Saturday, October 29, 2011

Top 5 ways livestock are wrecking the planet

Photo: Sally Kneidel
Helping the environment is just one reason for dumping animal products from your diet. But it's a big one. It may be the most powerful choice you can make to help our ailing planet.

If your family gives you a hard time during the upcoming holidays for rejecting that turkey leg, tell them some of these surprising eco-facts about the havoc wrought by livestock.

The livestock sector is responsible for at least half of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. That's according to two environmental-assessment specialists employed by the World Bank Group, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. Their meticulous analysis is reported in their landmark Worldwatch article "Livestock and Climate Change". Check out this short summary of Goodland's and Anhang's work. See also "Diet for a low-carbon planet" by Alan Miller, for the same conclusion. How can livestock generate such a volume of GHG? Fermentation in the guts of livestock creates 37% of human-induced methane; methane is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Deforestation to graze livestock or to grow their feed is another major source of emissions. Goodland and Anhang also assess the carbon in livestock respiration. "Livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe."

Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for the dinner table, according to calculations by author John Robbins. Water usage is a major environmental concern, given that water shortages are cropping up all over the planet these days. Droughts due to climate change, and the booming human population, contribute to the problem. But the livestock sector is responsible too - using vast quantities of water to irrigate feed crops for livestock. One pound of beef requires 2,400 gallons of water to produce, while one pound of wheat requires only 25 to 108 gallons. Notice, that's the water for just one pound of beef. A typical "2 sides of beef" from one steer weigh 700 lbs when arriving at the grocery. You do the math.

Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land on the planet, and 30% of the land surface of the planet. Consider this in relation to the fact that the world's human population has expanded from 6 billion to 7 billion in just the last 12 years - more and more people needing to be fed. Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America. 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and livestock feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder. In addition to deforestation, about 70% of grasslands in dry areas have been degraded by overgrazing, compaction, and erosion by livestock. These facts are all reported in "Livestock's Long Shadow," a 2006 research document from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Livestock is the world's largest source of water pollution, according to the United Nations' FAO. Major sources of pollution from livestock production include animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, fertilizers and pesticides used on their feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures or trampled streams. In the U.S., livestock are responsible for 55% of erosion and sediment, 37% of pesticide use, and a third of all N and Ph pollution of freshwater.

A third of all mammal species are in danger of becoming extinct. A full 40% of the planet's mammals are victims of habitat loss and degradation. So reported the 2008 conference of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), a group that includes more than 1,000 government agencies and NGOs, conservation groups, and 11,000 scientists in 160 countries. And it's going to get a lot worse before the century is over. The causes of habitat loss and degradation? Livestock is a big one. Conservation International has identified 35 global hotspots for biodiversity, defined by species richness and high levels of habitat loss. Of those, 23 are affected by livestock production. Of 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, 306 are threatened by livestock.

Choose plant-based foods, and explain why to everyone you know.
Average Americans eat between 216 and 246 lbs of meat per year, far more than residents of any other country. In the U.S., around 60% of our grain goes to livestock, a very inefficient use of our agricultural lands. Feeding the grain to people directly could feed up to 10 times more people than feeding the meat to people. Or, another way of looking at it - we could stop converting natural lands to agricultural lands if we made more efficient use of the farms we have now. What can you do? Simply eating less meat can help. Even a couple of meatless days a week will reduce your ecological footprint. Going vegetarian or vegan is even better. Check out the recipes and new vegan cookbooks reviewed on this site.

Coming up in 2 later posts:

Top 5 Health Reasons to Bypass Animal Products
Top 5 Humane Reasons to Choose a Plant-based Diet

Keywords: livestock Livestock and Climate Change Jeff Anhang Robert Goodland climate change water shortage water pollution land usage biodiversity impact of livestock impacts of livestock bad effects of livestock livestock and land degradation

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

8 vital reasons to buy local food

The last of our Carolina okra in the warm October sun. Photo: Sally Kneidel
Check out these 8 reasons to buy locally-grown food. Buying local helps not only the environment, but also our health and the welfare of farm laborers.

1. Local produce tastes better and is better for you; it's more likely to be picked at its peak, when it's ripe. Ripe fruits and vegetables have more flavor and higher nutritional value. Their nutritional value decreases every day post-harvest.

2. Buying local supports farming families in your own community, and keeps the money circulating in your own community. Buying from local farms in the off-season, when their selection and their customer-base may be reduced, is especially important in keeping these farms afloat financially.

