Tag Archives: pollution

Ann Vileisis: A big vote for knowing how our food is raised

November 4, 2008 will be best remembered for the historic election of Barack Obama, but it was also a day when Californians voted their gut and their appetite.

With the passage of Proposition 2, over 63 percent of California voters cast ballots in favor of a higher standard for the treatment of animals raised for food. The new law will phase out caging practices that prevent the state’s farm animals-primarily chickens—from lying down, standing up, turning around or extending their limbs, by 2015.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, I wondered how it would turn out. Basically consumers were being asked to pay a little more for the comfort of knowing that farm animals were treated a little better.

For many this accounting is not so easy. Most of us unconsciously practice a double standard regarding the treatment of animals. We adore and spoil our pets, but we also love our steaks and fried chicken. Farm animals will be killed no matter what, so most of us simply choose not to think much about them.

Historically, before the industrialization of meat production, butchers, cooks and eaters expected to know more about the animals that would become their chops and roasts. Many understood that how animals were fed and raised determined the quality of meat, milk, and eggs. As urban eaters became distanced from farm production over the past century, this understanding was gradually lost, and the very idea of knowing about food production seemed to become irrelevant.

But things have changed over the past ten years. America’s eaters have become increasingly aware of problems with animal agriculture-a trend that dramatically peaked last spring with the largest beef recall in America’s history, triggered by an undercover video of a sick, “downer” cow being cruelly prodded straight into the meat supply. This vivid image reinforced consumer perceptions of a disturbing pattern of disregard for public and environmental health and for worker and animal welfare.

Today’s industrial animal factories are some of America’s biggest polluters, contaminating water and emitting more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector. The enormous scale of animal agriculture-with, for example, a single facility housing hundreds of thousands of chickens—has exponentially increased the potential risk for pathogens to harm pubic health. And the corner cutting and cost cutting of industrial scale producers has edged out smaller regional farms and polluted rural communities.

In the past, these problems have been regarded as unpleasant but necessary tradeoffs for the cheap and ample meat and eggs Americans have come to expect. However, rising consumer interest in local and organic foods and growing awareness about environmental and public health issues related to industrial meat production have drawn that conventional wisdom into question, compelling many to look for better ways of doing things.

Earlier this year the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (an august and diverse panel, including former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, former Kansas Gov. John Carlin, former president of the Western Montana Stockmen’s Association Dan Jackson, and other food and agriculture notables) released a report that examined the effects of industrial animal agriculture in four crucial areas: public health, the environment, rural economies, and animal welfare. The report charts an impressive blueprint for reform.

California’s Proposition 2 followed up on one of the Pew Commission’s animal welfare recommendations to phase out the “most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce risks to public health and improve animal well being.”

Beyond its meaning for farm animals, the vote for Proposition 2 clearly signifies that urban consumers are no longer comfortable taking the resigned out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach that has long sanctioned unsavory industrial animal production practices.

For too long, America’s urban consumers paid scant attention to how their meat was produced, but the passage of Proposition 2 makes it clear that meat consumers don’t want to be clueless anymore.

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

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Ann VileisisAnn Vileisis is the author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back, which was recently recognized as a Finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Visit her website.

annvileisis

About Ann Vileisis

Ann Vileisis is the author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back, which was recently recognized as a Finalist for the Connecticut Book Award.

Elizabeth Grossman: Last minute Bush Administration actions

President-elect Barack ObamaOn November 4, from the White House to state houses and the unsung offices of Soil & Water Conservation and Public Utility Districts, American voters elected what is likely an unprecedented number of pro-environment candidates. By Thursday of last week, the Office of the President-elect had already posted the “Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy America” plan. Among its goals are putting a million hybrid 150 mpg plug-in cars on the road by 2015, creating five million new “clean energy jobs” in the next ten years, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The new administration also promises to double federal funding for scientific research, increase support for science education, technological research and development, and to “restore scientific integrity to the White House.” What would be a tall order in the best of times has been made even more challenging by the past eight weeks’ events.

