IBI Watch 8/11/13

11 08 2013

Meating the Future //

What’s for dinner matters. A lot. For proof, look no further than this week’s announcement of the latest Frankenfood breakthrough – “meat-free” beef. OK, that’s my term for a product created in the library from cattle stem cells. The price for such a feat? A cool $330,000. The fact that such resources would be committed to producing artificial beef says something about people’s deep-seated love for the stuff. But it also hints at an underlying uneasiness that has only been growing in recent years. Despite that trend, Americans eat on average 61 pounds of beef a year – more than a pound a week. Whether or not that lab-cultured goo ultimately becomes a marketable product, there are many good reasons to rethink our beef habit.

At the top of most people’s lists, for better or worse, is human health. The link between excess body weight and type 2 diabetes is well established. But recent studies link this killer – a virtual epidemic – to meat consumption itself. That is, even people who manage not to gain weight while consuming a diet including red meat still show a higher rate of diabetes than those who avoid beef. And diabetes is not all. Of all antibiotics used in the United States, an ungodly percentage – 80 percent – is fed to livestock. Some of that is used legitimately to treat infections, but the lion’s share is for one of two purposes – to encourage fast weight gain, or to keep infections from starting in the first place. And of course those infections are so much more likely because of conditions on the modern factory farm. And if that sounds like a far-away, even concocted, problem, read this. So get this – in order to keep meat prices artificially low, we are risking runaway infections as bugs evolve to shrug off our onetime miracle antibiotics.

And factory farm practices bring us to the next powerful reason to rethink meat. It’s the animals’ inhumane lives. You don’t have to be an ELF eco-terrorist or even a PETA activist to object to factory-farm practices such prison-cell-style gestation crates for sows – just one of the kind and gentle ways that bubbly bacon starts its journey to your breakfast plate. And mama pigs that can’t even turn around are just the beginning. This Humane Society site has a number of videos – just pick your favorite cruel practice.  And then there are the manure lagoons which – guess what – are poorly regulated.

The ponds of putrefying poop lead to arguably the most compelling reason of all – for many reasons, our modern, sleek, massive, industrial meat-production system is just not sustainable. Should developing countries such as India and China – where meat consumption is rapidly growing along with wealth – emulate western per capita consumption levels, we will need several new planets. There’s a lot to learn in the eleven-minute PBS video at that link. And finally, the biggest sustainability issue with meat consumption is climate change. According to the EPA, 14% of US greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. And it is more than just the emissions, as this Worldwatch piece attests – producing meat consumes dramatically more fossil fuel than directly producing food for human consumption – grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.

A lot of money and political might are tied up in our current way of eating. As you might expect, that power will not accept sustainable change easily. The reaction is a new wave of “ag-gag” laws. These are laws – often pushed by good old ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) – that enact severe penalties for whistleblowers who dare to lift the veil of secrecy from industrial farming. The July/August Mother Jones has a fine article by Ted Genoways detailing this crackdown. And note the clever positioning of these efforts – laws that purport to protect the food supply actually “protect” the inhumane, unsustainable practices from public view. Here is more on well-policed secrecy from AlterNet.

In the modern era of rapid information sharing, Big Ag has a problem, and the honchos and spinmeisters know it – most people do not want to return to the days of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle. And if people can see what goes on, they object. I think Nicholas Kristof got animal treatment just right in a recent New York Times information piece.

So for a whole range of good reasons, eating less meat is the right thing to do. And a good first step is looking at sourcing. It was the book Fast Food Nation that dissuaded me from ever again consuming factory burgers. But deciding to eat less meat is not so hard when there are great resources for food that is healthier for us and the planet. A good place to start is Michael Pollan’s advice – “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm is always a good idea (if you could see my refrigerator, you would understand why). You don’t even have to give up meat entirely to do so.

Pay a little more, use a lot less, meet a much better future.


It’s Us, Says Fox News . . . Not

The climate-change-related extreme weather is almost too common to document. It’s the off-the-charts phenomena that really tell the story. There is China’s ongoing heat wave, by some measures pushing temps and humidity to the limits of human tolerance. Here’s more on that wave and its effects on the food supply.  And then we have California’s fire season, which is just beginning and already poised to set records.

