With the Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling, Can Trump’s Damage to the Environment Ever Be Repaired?

Trump’s foul legacy: Climate activists gathered in New York City’s Foley Square to protest the June 30 Supreme Court decision that limited the EPA’s authority to regulate power plant emissions. (Photo credit: Felton Davis/Flickr)

Trump’s impact on the EPA reveals the frightening power of a corrupt president.

By Gregg Barak, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

This excerpt is adapted from Criminology on Trump” (Routledge, 2022) and was produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life (a project of the Independent Media Institute).

Grasping the enormity, the breadth, and the depth of “Trump corruption” is rather astonishing. Most news junkies and politicos alike are quite familiar with the in-your-face looting, skimming, and self-dealing of the president and his family members. Beyond the family corruption, there is a much larger world of Trump corruption. A “sliminess perpetuated by literally thousands of presidential appointees from Cabinet officials to obscure functionaries,” as reporter Jim Lardner put it in his article for the American Prospect. It is certainly difficult to tabulate all the knaves, thieves, and corporate stooges as well as the nefarious schemes perpetrated.

The corruption infected many of the government bodies designed to protect the health and well-being of all Americans, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in ways that we haven’t fully reckoned with.

Former President Donald Trump’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator was one of his most controversial appointments to a cabinet-level position. This appointment, in particular, embodied the White House’s broad support for the fossil fuel industry and disdain for climate science. Prior to his appointment, Scott Pruitt had made a career—as Oklahoma’s attorney general—of attacking the very federal agency that he would someday run. As an outspoken skeptic of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, Pruitt, along with other Republican attorney generals, led the charge and, as Rebecca Hersher and Brett Neely reported for NPR in 2018, “sued the EPA to stop ozone and methane emissions rules and block regulations on coal-fired power plants.” Of course, it was not Pruitt’s anti-environmental policies that brought about his abrupt departure after 18 months in office: That was why he was hired in the first place.

Pruitt was fired (“resigned”) because of his garden-variety corruption and lavish spending on his expenses, office and travel. He also had the habit of mixing his personal and his professional lives, which led to more than a dozen investigations by the Office of the Inspector General. For example, Pruitt spent more than $124,000 on unjustified first-class air travel and $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth. He used EPA staff to land a job for his wife, rented a condominium apartment on Capitol Hill at a bargain rate from a lobbyist’s wife, and had his security detail drive him around on personal errands. As the investigations piled up several of his close aides and EPA staffers exited the shop. After all the negative publicity, pressure mounted on Trump from the Congressional Republicans to oust Pruitt.

On Twitter, Trump announced on July 8, 2018, that he was accepting Pruitt’s resignation, noting: “Within the Agency Scott had done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.” Some of Pruitt’s “outstanding” work included his response to an initial study requested by his aides from EPA economists to reevaluate the effects of the Obama administration’s clean water rule. According to a 30-year veteran of the agency who left around the same time, when the study found more than a half-billion dollars in economic benefits, these economists “were ordered to say the benefits could not be quantified,” reported the American Prospect via their Mapping Corruption project, an extensively researched interactive dossier exposing the breadth of corruption in the Trump administration. Similarly, after “a scientific advisory board questioned the basis for a proposed rewrite of the Obama administration rules on waterways and vehicle tailpipe emissions, more than a quarter of the panel members were dismissed or resigned, many of them being replaced by scientists with industry ties.”

Under Pruitt’s EPA, more generally, the agency moved to limit the use of scientific research. They excluded numerous studies that relied on confidential personal health data. Meanwhile, vacancies were left unfilled, especially in the areas of air pollution and toxic research. The Trump EPA did not miss a beat with its anti-environmental and anti-species agenda when Andrew Wheeler became the next administrator. For example, as a former coal lobbyist whose top client was Murray Energy and whose CEO was a major backer of Trump and a climate change denier, Wheeler ordered the EPA in June 2019 to terminate its funding to 13 health centers around the country that were studying the effects of pollution on the growth and development of children and other living things. As Trump wrote on Twitter announcing Wheeler as Pruitt’s replacement: “I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”

While Wheeler was at the helm of the EPA, Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray prepared a policy “wish list” that was hand-delivered to Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Several of Murray’s recommendations were acted on, including, as reported by American Prospect, “abandoning an Obama administration rule barring coal companies from dumping waste into streams and waterways; making it easier to open new coal plants, and allowing higher levels of mercury pollution.” In related matters, former industry lobbyist Nancy Beck, the deputy assistant administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, was leading the charge against an EPA proposal to halt the sale of three chemicals linked to birth defects, nerve damage and deaths. Under Wheeler, the EPA was completely absolved of any duty to address global warming.

Besides the EPA’s capture by mega-polluters, conflicts of interests, and Trump’s top appointments, the American Prospect’s Mapping Corruption project has underscored the undue influence of a dozen deputy and assistant administrators dispersed throughout the environmental protection organization. Below are the first five administrators identified by the project:

  • “David Dunlap, deputy assistant administrator for research and development, is a former policy director for Koch Industries. At EPA, Dunlap has had a role in regulating formaldehyde despite the fact that one of the country’s largest producers of formaldehyde, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals, is a Koch subsidiary.”
  • “David Fischer, deputy assistant administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is a former industry lawyer and senior director of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical companies.”
  • “Alexandra Dunn, assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, was also employed by the American Chemistry Council.”
  • “As an industry lawyer, Susan Bodine, now assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, had defended polluting companies against Superfund cleanup responsibilities.”
  • “Peter Wright, assistant administrator for land and emergency management, oversees toxic waste site cleanup. He used to work for DowDuPont, which has been implicated in problems affecting roughly one-seventh of all toxic waste cleanup sites.”

Corruption and white-collar crime reached new heights during Trump’s four years as president. Similarly, Trump introduced a level of corruption never seen before in the highest echelons of the U.S. government. It is difficult to assess the full measure of the negative impact of Trump’s EPA on our collective health and well-being, as well as the costs, time, and energy that it will take to undo the damages caused by the science denier-in-chief. And now with the Supreme Court ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency on June 30—a 6-3 vote, with all three of Trump’s appointees voting with the conservative bloc—it is questionable that the Trumpian damage to the environment can be repaired.

​​​Gregg Barak
is a criminologist and author. He is a fellow of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and emeritus professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University. His books include
Unchecked Corporate Power (Routledge, 2017), Chronicles of a Radical Criminologist (Rutgers University Press, 2020), and Criminology on Trump (Routledge, 2022). In 2020, Barak received the Gilbert Geis Lifetime Achievement Award from the Division of White-Collar and Corporate Crime of the American Society of Criminology.

Take action…

Bad air: More than 40 percent of Americans—over 137 million people—are “living in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone,” according to the American Lung Association’s ‘State of the Air’ 2022 report. (Photo credit: otodo/Flickr)

EPA: Make the air safer to breathe

“[D]angerous levels of particle pollution are on the rise,” warns the American Lung Association, which recently released its ‘State of the Air’ 2022 report. “Right now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering strengthening the national limits on particle pollution. If they make the standards as strong as what the scientific research shows is needed to protect health, the whole country could see health benefits.”

Urge the EPA to set strong new limits to make the air safer to breathe. 

Cause for concern…

Not in my backyard: Dall sheep are among the many species in the remote wilderness of northern Alaska that will be threatened by new oil and gas drilling. (Photo credit: Lian Law/National Park Service/Flickr)

Biden lied when he said no more drilling on federal lands

In a televised Democratic presidential debate in March 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden pledged to end new federal oil and gas leasing. “Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore,” Biden said. “No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.”

But on July 8, his administration issued a new environmental analysis that paves the way for a massive new oil drilling project in Alaska’s north slope, threatening this remote and pristine wilderness that is home to Dall sheep, caribou, musk ox, dozens of species of fish, more than 200 migratory bird species and more than 400 species of plants.

The plan, issued by the Bureau of Land Management, is “clearly inconsistent with the goals this administration has set to transition away from fossil fuels and avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” said Jeremy Lieb, an attorney with the environmental nonprofit Earthjustice who led litigation challenging an earlier version of the plan.

“This single project, which will release a staggering amount of climate pollution, threatens to send us dangerously off track by undercutting urgently needed measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Round of applause…

Dinner time: Two fin whales in synchronized lunge feeding off the coast of Los Angeles, California, in 2017. (Photo credit: Wendy Miller/Flickr)

A whale feeding frenzy in Antarctica signals a conservation success

For most of the 20th century, fin whales, the Earth’s second largest animals, were hunted so intensely that an estimated 725,000 were killed in the Southern Ocean, bringing their population down to just 1 percent of its size before commercial whaling began in 1904.

But according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, after 40 years of a commercial whaling ban, there has been a resurgence in their numbers. The study’s lead author, Helena Herr, a marine mammal ecologist at the University of Hamburg, told the New York Times that the finding offers “a sign that if you enforce management and conservation, there are chances for species to recover.”

“It was one of the most spectacular observations I’ve had,” said Herr about witnessing a fin whale feeding frenzy involving some 150 individuals along the coast of Elephant Island, northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula. “The fin whales seemed to go crazy because of the food load they were confronted with. It was absolutely thrilling.”


Plastic threat: Artwork created by students during the Puget Sound Awareness learning rotation aboard the M.V. Indigo. (Photo credit: Service Education and Adventure/Flickr)

The global seafood supply is being contaminated by microplastics

​​​​​According to a pair of recent scientific studies, microplastics and a class of toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) are becoming increasingly prevalent in the world’s oceans and have begun to contaminate the global seafood supply.

According to a July 2020 study published in the scholarly journal Environmental Science and Technology, PFAS—a family of potentially harmful chemicals used in a range of products, including carpets, furniture, clothing, food packaging, and nonstick coatings—have now been found in the Arctic Ocean. This discovery worries scientists because it means that PFAS can reach any body of water in the world and that such chemicals are likely present in water supplies across the globe.

Meanwhile, researchers at the QUEX Institute, a partnership between the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and the University of Queensland in Australia, have found microplastics in crabs, oysters, prawns, squid, and sardines sold as seafood in Australian markets, findings that were also first published in Environmental Science and Technology. As Robby Berman reported for Medical News Today in August 2020, the second study’s findings suggest that microplastics—small pieces of plastic “less than 5 millimeters in length, which is about the size of a sesame seed”—that are a consequence of plastic pollution have “invaded the food chain to a greater extent than previously documented.”

—EFL contributors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff, “The Global Seafood Supply Is Being Contaminated by Microplastics, but Major News Outlets Are Silent” (CounterCurrents, January 3, 2022)

Parting thought…

Screenshot via @FarmSanctuary/Twitter

“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” —Leonardo da Vinci

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

Feeling Defeated by the Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling? There’s Still a Lot We Can Do

Supreme disappointment: Activists with the group Extinction Rebellion gather at Foley Square in New York City on June 30, 2022, to protest the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling limiting the EPA’s authority. (Photo credit: Felton Davis/Flickr)

America’s highest court has limited the EPA’s authority to regulate power plant emissions.

By Reynard Loki, Independent Media Institute

9 min read

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970 with the intention of reducing and controlling air pollution nationwide, the Clean Air Act is the nation’s primary federal air quality law, giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate air emissions from sources that are either stationary (e.g., power plants) or mobile (e.g., vehicles).

On June 30, the Supreme Court limited that authority with its controversial ruling in the case of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, dealing a heavy blow to President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. At the center of the case is Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which establishes mechanisms that the EPA can use in order to control emissions of air pollutants from stationary sources like power plants.

Writing the opinion for the conservative majority, with the three liberal justices dissenting, Chief Justice John Roberts said that Section 111 does not give the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by “generation shifting”—which could force power plants to move away from coal to renewable energy. The ruling removes a primary mechanism the Biden administration has for achieving the president’s goal of halving carbon dioxide emissions by 2030—and moving the nation to a low-carbon economy.

Major Questions

Roberts said that the basis for the court’s decision was the “major questions doctrine” (MQD)—a phrase that no previous Supreme Court majority had explicitly invoked. In the majority opinion, Roberts writes that the MQD has now been invoked “because it refers to an identifiable body of law that has developed over a series of significant cases all addressing a particular and recurring problem: agencies asserting highly consequential power beyond what Congress could reasonably be understood to have granted.”

He said that if lawmakers had wished to grant the EPA the power to mandate how power plants generate electricity, the law should have stated “clear congressional authorization,” adding that “our precedent counsels skepticism toward EPA’s claim” that the law “empowers it to devise carbon emissions caps based on a generation shifting approach.” Basically, the ruling states that the EPA would overstep its remit in its regulation of power plant emissions if it mandated a move to renewable energy.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing in dissent, said that in using “capacious terms” in Section 111, Congress gave the EPA a wide berth in designing its emission reduction rules. “The current Court is textualist only when being so suits it,” she writes. “When that method would frustrate broader goals, special canons like the ‘major questions doctrine’ magically appear as get-out-of-text-free cards.” She further writes that the ruling “strips” the EPA of the “power Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.’”

Cloudy: Zero-Carbon Future

If solar and wind energy are fully integrated into the global energy mix, renewable sources could provide up to 80 percent of the world’s electricity, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi that supports nations in the transition to sustainable energy. The United States plays a central role in the global shift to a low-carbon—and ultimately, zero-carbon—economy: After China, it is the world’s second-biggest consumer of energy.

Generating electricity without emissions is one of the primary strategies we have in order to achieve net-zero emissions—something that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicines assert is technologically feasible in the U.S. by 2050. But by limiting the federal government’s ability to cap emissions by mandating a shift to renewable power generation, the Supreme Court has made a zero-carbon future more difficult not only for the U.S. but also for the world. “If the current rate of emissions continues, children born this year could live to see parts of the Eastern seaboard swallowed by the ocean,” Kagan wrote in the court’s dissenting opinion. This is not just a problem in the U.S.: Several islands in the northern Solomon Islands, a nation of hundreds of islands in the south Pacific, have already been swallowed by the rising sea levels.

“Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” Kagan writes. “And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

Dena Adler, a research scholar at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, also questioned Roberts’ highly irregular use of the MQD. “The major questions doctrine is in part problematic because Congress has legislated for decades with an expectation that it can broadly authorize agencies to use their expertise,” she told E&E News. “Yet, as the court applied it today, the doctrine looks skeptically on agencies regulating under this broad authorization.”

In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said he is “deeply disappointed by the decision,” but noted that the agency “will move forward with lawfully setting and implementing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental harm.”

‘Supremely Stupid’

The reaction from environmentalists has been unanimous and scathing.

John Noël, a senior climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA, called the ruling “irresponsible” and “supremely stupid,” in an email. “This ruling is going to hurt people. It’s going to hurt wildlife. It’s going to make it easier for business owners to challenge clean air regulations. If there was ever a doubt that this Supreme Court favors the powerful over the people, it’s gone.”

“How much damage can a conservative Supreme Court do to our rights in just a couple of weeks? Unfortunately, we know the answer, and it’s grim,” wrote actress and activist Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in an email.

“We should be outraged by what the Supreme Court has done,” said Jason Rylander of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, in an online press briefing on July 1.

Kevin S. Curtis, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit NRDC Action Fund, said in an email that the “deeply damaging” ruling “has set us back half a century—at a moment when… we have no time to lose,” adding that the decision is “radically out of step with settled law, scientific and medical consensus, and widely held public opinion.”