Not only will the Obama administration take office amid the greatest economic distress perhaps since the Great Depression, but the Bush administration has also been busy issuing end-of-term regulations that will considerably increase environmental protection challenges.

Among these new rules are:

  • A proposal that would make it impossible to use the Endangered Species Act to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and global warming even when they harm a listed species.
  • A Surface Mining Rule that could effectively eliminate a 100-foot buffer zone to protect streams from mining waste generated in mountaintop removal coal mining operations in Appalachia.
  • An EPA proposal not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water – a contaminant toxic to the thyroid now found in hundreds of water sources in over thirty states.
  • Approval of the pesticide methyl iodide to replace ozone-depleting methyl bromide, long favored by the U.S. strawberry industry. Over fifty scientists – including Nobel laureates – have written to the EPA protesting use of this powerful neurotoxin and potential carcinogen.

Environmental advocates have great expectations for what an Obama administration can achieve. But it won’t be easy. Environmental protection at a time of badly strained budgets and economic turmoil will require ingenuity and persistence – and I think, accounting for the full lifecycle costs of everything we use, including all the costs of global warming, pollution, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion.

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

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Elizabeth Grossman is the author of High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health.

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About Elizabeth Grossman

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of High Tech Trash, Chasing Molecules, Watershed: The Undamming of America (Counterpoint Press, 2002), and Adventuring Along the Lewis and Clark Trail (Sierra Club Books, 2003). She is also the co-editor of Shadow Cat: Encountering the American Mountain Lion (Sasquatch Books, 1999). Grossman’s writing has also appeared in a variety of publications, including Amicus Journal, Audubon, California Wild, Cascadia Times, Chicago Tribune, Environmental News Network, Grist, The Nation, New York Times Book Review, Newsday, Oregonian, Orion, the Patagonia catalogue, Salon.com, Seattle Times, Washington Post, and Yes! A native of New York City, she has a BA in literature from Yale University. She now lives a minute’s walk from the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. When not at her desk writing she's out exploring—hiking, camping, paddling, sketching, and watching birds.

Terry Tamminen: Bail-out or Build-out, Part 2

As the Presidential race nears the finish line— with the candidates and voters both gasping for air amidst the ubiquitous onslaught of commercials on everything from lawn signs to Saturday Night Live—there are no shortages of “new and improved” proposals for dealing with the current financial mess. Well, if politicians can constantly add to their repertoires, so can we.

Earlier this month I suggested we should consider investing in cleantech infrastructure as a way to help America (and the world) work its way out of the current fiscal crisis. That offering laid out a vision for a self-supporting revamp of our transportation system that would create jobs, wealth, and improve the environment. Here’s another suggestion, this time focused on our electricity energy systems.

What do schools, fire stations, hospitals, government offices, and city halls have in common? They are all vital public infrastructure buildings and many, if not most, are pretty old. The older they are, the more likely they are to be wasting electricity. How about a National ESCO Project, where we recruit energy service companies (“ESCOs”), engineering firms, electrical contractors, builders, and others to go into these buildings and identify the outdated lighting, HVAC, elevators, and other inefficient uses of electricity? While they’re at it, they could also audit water use and waste disposal.

What they will find, as we have in numerous private sector facilities, is that upgrading these things will save so much electricity, that the cost is reimbursed in 18-36 months, after which the owner (that means us, the taxpayers!) starts saving real money, not to mention lots of kilowatts and avoided pollution.

As part of the National ESCO Project, we recruit banks to lend money to these institutions to pay for the retrofits. Remember all of that money that the feds are pumping into banks in the hopes that it will find its way into lending to re-start the economy? This would be some of the smartest deployment of that capital, with multiple ROIs, that anyone could suggest. This is where the feds come in again though—to ensure more rapid uptake of the offer, they could guarantee the loans, which would not be much of a stretch considering the underlying asset values, repayment revenue streams, and creditworthiness of the borrowers.

