By Philip Warburg | Faced with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, some environmental leaders are all too ready to toss a lifeline to aging, uneconomic nuclear power plants. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), long venerated as America’s most rigorous nuclear watchdog group, joined this chorus in early November.
A Q&A with Jacy Reese | First is the scale and ubiquity of suffering on factory farms. Over 100 billion animals are in the food system, and over 90% live on factory farms. That figure is over 99% in the US, based on USDA farm size data and the EPA’s definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. The animals on these farms are confined in dreadfully tight spaces; even on a cage-free egg farm, there is usually less than a square foot of space per bird. Chickens and turkeys grow so much meat so quickly that they often topple under their own weight and die from heart attacks or organ failure. Many have their beaks tips cut off without anesthetic.
By Jacy Reese | Few buzzwords are more important in food marketing than “natural.” It’s been applied to everything from Cheetos to Minute Maid with high fructose corn syrup. Yet despite its meaninglessness, fifty-nine percent of shoppers say they regularly check for the label. When it comes to meat, the situation is pretty crappy—in one experiment, 100 percent of ground beef samples tested positive for fecal bacteria. Virtually all meat today comes from animals who have been artificially bred for decades to grow in extremely unnatural ways. Chickens grow more than four times as large today as they did in the 1950s on the same diet.
The deadline is 2030. By then, if we don’t do everything in our power to curb the causes of global warming, it’ll be too late. The world’s leading climate scientists issued this warning in a report at the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Among the worst-case scenarios forecast in the report are inundated coastlines, intensifying droughts, extreme heat, and poverty. It’s harrowing to think about. Will the panic around the report incite us as a species to take a stand for our survival and climate justice for the future? Can we keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius? We reached out to our authors who specialize in environmental issues to find out.
By Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce | “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
By Marcus Eriksen | On the table were familiar objects from Kamilo Beach, Hawaii: degraded toys, bottles and caps, glow sticks, small net ﬂ oats, and pieces of crates with Chinese characters on them, arranged in glass cases like museum artifacts. “Do you know this place?” Sophie asked.
In a world polluted by plastics that humankind just won’t quit, Starbucks plans on phasing out plastic straws in its 28,000 stores by 2020. Many applaud the company’s decision to do its part in reducing marine plastic pollution, even though the caffeine watering hole will be replacing the straws with sippy cup-like lids made from—you guessed it!—plastic. So how much of a dent will this make in the grand scheme of protecting our environment? We have less than two years to see the results. And what about those of the disability community who depend on straws? Did Starbucks think their decision through? We reached out to some of our authors to get a broader sense of the impact this will have on several fronts: environmental activism, consumer activism, and disability rights.
By Fred Pearce: Lanzarote, an island off the west coast of Africa, was a tranquil place in the eighteenth century, ruled by Spanish priests and visited occasionally by ships making the transatlantic crossing. Farming was rudimentary and the living poor. The island had less rain than much of the Sahara desert. Then came a series of massive volcanic eruptions that shook the island almost without a break from 1730 to 1735. A priest described how, at the height of the eruptions, “the earth suddenly opened… a gigantic mountain rose and sank back into its crater on the same day, covering the island with stones and ashes”.
A Q&A with Fred Pearce: Nuclear scandals and disasters have been a recurring theme of my life as an environment journalist for several decades. But they seemed to have fallen off the radar. Old news, but definitely not fake news. Then I was commissioned to visit the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry, both military and civil, at a remote spot on the northwest coast of England called Sellafield. I was profoundly shocked at what I found, from the mile-after-mile of coastal mud that qualifies as radioactive waste to the world’s largest stockpile of plutonium, sitting inside a warehouse and wide open to terrorist attack. I set out to explore the world’s hidden legacy of nuclear fallout and debris, and this book is the result.
By Philip Warburg: Donald Trump’s much-touted tariff on imported solar panels and cells couldn’t be a worse fit for America’s energy needs. Instead of accelerating our use of solar power, it will discourage the development of this clean energy resource and rein in the growth of solar jobs. For a president who—in his rhetoric at least—is hell-bent on creating US jobs and putting America First, does this move make any sense?