Biden’s Climate Toolbox

It is important to note that, while representing a significant setback to executive climate action, the ruling restricts—but does not eliminate—the agency’s ability to reduce power plants’ carbon pollution. President Biden still has an array of levers at his disposal, several of which he has yet to pull. He can, for example, declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act, which would unlock a variety of presidential powers. “If Biden were, for instance, to ban just crude oil exports, he could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 165 million metric tons each year—the equivalent of shuttering 42 coal plants,” write Jean Su and Maya Golden-Krasner, both of the Center for Biological Diversity, in the Nation.

“President Biden must take charge as the climate president,” Gaby Sarri-Tobar of the Center for Biological Diversity and Ted Glick of Beyond Extreme Energy wrote in an email. “He’s already shown a willingness to do this by invoking the Defense Production Act to boost domestic manufacturing of renewable energy technology and advance energy justice by giving frontline and labor communities a seat at the table.”

Additionally, states and local governments can also regulate their own emissions. “A bill passed in Maine [in 2019], for example, calls for emissions at 80 percent below 1990 levels by midcentury, with a halfway goal by 2030,” writes Hillary Rosner for Audubon, a nonprofit environmental organization. “And Hawaii’s 2018 legislation sets a goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. Connecticut and California, meanwhile, have been working to curb emissions for more than a decade.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill could also enact far-reaching clean energy legislation—and could even amend Section 111 of the Clean Air Act to give the EPA explicit authority to move power plants toward renewables in order to meet federally mandated emission reductions. And voters could elect and support climate-focused lawmakers—and get their friends, families and community members to do the same.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get… Voting

Curtis of the NRDC Action Fund said that the ruling “[shows] us that we cannot take legal and federal protections for granted.” Part of not taking those protections for granted means participating in our democracy, and that means voting, particularly casting ballots during midterm elections when federal legislators are elected. It is the members of the House and Senate who decide the federal government’s legislative agenda.

To put the nation on a zero-carbon pathway—and to withstand attacks from a conservative, activist Supreme Court—federal lawmakers must pass clear and strong climate legislation. That means getting climate-focused legislators into office on Capitol Hill. And that means getting climate-focused voters to cast their votes during the midterm elections.

In his email, Curtis called for a midterm election “get-out-the-vote” campaign to “defeat the anti-environment legislators who could pave the way for a conservative agenda that dismantles our rights and our future.” Similarly, the EPA’s largest union, AFGE Council 238, which called the court’s decision a “colossal mistake,” urged people to “demand climate justice” from their elected representatives.

“Without meaningful legislative progress in the coming months… the country will fall far short of its international pledges, which, given the scale of American emissions, will make it almost impossible for the world as a whole to fulfill its already unlikely targets,” writes David Wallace-Wells in the New York Times. “If Republicans win control of Congress in the November midterms, then the window on the prospect of such legislation may be shut for at least a few years.”

The bottom line is that the ruling, while disheartening (and to the environment and public health, even dangerous), is not a death knell for climate action. Like pro-choice supporters disappointed by the court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, those who are concerned about the court’s EPA ruling could use this moment as a rallying cry to step up climate action. If it weren’t already abundantly clear, the Supreme Court—or rather, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court—has underscored that a fundamental part of climate action would be going to the polls during this year’s midterm elections. Ensuring a healthy environment for ourselves, our families and our fellow Earthlings—for this and future generations—means getting involved in the political process, and that means voting. Voting also means getting the right to complain. So the next time you hear someone grumbling about the “supremely stupid” Supreme Court decision, ask them: “Are you voting on November 8?”


Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, Counterpunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.

Take action…

Promises, promises: President Biden delivers remarks at the Innovation event at the international COP26 climate talks in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. (Photo credit: COP26/Flickr)

President Biden: Declare a climate emergency

“Climate change is here, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The recent Supreme Court decision limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate coal- and gas-fired power plants makes it abundantly clear that President Biden must declare a climate emergency,” says the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Officially declaring the climate crisis a national emergency would unlock the tools needed to steer the economy away from fossil-fueled climate catastrophe toward a sustainable, just future. Biden needs to hear from you.”

Urge President Biden to finally declare a climate emergency. 

Cause for concern…

Burning down the house: Fireboats battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 21, 2010. (Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard via Ideum/Flickr)

Fail: Biden’s offshore drilling plan

“The Biden administration announced its plan for oil and gas drilling off the coasts of the United States, closing off the possibility of new leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans but potentially allowing new lease sales in both the Gulf of Mexico and in Cook Inlet in Alaska,” reports Lisa Friedman for the New York Times. “The five-year plan for America’s coastal waters, required by law, risks angering both the fossil fuel industry and environmentalists.”

“The Biden administration had an opportunity to meet the moment on climate and end new offshore oil leasing,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice, an environmental organization. He called the new plan’s option to include lease sales “a failure of climate leadership.”

Round of applause…

Good advice: To end the chokehold that plastic trash has on the Earth’s ecosystems, particularly the oceans, please refuse single-use plastic items, reduce waste, reuse items and recycle trash. (Photo credit: Reef-World Foundation/Flickr)

Gov. Newsom signs nation’s most far-reaching law phasing out single-use plastics

“California has passed an ambitious law to significantly reduce single-use plastics, becoming the first state in the U.S. to approve such sweeping restrictions,” reports Dani Anguiano for the Guardian. “Under the new law, which California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed on [June 30], the state will have to ensure a 25 percent drop in single-use plastic by 2032. It also requires that at least 30 percent of plastic items sold or bought in California are recyclable by 2028, and establishes a plastic pollution mitigation fund.”


You are what you eat: “Most non-organic produce contains significant traces of toxic pesticides such as paraquat that inevitably accumulate in our bodies over time,” reports EFL contributor Miguel Leyva. (Photo credit: Attila Siha/Flickr)

Can eating organic help prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

“Because fruits, vegetables and cereals harvested from organic crops have been treated with natural and synthetic pesticides, which are less likely to cause health problems, they are the perfect alternative to conventionally grown produce. Natural and synthetic pesticides are not as toxic as paraquat or glyphosate and include copper hydroxide, horticultural vinegar, corn gluten, neem and vitamin D3. Furthermore, organic products usually have more nutrients, such as antioxidants. People with allergies to foods, chemicals or preservatives can greatly benefit from such healthy food sources. They may even notice that their symptoms alleviate or go away when they eat exclusively organic food.”

—EFL contributor Miguel Leyva, “Can Eating Organic Help Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?” (New Europe, February 15, 2022)

Parting thought…

Screenshot via @JohnOberg/Twitter

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

How the American Legislative Exchange Council Turns Disinformation Into Law

Capitol offense: The House of Representatives Chamber in the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, Texas. (Photo credit: Paul Hudson/Wikimedia Commons)

State lawmakers introduced nearly 2,900 bills based on ALEC templates from 2010 through 2018. More than 600 of them became law.

By Elliott Negin, Independent Media Institute

17 min read

In June 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill banning the state from contracting with or investing in businesses that divest from coal, oil or natural gas companies. For Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian—one of the state’s top energy regulators—the message was clear: “Boycott Texas, and we’ll boycott you.”

Since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in Indiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia have introduced bills that read a lot like the Texas anti-divestment law, and legislators in a dozen other states have also expressed support for the legislation’s objective.

Mere coincidence? Not at all. The template for the bill, titled the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, was supplied by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobby group backed by corporations and right-wing foundations that provides state lawmakers with ready-made, fill-in-the-blank sample legislation drafted by, or on behalf of, ALEC’s private sector members, including tobacco, fossil fuel and electric utility companies.

The bills in Indiana, Texas and West Virginia are near-verbatim copies of ALEC’s draft legislation, while the Oklahoma bill is a boiled-down version. And in each case, besides Oklahoma, at least one of the bill sponsors is an ALEC member. In Texas, five of the six primary authors of the bill and four of the five sponsors are ALEC members. Wayne Christian, the “Don’t mess with Texas” guy, is a member, too.

The Energy Discrimination Elimination Act is just one of the thousands of pieces of legislation ALEC has disseminated nationwide since its formation in 1973. According to a two-year investigation of “copycat” bills published in 2019 by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, state lawmakers introduced nearly 2,900 bills based on ALEC templates from 2010 through 2018. More than 600 of them became law.

What explains ALEC’s track record? A big piece of the answer lies in the way the group spreads disinformation and hides its activities from the general public.

Peddling Disinformation

ALEC’s disinformation starts with how the group describes itself.

Originally called the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators, ALEC falsely claims it is a “nonpartisan” organization that enables private sector members to collaborate with legislators on policies and programs promoting what it calls “Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty”—a classic libertarian mantra.

Nonpartisan? Hardly. Virtually all of the roughly 2,000 state lawmakers, officials and staffers who pay a token fee of $200 for a two-year ALEC membership are Republicans.

Likewise, despite ALEC’s positive gloss, the principles it espouses would establish a corporatocracy. By “free markets,” ALEC means giving free rein to corporations by rolling back public health, environmental, consumer and voting protections; by “limited government,” it means radically downsizing the federal government; and by “federalism,” it means transferring authority from the federal government to governors and state legislatures, which corporations can more easily dominate.

ALEC’s definition of Jeffersonian principles also ignores the fact that Thomas Jefferson had some harsh words to say about undue corporate influence. In a letter to former U.S. Senator George Logan of Pennsylvania, he wrote that we must “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of their country.” That sentiment pretty much flies in the face of one of ALEC’s main reasons for being: representing the narrow interests of its corporate benefactors.

Those benefactors are the real power behind ALEC—a network of nearly 300 companies, trade groups, corporate law firms and private libertarian foundations that pay annual dues of $12,000 to $25,000, plus as much as $40,000 to sponsor an ALEC conference session. Their tax-deductible membership fees grant them direct access to ALEC lawmakers and the opportunity to draft sample bills. Many of these corporations also ply the lawmakers with generous campaign contributions to encourage them to introduce and pass ALEC legislation.

ALEC’s current corporate members include Altria Group (formerly Phillip Morris), American Electric Power, Anheuser-Busch, Chevron, Duke Energy, Eli Lilly, Farmers Insurance, FedEx, Koch Industries, Marathon Oil, Pfizer and UPS. Among its biggest foundation donors are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Adolph Coors Foundation, the Koch family foundations, the Searle Freedom Trust and the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, which together donated $9.25 million to ALEC between 2014 and 2019, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group that hosts the ALEC Exposed website. That $9.25 million, the center found, amounted to 60 percent of the known donations to ALEC over that time period.

Step One of ALEC’s Tactics: Orwellian Framing

When ALEC promotes new legislation, it regularly employs the kind of “up is down” framing immortalized by George Orwell in his dystopian classic “1984.”As detailed in the investigation by the three news organizations, ALEC routinely gives its bills deceptive titles and descriptions that hide their true objective, exploiting the fact that lawmakers—and even bill sponsors—often do not bother to read the text of the legislation itself.

A good example is the Asbestos Claims Transparency Act, which lawmakers introduced in at least 17 states between 2012 and 2018 and was passed into law by at least 11 states. Despite its title, the bill does not require companies to disclose information about products containing asbestos or inform those who had been exposed to the cancer-causing mineral about how to get help and seek compensation.

Even when lawmakers do take the time to read bills based on ALEC templates, ALEC uses draft language that is often purposely “unremarkable or technical” to obscure their real-world impact, the investigation by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity found. For example, “[b]ans on raising the local minimum wage were dubbed ‘uniform minimum wage’ laws. Changes to civil court rules to shield companies from lawsuits were described as ‘congruity’ or reforms to make laws consistent. [And] [r]epealing business regulations was disguised under the term ‘rescission.’”

Step Two: Send in the Corporate Deceivers

Next, to indoctrinate—or just mislead—state lawmakers, ALEC provides them access to a multitude of purportedly independent, “neutral” experts who are, in fact, shilling for special interests.

For example, according to the three news organizations’ investigation, Colorado state Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, who introduced the aforementioned Asbestos Claims Transparency Act in 2017, relied on outside experts to explain the bill to his statehouse colleagues. One of the alleged experts, an attorney at a corporate law firm was—unbeknownst to Sonnenberg—the co-chair of ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force. He also was a paid consultant for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, which lobbies for so-called “tort reform” to shield corporations that harm people and the environment from lawsuits. Colorado legislators ultimately rejected the bill, but according to the three news organizations, it was just one of more than 80 bills introduced from 2010 through 2018 specifically designed to “limit the public’s ability to sue corporations, including limiting class-action lawsuits, a plaintiff’s ability to offer expert testimony, and cap punitive damages for corporate wrongdoing.”

The ALEC-drafted Energy Discrimination Elimination Act Texas passed last year is yet another example of the council deceiving state lawmakers. The bill targets the environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards that banks, investment firms and pension funds are increasingly applying to make it harder for fossil fuel companies to obtain insurance, financing and other support if they don’t meet ESG criteria.

It is no surprise that such a law would appeal to legislators in Oklahoma, Texas and other states where the fossil fuel industry holds sway, but why would ALEC lawmakers in other states support it? Perhaps because ALEC has been supplying them with a steady stream of climate disinformation.

There has been a scientific consensus for years that human activity—mainly burning fossil fuels—is the primary cause of climate change. There is no debate. Yet, over the last two decades, ALEC conferences have featured fossil fuel industry-funded “experts” who have falsely claimed that the benefits of carbon emissions far outweigh the costs, insisted that carbon dioxide is not the primary cause of global warming, and likened climate science advocates to Nazis. ALEC doesn’t go that far in its official statements, but it continues to falsely assert that the jury is still out on the role human activity plays in global warming.

At the same time, ALEC—which relentlessly denigrates clean energy solutions—has been flooding state lawmakers with sample legislation designed to weaken or repeal state renewable energy and efficiency standards, slash incentives for installing rooftop solar panels, eliminate tax breaks for purchasing electric vehicles, oppose federal efforts to limit power plant carbon pollution, and criminalize protests against pipeline projects.

Equally troubling, ALEC’s climate science disinformation efforts have had a discernible “trickle up” impact on federal policy. More than 60 percent of the 77 “alumni” ALEC lists on its website who are in the U.S. Congress are climate science deniers: nine of the 13 senators, including James Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), and 39 of the 64 House members, including Andy Biggs (R-AZ), James Comer (R-KY) and Steve Scalise (R-LA).

Step Three: Exploit Understaffed Legislators

Disinformation thrives when legislators are distracted or not paying close attention, and ALEC takes advantage of the fact that state lawmakers have limited time, salaries and resources.

“States are prime targets for corporations because it’s easier to get things out of state legislatures than Congress,” explained political scientist Darrell West, the Brookings Institution’s director of governance studies, during a conversation I had with him a few years ago. “The biggest problem is state legislators are understaffed.”

Stella Rouse, director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at the University of Maryland, seconded that assessment, noting that the job of researching and drafting bills can be challenging and time-consuming. “The legislative staff issue is huge,” she told me. “They are vital. Legislators want to introduce bills, but when they don’t have a staff—or it is very limited—ALEC provides them with a shortcut by providing a ready-made bill. ALEC provides the expertise that legislatures lack.”

The fact that most state legislatures are part-time and consequently don’t pay lawmakers full-time salaries also strengthens the hand of groups such as ALEC, added West. “Many legislators have to have jobs on the side, so they don’t have a lot of time to put into legislating. That makes them dependent on outside sources.”

Alex Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, explains that ALEC’s success hinges on more than supplying sample legislation. The author of “State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation,” Hertel-Fernandez told the Washington Post in a 2019 interview that “ALEC also provides research help for bill development, political strategy and talking points, and even the witnesses the legislators can call to testify on behalf of a bill. Beyond these immediate services, ALEC fosters a network through its regular convenings that establishes social bonds between its legislative and its staff and other corporate and advocacy members.” (ALEC’s 49th annual meeting will take place in Atlanta at the end of July.)