In one stroke, you create thousands of jobs, sell lots of efficient new goods/services that generate sales taxes and other revenues to government, reduce pollution, reduce strain on the electrical grid, deploy capital into the marketplace—and save a lot of money.

If you’re among the remaining undecided voters that both candidates seem so eager to please in the next few days, perhaps you would consider supporting whichever candidate backs this “new and improved” economic stimulus plan!

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

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Terry Tamminen is author of Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction. You can visit him at www.terrytamminen.com.

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About Terry Tamminen

From his youth in Australia to career experiences in Europe, Africa and the United States, Terry Tamminen has expertise in business, farming, education, non-profit, the environment, the arts, and government. Tamminen is a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed ship captain, has run a real estate company, a recreational services business, a tropical fish breeding business, a sheep ranch, and assisted Nigeria with the creation of their first solid waste recycling program. An accomplished author, Tamminen’s latest book, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, is a timely examination of our dependence on oil and a strategy to evolve to more sustainable energy sources.  Tamminen helped to found and lead the Santa Monica Baykeeper, the Environment Now Foundation, and the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California Los Angeles. In 2007, he was named the Cullman Senior Fellow and Director of the Climate Policy Program of the New America Foundation, and an Operating Advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors.  Tamminen was appointed as the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Chief Policy Advisor to the Governor. He continues to advise the Governor on energy and environmental policy. He currently travels throughout the world, lecturing and providing private consulting services to clients, including several Governors and Canadian Premiers on climate and energy policy.

Callum Roberts: A different catch

Majorca is a Mediterranean Island hugely popular with European tourists. This year, visitors lounging on its beaches may notice an unusual number of fishing boats sweeping back and forth just offshore. This level of activity might surprise tourists who have heard of recent declines in European fish populations, especially hard pressed nearshore stocks in the Mediterranean. The solution to this conundrum is that the boats are after jellyfish, not fish.

Jellyfish are a bit of a spoiler for a beach holiday, particularly the stinging variety. In the Mediterranean, Pelagia noctiluca or the mauve stinger, is notorious and especially prone to blooms. Swarms pushed inshore by wind and tide can clear the sea of bathers almost as fast as a shout of ‘shark‘! Sometimes beaches have to be closed for days. In the heavily polluted Adriatic Sea east of Italy, great heaps of jellyfish are occasionally thrown onto beaches where they expire and putrify in the sun. Should such blooms threaten Majorcan beaches, the hope is that they will not make it ashore. Forty fishing boats are on standby throughout the summer to catch jellyfish if the need arises.

Plagues of jellyfish have become a regular phenomenon in places where fish have been overexploited and nutrient pollution fertilises the ocean. Overexploitation of fish reduces predation on jellyfish and raised nutrients stimulate plankton growth. Both conditions apply in the Mediterranean. There coastal fish populations are among the most overexploited in the world having been subject to commercial fishing since antiquity, and nutrient pollution is high from agricultural runoff, industrial effluents and sewage (much of it from the millions of visitors). As a result, the region often suffers serious outbreaks of jellyfish and other gelatinous zooplankton.

Increased jellyfish numbers can pose problems for fish stocks. In the North Sea, favourable climatic conditions in the early 1970s led to high abundances of jellyfish. Jellyfish prey on fish larvae and compete with them for other zooplankton food. The outbreak helped precipitate the collapse of herring stocks in the North Sea putting many fishers out of work. Aquaculture facilities are also at risk. Last year, more than 100,000 salmon were wiped out in an Irish fish farm after a ten square mile swarm of mauve stingers swept inshore.

