Letter From the Editor: Introducing &Art, a Project of Earth | Food | Life

The kids are alright: Fundred founding artist Mel Chin and participating children cut the blue ribbon to officially open the 2017 Fundred Reserve at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Chin’s work is the subject of a new article by Rachel Raphaela Gugelberger, a new editorial fellow at the Independent Media Institute and the founding editor of &Art, a project of Earth | Food | Life. (Photo credit: Sarah Buckner, courtesy Fundred Project)

Dear Earth | Food | Life reader,

It is a distinct pleasure to introduce Rachel Raphaela Gugelberger, a newly minted fellow here at the Independent Media Institute (IMI), and the founding editor of &Art, a new project at Earth | Food | Life (EFL).

Over the last two decades, Rachel and I have discussed the many possibilities of art to engage with environmental issues, including climate change, food and agriculture, and animal rights. As a contemporary art curator and advocate of justice not just for humans but for all species, Rachel is uniquely qualified to create a dynamic and critical space for cross-disciplinary dialogues that extend IMI’s focus on producing media that has the power to shift attitudes and sensibilities.

Rachel has more than 20 years of experience in the arts, spanning nonprofit, education, and commercial sectors. Many of the exhibitions she has organized underscore how art can welcome local communities in conversations about art and culture—for example, through thoughtful, site-specific, and unusual uses of spaces like empty storefronts. Recent projects of the New York City-based &Art founder include “​Storying” at the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx; “Bound up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment” at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn; “(after)care” ​at Kings County Hospital Center in East Flatbush, Brooklyn; “Jameco Exchange” in Jamaica, Queens; and “​Hold These Truths​” and “​Bring in the Reality”​ at the Nathan Cummings Foundation in Manhattan.

Rachel has designed &Art with a specific remit: Investigate the work of activist artists, cultural workers, and arts and social justice organizations who fight for the environment, food justice, and intersectional animal rights. One of EFL’s primary contentions about our world is that everything is connected—including systems of oppression that impact not only BIPOC communities, fenceline communities, and food system workers, but also wildlife and nonhuman animals trapped in our food system. &Art will navigate these complex issues by examining not only how contemporary artists address them, but also how art can advance practical approaches toward manifesting meaningful, positive change.

It is an honor to launch &Art with Rachel’s take on the work of conceptual artist and social activist Mel Chin, a recent recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship (aka the “Genius Grant”). Chin’s work is complex, critical, eclectic, and challenging. But his work also has a social impact that is absent in much of conceptual art. It is in this way that Chin’s creative practice exemplifies a central ambition of &Art: to uncover the capacity of art to transcend an aesthetic experience and to inspire the kinds of personal and social transformations that can ultimately shape civic and political discourse.

I’m excited to expand EFL with &Art. Please join me in welcoming Rachel and her inaugural &Art piece, “How Artist Mel Chin’s ‘Constant Revolution’ Is Tackling Humanity’s Environmental Challenges.”


Reynard Loki

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. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, Asia Times, BillMoyers.com, Counterpunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others, and in Spanish, Italian and German translation by Pressenza. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016.

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 Global Seafood Supply Is Being Contaminated by Microplastics, but No Major News Outlet Has Paid Any Attention

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)

Our addiction to plastic is having negative effects all along the food chain.

By Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff, Independent Media Institute

7 min read

This excerpt is from Project Censored’s State of the Free Press 2022, edited by Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff (Seven Stories Press, 2022). This web adaptation was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Editor’s note: Every year Project Censored publishes the “State of the Free Press,” which highlights important news stories that the corporate media insufficiently covered and takes the temperature of press freedom and integrity. The project’s student researchers work with faculty advisers at college campuses across the U.S. and Project Censored’s international panel of expert judges to identify the stories that are featured in each year’s publication. State of the Free Press 2022 cites the alarming rise of polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) in the oceans as one of the most significant but underreported environmental stories of 2020-2021. Although independent media outlets covered this critical piece of news, the corporate press was largely silent about it. The student researchers for this piece are Eduardo Amador, Kolby Cordova, and Natalia Fuentes from Sonoma State University. The faculty evaluator is Peter Phillips from Sonoma State University, and the community evaluator is Polette Gonzalez.

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.”

The presence of PFAS in the Arctic Ocean is concerning for many reasons. As Daniel Ross reported in an October 2020 article for Truthout, PFAS chemical exposure is known to have serious impacts on human health and is known to cause “certain cancers, liver damage, thyroid problems, and increased risk of asthma.” People with elevated levels of a certain kind of PFAS chemical are “twice as likely to have a severe form of COVID-19,” since these chemicals are endocrine disruptors.

Because the Arctic Ocean is so remote from human population centers, exactly how these chemicals may have reached these waters is also a deeply concerning question. As Ross pointed out in the Truthout article, “Emerging research suggests that one important pathway is through the air and in rainwater,” rather than through ocean circulation. Discovering the pathways through which these “forever chemicals” are contaminating isolated areas is important for regulators as they attempt to remove these chemicals from the environment. Atmospheric spread may make the removal of these chemicals considerably more difficult.

Like PFAS compounds being found in Arctic waters, the discovery of microplastics in popular forms of seafood is truly alarming.

Microplastics are less than 5 millimeters long, and nanoplastics are less than 100 nanometers long. According to the QUEX study, the small size of microplastics and nanoplastics allows them to spread through “airborne particles, machinery, equipment, and textiles, handling, and… from fish transport.” The research team at Exeter and Queensland found microplastics present in all of the seafood samples they studied, with polyvinyl chloride being found in every case. The study’s lead author, Francisca Ribeiro, told Medical News Today that “a seafood eater could be exposed to approximately 0.7 milligrams (mg) of plastic when ingesting an average serving of oysters or squid, and up to 30 mg of plastic when eating sardines.” For comparison, Medical News Today also pointed out that a grain of rice weighs approximately 30 mg.

As Medical News Today further reported in its coverage of the QUEX Institute study, “Roughly 17 percent of the protein humans consume worldwide is seafood. The findings, therefore, suggest people who regularly eat seafood are also regularly eating plastic.” According to Tamara Galloway, a researcher from Exeter University who is one of the study’s coauthors who was quoted in the article, “We do not fully understand the risks to human health of ingesting plastic, but this new method [used in the study for detecting selected plastics] will make it easier for us to find out.”

In October 2020 the Guardian reported that at least 14 million metric tons of microplastics are likely sitting on the ocean floor. The report by Graham Readfearn, based on a study that was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, also said that there “could be more than 30 times as much plastic at the bottom of the world’s ocean[s] than there is floating at the surface.”

As the Guardian report noted, “Stemming the tide of plastic entering the world’s waterways and ocean[s] has emerged as a major international challenge.” In September 2020, “[l]eaders from more than 70 countries signed a voluntary pledge… to reverse biodiversity loss which included a goal to stop plastic entering the ocean by 2050,” according to the Guardian. The United States, Brazil, China, Russia, India, and Australia, however, did not sign that pledge.

Media coverage of both the study on microplastics in seafood and the research on PFAS in the Arctic Ocean has predominantly come from independent news sources as well as journals and websites aimed at members of the scientific community. Of the articles covering the presence of PFAS in Arctic waters, many simply summarize the findings of the research. However, Truthout and Chemical and Engineering News each took their coverage on the presence of PFAS in Arctic waters further by including professional opinions on the significance of the study by the researchers from Exeter and Queensland and tried addressing remedies to the problem.

Lack of corporate news attention to this issue could stem from the idea that the research findings are nothing new or simply confirm what many have previously assumed: that PFAS are ubiquitous and unavoidable, however harmful they may be to human health. However, the significance of these PFAS pollutants potentially being airborne deserves greater recognition because this poses greater challenges for abatement efforts. The Exeter and Queensland researchers’ findings about the presence of microplastics and nanoplastics in seafood likewise require publicizing despite the findings confirming certain earlier assumptions because the evidence they present could prove crucial in mobilizing political will to address an issue that is barely visible in the international media and that few people recognize as a serious problem. Outside of coverage by the Guardian, no major news outlet has paid attention to the topic of microplastics in seafood.

Andy Lee Roth is the associate director of Project Censored. His articles have appeared in YES! Magazine, Index on Censorship, Truthout, and In These Times. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles and a BA in sociology and anthropology from Haverford College.

Mickey Huff is director of Project Censored and president of the Media Freedom Foundation. He is coauthor with Nolan Higdon of United States of Distraction: Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (City Lights Books, 2019) and Let’s Agree to Disagree: A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Media Literacy (Routledge, 2022). He is a professor of social science, history, and journalism at Diablo Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is chair of the journalism department. In 2019, Huff received the Beverly Kees Educator Award as part of the James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California. He is also executive producer and host of “The Project Censored Show,” the weekly syndicated public affairs program that airs on over 50 stations around the U.S. and originates from KPFA Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, California.

Take action…

PlasticFreePresident.org: “The world faces an indisputable plastic pollution crisis. More than 99 percent of plastic is created from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, including an oversupply of fracked gas, which is spurring a global boom in new plastic production. That plastic is causing serious environmental problems at every step of its lifecycle. President Biden can tackle this crisis with the stroke of a pen.”

Urge President Biden to take action to solve the plastic crisis, including ending subsidies for plastics producers.

Cause for concern…

Melting away: Melt ponds form around the German icebreaker Polarstern as it navigates through dwindling Arctic sea ice in August 2020. Just a month prior, according to NOAA, Arctic sea ice extent was at its lowest recorded level. (Photo credit: Lianna Nixon/CIRES and CU Boulder via NOAA)

Climate crisis: IPCC report warns of ‘irreversible’ impacts of warming

“Many of the impacts of global warming are now simply ‘irreversible’ according to the UN’s latest assessment,” reports Matt McGrath for BBC News. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that humans and nature are being pushed beyond their abilities to adapt. Over 40 percent of the world’s population are “highly vulnerable” to climate, the sombre study finds.”

Recent EFL climate coverage:

Round of applause…

Chokepoint: Less than 10 percent of the seven billion metric tons of plastic waste generated annually is recycled, according to the United Nations. (Photo credit: Matt Brown/Flickr)

UN to agree on plan for historic plastics treaty

“United Nations negotiators have agreed a roadmap for a global plastic treaty that would address plastic production and design, according to a draft resolution … in what delegates said was a key step to agreeing an ambitious deal,” report John Geddie and Joe Brock for Reuters.

​​​​“UN member states are meeting this week in Nairobi to agree plans for the first global agreement to tackle plastic pollution, a soaring environmental crisis that is destroying marine habitats and contaminating the food chain.”


Needless abuse: According to USDA figures, in 2019, there were more than 40,000 monkeys held ‘on reserve’ in federal research facilities, in addition to the more than 68,000 monkeys subjected to experiments. (Photo credit: shankar s./Flickr)

EU phases out animal research, but U.S. wants more

“In the last two years, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested nearly $29 million to breed more monkeys for biomedical research, with an additional $7.5 million to be spent by October. The investments, which include infrastructure improvements at the U.S. National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs), have been made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers have been testing numerous vaccines on nonhuman primates, most commonly rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)—a species of Old World monkey commonly used to study infectious diseases—before human trials began.

“Using the pandemic as the pretext, the Biden administration has proposed using even more taxpayer money to conduct primate research, suggesting a 27 percent funding increase for the NPRCs in its fiscal year 2022 budget request. If Congress gives the administration its stamp of approval, an additional $30 million would be given to the centers.”

—EFL editor Reynard Loki, “The U.S. Is ‘Out of Step’ on Primate Research With the Rest of the World” (CounterPunch, October 1, 2021)

Parting thought…

Standing tall: A tree in Tasmania, somewhere between Hobart and Strahan. (Photo credit: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner/Flickr)

“Trees are an invitation to think about time and to travel in it the way they do, by standing still and reaching out and down.” —Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses

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 Nanoplastics Enter the Human Body

Cute, not cute: A wild giant otter plays with plastic bottle. Research indicates that about 80 percent of the plastics that pollute the world’s oceans enter via coastlines and rivers. The remaining 20 percent comes from discarded fishing gear. (Photo credit: Paul Williams/Flickr)

If you regularly drink water from plastic bottles, you’re likely ingesting even more plastic than the average consumer.

By Erica Cirino, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

This excerpt is from Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, by Erica Cirino (Island Press, 2021). Reproduced by permission from Island Press. This web adaptation was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

We are no better protected from plasticized air outdoors than we are indoors. Minuscule plastic fibers, fragments, foam, and films are shed from plastic stuff and are perpetually floating into and free-falling down on us from the atmosphere. Rain flushes micro- and nanoplastics out of the sky back to Earth. Plastic-filled snow is accumulating in urban areas like Bremen, Germany, and remote regions like the Arctic and Swiss Alps alike.

Wind and storms carry particles shed from plastic items and debris through the air for dozens, even hundreds, of miles before depositing them back on Earth. Dongguan, China; Paris, France; London, England; and other metropolises teeming with people are enveloped in air perpetually permeated by tiny plastic particles small enough to lodge themselves in human lungs.