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a nonpartisan, professional development organization, only four states—California, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania—have what could be considered a full-time legislature. Another six—Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin—have nearly full-time legislatures. Lawmakers in another 26 states devote about three-quarters of a full-time job to legislative duties, NCSL found, while lawmakers in the remaining 14 states work only about half-time and are lucky if they have even one staff member.

Step Four: Undermine Democracy

Besides plugging bills to limit consumer rights and thwart efforts to address the climate crisis, ALEC also has been playing a behind-the-scenes role in the voter suppression movement, another front that serves its funders’ goal to impede voters who might support candidates and policies that challenge corporate dominance. To do that, ALEC amplifies the false narrative of widespread voter fraud and seeks to limit federal authority over election rules.

The organization’s anti-democratic efforts began at least a decade ago when it promoted a discriminatory voter ID law—as well as the infamous self-defense law used to excuse the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. Racial justice protests against “stand your ground” self-defense laws, which came under scrutiny after Martin’s death, prompted at least eight of ALEC’s corporate members, including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Walmart, to quit. In response to the backlash, ALEC disbanded its public safety and elections committee.

The organization, however, never completely abandoned its voter suppression agenda. In 2017, it disseminated a sample bill that called for repealing the 17th amendment, which Congress passed in 1912 to allow voters—instead of state legislatures—to elect U.S. senators.

That constitutional amendment bill didn’t go anywhere—likely because it went too far—but in 2018, ALEC drafted a sample resolution to limit judicial power over redistricting, making it easier for ALEC-dominated legislatures to gerrymander district electoral maps.

More recently, ALEC members have been quietly involved in “block the vote” efforts. More than a year before the 2020 election, ALEC set up a secret working group to address redistricting, ballot measures and election law, and by the spring of 2021, more than 100 ALEC lawmakers in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas were sponsoring or cosponsoring bills that would make it harder for college students, people with disabilities, and Black and Brown citizens to vote. According to internal documents obtained by the watchdog group Documented, ALEC is also working closely with Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the libertarian Heritage Foundation, on a $24-million campaign to lobby lawmakers in eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Texas and Wisconsin—to pass tighter voting restrictions.

Likely fearing the possibility of alienating its corporate members again, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson has repeatedly denied that her organization is involved in voting issues, and the group has not posted any sample voting restriction bills on its website, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. To avoid public scrutiny, ALEC has outsourced its voter suppression work to a dark money voter suppression group disingenuously called the Honest Elections Project. Last July, ALEC hosted a two-day “exclusive, invitation-only academy” in Utah for state lawmakers with the Honest Elections Project just before its annual meeting, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. The center reported that the event was at least the second time ALEC partnered with the voter suppression group to “educate” ALEC members.

ALEC veterans on Capitol Hill are also apparently committed to undermining democracy. More than half of the 77 alumni listed on ALEC’s website currently serving in Congress (40 in the House and one in the Senate) were among the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election based on lies Donald Trump and his followers spread about widespread voter fraud.

Little Public Oversight

ALEC’s success depends not only on the fact that overworked legislators can be easily manipulated, but also on the fact that the general public pays little attention to what goes on at statehouses. A 2018 survey by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that only 19 percent of the respondents could name their state legislators and a third did not even know the name of their governor. Nearly half did not know whether their state had a one or two-house legislature.

“Most people say they like their state leaders, and a large majority even remembers learning about state government in school,” Johns Hopkins University political scientist Jennifer Bachner, one of the researchers and director of the school’s Government Analytics program, said in a press release. “Despite this, most people are not aware of who exactly represents them and the significant decisions made by their state government.”

Certainly, one major reason for pervasive public ignorance about state government is the rapid decline of local newspapers, which historically devoted substantially more resources to covering politics than broadcast media. From 2005 through 2020, roughly a quarter of all local print newspapers across the country—about 2,200—closed, the Washington Post reported last November. And “in many places where papers still exist,” the Post pointed out, “a lack of resources prevents them from reporting thoroughly on issues vital to the community—issues [such as] public safety, education and local politics.”

The Post also reported that the number of newspaper journalists dropped by more than half between 2008 and 2020, which has had a significant impact on statehouse coverage. An April Pew Research Center study quantified that loss. It found that the number of newspaper reporters covering statehouses full-time has dropped 34 percent since 2014, from 374 to just 245 this year. All told, Pew found that there are now only 850 full-time statehouse reporters from all media.

Overall, however, the number of reporters covering statehouses increased 11 percent since 2014, Pew found, due to a jump in part-time reporters and the establishment of new, nonprofit news organizations “after years of staff cutbacks in the newspaper industry.” Not all of those nonprofit news outlets, however, are necessarily trustworthy.

One such nonprofit, The Center Square, offers conservative spin masquerading as news, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. The operation, a project of the Franklin News Foundation, offers its stories gratis to newspapers that cannot afford to cover statehouses themselves. Like ALEC, it is supported by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which donated $500,000 between 2019 and 2020, and the Charles Koch Foundation, which chipped in $212,000 between 2016 and 2018.

To make matters worse for bona fide reporters, Republican leaders in GOP-controlled statehouses in Iowa, Kansas and Utah recently passed rules limiting when journalists can report from the floors of their legislative chambers, making it even more difficult for them to ask questions and follow policy deliberations. No surprise, ALEC members are well-represented in each of these states’ senate Republican leadership: two out of eight in Iowa, four out of five in Kansas, and six out of 10 in Utah.

Attention and Activism Are Key to Fighting Back

Given ALEC’s stealthy influence on statehouses, especially the 62 state legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, it is imperative that concerned citizens engage with their legislators and closely monitor ALEC’s activities in their state. As campaigns by civil rights, labor and environmental organizations have demonstrated, it is possible to pressure ALEC’s corporate sponsors to leave the organization, making it harder for ALEC to fund its disinformation campaigns.

Protests organized by Color of Change and other racial justice groups against ALEC’s voter ID and “stand your ground” laws resulted in several high-profile corporate members leaving ALEC. Since then, a brighter spotlight on ALEC’s controversial positions has encouraged a veritable Who’s Who of U.S. businesses to desert the organization, including Amazon, AT&T, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Facebook, General Electric, General Motors, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Verizon and Visa.

ALEC’s scientifically indefensible stance on climate change also has prompted some of its corporate members to defect—even in the energy sector—especially after news organizations and advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) drew attention to ALEC’s flagrant lies. Oil and gas giants BP America, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and Shell, as well as electric utilities Entergy, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Xcel Energy, have all since severed ties with the organization.

Public interest groups are also turning up the heat on ALEC over its relatively recent voter suppression efforts. In June 2021, a diverse coalition of more than 300 organizations sent a letter to 40 ALEC corporate and trade association members, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urging them to quit ALEC “based on its active efforts to restrict the American people’s freedom to vote and spread lies about the integrity of our elections to undermine American democracy.”

As Louis Brandeis famously wrote in 1913, three years before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In other words, you have to force disinformation out of the shadows to vanquish it.

Thanks to efforts to bring ALEC’s disinformation to light, as well as pressure from shareholders, unions and public interest organizations, more than 100 corporate and nearly 20 trade association and foundation members have canceled their memberships since 2012, and ALEC’s annual revenue dropped from a high of $10.35 million in 2017 to $7.97 million in 2020. When it comes to fighting ALEC’s corporate-friendly, anti-democratic legislative agenda, close attention and continued activism are key to exposing the organization’s true nature and thwarting its ultimate goal of decimating public health, environmental and workplace safeguards to pad the profits of its corporate supporters.

Author’s Note: The organizations that closely monitor ALEC include the Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Media and Democracy (host of ALEC Exposed), Common Cause, Documented, Stand Up to ALEC and True North Research. For more on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) efforts to counter disinformation, see “What You Can Do About Disinformation.” Lindsey Berger, campaign manager for the UCS Center for Science and Democracy, and Lisa Graves, founder and executive director of True North Research, provided research for this article.


Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Take action…

Rough waters: A U.S. Coast Guard aerial survey reveals the rugged, remote lanscape and the conical drilling unit Kulluk, grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska. Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. (Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

Biden restarts oil and gas leasing on public lands, breaking campaign promise

Greenpeace: “President Biden promised on the campaign trail that he would ‘ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.’ In a disappointing move, the Biden Administration is moving forward to resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands. We cannot allow President Biden to break his campaign promises. We need him to use his presidential powers to halt fossil fuel drilling on public lands and waters.

“Fossil fuels extracted from federal lands account for nearly one-quarter of carbon emissions in the U.S. Stopping coal, oil, and gas production on public lands and waters and supporting workers and communities in the transition to a renewable future will go a long way to tackling the climate crisis. It will also be protecting farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and vulnerable communities—Black, Brown, white, rural, urban, and working-class—in the Gulf South, Western states, Alaska, and across the country.”

Urge President Biden to ban new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters.

Cause for concern…

Water world: Loss of sea ice due to global warming is threatening the survival or polar bears. (Photo credit: Mario Hoppmann/NASA)

Polar bears forced to scavenge on whale carcasses as climate crisis melts their hunting grounds

“Polar bears are some of the most at-risk animal species on Earth in relation to the growing threat posed by the climate crisis. In an unexpected discovery, filmmakers captured polar bears feasting on the sperm whale carcass in Norway, specifically in the country’s Svalbard archipelago,” reports Louise Franco for Nature World News. “In particular, the filmmakers reportedly captured the images and footage in a remote part of the Arctic Circle, where other animal species are also struggling for survival from the ongoing crisis.”

“Having to travel farther means these bears are expending more energy which can threaten their survival,” said wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano of Washington State University, who led a recent study that found that polar bears in the Beaufort Sea have experienced an almost 30 percent decrease in their population due to lack of access to food. “If we want to preserve the habitat of these amazing mammals, then we need to focus on the root of the problem, which is slowing global climate change.”

Round of applause…

Slash and burn: Deforestation is to blame for the loss of nearly 100,000 acres of pristine rainforest in the Colombian Amazon. (Photo credit: Matt Zimmerman/Flickr)

New Colombian president pledges to protect rainforest

“Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first elected leftist president, will take office in August with ambitious proposals to halt the record-high rates of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Petro has promised to limit agribusiness expansion into the forest, and create reserves where Indigenous communities and others are allowed to harvest rubber, acai and other non-timber forest products,” reports Fabiano Maisonnave for the Associated Press.


Rough waters: The Russian oil products tanker Varzuga, seen here in Pirsy, Arkhangelskaya, Russia, in July 2018. (Photo credit: Alexxx Malev/Flickr)

The case for “ecological intelligence”

“[W]e need to transform the ways we use energy—for example, in the food system, where a reduction in fossil fuel inputs could actually lead to healthier food and soil. Over the past century or so, fossil fuels provided so much energy, and so cheaply, that humanity developed the habit of solving any problem that came along by simply utilizing more energy as a solution. Want to move people or goods faster? Just build more kerosene-burning jet planes, runways and airports. Need to defeat diseases? Just use fossil fuels to make and distribute disinfectants, antibiotics and pharmaceuticals. In a multitude of ways, we used the blunt instrument of cheap energy to bludgeon nature into conforming with our wishes. The side effects were sometimes worrisome—air and water petrochemical pollution, antibiotic-resistant microbes and ruined farm soils.

“But we confronted these problems with the same mindset and toolbox, using cheap energy to clean up industrial wastes, developing new antibiotics and growing food without soil. As the fossil fuel era comes to an end, the rules of the game will change. We’ll need to learn how to solve problems with ecological intelligence, mimicking and partnering with nature rather than suppressing and subverting her. High tech may continue to provide useful ways of manipulating and storing data; but, when it comes to moving and transforming physical goods and products, intelligently engineered low tech may offer better answers in the long run.”

—EFL contributor Richard Heinberg, “Can We Abandon Pollutive Fossil Fuels and Avoid an Energy Crisis?” (Resilience.org, May 4, 2022)

Parting thought…

Screenshot via @ZientekMary/Twitter

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

What Pundit Ezra Klein Doesn’t Get About Parenting in a Looming Climate Crisis

One and done? Having smaller families is one of the most impactful ways to reduce anthropogenic emissions. (Photo credit: Edward Zulawski/Flickr)

It’s a matter of math: Bigger families mean more carbon emissions.

By Carter Dillard, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

Having the opportunity to write in the New York Times about having kids during the current climate crisis is a major opportunity to do good, by highlighting reforms that can promote smaller families as one of the most impactful long-run ways to reduce emissions and enhance equitable investments in each child (through things like baby bonds) to help prepare them to deal with the consequences of climate change in the future.

New York Times columnist Ezra Klein recently had that opportunity, but that’s not the opinion piece he ended up writing (“You’re Kids Are Not Doomed,” June 5, 2022), and many are disappointed.

Instead, Klein did what Elon Musk, Mitt Romney, many growth-minded economists and dozens of other relatively wealthy white men have done. He pushed people (women, actually) to have kids. Instead of offering a nuanced response to the problems, Klein framed the issue as a simple idea about having kids, and then urged people to go forward and have them.

Who benefits from that advice, which many studies show is the worst way to exacerbate the climate crisis? The investor class, according to Nobel laureate Steven Chu. A class that, according to another economist, ignores the need to stabilize the human population at a much lower level than what exists today.

Klein gave it away when he said: “This is a vision of more, not less.” Does he mean more consumers, workers, and taxpayers who heighten the pyramid scheme that benefits the wealthy class? His recipe for the future is simply to ensure more of the same system that created the crisis, where a few influence the fate of many, and risk the worst of outcomes for generations to come.

Forget what the climate crisis will do to future generations and just consider more immediate issues that most men who push women to have children miss. In the United States alone in 2019, state agencies identified an estimated 1,840 children who died as a result of abuse and neglect—an average of five children a day. Internationally the number of children “exposed to violence” could be as high as 1 billion. To ensure a better future for the children, we need to create a conducive environment to help protect them. We need to collectively plan, not push.

Urging people to just have kids is especially surprising for Klein, who routinely champions veganism and animal rights. Given that a small percentage of people will change what they consume to protect animals, he is undoing with one hand what he claims to be doing with the other. Few animals will benefit from the arrival of more humans on the planet. Human activity has already “shrunk wildlife populations by 60 percent.”

Instead of an anthropocentric view of the world, which mostly benefits the few, we need to look at a reformative ecocentric view that benefits everyone. The most thoughtful and caring people are not having kids because of the harm they will suffer today, because of a crisis fundamentally created by others having kids without considering the long-term effects of their choices. Simply urging people to have kids exacerbates this situation: Human population growth is a fundamental driver of the Anthropocene. It also continues a centuries-long process of growth in which humans have slowly traded consensual political relations for exploitative commercial ones, based on the fallacy that having kids is a more personal choice that parents have the right to make rather than an interpersonal choice involving society.

Why not promote a climate-responsive change in culture that urges parents to show readiness to delay having kids and have smaller families, as well as promote redistribution of wealth to offset childhood inequity? Why not urge greenhouse gas emitting people in the United States to have fewer kids, and to invest instead in protecting children abroad—through adoption and otherwise—who are at imminent risk of starvation because of our climatological impacts?

This could also help eliminate the massive and growing gap between Black and white kids in the United States via wealth transfers, and ensure birth conditions that are at least consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? Certainly now would be a good time to question the fundamental power structure, and nothing is more fundamental than how we see our species relative to others, or our position in the political hierarchy relative to other persons, whether we are born poor or rich, for example. Why see those relations as commercial ones, rather than as a chance to reverse birth destiny and create true equality of opportunity?

