefs provide shelter for fish and crabs, and they filter water clear of tiny algae and particles. This encourages more sea grass to grow, which provides homes for other species like rock fish and blue crabs.
WATER USAGE and SCARCITY
71% of the planet’s surface is covered with water but only 2.5% of the surface water is fresh water. Of all the fresh water, only 1% (i.e. only 0.3% of all fresh water) is readily accessible to humans for consumption or industrial and commercial use. The rest is locked up in glaciers and snow fields which are rapidly melting into the seas and oceans.
The Colorado river doesn’t even make it to its end anymore. Most of it is diverted for factory farming.
The Ogallala Aquifer is down 40%. This aquifer is one of the world’s largest, underlying an area of approximately 174,000 sq. mi in portions of 8 states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas). Large scale extraction for agricultural purposes started after World War II due partially to center pivot irrigation and to the adaptation of automotive engines for groundwater wells. Today about 27% of the irrigated land in the entire United States lies over the aquifer, which yields about 30% of the groundwater used for irrigation in the United States. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall.
The aquifer system supplies drinking water to 82% of the 2.3 million people (1990 census) who live within the boundaries of the High Plains study area.
In 2017, almost 1 billion people worldwide lacked access to clean water. Another way of looking at this is that 1 in 8 people does not have access to clean drinking water. Worldwide, 2.7 billion people find water scarce at least one month a year. At our pace of population growth, along with our use and abuse of water, by 2025, two-thirds (66%) of the world’s population may face water shortages. Cape Town, South Africa, a city of almost 1/2 a million people, has been teetering on the completely running out of water for years and it was predicted that by the end of 2018 there will be none left. In California’s Central Valley, almost 1 million people do not have regular access to safe drinking water, even by our federal government’s standards. California only recycle 9% f their “grey” water (Greywater is water from your bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines but not toilets). In Israel, where water scarcity is a real problem, they recycle 80% of their grey water. We need to do a better job.
Although humans waste a tremendous amount of water (the average American household uses 400 gallons of water per day), the most egregious source of water usage and waste is through industrial agriculture and the livestock industry. A huge 23% of the planets fresh water is devoted to livestock. 50% of the water used in the US goes to producing animals for food. There are a number of hard to believe but accurate statistics on the bottom of the page. It is hard to conceptualize the amount of water usage.
The amount of water used to produce one day’s worth of food based on dietary habits:
– Omnivore (regular meat eaters) – 4000 gallons.
– Vegetarian (no meat but still eat dairy and eggs) – 1200 gallons.
– Vegan (no animal products at all) – 300 gallons.
Although the best way to save water is to cut back or stop eating animal products, we can also do a lot to stop wasting water. Click here for more information about water conservation methods. Here is a short list of water saving tips:
- Shower Bucket. Instead of letting the water pour down the drain, stick a bucket under the faucet while you wait for your shower water to heat up. You can use the water for flushing the toilet or watering your plants.
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth. Water comes out of the average faucet at 2.5 gallons per minute.
- Turn off the tap while washing your hands.
- If it’s yellow, let it mellow. This tip might not be for everyone, but the toilet is one of the most water-intensive fixtures in the house. Do you need to flush every time?
- Fix your leaks. Whether you go DIY or hire a plumber, fixing leaky faucets can mean big water savings.
- Re-use your pasta cooking liquid. Instead of dumping that water down the drain, try draining your pasta water into a large pot. Once it cools, you can use it to water your plants.
- Head to the car wash. If you feel compelled to wash your car, take it to a car wash that recycles the water.
- Cut your showers short. Older shower heads can use as much as 5 gallons of water per minute.
- Choose efficient fixtures. Aerating your faucets, investing in a low-flow toilet, choosing efficient shower heads, and opting for a Water Sense rated dishwasher and washing machine can add up to big water savings.
- Shrink your lawn. Even better: lose the lawn completely. Instead, opt for a xeriscaped landscape that incorporates water wise ground cover, succulents, and other plants that thrive in drought conditions.
- Don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine until it’s full. Those half-loads add up to gallons and gallons of wasted water.
- Install a rain barrel. Rainwater harvesting is a great way to keep your plants hydrated without turning on the hose or sprinkler.
- Flush with less. Older toilets use a lot of water. You can reduce your usage by sinking a half-gallon jug of water in the toilet tank. Do NOT use a brick, because it will break down and the sediment can damage your tank.
- Water outdoor plants in the early morning. You’ll need less water, since cooler morning temperatures mean losing less water to evaporation. It’s not a great idea to water in the evenings, since this can promote mold growth.
- Hand-washing a lot of dishes? Fill up your sink with water, instead of letting it run the whole time that you’re scrubbing.
- Use less electricity. Power plants use thousands of gallons of water to cool. Do your part to conserve power.
- Wash pets outdoors. That way, you’re watering your yard while you’re cleaning your pup.
- Skip the shower from time to time. Do you really need to shower multiple times a day or even daily? Skipping even one shower a week adds up to big water savings.
SOIL EROSION and DEPLETION
Soil is the earth’s fragile skin that anchors all life on Earth. Countless species inhabit the soil creating a dynamic and complex ecosystem and is among the most precious resources to humans. Increased demand for agriculture worldwide has resulted in rapid, massive and continuous loss of forests and grasslands to farm fields and pastures. Commercial agriculture cannot hold onto the soil the way natural vegetation can. Many of these commercial crops such as wheat, coffee, cotton, palm oil and soybean can actually increase soil erosion beyond the soil’s ability to maintain itself.
We overgrow many crops including soy, wheat and corn. Growing 1 lb. of corn results in the loss of 1 lb. of topsoil. Sugar production causes the most soil erosion overall. Sugar is manufactured from corn (high fructose corn syrup – poison), sugar cane and beets.