There have always been outbreaks of jellyfish and always will be. Animals that can put on 10-20% of their body weight every day soon become a nuisance when conditions favour. But the increased frequency and severity of outbreaks today is a human problem the cure for which is for us to fish and pollute less. For the past century or two, fishing has been simplifying aquatic food webs and in many places has reduced the abundance of large fish more than 10-fold. Complex food webs afford fewer opportunities for outbreaks of animals like jellyfish than simplified ones. We see this truth all around us on farmland where a few species of plants dominate and chemicals must be used to control pest and weed outbreaks. We have little recourse to chemicals in the sea so must instead change the way we manage ocean resources. Instead of thinking only of what we can extract from the sea, we need to rebuild the abundance, variety and complexity of life. In such a world, Majorcan fishers could concentrate on catching fish, not jellyfish.

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Callum Roberts is Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York in England and the author of The Unnatural History of the Sea. Click here to visit his website.

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About Callum Roberts

Callum M. Roberts is a marine conservation biologist in the Environment Department at the University of York. He was first tempted into marine science by a trip to the coral reefs of Saudi Arabia, where he studied behaviour and coexistence of herbivorous fishes. This led to a lifelong love of coral reefs and effectively dispelled his prior notion that marine science was all about freezing on the deck of a North Sea trawler knee deep in fish. In the early 1990s his interests in behaviour gave way to concern about the deteriorating condition of coral reefs, leading to his current emphasis on marine conservation. Currently, Callum's research focuses on human impacts on marine ecosystems. While his interests in marine conservation have blossomed over the years, his field research remains firmly rooted on coral reefs. On the islands of St. Lucia and Saba in the Caribbean, he has studied the effects of marine reserves closed to all fishing. Those studies revealed both the huge scale of human impacts on the sea, and the means of protecting marine ecosystems from such effects. He is now working to gain acceptance for marine reserves more widely, including in Britain and Europe where he is helping fishers to promote the concept within the industry and to politicians. Callum has served on a US National Research Council Committee on Marine Protected Areas and has also been a member of the Marine Reserves Working Group, headed up by Jane Lubchenco, Steve Gaines and Steve Palumbi at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara. He was awarded a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation in 2000 to tackle obstacles to implementing marine reserves, and in 2001 he was awarded a Hardy Fellowship in Conservation Biology at Harvard University.

Terry Tamminen: When Water is Clear, So Are the Profits

It’s ironic that the images of flooding in the mid-west are accompanied by stories about government agencies pleading with people in those hard-hit areas to conserve water, because the floods have contaminated drinking water supplies. The recent salmonella poisoning of over 300 people in the US from tainted tomatoes can also be traced to polluted water used for irrigation (add to that the e-coli outbreaks from tainted irrigation water used on spinach and other row crops in the past 2 years).

OK, so I’m a broken drum, constantly beating everyone with “what’s good for the environment is good for the economy.” But it’s a hard theme to ignore when the examples are so abundant—and when we are in such desperate need of improvements in both these days.

Click here to read this article by James Flanagan about how clean water is a rapidly growing and profitable business. Most people think of clean water in terms of drinking and irrigation water supplies, but clean water is also necessary for many of the high-tech industrial processes that deliver hydrogen to fuel cells and process water for making solar panels, to name a few applications. Clean water will be a growth industry for some time to come, but shrewd cleantech investors are looking into it as a boom sector of the near term too.

Of course pollution prevention is an even better investment for both the environment and the economy, especially when it comes to water. I saw a demo last week of an amazing technology by a company called AbTech Industries where heavily polluted water was pumped into a stormwater treatment system and the clean water emerged from the other side – - 99% of the bacteria removed, along with the oils and sediments. Now that’s cleantech!

The poet said “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink…”. Smart cleantech companies are changing that adage in a hurry, making both clear water and clear profits!