Urban regions are especially replete with what scientists believe could be one of the most hazardous varieties of particulate pollution: plastic fragments, metals, and other materials that have shed off synthetic tires as a result of the normal friction caused by brake pads and asphalt roads, and from enduring weather and time. Like the plastic used to manufacture consumer items and packaging, synthetic tires may contain any number of a manufacturer’s proprietary blend of poisons meant to improve a plastic product’s appearance and performance.

Tire particles from the world’s billions of cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, and other vehicles escape into air, soil, and water bodies. Scientists are just beginning to understand the grave danger: In 2020, Washington State researchers determined that the presence of 6PPD-quinone, a byproduct of rubber-stabilizing chemical 6PPD, is playing a major factor in a mysterious long-term die-off of coho salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. When Washington’s fall rains herald spawning salmon’s return from sea to stream, the precipitation also washes car tire fragments and other plastic particles into these freshwater ecosystems. In recent years, up to 90 percent of all salmon returning to spawn in this region have died—a number much greater than is considered natural, according to local researchers from the University of Washington, Tacoma. As University of Washington environmental chemist Zhenyu Tian explained in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, 6PPD-quinone appears to be a key culprit: “You put this chemical, this transformation product, into a fish tank, and coho die… really fast.”

While other researchers have previously searched for, and detected, microplastic dispersed in indoor and outdoor air, a study by Alvise Vianello, an Italian scientist and professor at Aalborg University in Denmark, was the first to do so using a mannequin emulating human breathing via mechanical lung. Despite the evidence his research provides—that plastic is getting inside of human bodies and could be harming us—modern health researchers have yet to systematically search for it in people and comprehensively study how having plastic particles around us and in us at all times might be affecting human health.

Vianello and Jes Vollertsen, a professor of environmental studies at Aalborg University explained that they’ve brought their findings to researchers at their university’s hospital for future collaborative research, perhaps searching for plastic inside human cadavers. “We now have enough evidence that we should start looking for microplastic inside human airways,” Vollertsen said. “Until then, it’s unclear whether or not we should be worried that we are breathing in plastic.”

He speculated that some of the microplastic we breathe in could be expelled when we exhale. Yet even if that’s true, our lungs may hold onto much of the plastic that enters, resulting in damage.

Other researchers, like Joana Correia Prata, a PhD student at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, have highlighted the need for systematic research on the human health effects of breathing in microplastic. “Microplastic particles and fibers, depending on their density, size, and shape, can reach the deep lung causing chronic inflammation,” she said. People working in environments with high levels of airborne microplastics, such as those employed in the textile industry, often suffer respiratory problems, Prata has noted. The perpetual presence of a comparatively lower amount of microplastics in our homes has not yet been linked to specific ailments.

While they’ve dissected the bodies of countless nonhuman animals for decades, it’s only been a few years since scientists began exploring human tissues for signs of nano- and microplastic. This, despite strong evidence suggesting plastic particles—and the toxins that adhere to them—permeate our environment and are widespread in our diets. In the past decade, scientists have detected microplastic in the bodies of fish and shellfish; in packaged meats, processed foods, beer, sea salt, soft drinks, tap water, and bottled water. There are tiny plastic particles embedded in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets and food stalls.

As the world rapidly ramped up its production of plastic in the 1950s and ’60s, two other booms occurred simultaneously: that of the world’s human population and the continued development of industrial agriculture. The latter would feed the former and was made possible thanks to the development of petrochemical-based plastics, fertilizers, and pesticides. By the late 1950s, farmers struggling to keep up with feeding the world’s growing population welcomed new research papers and bulletins published by agricultural scientists extolling the benefits of using plastic, specifically dark-colored, low-density polyethylene sheets, to boost yields of growing crops. Scientists laid out step-by-step instructions on how the plastic sheets should be rolled out over crops to retain water, reducing the need for irrigation, and to control weeds and insects, which couldn’t as easily penetrate plastic-wrapped soil.

This “plasticulture” has become a standard farming practice, transforming the soils humans have long sown from something familiar to something unknown. Crops grown with plastic seem to offer higher yields in the short term, while in the long term, use of plastic in agriculture could create toxic soils that repel water instead of absorbing it, a potentially catastrophic problem. This causes soil erosion and dust—the dissolution of ancient symbiotic relationships between soil microbes, insects, and fungi that help keep plants alive.

From the polluted soils we’ve created, plants pull in tiny nanoplastic particles through their roots along with the water they need to survive, with serious consequences: An accumulation of nanoplastic particles in a plant’s roots diminishes its ability to absorb water, impairing growth and development. Scientists have also found early evidence that nanoplastic may alter a plant’s genetic makeup in a manner increasing its susceptibility to disease.

Based on the levels of micro- and nanoplastics detected in human diets, it’s estimated that most people unwittingly ingest anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 bits of microplastic in their diets each year. That number increases by 90,000 microplastic particles for people who regularly consume bottled water, and by 4,000 particles for those who drink water from municipal taps.

In 2018, scientists in Austria detected microplastic in human stool samples collected from eight volunteers from eight different countries across Europe and Asia. Clearly, microplastic is getting into us, with at least some of it escaping through our digestive tracts. We seem to be drinking, eating, and breathing it in.


Erica Cirino is a science writer and artist who explores the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds. Her photographic and written works have appeared in Scientific American, the Guardian, VICE, Hakai Magazine, the Atlantic, and other publications. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and the Safina Center, as well as several awards for visual art.

Take action…

PlasticFreePresident.org: “The world faces an indisputable plastic pollution crisis. More than 99 percent of plastic is created from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, including an oversupply of fracked gas, which is spurring a global boom in new plastic production. That plastic is causing serious environmental problems at every step of its lifecycle. President Biden can tackle this crisis with the stroke of a pen.”

Urge President Biden to take action to solve the plastic crisis, including ending subsidies for plastics producers.

A reader writes…

Chemical peels: Two of the most dangerous pesticides that are still in use in the U.S. are paraquat and rotenone, which researchers have linked to Parkinson’s disease. (Photo credit: Oregon Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

“Thanks for the great article (“Can Eating Organic Help Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?” February 15). What you left out however is the needless use of pesticides for corn for cattle which is destroying our environment in numerous ways. It needs to be stopped as well as the pesticides.” —B. Horberg

Author’s reply: “Thank you kindly for your input, you made an excellent point. The demand for animal feed is another means to keep the pesticide industry alive. Glyphosate use on corn has been found to be ineffective for destroying unwanted weeds if the pesticide is not mixed with another one. This also happens in the case of genetically engineered crops (glyphosate ready crops) due to weeds’ mutations. Farmers and agricultural workers could switch to significantly less toxic alternatives to avoid pushing weeds to develop resistance to chemical spraying from the start. Practices such as ground cover, crop rotation, applying organic weedkillers, and biological control, although more time-consuming, can be effective and will not endanger consumers’ health.” —Miguel Leyva

Cause for concern…

Look of fear: Pigs being transported to slaughter are photographed by animal activists during a Save Movement Vigil in Manchester, England, in 2021. The Animal Save Movement’s mission is to hold vigils at every slaughterhouse and bear witness to every exploited animal. As of 2019, there are over 900 Animal Save chapters worldwide. (Photo credit: Tom Woollard/We Animals Media)

Can animals have meaningful rights without humans changing the people we are becoming?

“While veganism is a growing lifestyle choice, plant-based consumption is the norm for a miniscule percentage of the world’s population, which consumes billions of animals. Veganism also has little impact beyond animals used for food, including on those industries that torture tens of millions of animals a year in research, and the millions of companion animals worldwide subject to cruelty or neglect.

“Humans replacing nonhumans is the fundamental issue in animal rights. Nonhumans are either disappearing or being used in ways in which the vast majority suffer. And the base driver is not diet or education, but the mere procreation and proliferation of humans––who have so far failed miserably to coexist with other species.

“Even what appear to be victories for nonhumans, like the restoration of certain wildlife populations, are now threatened by the population-driven climate crisis. The creation of humans is this: irrefutably the one behavior of interest to nonhumans. Nothing has a greater long-term impact on the climate crisis than a universal ethic of smaller families, once that ethic supersedes the pronatalism that drives our emissions and cements the anthropocentrism that poisons our relations with the nonhuman world.”

—Carter Dillard and Kirsten Stade, “One Struggle for the Meaning of Animal Rights and Nature” (Fair Start Movement, February 14, 2021)

Round of applause…

Cleanup crew: Sailors assigned to the USS Patriot join local community members to remove plastic waste from a beach at Seto Inland Sea National Park in Yashima, Japan, in 2012. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devon Dow, U.S. Navy/U.S. Indo-Pacific Command/Flickr)

75 percent of people want single-use plastics banned, global survey finds

“Three in four people worldwide want single-use plastics to be banned as soon as possible, according to a poll released on Tuesday, as United Nations members prepare to begin talks on a global treaty to rein in soaring plastic pollution,” reports John Geddie for Reuters. “Activists say the results send a clear message to governments meeting in Nairobi this month to press ahead with an ambitious treaty to tackle plastic waste, a deal being touted as the most important environmental pact since the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015.”

—John Geddie, “75 percent of people want single-use plastics banned, global survey finds” (Reuters, February 21, 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.

Can Eating Organic Help Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

Chemical peels: Two of the most dangerous pesticides that are still in use in the U.S. are paraquat and rotenone, which researchers have linked to Parkinson’s disease. (Photo credit: Oregon Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

A growing body of research suggests a connection between the pesticide paraquat and Parkinson’s disease.

By Miguel Leyva, Independent Media Institute

8 min read

Agricultural workers in the United States currently use more than 400 different pesticides on their crops to ensure “higher yields and improved product quality.” These pesticides, however, threaten the health of people who work with them on farms or agricultural land and of those who live near these areas. Two of the most dangerous pesticides that are still in use in the U.S. are paraquat and rotenone. Exposure to these pesticides was found to lead to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to various studies.

Paraquat was first commercially produced in 1961 and is used to destroy weeds and grasses resistant to glyphosate, another toxic pesticide sold across the country under the name Roundup. As for rotenone, it was formulated in 1895, but it was only during the last century that it started being employed on a large scale to get rid of unwanted herbs and pests.

Paraquat is extremely dangerous and poisonous, and a single sip of this pesticide can immediately cause death. For this reason, it is a “restricted use pesticide,” which means that agricultural workers who intend to use it have to undergo special training before “mixing, loading, and/or applying paraquat.” During this special training, people who work with this pesticide are taught about the toxicity of paraquat, how to apply it safely to crops, and how to minimize exposure while working with it.

However, even if paraquat is used correctly, it can still cause significant health risks for agricultural workers. When they take off their protective equipment, vapors of paraquat from the crops can easily travel with them to their farms or homes. And there is also the danger of workers unavoidably inhaling the pesticide. Paraquat can also infiltrate groundwater and soil, causing serious environmental damage

Why Do Authorities Still Allow the Use of Paraquat?

Paraquat is applied to more than 100 crops throughout the country. Developing a pesticide as effective as paraquat is hard work. This is one of the reasons why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to allow the use of paraquat in the United States. Presently, paraquat is banned in more than 50 countries, including China, the United Kingdom, Thailand and the European Union. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most widely used pesticides in developed countries like the United States and Australia.

Unsettlingly, more than 8 million pounds of paraquat is used throughout the U.S. every year, according to a 2019 press release by the Center for Biological Diversity, with California ranking first as the state using the most pesticides in the U.S., according to the 2016 data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which was published by Priceonomics. California made up for more than 11 percent of all pesticides used nationally. The state “[used] nearly twice as much as the second-ranking state, Washington,” according to Priceonomics.

Paraquat is still used on crops because it spares agricultural workers “arduous labor,” according to Syngenta, an agricultural company that produces paraquat. The pesticide also “[protects] against invasive weeds and [helps] produce agronomically important crops like soy, corn and cotton.” Given the popularity of the pesticide, paraquat can be found on the market under numerous brand names, including, Blanco, Gramoxone, Devour, Parazone and Helmquat.

In 2019, the EPA stated in a draft report on paraquat that there is “insufficient evidence” to link the pesticide to human health concerns. As a result, the agency deemed paraquat safe for use in the United States as a “Restricted Use Product.” In 2019, Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced the Protect Against Paraquat Act, which seeks to prohibit the sale and use of paraquat in the country. There has, unfortunately, been no further substantial progress relating to the bill since then.

As of early 2021, the EPA has been considering renewing its approval for paraquat. The agency is expected to make a decision on this issue by the end of 2022. In the meantime, the EPA advises people to take the following precautions until new regulations come into effect:

  • Paraquat must be used only by a certified applicator who has undergone the required special training.
  • Paraquat should never be stored in a food or drink container so as not to be mistaken for a product that can be ingested.
  • Paraquat must always be kept away from children, as there have been several cases of accidental poisoning.
  • Paraquat should ideally not “be stored in or around residential [buildings].”
  • Paraquat must “[n]ever be used around home gardens, schools, recreational parks, golf courses or playgrounds.”