3. Paying attention to what's available seasonally adds variety and interest to your diet, while at the same time supporting local farms. For my family, eating seasonal foods makes us feel more in touch with the changing seasons outside. Autumn means collards and broccoli, the last of the okra...and pumpkins!

4. Buying local reduces your carbon footprint. Food scientist Richard Pirog calculated that the average produce travels 1,500 miles in 3 days to reach his state. Farther than that if you live on the East Coast. Shipping food across the country uses 17 times as much fossil fuels and emits 5 to 17 times as much carbon dioxide as distributing food within a local system.

5. Food from small farms is much more likely to be raised without chemicals, protecting our health and wildlife habitat. Chemical fertilizers used in agribiz are made from fossil fuels. Farm machinery such as harvesters and combines use fossil fuels. As we all know, fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change.

6. Buying local supports the rural way of life. Hundreds of thousands of small farms have gone out of business in the last decade. Corporations have taken over food production, and rural lands are being sold to developers to accommodate urban sprawl.

7. Although the number of small family farms is decreasing due to consolidation into large industrial farms, the number of organic or sustainable farms operated by young entrepreneurs is increasing. The number of farmers markets in the U.S. has quadrupled in the last 7 years, to a total of 7,175 in 2011. In just the last year, the number of farmers markets has grown by 17%! By buying local, we can help this new wave of small farmers fight back against industrial agriculture.

8. When you buy local, you are choosing not to support industrialized farms that exploit immigrant and minority laborers. On many such farms, illegal immigrants are threatened with deportation when they complain about injuries. For more information on abuses to farm laborers, see any of these articles:

Injustice on our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry
Food Industry Abuses Workers as a Matter of Course
Labor in the Food System
The Cruelest Cuts
Blood Sweat and Fear
Throwaway workers

Keywords: local food agribusiness fossil fuels global warming seasonal food family farms chemical fertilizers healthy diet farmers markets sustainable food sustainable farms immigrants labor rights organic top 10 reasons

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crowd overflows hearing for Duke Energy rate hike: more coal and nuclear at stake

Citizens wait to speak at Duke Energy rate-hike hearing in Charlotte
Last night, Duke Energy held a public hearing on its proposed 17% rate hike. The room was packed with irate citizens, but many were turned away for lack of space. Most who did speak passionately opposed the rate hike, citing the health and environmental effects of coal pollution, or the economic hardship of such a big rate increase. The speaking continued for more than 4 hours.
The Charlotte Observer published an article at the top of page 1A on the hearing's events, "Crowd jams hearing on Duke rate hike." The Business Journal also published an account of the hearing.

The hearing was preceded by street theater and a press conference with local organizers protesting Duke's persistent reliance on dangerous and expensive energy sources - coal and nuclear. Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, and NC WARN were among organizations with Charlotte chapters that were active in preparing for the hearing.

Ken and I were among the speakers. Below in blue flont is the short speech I made to the Utilities Commission members at the hearing (who will decide whether to approve the rate hike), to Duke attorneys and employees, and to the roomful of concerned citizens and activists. I talked about the long range effects of climate change (due to coal) and the unfairness of Duke's overcharging ratepayers in order to lure fearful investors. Investors should be afraid of high-risk and expensive nuclear and coal plants.

Some of my remarks were quoted in the Charlotte Observer and in the Business Journal today (October 12).

What I said at the hearing:

"I am a biologist, Ph.D., and author of 11 books on science topics. I’m going to comment on the global effect of adding more coal plants, and on the risk to investors, which is being passed on to ratepayers.

"First of all, I personally would not mind paying any rate hike if the money were going toward developing clean and renewable energy, or energy efficiency.

"I do object to any rate hike that goes toward building new coal plants, nuclear plants, and natural-gas plants.

"As a biologist, I care deeply about all life on the planet, human life and wildlife. We are at an unprecedented turning point on the planet, for people and for wild things. Coal is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. If our generation doesn’t act right now, much of the biosphere as we know it will be destroyed by the effects of climate change. More than 80% of biologists believe we will experience mass extinctions of wildlife this century. So our descendants will live on a planet with maybe half of the wildlife species that we knew as children. As far as human life: you’re all aware, I’m sure, of how climate change will affect agriculture worldwide, creating floods and droughts that will cause widespread famine. Close to half of all humans live near coastlines that will be permanently flooded.

