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We Need to Talk About Meat Consumption and Climate Change

Government indifference is matched by widespread public ignorance about the climate impact of high levels of meat-eating

As negotiators in the Peruvian capital of Lima engage in the latest round of multinational talks aimed at finding ways of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, one issue will be conspicuous in its absence — animal farming.

The rearing of livestock and meat consumption accounts for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – not to mention its relatively inefficient use of water, land and crops – yet few governments are willing to discuss options for reducing its impact.

Cows in an industrial feedlotPhoto by David OliverMeat and dairy production accounts for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, yet most of us underestimate its carbon footprint.

As well as carbon emissions from deforestation (for pasture or crops to feed animals), the livestock sector is also the largest source of methane (from cattle) and nitrous oxide emissions (from fertiliser and manure), two particularly potent greenhouse gases. There are already more than 22 billion chickens in the world — more than three per person — with global consumption of meat predicted to rise 76 percent by 2050, against a 2005-7 baseline. By that date we will be growing more crops to feed directly to animals than ourselves.

So why the lack of political action? Government’s around the world have initiated policies to reduce energy use in homes, industry, and cars, but have been reluctant to legislate against meat. The only flicker of ambition, if you could call it that, has been in Europe where The Netherlands and Sweden included climate change considerations in their dietary recommendations to citizens. The UK has also urged consumers to “moderate” their meat consumption and switch to a diet of more peas, beans, nuts, and other sources of protein with “relatively lower environmental cost.”

This government indifference is matched by widespread public ignorance about the impact of high levels of meat-eating on climate change, according to a recently published survey of consumers in 12 countries, including Brazil, China, India, the United Kingdom and United States, commissioned by the UK-based think tank Chatham House.

Twice as many respondents identified direct transport emissions as a major contributor to climate change as identified meat and dairy production, despite them having almost equal contributions. And as many as one-quarter of respondents stated that meat and dairy production contributes little or nothing to climate change. Climate change was …more

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Reese Witherspoon Movie Perfectly Captures Cheryl Strayed’s PCT adventure

In Review: Wild

The hugely talented writer Nick Hornby must know a thing or two about what it feels like to have one’s book translated into film. Two of Hornby’s critically acclaimed novels – About a Boy and High Fidelity – have been made into movies, and no doubt the process involved some degree of anxiety and fear. It’s got to be hard, having someone else take your work of art and make it their own.

photo of a woman carrying a backpack near an alpine lakeAnne Marie Fox/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Perhaps his experience on the other side of the writer-screenwriter relationship had something to do with Hornby’s carfeul, tender film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s blockbuster memoir, Wild. The screenplay is fiercely loyal to Strayed’s original story: prismatic, emotionally dense, a swirl of flashbacks in which experience sparks memory and memory shapes the feeling of those experiences. Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée have made a movie that feels, truly, like a book.

Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of the mixed-up Strayed – who in the mid-nineties, at the age of 26, set off to hike much of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself – cements the novelistic feel. There’s already a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding Witherspoon’s acting, and for good reason. She delivers a layered performance that captures Strayed in all of her tumultuous moods: angry, heart-broken, confused, depressed, joyous, and triumphant. Over the course of a hard-won, thousand-mile trek, Witherspoon makes us feel a sympathy for this sometimes unsympathetic character who sought a kind of redemption in the wilderness.

Strayed’s memoir has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 88 weeks, including seven weeks in the top spot. Oprah picked it for her book club. So you’ve probably heard something about the tale. In case not, here’s the setup.

At the too-young age of 45, Strayed’s mother (played by a vibrant Laura Dern) died of cancer. “She was the love of my life,” Strayed says at one point in the film, and the loss crushed her, launching a spiral of self-destruction. She dabbled with heroin – first snorting, then smoking it, then shooting up. Although she had a loving husband, she screwed around with other men – a lot of other men. Already orphaned, she quickly found herself divorced and, essentially, homeless.

It was at this nadir in her life, standing …more

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Tommy the Chimpanzee Is Not A Person, Rules New York Court

Nonhuman Rights Project plans to appeal decision

A chimpanzee cannot be considered a person, a New York court ruled today, rejecting the Nonhuman Rights Project’s (NhRP) appeal to recognize Tommy, a captive chimpanzee, as a legal person. This means the 26-year-old chimpanzee, who lives alone in a cage in Gloversville, NY, will not be released into a sanctuary to live out the rest of his life in relative freedom.