We are losing topsoil at a rate 13x greater than it can replenish itself. Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years. 2/3rds of the land on Earth is “desertifying” and becoming barren. In addition, soil quality has deteriorated significantly, in part because of compaction, loss of soil structure, nutrient degradation, and soil salinity. This loss of soil quality does lead to loss of nutrients in our foods. One example is the levels of magnesium in apples which has decreased dramatically over the years. Tomatoes now have virtually no lycopene compared with tomatoes from the 1950’s. Conventional farmers lose 1-2 inches of soil a year because of the chemicals they use. Healthy, regenerative farming practice can restore this but only at a rate of 1/2 and inch in 10 years. For more on information on regenerative agriculture, please click here to go to The “Other Food Topics” page.
The effects of soil erosion go beyond the loss of fertile land. It has led to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers, clogging these waterways and causing massive losses in fish and other species. Degraded lands are less able to hold onto water, which can worsen flooding. Sustainable land use and regenerative agriculture can help reduce the impacts of factory farming and commercial livestock operations. These strategies prevent soil degradation and erosion and the loss of valuable land to “desertification” (conversion of grassland and forests into deserts). The loss of organic matter from these lands impacts greatly on global warming as well since plants sequester (absorb) carbon. Without the plants, CO2 levels continue to rise at a faster rate. The plants also absorb and store water preventing water loss.
One important way for the soil to re-establish itself is to allow animals to graze on the land. At one point in time, the great plains were home to over 60 million wild bison. These great animals contributed in a significant way to the health and thickness of the soil. They are now almost extinct and the soil has gradually deteriorated. We now have about the same number of factory raised cows, the vast majority of which are grain fed. They deplete the soil and contribute significantly to toxic gases and global warming. Cows account for 10x more biomass than all the other wild land animals worldwide combined. Just take a drive outside the city and all you see are cows everywhere you look.
“The Biggest Little Farm” This is an amazing and beautiful documentary about how a couple from the city convert a few hundred acres of dead, mono-cropped California dirt back into an organic, regenerative farm by using plants, insects, animals and Mother Nature’s wisdom. This shows the power of biodynamic and regenerative farming.
Ozone is a highly reactive molecule that is constantly being formed and broken down in the high atmosphere. The ozone layer is a belt of this naturally occurring gas which sits 9.3 to 18.6 miles above Earth in the stratosphere. It serves as a shield from the harmful ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation emitted by the sun.
The ozone layer is deteriorating due to the release of pollution containing the chemicals chlorine and bromine. Such deterioration allows large amounts of UVB rays to reach Earth, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts in humans and harm animals as well.
Extra UVB radiation reaching Earth also inhibits the reproductive cycle of phytoplankton, single-celled organisms such as algae that make up the bottom rung of the food chain. Algae is the main source of omega 3 essential fatty acids which are crucial to animal and human health. Biologists fear that reductions in phytoplankton populations will in turn lower the populations of other animals. Researchers also have documented changes in the reproductive rates of young fish, shrimp, and crabs as well as frogs and salamanders exposed to excess ultraviolet B.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals found mainly in aerosol sprays heavily used by industrialized nations for much of the past 50 years, are the primary culprits in ozone layer breakdown. When CFCs reach the upper atmosphere, they are exposed to ultraviolet rays, which causes them to break down into substances that include chlorine. The chlorine reacts with the oxygen atoms in ozone and rips apart the ozone molecule. One atom of chlorine can destroy more than a hundred thousand ozone molecules.
The ozone layer above the Antarctic has been particularly impacted by pollution because low temperatures speed up the conversion of CFCs to chlorine. In the southern spring and summer, when the sun shines for long periods of the day, chlorine reacts with ultraviolet rays, destroying ozone on a massive scale, up to 65 percent. This is what some people erroneously refer to as the “ozone hole.” In other regions, the ozone layer has deteriorated by about 20 percent.
About 90 percent of CFCs currently in the atmosphere were emitted by industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States and Europe. Although CFCs were banned in 1996 and the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere is falling now, it will take at least another 50 years for chlorine levels to return to their natural levels.
On the other hand, international cooperation through the Montreal Protocol, signed by many countries in 1897, has resulted in significant improvements and reductions in CFC production. We CAN make changes if we work together.
Forests cover 31% of the land area on our planet. They produce vital oxygen and provide homes for people and wildlife. Many of the world’s most threatened and endangered animals live in forests and 1.6 billion people rely on benefits forests offer including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine as well as work and shelter. In addition, half of the top ten prescription drugs in the U.S. are of animal, plant, or microorganism origin, mostly from rain forests. Our debt to the biosphere is even more dramatically revealed when we look at cancer medications: a remarkable three-quarters of anti-cancer drugs come from nature. Nearly 90% of human diseases can be treated with prescription drugs derived from nature. The benefits to humanity of nature-derived medicines are incalculable in terms of longevity, relief of suffering, and increase in the quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of jobs provided to those that discover, grow, harvest, process, and market these medicinals. Billions of dollars have flowed into the world economy due to prescription medications arising from the planet’s largess of biological diversity.
Forests around the world are under threat from deforestation, jeopardizing these benefits. 50% of the worlds rain forests have already been deforested and converted mostly to land for the animal agricultural industry. Deforestation comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching and development, unsustainable logging for timber and degradation due to climate change. We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute.
Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink, soaking up massive amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns. Deforestation undermines this important function. It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. In addition, the forests, like all other natural organic matter, absorb and store water.
Deforestation is a particular concern in tropical rain forests because these forests are home to much of the world’s biodiversity. For example, in the Amazon around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, and 80% of that loss is due to forest conversion for cattle ranching. Deforestation in this region is particularly rampant near more populated areas, roads and rivers, but even remote areas have been encroached upon when valuable mahogany, gold and oil are discovered.