"This climate emergency means we need to adopt drastic energy-efficiency programs and safe, renewable energy sources. But instead, Duke is building more fossil fuel and nuclear plants, at huge risk and expense.

"Why? I don’t know why. It doesn’t make sense for the planet or financially. Investors know it too, which is why we’re being asked to pay more. Investors don’t like risk. They must be lured by a higher rate of return to invest in such risky energies. Financial risks to investors in coal and nuclear include probable EPA regulations regarding mercury, coal-ash waste, air toxins, a possible carbon tax, the cost of scrubbers, and Fukishima related nuclear-regulations.

"Investors SHOULD be worried that Duke’s dangerous power plants will face expensive regulations to make them less dangerous. It’s not fair to make consumers pay more so Duke can use our money to attract investors to these dangerous energy sources.

"Energy efficiency is by far the cheapest energy source. Wind and solar are both plummeting in price, while the costs of coal and nuclear plants and fuels keep going up. Once wind and solar resources are built, they have no fuel costs at all. Most importantly, energy-efficiency and renewable energy would preserve the climate and water on which all species, including the human species, depend."

Sally Kneidel

Most speakers opposed the rate hike and Duke's reliance on coal and nuclear
Keywords: Duke Energy rate hike hearing Charlotte North Carolina Greenpeace Rainforest Action Network NC Warn Carolina Clean Air Coalition coal global warming climate change asthma air pollution Sally Kneidel

Thursday, October 06, 2011

My review of vegan cookbook Blissful Bites: Food bytes from an inspired chef

Blissful Bites is a very impressive new vegan cookbook. The author, Christy Morgan, could easily be a  professor of vegan or macrobiotic cooking at a culinary university - her book seems that comprehensive. As it turns out, she does in fact teach classes on her own.

Great resource for new or expert cooks
This is an excellent book for novices or for cooks expanding their skills. The first pages cover "pantry basics," or how to stock the kitchen. Christy recommends various kitchen tools, from specific knives and cutting boards to steamer baskets and sushi mats. The book includes lists and descriptions of her favorite spices, vinegars, condiments, flours, grains, natural sweeteners, oils, cooking techniques, etc. I'm sure I'll use it as a reference book for cooking materials.

I like...
I especially like that this cookbook is vegan, for health reasons and because the livestock sector contributes about half of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. I like that she has a variety of recipe categories: breakfasts, appetizers and soups, salads, vegetable sides, whole grains, proteins, desserts. The recipes I've tried have all been delicious, and relatively easy. I've especially enjoyed the "Lentil-coconut Curry," the "Fiesta Quinoa Salad," and "Orange-kissed Almond Macaroons" (fantastic!!).

Macrobiotic influence: local and seasonal
Christy doesn't say that her recipes are macrobiotic, but she does acknowledge a macrobiotic influence: "Along my path to bliss, I studied macrobiotics as part of my holistic nutrition training." I do see macrobiotic elements in her recipes. For example, the recipes are grouped seasonally, to help the reader make use of local and seasonal foods. (Great for reducing our carbon footprint, thank you Christy!) She also avoids refined sweeteners and honey, using alternatives such as maple syrup and agave nectar.

Sweet / sour aspects
Some macrobiotic cooks seek sweet and sour tastes, and I notice that Christy uses vinegar and/or sweeteners more than I usually do. For example, her "Sweet Potato Puree" calls for 2 T of vinegar. "Kale Salad with Curry-coconut Sauce" lists 1 T of maple or brown-rice syrup. The "Marinated Portabella Steaks" and "Lemon-kissed Brussels and Butternut Squash" include both vinegar and maple syrup. In addition, she sometimes includes either a "sweet" spice (nutmeg, cinnamon) or a sweet fruit (cherries, pineapple) in an otherwise savory dish. I'm not a big fan of vinegar, or of sweets in savory dishes. I changed my mind about preparing a few of the recipes after noticing vinegar or something sweetish in a grain, vegetable, or protein dish - such as nutmeg in her polenta fries. I do applaud her for breaking away from the usual, and wish my palate were more adventurous. For those of you who like sweet and sour flavorings, you might really love this approach.

My challenge as a cook....
Whole grains are strongly emphasized in macrobiotic cooking, and Christy has 26 recipes for "Whole Grains and Carbs," almost all of which look very inventive. I especially enjoyed the "Millet Mashed Potatoes." For more dinnertime staples, she also has 24 "Vegetable Sides" and 24 "Compassionate Proteins." My particular challenge as a family cook is coming up with plant-based protein dishes every day for supper. We eat a lot of beans at our house. One reason I liked The Happy Herbivore cookbook so much is that Lindsay Nixon provided so many recipes that could be used as vegan entrees. I'd like to see more recipes with significant sources of protein in Blissful Bites.