One canard heard often in denialist circles in recent years is this one – “Climate change stopped in 1998.” This is related to a possible slowing in the rate of temperature rise. But all that additional carbon dioxide we spew every day – 90 million tons to be exact – has to go somewhere, and continues to have massive, spreading effects. Where will these effects go? Well, the idea of the climate reaching some plateau and staying there while we continue business-as-usual alteration of the atmosphere’s chemical makeup is ludicrous. This graphic details the consequences at various degrees of warming, and there is always the Venus Effect looming in the not-so-distant future if we really screw up. As for the spin on temperatures stabilizing, more evidence is emerging that the oceans are absorbing more of the heat. And if you think that just means more pleasant swimming off Maine, think again.

A radical organization – NOAA – spoke up this week on the causes of climate change – all seven billion of us. So, with all this evidence, why does a level of doubt survive that is sufficient to paralyze policy? Let’s be generous and give credit where credit is due. And let’s be really generous to the right-wing, corporate propaganda machine. This article flips propaganda on its head – showing the truth that would be driving policy, if that imaginary beast, the great and fearful liberal media of myth, really existed.


Florida – State of Caution

I have nothing against the Sunshine State. Many fine people live there. Many more are from there. It is home to the amazing Everglades, for now. But it is also the land of strange, and the stolen 2000 election is only the tip of the alligator.

First, there is news that more election shenanigans are on the way. Do you think there might be just a few minority voters who are actually citizens caught up in this drift net? Now folks, trust that shiny talking head. This has nothing, nothing I say, to do with suppressing the Democratic vote in that evenly divided state.

Then there is the environment. Massive marine creature die-off, anyone? Move along, folks. And develop more of that coastline –  dollars count most.

How about a taser death for a petty crime? Artist?! Hah! He was just painting graffiti on an old abandoned building. Viva the clean plywood!

And don’t forget stand-your-ground and Trayvon Martin.

All this really makes me want to go back and read Carl Hiaasen’s novels. But it does not make me want to visit.


Building Solar

Think of who pays the highest price for our fossil-fuel addiction. Hint – it’s not the consumer at the gas pump. In one hopeful sign for the future, the military is driving the bus on this. And this bus is sustainable – it is the solar energy future.


How a Hero is Made

This AlterNet piece concisely describes an interesting bit of right-wing history. It’s about how Paul Ryan’s hero attained that status. Beware these disciples and true believers.


Carpe Fava

Watch this short, entertaining video. It will get you thinking about what to do with the rest of the day, and maybe more.



“There is no such place as away.” -Chief Seattle



Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


IBI Watch 5/26/13

26 05 2013

A Three-Beast Tale //

We humans could be doing so much more to share the world with our fellow travelers. Here are stories of three of our fellow large mammals and the treatment they are receiving from the most intelligent – at least that is our assumption – and most destructive – that’s obvious – species in the system. Note the absence of the term “fable” in the title of this piece. That’s because this is all too true.

First up – the elephant. Anyone following environmental news knows that poaching is on a dramatic upswing. And “poaching” seems too tame a term for what is happening in recent years. The prize, of course, is the animal’s ivory tusks – most valued in China and Southeast Asia. Globalization means ever more money flowing to that part of the world, and driving elephant slaughter and ivory smuggling. Scientists fear the extinction of Africa’s forest elephants. And as National Geographic reported earlier this year, today’s crisis is far more serious than those in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately led to a ban on ivory trading in 1989.  To understand how ghastly and sad all this is, just consider the intelligence of these giants. And if you follow that link, you will understand that our steady destruction of the species is itself the cause of the occasional “elephant rage,” or attack on human settlements. Courageous conservation workers in Africa try to stem the massacre, and NGOs help as well. The World Wildlife Fund has a special focus on the species, and Save the Elephants has enlisted prominent Chinese media personalities to halt the illegal trade.

The rhinoceros may be less charismatic than the elephant, but it suffers a similar fate. Like the pachyderm’s tusk, the rhino’s horn is the focus of various health myths. Big money in China and Southeast Asia drives another illegal smuggling trade and massive slaughter of the beasts. As this PBS article notes, all species are on the road to extinction thanks to habitat loss and senseless slaughter. Just read the numbers in this HuffPost piece to understand the concern that we may soon extinguish the rhino. World Wildlife Fund is on this case too – just another good reason to support that organization.

