Food Waste = Resource Waste

Following up on my post last week about food waste, hunger and population, here’s a video analysis of all the resources that also get wasted every time food rots or gets thrown out. (h/t Sam10K).

Talk about an updated version of your parents’ old: “Aren’t you going to finish your dinner? There are starving people in PICK YOUR PLACE that would kill for that food.”

It also gives new meaning to the importance and potential of the “sharing economy.”

A Scientist Combats Climate Change (A Bit)

Eric Holthaus quit flying to reduce his carbon footprint:

This week marks one year since I last flew on an airplane. To the likely dismay of Fox News, which called me a “sniveling beta male,” my decision didn’t result in a dramatic tailspin of self-loathing or suicide, the ultimate carbon footprint reducer. Quite the contrary: It’s been an amazing year.

My decision was prompted by a science report that brought me to tears. It wasn’t that the consensus statement was particularly new or noteworthy—we all know by now that climate change is one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced as a civilization—but that, for the first time, I realized that my daily actions were powerful enough to make a meaningful change.

Folks, we are in trouble if a scientist just now realizes that his daily actions are powerful enough to impact climate change. And chooses to quit flying instead of digging deep enough to discover that if he really wants to make an impact he should also have quit meat.

He comes to many of the right conclusions:

What the math behind climate science is asking for is nothing less than a revolution. Anderson thinks scientists like him should lead by example. “I think we have to start to actually act accordingly with our own analysis. That lends credibility to our work.” This holds true for nonscientist advocates, too, he believes. “Al Gore’s probably got an emission footprint similar to a small African country, and he’s wandering about the planet telling other people that they should reduce their carbon emissions.”

Still, Anderson admits that it’s a big ask to broaden the efforts from a few passionate scientists to broader society. But without that, the chances of maintaining a stable climate are slim. Still, Anderson remains about as optimistic as his research permits him to be.

“I think we will fail, but I don’t know we will fail. There’s a very big difference between those two.” Anderson continued, “It’s likely we will die trying. But if we don’t try, then we will definitely not succeed. I work in this area because I still think there’s a thin thread of hope.”

Well, maybe less than a thread if a dude can write an article about how we need a revolution, how personal choices have an impact, notes what incredible climate hogs Americans tend to be, and somehow misses the most carbon intensive choice he makes every day that he reaches for a bacon burger.

We all need to make changes. And, sure, reducing air travel can make a difference (you should have seen my wife’s face when I told her I thought we should fly only once a year, and explore the area around DC instead of immediately hopping on planes whenever we wanted to go somewhere).

But the most important and impactful first step in this personal revolution, apparently missed by both these scientists, is simple: stop eating meat. (Do that, and you might even be able to fly a little!)

And if everyone did the same, and scientists who wrote articles about climate change followed the numbers wherever they went, then we might have a little more than a “thread of hope.”

Climate and Capitalism

Zachary Karabell offers an interesting critique of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything:

In fact, capitalism—in the form of multinational corporations—is doing more than many governments and multilateral institutions to stem the progression of climate change. They are doing so because of self-interest, not altruism; the relentless demand for profit is compelling an increasing percentage of the world’s largest companies to take concerted, forceful action. Yes, many companies remain obstacles to action, as Klein argues, but increasingly, more are becoming the agents of rapid and necessary change.

To say that corporations are doing more than governments to combat climate change is not to say much, since governments have proved so incapable of communicating the problem and rallying the public behind policies to address it.

But, sure, there are corporations that are looking to make profits from developing goods and technologies that will reduce carbon emissions. At the same time, there is no question that there is a multitude of corporations, even beyond the carbon energy sector, whose businesses hurt the climate and whose profits depend on fighting changes in their business practices. And Klein is very effective in explaining how that works.

But to me, the real issue is not the behavior of specific companies. It is the structure and nature of the form of capitalism that humanity has developed and celebrated. Klein is correct, I think, that the era of deregulation gave corporations more freedom to pursue business and profits that harm the environment and climate. But the underlying dynamic is a global form of capitalism that relentlessly pursues growth and sales, promotes consumption, and does not hold corporations fully accountable for the external costs to the environment of their business practices and products.

So this shouldn’t really be an argument over whether capitalism is good or bad. Instead it should be an argument about how to reform or reinvent capitalism so that the incentives in play for both businesses and consumers don’t destroy the planet.

The single most powerful reform I can think of would be to hold businesses and consumers accountable for the choices they make, by starting to adding to the sales price of most goods the costs to the environment and climate. That would mean a tax on carbon, and much more. Want to drive a Hummer? Sure, but you will pay extra. Want to eat burgers every day? Go for it, but boy will that get expensive.

Pricing is the key variable that, to paraphrase Klein, can change everything. If businesses had to pay for their impact on the planet they would change how they do business, and carbon-heavy industries would wither away while carbon-friendly industries would grow and thrive. If consumers had to pay for the way in which their consumption impacts the planet, they would change the what they consume and how much they consume.

Of course, getting governments to make this shift is the hard part. Part of the reason that corporations and governments haven’t done a better job of confronting climate change is that their publics don’t really want to make the changes, and fear that change means sacrifice. In this regard, Klein’s argument is vital. Governments and corporations will change when voters and consumers demand it.

 

 

Humanity Vs The Planet

 

This is the most shocking, infuriating, and meaningful conclusion I have maybe ever seen:

The new Living Planet Index report from the World Wildlife Fund opens with a jaw-dropping statistic: we’ve killed roughly half of the world’s non-human vertebrate animal population since 1970.

The WWF data show that the species declines vary by habitat and geographic area. Tropical areas saw greater declines, while temperate regions – like North America – saw lesser drops. Habitat-wise, land and saltwater species saw declines of roughly 39 percent. But freshwater animals – frogs, fish, salamanders and the like – saw a considerably sharper 76 percent drop. Habitat fragmentation and pollution (think algae blooms) were the main killers of freshwater species.

The declines are almost exclusively caused by humans’ ever-increasing footprint on planet earth. “Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to provide the ecological goods and services we use each year,” according to the report. The only reason we’re able to run above max capacity – for now – is that we’re stripping away resources faster than we can replenish them.

This is a model, so I don’t know how much faith to have in the specific percentage. But it is the clear and obvious trend, and its implications for life on the planet, that should slap us in the face, wake us up, and get us thinking about how to entirely re-invent human culture, human lifestyles, and the global economy.

The way in which the ever-expanding human presence on the planet is devastating the natural world and the biodiversity that we should be nurturing (instead of destroying) should be the number one preoccupation of humanity. It should be treated with greater alarm than Ebola, Al Qaeda, ISIL, and the Kardashians.

Put the arcane and petty religious disputes aside. Put the shortsighted and endless warring aside. Put intolerance, self-interest, and callous disregard aside. Put rampant self-gratification aside. And focus on the fact that we can’t think the way we think, and live the way we live. Everything must be questioned. Everything must be changed.

Threat Assessment Gone (Very, Very) Wrong

 

So, we are filling our oceans with plastic:

I have just returned with a team of scientists from six weeks at sea conducting research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — one of five major garbage patches drifting in the oceans north and south of the Equator at the latitude of our great terrestrial deserts. Although it was my 10th voyage to the area, I was utterly shocked to see the enormous increase in the quantity of plastic waste since my last trip in 2009. Plastics of every description, from toothbrushes to tires to unidentifiable fragments too numerous to count floated past our marine research vessel Alguita for hundreds of miles without end. We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.

Plastics are now one of the most common pollutants of ocean waters worldwide. Pushed by winds, tides and currents, plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones, known to oceanographers as gyres, which comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth.

And we are filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases:

Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

Welcome To The (SeaWorld) Machine

Absolutely brilliant use of music and film to convey one visitor’s understanding of SeaWorld:

Fellow Prisoners: A day at Sea World from Justin Hofman on Vimeo.

Filmmaker’s explanation:

I never set out to make this short film. I hadn’t been to Sea World in probably 20 years but decided to give it a shot and take my niece. I tried to see the place through the eyes of young child but logic and my love for wildlife took over. I’ve spent most of my life committed to exploring wild places and observing wild animals. I understand why these places exist but also feel that it’s time we stepped back and reassessed our need to collect and to display conscious, intelligent animals.

Yes, let’s re-assess.

Big News Of The Day: NonHuman Rights Project Files Suit For Chimpanzees

“I’d really like the right to get out of here.”

We may talk about animal rights, but animals in fact have no legal rights. The NonHuman Rights Project is determined to change that, and win basic “personhood” rights for nonhuman animals, and has now filed its first lawsuit, on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy. Similar lawsuits will follow this week:

This morning at 10.00 E.T., the Nonhuman Rights Project filed suit in Fulton County Court in the state of New York on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, who is being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used trailer lot in Gloversville.

This is the first of three suits we are filing this week. The second will be filed on Tuesday in Niagara Falls on behalf of Kiko, a chimpanzee who is deaf and living in a private home. And the third will be filed on Thursday on behalf of Hercules and Leo, who are owned by a research center and are being used in locomotion experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

The lawsuits ask the judge to grant the chimpanzees the right to bodily liberty and to order that they be moved to a sanctuary that’s part of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America.

Establishing some semblance of legal rights for animals is the new frontier for “animal rights,” and potentially the most powerful strategy possible to change the way in which humans relate to animals. Much more on the lawsuits being launched this week here.

Stay tuned….

Tapping Your Kid’s Inner Frankenstein

I swear I am not making this up, but a company called BackyardBrains has released an unbelievably creepy kit for the budding neuroscientist in your home, called RoboRoach. For just $99.99 you can buy junior the tech he will need to take a live roach, wire it up, and control its movements:

Have you ever wanted to walk down the hall of your school or department with your own remote controlled cockroach? We are now excited to announce the world’s first commercially available cyborg! With our RoboRoach you can briefly wirelessly control the left/right movement of a cockroach by microstimulation of the antenna nerves. The RoboRoach is a great way to learn about neurotechnology, learning, and electronics!

I love how BackyardBrains hopes that in your excitement over this ghoulish concept (to get a better feel for how ghoulish, check out the “surgery” instructions) you will fail to notice the fact that control over the roach will be “brief” (one can only imagine what that means). In any case, I’m pretty sure infatuation with this cyborg kit would be a pretty good predictor of future serial killers.

More important, that someone even thinks RoboRoach is a cool idea bespeaks a profound cluelessness about how we should be thinking about our relationship with other species. Mark Bekoff is definitely not impressed:

Cyborg cockroaches who can be controlled by smartphones teach many wrong lessons including that they encourage bad citizen science and utterly inhumane education. They also suggest that quality and useful neuroscience “research” is something you can do from your home or wherever you and your smartphone may be. These are thoroughly misguided messages.

There is no reason to assume cockroaches cannot feel pain (see also), however, even if we learn they cannot or it seems highly likely they can’t, this does not mean it is okay to use them in invasive research or in silly and useless projects like RoboRoach.

I guess this is just an updated, techier, version of kids torturing bugs, admittedly a very powerful proclivity. But mitigating that instinct, rather than encouraging it, will no doubt make for a nicer world (or at least one with fewer Doc Ocs).

Does this look cool to you?

Or this (skip forward to 2:20):

The Story Of Solutions

The “Story Of” series tries to step up with some new ideas. I’m sympathetic but just not sure they go far enough. The ideas are good, just not big enough to change the world.

Personally, I think the single most powerful change (regular readers know where I am about to go) would be to price everything we buy differently. Instead of just pricing the cost of production (labor and materials), every good should be priced according to its production cost AND its social and environmental costs. Imagine how quickly everyone would change their behavior–the impact on consumption and the impact on carbon-heavy goods–and how quickly businesses would change what the create and sell, and how they do it.