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker: By now it’s obvious that Donald Trump is acting out a twisted vendetta to erase every trace of Barack Obama’s eight-year legacy. The creation of the Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monuments are part of that legacy, which were efforts to protect vast swaths of relatively pristine and undeveloped land in southern Utah in one of his last acts as president. That’s one frame for understanding Trump’s recent reversal of the monument designation for most of that land—approximately fifty percent for Staircase Escalante, and eighty-five percent in the case of Bear’s Ears. Altogether, the national monument designation protected roughly 3.5 million acres of public lands.
By J. A. Mills: “Trump administration to reverse ban on elephant trophies from Africa,” read an ABC News headline on November 15. The first thing I thought—and tweeted—was, “Of course, President Trump lifted the US ban on import of elephant ‘trophies’ from Zimbabwe and Zambia! Don Jr. is a big game hunter!” Apparently, Eric Trump is, too. The next thing I thought was, “Zimbabwe? Are you kidding me? Where President Robert Mugabe dismisses wildlife conservation as “neocolonialism” and once celebrated his birthday with an elephant barbecue in a display of his disdain? Does the Trump administration really think the Mugabe government puts hunting fees back into conserving wild elephants?”
By Philip Warburg: At a time when President Trump and his followers in Congress are hell-bent on dismantling the clean energy architecture of the Obama era, many Americans are looking beyond Washington, and even abroad, for solutions to our climate crisis. I recently witnessed one of these transformative gems on a visit to the Danish island of Samsø, which just passed the twenty-year mark in a campaign to supply all of its energy needs from local renewable resources.
By Steve EarlyThe Chevron fire became a wake-up call for citizen action to make California refineries safer for their own workers and less harmful to air quality, community health, and the environment in general. Since August 2012, labor and community organizers have used lobbying, litigation, regulatory intervention, electoral politics, and strike activity to pursue these goals. There has been some safety enforcement progress, modest financial concessions by Big Oil, and related promises to behave better in the future. Yet, thanks to Big Oil’s legal and political clout in our nation’s second largest oil refining state, the wheels of environmental justice turn much too slowly.
A Q&A with Marcus EriksenPlastic can entangle wildlife, but much of the harm comes from ingesting micro plastics. Single-use products that leave our land are shredding in the oceans to form microplastics the size of grains of rice or smaller. These absorb other pollutants, like pesticides and industrial chemicals, in high concentrations. The literature is showing that these chemicals then migrate into the bodies of marine life when ingested. Plastic is proving to be a vector for pollutants to get into the food chain, which much of humanity harvests to feed itself.
By Wen StephensonThere’s a popular image of Henry David Thoreau as an apolitical hermit, a recluse, aloof and detached, even misanthropic, a crank indulging his private fantasy in his cabin in the woods. This has always been a caricature; his active involvement in the Underground Railroad and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act put the lie to it. We know that he helped multiple fugitives on their way to Canada, guarding over them in his family’s house—the Thoreau family were committed abolitionists, especially his mother and sisters—even escorting them onto the trains, which entailed no small personal risk. And of course, we know that he wrote and spoke forcefully and without compromise against slavery and for human freedom.
By Tom Montgomery FateIn Walking Thoreau writes “Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present.” In his Journal he writes. “Both for bodily and mental health court the present.” But how is that possible in the modern world?
By Howard AxelrodApple Sirs, I thank you for your appreciation of my lecture at the recent TED Dead conference: “Thinkers of Yesterday, Challenges of Today.” (Your company, as Mr. Jobs declared in his own lecture, truly has eyes and ears everywhere.) I must confess some of your letter eluded my understanding—for instance, the polite imperative: “Please drill down to deliverables.” Am I to understand that you view my ideas as buried underground, like a vein of gold or a healing spring?
By Claire Hope CummingsThe flooding of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault comes as a warning. Although the seeds are safe for now, this close call should caution us not to assume we can control and predict the natural world. Climate change, natural disasters, and social unrest are ever-present threats to seeds. The best response is to take action on two fronts: globally, as the Svalbard Seed Vault is doing; and regionally, by supporting traditional plant breeding on farms and by local seed banks, as well as conserving natural areas that protect plants.
By Marc Bekoff and Jessica PierceThe number of animals kept captive as pets is mind-boggling. In US households alone, there are an estimated seventy-eight million dogs, eighty-six million cats, ninety-six million freshwater fishes, nine million reptiles, and twelve million small animals. These numbers have been steadily growing for the past four decades. Even in the economic downturn, the pet industry was one of the few that showed continued growth. Unlike farming and laboratory research and especially zoos, where good welfare for animals lines up with productivity and quality, the same is not true within the pet industry.