The Link Between Paraquat Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease

Even though the EPA states there is insufficient evidence to support the link between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease, numerous reputable medical studies beg to differ. For instance, according to a Farming and Movement Evaluation (FAME) study, which included 110 people who had developed Parkinson’s disease and 358 matched controls, there is a link between rotenone and paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. “People who used either pesticide developed Parkinson’s disease approximately 2.5 times more often than non-users,” stated a press release by the National Institutes of Health, one of the agencies that was involved with this study.

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder affecting the brain “that leads to shaking, stiffness, difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination,” according to the National Institute on Aging. The symptoms “usually begin [appearing] gradually and get worse over time.” Regular exposure to paraquat is known to cause Parkinson’s disease by increasing the risk of developing the disease by a whopping 250 percent, according to a 2018 study by Canada’s ​​University of Guelph. A medical study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that exposure to paraquat and another pesticide called maneb within 1,600 feet of a home heightened the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 75 percent.

People heavily exposed to paraquat who are susceptible to developing Parkinson’s disease include agricultural workers, farmers, people working on animal farms, individuals who reside on farms, and people who live in a rural area and drink well water. Additionally, people working as chemical mixers and tank fillers are also at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease due to their contact with paraquat.

Drinking well water from a location close to a crop to which paraquat has been applied can be dangerous because the pesticide can easily reach the groundwater. Those frequently exposed to paraquat-contaminated water are at risk for the gradual accumulation of the pesticide in their bodies, posing a health danger.

When someone is exposed to paraquat, the pesticide tends to travel through the lungs or the stomach and eventually reaches a portion of the brain medically known as the substantia nigra region. This brain region is responsible for releasing dopamine, a crucial neurochemical that plays a significant role in how many systems of the central nervous system function—from movement control to cognitive executive functions. Once paraquat reaches the substantia nigra region, it depletes the neurons that produce dopamine, a process that is associated with Parkinson’s disease. The damage caused by paraquat to these neurons can ultimately result in the impairment of essential brain functions.

The Future Is Organic

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.

However, the downside of organic food and growing organic crops is that they require more time, energy and financial resources. There is a greater labor input by farmers when it comes to organic crops, which makes these products more expensive. Another reason why organic food is pricier than conventionally grown produce is that organic agricultural farmers do not produce enough quantity of a single product to reduce the overall cost. The regular maintenance of organic crops is also time-consuming, as farmers have to be very careful with unconventional pesticides used to keep weeds, unwanted herbs and pests at bay during organic farming.

Even so, eating organic is undoubtedly the future, as most nonorganic produce contains significant traces of toxic pesticides such as paraquat that inevitably accumulate in our bodies over time, being able to trigger severe diseases in the future. While eating organic food may be more expensive, it is wiser to invest in these products given the health benefits. However, it is true that the accessibility and affordability of healthy organic foods is a strong issue among the U.S. food system inequities. Nowadays, organic foods don’t necessarily come from small local farms. They are largely a product of big businesses, most of them being produced by multinational companies and sold in chain stores. These leading food and agriculture companies should invest more in the consumers’ well-being and offer nutritious food affordable to all communities.

One solution would be the implementation of government schemes to promote organic farming and incentivize farmers to transition to organic agriculture. Instead of supporting factory farms, the government could support sustainable family farms, which often farm more ethically. It could lower healthy food costs and address the health crisis brought on by the mass consumption of unhealthy processed foods. Organic foods will not only lead to better health but will also discourage the practice of applying hazardous pesticides on conventionally grown crops, doing away with the health and environmental hazards involved in the process.


Miguel Leyva is a case manager at Atraxia Law, where he researches how farmers and workers with Parkinson’s disease and other disabilities have had their health affected by exposure to pesticides such as paraquat.

Take action…

Hunger games: Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu speaks at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 65th General Conference in Vienna, Austria, on September 21, 2021. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA/Flickr)

Pesticide Action Network: “The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently signed a letter of intent to formalize a partnership with CropLife International. CropLife is the global trade association representing all of the largest agrochemical, pesticide, and seed companies. This alliance would be dangerous for the future of our global food systems. …

“Recent estimates show that there are 385 million cases of acute pesticide poisonings each year, up from an estimated 25 million cases in 1990. This means that about 44 percent of farmers and agricultural workers around the world are poisoned each year by an industry dominated by CropLife members. Pesticide products produced by CropLife member companies decimate pollinator populations and are wreaking havoc on biodiversity and already fragile ecosystems.”

Urge Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu to end their dangerous alliance with the pesticide industry.

Cause for concern…

Running low: A large piece of ice collapses as Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier—the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water—advances. (Photo credit: Calyponte/Wikipedia)

Freshwater supplies could peak sooner for millions of people worldwide

“The world’s glaciers may contain less water than previously believed, a new study has found, suggesting that freshwater supplies could peak sooner than anticipated for millions of people worldwide who depend on glacial melt for drinking water, crop irrigation and everyday use,” reports Raymond Zhong for the New York Times.

“The latest findings are based on satellite images taken during 2017 and 2018. They are a snapshot in time; scientists will need to do more work to connect them with long-term trends. But they imply that further global warming could cause today’s ice to vanish in many places on a shorter timeline than previously thought.”

—Raymond Zhong, “Water Supplies From Glaciers May Peak Sooner Than Anticipated” (New York Times, February 7, 2022)

Round of applause…

Top carnivore: There are an estimated 6,000 gray wolves in the continental United States. (Photo credit: Anders Illum/Flickr)

Judge restores gray wolf protections

“A federal judge [on February 10] restored Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf, marking a big win for environmentalists in a high-profile fight that’s raged across the Western landscape,” reports Michael Doyle for E&E News. “In a decision that addressed three related challenges filed by environmental groups, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White struck down the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove the iconic animal from the ESA list.

“‘The Final Rule relies on the recovery of core metapopulations of wolves in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains to conclude that wolves across the entire lower 48 states no longer qualify for federal protection,’ White noted. But White, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, declared that ‘the Service did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations.’

“White added that the FWS concluded ‘with little explanation or analysis, that wolves outside of the core populations are not necessary to the recovery of the species [and] … in so concluding, the Service avoided assessing the impact of delisting on these wolves.’”

—Michael Doyle, “Judge restores gray wolf protections” (E&E News, February 10, 2022)


Last female: After the recently discovered female Swinhoe’s softshell turtle was caught and identified, a health check was done, samples were taken, an ultrasound was performed, and a microchip was inserted before she was released back into her lake home. (Photo credit: WCS Vietnam)

Culturally revered, critically endangered turtle gets a ray of hope

“When two of the last remaining Swinhoe’s softshell turtles died without producing any known offspring between 2016 and 2019, this species became the most endangered turtle in the world. 

“In response, conservationists and veterinary experts from Vietnam, along with global partners, made the recovery of this turtle one of their highest priorities. Swinhoe’s softshell turtles were also included in the five-year conservation plan of Hanoi People’s Committee in 2018 and added to the committee’s 2030 vision plan.

“Then, in October 2020, a female turtle was captured in Vietnam and confirmed by veterinarians to be a female Rafetus swinhoei. With the leadership of the Hanoi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with the Asian Turtle Program of Indo-Myanmar Conservation and our organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society, this imperiled turtle species may now have a second chance at survival.”

—EFL contributors Hoang Bich Thuy, Nguyen Dinh Thang, “New Discovery Gives World’s Most Endangered Turtle a Fighting Chance” (DownToEarth, August 4, 2021)

Parting thought…

Shell shine: Jonathan, who at 190 years old is the world’s oldest tortoise, gets a bath on the grounds of Plantation House, the governor’s residence on the island of St. Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Pacific where he arrived in 1882. (screenshot via St. Helena Government/YouTube)

“There is no vertebrate group facing greater survival problems today. Turtles saw the great dinosaurs come and go and are now facing their own extinction crisis.” —John L. Behler

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.

Sustainability Is Not as New an Idea as You Might Think—It’s More Than 300 Years Old | Take Action Tuesday @EarthFoodLife

Timberland: The view over the forest from Mildenstein Castle in Saxony, Germany. The castle is near Freiberg, where Hans Carl von Carlowitz was in charge of mining. (Photo credit: Mike Bonitz/Flickr)

Modern sustainability evolved from forest management of the 18th century, and its ancient roots go back even further. Could it help with today’s climate crisis and lumber shortage?

By Erika Schelby, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

The proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” has roots that go back to Aesop’s fable “The Crow and the Pitcher” and to Plato’s “Republic.” It is realistic to assume that Hans Carl von Carlowitz, mining manager for the Saxon court in Freiberg, Germany, during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, was also driven by necessity and a severe shortage of wood to invent the concept of sustainability (“Nachhaltigkeit”).

Or to be more precise, he coined the word to describe the quintessential principles of a human activity that goes back to the dawn of history: the sustainable use of natural resources. Although it may not have been called sustainability until Carlowitz, societies had practiced it for a long time as a vital part of cultural or religious practices. Ancient Egypt pursued sustainable systems for more than 3,000 years. The Maya, according to anthropologist Lisa Lucero, practiced a “cosmology of conservation.” The literature of ancient India is brimful with references to the preservation of the environment.

On the other hand, there are ancient civilizations that may have collapsed because they despoiled the natural world that gave them life. The earliest example may be found in the ancient Mesopotamian “Epic of Gilgamesh,” the first version of which dates back to 2000 B.C. Clay tablets tell the tale of vast cedar forests cut down by the eponymous hero in defiance of the gods, who punish him by cursing the land with fire and drought, turning the region into a desert. Nothing grew anymore, forcing the Sumerians to flee to Babylon and Assyria.

Now, 300 years after Carlowitz gave sustainability its modern name when Europe was short on wood, we again have a timber shortage—this one triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and caused by climate change.

The modern concept of sustainable living on a planet with limited resources evolved from the work done by Carlowitz regarding the need for the sustainable management of forests.

In 1713, just a year before his death, Carlowitz published the 432-page folio book, Sylvicultura Oeconomica oder Anweisung zur wilden Baum-Zucht (“Silvicultural Oeconomica or the Instructions for Wild Tree Cultivation”).

Treehugger: In 1713, just a year before his death, Carlowitz published the 432-page folio book “Sylvicultura Oeconomica oder Anweisung zur Wilden Baum Zucht” (“Silvicultural Economics or the Instructions for Wild Tree Cultivation”), which documents the beginning of scientific forestry and invents the concept of sustainability. (Image credit: Thomas Weidner/FVA-BW)

Sylvicultura Oeconomica documented the beginning of scientific forestry. It also invented sustainability, which had to be accepted to assure the continuity of human societies and of nature. Without scientific forestry, people across Europe and around the world would have faced far more severe economic and social disasters than the ones witnessed in the last few centuries. “In the beginning was the Earth,” said Christof Mauch, a modern-day German sustainability specialist and historian, in a 2013 lecture. “The Earth does not need humans to survive, but humans need the Earth.”

In fact, Carlowitz envisioned the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social justice. He rejected short-term thinking. He offered solutions, scientific details, guidelines and practical proposals on how to save, select, nurse, plant, re-grow, maintain and protect forests and their biodiversity. He presented an inventory of conditions across Europe and discussed threats caused by extreme weather conditions, diseases, pests and humans. He pled for careful, frugal consumption and recommended the art of saving timber. His ideas for using energy-efficient stoves in housing or furnaces in smelters, tips on improving the insulation in buildings, and finding substitutes like peat for heating homes are not unlike today’s sustainability efforts. The main part of the book deals with the urgent work that needs to be done to overcome the Holznot, or wood emergency. In his 2010 book, German journalist Ulrich Grober calls Sylvicultura Oeconomica the birth certificate of our modern concept of sustainability.”

These concepts developed by Carlowitz have been adopted across the globe in the course of the last 300 years. Unfortunately, today the rapid deforestation of large areas continues unabated in various regions, mostly in the Global South. The developed Global North had already done much of its massive deforestation during the era of industrialization. It should be noted that today, the greed of wealthy individuals, corporations and governments from the rich countries often exacerbate the climate crisis in tropical regions, while Indigenous peoples and those who are not in positions of power due to lack of access to capital or being located in the Global South (particularly island nations) often have proven, long-term sustainable forest management and environmental practices and are most affected by the unsustainable practices of developed nations.

Trailblazer: The underlined text on this page from Hans Carl von Carlowitz’s 1713 book “Silvicultural Economics or the Instructions for Wild Tree Cultivation,” which introduced the concept of environmental sustainability, shows the first use of the word “Náchhaltigkeit” (German for “sustainability”). (Image credit: Thomas Weidner / FVA-BW)

But the rich world has been reeling from the climate impacts of unsustainable development for decades, with increasing temperatures and a rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. In many ways, we are losing a race against time. During the summer of 2021 in the United States, firefighters wrapped aluminum foil around the trunk of a giant old sequoia, hoping to save the world’s largest tree from “a raging wildfire” in California. Sequoias, which can live for up to 3,400 years, have coexisted with occasional forest fires for millennia. They don’t burn easily and have survived wildfires over the years, even benefitting from fires that clear away the underbrush, creating new space and providing the required sunlight for seedlings. But this no longer works. The new wildfires of the climate change era last too long and burn too hot even for these huge trees, who were once regarded as invulnerable. According to the New York Times, “in last year’s Castle fire, between 7,000 and 11,000 large sequoias died across the Sierra Nevada or about 10 to 14 percent of them.”