Hearty recommendation
Overall, it's easy for me to recommend this vegan cookbook by a principled, professional, and very creative chef.  If you're looking for imaginative and original vegan recipes, you'll find this book chock full of them.  In addition to its bounty of information, the book is loaded with full-color photos.  It's a great book for a holiday gift, and I would especially recommend it for those seeking new experiences in vegan dining.

Keywords: Blissful Bites Christy Morgan The Happy Herbivore Lindsay Nixon vegan cookbook vegetarian cookbook carbon footprint macrobiotic

GOOD NEWS! Proof that no-fishing-zones work!

We all know the oceans are in trouble. Since "large-scale fishing" began in 1952, the abundance of large oceanic fish has decreased globally by 90%. Too many boats with too much capacity are chasing too few fish. Bottom trawlers drag nets across sea beds and coral reefs, cutting down everything in their path. The heavy-duty fishing lines in use by the "long-line industry" could encircle the globe 550 times. Fishing vessels, and airplanes that track schools of fish illegally, are equipped with so much detection equipment, fish have no chance of escaping. Check out my review of the fact-filled documentary "End of the Line: Where have all the fish gone?" for more on that score. The whole story of the exploitation of our oceans is pretty scary.

But in a sea of bad news, I heard some good news last week. For one thing, I met the inspiring director of Greenpeace, and heard a little about Greenpeace's campaign to save our oceans. Read on for details. The second thing I want to tell you is an important new report from a no-fishing-zone in Mexico.

But first things first.

Kumi Naidoo, Intl Exec Dir of Greenpeace.  Photo used with permission. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace
Greenpeace's dynamic director - you gotta see this guy speak
Kumi Naidoo is Greenpeace's International Executive Director. He was in my hometown last week (Charlotte) to help us fight the merger of the coal-burning Duke Energy with Progress Energy, a merger that would make Duke the biggest and most powerful utility in the U.S.

But Kumi talked about a lot of things - including oceans. He said that Greenpeace is trying to get 40% of our total ocean area declared fishing sanctuaries, or no-fishing-zones. I love it. It's a huge goal, but who knows. With Kumi at the helm, nothing would surprise me. This man is fearless, tried-and-true. And Greenpeace has a long history of effective ocean activism. Consider supporting their campaigns by visiting their website.

Now, the second thing I wanted to mention - a very hopeful scientific report I saw last week, which was coincidentally related to Kumi's comments about fish sanctuaries.

Good news!
Mexico's Gulf of California has a national marine park that's been closed to fishing since 1995. A 1999 survey of the 71-square-kilometer park found no big fish, no top predators such as giant grouper or snappers. These big fish are the most common targets for fishers.

But there's been a turn-around. A recent survey showed that the fishing ban has had a dramatic effect! In the years since the park has been protected, the total mass of fish in the park has quintupled. The number of top predators has also soared. These big fish are indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Both of these trends are the opposite of those for fish in unprotected waters of the Gulf.

The park is Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, located close to where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean. This study of Cabo Pulmo is a model for over-harvested oceanic areas - which could include most of the ocean perhaps. It's a strong argument for the creation of more fish sanctuaries, and counters the skeptics who've said that no-fishing-zones could have no effect.

"People who object to marine protected areas, especially to strong protection like here, often say there is no proof that they work," says Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Institute in Bellevue, Washington. "Well here is the proof."

Although protection of the park has overall been a huge success, sharks remain rare in the park, because of heavy over-harvesting for the fin trade as well as slow reproduction rates.

This study was published in the August 12 PLoS ONE (an online science journal) by Octavio Aburto-Oropeza and his colleagues of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Want more?
If you want more detail about the destructive capacity of modern fishing, check out my review of the fact-filled documentary "End of the Line: Where have all the fish gone?". This film and the original book version by Charles Clover are both on Amazon. Another good book about the over-harvesting of our oceans is The Empty Ocean by Richard Ellis.

To learn about solutions and actions you can take, see the Greenpeace website.

Keywords: Greenpeace fish sanctuaries no fishing zones Kumi Naidoo End of the Line Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park Octavio Aburto-Oropeza Elliot Norse Scripps shark fins