Palm tree plantations, for the production of palm fruit, eventually converted into palm oil, is responsible for the bulk of rain forest destruction in Borneo and Sumatra. This has led to the destruction of the native orangutan’s habitat leading to their endangered status. Although palm plantations also exist in Brazil and Malaysia and there is significant rain forest destruction there, those locations do no impact on orangutans but still lead to significant destruction. Palm goes by many names including: palm oil, palm kernel oil, generic vegetable oil, palmate, palmitate, stearic acid and sodium laurel sulfate. Click here to see a much more extensive list, as well as to see a lot more information about Palm oil.
As odd as it sounds, deforestation, removing trees from the earth, actually causes greater and more intense forest fires. Logging does not reduce fires. It actually increases and worsens them. See the next section about the effects of logging on wildfires. In addition to these, deforestation leads to monoculture orchards (too many of the same newly planted trees) which lack biodiversity.
260 million acres of US forestland (1/3 of all the forests in the US) have been clear-cut to create land used to produce animal feed.
RAIN FORRESTS ARE THE LUNGS OF THE PLANET
Despite only covering 14% of the Earth’s surface, the rain forests were home to more than 50% of the World’s animals and plants. Today, we have decimated the forests and we are down to only 6% of the world being covered. It is estimated that within 50 years, we will have no more rain forests. In the Amazon alone, we bulldoze the equivalent of a soccer field size land every minute, primarily for animal farming (either grazing or growing crops for animals). The Amazon alone sequesters about 20% of the greenhouse gases humanity generates. By converting this land to raising animals, we are losing that ability to reverse climate change while at the same time generating enormous amounts of new gases through all the agriculture as well as the gases emitted by the animals themselves.
Rainforests of the World
Although the Amazon is the best known of the rainforests, there are many more all over the world. Home to more than 50% of the world’s plant and animal species, they also are a tremendous source of oxygen for the planet and they sequester massive amounts of CO2, reducing the pressures of greenhouse gases causing global warming. Rain forests at one time covered more than 14% of the planet. Now, they barely cover 6%. They have been devastated to make room primarily for crops to feed animals and land to raise and slaughter them. In addition, crops such as palm and coconut have devastated some parts of Indonesian rainforests, while dessimating the orangutan population. These lands need to be protected for the sake of the planet, not to mention the sake of all the plants and animals which dwell in them. Listed are the top 10 largest remaining rainforests in the world.
Covering an area of over 1.2 billion acres, the Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world. This region is home to 10% of the world’s known species and represents over half of the rainforest on the planet. More on the Amazon below.
The Congo Rainforest
This African rainforest stretches out over 1.5 million square miles. Deforestation has turned the region into one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. There are five national parks in the Congo Rainforest which are designated as World Heritage Sites.
Bosawas Biosphere Reserve
The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua spans an area of over 5 million acres, making it one of the world’s largest rainforests. The region was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1997.
This ancient rainforest, which was named after geologist and photographer Richard Daintree, is located on the coast of Queensland, Australia. At over 165 million years old, it is thought to be the oldest tropical rainforest in the world
Southeast Asian Rainforest
Stretching from India to Malaysia, these forests were once the most biodiverse regions of the world before much of the land was cleared for logging and farming. Most of Asia’s tropical rainforests are scattered across the islands of Indonesia. Experts believe that the rainforests of Malaysia existed as far back as 100 million years ago.
Tongass National Forest
Half of the Tongass National Forest is covered in rainforests, and the other half is made up of rock, ice, and water. The largest trees in Alaska are found here, and only about 25% of these trees are protected. This region covers 11,000 miles of coastline and is home to about 75,000 people in 32 communities.
Kinabalu National Park
Kinabalu was the first national park in Malaysia, and was also the country’s first World Heritage Site. The 130 million-year-old rainforest is considered to be one of the most important biological sites in the world with thousands of species of plants and animals.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Located in the mountains of Costa Rica, this region was designated as a reserve in 1972 to protect the forest from logging. The area is made up of rivers, rainforests, and cloud forests, and is said to have some of the best bird watching in the world.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
This national park in Sri Lanka was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978. 60% of the park’s trees are endemic to the region and many are considered to be extremely rare.
Valdivian temperate rain forest
Located on the west coast of South America, this ecoregion spans from Chile to Argentina. Four forest ecosystems exist within the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest, including the Patagonian Andean forests, the Northern Patagonian forests. deciduous forests, and laurel forests.
THE AMAZON RAINFOREST
The Amazon is one of the most wonderful places on Earth. The largest rainforest on the planet, it comprises the same size as 2/3rds of the contiguous United States. Although the majority of it, 66%, is in Brazil, it also extends into many other South American countries like Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana. It is shrinking at an alarmingly rapid rate, primarily because of human activities. This destruction is almost exclusively to make room for animal grazing or growing crops to feed animals raised to feed humans. 70,000 acres of rainforest are lost every single day. 7 football fields every second.
It has its own microclimate, generating ½ of its own rainfall. It contains 20% of the Earth’s rivers with over 1100 tributaries to the Amazon River, 17 of which alone are over 1000 miles. The Amazon river alone stretches nearly 4000 miles.
The source of countless medications, including 70% of known cancer-fighting drugs, as well as many superfoods, it is also one of the most diverse places on Earth. A recent expedition made by 25 scientists of various backgrounds into the deepest parts of the Amazon resulted in identification of 25 never identified before species of animals and plants in only the first 3 weeks!
Some of the diversity includes:
- 1000’s of species of trees
- 1000’s of species of birds
- 3000 species of fish in the Rio Negro alone
- 2.5 million species of insects
The rainforest not only generates oxygen, it is one of the most significant sequesters (collectors) of CO2. Without the forests, including the rainforests, global warming and climate change will continue. This is also why a plant based diet is the fastest way to reverse climate change. By eliminating animal products, the relentless destruction of the forests stops. All the methane and CO2 is no longer generated. In addition immediately, the forests re-grow, and the lowering of CO2 starts to occur immediately.
Although it appears that there are wildfires burning out of control almost all the time, in actuality, compared with naturally occurring fires from 100 years ago we have much fewer fires worldwide today. Despite that, the amount of acreage has been increasing steadily in the last 40 years which ironically has corresponded to the misguided and misunderstood implementation fire suppression.
