I don’t want to alienate people, but the numbers … Earth Day 2014

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You don’t even have to find a compassionate place in your heart. Really. You don’t have to look at those gruesome pictures or watch the horrendous but important videos produced by brave folks from PETA, Last Chance for Animals, and other organizations.  You do not even need to get close to cow, pig, goat or any other farm animal rescued from the abuse that is more the rule than the exception, or to realize right away that each is a unique individual – thinking, caring, feeling.  But you do have to pay attention to what you are doing.

I know most people will dismiss it, but this stuff is pretty clear. If you want to think of yourself an environmentalist, if you want in good conscience and with any sense of integrity to say that you “care about the wellbeing of the earth,” or about “saving the planet,” or “reducing your carbon footprint,” or supporting “ecological sanity,” or “living more lightly on the land,” or any one of the many ways we so often hear and talk about sustainability … well then you have to stop eating meat, fish, and dairy products, and stop doing things that require raising and harvesting livestock or fish for food.  It really IS just that simple.

Now remember, this need not be about the suffering, although there surely is plenty. Think about it : between 1 and 3 trillion animals a year world wide.  (Yes, that’s  with a “T.” And yes of course this includes fish.  They are animals, and they clearly have pain receptors… and if you would pay careful attention, preferences.)  No… none of that.  It was Earth Day. We need only focus on our goal of living sustainably. And those numbers are pretty clear, even as they are inexact.

In a 2009 World Watch Institute report, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang published their conclusions that rather than being responsible for 18% (What … only 18%?!) of all of the climate changing greenhouse gasses (GHGs) attributable to human activity – a number larger than all of the transportation sectors combined (13%) and surely enough to make any self respecting environmentalist think hard before diving headlong into his or her next burger – in fact that number was wildly underestimated in the 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The real number, they estimated, was (conservatively) calculated to be closer to 51%.  Translation: Animal agriculture is responsible for over one half of the human generated causes of greenhouse warming climate change. (And that was in 2009. Things have increased every year since. And we haven’t even mentioned the water, the soil, the ….)

As you might expect, their report was vigorously challenged; after all, we are talking about multi-billion dollar industries. Those with a great deal to lose always defend themselves.  We need only to look back two or three decades for the work of the ‘scientists’ who were ‘not yet convinced’ by the then overwhelming evidence of links between tobacco and disease. Goodland and Anhang – two highly respected analysts for the World Bank – responded methodically, carefully, and often. And certainly there is no need to repeat the entire dialogue here. [I would invite anyone interested to start with a careful look at Robert Oppenlander’s 2013 book, Food Choice and Sustainability. ]

Plant-based eating. It really sounds a bit extreme, right.  I guess it is.  But then we just celebrated the 44th Earth Day, and, although there certainly has been progress in some areas, the earth is still woefully behind its race with the human species.  Yeah, I know, that sounds crazy.  We are also, after all, from this earth.  And of course it really isn’t much of a contest between the earth and human beings.  The earth will win. Long after we have ruined any chance for abundant life to continue on the planet; long after we have depleted arable land on which to grow food; long after we have polluted lakes, rivers and streams and drained massive aquifers; long after the glaciers have melted and the air has become so toxically loaded that life as we know it has little chance. Long after all of that, the earth itself will continue on its way.  Long after we have gone.  Perhaps for billions of years more. Oh, but what a saddened and diminished place it will be.

No this is not an effort to dismiss Meatless Mondays, Eating Local, plug-in vehicles, ride sharing, or any number of quite well-intentioned efforts to add drops to the oceans of effort it will take to stop what currently seems the inevitable rise of earth’s temperature by those devastating 2 or 3 degrees Celsius.  But in this case, the numbers speak loudly and clearly. We cannot, overnight, undo the complex web of GHG-producing transportation we have constructed. Indeed there are plenty of wonderful folks working hard on this front.  But we can, overnight, all stop raising, harvesting, producing and eating animals for food.  And that is what is required at the personal, national, and international levels. The results would be immediate, the effects inevitable, the rapid slowing and then (do we dare hope) reversal of the devastating effects of a warming earth – effects the likes of which we have just begun to feel.

Earth Day 2014. Demand an end to raising, harvesting and eating animals for food. Make it that year.

California’s water … worth a thousand words

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Between 70 and 80% of the water used in California (some figures go as high as 85%) is attributed to agriculture.  Of that, the majority is used to raise animals for food, a highly inefficient use of our water.

… and you tell us take shorter showers? Flush less often? Hmmmm…

Drought from Space

One pound of beef … six months of showers: Saving California’s Water

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On January 17th, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown stood in front of TV cameras, reporters and officials and declared what had been all but official for some weeks: California’s drought has reached emergency proportions. The declaration – an official statement that sets up conditions for federal relief – brought a request that Californians voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20%. 

Then came the flurry of suggestions for how you and I can reduce our water use. Turn the water off after we wet our toothbrushes; water our lawns earlier or later in the day to avoid loss by evaporation; stop those drips at the spigot; take shorter showers; flush less often. All quite obvious and quite visible sources of waste … all predictable …  and all a ‘drop in the bucket.’  
One quick look at a few of the numbers makes it clear. An average family of four uses between 70,000 and 130,000  gallons per year in and around its home in these more visible ways. If every member of that one takes shorter showers, reduces lawn sprinkling, shuts the spigots when toothbrushing, and is able to achieve that 20% reduction, that family will have reduced water usage by 14,000 to 26,000 gallons.
That same average family of four consumes 200 pounds of beef per year – 50 pounds per person.  Every pound of beef takes 2500 gallons of water to produce.  That’s a total of 500,000 gallons of water hiding on the family’s kitchen table.  Consider that an average 5-minute shower with a low-flow shower head uses 12.5 gallons of water.   Every pound of beef is equivalent in water usage to 200  5-minute showers.  If every member of that family eats one pound less beef, each has saved the equivalent of more than 6 months of showers!
And that’s just beef!  Every year, the average American consumes 200 pounds of meat in all forms. Add to that dairy products: one gallon of milk requires 2000 gallons of water. You can quickly see where this goes … and what we need to do.  If we want to make a meaningful dent in this water emergency, we need to change our diets.  Eat fewer animal products and more plant-based foods.  Water is conserved at the fork.
Understand, I am not suggesting that adjusting our visible water use habits is a bad idea. Waste is never wise.   But if our governor and leaders were more serious about this emergency and more willing to take on the meat and dairy industries, their message would be very different: “Change what you are eating.”
Even if they won’t, we can!
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The State That Cried “Water” … but should be crying “Food”

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Recent reports have current drought conditions the driest in the history of keeping track of the California climate. And there is no end is in sight. Farmers feel it. Ski resorts feel it.  The energy companies feel it.   Everyone.  And of course this is not limited to California.  We know that human-created cataclysmic climate change is a worldwide fact of our times

Governor Jerry Brown has recently and rightly implored all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water consumption in the face of California’s current difficulties. The length of our showers, the numbers of days we water our lawns and gardens, how we brush our teeth: everything we do that sends this precious resource down our drains. A start perhaps, but not nearly enough. We need to be looking at what’s at the end of our forks.

At even conservative estimates, the amount of water it takes to raise livestock and produce animal products for food is enormous. These days, it’s no longer even controversial. The UN said it as early as 2006.  WorldWatch just reissued a report they published originally in 2004. The Smithsonian Magazine published a piece about it in 2012.  Even more accessible URLs are clear.

Those numbers? Of course, as long as there are folks yearning for their pound of flesh, there will be debate.  Some say 2500 gallons per pound of beef. (Yes, that’s right, per pound!) Others claim “only” 1000.  The cattle industry likes the number 440.  Chicken takes less, perhaps 500 gallons per pound.

Given that human created cataclysmic climate change is right here, right now; is daily increasing in scope and severity; and is driven in huge part – 51% in fact according to a recent highly credible report – by the human manufacture of animal products, our sinks, showers and gardens are not the only place for us to look.  We must change what we eat!  We must reduce the amount of animals products we consume!

How much?  Our Governor suggests 20%.  That seems like a minimum, a start. In any event, start!

Do your part! Help save our one wild and beautiful planet.