The climate crisis was created by a universal family planning model devoid of the need to protect nonhuman animals and nature, to ensure birth equity or a fair start in life, and to have children for functional democracies. Political scientists, like Leah Stokes, whom Klein cited, missed this point. Urging people to have more kids because one might become a Greta Thunberg, and thus solve the problem created by the act of having so many kids, is an exemplary idea of that thought process. The costs of Stokes’ and other people’s mistakes are astronomical and climbing. The crisis means we should change that model. Klein recommends nothing of the sort. Instead, we get cliches: “To bring a child into this world has always been an act of hope.” And hyperbole: “I don’t just prefer a world of net-zero emissions to a world of net-zero children.” And naivete: “If the commitments world governments have made since the Paris climate accord hold, we’re on track for a rise of 2 degrees or even less.” He should know that non-legally binding commitments are toothless, and ultimately, meaningless.

Still, Klein, his children, and many of the people he interviews benefitted and continue to benefit from an unsustainable system of growth that places its costs and suffering on others, thoughtful people whose right to have children has been impacted by others, and future generations who will suffer the loss of the natural environment that allowed past generations to flourish. There is a strong baseline argument that recovering those costs from the wealthy and using those resources to institute post-climate change family reforms described herein—incentivizing eco-socially restorative families—is the most effective long-run way to do good today. There is an increasingly accepted argument that such reparations existentially precede and thereby override property rights (the majority of rights holders are future generations), enabling people to seize the wealth as recompense.

And while Klein’s advice will go to benefit the pyramids of power described by the Nobel laureate Steven Chu above that created by people like former U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, reparations that limit and decentralize their power—per one recent peer-reviewed article—may be our best long-term hope for true democracy. That decentralization must address the wealth gap and include a shift to an equitable socioeconomic system that represents and empowers women and children.

That is the fundamental power shift that our species, from people who are animal advocates to the conservative National Review (which sides with Klein), is evading, perhaps because it is truly fundamental. That’s all the more reason to do it.

One question remains: How will Ezra Klein, Elon Musk and Mitt Romney pay for those costs?


Carter Dillard is the policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement. He served as an Honors Program attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. See his recent EFL pieces on NationofChange, EcoWatch and iEyeNews.

Take action…

Charred life: Coal is loaded onto a train’s coal tender in the town of Traralgon, in Victoria, Australia. (Photo credit: Michael Greenhill/Flickr)

Children petition Australian government to honor Paris Agreement, give up coal

“The UN Environment Programme reports the targets offered up by countries, including Australia, are too low to keep global warming under 1.5° Celsius. The reason why children are organizing this petition is that we can’t vote and climate change is going to have a bigger impact on our generation. We want to have our voices heard—the voices of the future. We, the children of Australia, therefore call on the Commonwealth Government of Australia to commit to renewable energy and a climate policy that contributes to stopping climate change and honors the nation’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and the Green Climate Fund. More coal is not going to help. We hope that you consider us and our future in your policy-making.” —Ella-Mei Graham, Change.org

Sign Ella-Mei’s petition urging Australia to honor its commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Letter to the editor…

Damn dam: A dam in Hordaland, Norway. Dams threaten the life cycles of fish by blocking their movements along their natural migrations between feeding and spawning locations, disrupting their reproductive ability. (Photo credit: Astrid Westvang/Flickr)

Dear Earth | Food | Life,

Though big dams are generally more destructive than beneficial (10 Reasons Why Hydropower Dams Are a False Climate Solution,” Josh Klemm and Eugene Simonov, EFL/CounterPunch, April 8, 2022), so-called “microhydro power” can be both sustainable and useful. Microhydro is small-scale and suitable for local use, but not utility-scale. The installations often do not require any dam at all, or at most a low dam across which fish and other animals can easily pass. The idea is to collect some of the stream flow at a higher elevation and divert it through a pipe to a generator at a lower elevation, from where the water is returned to the river. Obviously, only a portion of the stream is diverted so the stream continues flowing free, just with somewhat less water. Droughts would make microhydro useless, but floods would have no impact on a well-designed system.

We need to use as many alternatives for clean energy as possible, and not eliminate any alternative that seems viable. In addition to microhydro, we should also consider tidal, wave, and ocean current systems, though these also have issues. Tidal power in particular often requires damming a bay or estuary, which is as destructive as a freshwater dam or even more so. Wave and current systems may be preferred, but these also have their own set of environmental impacts. These are all currently small-scale systems, but then again, so is rooftop solar. Every little bit helps.

Fusion is the holy grail of clean energy, and it looks now like fusion is coming, maybe in time, to help us as quickly as any other development. Fusion is the best utility-scale form of clean energy because the footprint is so much smaller than solar or wind. Finally, though it is unpopular with many environmentalists, burning non-fossil methane for energy actually makes sense if the methane is going to enter the atmosphere anyway. This does not include fracking or drilling of course but does include methane from decomposition and possibly methane bubbling up from methane sea ice. Burning the methane converts it into carbon dioxide more quickly than natural processes would, and methane is more potent as a greenhouse gas, so this is a benefit. Also, we get the energy that would otherwise have to come from other sources. This kind of methane use should not impact the environment or the Indigenous people.

Rejecting viable energy sources is foolish; it will only make fossil fuels more necessary if we insist on only using perfect energy systems—of which there are none, in fact. Both wind and solar require vast amounts of materials, the production of which causes plenty of environmental damage. Solar and wind projects are big—displacing the natural inhabitants of the area. Thermal solar projects require water and are often built in the desert: a bad combination. Wind turbines kill birds. Geothermal projects can cause earthquakes, limiting safe locations to unpopulated areas. Of course, drilling for fossil fuels also causes earthquakes, but let’s not advocate for more fossil fuels. The point is that every form of energy has adverse environmental impacts. Using less energy is therefore always a good thing. But human civilization requires energy, so we are going to have to make compromises.

—Larry Lawton, Aberdeen, Washington, April 12, 2022

Parting thought…

Newbie: A sprout breaks through. (Photo credit: Andrew Gustar/Flickr)

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” —Henry David Thoreau

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

How I Found Myself Befriending a Wild Fox

Unforgettable: A wild fox started showing up on the author’s property every day at 4:15 pm, and sat next to a lone forget-me-not. (Photo credit: Catherine Raven)

A scientist went against the grain on her industry’s rule against anthropomorphizing nonhuman animals—here’s what she discovered.

By Catherine Raven, Independent Media Institute

8 min read

This excerpt is from Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted with permission of Spiegel & Grau, LLC. It was adapted for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Editor’s note: At 15, Catherine Raven left home and headed west to work as a national park ranger. She later earned a PhD in biology and built an off-the-grid house on an isolated plot of land in Montana, making a living by remote teaching and leading field classes in Yellowstone National Park. One day, she noticed that the wild fox who had been showing up on her property was now appearing every day at 4:15 p.m. One day she brought a camping chair outside and sat just feet away from him. And then she began to read to him from The Little Prince. Her memoir about the relationship that developed between them, Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship, is the winner of the 2022 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

For 12 consecutive days, the fox had appeared at my cottage. At no more than one minute after the sun capped the western hill, he lay down in a spot of dirt among the powdery blue bunchgrasses. Tucking the tip of his tail under his chin and squinting his eyes, he pretended to sleep. I sat on a camp chair with stiff spikes of bunchgrass poking into the canvas. Opening a book, I pretended to read. Nothing but 2 meters and one spindly forget-me-not lay between us. Someone may have been watching us—a dusky shrew, a field mouse, a rubber boa—but it felt like we were alone with the world to ourselves.

On the thirteenth day, at around 3:30 and no later than 4 p.m., I bundled up in more clothing than necessary to stay comfortably warm and went outside. Pressing my hands together as if praying, I pushed them between my knees while I sat with my feet tapping the ground. I was waiting for the fox and hoping he wouldn’t show.

Two miles up a gravel road in an isolated mountain valley and 60 miles from the nearest city, the cottage was not an appropriate arrangement for a girl on her own. My street was unnamed, so I didn’t have an address. Living in this remote spot left me without access to reasonable employment. I was many miles beyond reach of cell phone towers, and if a rattlesnake bit me, or if I slipped climbing the rocky cliff behind the cottage, no one would hear me cry for help. Of course, this saved me the trouble of crying in the first place.

I had purchased this land three years earlier. Until then I had been living up valley, renting a cabin that the owner had “winterized,” in the sense that if I wore a down parka and mukluks to bed, I wouldn’t succumb to frostbite overnight. That was what I could afford with the money I’d earned guiding backcountry hikers and teaching field classes part-time. When a university offered me a one-year research position, you might think I would have jumped at the chance to leave. Not just because I was dodging icicles when entering the shower, but because riding the postdoc train was the next logical step for a biologist. But I didn’t jump. I made the university wait until after I had bought this land. Then I accepted and rented a speck of a dormitory room at the university, 130 miles away. Every weekend, through snowstorms and over icy roads, I drove back here to camp. Perching on a small boulder, listening to my propane stove hissing and the pinging sound of grasshoppers flying headfirst into my tent’s taut surface, I felt like I was part of my land. I had never felt part of anything before. When the university position ended, I camped full-time while arranging for contractors to develop the land and build the cottage.

Outside the cottage, from where I sat waiting for the fox, the view was beautiful. Few structures marred my valley; full rainbows were common. The ends of the rainbows touched down in the rolling fields below me, no place green enough to hide a leprechaun but a fair swap for living with rattlers. Still, I was torn. Even a full double rainbow couldn’t give me what a city could: a chance to interact with people, immerse myself in culture, and find a real job to keep me so busy doing responsible work that I wouldn’t have time for chasing a fox down a hole. I had sacrificed plenty to earn my PhD in biology: I had slept in abandoned buildings and mopped floors at the university. In exchange for which I had learned that the scientific method is the foundation for knowledge and that wild foxes do not have personalities.

When Fox padded toward me, a flute was playing a faint, hypnotic melody like the Pied Piper’s song in my favorite fairy tale. You remember: a colorfully dressed stranger appears in town, enticing children with his music to a land of alpine lakes and snowy peaks. When the fox curled up beside me and squinted, I opened my book. The music was still playing. No, it wasn’t the Pied Piper at all. It was just a bird—a faraway thrush.

The next day, while waiting for Fox’s 4:15 appearance, I thought about our upcoming milestone: 15 consecutive days spent reading together—six months in fox time. Many foxes had visited before him; some had been born a minute’s walk from my back door. All of them remained furtive. Against all odds, and over several months, Fox and I had created a relationship by carefully navigating a series of sundry and haphazard events. We had achieved something worth celebrating. But how to celebrate?

I decided to ditch him.

I poured coffee grounds from a red can into a pot of boiling water, waited to decant cowboy coffee, and thought about how to lose the fox. Maybe he wouldn’t come by anymore. I opened the door of the fridge. “Have I mistaken a coincidence for a commitment?”

The refrigerator had no answer and very little food. But it gave me an idea. I drew up a list of grocery items and enough chores to keep me busy until long after 4:15 p.m. and headed out. The supermarket was in a small town thirty miles down valley, and I had to drive with my blue southern sky behind me. Ahead, black-bottomed clouds with white faces chased each other into the eastern mountains. Below, in the revolving shade, Angus cattle, lambing ewes, and rough horses conspired to render each passing mile indistinguishable from the one before. Usually, I tracked my location counting bends in the snaky river, my time watching the clouds shift, and my fortune spotting golden eagles. (Seven was my record; four earned a journal entry.) Not today.

Now that I was free to be anywhere I wanted at 4:15 p.m., I returned to my mercurial habits and drove too fast to tally eagles. Imagine a straight open road with no potholes and not another rig in sight. Shifting into fifth gear, I straddled the centerline to correct the bevel toward the borrow pit and accelerated into triple digits. Never mind the adjective, I was mercury: quicksilver, Hg, hydrargyrum, ore of cinnabar, resistant to herding, incapable of assuming a fixed form. The steering wheel vibrated in agreement.

The privilege of consorting with a fox cost more than I had already paid. The previous week, while I was in town collecting my groceries, I got a wild hair to stop at the gym. The only person lifting weights was Bill, a scientist whom I had worked with in the park service. I mentioned that a fox “might” be visiting me. “As long as you’re not anthropomorphizing,” he responded. Six words and a wink left me mortified, and I slunk away. Anthropomorphism describes the unacceptable act of humanizing animals, imagining that they have qualities only people should have, and admitting foxes into your social circle. Anyone could get away with humanizing animals they owned—horses, hawks, or even leashed skunks. But for someone like me, teaching natural history, anthropomorphizing wild animals was corny and very uncool.

You don’t need much imagination to see that society has bulldozed a gorge between humans and wild, unboxed animals, and it’s far too wide and deep for anyone who isn’t foolhardy to risk the crossing. As for making yourself unpopular, you might as well show up to a university lecture wearing Christopher Robin shorts and white bobby socks as be accused of anthropomorphism. Only Winnie-the-Pooh would associate with you.

Why suffer such humiliation? Better to stay on your own side of the gorge. As for me, I was bushed from climbing in, crossing over, and climbing out so many times. Sometimes, I wasn’t climbing in and out so much as falling. Was I imagining Fox’s personality? My notion of anthropomorphism kept changing as I spent time with him. At this point, at the beginning of our relationship, I was mostly overcome with curiosity.

Catherine Raven is a former national park ranger at Glacier, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Voyageurs, and Yellowstone national parks. She earned a PhD in biology from Montana State University, holds degrees in zoology and botany from the University of Montana, and is a member of American Mensa and Sigma Xi. Her natural history essays have appeared in American Scientist, Mensa Journal, and Montana Magazine.

Take action…

Retire the hounds: Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales when the Hunting Act was passed in 2004. (Photo credit: Sarah Altendorf/Flickr)

Protect wild foxes in the United Kingdom from illegal hunting

Keep the Ban: “At least 84 percent of the U.K. population are in favor of fox hunting being illegal and yet there were attempts to weaken the act. The Hunting Act of 2004, which banned fox hunting, needs strengthening to ensure people are discouraged from participating in illegal hunting, and for those caught hunting, the penalty and arrest need to be more severe. We would like to see section 6 of the Act to be amended to add a provision for a prison sentence of up to six months for illegal hunting. Additionally, there should be a ‘reckless’ clause that will make it an offense for anyone to ‘cause or permit’ one or more dogs to seek out, chase, injure or kill a wild mammal. The widespread flouting of the ban continues to this day and these measures along with several other reforms could ensure wildlife is adequately protected.”

Urge U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to strengthen the 2004 Hunting Act to protect wild foxes.

Cause for concern…

Sea change: The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, part of the Earth’s oceanic “conveyor belt” that helps to regulate the world’s climate, has been slowing down in part due to human-caused climate change. (Image credit: NASA)

The collapse of a major Atlantic current would cause worldwide disasters

“A shutdown of a major current in the Atlantic Ocean would rapidly transform wind, temperature, and precipitation patterns across the whole globe, according to new research,” reports Lauren Leffer for Gizmodo. “The current is already slowing, likely at least in part because of human-caused climate change. Now, scientists have found that, if the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) collapses completely, there would be never-before-predicted impacts, according to a study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change.”

“The northern Pacific Ocean would cool. Patches of the Northern Hemisphere would get drier, while patches of the South become wetter,” writes Leffer. “Atmospheric pressure would shift to be much higher over Eurasia and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Trade winds from the north would move farther south and get stronger. Other winds elsewhere would also intensify. Antarctic ice could melt even faster. In short: all the basics about the planet we know and love get thrown way out of whack. No corner of Earth is forecast to be unaffected by an AMOC collapse in the new research.”