There are many misconceptions and failed assumptions when it comes to how fires burn and how to prevent them. How they begin is clear. 84% of wildfires in the USA are started by people through things like discarded cigarette butts, out of control campfires and brush piles, fireworks and poorly maintained electrical equipment and power lines. The rest are caused by natural occurrences like lightning strikes and volcanoes.
Surprisingly and ironically, logging and our attempts at fire suppression have contributed to more aggressive wildfire behavior. The worst fires we have seen in the last while have occurred in areas where the greatest amount of logging was occurring. This includes the 2018 Paradise, CA fire in which the entire town was decimated. Between that fire and the one in Southern California occurring at the same time, more than 80 people perished. When trees are logged and are burned for energy, they produce 45% more CO2, greenhouse gas emissions, than burning coal for an equivalent amount of energy produced. It is the dumbest, most climate unfriendly source you can imagine. Removing those trees also robs the forest of essential nutrients and compacts and damages the soils since most logging is ground-based. It undermines the forests ability to sequester CO2 and remove it from the atmosphere.
There are many assumptions based on theoretical models, unproven by actual studies which drive attitudes and policies when it comes to how forest fires develop.
FALSE ASSUMPTION. “Forests are great CO2/carbon absorbers but all these forest fires have reversed the equation, creating more carbon which creates more greenhouse gases”. This is false. This is based on the false assumptions that when fire moves through a forest:
- trees are killed and vaporized.
- all the carbon goes into the atmosphere
- nothing re-grows on those lands because everything has been destroyed.
All of these are wrong. Even in the areas of the most extreme heat and flame, only 2-3% of the above ground biomass is actually consumed (ends up as carbon). Only a tiny portion of the actual tree gets burned. 80% of fires burn at low to moderate intensity with virtually no consumption of the tree itself. But even in the 20% of “crown fires”, the ones that are the most intense, only 3% of the biomass of the trees is actually consumed. Mostly the outer bark and pine needles and small twigs.
The model is also wrong because it only factors in the carbon that’s consumed and released into the atmosphere but not all the CO2 that’s pulled out of the atmosphere and sequestered by the rapidly re-growing vegetation after a fire.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: “Fires burn so hot that they sterilize the soil and nothing can grow there”. Fires actually turn the twigs, pine needles and little branches into a nutrient rich bed of mineral ash which spurs rapid growth of vegetation. Conifer seedlings, oak trees, fur, shrubs, wildflowers… that growth after a fire sequesters huge amounts of CO2.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: “Dead trees need to be removed since they are a fire risk”. NOT TRUE. There is no relationship between the amount of dead trees and the frequency or intensity of fires. In fact, the opposite is true. There are fewer fires which also burn less intensely in these areas. The dead trees fall and start to absorb soil moisture. Their needles and small branches decay quickly.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: “We need to log more to thin out all the overgrowth which contributes to fires” Absolutely not. Logging makes it worse. Increased logging is associated with increased fire intensity because the increased room and oxygen supply to the fire. What mostly burns is the small stuff, not the tree trunks.
- Logging removes the material that doesn’t burn leaving behind all the combustible kindling debris.
- Logging removes the cooling shade of the forest canopy. More sunlight leads to more drying of the forest floor and hotter conditions.
- Logging leads to overgrowth of invasive flammable weeds like cheatgrass.
- Trees also buffer wind speed so their removal allows fires to spread faster.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: “Too much debris on the forest floor increases fire”. This is just wrong. Forests actually have less biomass today than we had 100 years ago, primarily because of the logging effect.
Donald Trump’s recently threatened to hold back federal support for fire responses unless more logging is pursued to supposedly “save towns from fires”. This is completely misguided and probably based on financial gain. He just doesn’t understand the facts, is being misinformed or simply chooses to believe what will conveniently make him or his interests money.
Other than obviously being more responsible to prevent fires in the first place, numerous studies show that the only way to protect homes from fires is to improve the homes themselves. This includes:
- Remove accumulating pine needles from gutters and using gutter guards.
- Better roofing materials.
- Ember-proof vents.
- Defensible space. These measures result in saving 95-99% of homes in even the most intense fires.
- pruning vegetation within 100 feet of a house.
- Removing small trees and grasses.
- Removing lower limbs on mature trees but leave the trees in place.
Here is the saddest part, the United States Forest Service (USFS) provides most of the information to local communities and nationally about forest fire safety, prevention and control. Unfortunately, the USFS is also in the commercial logging business. It sells public timber to private logging companies and keeps most of the revenue. This is a perverse financial incentive. Their lack of understanding about the real science of fire development and fire prevention and their commercial interests are what drive the commercial logging program on public lands. It’s like like listening to executives of petroleum companies Exxon Mobil telling us about the science of climate change.
Humans and their predecessors have been around for about 6 million years but modern man didn’t come onto the scene until about 200,000 years ago. It took that much time, up to about 200 years ago, for the population to reach 1 billion. It took only 200 more years for the world’s population to hit 7.6 billion (as of 2017). By 2040, that number is projected to reach 10 billion. Estimates on how many people the Earth can sustain vary greatly. Conservative scholars say that for the Earth to be able to keep up and replenish its natural resources to sustain life adequately, there should be no more than 4 billion people! We are well past that already.
To feed all those 10 billion people in 2040 (only 20 years from now), we will need 50% more landmass for industrial agriculture than we use today and produce more grain than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined. It’s not sustainable. As it is, we are destroying the planet with the waste we produce, chemicals we use and the methods we employ to try to feed everyone. I have some statistics on another page on how we can easily feed the present population by switching to a plant-based rather than a meat centric diet but that is not likely to happen for most people. 80% of the starving children in the world live in countries where a lot of the livestock is grown which feeds the rest of the world. In addition, 100 million people need to make the daily decision between buying healthcare vs buying food to feed their families.
One can only hope that some, new technology, like lab grown meat for example, comes along so that we can feed everyone. We will likely need to start looking at colonization of other places like underwater, space and other planets.
Just as a comparison, as mentioned above, by 2050, the human population is estimated to be 10 billion. The livestock population however is expected to increase at an even greater rate and is estimated to be 50 billion if current trends continue.
SEA LIFE and AQUACULTURE
The oceans contain less than half of the sea life they contained in 1970 and 90% of edible have already been depleted. 25% of all marine mammals, sharks and ray species are endangered and 6 of 7 sea turtle species are on the verge of extinction. Although there are many initiatives in place to help repopulate and preserve the oceans, we have a long way to go. To date, there are 15,000 Marine Protected Areas (MPA) worldwide where fishing is not allowed or extremely tightly controlled. This accounts for almost 10% of open waters. More than half of the seafood caught worldwide is harvested by small scale fisherman who are aware of local environmental issues and are aware of the impact they have on fish stocks. Initiatives such as avoiding mating waters or mating seasons and limiting how much they fish does have a positive impact.
Fish and other seafood are the main source of protein for more than 25% of the world’s population but more than half of this seafood comes from fish farms. Four reasons why fish farms are NOT healthy:
- Depletion of prey fish. Although many farmed fish are fed soy and corn (that sounds natural), some like salmon are fed a more natural diet of prey fish like anchovies or herring. As a result, stocks of these prey fish have been decimated.
- Fish farms spread disease to wild fish. Many fish farms are in oceans, rivers and other natural waterways. The farmed fish are prone to many infections like sea live and various viral infections. These are particularly rampant among genetically modified fish like salmon. These infections spread to the natural waters where they have been shown to reduce the survival of nearby wild populations by more than 50%.
- Scottish fish farms produce more nutrient pollution than the entire Scottish human population.
- Coral reef destruction. Feces and uneaten fish pellets/food can escape these farms and settle onto local coral reefs. This leads to algae cover which then chokes out the coral by using up all the oxygen and blocking sunlight.
In addition, farm-raised fish is significantly less nutritious than wild caught.
Genetically Engineered Salmon
The fish company, AquaBounty, has genetically engineered a “Frankenfish”. They have created a salmon species which grows very quickly, able go to market in 18 months instead of 3 years. This is achieved by inserting growth-hormone genes from another type of salmon. In addition, an “on-switch” gene from an arctic eel is also used to keep this growth-hormone gene on all the time. Because of their rapid growth, these bio-engineered salmon have a voracious appetite.
In Canada, a study was done on similar genetically engineered salmon with growth acceleration. When these frankenfish had reduced food availability, they became violent and started to attack and kill their competitors, whether genetically modified or not. In some tanks, there was a complete extinction of all fish. The tanks were designed to replicate the experience in the wild, and these more aggressive salmon would go into areas of the tank that normal salmon wouldn’t go into. What happens if these fish end up released in the ocean? Schools of very violent, aggressive, cannibalistic fish salmon would destroy habitats and eliminate what we know as salmon. Because they grow faster, the females may be attracted more to the larger males. There would be a survival advantage among the GMOs. Each year upwards of a quarter of million salmon or fish in general that are grown in fish farms escape into the ocean. Wiping out salmon and other types of fish in the ocean is a very real possibility if these GMO fish escape into the wild. AquaBounty claims that they grow the eggs on Prince Edward Island in Canada and ship them to only land-locked facilities in Panama (the only other country presently raising GMO fish). The problem is that if there was some kind of catastrophe like an earthquake, the fish could end up in rivers, then could end up in the ocean.
FISH DEPLETION. The estimates are that, at the rate of aquatic life we are harvesting out of the oceans (as many as 3 trillion a year), that there will be no more sea life in the oceans by 2048. 40% of all the fish caught are by-kill, caught by accident in the huge nets and long lines we use to scour the oceans.= Some of the by-kill includes dolphins, porpoises, sharks, sea turtles, sponges, starfish, whales and even millions of sea birds. Some areas have already completely whipped out populations. We fished the walleye population into extinction from the Great Lakes. All gone. Forever. Declines in fish populations have ripple effects affecting non aquatic animals. For example, the decline in pollack in Alaskan waters led to a 90% decline in sea lions who eat those fish and they are now endangered. As a result of the sea lion decline, sea otters have decreased significantly in numbers because orcas primarily hunt sea lions and have started to target the otters. One last side effect of swindling sea life is conflict between humans including increased piracy and even territorial gun battles between fishing trawlers. The good news is that left alone, fish populations replenish quickly. A perfect example is how the anchovy population was almost completely decimated in South America. A moratorium was put on fishing them and their numbers rebounded very quickly. In fact, in 40 protected ocean areas, all kinds of species bounced back in only 5-10 years.
Farmed fish are not going to save the wild fish. Fish farms are the aquatic equivalent of factory farmed land animals. Lots of chemicals, including antibiotics, and environmental pollution. In fact, farmed raised salmon are fed more antibiotics per pound than any other animal raised for slaughter. Although fish in farms are fed a lot of man-made grains, the bulk of what they eat is wild caught fish. The most commonly raised fish include salmon, halibut and cod. To generate just 1 pound of edible food from farm raised fish requires 3 lbs. of wild fish! Fish farms are an environmental disaster, requiring enormous amounts of fresh water to replenish the oxygen to keep them alive and to remove waste. Farms in the wild contaminate local waters with all their waste. Farmed fish are even more likely to be contaminated with various chemicals like PCBs. In the cramped conditions in the fish farm cages, lice contamination develops which kills the fish and spreads out into the surrounding ocean, killing wild sea life as well.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)
Avoid them. Many crops like corn, soy and canola oil are often genetically modified which means that they have been genetically manipulated to exploit some characteristic like increased size or pesticide resistance. This is often done by mixing genes of completely unrelated species like animals, bacteria and viruses. This is different and more dangerous than traditional cross breeding of animals and plants. Attempts have been made to insert human growth hormone gene sequences into pigs and salmon to make them grow larger. Flounder gene sequences have been inserted into tomatoes which make them more cold-tolerant. This is just not natural. Some call these “Frankenfoods”. Although even chemical contamination will eventually wash away and become diluted, the problem with genetic manipulation is that once it gets out into nature, you no longer have any more control over it. Who knows there that would lead. GMO salmon farms in Canada are extremely close to river ways that lead directly to the ocean. Even one small accidental release could be disastrous.
