sustainability

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Liberation BC is on The Change – come join us!

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Liberation BC has joined TheChange, which is a really cool site bringing together organizations committed to sustainability. Our page is here: http://www.thechange.com/liberation-bc/. By my count, it looks like Liberation BC is the first animal group to join TheChange, but I don’t think we’ll be the last. (On what sustainability has to do with animal rights, start here.) Anyway, take a look here for a list of organizations who’ve already joined–there’s a very diverse mix.

OK, so that’s the site; why do I think it’s cool? The idea is, as I said, bringing together people committed to sustainability. There are a few ways they’re implementing this: when you register with the site, you can pick organizations you want to “follow”, and then you get their updates. What kind of updates do you get? Well, organizations can post events and jobs, and they can integrate their blog posts and tweets with TheChange. But the heart of TheChange–at least to me–is the idea of commitments. Organizations make explicit commitments on the site, in three categories: environment, community, and employees. This puts pressure on participants to actually do things to make a change, not just mouth the word “sustainable”.

And comments are enabled on basically everything. This gives users a chance to give organizations feedback on what they’re doing–to push for the change we want to see.

It looks like TheChange is still in its early stages, but head over, join up, and follow us. This promises to be cool.

A bit of a meta-post on the Worldwatch report

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Eric Marcus wrote on his blog yesterday about the recent WorldWatch article which concluded that animal agriculture is responsible for a whopping 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Marcus quotes from Dave Steele, who has written an analysis of the report.

To sum up, Dave found that the actual number, based on the information from WorldWatch, is more like 30%, which is a lot less, but is still a whole lot. There is a link to Dave’s analysis at the end of Eric Marcus’s post.

I wanted to mention this here because the numbers are important and it’s good to always have the latest information at hand, and because Dave is a good friend and a good guy. He’s also a scientist, so he knows what he’s talking about. Dave helped us out with our environment leaflet.

In slightly related news, an article appeared in The Times this morning: “Climate chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet“.

People will need to turn vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.

In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

A screenshot of the Drudge Report this morning

A screenshot of the Drudge Report this morning

What’s extra great about this article is that it showed up as the headline article on the conservative news site, the Drudge Report. For an hour or two this morning everyone who went to the Drudge Report website saw that headline as the main headline. And a lot of people go to that website. That alone made my day.

Our appetites are killing the planet: Blog Action Day 2009 (Climate change)

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

It used to be that I would get up in the morning, eat a couple of eggs and have toast with butter, then have a ham sandwich for lunch with cheese and mayo, and then have a hamburger for dinner. All the while wearing some leather shoes and drinking glasses of milk.

I think they call that the standard American diet – but it’s pretty typical of diets across North America (yes, I mean you Canada, where we actually eat more meat per personal than our southern neighbors) as well as the UK and Australia. Maybe better to call it the “standard English-speaking diet”. Sometimes I think it should be called the “Colonial Diet” because we are consuming far more than our share of resources to feed our appetite for a whole lot of crap that’s unhealthy for us and unhealthy for the planet (and sure as hell unhealthy for animals), passing most of those costs on to poorer nations and poorer people.

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event organized by the fine folks over at Change.org. This year’s topic is climate change.

There are a lot of factors contributing to climate change. Transportation, industrial processes, energy production, and more, but the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is animal agriculture. Huge amounts of grain and soy is grown to feed a whole lot of animals. Animals who produce a whole lot of waste which produces even more greenhouse gasses. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) – an organization that’s purpose is to study food production on a global scale – published a nice big report a couple years back that concluded that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

There are a lot of other organizations and researchers who have concluded pretty much the same thing, that due to the environmental impacts of meat, egg, and dairy production, our current levels of meat consumption are entirely unsustainable.

The environmental impacts of meat go well beyond greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture is the major cause of Amazon rainforest destruction, pollutes our air and water, destroys habitat for wildlife, and is creating anti-biotic resistant bacteria because farmers feed animals antibiotics all the time so that the animals will survive miserably packed conditions long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse. Not to mention the killing of wolves and other wildlife by ranchers. All in all, the whole system is abusing our planet and us as well (even leaving out all the unsightly slitting of throats, captive bolts, scalding tanks, and ecoli in the burgers…).

Your choices at the table can have an impact. And a greater impact than buying local or driving a Prius. Even greater than riding a bicycle.

We’ve got a lot more information on our page about animal agriculture and the environment.