Letter to the editor…

Market share: Indigenous women sell food at a municipal market in Tucuru, Guatemala. Food sovereignty holds that food producers, distributors and consumers are also the ones who define and control the policies and operations of the overall food and agricultural systems. (Photo credit: UN Women)

Dear Earth | Food | Life,

Last week, thanks to the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts and the Santa Barbara County Food Action Network, I was able to join the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience. There, I had the honor of speaking with Congressmember Salud Carbajal, truly one of the food and labor warriors in Congress who’s working across party lines to help farmers, workers, and eaters alike.

Whether or not the politicians we voted for are the ones who end up representing us, he said that the communication between citizens and our elected officials is vital. Rep. Carbajal told me that the stories he hears from his constituents really matter, and he takes them seriously. A lot of folks might think it’s old-fashioned to write, email, or call your representatives, senators, and governors, but it really makes a difference. Do it right now—here’s a link to contact your elected officials.

And like many of us in the food system, Rep. Carbajal has also been devoting energy and thought to the Farm Bill. Yes, it’s a messy and complicated piece of legislation. It also holds massive potential to really help farmers, eaters, and businesses in the food and agriculture sectors to do things differently. One place to start is by incorporating food security and food sovereignty more strongly into the Farm Bill. I’m invigorated by an idea I’ve heard from Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists, chef Andrew Zimmern, and others: A coordinated national food policy, or even a Secretary of Food or a Food and Farm Bill to unify our national and international approaches to food.

Dani Nierenberg
Food Tank
May 26, 2022


Friends, not food: Lina Lind Christensen, who runs the Danish sanctuary Frie Vinger (“Free Wings”), with a rescued hen. Frie Vinger rescues and re-homes battery hens saved from the egg industry. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/#unboundproject/We Animals Media)

Thinking about chickens differently

Though chickens are polygamous, mating with more than one member of the opposite sex, individual birds are attracted to each other. They not only “breed”; but they also form bonds, clucking endearments to one another throughout the day. A rooster does a courtly dance for his special hens in which he “skitters sideways and opens his wing feathers downward like Japanese fans,” according to Rick and Gail Luttmann’s book “Chickens in Your Backyard.” A man once told me, “When I was a young man I worked on a chicken farm, and one of the most amazing things about those chickens was that they would actually choose each other and refuse to mate with anyone else.”

Sadly, the eggs of these parent flocks are snatched away and sent to mechanical incubators, so the parents never see their chicks. “Breeder” roosters and hens are routinely culled for low fertility, and also because “if a particular male becomes unable to mate, his matching females will not accept another male until he is removed,” explains the book “Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production.”

Little more than a year later, the parents who have survived their miserable life are sent to slaughter just like the chicks they never got to see, raise or protect, as they would otherwise have chosen to do if they were free.

—EFL contributor Karen Davis, “On International Respect for Chickens Day, Try Thinking About Them Differently” (Countercurrents, April 26, 2022)

Parting thought…

Kisses: Susie Coston, the national shelter director of Farm Sanctuary, spends some quality time with one of the residents of the pig barn at the sanctuary’s Watkins Glen, New York, location. One of the largest farm animal sanctuaries in the U.S., Farm Sanctuary has provided a safe haven for thousands of rescued farm animals. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media)

“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?” —Jonathan Safran Foer, “Eating Animals

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

Let’s Get to the Heart of the Matter With Biolabs and Cows

Vicious cycle: The government subsidies that the cattle industry receives prove to be dangerous for our health while profiting the corporate subsidy recipients. (Photo credit: Rusty Clark/Flickr)

How can we justify slaughtering cows to repair our hearts, when the consumption of cows is what weakens our hearts?

By Maureen Medina, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

The demand for bovine heart valves to treat cardiovascular disease—the top global killer—is rising, and there is a cruel irony—with which I have firsthand experience—in how the cattle industry has become both the problem and the solution. We rely on medical treatments procured from cows to treat cardiovascular disease in humans, which is largely caused by our consumption of cows and other animals (red meat).

Brilliant marketing campaigns by the cattle industry have shielded us from the ugly truth all along: the cattle industry is only interested in making profits at the cost of our health and well-being and the lives of other animals.

The cattle industry profits from government-funded exploitation of cows under the guise of nutrition and medicine. Corporate giants in the food industry, such as Cargill and Tyson Foods, and medical technology giants, such as Edwards Lifesciences, all profit from the cattle they slaughter for their meat, dairy and tissue.

The government subsidies that the cattle industry receives prove to be dangerous for our health while profiting the corporate subsidy recipients. “‘[C]urrent federal agricultural subsidies focus on financing production of food commodities, a large portion of which are converted into high-fat meat and dairy products’ and other items that increase the risk for cardiometabolic risks in American adults,” stated the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, while quoting from a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University.

Yet “the U.S. government spends $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, but only… $17 million… each year to subsidize fruits and vegetables,” according to a 2015 University of California, Berkeley paper.

It’s a vicious cycle that harms people and animals, and benefits profit-driven corporations. On one side, big agribusiness is slaughtering cows for meat and dairy—foods that researchers have linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other side, medical corporations are profiting from producing bovine heart valves.

Cargill, which is one of the largest beef processors in North America and earned $134.4 billion in 2021, has been dubbed “the worst company in the world” by environmental organization Mighty Earth for its unethical and unsustainable business practices and the environmental damage it has caused. In addition to perpetuating antibiotic resistance, Cargill has repeatedly been the source of multiple outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli, over the years, and is responsible for distributing millions of pounds of contaminated poultry and beef.

Tyson Foods is the world’s second-largest meat processor and one of four companies that control more than 80 percent of beef processing in the United States. In 2020, it earned about $43.2 billion, which is mostly attributed to its sale of beef. In 2015, Tyson Foods recalled approximately 16,000 pounds of ground beef products that may have been contaminated with E. coli and had to recall 8,955,296 pounds of chicken products due to potential contamination of listeria in 2021.

Edwards Lifesciences, with reported revenue of $4.4 billion in 2020, receives pig hearts and cow tissue daily and has federal approval to sell cow-based valves in the United States. It typically takes the pericardium from three cows to create one heart valve. The company has imported more than 100,000 batches of bovine tissue from Australia since 2020. Edwards Lifesciences predicts that “the global surgical structural heart market opportunity will reach $2 billion by 2028.”

In 2012, I received a 23 mm bovine valve from Edwards Lifesciences to replace my pulmonary valve.

At only 23 years of age, I had my second open-heart surgery. My sternum was cut and spread open, my heart muscle was exposed, my heart was stopped while a machine operated in its place, and my pulmonary valve was replaced with bovine tissue. This was the most extreme experience I have ever endured, yet, according to one estimate, the prevalence of heart valve surgery will increase from 290,000 to 890,000 between 2003 and 2050.

I was given the option of a mechanical heart valve but was told that, if I did, I would require anticoagulants for the rest of my life to prevent blood clotting; the other option was getting a biological valve, which was encouraged. Though the risks of clotting in biological valves are downplayed, especially in comparison to the risks associated with mechanical valves, my cardiologists from New York-Presbyterian/Cornell Medical Center have urged me—and others who have undergone similar procedures—to take blood thinners daily for the rest of our lives. With biological valves, which are associated with easy intraoperative handling and minimal suture line bleeding, there is a risk of degradation after 15-20 years due to calcification or inflammation; the course of action if that happens is to replace the valve once it expires.

I put my fate entirely in the doctors’ hands—as most people do—and, desperate to alleviate my symptoms rather than add to them, I chose to get a biological valve made from bovine tissue.

It took almost a year to be operated on, yet no preventative measures were taken or recommended to alleviate my pain. I begged for surgery because I thought it was the only way. But was it?

While many conditions (like mine) are congenital, we can still argue about nature versus nurture.

Research presented by the European Society of Cardiology found that eating greater amounts of red and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death. According to a study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, which involved more than 1.4 million people whose health was tracked for 30 years, for every 1.76 ounces of unprocessed red meat consumed per day, the risk of coronary heart disease increased by 9 percent. Heart disease claims approximately 17.9 million lives worldwide annually.

On condition of anonymity, one nurse shared with me, “Healthy people don’t make money.”

“More than 70 percent of chronic illnesses [including heart failure] can be prevented or reversed with a whole-food, plant-based dietary lifestyle,” according to the Plantrician Project. Yet, “the market for replacement heart valves is growing at a rate of about 13 percent every year globally and demand outstrips supply,” according to Stuff, a New Zealand-based news website.

There are about 10.4 million beef and dairy cattle in New Zealand, and the United States constitutes the biggest market for the pericardia extracted from these animals. One source reportedly refused to divulge to Stuff the number of cow pericardia extracted and sold per year, citing “commercial reasons.”

According to new research on the bovine pericardial market, “the market is expected to reach… $4,134.4 million by 2027 from… $1,959.7 million in 2019; it is estimated to grow at a… [compound annual growth rate (CAGR)] of 9.9 percent from 2020 to 2027.”

“[One] hurdle we cannot ignore is that there is no profit in health, while there are immense profits derived from disease; hence, the U.S. has created a ‘disease and disability’ care system, rather than a true ‘health’ care system built on the foundational pillar of prevention,” pointed out the Plantrician Project.

How can we justify slaughtering cows to repair our hearts, when the consumption of cows is what weakens our hearts? While discerning between farming corporations and medical corporations within the cattle industry, one must ask: Is there a difference?

For the good of human health, as well as the health of the planet and its nonhuman inhabitants (especially cows), it is important for each person to listen to their own body, and that they (in tandem with physicians) stay informed and explore preventative measures.


Maureen Medina is the founder of Leave in Peace and a campaign strategist and organizer for Slaughter Free NYC. In alignment with the idea that none of us are free unless all of us are free, Maureen hopes to inspire the pursuit of collective liberation through her writing. Find Maureen’s work on Linktree.

Take action…

Checkered: A 2019 satellite image of palm oil plantations in East Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island Borneo, reveals a scarred landscape that has threatened ecosystems, biodiversity and local populations. (Photo credit: European Space Agency/Flickr)

​​​​The worst company in the world: Cargill

“Numerous corporations are guilty of trashing nature. Major chocolate manufacturers, countless palm oil producers and global fast-food chains are all driving the decline of the world’s forests, savannas and other ecosystems. Yet when it comes to environmental destruction, Cargill dwarfs all the rest: If other corporations are piranhas, Cargill is a great white shark,” says Rainforest Rescue, a nonprofit environmental group based in Hamburg, Germany. “The U.S.-based multinational has a long and sordid history of duplicity, deception and destruction that earned it the title “worst company in the world” in a report by the NGO Mighty Earth. The report describes in detail how Cargill profits from the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of people and how it blocks urgently needed changes.

“In Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, Cargill is involved in the wholesale destruction of the Amazon, Grand Chaco and Cerrado ecosystems for the production of soy and beef,” the group states. “In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Cargill buys cocoa that has been illegally grown in protected areas and national parks. The company also does not seem to have a problem with buying cocoa that was produced using child labor. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Cargill buys palm oil from companies that illegally clear rainforests and are involved in child and forced labor. Cargill ignores those issues: profits come before ethics.”

Tell McDonald’s, Burger King, Walmart and Unilever to drop Cargill from their supply chains.

Cause for concern…

Ship of fools: As global trade expands, the worldwide shipping industry’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions could rise from 3 percent today to 17 percent or more by 2050. (Photo credit: Andres Alvarado/Flickr)

Ship pollution is rising as the U.S. waits for world leaders to act

“As sales of electric cars increase and renewable energy proliferates, only a few shippers have begun to try zero-emission fuels and wind-propulsion technology,” reports Anna Phillips for the Washington Post. “Efforts to cut carbon emissions through international regulations have met resistance from shipbuilders, oil companies and countries aligned with the handful of major shippers dominating the industry.”

“On [June 6], the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates international shipping, brought together officials from more than 100 countries for a virtual meeting to discuss whether to raise their collective climate ambition. But the shipping and fossil fuel industries wield considerable influence in these negotiations: Financing for the IMO’s green ships initiative, for example, comes from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter.”

Round of applause…

Resistance: Thousands of activists gathered at San Francisco Civic Center on November 15, 2016, to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota and the gathering of water protectors standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo credit: Peg Hunter/Flickr)

Reversing Trump, EPA will restore Tribes’ and states’ power to oppose pipelines

On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule restoring power to Tribes and states seeking to oppose pipeline projects on the grounds that such projects threaten waterways and wetlands, reversing a contentious Trump-era policy that imposed strict deadlines and limited reviews.

“For 50 years, the Clean Water Act has protected water resources that are essential to thriving communities, vibrant ecosystems, and sustainable economic growth,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s proposed rule builds on this foundation by empowering states, territories, and Tribes to use Congressionally granted authority to protect precious water resources while supporting much-needed infrastructure projects that create jobs and bolster our economy.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, “The Clean Water Act quite clearly gives states, territories, and Tribes the ability to protect their water quality when projects are permitted or licensed.”

Letter to the editor…

Home sweet home: Moon bears rescued by Animals Asia enjoy their new lives at a sanctuary in Vietnam. (Photo credit: Animals Asia)

The end of bear bile farming in Vietnam

Dear Earth | Food | Life,

I am writing to you about great news in the animal welfare and biodiversity area: Animals Asia is ending bear bile farming in Vietnam. We are presenting the last bear sanctuary in the country to save the last remaining 310 bears from farms.

After we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vietnamese Government in 1997, bear bile farming was declared illegal in the country; and since then, we have been rescuing the remaining bears on bile farms. But our current bear rescue center in Tam Dao is now approaching its full capacity; therefore, we are about to break ground for a new sanctuary in Bach Ma. 

This 12-hectare sanctuary will be home to all rescued bears. Once the last bear is saved, this cruelty will be history for Vietnam and set a precedent for other countries in the region to follow. This is a monumental step in biodiversity since this cruel practice has been pushing moon and sun bears towards extinction in the country and is listed as “vulnerable to extinction” by International Union for Conservation of Nature. 


Nezahat E. Sevim
Global Head of Media Relations and PR
Animals Asia
May 24, 2022

Parting thought…

Smarter than you think: An arc-eyed hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus) keeping watch from a branching coral at Cod Hole in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (Photo credit: Richard Ling/Flickr)

“Fish don’t have a three-second memory … in fact, they can be taught how to evade a trap and remember it a year later. Fish can learn from each other, recognize other fish they’ve spent time with previously, know their place within fish social hierarchies, and remember complex spatial maps of their surroundings. There’s even some evidence … that they use tools.” —Joseph Stromberg, “Are fish far more intelligent than we realize?” (Vox)

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

The Human Mania for Roadbuilding Is a Threat to the Great Apex Predator Species

Road less traveled: A male Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) at Parque Natural de la Sierra de Andújar in Cáceres, Spain (Photo credit: Frank Vassen/Flickr

Tigers, clouded leopards and leopards are among the 10 apex predators most threatened by the world’s roads.

By Jeffrey Dunnink, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

Designed for speed and efficiency, roadways across the globe are effectively killing wildlife whose futures are intrinsically linked to the future of the planet: apex predators, those species including big cats like tigers and leopards who sit at the top of the food chain and ensure the health of all biodiversity.

A new study I coauthored confirms that apex predators in Asia currently face the greatest threat from roads, likely due to the region’s high road density and the numerous apex predators found there. Eight out of the 10 species most impacted by roads were found in Asia, with the sloth bear, tiger, dhole, Asiatic black bear and clouded leopard leading the list.

The outlook for the next 30 years is even more dire. More than 90 percent of the 25 million kilometers of new global road construction expected between now and 2050 will be built in developing nations that host critical ecosystems and rich biodiversity areas. Proposed road developments across Africa, the Brazilian Amazon and Nepal are expected to intersect roughly 500 protected areas. This development directly threatens the core habitats of apex predators found in these regions and will potentially disrupt the functioning and stability of their ecosystems. This is particularly concerning where road developments will impact areas of rich biodiversity and where conservation gains have been so painstakingly achieved.

Ironically, as we celebrate the Year of the Tiger this year, road construction in Nepal is expected to bisect tiger strongholds, threatening to reverse the remarkable and previously inconceivable progress made to conserve the world’s remaining 4,500 wild tigers from extinction. In the Brazilian Amazon, 36,500 km of future roads will be built or upgraded inside the home ranges of pumas, ocelots and jaguars.

Naturally, the African Union’s development corridors are designed to promote development and drive investment in previously ignored areas. While marginalized communities must be given access to lifesaving development infrastructure and investment, this goal can be achieved while also conserving the continent’s fragile ecosystems and at-risk apex predator populations. As it now stands, the development planned in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, in particular, is expected to devastate one of the world’s greatest animal migrations, causing a domino effect on healthy apex predator populations.

It’s important to remember that roads don’t just kill the animals trying to cross them; they divide habitat patches into increasingly smaller fragments. Apex predators are disproportionately impacted by discontinuous habitats due to their need to roam large undisturbed areas. Research has found that predators such as the jaguar will completely avoid all roads in their habitat, often isolating individuals from the rest of their population. The ubiquity of roads also presents a barrier for mating between jaguars. This ultimately reduces the genetic diversity and strength of the population and is a particular threat to apex predators due to their large home range and small population sizes.

Another unintended consequence of rampant road development is increased poaching. Roads facilitate easy access to previously wild areas, allowing for the expansion of permanent human settlement. More roads make it easier for poachers to reach remote wildlife populations and facilitate the transport of illegal wildlife products across a greater area. Indeed, snares for wildlife and poachers are often found at higher rates close to roads and human settlements.

Despite these grim consequences, there is a way to achieve human development objectives while allowing predators to thrive. When road projects are deemed vital to the development of an area and the surrounding communities, they must be built with wildlife in mind—intentionally located well outside of protected areas and predator strongholds. Wildlife crossing structures, such as tunnels and underpasses, need to be integrated into road planning and budgetary decisions from the get-go. It is only through inclusive planning processes, where the voices of local communities, conservation scientists, road engineers and government officials are all equally weighted, that sustainable road development can be achieved.

Costa Rica offers an excellent example of this type of collaboration. Although often considered the gold standard in conservation, Costa Rica hosts the highest density of roads in Central America, with one stretch of the Limón-Moín Route 257 responsible for 4.6 wildlife roadkills per hour, primarily due to speeding. By monitoring the highways for all roadkills, conservation scientists have identified key wildlife crossing areas and informed the construction of structures to ensure their safe passage, from arboreal crossings for tree-dwelling species to underpasses for the flat-footed ones. Critically, scientists have formed a strong partnership with local and national governments who fully support the concept of “wildlife-friendly roads.”

Our futures and health are forever intertwined with those of nonhuman animals, and people also benefit from wildlife-friendly roads. The recolonization of pumas in North Dakota is estimated to have reduced costs of deer-vehicle collisions by more than $1 billion, and scientists estimate a recolonization of the Eastern United States by pumas could reduce deer-vehicle collisions by 22 percent over 30 years, averting 21,400 human injuries and 155 human fatalities, and saving more than $2 billion in costs.

From wildlife-vehicle collisions to unintentionally creating new pathways for poachers to target our planet’s most cherished wildlife, roads pose a major threat to apex predators. With research confirming that this threat will only intensify over the next 30 years, there is now a small window of opportunity to ensure that these developments do not unduly impact our natural world. By planning roads more carefully, avoiding their construction in protected areas and adopting mitigation measures like wildlife crossings, we can protect apex predators and the critical role they play in the health and survival of our planet.


Jeffrey Dunnink is Furs for Life coordinator at Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization.

Take action…

MIA: Captured here on a trail camera in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, El Jefen is an adult, male North American jaguar who was last seen in 2015. He is the only wild jaguar verified to live in the United States. (Photo credit: Conservation CATalyst and Center for Biological Diversity via AZCentral.)

Support Jaguar Recovery in the U.S. Southwest

Life Net Nature: “Early in 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that it will prepare a recovery plan for the jaguar. … The jaguar has inhabited North America for over 500,000 years. In historic times, it lived in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, with some reports from Louisiana and elsewhere. Jaguars were decimated by hunting and by efforts to exterminate wild predators. Recent reports of the great cat have been limited to southern Arizona and New Mexico. …

South of the Border? From November 2011 to late 2015, El Jefe was the only wild jaguar verified to live in the United States. It is presumed he has returned to Mexico. (Photo credit: United States Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr)

”As a large, mobile animal, the jaguar needs areas of relatively open country that connect its primary range, such as mountains, canyons, and other remote terrains. These ‘habitat linkages’ are threatened by land development, urban sprawl, highways without wildlife crossings, and other factors that radically change the natural character of the land. The Service should begin a comprehensive effort with counties, highway departments, public land managers, private landowners, conservation organizations, and others to ensure that ‘travel corridors’ for the jaguar are protected. …

”The construction of fencing and other activities along the international border with Mexico has resulted in a barrier to jaguar movement between the two countries. The Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior should engage the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in recovery planning to limit barrier fencing and avoid construction sites and high-intensity activities in areas that may be traversed by jaguars.”

Tell the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that you support jaguar recovery in the U.S. Southwest.

Cause for concern…

Parched land: A Somali woman drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. (Photo credit: UNDP Somalia, Jalam, Garowe, Somalia/Flickr)

Drought, food prices from Ukraine war leave millions in Africa starving

​​​​​“More than 23 million people are experiencing extreme hunger in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, according to a new report by Oxfam and Save the Children. That’s up from over 10 million last year,” reports NPR’s Eyder Peralta. “The region’s worst drought in 40 years is being exacerbated by conflict and the pandemic. And the war in Ukraine has sent food prices soaring to record levels.”

Round of applause…

Dry run: In just the last 20 years, drought has affected some 1.5 billion people and caused at least $124 billion in economic losses, according to the United Nations.  (Photo credit: Marufish/Flickr)

Low-cost gel film can pluck drinking water from desert air

With more than a third of the world’s human population living in drylands, water shortages are a common issue. Now a team of scientists and engineers at the University of Texas at Austin have come up with one solution: a low-cost gel film composed of abundant materials that can draw water from the air—even in climates that are extremely dry. 

“The materials that facilitate this reaction cost a mere $2 per kilogram, and a single kilogram can produce more than 6 liters of water per day in areas with less than 15 percent relative humidity and 13 liters in areas with up to 30 percent relative humidity,” according to a University of Texas press release.

“This could allow millions of people without consistent access to drinking water to have simple, water generating devices at home that they can easily operate,” said Guihua Yu, professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering.


Blocking wildlife routes: The John Day Dam spanning the Columbia River in the northwestern U.S. (Photo credit: Portland Corps/Flickr)

Hydropower dams are a false climate solution

“A river is a spectacular living corridor that feeds forests, fisheries, coastal ecosystems, and farmlands; transports life-sustaining organic matter and nutrients; provides drinking water; fosters cultural connection; and prevents carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. A river supports staggeringly rich biodiversity. One major way we negate rivers’ many benefits is by building dams.

“Once considered a renewable way to harness the power of rivers, hydroelectric dams are now better known for their adverse impacts: They destroy a river’s biodiverse ecosystems, decimate the food security and livelihoods of local communities, and produce harmful methane that exacerbates climate change. Dams are costly to build, difficult to maintain, and aren’t climate-resilient or competitive against proven clean energy alternatives like solar and wind power.”

—EFL contributors Josh Klemm and Eugene Simonov, “Why Hydropower Dams Are a False Climate Solution” (CounterPunch, April 8, 2022)

Parting thought…

Tread lightly: A forest trail in Taiwan’s Alishan National Forest, which has been home to abundant stands of red cypresses and yellow cedars since antiquity. (Photo credit: Yuan/Flickr)

“Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” —Chief Seattle

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

Monkeys Infected With Transmissible Diseases Are Trucked Across U.S.

Targeted: A long-tailed macaque netted by the “Team Monkey,” the author’s research crew in Cambodia. He was sedated and blood, feces and saliva samples were collected by the team as part of a project to look at how infectious diseases move between humans and monkeys. He was then allowed to wake up and was released back into the forest to rejoin his troop. If he had been trapped for use in biomedical research he would never again see the forest, family or friends. (Photo credit: Lynn Johnson)

Experimenting on monkeys is cruel—and keeping them is a threat to public health.

By Lisa Jones-Engel, Independent Media Institute

7 min read

“Ramadewa looked at the numerous troops of monkeys. They were at ease and happy and showed their liveliness. All their movements, their noisy voices, their way of sleeping on branches made him happy just to look at them.”—Verse 151:V1, Kakawin Ramayana

I saw macaques for the first time along the river’s edge on the island of Borneo. It was 1983 and I was in a boat with scientist and conservationist Dr. Biruté Galdikas on our way to the orangutan rehabilitation and research site that she had established on the island. I was 17, I had never traveled outside the U.S., and I knew nothing about primates. Dr. Galdikas, who celebrated her 50th anniversary of orangutan fieldwork and conservation in 2021, took a chance on me.

I spent my first few weeks learning how to move around in Borneo’s tropical rainforest trying to keep up with the orangutans, who are big, brilliant and brightly colored apes. They are truly breathtaking, and it’s hard to take your eyes off them. Nevertheless, my attention often wandered to another of the reserve’s primates—the troop of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis). These slender monkeys with variegated green fur and striking facial hair were bounding on all fours through the trees with their long, slim tails acting as a counterbalance.

Macaques are seed dispersers, making them a keystone species in the environment; remove them from the forest and you risk a cascade of ecological consequences. I could reliably find them within a half-mile of the river’s edge, where they spent their days foraging, grooming, swimming and sleeping. They also routinely wandered into our camp, easily navigating the “edges” that we had opened in the forest. The adults were fiercely protective of the infants and juveniles. Each evening before dark, the troop gathered at a large sleeping tree by the edge of the river. When everyone was accounted for in this troop of 30 highly social and intelligent macaques, the members would huddle together for warmth, safety and companionship. The months I spent in Borneo collecting observational data on the macaques would eventually lead me into an academic and research career during which I focused on the ways infectious diseases move between human and macaque populations and the consequences that this has for primate conservation and public health.

Members of the genus Macacawith their unsurpassed ability to inhabit the edges that humans create when we alter the environment, are the most geographically diverse and successful nonhuman primate group in the world. Multiple species of macaques are naturally distributed throughout Asia; in addition, northern Africa is home to a single species known as Barbary macaques, and macaques have also managed to successfully colonize Mauritius and Florida.

However, there are three species of macaques—long-tailed, rhesus and pigtailed—that have been relentlessly targeted by the primate biomedical research community. It is ironic that macaques’ extraordinary ecological and behavioral flexibility has made them more visible and cost them their lives, with countries like the U.S. increasingly using them for experiments in the name of making advances in biomedical research. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) database, more than 1.5 million long-tailed, rhesus and pigtailed macaques have been exported from Asia and Mauritius to laboratories around the world since 1975.

These monkeys have been relentlessly trapped in urban and semi-urban areas. They’ve been grabbed as their sleeping trees were cut down and netted as they tried to swim away. Entire troops have been captured after being isolated in the one tree that remained in a crop field. Untold numbers of adult macaques have been beaten to death as they tried desperately to hold onto their infants or protect their friends while they were being captured to be used for experimentation. More deaths followed as they were stuffed into rice sacks, wire bags or wooden boxes after they were captured.

The 1.5 million macaques exported were the “survivors” of this ordeal. The actual number of macaques extracted from Asia and Mauritius is much larger; captive-born and wild-born macaques form the “breeding stock” on the “monkey farms” of Asia and Mauritius. The stress of capture, the horrific conditions in which the macaques are kept in after their capture, and the exposure to pathogens while in captivity have led to many of them dying from disease. These monkeys are then “replaced” with more wild-caught macaques.

The recent images from the accident in Danville, Pennsylvania, of the cramped, airless, wooden crates containing macaques who had traveled nearly 10,000 miles from Mauritius have blown the lid off this cruel, secretive, greedy and dangerous industry. The crash was so violent that some crates burst open and three monkeys escaped into the surrounding area. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did a risk assessment and decided that the three escaped macaques be shot on sight.

News coverage of the situation spread around the world. People wanted to know where the monkeys had come from, where they were going, if they carried diseases, and if there was anything to fear. The lack of transparency from the CDC about the status of the surviving monkeys or even the location of the CDC-approved quarantine facility to which they were headed is disturbing. The agency reported that between October 2019 and January 2021, more than 70,000 macaques were imported into the United States. These monkeys arrived by plane in more than 300 shipments. From the port of entry, they would have been loaded into trucks and sent to the approved quarantine sites to begin a mandatory 31 days of isolation, testing and observation.

The CDC quarantine is designed to protect public health by detecting monkeys who arrive with viral hemorrhagic fevers, tuberculosis, pathogens that can cause deadly diarrheal diseases, fatal diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and herpes B, a zoonotic macaque virus. Not all the monkeys make it out of quarantine alive, and these dangerous pathogens that the CDC is screening for are often missed and show up months or years later threatening public health and further undermining the utility of these monkeys as biomedical models. Post-quarantine, the surviving monkeys are dispersed to commercial facilities and laboratories around the country.

Certificates of veterinary inspection (CVIs) obtained through the Freedom of Information Act requests that PETA submitted to agriculture departments in numerous states give a further glimpse into the extent of monkey transport across the United States. CVIs are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture when monkeys are transported across state lines. PETA has pieced together a monkey transport map with the help of data that my organization [the author is a senior science adviser on primate experimentation with PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department] has gleaned. Each line drawn on the map represents the journey of the monkeys from the lab, breeder or importer that sold these monkeys to the facility that purchased them. There are many more routes that we have yet to uncover, and many of them have been used multiple times, sometimes dozens, since 2018.

Pause for a moment and consider the magnitude and cost of this monkey madness: In January, the disaster involving the truck transporting monkeys took place in Danville, next month, it could be in your community. No one is safe—the monkeys are on the move the moment they arrive in the United States. Packed into small wooden crates, separated from their family and friends, they’re terrified, cold and hungry. In this vulnerable and stressed condition, they are likely immunocompromised, which increases the risk that they will shed pathogens that can cause diseases in humans. Even the experimenters themselves have acknowledged that the large colonies of monkeys at their facilities—in places such as Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and California—are a threat to public health.

Macaques, with all their pathogens, are being rounded up from forests and urban areas and shipped thousands of miles around the globe, ostensibly to provide us with lifesaving treatments and vaccines. But it doesn’t work that way—macaques aren’t furry little humans with long tails. Their immune systems and biology are very different from ours. Despite decades of promises and hundreds of thousands of dead monkeys, experiments using monkeys have not resulted in effective vaccines for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria or other dreaded human diseases. COVID-19 experiments have shown the scientific community how irrelevant and often misleading monkey studies are.