All these natural calamities have come in a cluster, bundled together in the last few years: the pandemic, ever more and ever bigger forest fires in the West and leaping north into Canada, excessive heat, lasting drought and the destruction of millions of trees by a tiny creepy-crawly bark-eating beetle. Businesses closed their doors, sawmills halted production, truckers stopped trucking and logistical bottlenecks multiplied. Builders ceased construction and people were stuck in lockdowns at home.

Then, contrary to expectations, a DIY frenzy broke out. Confined to their houses or apartments because of pandemic-related restrictions, Americans started to improve their private spaces. Perhaps they felt it was the only reality they could count on. It was something they valued as a zone of safety and personal freedom in the midst of turmoil: a room of one’s own.

Wood became a high-demand commodity. Trading at $381 for 1,000 board feet back in 2019, in May of 2021 lumber hit a record high of $1,711.20. Costs for lumber have come down again, but house prices have not. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), “the average price of a newly constructed single-family home has increased by about $ 36,000 since April of 2020.”

It’s a vicious cycle: trees are stressed by heat and drought, which makes them less resilient. A cold climate used to keep the mountain pine beetles under control but warming temperatures have upset the balance and increased their numbers. With more mouths to feed, the beetles advanced into new areas, attacked weakened trees, and have already devastated 27 million hectares of forest across North America “an area more than three quarters the size of Germany.”

There are also more and more people who are directly confronted by climate change. The Washington Post reports that “[n]early 1 in 3 Americans live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months… On top of that, 64 percent live in places that experienced a multiday heat wave.”

So how long can people function and be productive under the present and increasingly worse circumstances? How can governments govern? When will the governed discover that the powerful Wizard of Oz isn’t so mighty after all?

Americans are still embedded in a never-ending stream of the same-old growth and consumption messages that contradict what society as a whole must do to become sustainable. But finally, there is a shift in public awareness. According to the Yale Program on Climate Communication, “three out of four Americans now believe that global warming is happening today.” It is hard to tell if this change of mind will last; public opinion is fickle, and there is the fact of a short attention span.

Perhaps it is helpful to acknowledge that the world was in trouble before, and that, driven by necessity 300 years ago, it found solutions. The challenges being faced by people across the globe are far bigger today, but the tools available to them are better too. The world has added much science, and people should have a better understanding of how nature and societies work.

Three scientists have recently been awarded and will share the Nobel Prize for physics 2021: Syukuro Manabe of Princeton, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. All three of them did long-term groundbreaking work related to complex physical systems and modeling the Earth’s climate.

Hans Carl von Carlowitz had no access to such advanced science. All he had was his observation, the science of his time, and a bold mind. But he would most certainly agree with the physicist Giorgio Parisi, who commented on the timing of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in physics to climate change researchers: “It is clear that for the future generations, we have to act now in a very fast way and not with a strong delay.” We’ve had sustainability concepts for more than 300 years—it’s certainly past time to utilize them.


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…

Dead zone: A once-thriving wetland forest clear-cut for wood products and pellets on the Nottoway River in North Carolina. (Photo credit: Dogwood Alliance)

America’s forests need federal protections

“[I] the absence of sufficient supplies of wood from its own forests, the EU is heavily reliant on importing wood pellets from forests far away,” writes EFL contributor Danna Smith, founder and executive director of Dogwood Alliance, in Truthout. “In fact, biodiverse and carbon-rich forests across the United States’ Southern Coastal Plain—a region that encompasses coastal North and South Carolina, southern Georgia and Alabama, and northern Florida—have become the primary global target for supplying biomass fuel to the EU. The Southern U.S. is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of wood pellets. Under the guise of ‘renewable energy,’ the voracious European demand for wood pellets has put forests and communities in this region at increased risk.”

Urge President Biden to establish strong, ecologically sound, and environmentally-just protections for our forests.

Cause for concern…

Toxic: The economy of Dalhart, Texas, which is centered around climate-damaging agribusinesses such as ranching, feedlot operations and large-scale pig farms, benefits from relatively lax environment regulations. (Photo credit: Ken Lund/Flickr)

VIDEO: American agriculture is ravaging the air, soil and water—but a
powerful lobby has cleverly concealed its damage

“The global food system is a wonder of technological and logistical brilliance. It feeds more people than ever, supplying a greater variety of food more cheaply and faster than ever. It is also causing irreparable harm to the planet.

“The system—a vast web of industries and processes that stretches from seed to pasture to packaging to supermarket to trash dump—produces at least a third of all human-caused greenhouse gases. Yet somehow these impacts aren’t in the forefront of the conversation about global warming. Indeed, they often aren’t in the conversation at all.”

—Kirk Semple, Adam Westbrook and Jonah M. Kessel, “Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet” (New York Times, February 1, 2022)

Round of applause…

Plant power: On February 11, 2022, New York City schools will serve Mediterranean chickpeas, with rice or pasta, roasted cauliflower and broccoli, and spinach and cranberry salad (Photo credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

NYC schools providing vegan meals on Fridays

“Plant-based options in schools means healthy eating and healthy living, and improving the quality of life for thousands of New York City students,” said Mayor Eric Adams, who said that the effects of Type 2 diabetes were reversed after he switched to plant-based eating 2016, reports Jessica Gould for Gothamist.

“The earlier in life that we can establish healthful eating habits, the better,” said Eugenia Gianos, Director of Cardiovascular Prevention for Northwell Health and Director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital. “I see our young people struggle with overweight, obesity and even diabetes at younger and younger ages. Research shows that plant-based diets help people achieve a healthy weight, so I applaud this positive step.” 

—Jessica Gould, “NYC Public Schools Will Start ‘Vegan Fridays’ This Week” (Gothamist, February 3, 2022)


Curious cats: Sy Montgomery interacts with Cleo the octopus at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. (Photo credit: Amy Knuze)

We are octopi: Consciousness and non-human animals

EFL writer Leslie Crawford, author of animal-focused children’s books Gwen the Rescue Hen and Sprig the Rescue Pig, compared notes on delving into the minds of animals with “real-life Dr. Dolittle” Sy Montgomery, author of several books, including The Soul of the Octopus, The Hummingbird’s Gift, and most recently, The Hawk’s Way.

Leslie Crawford: What did you find surprising about humans as a child?

Sy Montgomery: I was shocked to learn that people use their language to lie. Even little kids lie. Of course, animals will lie, too. An octopus will say, “I’m four or five sea snakes.” What the octopus does is change each of its arms to look like a sea snake, which is very poisonous. Chimpanzees lie all the time. But the degree to which humans use language to lie shocked me. I’ve always dealt with animals in a very straightforward way. I wasn’t ever trying to conceal things from them. Humans often want incorrect information about you and project incorrect things on you.

LC: So much has changed about our understanding of animals since you started writing about them. When did you first realize that animals are sentient beings?

SM: I think most of us realize as children that animals are sentient beings. But then, somehow, for so many people, this truth gets overwritten—by schools teaching old theories, by agribusiness that wants us to treat animals like products, by the pharmaceutical and medical industries who want to test products on animals as if they were little more than petri dishes. But thankfully, scientific and evolutionary evidence for animal sentience has grown too obvious to ignore.

LC: What have you learned about animals and consciousness?

SM: You don’t want to project onto animals your wishes and desires. You have to respect your fellow animals. I don’t want to roll in vomit, but a hyena would enjoy that. I don’t want to kill everything I eat with my face, but that’s what I’d do if I’m a great white shark. If I were eating a carcass, I would not be as happy about it as a scavenger. We have different lives but what we share is astonishingly deep, evolutionarily speaking.

—For Leslie and Sy’s full conversation, which was produced as part of a partnership between Stone Pier Press and Earth | Food | Life, please visit our friends at Truthout: “​​​​​​​You’re Not So Different From an Octopus: Rethinking Our Relationship to Animals.”

Parting thought…

Alighting: A monarch butterfly takes a rest on a friendly hand. Known for their incredible 2,500-mile annual migration from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico, the monarch is showing a tentative recovery in population numbers after decades of decline. (Photo credit: Franzi takes photos/Flickr)

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” —William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act III, Scene iii

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.

Boulder Sued Big Oil for Climate Damages, Then the Marshall Fire Happened

Fanned by fossil fuel: The Marshall Fire as seen from Broomfield, Colorado, on December 30, 2021. The wildfire laid waste to more than 6,000 acres to become the state’s most damaging fire in terms of property loss. (Photo credit: NOAA/NWS Boulder)

More than two dozen states, counties and cities have sued major fossil fuel companies for climate-related fraud or damages, or both.

By Elliott Negin, Independent Media Institute

4 min read

Four years ago, Boulder, Colorado, sued ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy—owner of the only oil refinery in the state—for climate change-related damages and adaptation expenses. Boulder and its co-plaintiffs, Boulder County and San Miguel County, home to Telluride, estimated the damage caused by extreme weather events would cost them more than $100 million by 2050.

As it turns out, they overestimated the time span—and underestimated the price tag.

At the end of December, the Marshall Fire devastated Boulder County, laying waste to more than 6,000 acres and incinerating more than 1,000 homes and seven commercial buildings at a projected cost of $1 billion, making it Colorado’s most destructive fire in terms of property loss.

The Marshall Fire was hardly the only one—or even the largest—in Colorado since the three communities filed their lawsuit, which is still pending in a state court. In fact, four of the five biggest Colorado fires by acreage have occurred since then, ranging from 108,000 to nearly 209,000 acres.

Both ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, an Alberta, Canada-based company, have a large carbon footprint in Colorado. 

ExxonMobil has produced more than 1 million barrels of oil from Colorado deposits, according to the Colorado communities’ complaint, and its subsidiary XTO Energy currently produces 60 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from 492,000 acres in Rio Blanco County. There are also 95 Exxon and Mobil gas stations in the state. Altogether, the company’s production and transportation activities in Colorado were responsible for more than 420,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2011 and 2015, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, Suncor’s U.S. headquarters is based in Denver, and its oil refinery, which produces 98,000 barrels of refined oil per day, is less than 5 miles from downtown. Suncor’s gas stations, which sell Shell, Exxon and Mobil brand products, supply about 35 percent of the gasoline and 55 percent of the diesel sold in the state, according to a 2016 Denver Business Journal article. According to the complaint, Suncor’s Colorado operations were responsible for some 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2016 alone, equivalent to the annual output of more than 217,000 typical passenger vehicles.

The Colorado communities contend that ExxonMobil and Suncor were aware that their products caused global warming as early as 1968, when a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s largest trade association, warned of the threat burning fossil fuels posed to the climate. Regardless, ExxonMobil and Suncor not only continued to produce and market fossil fuel products without disclosing the risks, the communities’ complaint charges, but they also engaged in a decades-long disinformation campaign to manufacture doubt about the reality and seriousness of climate change.

“Defendants’ actions have already caused or contributed to rising temperatures in Colorado,” the complaint states. “Colorado has seen average temperatures rise by 2.5 degrees [Fahrenheit] over the last 50 years, with over a 2 degree [Fahrenheit] rise since 1983.” Those higher temperatures have extended what used to be a four-month-long fire season in western states to six to eight months, if not all year round, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Wildfires are starting earlier, burning more intensely, and destroying larger areas of land than ever before.

The three plaintiffs want ExxonMobil and Suncor to pay “their share” of the damage caused by their “intentional, reckless and negligent conduct.” That share could amount to billions of dollars to help cover the cost of an increasing number of heat waves, wildfires, droughts, intense precipitation, and floods.

Boulder’s April 2018 lawsuit was not the first U.S. climate-related case against the fossil fuel industry. New York City and eight coastal California cities and counties, including San Francisco and Oakland, had already filed similar lawsuits against ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies, seeking compensation for damage to their communities. As of today, at least 27 states, counties and cities have sued major fossil fuel companies for climate-related fraud or damages, or both—and with good reason. The cost of climate change-related disasters is continuing to climb.

Indeed, the Marshall Fire was just one of the 20 climate and weather disasters in 2021 that resulted in at least $1 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, just two shy of the record-breaking 22 in 2020 and significantly more than the average of 6.3 large-scale U.S. disasters per year between 2000 and 2009. All told, last year’s billion-dollar disasters resulted in $145 billion in damages—52 percent higher than in 2020—and 688 deaths. The common denominator in these escalating numbers? Climate change.

“The fingerprints of climate change were all over many of the billion-dollar events that hit the United States in 2021,” says Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We’re essentially watching longstanding climate projections of the past come true.”

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

Take action…

Block party: Extinction Rebellion activists blockade the exit to the ExxonMobil fuel terminal in Yarraville, Melbourne, on December 13, 2021. (Photo credit: Matt Hrkac/Flickr)

Exxon lied to the public and polluted the planet. So where’s the DoJ?

“Recent reports have shown that Exxon knew about the threat of climate change decades ago. Yet over the course of nearly forty years, the company has contributed millions of dollars to think tanks and politicians that have done their best to spread doubt and misinformation—first on the existence of climate change, then the extent of the problem, and now its cause,” says ExxonKnew, a global coalition of environmental and public advocacy groups, including 350.org, Center for International Environmental Law, Greenpeace USA, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

​​​​​​​“If Exxon intentionally misled the public about climate change and fossil fuels, then they should be held accountable. We’re calling for an immediate investigation.”