Read more from my fellow bloggers across the internets:

International Vulture Awareness Day

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

vulturedayblog

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day, and because I am a huge bird lover, I was excited for the opportunity to participate.  Vultures are finally getting the respect they deserve after years of being viewed as a creepy symbol of death and decay.  Of course, their unsavoury scavenging habits are actually an important part of a healthy ecology; without them, corpses are left to rot and infections are more easily spread.

There are about 20 different species of vultures, and the majority of them qualify as rare, threatened, endangered, and even extinct.  In honour of IVAD, I’m going to discuss one of the most famous endangered vulture species.

In North America, of course, that species  is the California Condor, a magnificent bird who is extinct in the wild with the exception of 172 captive-bred, released birds.   (There are another 150 living in captivity. ) This is a remarkable number considering the fact that in the mid-1980′s, there were 3 left in the wild and 22 in captivity.  Environmental groups have been working hard to monitor the success of these 322 individuals.

Condor_in_flightWhat happened to cause these amazing birds–who happen to have one of the largest wingspans in the world, and the largest in N. America, at close to 10 feet–to become so severely endangered?  The largest factors have been poaching, DDT poisoning, habitat destruction (largely due to animal agriculture), and lead poisoning.  The last occurred as a result of eating the corpses of animals killed with lead bullets.   It took until 2008–yes, last year–to require hunters to use non-lead bullets in the condors’ range, but my understanding is that the majority of them have been fairly cooperative.

I would be lax in discussing the California condor without also mentioning that not all environmentalists were in favour of capturing the last 3 wild birds–for this is what was done–and attempting to revive the species in captivity.  I am against zoos and keeping animals in captivity in general, and I am unsure about this situation.  I feel that perhaps it would be reasonable and logical if we were eliminating the major threats that face California condors, but we haven’t.  The released birds continue to be threatened by the aforementioned habitat destruction, power lines, (captive-bred condors have been trained fairly successfully to avoid human beings and power lines, but for how long can this be done?) , and hunting.  Yes, people continue to kill these birds in the most direct way possible.

Obviously this is a massive, massive topic and I have blabbed about it long enough, but if you want to learn more about California condors I would suggest checking out the Wikipedia page, which is particularly informative, and Vulture-Territory.com, which brings up the interesting idea that perhaps the condors hit their evolutionary peak hundreds of thousands of years ago and were on their way out anyway.

If you are interested in helping the condors out, though–or any endangered animal, for that matter–check out this page from the Toronto Vegetarian Association and learn about the undeniable link between animal agriculture and the destruction of wild habitats.  (Hey, even the U.N. says that it’s “one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.”)

Thanks for reading and happy IVAD!

Buying local will not save the planet

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Amanda Daniel, who writes a blog called “Into the Eyes of God” sent me a link to a story in Forbes Magazine called “The Locavore Myth.”

Forbes: The Locavore Myth

Forbes: The Locavore Myth

The author, James E. McWilliams, starts off with:

Buy local, shrink the distance food travels, save the planet. The locavore movement has captured a lot of fans. To their credit, they are highlighting the problems with industrialized food. But a lot of them are making a big mistake. By focusing on transportation, they overlook other energy-hogging factors in food production.

Here is one challenge to the goodness of buying local:

Locavores argue that buying local food supports an area’s farmers and, in turn, strengthens the community. Fair enough. Left unacknowledged, however, is the fact that it also hurts farmers in other parts of the world. The U.K. buys most of its green beans from Kenya. While it’s true that the beans almost always arrive in airplanes–the form of transportation that consumes the most energy–it’s also true that a campaign to shame English consumers with small airplane stickers affixed to flown-in produce threatens the livelihood of 1.5 million sub-Saharan farmers.

Hmmm… had we thought of that when we were hunting for locally grown beans? I know rice is another example. It’s far less energy intensive to fly rice from Asia to Canada than it is to try to grow rice in California and ship it a much shorter distance because so much energy has to go into creating the environment for rice through irrigation – an environment that exists naturally halfway around the world.

Proponents of local food often don’t take economies of scale into account:

To take an extreme example, a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market. The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon.

Then there’s the issue of meat:

Until our food system becomes more transparent, there is one thing you can do to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner: Take the meat off your plate. No matter how you slice it, it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef. That difference translates into big differences in inputs. It requires 2,400 liters of water to make a burger and only 13 liters to grow a tomato. A majority of the water in the American West goes toward the production of pigs, chickens and cattle.

The Canadian meat industry is pretty much the same as the American. We deal with essentially the same geography and irrigation issues with ranching and intensive farming.

So, what does he conclude?

If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer’s market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian.

Yup. Enough said.

Penguins at risk – what can we do?