Between 2008 and 2019, more than 700,000 “specimens” (i.e., blood, tissue, and body parts) from an unknown number of long-tailed macaques were exported from Asia—this is in addition to the 450,000 live long-tailed macaques who were shipped out for use in biomedical experiments. A study published in February 2022 concluded that the extraction of macaques from Asia for use in biomedical research is a multibillion-dollar industry. Macaques are extraordinarily resilient animals, but we’re pushing them over the edge.


Lisa Jones-Engel, PhD, is a primate scientist and a Fulbright scholar. She has been studying primates for almost four decades, and her scientific career has spanned the field, the research laboratory and the undergraduate classroom. Jones-Engel serves as the senior science adviser on primate experimentation with PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department.

Take action…

Unethical: Every year, tens of thousands of monkeys are taken from their families and transported to the United States only to be used in cruel, worthless experiments. (Photo credit: PETA)

Monkeys are not cargo

PETA: “[N]early every major airline in the world has stopped transporting monkeys to laboratories. Now, it’s time for us to use our collective voices again to let EGYPTAIR know that it has made a very bad business decision by getting involved in the cruel trade in primates for experimentation. We recently received information that 720 long-tailed macaques who’d been torn away from their families in Cambodia were transported to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York on April 30, 2022.

“Every year, tens of thousands of monkeys are transported to the U.S. to be imprisoned in laboratories and tormented in experiments that consistently fail to lead to meaningful scientific advances. These highly social and sensitive individuals are either captured in nature or bred in captivity on squalid factory farms, where many die from injury and disease even before they’re crammed into small wooden crates and confined to dark, terrifying cargo holds of planes for shipment around the globe.”

Urge EGYPTAIR to follow Kenya Airways’ lead and stop sending monkeys to laboratories.

Cause for concern…

Setback: Climate activists march in Durban, South Africa, in 2011. The war in Ukraine is delaying international payments that the U.S. has committed to combat climate change. (Photo credit: Speak Your Mind/Julian Koschorke via theverb.org/Flickr)

Ukraine war delays action on climate

The slow shift towards a low-carbon, more sustainable future is going to get even slower due to the war in Ukraine. The spike in energy prices has driven more than 30 nations to discharge oil from strategic reserves.

The war is also delaying billions of dollars in climate payments that the United States has committed to developing countries. While Congress has rushed billions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine, it has allocated less than one-third of the climate funding it has pledged to the international community.

“Effectively, the U.S. owes the rest a climate debt that needs to be paid,” said Mohamed Adow, the founder and director of PowerShift Africa, a climate action advocacy group based in Nairobi, Kenya. “Our continent is effectively on the front line, and we are paying for the harms [of] these climate pollutants.”

“If it’s a long period of time, obviously that makes [staying within 1.5C] very complicated,” U.S. presidential envoy John Kerry told the Guardian. “It depends on what happens with the war, where the war goes and how long it lasts.”​​​​​

Round of applause…

(Screenshot: Worldof7billion.org)

Coming up: So many more mouths to feed

Over 3,000 students—in grades 6 through 12, from 48 countries and 45 U.S. states and territories—participated in the 11th annual “World of 7 Billion” video contest. The videos explored population growth as it relates to one of three global challenges: Agriculture and Food, Ocean Health, and Urbanization.

Eighteen winners earned top spots, while Olivia Zheng, an 11th grader at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, won honorable mention for her video “Animal Agriculture in a Growing World.” Zheng, a member of Stuyvesant’s Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, deftly explored the environmental impacts of animal agriculture in an animated video that is just 60 seconds long.

“Communicating a persuasive message in just one minute about one of the many challenges for our crowded world takes real skill,” said John Seager, president of Population Connection, the contest sponsor, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that has been highlighting the challenges of human population growth since its founding in 1968—when the human population was less than half (3.53 billion) of what it is today (7.9 billion).

“Olivia Zheng is improving the future we all share, seeing animals as creatures we should love more than eat—for their sake and ours,“ said Carter Dillard, policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement, whose most recent Earth | Food | Life opinion piece, published by Telegraf Asia, examined population growth through the lenses of family planning and environmental health.


Climate denier: Charles Koch, Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, talks with Fortune editor Alan Murray at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2016 event in Aspen, Colorado, on July 11, 2016. (Photo credit: Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH/Flickr)

“Koch-controlled foundations donated more than $145 million to a network of 90 think tanks and advocacy groups from 1997 through 2018 to disparage climate science and block efforts to address climate change. Since the death of Charles Koch’s brother David in 2019, the Charles Koch Foundation has continued to finance this disinformation campaign, giving more than $17 million to 23 groups in 2019 and 2020, pushing the Koch grand total north of $162 million. By contrast, the second-largest funder of climate disinformation, ExxonMobil, spent $39.2 million on some 70 denier groups from 1998 through 2020.”

—Elliott Negin, “It’s Time for Charles Koch to Testify About His Climate Disinformation Campaign” (CounterPunch, April 1, 2022)

Parting thought…

(Photo credit: Tom Lee/Flickr)

Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of

—excerpt from “Straight Talk from Fox” by Mary Oliver, from Red Bird: Poems (Beacon Press, 2008).

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

The Art of Building a Human-Hawk Relationship

Killer instinct: Sy Montgomery and her hawk friend. (Photo credit: Tianne Strombeck)

Sy Montgomery built a relationship with a hawk and learned about nature, life and love.

By Sy Montgomery, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

This excerpt is from The Hawk’s Way by Sy Montgomery. An earlier version of this material appeared as a chapter in Sy Montgomery’s book Birdology (2010). “Birds Are Fierce” from Birdology copyright © 2010 by Sy Montgomery. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. This excerpt was produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life (a project of the Independent Media Institute) and Atria Books.

One of the defining characteristics of birds is the crucial role and astonishing acuity of their vision. Flight, after all, demands excellent eyesight. For birds that hunt on the wing, the eyes are developed to an extraordinary degree: an eagle riding a thermal at 1,000 feet can spot its prey across a distance of nearly 3 square miles. In this regard, raptors are remarkable birds. They have developed the avian sense of sight to perfection. The vision of some raptor birds, like eagles and hawks, is the sharpest of all living creatures.

All birds’ eyes are huge in proportion to their bodies. A human being’s eyes take up only 2 percent of the face; a European starling’s account for 15. A great horned owl’s eyes are so enormous relative to its head that if human eyes were comparable, they would be the size of oranges. Birds’ eyes are so important to them that, like various reptiles, sharks, and amphibians, they have a transparent or translucent third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, to protect and moisten the eyes while retaining visibility. Vision literally sculpts birds’ every movement: one reason birds seem to move in such a jerky manner, as cassowary expert Andy Mack explained to me, is that the bird is actually keeping its head remarkably still, thanks to an extremely supple neck, while the rest of its body is in motion, in order to allow it to focus on what it sees in exceptional detail.

In birds of prey, the eyes weigh more than the brain. The two eyes are twice as large as the brain itself. They need to be huge. They are packed with receptors, some types of which humans don’t have at all. Raptors have not merely two (as we do) but six types of photoreceptors in each eye. Because of this, birds are thought to be able to experience colors that humans cannot even describe. Their retinas, unlike ours, contain few blood vessels. Instead, a thin, folded tissue called pecten, unique to birds, brings blood and nutrients to the eye without casting shadows or scattering light in the eye as blood vessels do.

Most birds, like most mammals, have a single area within the eye of perfect vision, called the fovea, where cone cells, which detect sharp contrast and detail, are most concentrated. A raptor’s eye has two foveae. One is for lateral vision, the other for forward vision. A human eye has 200,000 cones per square millimeter in the fovea. Sparrows have twice that. Raptors have about a million.

Raptors see in such fine detail that humans need microscopes to begin to imagine it. They also have a wider field of vision than we do, thanks to the second fovea, as well as better distance perception than other birds. Most birds’ eyes lie at the sides of the head so that when they look at something, they use one eye at a time. With forward-facing eyes, raptors have binocular vision like ours, but better. Fields of view of the left and right eye overlap, allowing the brain to compare the slightly different images from each eye and instantly calculate distance.

And there is something else about a raptor’s vision, something more difficult to describe. “These birds don’t think the way we think,” master falconer Nancy Cowan tells us. “They don’t learn the same way we do.” Because of our differing brain circuitry, birds capture at a glance what it might take a human many seconds to apprehend. For all birds, but especially these, seeing is not merely believing; seeing is knowing. Seeing is being. That is what I see in the monstrous, devouring eyes of Jazz, a four-year-old female Harris hawk: the windows to a mind completely different from my own.

“It’s instinctive,” says Cowan, who runs the New Hampshire School of Falconry. “It’s not spiritual. A falcon is at once the stupidest thing you’ll ever deal with—and the most instinctively developed thing you’ll ever deal with.”

Instinct gets short shrift among most humans. We value thinking instead and dismiss instinct as the machinery of an automaton. But instinct is what lets us love life’s juicy essence: instinct is why we enjoy food and drink and sex.

Thinking can get in the way of living. Too often we see through our brains, not through our eyes. This is such a common human failing that we joke about the absentminded professor or the artist so focused on an imagined canvas that they walk into a tree.

But Jazz won’t smack into a tree. We are out in the field across the street now, and Cowan unclips the jesses that keep Jazz tethered to my glove. “Let her fly,” says Cowan. I give Jazz a brief toss from my glove, and she sails into a pine. She looks down at us. Now I am worthy of Jazz’s interest. She knows something is about to happen. For the first time, I am bathed in her sight. It’s a baptism, and feels momentous, transforming. “Now call her in,” says Cowan. She takes a piece of cut-up partridge out of a baggie in her pocket and places it between the thumb and forefinger of my glove. “Jazz!” she calls. I extend my left arm and look up. A huge, powerful bird flies toward me.

Not everyone would like this, I realize. An exceptionally brave biologist with whom I have worked in Southeast Asia, hiking in search of bears among forests littered with unexploded ordnance, confesses he would be scared. It’s a genetically programmed human reaction. Birds like this once hunted and killed our ancestors. A famous fossil hominid, the so-called Taung child, discovered in South Africa in 1924 and described by Raymond Dart, bears the marks of this predation. When I was in college, we were taught that this long-dead australopithecine child must have been killed by an ancient leopard. Now, from careful reexamination of the skull, we know that the death blow dealt to the brain came from the talons of an ancient relative of the crowned hawk eagle—a raptor that still hunts large monkeys in the same manner today. Our kind has rightly viewed birds like Jazz with caution for more than 2 million years. No wonder so many people flinch in their presence.

But as Jazz’s talons reach for my glove, my heart sings.

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter and author of 31 books of nonfiction for adults and children, including Hummingbirds’ Gift, the National Book Award finalist The Soul of an Octopus, and the New York Times bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig. She is the recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the Humane Society and the New England Booksellers Association.

Take action…

Last dance? A female (left) and male greater sage-grouse near Walden, Colorado. The charismatic bird is considered an ‘umbrella species’ because efforts to protect it will also help a wide array of other wildlife. (Photo credit: Doug Greenberg/Flickr)

“Oil and gas development is a major threat to birds, and in particular to greater sage-grouse populations, which continue to decline,” said Steve Holmer, vice president of policy at American Bird Conservancy, a nonprofit, in response to the April 15 announcement by the Biden administration that the federal government will resume selling oil and gas leases on public lands.

“Past impacts from drilling in priority sagebrush habitats have yet to be addressed, and given recent climate studies outlining dire consequences for inaction, we are opposed to more fossil fuel development on public lands,” Holmer writes. “It is time to prioritize renewables including rooftop solar and wind power—so long as wind energy facilities avoid high-risk areas for birds and are properly designed to minimize impacts.”

Act now to restore protections for birds by urging your representative and senators to co-sponsor the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act (S.2491/H.R.4348) and to oppose any legislation or federal rule that would weaken ESA protections or target individual species for exemption.

Cause for concern…

Flight risk: A bald eagle gets blood drawn during a medical exam. (Photo credit: Carrie Cizauskas/Flickr)

“Bird flu is killing an alarming number of bald eagles and other wild birds, with many sick birds arriving at rehabilitation centers unsteady on their talons and unable to fly.

“‘It’s quite a sight to see an eagle with a six-foot wingspan having uncontrollable seizures because of highly pathogenic avian influenza,’ said Victoria Hall, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center. ‘At that point, they’re so far into the disease [there are] no treatment options left.’

“The latest outbreak of the highly contagious virus has led to the culling of about 37 million chickens and turkeys in U.S. farms since February, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed 956 cases of bird flu in wild birds, including at least 54 bald eagles. But the actual number is likely significantly higher because not every wild bird that dies is tested and the federal tally doesn’t include cases recorded by wildlife rehabilitation centers.”

—Josh Funk, “Bird flu takes unheard-of toll on bald eagles, other birds” (AP News, May 5, 2022)

What our friends are saying…

[Editor’s note: Carter Dillard is the policy director of the Fair Start Movement, author of “Justice as a Fair Start in Life: Understanding the Right to Have Children,” and contributor to Earth | Food | Life (see “Better family planning can improve public health, inequality and the environment” and “Kamala vs. Mitt: Differing Family Planning Viewpoints Prefigure Different Futures for Planetary Health”). Carter recently published an opinion piece on MSN that investigates the failure of the Paris Agreement—and his prescription for fixing it. An excerpt is below.]

“According to the anthropocentric view of our environmental responsibilities, we owe a livable planet to other people, especially to our children. We imagine a “leave no trace” ethic can preserve the category we hold in our minds of a pristine natural habitat to bequeath to posterity. Yet our posterity is part of the problem. The more our population grows, the more we’re imposing destructive human impacts on the natural world, and the more disrupted the climate and environment will get.

“There is staunch resistance to accepting this self-evident fact. But it’s beyond dispute that choosing to have fewer children, and/or to delay starting a family, is key to lowering human climate impacts. It’s also key to rewilding and making room for nature. Family planning policies, for good or ill, will condition the ecological and climate future. Yet we behave as if having as many children as we can is a right and law unto itself. …

“Human reproductive choices and policies will determine not only how much carbon we emit and what climate impacts we’ll have, but how most people will experience those impacts — the resources they will or won’t have access to, how resilient in the face of climate change their communities will or won’t be, whether or not their societies will be democratic and respect rights and the rule of law.” ​​​​​

—Carter Dillard, “The Paris Agreement is failing; we need a new approach” (MSN, April 23, 2022)

Round of applause…

Fast plants: Burger King’s Impossible Whopper is a customer favorite. (Photo credit: Tony Webster/Flickr)

“[T]he fast-food brand that has seemingly had the most success going plant-based is Burger King. The chain was one of the earlier adopters of vegan meat. It launched the Impossible Whopper in 2019 and saw same-store sales jump 6 percent in the quarter that followed. This veggie success inspired ‘The King’ to launch Impossible nuggets last fall, but only in select U.S. cities without plans for a nationwide rollout.

“[T]he chain saw ‘​​​​​​stunning success with their most daring foray into veganism to date—a month-long 100 percent vegan menu at one of their high-traffic storefronts in London. The success has spurned Burger King to set a new goal for itself: a 50 percent meat-free menu by 2030.”