The biggest and most immediate concern with GMOs is that because they are made more resistant to chemicals, more pesticides and herbicides are used on them making them super contaminated and very unhealthy. It’s not clear how unhealthy the actual genetic manipulations are to humans when consumed, but there is no question of their devastating effect on the environment from pesticide and herbicide overuse and cross contamination of clean farms and crops. We have used so many of these chemicals that they can be measured in the rain, human urine and breast milk as well as most municipal water supplies! 54 countries worldwide (but NOT the US) require by law that food companies indicate on their packaging and labels whether there are any GMO foods in their products.
The promises of genetic modification like better crop yields, drought resistance and more nutrient density, have never come to fruition. The only 2 things genetic manipulation have generated are 1) increased resistance to chemicals like herbicide and pesticides, leading to massive increases in the use of those chemicals, and 2) the ability of the crops to actually generate their own pesticides, Bacillus thuringiensis toxin, also known as BT toxin (see above).
There is a lot more information about GMOs on this page.
MAN MADE RADIATION DISASTERS
With great power comes great responsibility. Nuclear chain reactions were first hypothesized in 1933 and the first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction (Chicago Pile-1) took place in December 1942. The first nuclear weapon, The Gadget, was detonated at the Trinity test site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. This ushered in the atomic era and we have without question benefited from the power that nuclear plants have provided. But our health as well as the health of all the animals and the planet has also suffered as a result of irresponsibility and human mishaps when considering their destructive power as well.
The list of nuclear disasters is lengthy. We know of the obvious ones:
- Chernobyl, where in 1986 a reactor melted down in the worst nuclear power plant disaster ever seen. This was a direct result of human error and disregard. Surrounding lands for many miles around have been contaminated for centuries and cancer rates have gone up exponentially in affected populations, especially in Belorussia, north of Chernobyl, where thyroid cancer rates went up 1000x. Other cancers like lymphoma and leukemia also increased in addition to various congenital abnormalities in newborns.
- Fukushima, the nuclear plant accident which occurred after an earthquake in Japan in 2011. This reactor continues to spew radiation into the ocean because of an underground river underneath the reactor which spreads the radiation out.
- Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese towns where nuclear bombs were dropped ending World War 2.
- Three Mile Island, PA, where a partial reactor meltdown occurred in 1979.
But there have been many other, much less known and less and publicized accidents. There have been many other, less severe but none-the-less significant nuclear power plant incidents, numbering at least 30. This includes nuclear storage facilities.
In addition, there have been at least 7 nuclear submarine accidents resulting in contamination of the oceans and wildlife alike, not to mention the human death and disease which resulted.
In suburban Los Angeles, The U.S. government secretly allowed radiation from a damaged reactor at the once-secret Santa Susana Field Lab to be released into the air over the San Fernando and Simi valleys more than 50 years ago. The fallout from that accident and local ground contamination has resulted in a clear spike in pediatric cancers and has been linked to many other serious health consequences and, in some cases, death.
In thousands of labs, all over the world, there is radioactive material used for testing and more accidents involving this material and machinery from mishandling than we can count.
Marshall Islands Nuclear Tests
In 1944, during World War II, the United States took control of the Marshall islands from Japan which governed them as part of the South Pacific Mandate, eventually giving them independence in 1979. Between 1946 and 1958, the US military performed a total of 67 nuclear tests on various islands. 23 tests were done at Bikini Atoll and 44 at Enewejak Atoll. Many native islanders were forcibly displaced but some were only displaced to a distance where they could still see the mushroom cloud after the detonations, particularly at the Rongelap Atoll.
The radiation exposure and contamination in the region was massive. The total radiation released from all the detonations was equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima detonations occurring daily for 12 years. Radiation levels at local islands as far away as 30 miles were measured to be as high as at the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown site. Even today, there are some islands where the radiation levels are 1000x higher than either Fukushima, Hiroshima or Chernobyl. Much of the native animal and plant life has been affected and the cancer rates in local people is extremely high.
There were some reports that scientists knew there would be radiation effects on the local population and that they could observe the effects on people. A US scientists was quoted as stating that the local islanders were “closer to us than mice”.
There is a concrete dome on Renit island, a site of some of the bomb testing, which was converted into a nuclear waste storage location. It’s falling apart and leaking into the ocean. The same by the way is happening to the concrete structure around the Chernobyl Reactor in Ukraine. These will continue to produce nuclear contamination but there are currently no good plans to fix the problems.
GOLD – A LEGACY OF GREED AND POISON
Humanity’s love of gold is bizarre. Of all the 118 elements in the periodic table, gold is the only one we have gravitated towards. One could argue that carbon, which is what diamonds are made out of, is another one. Diamonds have their own share of human rights and environmental issues, but for now, we’re focusing on gold.
Over 200,000 tons of the gold taken out of the ground since we started worshiping and mining it. Ironically, 80% of it is stored underground in bank vaults like Fort Knox. When the Europeans came to North America, they asked the local Indians about gold. The Indians did not place any particular value in it. In fact, because of how soft it is, they thought it to be useless. They told them about “rocks which cry silver” which turned out to be mercury and those Indians were eventually made slaves in the mercury mines.
Gold was used in our earliest currencies, it joins us in marriage and it is used to make our most precious artifacts. It is beautiful and never tarnishes. In the 1850’s, the largest mass migration in American history occurred in northern California as part of the Gold Rush. Some 300,000 people moved to California. This industry led to the establishment and growth of San Francisco.