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Terry Tamminen is author of Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction. You can visit him at www.terrytamminen.com.

annvileisis

About Terry Tamminen

From his youth in Australia to career experiences in Europe, Africa and the United States, Terry Tamminen has expertise in business, farming, education, non-profit, the environment, the arts, and government. Tamminen is a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed ship captain, has run a real estate company, a recreational services business, a tropical fish breeding business, a sheep ranch, and assisted Nigeria with the creation of their first solid waste recycling program. An accomplished author, Tamminen’s latest book, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, is a timely examination of our dependence on oil and a strategy to evolve to more sustainable energy sources.  Tamminen helped to found and lead the Santa Monica Baykeeper, the Environment Now Foundation, and the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California Los Angeles. In 2007, he was named the Cullman Senior Fellow and Director of the Climate Policy Program of the New America Foundation, and an Operating Advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors.  Tamminen was appointed as the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Chief Policy Advisor to the Governor. He continues to advise the Governor on energy and environmental policy. He currently travels throughout the world, lecturing and providing private consulting services to clients, including several Governors and Canadian Premiers on climate and energy policy.

Terry Tamminen: A Level Playing Field

Everyone hates their taxes being spent on subsidies — unless it’s to subsidize their own industry. It’s time for an honest debate about the role of subsidies in a 21st Century economy and, at least, a restructuring to a more level playing field.

Examples? When I served in California state government, the Schwarzenegger administration tried for three years to push through a solar incentive package. Ultra-conservative State Senator Tom McClintock rose during the debate in red-faced indignation and bitterly opposed any subsidy of an industry that couldn’t stand on its own two feet. I’ve heard that argument repeatedly, often by the same politicians who support massive subsidies to the oil and coal incumbents, despite the fact such “incentives” are hardly needed to get fossil fuels out of the ground.

The latest salvo comes from President Bush, who yesterday said it was time to end subsidies to “multimillionaire farmers.” He was addressing a point about sharp increases in food prices, making wealthy agribusinesses even wealthier, partially the result of rising fuel costs and ill-conceived government mandates/incentives to produce ethanol. Ironically, the President told Congress he would veto any bill than shifts even a small portion of the $100 billion/year subsidies given to oil companies towards alternative energy sources.

Given that oil companies are recording profits that are the highest in the history of commerce — not just in the oil business, in the history of ALL commerce — it is hard to fathom. Moreover, some say the incentives are still needed to keep oil companies investing in new oil exploration and to build more refinery capacity. But few new discoveries are being made or exploited and refinery expansion lags demand by an increasing and exponential pace. So much for performance-based subsidies.

The role of subsidies should not be annuities for wealthy campaign contributors, but should be used as a way to level the playing field when incumbents have been given a similar (or far greater) head start. They should be strategically used to jumpstart businesses that will provide multiple benefits to the people — in the case of incentives for renewable fuels or clean energy technology, the benefits are domestic jobs, reduced dependence on a shrinking fuel source, exports, improved public health by reducing pollution, and a planet that is less at risk of biting us in the backside with ever more drastic climate change impacts.

Those multiple benefits are something the incumbents can’t provide — and it’s time to tilt the playing field in the direction of positive outcomes and end the fossil-fueled, taxpayer-funded boondoggles to the rich.

Posted by: Terry Tamminen, author of Lives Per Gallon, The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction. Visit him at www.terrytamminen.com.

annvileisis

About Terry Tamminen

From his youth in Australia to career experiences in Europe, Africa and the United States, Terry Tamminen has expertise in business, farming, education, non-profit, the environment, the arts, and government. Tamminen is a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed ship captain, has run a real estate company, a recreational services business, a tropical fish breeding business, a sheep ranch, and assisted Nigeria with the creation of their first solid waste recycling program. An accomplished author, Tamminen’s latest book, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, is a timely examination of our dependence on oil and a strategy to evolve to more sustainable energy sources.  Tamminen helped to found and lead the Santa Monica Baykeeper, the Environment Now Foundation, and the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California Los Angeles. In 2007, he was named the Cullman Senior Fellow and Director of the Climate Policy Program of the New America Foundation, and an Operating Advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors.  Tamminen was appointed as the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Chief Policy Advisor to the Governor. He continues to advise the Governor on energy and environmental policy. He currently travels throughout the world, lecturing and providing private consulting services to clients, including several Governors and Canadian Premiers on climate and energy policy.