—Ashley Uzer, “This major fast-food burger chain is planning to go 50 percent meatless” (Eat This, Not That, May 5, 2022)


Friends, not food: Lina Lind Christensen, who runs the Danish sanctuary Frie Vinger (“Free Wings”), with a rescued hen. Frie Vinger rescues and re-homes battery hens saved from the egg industry. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/#unboundproject/We Animals Media)

“An annoyed hen will confront a pesky young rooster with her hackles raised and run him off. Although chickens will fight fiercely, and sometimes successfully, with foxes and other predators to protect their families, with humans, however, this kind of bravery usually does not win. A woman employed on a chicken ‘breeder’ farm in Maryland, berated the defenders of chickens for trying to make her lose her job, and threatening her ability to support herself and her daughter. For her, the ‘breeder’ hens were ‘mean’ birds who ‘peck your arm when you are trying to collect the eggs.’ In her defense for her life and her daughter’s life, she failed to see the similarity between her motherly protection of her child and the exploited hen’s courageous effort to protect her own offspring.”

—EFL contributor Karen Davis, “On International Respect for Chickens Day, Try Thinking About Them Differently” (Countercurrents, April 26, 2022)

Parting thought…

Bird brain: The owl is the symbol of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Several species of owl are threatened by habitat loss, human disturbance, climate change and invasive species. (Photo credit: Airwolfhound/Flickr)

“If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected.” —Chief Seattle

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.

Can We Abandon Pollutive Fossil Fuels and Avoid an Energy Crisis?

Rough waters: The Russian oil products tanker Varzuga, seen here in Pirsy, Arkhangelskaya, Russia, in July 2018. (Photo credit: Alexxx Malev/Flickr)

When it comes to maintaining energy flows, there is a closing window to avert both climate catastrophe and economic peril.

By Richard Heinberg, Independent Media Institute

10 min read

Similar to the two navigational hazards mythologized as sea monsters in ancient Greece—Scylla and Charybdis—which gave rise to sayings such as, “between the devil and the deep blue sea” and “between a rock and a hard place,” modern energy policy has its own Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand is the requirement to maintain sufficient energy flows to avoid economic peril. On the other hand is the need to avert climate catastrophe resulting from such activities. Policymakers naturally want all the benefits of abundant energy with none of the attendant climate risks. But tough choices can no longer be put off.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s response of imposing sanctions on Russia are forcing a reckoning as far as global energy policy is concerned. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that the ongoing war and the U.S. sanctions may together reduce Russian oil exports by at least 3 million barrels per day—more than 4 percent of global supplies, which is a huge chunk of the delicately balanced world energy market. Some energy analysts are forecasting that oil prices could spike up to $200 per barrel later this year, exacerbating inflation and triggering a global recession. We’re facing the biggest energy crisis in many decades, with supply chains seizing up and products made from or with oil and gas (notably fertilizers) suddenly becoming scarce and expensive. Scylla, therefore, calls out: “Drill more. Lift sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. Beg Saudi Arabia to increase output.” But if we go that route, we only deepen our dependency on fossil fuels, aggravating the climate monster Charybdis.

The IEA was created in the aftermath of the 1970s oil shocks to inform policymakers in times of energy supply crisis. The agency recently issued a 10-point emergency plan to reduce oil demand and help nations deal with looming shortages owing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Its advice includes lowering speed limits, instituting car-free Sundays, encouraging working from home, and making public transport cheaper and more widely available.

All of these are good suggestions—and are very similar to what my colleagues and I have been advocating for nearly 20 years (some were even part of U.S. energy policy 50 years ago). Fossil fuel supply problems shouldn’t come as a surprise: we treat these fuels as though they were an inexhaustible birthright; but they are, of course, finite and depleting substances. We have extracted and burned the best of them first, leaving lower-quality and more polluting fuels for later—hence the recent turn toward fracked oil and gas and growing reliance on heavy crude from Venezuela and “tar sands” bitumen from Canada. Meanwhile, rather belatedly, it has gradually dawned on economists that these “unconventional” fuels typically require higher rates of investment and deliver lower profits to the energy industry, unless fuel prices rise to economy-crushing levels.

Indeed, it’s as though our leaders have worked overtime making sure we’re unprepared for an inevitable energy dilemma. We’ve neglected public transportation, and many Americans who are not part of the white-collar workforce have been pushed out from expensive cities to suburbs and beyond, with no alternative other than driving everywhere. While automakers have turned their focus to manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs), these still account for a small fraction of the car market, and most of today’s gas-guzzling cars will still be on the road a decade or two from now. Crucially, there are as yet only exploratory efforts underway to transition trucking and shipping—the mainstays of global supply chains—and find more sustainable alternatives. That creates a unique vulnerability: the current worldwide diesel shortage could hammer the economy even if the government and the energy industry somehow come up with enough gasoline to keep motorists cruising to jobs and shopping malls.

Then there’s the issue of the way fossil fuels are financed. They’re not treated as a depleting public good, but as a source of profit—with investors either easily enticed to plunge into a passing mania or spooked to flee the market. Just in the past decade, investors have gone from underwriting a rapid expansion of fracking (thereby incurring massive financial losses), to insisting on fiscal responsibility, while companies are now milking profits from high prices and buying back stocks to increase their wealth. Long-term energy security be damned.

Meanwhile, the climate monster stirs fitfully. With every passing year, we have seen worsening floods, fires and droughts; glaciers that supply water to billions of people melting; and trickles of climate refugees threatening to turn into rivers. As we continue to postpone reducing the amounts of fossil fuels we burn, the cuts that would be required in order to avert irreversible climate doom become almost impossibly severe. Our “carbon budget”—the amount of carbon we can burn without risking catastrophic global warming—will be “exhausted” in about eight years at current emission rates, but only a few serious analysts believe that it would be possible to fully replace fossil fuels with energy alternatives that soon.

We need coherent, bold federal policy—which must somehow survive the political minefield that is Washington, D.C., these days. Available policies could be mapped on a coordinate plane, with the horizontal x-axis representing actions that would be most transformative and the vertical y-axis showing what actions would be most politically feasible.

High on the y-axis are actions like those that the Biden administration just took, to release 1 million barrels a day of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve and to invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of minerals needed for the electric vehicle market. While politically feasible and likely popular, these efforts won’t be transformative.

An announcement by President Joe Biden of an ambitious energy-climate vision, with the goal of eliminating our dependence on foreign fuel sources and drastically reducing carbon emissions by the end of the decade, would probably fall somewhere in the middle, where the x- and y-axes meet. Such a vision would encompass a four-pronged effort being proposed by the government:

  • Incentivizing massive conservation efforts, including “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” and providing inducements for businesses to implement telework broadly.
  • Directing domestic production of fossil fuels increasingly toward energy transition purposes (for example, making fossil fuel subsidies contingent on how businesses are growing the percentage of these fuels being used to build low-carbon infrastructure).
  • Mandating massive investments in domestic production of renewables and other energy transition technologies (including incentives to recycle materials).
  • Providing an “Energy Transition Tax Credit” to households or checks to offset energy inflation, with most of the benefits going to low-income households.

Ultimately, some form of fuel rationing may be inevitable, and it is time to start discussing that and planning for it (Germany has just taken the first steps toward gas rationing)—even though this would be firmly in the x-axis territory. Rationing just means directing scarce resources toward what’s vital versus what’s discretionary. We need energy for food, critical supply chains and hospitals; not so much for vacation travel and product packaging. When people first hear the word “rationing,” many of them recoil; but, as author Stan Cox details in his history of the subject, Any Way You Slice It, rationing has been used successfully for centuries as a way to manage scarcity and alleviate poverty. The U.S. SNAP (food stamp) program is essentially a rationing system, and all sorts of materials, including gasoline, were successfully rationed during both world wars. More than two decades ago, the late British economist David Fleming proposed a system for rationing fossil fuel consumption at the national level called Tradable Energy Quotas, or TEQs, which has been discussed and researched by the British government. The system could be used to cap and reduce fossil fuel usage, distribute energy fairly and incentivize energy conservation during our transition to alternative sources.

Also, we need to transform the ways we use energy—for example, in the food system, where a reduction in fossil fuel inputs could actually lead to healthier food and soil. Over the past century or so, fossil fuels provided so much energy, and so cheaply, that humanity developed the habit of solving any problem that came along by simply utilizing more energy as a solution. Want to move people or goods faster? Just build more kerosene-burning jet planes, runways and airports. Need to defeat diseases? Just use fossil fuels to make and distribute disinfectants, antibiotics and pharmaceuticals. In a multitude of ways, we used the blunt instrument of cheap energy to bludgeon nature into conforming with our wishes. The side effects were sometimes worrisome—air and water petrochemical pollution, antibiotic-resistant microbes and ruined farm soils. But we confronted these problems with the same mindset and toolbox, using cheap energy to clean up industrial wastes, developing new antibiotics and growing food without soil. As the fossil fuel era comes to an end, the rules of the game will change. We’ll need to learn how to solve problems with ecological intelligence, mimicking and partnering with nature rather than suppressing and subverting her. High tech may continue to provide useful ways of manipulating and storing data; but, when it comes to moving and transforming physical goods and products, intelligently engineered low tech may offer better answers in the long run.

Further along the x-axis would be the daring action of nationalizing the fossil fuel industry. But at the very farthest end of the x-axis is the possibility of deliberately reining in economic growth. Policymakers typically want more growth so we can have more jobs, profits, returns on investment and tax revenues. But growing the economy (at least, the way we’ve been doing it for the past few decades) also means increasing resource extraction, pollution, land use and carbon emissions. There’s a debate among economists and scientists as to whether or not economic growth could proceed in a more sustainable way, but the general public is largely in the dark about that discussion. Only in its most recent report has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) begun to probe the potential for “degrowth” policies to reduce carbon emissions. So far, the scorecard is easy to read: only in years of economic recession (such as in 2008 and in 2020) have carbon emissions declined. In years of economic expansion, emissions increased. Policymakers have held out the hope that if we build enough solar panels and wind turbines, these technologies will replace fossil fuels and we can have growth without emissions. Yet, in most years, the amount of increased energy usage due to economic growth has been greater than the amount of solar and wind power added to the overall energy mix, so these renewable sources ended up just supplementing, not displacing, fossil fuels. True, we could build turbines, panels and batteries faster; but, as long as overall energy usage is growing, we’re continually making the goal of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels harder to achieve.

Wouldn’t giving up growth mean steering perilously close to the Scylla of economic peril in order to avoid the Charybdis of climate doom? So far, we’ve been doing just the reverse, prizing growth while multiplying climate risks. Maybe it’s time to rethink those priorities. Post-growth economists have spent the last couple of decades enumerating the ways we could improve our quality of life while reducing our throughput of energy and materials. Policymakers must finally start to take these proposals seriously, or we will end up confronting the twin monsters—economy-crushing fossil fuel scarcity and devastating climate impacts—without prior planning and preparation.

It was always clear that we would eventually have to face the music with regard to our systemic economic dependency on depleting, polluting fossil fuels. We have delayed action, making both the economic challenge and the climate threat harder to manage. Our possible navigation channel between Scylla and Charybdis is now perilously narrow. If we wait much longer, this channel will vanish altogether.


Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival.

Take action…

Heat pumps for peace: If President Biden invokes the Defense Production Act, the U.S. can “start manufacturing the heat pumps that will electrify the 75 million homes in Europe and the U.K. dependent on Russian gas for their heat,” according to Ari Matusiak, the CEO of the non-profit Rewiring America. (Photo credit: Phyxter.ai via Flickr)

Joe Biden could damage Putin badly—without having to ask Joe Manchin

“New technology—affordable and workable—means Europeans can heat their homes with electricity instead of gas. And if we wanted to we could—before next winter comes—help enormously in this task,” writes Bill McKibben.

“President Biden should immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power. The most recent estimates from Europe I’ve seen is that the current electric grid could handle fifty million heat pumps. We’re not going to get that many over there in a year—but any large number hacks away at Putin’s power.”

Urge President Biden to invoke the Defense Protection Act now to immediately ramp up U.S. production of electric heat pumps.

Mark your calendars…

Friends, not food: Lina Lind Christensen, who runs the Danish sanctuary Frie Vinger (“Free Wings”), with a rescued hen. Frie Vinger rescues and re-homes battery hens saved from the egg industry. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/#unboundproject/We Animals Media)

“To afford [a] chance for chickens to live a cage-free life along with their chicks, we should show compassion to chickens in May in honor of International Respect for Chickens Day, which falls on May 4, 2022. Most of all, we need to respect the lives of chickens beyond this day by ensuring that chickens are treated humanely, and by making better food choices, which involves a shift away from a meat-based diet toward a plant-based diet.

—EFL contributor Karen Davis, “On International Respect for Chickens Day, Try Thinking About Them Differently” (CounterPunch, April 29, 2022)

Cause for concern…

Running out of time: A humpback whale lunge feeding in the waters of Estero Bay, California. (Photo credit: Gregory Smith/Flickr)

​​​​​Without climate action, humans on target to cause mass extinction event

“Earth’s oceans are warmer than they were a century ago, sea levels are rising, and ocean waters are more acidic than they used to be, all because of human-created climate change. Global temperatures are expected rise even further in the coming decades, leaving researchers to wonder how these alterations will affect life on Earth—and especially in the seas. But the oceans have been through major crises before—including at least five mass extinctions—and those events in the deep past can help outline what might happen in our near future.

“To better understand what trends to expect, Princeton University oceanographers Justin Penn and Curtis Deutsch applied a scientific model used to predict the extent of a past mass extinction to estimate the consequences of current global warming. Their research, published today in Science, warns that failing to reduce fossil fuel emissions will set Earth’s oceans on track for a mass extinction within the next 300 years.”

—Riley Black, “Without Action on Climate, Another Mass Extinction Event Will Likely Happen in the World’s Oceans” (Smithsonian Magazine, April 28, 2022)

Round of applause…

Celebrate life: Spending quality time with rescued pigs at Farm Sanctuary, one of the largest farm animal sanctuaries in the U.S., which has provided a safe haven for thousands of rescued farm animals. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals Media)

From our friends at All-Creatures:

What to Eat When You Don’t Eat Animals
Menus and ideas to inspire people who want to eat as if life is precious.

This guide is for you if…

  • You are an animal lover and therefore want to eat in a way that respects all animals
  • You want to eat delicious, nurturing, inexpensive, healthy meals that are easy to prepare
  • You’ve always wondered, “What do vegans eat?”
  • You are vegetarian or already cutting back on eating animal products, and you want to go vegan but you don’t know how
  • You think that you’ll have to give up cheese, ice cream, and burgers if you go vegan (You will be amazed at all of the scrumptious vegan versions of everything!)
  • You want to improve your health and well-being, as well as the health and well-being of your friends, your family, other humans, and all animals
  • You want to do your part to end our climate catastrophe
  • You are already vegan and always overjoyed to find more vegan goodies
  • You want to make a consequential difference for our world with every bite
  • To be clear, a vegan is someone who chooses not to participate in any form of animal abuse, exploitation, or slaughter, which includes abstaining from using, wearing, and consuming all animal products, such as dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, wool, leather, silk, feathers, skin, and fur. Vegans avoid all forms of animal exploitation. Simply stated, veganism is not just about food: It is an ethical stance for total liberation of all creatures.

What to Eat When You Don’t Eat Animals (via All-Creatures)

Parting thought…

(Screenshot via @LynnChateau/Twitter)

Earth | Food | Life (EFL) explores the critical and often interconnected issues facing the climate/environment, food/agriculture and nature/animal rights, and champions action; specifically, how responsible citizens, voters and consumers can help put society on an ethical path of sustainability that respects the rights of all species who call this planet home. EFL emphasizes the idea that everything is connected, so every decision matters.

Click here to support the work of EFL and the Independent Media Institute.

Questions, comments, suggestions, submissions? Contact EFL editor Reynard Loki at [email protected]. Follow EFL on Twitter @EarthFoodLife.