The gold rush started in 1848 when James Marshall found gold flakes in the river feeding his saw mill in Coloma, California in the Sierra Mountains. This news quickly spread around the world. Initially, gold could be picked up on the ground and then was filtered out from the rivers. In 1852, the Rush peaked and soon, more efficient large scale and much more destructive hydraulic mining practices began. 170 years later, we are still impacted by those devastating practices.
Hydraulic mining uses very high pressure to “scrub” mountainsides to loosen the earth, releasing any trapped gold. This is actually why the dams in that region were first built, to provide the millions of gallons of water the extraction process required.
Before the mountainside was pummeled with water however, it was sprayed with mercury, a key component in the extraction process. The reason they used mercury is that it binds tiny specks of gold. When the sediment was released and headed down the mountainside, it was trapped in the sluice (collecting) boxes. The water would be released and the sediment would get collected. It was then placed in a pan, heated and the mercury would bubble and evaporate off, releasing the gold.
There are 3 problems with mercury:
- It’s a toxin. In addition to being a neurotoxin, causing various neurological and cognitive problems, it also affects other organs like the heart, lungs and bone marrow.
- It bioaccumulates, meaning that it does not clear the body. It gets stored in fat and other tissues.
- It biomagnifies. This means it builds up, the farther you go up the food chain. For example, it gets into the insects which are eaten by small fish which are eaten by bigger fish who are eaten by even bigger fish and with each step, more and more mercury accumulates and then all this gets stored in your body if you eat fish. Mercury has been labeled but the WHO as the top environmental bio-accumulative contaminant of concern.
In addition to the contamination, all that silt created by the process would travel downstream and would actually flood and fill the homes of people downstream until, after many years, they sewed and the practice was discontinued but the damage had been already done. Massive structural damage was done in addition to massive mercury contamination.
All the sites where these practices occurred continue to contaminate the environment with mercury. Every time it rains, mercury flows down. Eventually making its way to the San Francisco Bay. Adding to this are the mines built to harvest mercury from some naturally occurring stores and the resulting mercury contamination has been devastating.
For years, we blamed the industrial pollution coming from China, raining down on the ground, but now we know that we have done this to ourselves via these mines and mining practices. We were just not looking for it nor were we really aware of Mercury’s dangers.
The use of mercury was so pervasive that there is no isolated “pocket” which can be cleaned up easily. It would take 10,000 years for all the mercury contamination to naturally disappear. There is no naturally occurring mercury in some of these locations, so any amount that exists there is a result of human pollution. Only one particular abandoned mine location was measured to have been spewing 1 lb. of mercury a year. Compared that with the entire county of Sacramento which is “allowed” to discharge 2 lbs. in a year. There are a few thousand such mines in the Sierra. Although this practice has been outlawed in the US, it is still going actively in mining operations all over the world such as Suriname.
Each year, approximately 2500 tons of gold were mined throughout the world. South Africa leads the world in gold mining, and the U.S., Russia, Canada, and Australia are also major producers. Gold is distributed widely over the earth, and gold mining is pursued in most countries with some success.
Although it sounds hopeless, there are ways of cleaning up at least the larger mines by using “biochar” which permanently traps the mercury. But, just like anything of value, it takes time and money.
The Paris Climate Accord
We have heard a lot about this very important agreement, especially since our last administration decided to abandon our participation. What exactly is it? In 2015, a worldwide conference about climate change occurred in Paris. Eventually, more than 180 countries signed on to what is now called the Paris Accord. The details of the accord can be reviewed here however the main goal, a lofty one, was to keep global warming to below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). There is wide agreement that at this point, irreversible, runaway climate change will occur. We are already 1.1 degrees warmer than we should be. In case you’re wondering about that increase and think that a 2 degree increase doesn’t sound like a lot, it is. If you think about your own body, a 2 degree increase above normal (i.e. a fever) makes you feel pretty ill, even for a short period of time. Day after day, it really drags you down and stresses the body. Additionally, this is the average temperature of the entire planet. A 2 degree increase has occurred in the past but not for 2 million years. Going just 3-4 degrees colder would land us where the last ice age was. This would keep us just under cataclysmic global warming.
Estimates are that we are less than 5% likely to be able to achieve this lofty goal of keeping the temperature below 2 degrees. Even if we achieve it, we would still be living in a very inhospitable world and many changes set in motion would already be irreversible, if not self-amplifying. This is called “runaway climate change”. If we do not reach this goal (95% likely), some of the predicted side effects would include:
- Sea levels would rise by 1.6 feet. Many coastline cities would be uninhabitable.
- Hundreds of millions of people would need to move. These are called “climate change refugees”.
- Armed conflict would rise by 40%.
- Greenland would tip towards irreversible melt.
- Upwards of 40% of the Amazon would be destroyed.
- Heat waves will be the norm. The one in 2003 in Europe resulted in the following:
- 70,000 human fatalities.
- $15 billion in crop losses.
- historically low water levels in the Po, Rhine and Loire rivers.
- Human mortality will rise dramatically as a result of floods, draughts, heat waves, not to mention the rise in Malaria and many respiratory illnesses.
- 400 million people will suffer water scarcity.
- Warmer oceans will kill off 99% of the coral reefs, disrupting the ecosystem of 9 million species.
- 50% of all animal species will face extinction.
- 60% of all plant species will face extinction.
- Crop yields will suffer significant losses:
- Wheat – 12% reduction
- Rice – 6.4%
- Corn – 18%
- Soybeans – 6.2%
- Global GDP per capita will drop by ~13%
And this is all going to happen, even if we achieve the 2 degree limit control. It’s likely to be much worse.
WE CAN CHANGE
In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was established. This agreement addressed the decreasing use of chlorofluorocarbons to help reestablish the protective ozone layer which had become dangerously thin with many holes in it. These ozone-destroying compounds are found in refrigerants and propellants (sprays). There were established benchmarks over the next few decades and, as a result of combined international effort, our ozone layer is well on its way to repair. It will still take another few decades, but the point is that it can be done.