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Emperor Penguins

Scientists have stated that the magnificent Emperor Penguin may be extinct within the century due to loss of ice caused by climate change. As the earth warms, we are going to start seeing more and more animals becoming extinct.

What can we do to help? One of the easiest and most effective ways that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is to switch to a plant-based diet. It is far more effective than even switching from a car to a bicycle or buying all local meat, milk, and eggs.

The UN reported that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s several percentage points higher than transportation.

The demise of the Emperor Penguin may not be so much caused by your SUV, but rather by the burger on your plate.

Our food choices matter

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Richard Schwartz recently posted an article on the Veg Climate Alliance website, “Global catastrophe or sustainable future?“.

A cow on a dairy CAFO

A cow on a dairy CAFO

It’s worth looking at if for nothing more that the extensive list of sources. He really looks into how exactly a shift towards a plant-based diet would reduce ghg emissions enough to give us time to solve the additional problems of transportation and energy production. It would give us some “breathing room”.

Since methane contributes a significant amount of GHGs (in CO2 equivalents) [12] and since farmed animals and their manure are by far the major source of methane, and since methane is in the atmosphere for only a short time, a major societal shift to plant-based diets would have a substantial and very rapid effect in reducing global climate change. Having major world leaders call for such a change, preferably after publicly announcing suitable changes in their own diets, could very dramatically increase awareness of the threats of global warming and the need for major dietary and other lifestyle changes. Such changes could provide some breathing space, during which other important changes could be made.

There is a lot more in there that is useful and informative. Definitely worth reading.

The Diva Cup

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

No, I don’t have personal experience with the Diva Cup myself, but Joanne asked me to write a post about it.

The Diva Cup is a replacement for disposable menstrual products. Combined with Lunapads (washable cloth menstrual pads), you may never have to buy disposable tampons or pads ever again. This may not seem like much, but according to the Diva Cup website:

Women, on average, experience a lifetime menstruation span of 41 years (11-52). From use of disposable feminine hygiene, an estimated 12 billion sanitary pads and 7 billion tampons are dumped into the North American environment each year (1998). More than 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along U.S. coastal areas between 1998 and 1999. Our revolutionary, reusable product is a modern, viable alternative to disposable tampons and pads.

You can also save a lot of money switching to sustainable menstrual products. Just think of all the pads and tampons you won’t be buying!

You can buy the Diva Cup and Lunapads right from Lunapads, a Vancouver-based, woman-owned small business.

While this isn’t something that will directly help animals, any steps we take to make our footprint smaller and reduce the amount of waste going into landfills will benefit all residents of this planet.

Local is not the answer

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The latest email newsletter from Earthsave was waiting for me in my inbox this morning. If you haven’t signed up for it, you definitely should. There are always links to valuable stories, plus news about their upcoming events.

Local food no green panacea

Local food no green panacea

One link led me to a CBC story about a University of Toronto professor who has authored a report looking at the concept of “local” food, and how it is not a solution to our environmental situation.

The problem, Desrochers says, is that food miles are based on a faulty premise. Namely, that transportation is the major contributor to a food’s greenhouse gas output.

“People who’ve never been involved in agricultural production tend to minimize the requirements,” he says. Only about 10 per cent of the energy consumed in food production is related to transportation. “So to argue that the closer you are to your food, the better, is a real over-simplification.”

“Food miles are, at best, a marketing fad,” Desrochers says in his report.

Animal products are a prime example. Even eating locally produced meat, eggs, and dairy means contributing to environmental damage and agricultural inefficiency. The carbon footprint of animal agriculture is very nearly the same, whether your chicken was raised in the Fraser valley and eaten here in Vancouver, or if he was raised in California and eaten here. Transportation adds such a small amount of greenhouse gas emissions that the benefit is negligible.

Sustainability is just a start

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

I often hear of sustainability referred to as an end goal, as if when we reach a level of sustainability, then everything is good.

foie gras protest at a restaurant praised for sustainability

foie gras protest at a restaurant praised for "sustainability"

In this way many questionable activities, like the seal hunt, like fish farming, like intensive farming of animals, are excused as being sustainable.

However, I think that sustainability is really the baseline of what we should all be doing. After sustainability comes ethics, humane treatment, caring and kindness. Sustainability is really all about meeting our essential needs without destroying the planet. Our responsibilities extend far beyond sustainability.

Often when restaurants get protested because they serve foie gras or veal their supporters excuse them by saying how great they are because they serve local foods or sustainablly caught fish. But how is this reason for praise? Isn’t this something everyone should be doing?

To me it sounds like praising someone for taking care of their family or keeping their job. Like praising them for doing something that every responsible adult should be doing.