With both rhinos and elephants, it is easy for us in the west to point the finger at others – in this case Chinese customers and African poacher/suppliers – and say it’s their problem, not much we can do except support conservationists. But this is not so with a third example. To learn our impact here, walk up and down the aisles in your supermarket – in particular snack foods and personal care. Read the boxes of crackers and cookies and just try to find one that does not contain an innocent-sounding ingredient: palm oil. Hey, at least it’s not trans fat, right? Now walk over to the soaps and read labels. Same thing. Palm oil, palm oil everywhere. So what is the problem? This. The miracle substance is unsustainable for orangutans. Considering how we are crowding our fellow primates off the planet, can’t we do something about this situation? That is the focus of the Rainforest Action Network. The RAN graphic shows another benefit of preserving orangutan habitat – fighting manmade climate change. Learn more here. See how the Sierra Club weighed in recently. And then help by finding palm alternatives and not buying this stuff. Next, sign Jason DeGrauwe’s petition..

And when you look at the forces driving these three and so many animals toward the cliff of extinction, one jumps out at you. It is our unrelenting expansion of the human population. We stand at 7 billion right now, but not for long. Buried in the story about orangutans and palm oil is this startling fact: every single day, more human babies are born than the entire remaining wild population of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans combined. The implication is clear – we either learn to share space with our fellow travelers, or our grandchildren will inherit an incredibly crowded but grossly impoverished world.

Here are three organizations educating and advocating on behalf of a sustainable human population: The Population Connection, World Population Balance and the UNFPA.


Climate Pignorance – Humorous and Harmful

Haven’t we missed Sarah Palin? Fortunately, she has not gone away from the political scene for good. She resurfaced this week to shed some light on the climate change “debate.” Heck, she even used a scientific term correctly – gluteus maximus. At least she is entertaining, unlike this guy who is merely pious and sickening. And of course the former Alaska governor is no newcomer to climate pignorance (pretend ignorance). The Skeptical Science site has dedicated an entire page to her past pronouncements.

Sarah Palin and James Inhofe are one thing, but if you want to see the biggest hurt of climate pignorance – public confusion and policy paralysis – you must seek out the big boys. And no one is bigger than these brothers. Just a couple of businessmen, pursuing their interests – which happen to include a veritable gusher of well-funded disinformation.


A Season for Cutoffs

The word “cutoffs” suggests the season that unofficially starts this very weekend. But here in the Twin Cities, summer has been slow in arriving. We have had one brief outbreak of strong warmth, and a couple of stretches of decent temps, but mostly it’s been cold and gloom these past few months.

As with everything, there is a scientific explanation. We have had a number of cutoff lows – seems like a series of them in fact. And they have not been a local phenomenon. In fact, today, as I finish this post, the very same cutoff low that gave us a solid week of gloomy, rainy weather here in the Twin Cities is spinning over the northeast coast. That means it took an entire meandering week to crawl from Iowa to Maine. Oh and by the way, the deadly tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, was part of the very same system. And with the turtle-like pace of the low’s eastward progress, some of the same areas in the South received repeated daily poundings of severe weather.

So what is going on with all this? I glance at NOAA’s national radar animation most days, and I have been curious about all these lows. I have also checked with several scientists. The verdict – cutoff lows are not that unusual, and are more common in spring and fall. But now here is where it gets interesting – the climate disruption connection.  And though we must repeat for the gazillionth time the old misused saw that no specific weather event can be unequivocally linked to manmade climate change, the associative evidence continues to pile up. And Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis, whose video work on Arctic amplification I linked to a few weeks ago (see Wacky Wobbly Weather) says that more frequent and persistent cutoff lows are precisely one of the phenomena that have been predicted as we change the chemical content of the atmosphere.

So the choice is clear. We can either continue to use a tight focus, finding some precedent for pretty much every weather event, and fool ourselves into believing the siren song of business-as-usual fossil-fueled energy, or we can get serious about the problem, tax carbon and build a sustainable energy future for the long haul. Let’s choose wisely.


3-2-1 Busted

The IRS has had more than its usual share of headlines and hatred this past week, with revelations that it targeted conservative groups unfairly. Fox News loves the story. For Michele Bachmann, it is a dream-come-true distraction from her own troubles.  The whole affair calls for a little perspective. Daily Show perspective, for instance.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN