How the USDA Fails to Enforce the Animal Welfare Act

USDA Fail: USDA inspectors documented extensive animal suffering at a USDA-licensed supplier of chinchillas for research, but for years the agency did nothing. (Photo credit: gehantao971031/Flickr)

The agency has neglected its federally mandated responsibilities—even in the face of years of their own inspectors’ reports of abuse.

By Nancy Blaney, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

For years, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors dutifully documented extensive animal suffering at Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR), a chinchilla breeding facility in Minnesota. In 2021, MCR was the only USDA-licensed supplier of chinchillas for research, according to National Geographic and Science. Meanwhile, USDA inspections of MCR reported seeing chinchillas, many destined for experimentation, with eyes swollen, weeping, and sealed shut; a thin, unresponsive chinchilla, missing part of her leg, brutally “euthanized” by breaking her neck; a dead chinchilla left on top of a cage for so long that her decaying body had to be peeled off of it.

After failing to confiscate a single chinchilla from MCR—even as the USDA’s own inspectors issued citation after citation for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations over a period of five years from 2013 to 2018—the department finally filed a case in November 2018 against MCR’s owner, dealer Daniel Moulton. Following even more incomprehensible delays, the case finally went to court in 2021.

In October 2021, USDA Administrative Law Judge Jill Clifton ruled from the bench—a highly unusual move—that Moulton’s dealer license must be permanently revoked, calling his 213 “willful” violations “absolutely astounding.” Nevertheless, he was fined a mere $18,000—less than 1 percent of the amount allowed under the law. To make matters worse, he was permitted to keep nearly 700 chinchillas languishing on his ranch for months while he decided whether or not he would file an appeal (and was even granted multiple extensions to do so).

In November, less than a month after the judge’s ruling, the USDA once again documented multiple failures to comply with the law as the chinchillas at the ranch continued to suffer from a lack of adequate veterinary care and staffing. The following month in December, my organization, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), sent a letter to the USDA, copying three Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys, noting that Moulton continued to place his chinchillas “in serious danger.” One of the unambiguous statutory remedies for his violations is confiscation. Again, however, the USDA confiscated none of the ailing animals.

In Judge Clifton’s ruling, she expressed regret “that it took this many years for me to get to this complaint, which was filed November 29, 2018” and explained that the “very, very long delay” was caused by government shutdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic, and “some other difficulties.” Notably, Judge Clifton added, “It should not have taken this long for us to get to this point.”

It took until February 2022 before Moulton stated that he no longer held any chinchillas, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Meanwhile, last fall, the USDA finally revoked the license of Iowa dog breeder Daniel Gingerich, who amassed an unprecedented number of citations for horrific animal mistreatment. Inspectors documented multiple dogs under severe heat stress with no access to drinking water, even as the heat index soared to 119 degrees Fahrenheit; one was in an emaciated state. Another report noted a severely neglected one-month-old poodle puppy crying out and dying before the inspectors’ eyes. Under a settlement, Gingerich was forced to surrender more than 500 dogs and puppies, but only after the DOJ obtained a historic injunction against the breeder after indefensible USDA delays.

These two high-profile cases graphically illustrate how the USDA continues to drag its heels instead of jumping into action to protect animals from immense and avoidable suffering. AWI and other animal advocacy organizations have long documented the department’s inexcusable failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, the primary federal law intended to afford basic protections to certain animals that are bred for commercial sale.

The AWA applies to animal dealers, breeders, exhibitors, handlers, and carriers in addition to research laboratories, and sets minimum standards of care that must be provided for animals—including housing, handling, sanitation, food, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather. The law covers warm-blooded species, but expressly excludes mice, rats, and birds bred for research, as well as most farm animals.

It is the responsibility of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service administrator, its animal care officials, and its general counsel to urgently act on inspectors’ disturbing reports of cruelty, seize animals in need of rescue, and ensure that such appalling mistreatment doesn’t continue. The situation has reached a tipping point.

From 2016 to 2020 (while former President Donald Trump was in office), there was a 67 percent drop in the number of AWA inspections where citations were documented, according to AWI’s research. New investigations plunged by nearly 90 percent during this period. In a July 2021 article about Moulton Chinchilla Ranch, National Geographic pointed out that the USDA under the Trump administration had been hamstrung when it came to enforcing animal welfare law. But the USDA’s failure to adequately enforce the AWA predates the Trump administration and has persisted for decades, as National Geographic later reported in October 2021.

Gingerich, the former dog breeder, was permitted to continue operating after he hid dogs from USDA inspectors, destroyed required acquisition records, and operated “facilities in 10 different locations throughout Iowa, several of which are unlicensed,” stated the Iowa Capital Dispatch, citing federal records. In 2021 alone, before the USDA took action, inspections of Gingerich’s operation yielded 25 reports and more than 200 citations.

In the case of MCR, the USDA has known about the abysmal conditions since at least 2013. Yet the department never followed through on what its inspectors conscientiously recorded by confiscating a single chinchilla or notifying the DOJ, as mandated by the AWA, once it determined that the chinchillas’ health was in serious danger. Since 2014, Moulton has racked up more direct citations (the most severe type of critical citation) than any of the other 10,000-plus AWA-regulated licensees and registrants. The USDA documented direct citations each year from 2014 through 2021, including a 2018 announced inspection, which found 22 chinchillas needing veterinary care.

Chinchillas have large ears, and their hearing is similar to humans, so they are often used for invasive and terminal research on ear diseases. Moulton Chinchilla Ranch has supplied chinchillas to studies affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Navy, Harvard Medical School, and more—even though lab animals with unaddressed health issues can compromise the integrity of the research. Taxpayers’ money has not only been used to fund potentially flawed research but also to support Moulton’s operations.

On the first full day of testimony during Moulton’s administrative hearing, veteran inspector Brenton Cox—discussing inspections from 2014—stated that MCR was the worst facility he had ever seen, that it gave him nightmares, and that he used MCR as a training tool for what a facility should not be. During the hearing (which AWI monitored), the USDA stated that some chinchillas suffered from swellings the size of eggs or golf balls and indicated (over Moulton’s objections) that they were in pain.

But where was this outrage and validation of the inspectors’ vital work years ago, when the department could have acted on their findings and saved so many chinchillas from this ongoing abuse? Instead, in 2019, the USDA helped Moulton with the paperwork to renew his license to operate as a dealer.

Moreover, the research industry enabled Moulton’s cruelty. The Laboratory Animal Science Buyers Guide, published by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), listed MCR as the only chinchilla supplier despite knowing about the USDA citations. In July, National Geographic stated that the guide also included MCR in its vendor showcase, which touts reaching customers within the “trusted network” of AALAS. Prominent research figures, including Sanford Feldman, director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at the University of Virginia, testified for Moulton and were actively involved in his defense.

It is clear that there needs to be political will to ensure that the USDA will stop allowing facilities to remain persistently and egregiously out of compliance with the AWA regulations and start taking action sooner—not merely when a case becomes highly publicized. In May 2021, U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois reintroduced the Animal Welfare Enforcement Improvement Act, which would protect animals from unscrupulous dealers and exhibitors and close existing loopholes in the USDA’s licensing process that endanger animals and allow chronic violators to escape punishment. These violators include marine theme parks, roadside zoos, and exotic wildlife operations such as the infamous Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park featured in the Netflix series “Tiger King,” which has now been closed to the public.

Additionally, legislation introduced in December 2021 by Iowa Representative Cindy Axne would require USDA inspectors to document and report all AWA violations, confiscate suffering animals, and impose penalties against dog dealers. The bill has been named Goldie’s Act in memory of a golden retriever who was one of the hundreds of dogs neglected and abused at Gingerich’s USDA-licensed facility.

Both these bills demand greater accountability from a department that, for many years, has been unwilling to enforce even basic AWA standards for animal care. Moulton and Gingerich are simply the latest well-publicized egregious examples. If the USDA continues to neglect its responsibilities, then the only way to adequately protect nonhuman animals may just be for Congress to empower another federal agency to safeguard animal welfare.


Nancy Blaney is the director of government affairs at the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C.

Take action…

The show must not go on: Circuses like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (above, in Tampa, Florida, in 2010), have long been guilty of violating the Animal Welfare Act. In 2022, Ringling Brothers said that their new revamped show will no longer feature any animals. (Photo credit: Cindy Schultz/Flickr)

“For too long, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed the animals Congress intended to protect under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). In fact, it appears that oftentimes the department is more interested in helping the licensed or registered operation than it is in helping the animals. Lackluster enforcement, combined with loopholes, has resulted in egregious animal abuse by puppy mills, roadside zoos, circuses, and others,” writes the Animal Welfare Institute, a nonprofit animal welfare group that has repeatedly documented governmental failures to enforce the AWA. “[I]t is only thanks to annual instructions from Congress that certain dealers are no longer able to supply pets to laboratories.”

Urge Congress to make the USDA enforce the Animal Welfare Act.


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 … Keeping Them is a Threat to Public Health

By Lisa Jones-Engel

[Macaque] 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. ​​​​​…

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.

[Read the full article…]

Parting thought…

Unlawful imprisonment: With five dexterous toes on each of their front paws, raccoons have very human-like “hands.” They are also incredibly smart. On the mammal IQ scale, raccoons have higher IQs than cats and score just below monkeys. (Photo credit: xazzz/Flickr)

“We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” —William Ralph Inge

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 Plastics Paradox Facing Humanity

Necessary evil: Plastics are used to fabricate a wide array of tools and devices used by the medical, health and laboratory industries, including surgical gloves, syringes, insulin pens, IV tubes, catheters, inflatable splits and other products made to be used only once to prevent contamination and the spread of disease. (Photo credit: Fernando Vega/Flickr)

Properly addressing the plastics problem involves not only interrogating corporate tactics but also understanding that some plastics provide societal benefits.

By Alice Mah, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

Over the past few years, the paradox of plastic as both a miracle for and a menace to society has become a platitude. There are countless stories in the media and popular culture about our fraught relationship with plastic, focusing on our addiction and dependence. However, this way of framing the problem actually serves to perpetuate it. Plastics are plural. There are tens of thousands of plastics, each with different physical properties, including not only flexibility or durability, but also toxicity. By lumping plastics together into a singular entity with both beneficial and harmful features, the double-sided narrative assumes that the two sides can never be separated. By blaming us all for our dependence on plastic, questions of corporate responsibility and unequal toxic risks are avoided. Ultimately, the paradox of plastic conveys a sense of inescapability that the industry can tap into.

“Let’s talk realistically about plastic” is the title of a campaign launched in October 2020 by the Danish Plastics Federation, featuring short videos with plastic reality-check messages: “Without plastic… cars would use more fuel”; “No plastic… no bike helmet.” The punchline: “Frankly, we need plastic where it makes sense. But a world without… creates more problems than it solves.” The U.S.-based Plastics Industry Association regularly tweets and blogs similar messages. For example, one blog post decried the public’s “knee-jerk reaction” of proposing plastic bans and substitutions to deal with plastic litter as “overly simplistic,” “outlandish,” and “impractical… like when a child proposes that the solution to global warming is eliminating cars.”

While this line of argument is “overly simplistic” itself, the industry is right in some ways. Plastic cannot be separated neatly into different piles of societal value: essential versus wasteful, or desirable versus toxic. Many plastics are indeed essential for health and safety, transport, and connectivity, yet are also toxic and wasteful. There are no easy solutions to such a complex problem. However, we can stop the plastics crisis from spiraling even further out of control. Many plastic products can and should be banned or substituted to protect health, the environment, and the climate. Policymakers, researchers, and activists have rightly focused on the need to eliminate or substitute the production of toxic plastic products (to protect health), single-use plastics (to stop the plastic waste crisis), and virgin (fossil fuel-based) plastics (to address the climate crisis). There are many barriers and dilemmas involved in such proposals, but reducing harmful plastics production is not an unrealistic goal. On the contrary, it is both possible and necessary. An important start is to interrogate corporate half-truths as well as untruths.

The industry’s “realistic versus impractical” narrative is a pragmatic twist on a related narrative that has long been popular with the industry: “reality versus fiction,” used to make truth claims about the benefits and nontoxicity of plastics. Since the beginning of the plastic age, the industry has tirelessly promoted the essential and desirable characteristics of plastic products, while denying their harmful effects. The discovery of synthetic plastics more than a century ago was seen as miraculous, saving animals by replacing ivory and tortoiseshell, and natural resources by replacing wood, silk, and glass. More importantly for a capitalist system, plastics were cheap. After World War II, new plastic household products entered the market, fostering the growth of mass consumer society. Steadfastly, the industry extended its reach into other markets, to building materials, shopping bags, medical equipment, toys, electronics, water bottles, and food packaging. People were sold not only plastics but also the idea of disposability.

Yet the public has never been fully sold on plastics. From the start, labor, consumer, and environmental groups have questioned the production and use of plastics. In fact, the petrochemical and plastics industries have often been accused of using the playbook from Big Tobacco by manufacturing doubt and uncertainty about the hazards of their products. I wish that I could say that these accusations are exaggerated, or oversimplify a more complicated situation, but if anything, they are understated. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the American and European petrochemical industries conspired to conceal scientific links between vinyl chloride, cancer, and other illnesses, in order to protect their markets. The news about vinyl chloride and cancer broke in 1974, leading to public alarm and swift regulations, but it took decades for researchers and lawyers to expose the corporate lies and cover-ups. Meanwhile, the plastics industry learned how to anticipate regulations, refining its “deceit and denial” tactics in later controversies over carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting plastics.

Beyond high-stakes battles over truth, corporations often ignore issues of toxicity altogether, especially given that the burden of proof for harm rests on communities, not corporations. In spite of decades of environmental justice struggles around the world, toxic hazards from plastics remain disproportionately located in minority, low-income, and working-class communities. In Canada, my home country, the Indigenous Aamjiwnaang First Nation is located next to a number of toxic polluting petrochemical plants in “Chemical Valley” in Sarnia, Ontario, and local residents have reported a number of illnesses. This parallels the infamous case of “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, an 85-mile stretch of former plantation land along the Mississippi River with a high concentration of petrochemical facilities and oil refineries situated in close proximity to rural Black residential communities. Indeed, around the world there are hundreds of “cancer villages” and cancer clusters related to plastics production, incineration, and disposal. Some corporations have been held to account for negligent toxic waste, and air quality regulations have been introduced in many places, but most companies have continued with business as usual. Despite the risks and negative social and environmental impacts, corporations across the plastics value chain will deploy whatever tactics they can in order to create, protect, and expand plastics markets.

This excerpt is adapted from Plastic Unlimited: How Corporations Are Fuelling the Ecological Crisis and What We Can Do About It by Alice Mah (Polity Books, 2022) and was edited and produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Alice Mah is a professor of sociology at the University of Warwick.

Take action…

Amazon fail: All of this plastic was used to pack a single bread knife. (Photo credit: Kari Sullivan/Flickr)

Amazon is polluting the planet with its overuse of plastic packaging

A 2021 report by Oceana investigated Amazon’s use of plastic and found that “up to 23.5 million pounds of the company’s plastic packaging polluted the world’s waterways and oceans in 2020.” The report also found that the company’s “recycling promises do not help to reduce plastic pollution.”

“Our report found that Amazon’s plastic packaging pollution problem is growing at a frightening rate at a time when the oceans need corporate leaders like Amazon to step up and meaningfully commit to reducing their use of single-use plastic. Amazon has shown it can do this in large markets like India and Germany,” said Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s senior vice president for strategic initiatives. “It now needs to commit to do so worldwide.”

Urge Amazon to stop using plastic packaging.

From the EFL archives…

Catching plastic: There are nearly 40,000 commercial fishermen in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The fish they catch are increasingly contaminated by microplastic. (Photo credit: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

Microplastics are contaminating the global seafood supply, but major news outlets are silent

By Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff​​​

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.”

[Read the full article…]

Parting thought…

Screenshot via Oceana/YouTube

“There is no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere.” —Annie Leonard

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.

Western ‘Naturalism’ Disrespects Nonhuman Animals and the Entire Natural World

No respect: In 2008, Greenpeace activists painted ‘Forest Destruction, Climate Crime, Moratorium Now’ on barges carrying trees illegally harvested from the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Deforestation destroys the natural habitats of countless species and is responsible for 20 percent of annual global greenhouse emissions. (Photo credit: Esperanza A Greenpeace/Flickr)

The self-destructive delusion that we are the only species that has a right to life on Earth has led to the ecological crisis.

By Baptiste Morizot, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

One species has transformed into a material backdrop for its tribulations the 10 million other species that constitute its extended family, its giving environment, and its daily cohabitants. More specifically, it is one small population of this species that has done so, the bearer of a merely historical and local culture. Making all other living beings invisible is a provincial and late phenomenon—not the product of mankind as a whole. Imagine a people approaching a land populated by a myriad of other related peoples, and declaring that they don’t really exist, and that they are the stage and not the actors (ah yes, it’s not a fiction that requires a lot of imagination, as it also comprises vast swaths of our history). How did we accomplish this miracle of blindness toward the other creatures of the living world? We could hazard here—to exacerbate the strangeness of our heritage—a rapid history of the relations between our civilization and other species, a history which leads to the modern condition: Once nonhuman living beings were debased ontologically (that is to say, considered as endowed with a second-order existence, of lesser value and lesser consistency, and thus transformed into ‘things’), human beings came to believe that they alone truly existed in the universe.

It simply took Judeo-Christianity to expel God from ‘Nature’ (this is the hypothesis of the Egyptologist Jan Assmann), to make Nature profane, then the scientific and industrial revolutions to transform the nature that remained (the scholastic phusis) into a matter devoid of intelligence or of invisible influences, available to extractivism, for human beings to find themselves as solitary travelers in the cosmos, surrounded by dumb, evil matter. The last act involved killing off the last affiliation: Alone in the face of matter, human beings nevertheless remained in vertical contact with God, who sanctified it as his Creation (natural theology). The death of God entails a terrible and perfect loneliness, which we might call the anthropo-narcissistic prison.

This false lucidity about our cosmic solitude put the final seal on the serene exclusion of all nonhuman beings from the field of the ontologically relevant. It explains the ‘prison house’ of the philosophy and literature cultivated in the great European and Anglo-American capitals. My choice of this expression is not arbitrary: Not only are these fields now a prison house or ‘closed room’ in the sense of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”—but also the prison house is the world itself, the universe, which is populated only by us and the pathological relationships with our fellow humans entailed by the disappearance of our plural, affective, and active affiliations with other living beings, nonhuman animals and environments.

This ubiquitous theme in 20th-century literature and philosophy, which foregrounds the cosmic solitude of human beings, a solitude elevated to grandeur by existentialism, is intriguingly violent. Under cover of the heroism of the absurd (as Albert Camus defined it), under cover of having the courage to face the truth, this violence is a form of blindness that refuses to learn how to see the forms of existence of others, negating their status as cohabitants, postulating that, in fact, they have no communication skills, no ‘native senses,’ no creative point of view, no aptitudes for finding a modus vivendi, no political promptings. And this is the great cunning, and therefore the hidden violence of Western naturalism, which in fact aims to justify exploiting all of nature as a raw material lying to hand for our project of civilization—it means treating others as matter ruled by biological laws, refusing to see their geopolitical promptings, their vital alliances, and all the ways in which we share with living beings a great diplomatic community in which we can learn anew how to live.

The human subject alone in an absurd universe, surrounded by pure matter lying to hand as a stock of resources, or a sanctuary for humans to recharge their batteries spiritually, is a phantasmal invention of modernity. From this point of view, those great thinkers of emancipation, Sartre and Camus, who have probably infused their ideas deeply into the French tradition, are the objective allies of extractivism and the ecological crisis. It is intriguing to reinterpret these discourses of emancipation as vectors of great violence. Yet it was they who transformed into a basic belief of late humanism the myth that we alone are free subjects in a world of inert and absurd objects, doomed to giving meaning through our consciousness to a living world devoid of it.

This myth took away from that world something it had always possessed. The shamanists and animists described by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Philippe Descola know very well what this lost state had involved, namely complex social relations of reciprocity, exchange, and predation which are not peace-loving or pacific, and do not follow Isaiah’s prophecy, but are political in a still enigmatic sense, and call for forms of pacification and conciliation, of mutualist and considerate cohabitation. After all, there are meanings everywhere in the living world: They do not need to be projected, but to be found, with the means at our disposal—translation and interpretation. It’s all about diplomacy. We need interpreters, intermediaries, and in-betweens to do the job of starting to speak again with living beings, to overcome what we might call Claude Lévi-Strauss’s curse: the impossibility of communicating with the other species we share the Earth with. “For despite the ink spilled by the Judeo-Christian tradition to conceal it, no situation seems more tragic, more offensive to heart and mind, than that of a humanity coexisting and sharing the joys of a planet with other living species yet being unable to communicate with them,” Lévi-Strauss said in conversation with Didier Eribon.

But this impossibility is a fiction of the moderns—it helps to justify reducing living beings to commodities in order to sustain world economic exchanges. Communication is possible, it has always taken place; it is surrounded by mystery, by inexhaustible enigmas, by untranslatable aspects too, but ultimately by creative misunderstandings. It doesn’t have the fluidity of a café conversation, but it is nonetheless rich in meaning.

As an enigma among other enigmas, the human way of being alive only makes sense if it is woven into the countless other ways of being alive that the animals, plants, bacteria, and ecosystems all around us demand.

The ever-intact enigma of being a human is richer and more poignant when we share it with other life forms in our great family, when we pay attention to them, and when we do justice to their otherness. This interplay of kinship and otherness with other living beings, the common causes they foster in the politics of life, is part of what makes the ‘mystery of living,’ of being a human being, so inexhaustible.

This excerpt is adapted from Ways of Being Alive by Baptiste Morizot and was originally published in French by Editions Actes Sud © Actes Sud, 2020. It was translated into English by Andrew Brown and published by Polity Books in 2022. This excerpt was edited and produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Baptiste Morizot is a writer and lecturer in philosophy at Aix-Marseille University in France who studies the relationship between humans and other living beings. His many books include Ways of Being Alive and Rekindling Life: A Common Front, both published in English by Polity Books.

Take action…

Right to life: Mexican gray wolves playing at the San Francisco Zoo. (Photo credit: Michael Fraley/Flickr)

“Wolves remain absent across most of their historic range—because they are being savagely hunted and killed. States in the Northern Rockies are making it easier for hunters to freely and legally murder wolves,” write Friends of the Earth. “Hunters have recklessly slaughtered gray wolves in record numbers by shooting, trapping, choking, poisoning, and other inhumane poaching tactics. In this season alone, over 270 wolves have been killed in Montana with another 300 wolf deaths in Idaho. If we don’t act now, these iconic canines could go extinct.”

Urge the Biden administration to restore federal protections for gray wolves.

Cause for concern…

Men behaving badly: “[A]bout 11 million metric tons of plastic are dumped [into the world’s oceans] each year—an amount that is projected to nearly triple by 2040 without urgent, large-scale action,” reports John Briley for Pew Charitable Trusts. (Photo credit: Robert Vicol/Water Alternatives Photos/Flickr)

There’s Only One Essential Role Humans Have on Earth—A Humbler Perspective Could Save the World

By Captain Paul Watson

Some species, especially the ones we call the “higher” animals (mainly the large mammals), are primarily passengers [on spaceship Earth]. Some of these passengers contribute a great deal to maintaining the machinery of the life-support system, although they are not as critical as the absolutely essential species that serve as the tireless engineers of the system. There is one passenger species, however, that long ago decided to mutiny from the crew and go its own way, content to spend its days entertaining itself and caring only for its own welfare. That species is Homo sapiens.

There are other species, both plant and animal, that we have enslaved for our own selfish purposes. These are the domesticated plants that replace the wild plants that help run the system. These are the animals that we have enslaved to give us meat, eggs, and milk, or to serve the purpose of amusing us, only to abuse, torture, and slaughter them.

As the number of enslaved animals increases, wild animals are displaced through extermination or the destruction of habitat. The plants that we enslave must be “protected” with lethal chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds, along with other chemical poisons, such as herbicides, fungicides, and bactericides.

We are stealing the carrying capacity of ecosystems from other species to increase the number of humans and domestic animals. The law of finite resources dictates that this system will collapse. It simply is unsustainable.

[Read the full excerpt from Urgent! Save Our Ocean to Survive Climate Change, by Captain Paul Watson (GroundSwell Books, 2021). This web adaptation was produced by GroundSwell Books in partnership with Earth | Food | Life.]


Grounded flights: One of the early victims of COVID-19 litter, an American robin (Turdus migratorius), was found entangled in a face mask in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, in April 2020. (Photo credit: Sandra Denisuk)

PPE May Save Human Lives, but It’s Deadly for Wildlife

By Reynard Loki

One of the most distinguishable features of the COVID-19 era is the public, everyday use of personal protective equipment (PPE), mainly in the form of disposable face masks and latex gloves. And while these thin layers protect us and others from transmitting and contracting SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the lower respiratory tract disease, scientists are now beginning to understand just how harmful these objects can be for ecosystems and wildlife. …

But while these “weapons” that fight coronavirus have proved to be lifesaving for humans, an increasing number of non-human animals are finding them to be a brand-new, and often deadly, threat that has suddenly littered their natural habitat. One main problem is that face masks and latex gloves are disposable, and people often do not dispose of them properly. How many times have you seen a used mask or glove lying on the street or stuck in a bush or floating in a waterway? Welcome to the world’s new pollution problem. (As if the scourge of plastic waste weren’t enough of an issue for the global ecosystem.)

[Read the full article on EcoWatch…]

Round of applause…

Upcycle this: Millions of single-use face masks are discarded every day. (Photo credit: Gilbert Mercier/Flickr)

Turning Discarded Face Masks Into Burnable Fuel to Produce Energy

A team of scientists from Korea University in Seoul has devised an innovative way to upcycle used face masks, millions of which are discarded daily due to the COVID-19 pandemic: Convert them to burnable fuel through pyrolysis, a process in which organic material is heated in the absence of oxygen. The researchers have shown that by collecting single-use masks and putting them through this process, they can not only avoid entering landfills, soils, and oceans but can also create fuel that can generate energy that could potentially be used to generate electricity.

“We verified that upcycling post-consumer surgical masks into value-added energy products represents a sustainable and promising route with notable environmental benefits,” said Xiangzhou Yuan, a professor at Korea University and one of the researchers behind the study.

Parting thought…

Antidote: A view of the Concord River from the Old North Bridge in Minute Man National Historic Park, Concord, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Lorianne DiSabato/Flickr)

“And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion—that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.” —Mary Oliver

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.

Pacific Islanders’ Food-Sharing Customs Ensure Resiliency in Face of Disaster

Family affair: Sione Vaianginam, a farmer, with his children on their tractor in Nukuʻalofa, the capital of Tonga. (Photo credit: Luis Enrique Ascui/Asian Development Bank/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Strong social networks foster resilience to food system shocks, both within and between Pacific Island communities.

By Stacy Jupiter, Teri Tuxson, Caroline Ferguson and Sangeeta Mangubhai, Independent Media Institute

4 min read

Pacific Islanders are no strangers to disasters. For millennia, island peoples have coped with and adapted to disasters like tropical cyclones and tsunamis, as well as unpredictable shifts in precipitation patterns, leading to droughts and floods. 

Because most coastal communities across the Pacific region are found on low-lying atolls and narrow coastal margins, they are particularly vulnerable to—and adept at—coping with environmental extremes as a result of their adaptive cultural local practices and knowledge, which have made them more resilient in the face of disasters.

These subsistence practices especially helped rural Pacific Island communities cope through the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. While many Pacific Island governments thwarted community transmission of the virus by closing international borders and imposing restrictions on movement, these same measures created hardships through employment losses and supply chain disruptions.

In our recent study published in the journal Marine Policy and led by partners within Teri Tuxson’s organization, the Locally Managed Marine Area Network, we found that despite early concerns, Pacific Island communities across seven countries—Papua New Guinea, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Solomon Islands—remained relatively resilient through 2020, when some of the worst effects of the pandemic were being felt around the world. That’s because they were able to fall back on existing customs of food sharing and on their knowledge of food production techniques to ensure food availability during this period.

Strong social networks among Pacific Islanders have long fostered resilience to food system shocks, both within and between island communities. Historically, relationships built during ceremonial trade between islanders had the additional purpose of helping these communities to obtain or barter for goods needed during times of crop failure or disasters.

One excellent example of this is the Kula ring, first described in 1922 by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in his tome, Argonauts of the Western Pacific. The Kula ring refers to a traditional trade alliance joining communities of east New Guinea. The main purpose of the Kula ring was to reciprocally exchange two goods with local symbolic value—long, red shell necklaces called soulava were traded for white shell bracelets called mwali.

Through this trade, other ordinary goods such as food items were also exchanged on the side, which solidified lasting relationships between groups that could provide assistance to each other to recover from disasters.

Tools of the trade: An ax from Milne Bay Province and a mwal shell from the Trobriand Islands, traditionally used as part of the Kula ring trade alliance in Papua New Guinea, on display at the Macleay Museum in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo credit: JC Merryman/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

This type of food sharing ensured survival in these communities. In addition to trade alliances, other strategies promoted resilience via bet-hedging. Examples of this include crop diversification; surplus food production, preservation and storage; maintenance of tenure boundaries (land or sea areas over which kinship groups control access and use of natural resources); and cooperation among family groups and clans under traditional governance hierarchies. Many of these practices are still in place today and are visible in communities that have been best able to weather impacts from natural disasters and sudden shocks.

For example, Tropical Cyclone Ofa hit Samoa in 1990. Although important cash crops such as coconut were severely affected during the cyclone, local communities maintained resilience through community cooperation and cohesiveness, including through food exchange. In some cases, village chiefs instructed farmers to plant fast-growing crops on available communal lands. Meanwhile, several villages revived the fading practice of pit fermentation of breadfruit immediately following the cyclones to maintain a steady food supply.

While carrying out surveys for the Marine Policy report, we also found that rural communities in Papua New Guinea who were simultaneously affected in 2020 by both the pandemic hardships and a severe drought turned to bartering for goods between communities and relying on sago palm production to supplement agricultural activities.

One man from Palau who responded to our survey noted, “It is part of our culture to share food with others,” adding that he and other fishermen “started sharing more than we normally do because we couldn’t sell our catch, especially when COVID-19 started, and there were no tourists coming.”

In Fiji, where many villages were battered by Tropical Cyclone Harold in early April 2020 just before the government imposed pandemic-related travel restrictions, a female respondent reported that, “Some farms were affected during the cyclone and, on top of that, we couldn’t go to town to buy groceries because of travel restrictions. So, we were depending on seafood.”

These sentiments were heard consistently across the Pacific, where rural residents fell back on their knowledge of salting fish, tending taro patches, and using ancestral techniques and methods handed down by previous generations.

Disasters in the Pacific region are inevitable. The eruption on January 15 of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, with more power than an atomic bomb, created a tsunami that was felt as far away as Japan and California. Moreover, it had a devastating impact on infrastructure in the low-lying islands of Tonga and destroyed crops through ash fall.

But the signs of resilience are already showing. Tongan communities around Oceania have galvanized to organize shipments of food supplies and aid—demonstrating the strength of social networks that can be nearly instantaneously activated. In the weeks and months ahead, customs of food sharing and knowledge of food preservation will most certainly be put to use to get communities through this time of hardship.

A version of this article first appeared on Truthout and was produced in partnership with Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Stacy Jupiter is a 2019 MacArthur Fellow and the Melanesia regional director with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Teri Tuxson is the assistant coordinator of the Locally Managed Marine Area Network.

Caroline Ferguson is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Sangeeta Mangubhai is a 2018 Pew marine fellow with Talanoa Consulting.

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. 


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

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

By Jeffrey Dunnink, Independent Media Institute

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.

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.

[Read full article…]

Parting thought…

Screenshots via @JohnOberg/Twitter

“Ethical veganism results in a profound revolution within the individual; a complete rejection of the paradigm of oppression and violence that she has been taught from childhood to accept as the natural order. It changes her life and the lives of those with whom she shares this vision of nonviolence. Ethical veganism is anything but passive; on the contrary, it is the active refusal to cooperate with injustice.” —Gary L. Francione

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.

As the War in Ukraine Devastates the Nation’s Ecosystems, the World Reaches Record-High Military Spending

Standing with Ukraine: Anti-war protesters gather in Hanover, Germany, on February 26, 2022. (Photo credit: pix-4-2-day/Flickr)

Just one bomb releases a slew of toxic heavy metals into Ukraine’s soil and groundwater. Now multiply this by thousands.

By Erika Schelby, Independent Media Institute

10 min read

In the U.S., proponents supporting military expansion and increasing defense spending have prevailed despite the more pressing need to divert all available resources to fight the impending disaster being faced by humanity: climate change.

While ignoring the climate disaster, the U.S. is not only spending to boast its own military powers but also providing Ukraine with weapons and other aid in its ongoing conflict with Russia.

With the war in Ukraine raging on, the U.S. Senate voted 86 to 11 in May and gave its approval to President Joe Biden’s massive additional aid package of $40 billion to help Ukraine on top of the nearly $14 billion authorized just two months prior. This total financial aid package for Ukraine of around $54 billion is now almost as large or larger than the entire 2021 defense budgets of several countries: France’s military budget was $56.6 billion in 2021, Germany’s was $56 billion, Japan’s was $54.1 billion and Australia’s military spending stood at $31.8 billion. In contrast, there are also other ongoing struggles and attempts by some countries to achieve independence worldwide. They grab little attention and receive no substantial financial support.

Environmental Impact of the Ukraine War

Ukraine, which in 1986 had to withstand the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is a large country with fertile soils. Environmental scientists warn that these valuable soils are currently being subjected to ecocide. Just one bomb makes a crater in a field and then releases toxic heavy metals into the soil. Now multiply this by thousands, with relentless exploding missiles and artillery shelling, and you will certainly produce an ecological wasteland.

In the Donbas region, pollution was already a problem even before the current conflict began. Coal mines have been operating in this area for the last 200 years, and the region also has a lot of heavy industry. It has suffered from disruptions and electricity shortages during the low-key civil war that has been going on in eastern Ukraine since 2014. According to the Conflict and Environment Observatory, there are 900 large industrial facilities in the Donbas region and 5,500 industrial facilities operating there since 2013. Most were built in the Soviet era. Furthermore, eastern Ukraine, where the Donbas is located, has 227 mines, and the region has 10 billion metric tons of stored industrial waste. Add the current relentless artillery shelling to the mix and the situation becomes acutely grim.

Both the weapons of the East and of the West are ravaging, poisoning, and destroying Ukraine’s landscape. It doesn’t matter if the military hardware employed comes from the aggressor Russia or from the weaponry supplied by the U.S. and NATO. There are many countries that have already been devastated by recent wars; the world does not need another one.

Human Cost of the Ukraine War

For now, more soldiers on all sides will die. More Ukrainian civilians will perish or be plunged into homelessness and economic hardship. Deliveries from the West started out with small arms, ammunition and Stinger and Javelin missiles. Weeks later there is progress; now heavy weapons ranging from artillery systems to helicopters to Switchblade drones have begun to arrive in Ukraine. In response, Russia has been targeting railway lines, warehouses, oil depots, and other vital infrastructure to stop the flow of Western weaponry to Ukraine.

Ukraine is—or was—known as the breadbasket of the world, providing wheat and other food products to various countries of the current heat and drought-stricken Global South. Before the war, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia imported between 25 and 80 percent of their wheat from Ukraine. Pakistan bought nearly 40 percent of its wheat from the country, and Bangladesh received 50 percent of its wheat from both Russia and Ukraine. Prices per bushel have increased by 38 percent as compared to last year. The supply chain had become dysfunctional, with ports in the firing line or closed by blockade and the Black Sea was seeded with mines by Ukraine and Russia. Their removal is difficult and will take months. Some mines are drifting and endangering all shipping, not to mention marine wildlife and ecosystems.

The sense of ludicrous waste evoked by these happenings is persuasive. Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, takes a long view on this matter. “I strongly believe that in view of climate change, a century or so from now most of the basic preconceptions underlying the strategies of leading world powers will be seen by our descendants to have been profoundly irrational,” he writes.

The Actual Cost of the Ballooning Military Expenditure by the U.S.

For the moment, there is much noise about winning. Ukraine must win, say voices in the West. It will not have the resources to win, say others. But is such a war winnable at all? Or will it merely shift the geopolitical dynamics? In sheer size, Russia is the largest country on Earth. It has about 2 percent of the world’s population and natural resources amounting to around $75 trillion as per 2021 figures. These include rich supplies of copper, lead, iron ore, zinc, bauxite, nickel, tin, mercury, uranium, magnesium, gold, silver, platinum, tungsten, titanium, diamonds, and, of course, oil and natural gas. In addition, due to the large forested areas in Russia, it accounts for an estimated 20 percent of the “world’s standing forest resource.”

Russia shares its vast, sparsely inhabited and resource-rich landmass on the European continent with the Asian majority of the global population. This combination has powerful potential. So consequently, what will the impact be if this war grinds on to become a long slog of attrition? How can there be more than a pyrrhic victory for anyone? When and how will it end? Will Ukrainian independence still be recognizable? Also, considering how things tend to be arranged in this world, one wonders if the massive amounts of aid given to Ukraine by the U.S. and NATO have been provided without undue strings attached.

No matter how this calamity develops, our descendants will fail to comprehend the necessity for what has been the largest worldwide prewar military expenditures, which exceeded (in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic) $2 trillion for the first time. Of course, it is idle dreaming to imagine what even a quarter of these gigantic sums of hard-earned taxpayer money—which were invested in unproductive lethal hardware and its maintenance—might instead have done for humanity and the battered blue planet it calls home.

In 2021, the United States spent $801 billion on defense. During that year, the pandemic remained a looming threat. Meanwhile, the country decided to end the war in Afghanistan. The country enjoyed a few months of peace before it began to support the new war in Ukraine in February of 2022. The U.S. spends more on defense than the next nine nations listed by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its report, “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2021”—this includes China, India, the UK, Russia, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea. As to what the U.S. aims to accomplish in the Ukraine war, it seems to have moving targets. What started out as efforts to help Ukraine now seem to have turned into attempts by the U.S. to weaken Russia, which requires pumping more heavy and expensive weapons onto the battlefield. This will surely prolong the fighting and enhance bitterness. It can keep diplomacy silenced. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

So let’s turn away from the war’s short-termism and consider something long-lasting and familiar: the U.S. defense budget. Regardless of current events, it remains reliably huge, decade after decade. The price tags are staggeringly high in various categories. Moreover, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, “the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s single largest institutional consumer of oil—and as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.”

On September 1, 2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) Draft Climate Adaptation Plan (DOD CAP) was submitted to the National Climate Task Force and Federal Chief Sustainability Officer. Belatedly, DOD CAP “identified climate change as a critical national security issue and threat multiplier… [It could] degrade installations and infrastructure, increase health risks to our service members, and could require modifications to existing and planned equipment.”

The U.S. Army followed, releasing its first climate strategy on February 8, 2022. It “[produced] 4.1 million tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants” in 2020. The Army acknowledges that it must prepare for a world subjected to conflicts driven by climate change, water access disputes, drought, and both social and governmental instability. Its climate strategy also shows the Army’s awareness that extreme weather events already have a negative impact on its soldiers. But that is the case not only for the troops but also for ever-larger segments of the American population. While the mainstream media landscape is to be commended for increasingly covering the issue of climate change, the enthusiasm for attention-grabbing headlines about climate disasters spends far too little time (if any at all) explaining to the public the context and causes leading to these disasters.

The U.S. Army climate plan sounds ambitious, however late it is in coming. It calls for reducing emissions in half by 2030; seeks to electrify all noncombatant vehicles by 2035; wants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from Army installations by 2050; and will train the next crop of officers to function well in a far hotter and far more chaotic world. Microgrid technology will be installed on all Army posts by 2035, and concerns about the environment and climate issues must be part of all decisions made in the management of the Army’s enormous land holdings, which are estimated to cover between 1 to 6 percent of the globe’s land surface, including some 750 military bases worldwide. Improper disposal of waste, burn pits, ground and water contamination, noxious air pollutants, lack of transparency, and other issues have to be tackled. It is good to have a plan, but so far there is no funding, and it all remains theoretical.

As Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) reports, the militaries of the world enjoy a charmed existence with “large loophole[s]”: “[I]n the Paris agreement, governments are not required to provide full data on greenhouse gases being emitted by armed forces.” This, according to SGR, undermines efforts to deal with the climate crisis. Furthermore, despite its good intentions, the greening of the military is widely impossible. “Every major weapon system developed, from fighter jets to aircraft carriers to you name it, is extremely carbon-intensive,” said Oliver Belcher, a professor at Duke University—who studied military emissions—according to Task and Purpose. “Weapons systems lock in certain carbon-intensive technologies.”

Today, there is a separation between U.S. civilians and the military that is reinforced through the media, society, and the military-industrial complex itself. There is no military draft anymore. The separation makes it easy to forget that the U.S. military has a commander-in-chief who is well-known to the general civilian population: the U.S. president. The person holding this position can, at least to a large and apparently growing extent, decide what the military must do and how they will be employed. Therein lies a striking contradiction: The U.S. military is a super-potent instrument that can be employed in an autocratic manner to satisfy U.S. imperious tendencies embedded within the democratic republic.

It is time to question whether the U.S. needs to have the global influence that it does, including 750 military bases around the world. Does the populace know or care? And if it does not, why pay so much for it, and for so long? These and many other questions related to the ballooning military expenses require greater scrutiny by American voters soon.

It is repeated often, but still falls on deaf ears, and it is also the message from the 2022 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that took place in May when 2,600 participants from 150 countries and more than 70 partner organizations gathered for the ninth annual Stockholm Forum. The institute published a major report for the occasion: “Environment of Peace: Security in a New Era of Risk.”A comprehensive account of how the “environmental crisis is increasing risks to security and peace worldwide.” The report shows “most of all,” said SIPRI Director Dan Smith, “what can be done about it.”


Erika Schelby is the author of Looking for Humboldt and Searching for German Footprints in New Mexico and Beyond (Lava Gate Press, 2017) and Liberating the Future from the Past? Liberating the Past from the Future? (Lava Gate Press, 2013), which was shortlisted for the International Essay Prize Contest by the Berlin-based cultural magazine Lettre International. Schelby lives in New Mexico.

Take action…

Bomb train: Liquefied natural gas being shipped on flatbed rail cars in Alaska. (Photo credit: Federal Railroad Administration via

Environmental groups are urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG), a fossil fuel that, while emitting less CO2 than fuel oil or coal, is still not an effective strategy to reduce emissions, as LNG production emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent at warming the atmosphere than CO2.

“Transportation of LNG in rail cars is a reckless decision that exposes millions of people and vulnerable resources to the potentially catastrophic effects of a release of LNG,” writes the group. “Just 22 tank cars hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb (which is why they are dubbed ‘bomb trains’).”

Environmentalists argue the war in Ukraine and the subsequent plans by the Biden administration to increase LNG exports should not derail the Department of Transportation’s proposal to reinstate limits on transporting hazardous LNG across the U.S. railways.

“We cannot let an energy crisis that comes out of Ukraine turn into a blanket thrown over the climate crisis,” said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, during a virtual press conference in May. “The climate crisis is the fight of our lives, it’s the fight of our time.”
Urge the Biden administration to permanently ban the transport of LNG on the nation’s railways.

Letter to the editor…

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)

Dear Earth | Food | Life,

Thank you. Wonderful piece (On International Respect for Chickens Day, Try Thinking About Them Differently, by Karen Davis, CounterPunch, April 29, 2022).

It’s eggsactly how I feel.

Dennis Morton
Santa Cruz, California


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 EPA ruling. (Photo credit: Felton Davis/Flickr)

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

“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,” writes EFL editor Reynard Loki about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling limiting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate power plant emissions, on Pressenza.

“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?‘”

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.

One Major Way We Can Reduce the Suffering of Animals Raised for Food

Cruelty for dinner: Birds on factory farms are sometimes killed by a method known as “ventilation shutdown plus (VSD+),” in which farmers cut off airflow and heat the barns to 104°F until the animals die from heatstroke. (Photo credit: Stefano Belacchi/Equalia/We Animals Media)

Veterinarians have an opportunity to uphold medical ethics—and give the nation’s factory-farmed animals a small bit of mercy when they are killed.

By Karen Davis, Independent Media Institute

4 min read

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is holding its annual convention in Philadelphia starting on July 29. This is an opportunity for the group to formulate a policy statement opposing a method of killing farmed animals that epitomizes the inhumane treatment of millions of birds on factory farms. The method, known as “ventilation shutdown plus (VSD+),” has become the main practice employed by the poultry and egg industries to address avian influenza outbreaks among chronically stressed and disease-prone birds.

This method “requires farmers to cut off airflow and heat their barns to 104 degrees Fahrenheit until the animals die from heatstroke,” states an article in Sentient Media. The “plus” means that, in addition to shutting down the ventilation system during VSD+, the barns are also exposed to extreme heat, humidity, and carbon dioxide (CO2) to suffocate the animals and bake them alive.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a recurring phenomenon in the poultry and egg industries. The current outbreak in the U.S., which began in February, has antecedents in 2015, 2006, and 2003. Low pathogenic avian flu outbreaks in chicken and turkey flocks are routine events involving the mass culling of millions of birds.

On July 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported that since February, 40 million birds from 391 flocks in 37 states have had the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. Taxpayers fund the killing of these infected birds through USDA indemnity programs like the Commodity Credit Corporation.

Understandably, most people do not envision the slaughter of thousands of birds dying together in a single facility from suffocation and heat stroke. The occasional glimpse of a truckload of dead chickens on their way to burial or a rendering plant seldom registers unless we are poultry workers, animal advocates, or investigators at an affected farm site.

This year, two separate investigations exposed the gruesome process of VSD+ and its effect on individual birds subjected to the method.

In April, the animal advocacy group Direct Action Everywhere released an investigative video showing the killing of 5 million caged hens by ventilation shutdown at Rembrandt Farms in Iowa following an outbreak of avian influenza there. Investigators found hens “being literally roasted alive—still in their cages, running loose in the facility’s industrial sheds, even buried alive.”

Also in April, the advocacy group Animal Outlook released a video based on 10 hours of footage taken by researchers at North Carolina State University of a 2016 experiment funded by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association to study the effects of VSD+ on chickens.

The footage shows hens enclosed individually in ventilation shutdown boxes with windows to observe each hen as she died. ​​​​​Animal Outlook attorney, Will Lowrey, who obtained the footage through public records requests, said the suffering of the hens in the boxes was “extremely profound,” according to an article in the Intercept.

These revelations have swelled the number of veterinarians and animal welfare groups urging the AVMA to stop condoning ventilation shutdown, in keeping with the Veterinarian’s Oath from AVMA’s website, to protect animal health and welfare, prevent and relieve animal suffering, and uphold the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

So far, the AVMA has equivocated by condoning the use of VSD+ “in constrained circumstances,” effectively abandoning the birds to commercial expediency. Many chickens, turkeys, and ducks have died of the avian flu virus on factory farms; millions more have been killed without evidence of infection.

Although the AVMA cannot mandate or prohibit any method for exterminating farmed animals, the AVMA’s recommendation against a particular procedure carries industry weight. We believe the AVMA has a moral responsibility toward these trapped and helpless animals, and that this responsibility should transcend an accommodation of commercial priorities.

With guaranteed government indemnities to the industries added to the AVMA’s current approval of VSD+, poultry and egg producers and their trade groups have no incentive to mitigate the squalor and debilitate breeding practices that enable flu viruses to spread among the thousands of birds crammed together in the mammoth industrialized sheds.

In “Prevention of Avian Influenza at Its Animal Source,” the World Organization for Animal Health observes that “good hygiene practices are essential to prevent avian influenza outbreaks, because of the resistance of the virus in the environment and its highly contagious nature.”

In reality, industrialized animal farms cannot, by their very nature, be hygienic, although hygienic practices could be vastly improved. As of now, avian influenza epidemics are built into the heavily subsidized poultry industry with no accountability. These epidemics will continue if no action is taken, especially by the organization that has sworn to protect animals from preventable suffering.

Accordingly, the AVMA should oppose ventilation shutdown and ventilation shutdown plus. This should be a priority topic at the AVMA’s convention in Philadelphia, with a tangible moral result.


Karen Davis, PhD, is the president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Davis is an award-winning animal rights activist and the author of numerous books, including a children’s book (A Home for Henny); a cookbook (Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey); Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned EggsMore Than a Meal; and her latest book, a series of essays called For the Birds.

Take action…

Compassion crew: 1,100 hens arriving by plane from a factory farm to Farm Sanctuary and other sanctuaries across the eastern U.S. in 2013. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media)

“I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering,” reads the Veterinarian’s Oath on the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

At AVMA’s annual convention, beginning on July 29 in Philadelphia, the nation’s veterinarians have an opportunity to lessen the intense suffering and misery experienced by chickens trapped in our inhumane food system—and uphold their oath—by opposing the cruel method of killing known as ventilation shutdown.

Urge the AVMA to uphold the Veterinarian’s Oath and condemn all forms of ventilation shutdown to help bring an end to this brutal, inhumane practice.


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?” asks Maureen Medina for Earth | Food | Life. In 2012, Medina received a bovine valve from Edwards Lifesciences to replace her own pulmonary valve.

“It’s a vicious cycle that harms people and animals, and benefits profit-driven corporations,” writes Medina on LA Progressive. “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.”

Parting thought…

Friends, not food: For rescued chickens at Tuulispää Animal Sanctuary, a “forever home for farm and production animals,” in Somero, Finland, fresh grapes are on the menu. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/#unboundproject/We Animals Media)

“By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the universe.” —Albert Schweitzer

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.

8 Billion Humans? Population Is a Difficult Conversation, but We Need to Start Getting Real

Crowded house: The United Nations estimates that, by November 15, 2022, the human population will reach a new milestone: 8 billion people. (Image courtesy of MomenTech)

It’s time to rethink our broken and unfair family planning systems.

By Carter Dillard, Independent Media Institute

10 min read

July 11 was World Population Day, an observance established by the United Nations aiming to highlight population issues, particularly how the human population relates to the environment. The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) marked the occasion by releasing its World Population Prospects 2022 report, which announced that the global human population is on target to reach a new milestone: 8 billion people on the planet by November 15, 2022.

While this staggering figure should alarm even the most casual observer of the various environmental and health crises stemming from the overpopulation that is emblematic of the Anthropocene—like climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification, food and water shortages, plastic pollution, air pollution, biodiversity loss, and the sixth extinction—the UN has advanced a false narrative, trumpeting the “story behind 8 billion and how we’ve got here… [as] a story of triumph,” saying that reaching this milestone is “a cause for celebration” with “infinite” possibilities for growth.

“We must celebrate a world of 8 billion people,” writes Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, the East and Southern Africa regional director for the UN Population Fund, the UN agency tasked with improving reproductive and maternal health. Others are picking up that upbeat messaging.

The truth is that growth is undoing the progress we made in our response to the climate crisis. Also, our near-universal family planning systems have been based on a lie—that having kids is more personal for the parents than interpersonal for the future child, our communities, and our planet—a lie that maintains the generational privilege of the wealthy, and promotes unsustainable growth over birth entitlements that would have ensured all kids were born in conditions that comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The interrelated ecological and public health crises facing humanity and the planet—fundamentally driven by the Anthropocene and the population growth that defines the era—have already been causing massive harm to countless species, including people, and perhaps most problematically, children who will carry with them lifelong impacts. And we are on track to make things even worse. “The effects of human-caused global warming are happening now, are irreversible on the timescale of people alive today, and will worsen in the decades to come,” warns NASA.

We will add billions more people to this catastrophic scenario—around 10.4 billion by 2100—with the UN itself projecting widespread famine. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 report, around 670 million people (8 percent of the world population), are expected to face hunger by 2030. Sadly, as FAO points out, that figure is the same figure from 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over this 15-year period, humanity would have made zero progress in the fight to end world hunger.

More People, More Inequality

Another concern is that the multitude of environmental and health impacts are not shared equally but depend on hard-to-grasp levels of inequality. Moreover, as the UN reports, inequality is growing for “more than 70 percent of the global population.” The people least responsible for the climate crisis—the poor and the vulnerable—are set to suffer the most, and yet the rich world is pushing for more humans that will exacerbate the crisis, with abortion bans on the rise across the United States, and wealthy nations like Australia, Estonia, Finland, Italy, and Japan offering their citizens financial incentives to have more babies.

Even the Pope doesn’t grasp the reality of our situation. In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, the pontiff lamented ecological degradation and global warming, writing that Mother Earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use.” Yet he has failed to recognize that unchecked human population growth is not only damaging to the environment but also to the welfare of future generations. That failure is made clear by his encouraging young people to have more children.

Failed Family Planning

Designed in the 20th century, near-universal family planning models and systems treated the act of having children as personal rather than interpersonal, which caused human and societal growth to arc too high for the planet’s carrying capacity. Currently, humanity is using 1.8 times the ecological resources that the Earth is able to generate in a single year. This year, according to the Global Footprint Network, humans will hit “Earth Overshoot Day” on July 28. Put it another way, the current human population is so high that we need the resources of 1.8 Earths to sustain us for just one year.

The world’s broken family planning models have prevented a fair distribution of wealth among children, in particular, protecting pockets of extreme wealth and privilege and ensuring the gulf between rich and poor we see today. While many laud the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which ensures the protection, survival, and development of children without discrimination, the fact is that world leaders have never applied it to the majority of children or to future generations as a standard for birth and development conditions. Billions were born over the past several decades in conditions that blatantly violated the convention’s standards—standards we recognize as universal to develop functional societies. They were born under the myth that whether a child is born rich or poor was determined by fortune or the will of some invisible force.

What went wrong? Past models viewed children as economic inputs to grow economies, rather than empowering them to become citizens to run the town halls that must precede and regulate economies. The impact was existential: It is now a zeitgeist to see falling fertility rates as a “baby bust” or threat to economic growth and the further commodification of nature, the children’s convention be damned. The UN’s World Population Day rhetoric reflects this old modeling, and deference to the wealthy who wish to provide an advantage for their own kids. This old modeling—treating the act of having children as more personal than interpersonal—is based on what legal theorists call a baseline error.

Externalizing Costs to Women and Children

Many companies and governments worked together to adopt the Paris Agreement as the key standard for climate policy. It allows for significant emissions and global warming despite current changes in the climate causing massive harm to infants and children. The entities behind the agreement were making decisions about what the world should look like. And that vision, for them, sets a baseline against which to measure what’s the cost and what’s the benefit.

There is something wrong with that picture. If you believe in freedom under any theory of liberalism, it’s impossible for a group of people to define what the world should look like for everyone. The baseline, or what the world should look like, is instead itself a group of relatively self-determining (i.e., free) people. How can we know what’s the cost or the benefit, or the rules that allocate them, without being organized as participatory groups capable of making such decisions? How can we be self-determining or free in a world dominated by a singularly anthropocentric viewpoint in which some humans consent to the power of other humans, rather than a more logical and ethical nature-centric viewpoint?

Population growth-based economic gains were created by intentionally violating the standards represented in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ensuring children would be born and raised in unfair and unequal conditions. A small minority of mostly wealthy white men have waged a war on women’s health, made abortion less accessible, and profited by externalizing massive costs on women and children decade after decade.

In short: 1) Humans overshot, 2) the profits went to some and costs to others based on the lie that having kids was more personal than interpersonal, and 3) justice requires we compensate those harmed.

Finding a Solution

What can we do? First, we can pressure the UN to switch to nature- and child-centric family planning model as the first and overriding human right. We can give future generations a voice in their democracies, rather than just jobs in economies. Democracy—the only form of true empowerment—comes first, and groups are already asking the UN to move in this direction. The voices of young women from the Global South, some of whom are most at risk, are rising, speaking about their concerns for their future and the future of the world.

One step toward better, more sustainable, and equitable family policies involves resolving the baseline error discussed above and urging the Global North to make just climate reparations to the Global South that—rather than focusing on population—ensure that we begin moving toward a system in which all children are born into conditions that comply with the UNCRC.

The climate crisis is already causing lifelong harm to infants and children, harm that must be stopped and compensated for. Given the efficacy of family planning and climate migration reforms, one option would be family planning incentives or entitlements or reparations that will allow parents to best provide their children with the ecosocial rearing and development conditions required by the UNCRC. These payments can be funded by eliminating expensive and counterproductive pro-natal incentives (as well as expensive limits on programming for long-acting reversible contraceptives and access to abortion) in low-fertility countries in favor of climate migration reforms. Any incentivizing effect the payments might have toward large families can be offset by the universal promotion of a “smaller and more sustainable” family ethic.

We can also urge lawmakers, decision-makers, and thought leaders to publicly admit that conventional family planning models—built on a baseline error—are broken because they miscalculate the way costs and benefits are measured. We must ultimately recognize that the wealth of many was built on a system of explosive and unsustainable growth at a great cost to children, a cost that increases as the climate worsens. Because that wealth was produced under a system that externalized its costs, disadvantaged children have a moral and legal claim to part of the wealth that was accrued at the expense of their current and future health and the environment in which they live. This is a form of restorative justice. Without this change, we risk a future where the system by which many made their wealth will have done more harm to future generations than any well-intentioned philanthropy can do to help them.

Time to Recalibrate, Not Celebrate

Voices in the Global South—those with the most at stake and the least responsible for the crisis—are now joining in the call for family planning-based entitlements and reparations. It’s a just demand that will compel many to action. There are many steps we can take to recognize that something went wrong in our universal family planning and population policies and to move toward better modeling. Nothing would have a greater impact on a larger number of people.

Population expert Alan Weisman, the author of the best-selling book The World Without Us, spent two years visiting 20 countries to investigate the issue and impacts of human population growth. In an interview with Orion Magazine, he said that one of the questions he set out to answer was, “[H]ow many people can fit on the planet without tipping it over?” If we don’t fix our broken and unfair family planning systems, we will soon find out.

In 1989, when the UN established World Population Day, there were 5.1 billion humans on Earth. Since then, more than 2.5 billion humans have been added. (To put that into perspective, over the 140-year span from 1800 to 1940, we added just a little over half of that number—1.3 billion people—to the population.) As the Earth approaches its 8-billionth human, we don’t have “infinite” possibilities for growth, as the UN claims. Instead, we have infinite possibilities for environmental degradation, attacks on reproductive rights, and public health crises. It is not time to celebrate, as the UN urges. Instead, it is time to recalibrate around the ecosocial birth and development conditions that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has long required.


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 also 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.

Take action…

Intersectional interests: Environmental and reproductive justice have intertwined goals. (Photo credit: Angel G. Pachon/Flickr)

Reproductive justice is environmental justice

“Neither the reproductive justice nor environmental justice movements are asking for something that is outside the realm of possibility. They’re asking for equitable access to what many white, middle and upper class people already have. Environmental and reproductive justice want the ability for everyone to live in a safe environment, free to make decisions about their own bodies and health,” writes Annika Fuller, an organizer with Planned Parenthood.

“Reproductive and environmental justice are intertwined and cannot be realized without the other. Just like how their goals are very much alike, their pathways to get there are also extremely similar. For sustainable change, the foundations that environmental and reproductive oppression have been built on must be chipped away so new grass can grow instead.”

Find out how to get your members of Congress on record about abortion rights while they’re in your home state over recess.

Letter to the editor…

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

Dear Earth | Food | Life,

I really appreciated the recent article by Carter Dillard in response to Ezra Klein’s piece in the New York Times (What Pundit Ezra Klein Doesn’t Get About Parenting in a Looming Climate Crisis,”​​​​​​​ Sri Lanka Guardian, June 22, 2022). I remember being astounded while reading Klein’s article and then remembered reading recently that he was on paternity leave and his column/podcast would not be available for a while. In response, I thought, “of course, he would be needing to rationalize having children.”

If Klein chose to have children in keeping with the much-aligned and forgotten zero population growth movement, okay, but there is no need to make a pitch in a public forum for others to get a “free rationalization ticket” without at least going through the angst. The psychobabble marketing prevalent in our society provides a pseudo-post-natal blanket of comfort for a generation of folks not prepared to deal with saying no to themselves and yes to others. End of story.

Jean Whitinger
Johnson City, Tennessee

Cause for concern…

Europe on fire: The International Space Station captured the recent land-surface temperature extremes for some European cities, including Milan, Paris (above) and Prague. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

Europe endures record-breaking heat wave, getting a glimpse of the world’s climate future

“Record-breaking temperatures and vicious wildfires swept through Western Europe and the United Kingdom… in what may be one of the region’s most extreme heat waves on record,” reports Chelsea Harvey for E&E News on Scientific American.

“This is the second heat wave to sweep through Europe in the past month. Climate change has led to more frequent and worsening heat waves around the world, with Western Europe particularly impacted. The region’s heat waves are increasing in frequency about three times faster—and in intensity four times faster—than in the rest of the midlatitudes, according to a recent study.”

Round of applause…

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)

Biden may finally declare a climate emergency

After Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative “swing vote” Democrat from West Virginia (the nation’s second-largest coal producer), deep-sixed President Biden’s climate agenda last week, the president said he would take “strong executive action.” While he didn’t say what that would entail specifically, sources suggest that he may declare a climate emergency, which would unlock executive powers that include ending exports of crude oil, limiting oil and gas drilling in federal waters, and directing federal agencies to increase the usage of renewable energy.

“The President made clear that if the Senate doesn’t act to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, he will. We are considering all options and no decision has been made,” a White House official said in an email to The Hill.

Sign the Center of Biological Diversity’s petition urging President Biden to declare a climate emergency.

Parting thought…

Screenshot via @FarmSanctuary/Twitter

“A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses.”―George Bernard Shaw

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.

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,, 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?” (, 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.