Urge the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil for lying to the public about its climate threat.

Cause for concern…

Troubled waters: Anorthern fulmar, a species of sub-Arctic seabird, skims the waters off the coast of northern California. (Photo credit: Julio Mulero/Flickr)

Drastic changes to the marine food web could be down to climate change

“[S]cores of dead and dying [northern fulmars, a species of sub-Arctic seabird] littered [Manchester Beach, along California’s Mendocino coast] as far as she could see. … What beached these offshore birds is still not known. Researchers and veterinarians who examined them—both the injured and dead—say they tended to be young and emaciated. Many had lesions on their feet, which veterinarians have identified as a papillomavirus—from the same viral family that gives humans warts but is unique to northern fulmars.

“Over the last half-decade, scientists have documented unprecedented die-offs of birds, marine mammals and other creatures in the northern waters where fulmars breed each year, as [the Los Angeles] Times reported in December. Researchers say the marine food web of the Arctic and sub-Arctic has been drastically altered, possibly because of climate change that has melted ice sheets and warmed the ecosystems of this vast region.”

—Susanne Rust, “Are Ills of the Arctic Hitting California? Hundreds of Migratory Seabirds Wash Ashore” (Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2022)

Round of applause…

Moving day: In California, where the burrowed owl is an endangered species, wildlife officials, conservationists and developers are working together to gather and transplant the birds who are displaced when humans move into their natural habitat. (Photo credit: Wendy Miller/Flickr)

Hope for displaced owls

“[Burrowing] owls are increasingly on a collision course with humanity … [as] builders have displaced owls by collapsing their burrows, forcing them to find a new place to live nearby. … [I]n heavily urbanized environments, the birds often have nowhere to go, putting the species’ future at risk. … New research published on Thursday in the journal Animal Conservation shows it can be very effective if the birds are tricked into believing there are already other burrowing owls near the places where they are transplanted.”

—Matt Kaplan, “Two Simple Tricks That Help Owls Stay in Their New Homes” (New York Times, January 28, 2022)

Moving the needle…

Chance for change: Evaporation ponds in the Salar de Atacama—Chile’s largest salt flat, part of the nation’s lithium industry—are seen from the International Space Station. Indigenous groups will help shape the nation’s new constitution, which will address the climate emergency, as well as the future of lithium mining. (Photo credit: NASA/Flickr)

Climate change to play central role in Chile’s new constitution

“In this episode of Breaking Green, we talk with long-time activist Alejandra Parra about her experiences during the People’s Uprising in Chile and the hopes of recognizing environmental, social and economic reforms in the new Chilean constitution. …

“In 2020 the people of Chile voted in favor of a constitutional convention in order to replace its current constitution that was created under the Pinochet dictatorship. The convention, which grew out of the People’s Uprising, is currently underway with work expected to be finished by March. The convention is being attended not only by representatives of political parties, but elected representatives of Indigenous Peoples, independent citizen groups, environmentalists, social justice activists, and is designed for gender parity.”

—Steve Taylor, host, Breaking Green: People’s Uprising in Chile with Alejandra Parra” (Global Justice Ecology Project, January 25, 2022)


Needless abuse: According to USDA figures, in 2019, there were more than 40,000 monkeys held ‘on reserve’ in federal research facilities, in addition to the more than 68,000 monkeys subjected to experiments. (Photo credit: Shankar s./Flickr)

EU phases out animal research, but U.S. wants more

“In the last two years, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested nearly $29 million to breed more monkeys for biomedical research, with an additional $7.5 million to be spent by October. The investments, which include infrastructure improvements at the U.S. National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs), have been made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers have been testing numerous vaccines on nonhuman primates, most commonly rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)—a species of Old World monkey commonly used to study infectious diseases—before human trials began.

“Using the pandemic as the pretext, the Biden administration has proposed using even more taxpayer money to conduct primate research, suggesting a 27 percent funding increase for the NPRCs in its fiscal year 2022 budget request. If Congress gives the administration its stamp of approval, an additional $30 million would be given to the centers.”

—EFL editor Reynard Loki, “The U.S. Is ‘Out of Step’ on Primate Research With the Rest of the World” (CounterPunch, October 1, 2021)

Parting thought…

Winter wisdom: A special, up-close and personal encounter with a snowy owl captured on Explore.org’s Mississippi Flyaway Cam (screenshot: Explore Live Nature Cams/YouTube)

A Wise Old Owl

There was an owl liv’d in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
O, if men were all like that wise bird.

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.

Exposing the Massive Hypocrisy of International Insurance Companies | Take Action Tuesday @EarthFoodLife

Fossilized: At COP23, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany, in 2017, Brazil received the infamous “Fossil of the Day” award for “proposing a bill that could give oil companies $300 billion in subsidies to drill its offshore reserves,” according to Climate Action Network. (Photo credit: John Englart/Flickr)

A new report calls out the two-faced global insurers that are fueling climate change.

By Reynard Loki, Independent Media Institute

8 min read

Despite the pro-climate rhetoric of the insurance industry—and warnings by the world’s climate scientists calling for an end to fossil fuel exploration—leading global insurers are backing the Brazilian government’s massive offshore oil expansion, according to a new report titled, “Fueling Climate Change: The Insurers Behind Brazil’s Offshore Oil Expansion.” Released on January 20 by Insure Our Future, a coalition of environmental and consumer protection groups, the report—based on internal documents that have never been disclosed—reveals how major international insurance firms are assisting the expansion of environmentally destructive deep-sea oil and gas operations in fragile ecosystems off the coast of Brazil.

“Given how secretive insurers are about their project involvement and the lack of disclosure requirements, this information is rarely available for major fossil fuel projects,” states the report, which calls out “Chubb, MAPFRE and Tokio Marine, three insurers from the U.S., Spain, and Japan, respectively.” These companies underwrite the majority of the offshore oil and gas drilling—both operational and exploratory—conducted by Petrobras, the national oil company of Brazil, which “extracts around 93 percent of all Brazil’s oil and gas, and extracted nearly 2.8 million barrels of oil per day in September 2021,” according to the report. (By comparison, the U.S. extracts around 11 million barrels of oil per day.)

“Chubb and Tokio Marine, along with Liberty Mutual, AXA, Fairfax, Argo, and several Brazilian insurers, were also found to provide insurance in the form of performance bonds for multinational companies involved in exploratory oil and gas operations,” the report further states. “It is irrational and irresponsible for insurance companies that regularly conduct climate risk evaluations to support fossil fuel expansion.”

Petrobras’ oil and gas explorations are happening in areas that are considered some of the planet’s “most sensitive ecological sites” along the Brazilian coastline and around the Great Amazon Reef, the report says. The biodiversity found in Brazil’s marine habitats is “astonishing,” according to the editors of the book series “Brazilian Marine Biodiversity,” which provides a broad scientific overview of the marine and coastal habitats that exist along Brazil’s expansive Atlantic-facing coastline that spans around 4,600 miles. The marine habitats include “estuaries, coral reefs, rocky shores, sandy beaches, rhodolith beds, mangroves, salt marshes, deep-sea habitats, vegetated bottoms, and continental shelf,” states the book series’ publisher’s website.

Brazil’s fossil fuel operations threaten not only the stability of these fragile ecosystems but also the local communities that depend on them, as well as the global climate. Without a change in Brazil’s federal policy, the country “may become the world’s fourth-biggest oil producer in 2030,” according to Europétrole, a petroleum industry news site. The nation’s oil output “is expected to grow by 1.2 million barrels per day to 4.2 million barrels per day in 2026 as new low-cost resources are tapped in the prolific pre-salt layers offshore,” according to a report on “Oil 2021” by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which provides the 2026 forecast and analysis for the energy industry. The analysis by IEA found that non-OPEC members are projected to increase oil output by 4 million barrels per day, “with the United States and Brazil combined accounting for 75 percent of the increase.”

Moving Toward the Climate Tipping Point

The IEA, in another report, has said that in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the central aim of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, fossil fuel use and exploration must come to an end. “Net zero means a huge decline in the use of fossil fuels,” according to the IEA report “Net Zero by 2050,” published in May 2021. A net-zero pathway would, meanwhile, mean that fossil fuels have to “fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to slightly over one-fifth by 2050.”

​​“[T]he pathway to net zero by 2050 is narrow but still achievable if governments act now,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, tweeted in May 2021. By engaging in extensive offshore oil and gas exploration, the Brazilian government is clearly not acting in the best interest of humanity and is accelerating society’s move toward a dangerous climate tipping point, a global warming threshold that, if breached, would spark cascading and potentially irreversible impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems, weather and food security.

“If you have crop failures in a couple of the breadbaskets of the world at the same time, then you could see extreme food price spikes and hunger and famine across wide swathes of the world,” said Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London, according to a Reuters article. “That’s why it’s so risky to keep emitting from fossil fuels… because we’re increasing the likelihood that we go over one of those tipping points.”

A report released in August 2021 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the intergovernmental body of the United Nations (UN) that assesses the latest climate change science, warned that we are close to reaching a tipping point. “It is virtually certain that irreversible, committed change is already underway for the slow-to-respond [climate] processes as they come into adjustment for past and present emissions,” states the IPCC report.

“I cannot emphasize enough that time is running out,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in September. “Irreversible climate tipping points lie alarmingly close. Civil society is watching closely and is running out of patience.”

Climate Crisis and the Hypocritical Stance of Global Insurance Companies

In addition to supporting the destruction of marine ecosystems and fueling the climate crisis, the leading global insurance companies that are behind Brazil’s fossil fuel industry are flatly hypocritical: They have been telling the public that they care about the environment and climate while underwriting harmful offshore drilling projects and continuing Brazil’s addiction to cheap, dirty fuel, which is supported by government subsidies that should instead go to supporting the advancement of renewable energy.

More than 15 years ago, Chubb CEO and chairman Evan Greenberg said that “no greater problem confronts mankind than global warming,” reports Elana Sulakshana, of Rainforest Action Network, an environmental nonprofit. In July 2019, Chubb became the first company in the United States to adopt a policy restricting the operation and sustenance of the coal business, with its Swiss parent company Chubb Limited saying that the company would “no longer underwrite the construction and operation of new coal-fired plants or new risks for companies that generate more than 30 percent of their revenues from coal mining or energy production from coal.” At the time, Greenberg boasted that the policy was evidence of “Chubb’s commitment to do our part as a steward of the Earth.”

In December 2020, Paul Krump, Chubb’s vice chairman for global underwriting and claims, also aggrandized the company’s position, saying, “Chubb recognizes the reality of climate change and the substantial impact of human activity on our planet. As an insurer, our first responsibility is to use our expertise in risk management to provide products and services that protect individuals, businesses and communities, which are often becoming increasingly affected by climate change.”

In September 2020, Tokio Marine released its climate strategy, which states, “Climate change is a global social issue that poses a threat to the safety and security of our customers and local communities. … We have continued our efforts to combat climate change… [and] we have made it our core identity ‘To Be a Good Company.’” Tokio Marine’s CEO Satoru Komiya called climate change “a top-priority issue that we must address head-on.”

For these insurers, saying they are part of the solution to the climate crisis is simply greenwashing. “Chubb, MAPFRE, and Tokio Marine insuring new oil drilling is literally adding fuel to the fire,” said Tzeporah Berman, a Canadian environmental activist and international program director for Stand.earth, an environmental nonprofit and member of Insure Our Future, in an email to Earth | Food | Life.

“[In 2021], hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes, thousands lost their lives and millions of acres of forest burned down due to climate change caused primarily by oil, gas and coal,” said Berman. “The science is clear that we need to stop [the] expansion of new drilling and wind down production[,] and these insurance companies are lying if they say they care about climate change while facilitating the growth of the problem.”

And that problem is something that is particularly worrisome to a broad swath of Brazil’s population, where dependence on cheap fuel is being allowed to grow unchecked. According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, “[i]n Brazil, home to one of the world’s largest carbon sinks,” 86 percent of Brazilians consider climate change to be “a very serious concern.” And many people on the front lines of the climate crisis are not included in the climate discussion, particularly Indigenous communities, who are unfortunately among the first to face the brunt of the climate crisis.

“We are not the ones who are creating the pollution, the ones who are making the problem, but we are the people who are being killed by it. This is environmental genocide,” said Sonia Guajajara, the executive coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil. “Although Indigenous people form only 5 percent of the global population, we protect 80 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity. Yet, we continue to be excluded from decision-making.”

“Governments need to reforest their minds and understand that climate change is already a reality, not a problem for the future,” she said. “We are here to echo the call of Mother Earth because she is crying, and it is our duty to echo her call while we still have time. What happens when she stops crying?”


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

Take action…

Public Citizen: “Fossil fuel companies can’t operate without insurance. Yet insurance giant American International Group (AIG) refuses to stop enabling the climate crisis by insuring and investing in fossil fuels. AIG is one of the top three global insurers of oil and gas, and one of the last major insurers to still underwrite coal without restrictions. The insurer is also using customers’ premiums to invest in fossil fuel companies—$26.8 billion according to the most recent data—enabling even more projects to be built. We are calling on AIG to drop coverage of and investments in fossil fuels, and start insuring our future instead.” 

Urge AIG to stop insuring new and expanded fossil fuel projects immediately and phase out insurance for all fossil fuels, starting with coal.

Cause for concern…

Looking for love: Extirpated from the wild in the 1950s, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered under the 1976 Endangered Species Act. They have been reintroduced into the wild in the southwestern United States, but the U.S.-Mexican border wall has cut off their historic range of movement. (Photo credit: Wayne Hsieh/Flickr)

An endangered wolf went in search of a mate, but the border wall blocked him

“In late 2021 an endangered Mexican gray wolf set out on an epic journey. Known as Mr. Goodbar, the male had months earlier left his pack in eastern Arizona in search of his own territory and a mate. He headed south and east, through the Chihuahuan Desert, a vast, biodiverse expanse of grasslands and shrublands interspersed with mountain ranges and valleys. …

“But he soon found himself at a perplexing impasse: The U.S.-Mexico border. Just one year prior, the land was open, except for a short vehicle barrier, a type of low porous fence meant to stop cars and trucks from illegal crossings. But now he found it blocked by a 30-foot-high wall, composed of massive steel beams separated by four-inch gaps, admitting only the tiniest of animals.”

—Douglas Main,“An endangered wolf went in search of a mate, but the border wall blocked him” (National Geographic, January 21, 2022)

Round of applause…

(Screenshot via The Economist)

VIDEO: How vegan burgers can help save the planet

“When people cook steak, they’re also cooking the planet. Switching from beef to vegetable patties in the U.K. could save 9.5-11m tonnes CO2e annually, representing up to 2.4 percent of territorial greenhouse-gas emissions. While 76 percent of British people say they care about the environment, just 26 percent would stop eating meat to reduce environmental impact. Is fake meat the future?”

—“How vegan burgers can help save the planet” (The Economist, December 29, 2022)


Green screen: Sustainable web design can help reduce our carbon emissions. (Photo credit: Lyncconf Games)​

“In a 2013 study, the internet’s annual carbon footprint was measured at 830 million tons of carbon dioxide. This would put the web’s electricity output at roughly the same level as the aviation industry. “If the internet were a country, it would now rank sixth in the world for its electricity demand,” states a 2014 article in the Guardian by Gary Cook, a senior IT analyst with Greenpeace.

“Meanwhile, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic leading to people working remotely from their homes and increasingly relying on at-home entertainment, some countries reported a 20 percent increase in “internet traffic” since March 2020, according to a January 2021 article in Science Daily. Extrapolating that data through the end of 2021, the “increased internet use alone would require a forest of about 71,600 square miles—twice the land area of Indiana—to sequester the emitted carbon,” according to the study, which was conducted by researchers from Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

—EFL reporter Robin Scher, “Why the Internet Itself Is a Major Environmental Problem” (Countercurrents, December 15, 2021)

Moving the needle…

Bending the arc: How can Pope Francis best advance social and environmental justice? (Photo credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk via Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr)

Dear Pope Francis: Here’s a constructive challenge

“We laud your many commitments to social justice and environmental protection. You are bending the arc of the world towards justice in a way few voices can. And while you have been criticized for your recent comments regarding the need to parent rather than raise pets, we want to offer the Vatican a constructive challenge[:] … support a fundamental policy reform that would make every child’s right to a Fair Start in life the first and overriding human right. Nothing would speak out against selfishness more than that and give the majority of people—those who will exist in the future—that which they deserve. It’s not about population. People are not numbers. It’s about the impossibility of separating values like welfare, equity, and nature from their creation.

“As Nobel Laureate Steven Chu noted, population growth has acted like a Ponzi scheme that has pulled massive wealth to the top of the economic pyramid at a cost to women, children and the environment. It’s a fundamentally unjust and exploitative system. And the greatest impact in reversing it, and furthering the Sustainable Development Goals, comes through changing our family policies to promote an ecosocial Fair Start in life as the first and overriding human right. There is nothing else that comes close to having the impact, long term, on the social justice and environmental causes you support.​​​​”

—Ashley Berke, Nandita Bajaj and Carter Dillard, “Fair Start: An Open Letter to Pope Francis(FairStartMovement.org, January 10, 2022)

Parting thought…

Listen to your elders: Trees tower over a campsite at Yosemite Village in the heart of Yosemite Valley, California. (Photo credit: Matthew Peoples/Flickr)

“To listen to trees, nature’s great connectors, is to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty.”David George Haskell

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 Cryptocurrency Becomes Mainstream, Its Carbon Footprint Can’t Be Ignored | Take Action Tuesday @EarthFoodLife

Energy hog: The digital “mining” of cryptocurrency creates a massive carbon footprint due to the staggering amount of energy it requires. (Photo credit: Mirko Tobias Schäfer/Flickr)

As Bitcoin prices rise, so will the incentive to mine it, creating a feedback loop that spells trouble for the climate.

By Robin Scher, Independent Media Institute

10 min read

For advocates of cryptocurrency, the promise of an economic future that is managed by a blockchain (a decentralized database that is shared among the nodes of a computer network, as opposed to being held in a single location, such as a central bank) is compelling. For anyone paying attention, the rapid expansion of cryptocurrency has been stunning. In 2019, the global cryptocurrency market was approximately $793 million. It’s now expected to reach nearly $5.2 billion by 2026, according to a report by the market research organization Facts and Factors. In just one year—between July 2020 and June 2021—the global adoption of cryptocurrency surged by more than 880 percent.

But the increasing popularity of cryptocurrency has environmentalists on edge, as the digital “mining” of it creates a massive carbon footprint due to the staggering amount of energy it requires. Based on data from the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index from Digiconomist, an online tool created by data scientist Alex de Vries, the carbon footprint of Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, is equivalent to that of New Zealand, with both emitting nearly 37 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, according to a February 2021 CNBC article.

To understand why this is a problem, it’s important to explain what goes into creating a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. Unlike fiat money, which is regulated through central banks, transactions in Bitcoin are tracked through a public ledger consisting of a network of computers around the world: the blockchain. “Mining”—a process in which computational puzzles are solved in order to verify transactions between users, which are then added to the blockchain—allows this validation to take place, which is an energy-intensive process.

It’s been a bit of a wild ride for Bitcoin. The market price of a single bitcoin plunged below $30,000 in June 2021 for the first time since January 2021—falling by more than half from its April peak of around $65,000. Nevertheless, some analysts and billionaire investors are still feeling bullish about the crypto coin, as several leading businesses continue to adopt the currency.

Goldman Sachs started trading Bitcoin futures (agreeing to transact the coin at a predetermined future date and price). Tesla invested $1.5 billion in Bitcoin. PayPal announced in March 2021 that it would allow its U.S. customers to use cryptocurrency to pay its millions of online merchants. In September, El Salvador became the first country to make bitcoin legal tender. This, coupled with the fact that big-name brands like AT&T, Home Depot, Microsoft, Starbucks and Whole Foods now accept bitcoin payments, could pave the way for mainstream use. But if the bulls are right and the price of a single Bitcoin eventually hits $500,000, it would pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than what is released by countries like Brazil or Mexico.

Another sector shaken up by digital assets is the art world, as digital artworks have been making headlines for the huge amounts they’ve been selling for on the market through the use of nonfungible tokens, more commonly known as NFTs, a type of guarantee backed by the Ethereum blockchain. In simpler terms, the works are created, or “minted,” through a process called proof-of-work (PoW), which establishes its unique identity, as explained in an article on Hyperallergic.

This is arguably an improvement over the traditional art market when it comes to storing the value of the original work but is terrible for carbon emissions. The carbon footprint of a single Ethereum transaction as of December 2021 was 102.38 kilograms of CO2, which is “Equivalent to the carbon footprint of 226,910 VISA transactions or 17,063 hours of watching YouTube,” according to Digiconomist. Meanwhile, the electrical energy footprint of a single Ethereum transaction is about the same amount as the power that an average U.S. household uses in 8.09 days, the website further states.

In March 2021, Austrian architect Chris Precht announced that he was “[abandoning] plans to sell digital artworks backed by NFTs due to the environmental impact of mining the digital tokens,” according to Dezeen magazine. He said that he had created three digital artworks and wanted to sell them using blockchain technology. “I wanted to create 300 tokens because I had three art pieces and I wanted to make each one in an edition of 100. … I would have used the amount of electricity I usually use in two decades,” Precht explained.

“[W]e’re largely powering 21st-century technology with 19th-century energy sources,” Andrew Hatton, head of information technology at Greenpeace United Kingdom, told CNBC. He attributes this energy usage to the “huge amount of data-crunching needed to create and maintain this cyber-currency,” a process that demands a lot of electricity. The problem, according to Hatton, is that “only about a fifth of the electricity used in the world’s data centers comes from renewable sources.”

Another crucial aspect of cryptocurrency is that there is only a limited supply available. So, over time, as more bitcoin is mined, the complex math problems needed for transactions get harder to solve, demanding more energy in turn. The system is designed this way so that each digital token that gets issued contains its own unique cryptographic reference to the blockchain, ensuring its security. The issue of energy usage over time is further exacerbated by incentives attached to mining. In terms of Bitcoin, each time a miner solves the complex hashing algorithm required to produce bitcoin (the “PoW”), they receive a small amount of the cryptocurrency itself.

The inherent problem with this, as Charles Hoskinson, co-founder of Ethereum, told CNBC, is that “the more successful bitcoin gets, the higher the price goes; the higher the price goes, the more competition for bitcoin; and thus the more energy is expended to mine [it].” As the price continues to rise, so will the incentive to mine the cryptocurrency, creating a feedback loop that spells trouble for the climate.

According to December 2021 figures from the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, Bitcoin makes up around 0.52 percent of the total global electricity consumption. That might not sound like much, but Digiconomist calculates Bitcoin’s total annual power consumption to be around 204.50 terawatt-hours, equivalent to the power consumption of Thailand.

“Such numbers should be taken with a good deal of salt. Bitcoin’s energy use depends crucially on its price, which swings wildly. The authors [of a paper published in April in the journal Nature Communications] assume that the long-term trend will be upward because the rate at which new bitcoins are created is designed to halve every four years. Reality will doubtless prove more complicated,” noted the Economist. “But the general picture—that bitcoin is a dirty business—fits with other research. One oft-cited model, which uses publicly available blockchain data, reckons its global energy consumption is already equal to that of Kazakhstan, and that its carbon footprint matches Hong Kong’s.”

Another problem besides the gargantuan energy usage is where that energy comes from. There is no definitive statistic related to the proportion of renewable versus fossil fuel-powered electricity used for bitcoin mining. Earth.org cites two conflicting measures of Bitcoin’s energy usage: CoinShares, a cryptocurrency asset management and analysis firm, reported in 2019 that 74.1 percent of Bitcoin’s electricity comes from renewables, while the University of Cambridge puts that number at 39 percent, according to a report it issued in 2020.

A better indicator of Bitcoin’s electricity source is not how it is powered but where its power comes from. A March 2021 article by Quartz estimates that since April 2020, “around 65 percent of bitcoin mining capacity, or hashrate, was based in China due to its cheap electricity.” This figure should give a better understanding of the primary source of fuel currently powering Bitcoin.

In May 2021, at least half of China’s significant share of bitcoin mining was located in the coal-rich province of Xinjiang, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, cited by Quartz. In 2020, 63 percent of China’s bitcoin mining came from coal-fired plants, Fortune reported in July 2021, citing figures from Rystad Energy. “The energy research firm estimates that if China were to eliminate bitcoin mining, it would cut CO2 emissions by 57 million… [metric tons]—the equivalent to what the entire country of Portugal emits in a year,” the Fortune report noted.

Despite these figures, a more renewable, energy-conscious future may lie ahead for cryptocurrency. In September 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the UN General Assembly that his country would “strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.” That could lead to provinces such as Xinjiang being forced to move more toward renewables. The call from Beijing has also prompted nearby territories such as Inner Mongolia (which made up 8.7 percent of China’s bitcoin mining in 2020) to ban all crypto mining in mid-2021. If the change doesn’t come from within China after these crackdowns, bitcoin mining may grow somewhere else as miners look “to explore clean energy like surplus natural gas, shifting their focus from China to countries like Iceland, Norway, and Canada,” according to Quartz.

It’s important that any valid criticism of Bitcoin considers the broader perspective around energy usage. As Michel Rauchs, a research affiliate at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, explained to CNBC, “Although we agree the amounts [of energy needed by Bitcoin] are ludicrous right now, that is still half as much as inactive home appliances in the U.S. consumed.” A similar line of logic could be applied to a variety of everyday tasks such as sending emails or using the internet in general, both of which use up a fair share of energy too.

“What we have here is people trying to decide what is or is not a good use of energy,” Meltem Demirors, chief strategy officer of CoinShares, told CNBC. For Demirors, Bitcoin’s energy transparency places it in a better position than other, more opaque energy-consuming industries such as the banking industry.

To this effect, a May 2021 report produced by Galaxy Digital, a financial services and investment management firm based in New York, puts the energy consumption of Bitcoin at less than half that produced by the banking and gold industries. Putting this finding into perspective, the report’s authors note that “Bitcoin is a fundamentally novel technology that is not a precise substitute for any one legacy system.” What this means is that, unlike traditional currency or gold, Bitcoin is “not solely a settlement layer, not solely a store of value, and not solely a medium of exchange.” This makes Bitcoin’s relative energy consumption productive in comparison to comparative sectors, given its robust potential uses.

Galaxy Digital’s report further addresses the source of energy used by miners to generate Bitcoin. “Critics often assume that the energy expended by miners is either stolen from more productive use cases or results in increased energy consumption,” according to the report. “But because of inefficiencies in the energy market, bitcoin miners are incentivized to utilize nonrival energy that may otherwise be wasted or underutilized, as this electricity tends to be the cheapest.” A recent case in point can be found in El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has announced the use of geothermal energy to power its bitcoin mining.

The promise of such an endeavor offers hope for a more sustainable cryptocurrency future. Whether this will make much difference to the climate crisis in light of government and industrial inaction remains to be seen. Even if cryptocurrency finds a way to coexist with a fossil-free future, critics point out that the majority of the wealth created by Bitcoin goes to a disproportionately small number of investors. An article in the Wall Street Journal, while referring to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research—which was conducted by researchers from the MIT Sloan School of Management and the London School of Economics—stated that “the top 10,000 bitcoin accounts hold 5 million bitcoins, an equivalent of approximately $232 billion.” Speaking about Bitcoin, Antoinette Schoar, a finance professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of the study, said, “Despite having been around for 14 years and the hype it has ratcheted up, it’s still the case that it’s a very concentrated ecosystem.”


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.

Robin Scher is a writer based in South Africa. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. Follow him on Twitter: @RobScherHimself.

Take action…

Howl for help: “Trophy hunters and trappers wiped out between 20-33 percent of Wisconsin’s wolf population within three days [in the last week of February 2021], and nearly 85 percent of those killed were hunted down by packs of dogs—a ruthless and controversial practice that only Wisconsin allows,” reports the Wolf Conservation Center. (Screenshot via Wolf Conservation Center/YouTube)

Biden administration failing to protect America’s wolves

“Essential and in danger, wolves continue to face seemingly insurmountable odds,” writes the Wolf Conservation Center. “As you read this, people in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming are killing wolves for fun. These wolves, so carelessly slaughtered, have immense value—to their families, to ecosystems, to people who glory in knowing that wolves are found in wild places. As devastating as this is, the widespread outcry of opposition that has ensued reminds us that more and more people understand the importance of wolves and our ability to coexist. We need to treat wolves with the respect and understanding that they deserve.”

Urge President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to restore federal Endangered Species Act protections for

Cause for concern…

Glacial pace: The EPA has just added a new chemical to the official list of hazardous air pollutants—for the first time in more than 30 years. (Photo credit: AFGE/Flickr)

EPA’s environmental laws are broken—here’s proof

“The Environmental Protection Agency announced [during the first week of January 2022] the addition—for the first time in over three decades—of a new substance to its list of hazardous air pollutants,” reports Andrea Germanos for NationofChange. “In a Thursday [January 6] tweet sharing the [Washington] Post’s reporting, Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook also suggested the list addition was long-needed.”

“‘This isn’t proof that our environmental laws are working,’ he said. ‘It’s proof that they aren’t.’”

—Andrea Germanos, “EPA’s first new air pollutant addition in 30 years reveals agency failings: Critics” (NationofChange, January 8, 2022)

Round of applause…

Plant power: Research indicates that plant-based diets are associated with lowered cancer risk. (Photo credit: Natalie Maynor/Flickr)

Plant-based diet could cut cancer risk by 19 percent

“The main studies that have addressed this question are the EPIC-Oxford study which showed that vegans had a 19 percent reduction in the risk of total cancer,” said Dr. Shireen Kassam, a consultant hematologist and honorary senior lecturer at King’s College Hospital, London. Dr. Kassam, who has a specialist interest in the treatment of patients with lymphoma, explained how a plant-based diet can be protective against cancer risk to Diana Buntajova for Express.co.uk. “In addition, a study from France showed that a healthy plant-based diet, not necessarily 100 percent vegan, reduced overall cancer risk by 15 percent,” she said.

—Diana Buntajova, “The popular January diet that could cut your risk of developing cancer by 19%” (Express.co.uk, January 8, 2022)


Cruel and unusual: Betty the elephant, owned by Carden Circus, is made to stand on her face with her feet up in the air while the circus performer has her feet tucked in a strap that is tied tightly around the elephant’s jaw and behind her ears, which are very sensitive areas. This is a very unnatural movement for an elephant and causes much distress to the animal. (Photo credit: Gigi Glendinning)

USDA failing America’s captive elephants

“Many people are unaware that circuses are still part of the American culture. The closing of the infamous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in May 2017 did not mark the end of cruelty perpetrated on elephants, who are forced into captivity and made to perform in circuses. Between 25 and 30 traveling circuses, which include caged wild animals, continue to travel and operate in the United States. There are currently more than 60 elephants and hundreds of other animals still being used for human entertainment. Circus animal cruelty and exploitation are rampant. Some operators like Loomis Bros. Circus and Carson & Barnes Circus continued operating throughout the worst of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic in 2020

“Performing elephants are deprived of all that is natural to them. The methods used to train a wild animal into submission include beatings, electric shock (hot shots), food and water deprivation, and brutal intimidation. Elephants do not stand on their heads, sit on stools, stand on their hind legs, or give rides to humans on their backs because they want to; they do it because they are forced to with brutal training methods.”

—EFL contributor Dee Gaug, “How the USDA Is Failing America’s Captive Elephants” (CounterPunch, July 30, 2021)

Parting thought…

Bug life: “Insects… cycle nutrients, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, maintain soil structure and fertility, control populations of other organisms, and provide a major food source for other [species],” writes zoologist Geoffrey G. E. Scudder at the University of British Columbia. (Photo credit: William Warby/Flickr)

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” —E. O. Wilson

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 Dairy Industry Is Determined to Pour Itself Down Our Throats

Spoiled: For decades, the U.S. government has subsidized the dairy industry—an industry that popular opinion has already left behind. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/Animal Equality/We Animals Media)

In its illogical support of Big Dairy, the U.S. government is misleading the public and padding the pockets of one industry over another.

By Jennifer Barckley, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

When author and historian James Truslow Adams introduced “the American dream” into common parlance in his 1931 book The Epic of America, he wasn’t suggesting that fulfilling it would require the democratically elected U.S. government to dictate what Americans ought to eat and drink or which industries they ought to fund through their hard-earned tax dollars. But that is what the U.S. government has been doing for decades by subsidizing the dairy industry—an industry that popular opinion has already left behind.

The real American dream is at odds with turning taxpayer dollars into wealth for one industry over another. An example of this is the promotion of the American dairy industry by the government. It’s the reason why the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been telling people that dairy deserves its own food group and has promoted the idea that most adults and children should “eat or drink about three cups of dairy each day,” to ensure they are getting the required nutrients to stay healthy. This is, however, contradictory to the facts provided by the National Institutes of Health. According to the agency, between 30 and 50 million Americans are intolerant to lactose (the sugar found in milk), “including 95 percent of Asian Americans, 60-80 percent of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80-100 percent of Native Americans, and 50-80 percent of Hispanics,” compared to people of northern European descent who have a “high lactose tolerance.”

In fact, some studies connect the consumption of dairy products with a higher risk of certain cancers, including prostate cancer in men and endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women. Further, countries that have the highest rates of milk consumption also have the “highest rates of osteoporosis.” According to a study by Uppsala University in Sweden, the consumption of milk has even been associated with higher mortality in both men and women, according to a 2014 article in the Washington Post.

But these facts haven’t stopped the USDA in its quest to drive the demand for dairy. According to the Environmental Working Group and USDA data, Americans have spent $6.4 billion between 1995 and 2020 in subsidizing the dairy industry. Included in these subsidies are marketing fees that promote the consumption of milk and several “[d]airy-related programs administered by [the] USDA,” which are designed to “benefit dairy farmers and dairy product consumers.” The dairy industry, it turns out, is milking the paychecks of Americans and turning their hard-earned money into cartons of liquid white murkiness.

Even with these steep financial gains afforded to the U.S. dairy industry, Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT), Mike Simpson (R-ID), and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jim Risch (R-ID)—all representing dairy-rich states—introduced a piece of legislation in April 2021 (ironically on Earth Day), known as the Dairy Pride Act. The bill, if passed, requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent plant-based product producers from using terms like milk, yogurt or cheese as part of their labeling.

This pushback comes while consumer demand for plant-based milk—squeezed from oats, soybeans, almonds and even pistachios—is skyrocketing. Fortunately for consumers who value free choice, and markets that value fair trade, this legislation has little ground to stand on beyond the competitive fear on which it was built.

In May 2021, similar legislation—Amendment 171 in the European Union—was withdrawn by the European Parliament. Like the Dairy Pride Act, it sought to ban terms traditionally used to describe dairy products, such as “buttery” and “creamy,” for plant-based products.

Also in 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of Miyoko’s Kitchen, a brand that specializes in dairy-free products, after the California Department of Food and Agriculture instructed the company to stop using “terms like ‘butter’ and ‘dairy’ on product marketing and labeling”—even when paired with “vegan” and “plant-based” vernacular. The court agreed with the plant-based brand, which had argued that censoring product labeling that was an accurate description within the context of “common parlance among consumers” today violated the First Amendment’s freedom of expression.

Attempts from Big Dairy to defend their turf come just when an authentic version of the American dream is taking root. James Truslow Adams defined it as a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” And consumers have never before had so many opportunities to choose how to enrich their lives with healthy alternatives to dairy, whether they define a “richer and fuller” life as one without harming animals, contributing to the climate crisis, or causing gastrointestinal distress. And from the perspective of the plant-based milk companies, it’s a dream that is currently worth $2.5 billion in the U.S. alone. From 2019 to 2020, the plant-based milk sector grew by 20 percent, accounting for 15 percent of all retail milk dollar sales—all without USDA dollars spent on their marketing. And in May 2021, the plant-based milk market reached a new milestone when oat-milk maker Oatly Group began trading on Wall Street with a valuation of close to $10 billion and billed as an ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) stock to buy, thanks to its climate-curbing benefits.

Oat milk (like other plant-based milks) has a far lighter environmental footprint than milk from cows—with 70 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, while using 93 percent less water from seed to shelf.

Meanwhile, Debra Roberts, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II, in a report published in August 2019, noted, “Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others. Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods… produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.” If the U.S. is to fulfill its original Paris agreement pledge, it will need “to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025, a goal that the country is not on track to meet,” according to an NPR article. Backing industrial agriculture like Big Dairy furthermore runs counter to serious climate change commitments.

If the American dream is to be realized, then its citizens deserve choice—real choice, which allows them to vote with their dollars and knowingly choose what they want to eat and drink. Freedom is not something Americans are afforded when they are brought up to believe that milk is what their bodies and the country need to be strong, simply to pad the pockets of one industry over another. Freedom is having the ability to make the best choice for oneself, and the planet.


Jennifer Barckley is the vice president of communications at The Humane League.

Take action…

Separated at birth just to die: A newborn calf is taken away from her mother, a dairy cow, to the veal crates, where the calf will be killed for her meat. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/Animal Equality/We Animals Media)

Systematic animal abuse at U.S. dairy farms

Care2: “Animal welfare activists have once again raised the alarm about horrific abuses perpetrated by the U.S. animal farming sector—an industry notorious for not only systematic violence against its animals, but also for covering up said violence. [In 2020], undercover activists went behind the scenes of an auctioneer facility called Erath County Dairy Sales (ECDS) in Texas and Dick Van Dam Dairy, a dairy farm in California. They found ‘aggressive animal abuse practices leading to heightened disease risk and cows being passed off as organic.’ Both undercover investigations have been brought to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“In Texas, ECDS employees were filmed kicking cows in their fragile heads and necks. Footage shows cows cowering and shaking, lying in puddles or in other dark corners of the facility, clearly suffering. One animal is already on the ground as it is shocked and jabbed with an electric prod. Animals that are dead or dying are carelessly, mercilessly heaped together. In California, Dick Van Dam Dairy employees were filmed beating and jabbing cows with sharp, splintering wooden canes, battering them with metal pipes, kicking them in their soft udders, and twisting their tails to the point of breaking. Some of the cows’ udders were so battered and beaten from milking that their milk turned red with blood. Mother cows are forced to give birth just so their milk can be sold. At Dick Van Dam Dairy, their babies were allegedly discarded and left to rot.”

Urge the USDA to charge those responsible at ECDS and Dick Van Dam Dairy with animal cruelty, and force these facilities to close their doors.