SOME ADDITIONAL STATISTICS:
- More than ⅓ of the raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the US are used in animal production.
- To produce 1 calorie of animal protein requires 10x the fossil fuel it takes to produce 1 calorie of plant protein.
- Producing a single hamburger uses enough fuel to drive 20 miles and causes the loss of 5x its weight in topsoil.
- 20% of fossil fuels burned are used to make processed food.
- It takes 10x more energy to eat meat than to eat plants.
- Making 1 Quarter Pounder with Cheese:
- uses 26 oz. of petroleum.
- creates a 13 lb. carbon footprint.
- uses the equivalent of 7 lbs. of coal.
- In 2018, despite all we know about human-caused climate change, humans produced more greenhouse gases than ever before, at a rate 3x that of population growth. Americans alone increased CO2e emissions on average by 3.4%
- 800 million people worldwide currently lack access to clean water.
- 2.7 billion people find water scarce at least one month a year.
- By 2025, 2/3rds of the world’s population may face water shortages.
- 50% of the water used in the US goes to producing animals for food.
- It takes this much water to produce: 2400 gallons of water to make 1 lb. of meat.
- 2000 gallons to make 1 gallon of milk.
- 50 gallons to make 1 egg.
- but only 25 gallons to produce 1 lb. of wheat.
- It takes 1 gallon to grow a single almond.
- The amount of water used to grow the almonds in California in one year equals the amount of water used by the entire city of Los Angeles in one year.
- 99% of US almonds and 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in central California where there is a serious water shortage. Almond production has a huge carbon footprint because of what is involved in transporting water for irrigation alone. Almond milk is a better choice than cow’s milk but there are still significant environmental issues to consider. Other more environmentally friendly options are pea protein milk which has 100x less of a carbon footprint or hemp milk. Another great option is macadamia milk since the trees they grow on are self-sustaining.
- Amount of water used to produce one day’s worth of food:
- Omnivore (eats everything) – 4000 gallons.
- Lacto Ovo Vegetarian (no meat but eats dairy and eggs) – 1200 gallons.
- Vegan (no animal products at all) – 300 gallons.
- Animal farms pollute our waterways more than all industrial sources combined.
- This factory farm pollution creates ocean “dead zones” more than all industrial sources combined!
- Fracking. Over 750 chemicals are used in the fracking process. Carcinogens, hormone disruptors… Impact on humans and animals since these chemicals contaminate the ground and water aquifers.
- It’s estimated that 6000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers into our waterways annually. This is mostly responsible for coral reef destruction. Ultraviolet filters used in some sunscreens have been identified in fish from mountain lakes and rivers.
- 30% of the Earth’s landmass is used to raise animals for food.
- 7 football fields of land are bulldozed every minute to accommodate more room for farmed animals.
- 80% of agricultural land in the US is used for animal agriculture. That’s ½ the total landmass of the lower 48 states.
- 1 acre of land provides:
- 250 lbs. of beef.
- 20,000 lbs. of apples.
- 30,000 lbs. of carrots.
- 40,000 lbs. of potatoes.
- 50,000 lbs. of tomatoes.
- 80% of ammonia emissions in the US come from livestock waste.
- Animals raised for food produce 130x as much excrement as the entire world population. This produces toxic gasses like methane, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.
- Animal agriculture accounts for almost 20% of greenhouse gases (more than all cars, trucks, ships… worldwide combined!).
- Livestock account for the following emissions:9% of global CO2
- 40% of global methane (which is 23x more toxic to the ozone layer than CO2)
- 65% of global NO2 (Nitrous oxide which is 300x more toxic to the ozone layer than CO2)
- Animal farms get around water waste laws by spraying urine and feces into the air causing major respiratory issues to local populations and contaminating soil.
- The ammonia and other toxic gases from animal farms contribute significantly to depletion of the ozone layer and cause asthma and other respiratory infections.
- By replacing a gas-powered car with an electric car, you can prevent the emission of 1 ton of CO2. A vegan diet prevents the emission of 1.5 tons (50% more)
- Running a leaf blower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a F-150 pickup truck 3800 miles. About one-third of the gasoline that goes into this sort of engine is spewed out, unburned, in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust. It’s not just CO2 leaching out of your leaf blower’s fumes. It’s carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and hydrocarbons escaping from the engine in very significant quantities
Industrial animal agriculture produces obscene amounts of waste.
- Beef cows eat 90lbs of food and produce 65 lbs. of excrement a day through upwards of 15 bowel movements.
- Lactating cows produce 150 lbs. of excrement a day.
- US livestock generate 369 tons of excrement a year.
This waste is too great to be treated and often is stored festering in large pools or often being sprayed into the air, completely unregulated. These cesspools generate over 400 different kinds of harmful gases, most of which consist of NO2, CO2, Methane, Ammonia and Hydrogen Sulfide.
This waste is too great to be treated and often is stored festering in large pools or often being sprayed into the air, completely unregulated. These cesspools generate over 400 different kinds of harmful gases, most of which consist of NO2, CO2, Methane, Ammonia and Hydrogen Sulfide.
Only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of industry-related greenhouse gas emissions.
- Only 14% of Americans deny that climate change exists and 69%, including most Republicans believe that we should have never left the Paris Accord.
- 34% however are creationists (denying the science of evolution).
- 25% believe that the Sun orbits the Earth.
The richest 10% of the global population is responsible for 50% of carbon emissions whereas the poorest 50% are responsible for only 10%.
The World Wildlife Fund – The world’s leading conservation organization.
Albatrossthefilm.com – Movie about the devastating effects of plastic on the environment and specifically, the albatross population.
Environment and animal farming – Primer on the topic
Eat for the Planet: Saving the World One Bite at a Time. Nil Zacharis