Cause for concern…

Far from their natural home: A view of Tasmania’s aquaculture industry, near Dover, where Atlantic salmon are grown in the Southern Ocean. (Photo credit: Rod Cuthbert/Flickr)

Breeding with farmed fish threatens the survivability of wild salmon

“When wild Atlantic salmon breed with escaped farmed salmon, their descendants grow faster and mature at a younger age, undermining the ability of the species to survive and reproduce in its natural environment…

“This faster pace of life due to genetic contamination is bad news because it is linked to a whole suite of traits that make salmon less well adapted to their environment, such as increased boldness and aggression. Studies have found that the offspring of farmed salmon are less likely to survive as juveniles in the wild, in part because they are more susceptible to predators.

“[Geir Bolstad at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Trondheim] says that as long as the flow of genes continues, ‘it will by all probability decline the population figures because it makes the population on average maladapted.’”

—Adam Vaughan, “Breeding with farmed fish is changing the life cycle of wild salmon” (New Scientist, December 22, 2021)

Round of applause…

Grains of truth: “Women are the knowledge keepers and champions of seed,” says Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, a Detroit-based urban farmer and member of the Tlingit Nation. “Active sharing implies a continuity of the past, present, and future.” (Photo credit: Elis Alves/Flickr)

Seed Rematriation: Indigenous Women Are Returning Legacy Crops to Their Original Communities

“Seed sharing is a different practice from seed banking, which could mean storing plant genetic material in a doomsday vault north of the Arctic Circle, or hoarding it at museums and universities—often kept from circulation long beyond viability, and occasionally taken without the permission of their traditional keepers in the name of scientific research. Sharing, on the other hand, bears personal responsibility for returning legacy crops to their original communities. This deeply intentional act of Indigenous food sovereignty is called rematriation. In recent years, the rematriation movement has coalesced into seed stewardship initiatives such as Dream of Wild Health, Sierra Seeds, and the Indigenous SeedKeepers Network.

“‘Seed sharing is a verb,’ says Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, an urban farmer and member of the Tlingit Nation who also organizes popup dinners in her adopted city of Detroit. ‘When we’re talking about rematriation, it means seeds coming home to the motherland. Those vaults? Seeds don’t generally feel welcome there.’”

—Shane Mitchell, “How Indigenous Women Are Sharing Culture Through Seed Rematriation” (Saveur, December 3, 2021)


Blah blah blah: Climate activists rally outside the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 3, 2021. (Photo credit: Francis McKee/Flickr)

The Glasgow Climate Pact kicks the climate can down the road

“Science has put a deadline on us. In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—a limit decided by the Paris agreement—humankind must achieve ‘net-zero’ emissions (i.e., whatever amount we emit into the atmosphere, we must also remove) by 2050. But that target seems highly unlikely. Big polluting nations like the United States, China and Russia not only continue to burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate but also continue to drill for more oil. China—the world’s biggest emitter, responsible for more than a quarter of humanity’s total emissions—and Russia have pushed their own net-zero targets to 2060. India has pushed it to 2070. That is kicking the climate can down the field, to be dealt with by future leaders. (A quick glance at a graphic created by the Economist showing the quick and steep drop in emissions that China must undergo to achieve its own target underscores the magnitude, and perhaps folly, of winning the war against the climate crisis.)

“In the United States, a divided nation has ossified a gridlocked legislature that hasn’t passed many game-changing climate laws. Much environmental protection has been exercised through executive actions, such as regulations imposed by federal agencies, which can be simply overturned by the next administration. When a Democrat is in the White House, environmental protection is higher on the priority list. When a Republican is in the White House, it’s more about protecting polluters. The country lacks the necessary strong federal and state climate legislation to protect people and the environment from toxic, global-warming pollution, protect fenceline communities (which are often poor communities of color and Indigenous communities) and hold polluters to account.”

—EFL editor Reynard Loki, “COP26: Climate Pledges Don’t Match Up With Policies—or Consumer Behavior” (New Europe, November 17, 2021)

Parting thought…

Silent sentinel: An owl captured on December 23, 2021, by the Mississippi River Flyway cam, part of the Explore.org network. (Photo credit: sugarmum21/Explore.org)

“The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world.” —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.

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

“[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)

While the world’s oceans, nonhuman animals, and plants play starring roles in sustaining our ecosystem, why are we so bent on sabotaging it?

By Captain Paul Watson, Independent Media Institute

6 min read

This excerpt is 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, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

I would like to introduce you to an alternative way of looking at this planet that we live on. We call it planet Earth, but in reality, it should be called planet ocean. What makes life possible on this planet is one very important element: water. This is the water planet. We have been taught that the ocean comprises the sea. However, the ocean is much more than that.

This is a planet of water in continuous circulation moving through many phases, with each phase intimately linked at every stage. It is the water in the sea, the lakes, the rivers, and the streams. It is the water flowing underground and deep, deep down inside the planet, locked in rock. It is the water in the atmosphere or encased in ice.

And it is the water moving through each and every living cell of every plant and animal on the planet.

Water is life, powered by the sun pumping it from sea to atmosphere and into and through our every living cell. Water is the life that flows through our bodies, flushing out waste and supplying nutrients. The water in my body now was once locked in ice. It once moved underground. It once was in the clouds or in the sea. Even the gravitational pull of the moon acts on the water in our bodies in the same way it acts upon the water in the sea. Water is the common bond among all living things on this planet, and, collectively, all this water in its many forms and travels forms the Earth’s collective ocean. The ocean is the life-support system for the entire planet. From within the depths of the sea, phytoplankton manufactures oxygen while feeding on nitrogen and iron supplied from the feces of whales and other marine animals. The water in rivers and lakes removes toxins, salts, and waste. Estuaries and wetlands act like the kidneys to remove further toxins, and the mineral salts are flushed into the sea. The heat from the sun pumps water into the atmosphere, where it is purified and dropped back onto the surface of the planet, where living beings drink or absorb it before flushing it through their systems. It is this complex global circulatory system that provides everything we need for food, sanitation, and the regulation of climate—for life.

Water is life and life is water. Rivers and streams are the arteries, veins, and capillaries of the Earth, performing the very same functions that they do in our bodies: removing waste and delivering nutrients to cells. When a river is dammed, it is akin to cutting off the flow of blood in a blood vessel. For example, the great Aswan High Dam on the Nile River in Egypt starved the lands below of nutrients, building up toxic water above.

This entire interdependent system is its own life-support system. The book Gaia by James Lovelock is a hypothesis proposing that all living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings to form a synergistic and self-regulating complex system that helps maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. In other words, life operates its own life-support system. In this system, not all species are equal. Some species are essential and some species are less so, but all species are connected. The essential foundations of this life-support system are microbes, phytoplankton, insects, plants, worms, and fungi. The so-called “higher” animals are not so essential, and one of them—humans and the domesticated animals and plants we own—are alarmingly destructive. I like to compare Earth to a spaceship. After all, that is what this planet is—a huge spaceship transporting the cargo of life on a fast and furious trip around the enormous Milky Way galaxy. It’s a voyage so long that it takes about 250 million years to make just one circumnavigation. In fact, our planet has only made this trip 18 times since it was formed from the dust of our closest star.

For a spaceship to function, there needs to be a well-run life-support system that is managed by an experienced and skillful crew. It is this crew that produces the gases in our atmosphere, especially oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It is this crew that sequesters excess gases, particularly carbon and methane. It is this crew that cleans the air, recycles waste, and assists in the circulation of water. It also supplies food, both directly and indirectly through pollination. It is this crew that removes toxins from the soil and keeps the soil moist and productive. The plants serve the animals and the animals serve the plants. The plants feed on the soil and the animals feed on the plants, and, in turn, the animals impart nutrients to the soil.

Some species, especially the ones we call the “higher” animals (mainly the large mammals), are primarily passengers. 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.

Because of our technological skills, humans have evolved to serve one very important function: We have the ability to protect the entire planet from being struck by a killer asteroid like the one that paid our dinosaur friends a visit 60 million years ago. Although I sometimes wonder if we could even do that, considering our lack of cooperation within our own species. We also have the skills and intelligence, if we so choose to utilize these abilities, to aggressively address climate change, the problem that we are directly responsible for creating. But will we?

Captain Paul Watson is a Canadian-American marine conservation activist who founded the direct action group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977 and was more recently featured in Animal Planet’s popular television series “Whale Wars” and the documentary about his life, “Watson.” Sea Shepherd’s mission is to protect all ocean-dwelling marine life. Watson has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books, including Death of a Whale (2021), Urgent! (2021), Orcapedia (2020), Dealing with Climate Change and Stress (2020), The Haunted Mariner (2019), and Captain Paul Watson: Interview with a Pirate (2013).

Take action…

Marine threat: In 2019, Amazon generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste, according to Oceana. (Photo credit: Global X/Flickr)

Amazon’​​​​​​​s plastic packaging threatens marine ecosystems

Oceana: “Oceana analyzed e-commerce packaging data and found that Amazon generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019. This includes air pillows, bubble wrap, and other plastic packaging items added to the approximately 7 billion Amazon packages delivered in 2019. The report also found that Amazon’s estimated plastic packaging waste, in the form of air pillows alone, would circle the Earth more than 500 times. By combining the e-commerce packaging data with findings from a recent study published in Science, Oceana estimates that up to 22.44 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste entered and polluted the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems in 2019, the equivalent of dumping a delivery van payload of plastic into the oceans every 70 minutes.”

Urge Amazon to stop polluting the planet with plastic packaging.

Cause for concern…

Melting away: The Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the global average since 2000, according to NOAA’s 15th annual Arctic Report Card. (Photo credit: Kathryn Hansen/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

Polar regions destabilized by climate change

“In research presented [last] week at the world’s biggest earth science conference, [glaciologist Erin Pettit of Oregon State University] showed that the Thwaites ice shelf could collapse within the next three to five years, unleashing a river of ice that could dramatically raise sea levels,” reports Sarah Kaplan for the Washington Post. “The rapid transformation of the Arctic and Antarctic creates ripple effects all over the planet. Sea levels will rise, weather patterns will shift and ecosystems will be altered. Unless humanity acts swiftly to curb emissions, scientists say, the same forces that have destabilized the poles will wreak havoc on the rest of the globe.”

“These warm conditions are catastrophic for the sea ice that usually spans across the North Pole. This past summer saw the second-lowest extent of thick, old sea ice since tracking began in 1985. Large mammals like polar bears go hungry without this crucial platform from which to hunt. Marine life ranging from tiny plankton to giant whales are at risk.”

Round of applause…

Safe house: A habitat pod in the field. The cardboard shelters are six-sided pyramids and come in an easy-to-assemble flat pack. (Photo credit: Alexandra Carthey)

Giving wildlife a fighting chance after bushfires

Dr. Alexandra Carthey, a research fellow in the department of biological sciences at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has developed an inexpensive, biodegradable and scalable solution to help wildlife survive predation after bushfires: temporary cardboard shelters. These pyramid-shaped habitat pods have been designed to be safe houses for various ground-dwelling fauna, including bandicoots, bush rats, possums and reptiles.

“[T]here haven’t been enough studies to confirm the numbers,” she says, but “[t]here is some thinking that more animals might die in the post-fire period from predators and exposure than during the fires.” 

“A lot of their life, the behavioral decisions they make, and just how they go about their day, is about trying not to get eaten,” Carthey says of small animals, most of which will die by predation rather than old age. “They are hardwired to seek the safety of cover. And if you provide it, they will find it. After a bushfire, the thick grasses, leafy bushes, dropped bark, and leaf litter that small critters normally hide under have been burnt away. For the predator, it’s like suddenly spotting your prey across a mown grass lawn.”


One is enough: Future generations should have a fair start in life, and freedom from the ravages of the climate and other ecological crises. (Photo credit: Hindrik Sijens/Flickr)

How does family planning impact public health, inequality and the environment?

“Existential crises, from accelerating climate change to a pandemic that is mutating to overcome the defenses of our immune system, have prompted talk of the need for fundamental change. This talk rarely, if ever, touches on the one form of change that is the most fundamental: Altering the way we have kids or create future generations. It is a choice that would change who we as a society are—and who we are becoming.

“This option is almost never discussed, despite the disproportionate long-term positive impact better family planning policies can have on the environmental, inequality, and public health crises we face, because it means making decisions that are not individualistic in nature, but are, instead, shaped by the need to ensure a better and a more sustainable future for everyone. Whatever happens in the world, for many, that sense of familial autonomy and privacy—the right to have as many kids as they want, when they want, irrespective of the needs of both their own families and the environment, the opportunities the children will or won’t have—gives them a feeling of power and freedom. Most people are at best unaware of and at worst uncaring about how their decisions impact the freedom of others—future generations’ freedom to a fair start in life, and freedom from the ravages of the climate and other ecological crises.”

—EFL contributor Carter Dillard, “Better Family Planning Can Improve Public Health, Inequality and the Environment” (NationofChange, October 6, 2021)

Parting thought…

(Screenshot: @TheHumaneLeague/Twitter)

“Not a single creature on Earth has more or less right to be here.” —Anthony Douglas Williams

Editor’s note: Earth | Food | Life will not be publishing a newsletter next week. Have a happy, safe and compassionate holiday season. Here’s to a better year for Mother Nature and all Earthlings in 2022.

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.