Tommy the Chimpanzee in his cagePhoto courtsey of the Nonhuman Rights ProjectThe ruling means that Tommy, the 26-year-old chimpanzee, who lives alone in a cage in Gloversville, NY, will not be released into a sanctuary.

The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division in Albany ruled unanimously that there was no legal precedent for considering animals “as persons or entities capable of asserting rights for the purpose of state or federal law.” Recognizing animals as persons would mean that they would have “legal responsibilities and societal duties” that they are not capable of fulfilling, the judges said in their written decision.

“Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions,” the wrote. “In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights — such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus — that have been afforded to human beings.”

The ruling is a setback to the NhRP’s campaign to change the legal status of certain animal species from mere “things,” with no legal rights, to “persons” who possess the basic rights to life and liberty.

In a statement published online this afternoon, the NhRP said that the three grounds on which the court ruled that Tommy was not a legal person eligible for a writ of habeas corpus were all “wrong” and “will the subject of our appeal to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.”

“The Court ignores the fact that the common law is supposed to change in light of new scientific discoveries, changing experiences, and changing ideas of what is right or wrong,” the statement said. “The Court recognizes that the Nonhuman Rights Project’s affidavits reveal “that chimpanzees exhibit highly complex cognitive functions-such as autonomy, self-awareness, and self-determination, among others— similar to those possessed by human …more

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A Modest Proposal for the UN Climate Talks in Lima: Keep Fossil Fuels Underground

Measuring the impact of the climate talks isn’t complicated

On Monday morning, just after the latest round of UN climate negotiations kicked off in Lima, the Associated Press broke the story that Japan had used nearly a billion dollars allocated for climate finance to help build a coal-fired power plant in Indonesia. The Japanese government justified the maneuver by arguing that the new plant would be somewhat cleaner than an older generation plant.

a little girl and a woman stand under a tree holding candlesPhoto by Sean Hawkey/ LWFOn the eve of COP20 in Lima, activists held a "Vigil for the Climate" where the UN climatetalks are being held.

This is the sort of “have your climate action and your fossils, too” approach that threatens to undermine efforts to combat climate change. While an “all of the above” approach to addressing the climate crisis may be politically appealing, it won’t appease physics or chemistry, which aren’t impressed with political reality. Earth systems operate in “reality” reality. And in that reality, if you keep putting carbon into the atmosphere, the planet is going to keep warming.

The Japanese example is hopefully just a hiccup in a process still under construction; the rules guiding the Green Climate Fund and climate finance are still up for negotiation. But the announcement and its timing underline the importance of adopting a new, concrete test for judging any new international climate treaty. Any energy or greenhouse gas reduction policy needs to be measured by a single metric: Does it keep fossil fuels underground?

Forget all the fancy acronyms and promises of action at some distant point in the future. Ignore the whisperings and gossip from the negotiating room, the endless he-said/she-said of the talks. Most of it is just noise. At its most basic, the problem of climate change boils down to our willingness to leave coal, oil and gas where they are and reduce our carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. As campaigners in the Global South have long said, you’ve got to “keep the coal in the hole, and the oil in the soil.”

If the overriding goal is to keep fossil fuels underground, the otherwise complicated United Nations negotiating process begins to clarify itself.

Want a clear way to judge the commitments each country is bringing to the table? Just ask: Will that commitment force the country to start implementing …more

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Thirty Years Later, Victims of Bhopal Gas Disaster Are Still Waiting for Justice

Meanwhile, millions of Americans too, remain at risk from toxic chemicals

Around midnight on the eve of December 3, 1984, a toxic gas called methyl isocyanate (MIC) that’s used in chemical manufacturing began leaking from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. There were no alarm systems in place. Devices that that might have curtailed or stopped the chemical leak were not running and more than 40 tons of the deadly gas quickly spread over the city, exposing half a million or more people. At least 8,000 people were killed immediately by the gas, which causes pulmonary edema and other acute respiratory effects. Some 20,000 have died since as a result of this chemical exposure, making Bhopal what’s considered the worst such industrial disaster ever. (Estimates of the number of deaths caused by the chemical leak vary by source, with some injury estimates as high as 600,000.) In addition to respiratory disease, methyl isocyanate also causes blindness and other severe vision problems and gas been linked to reproductive health problems, including infertility, miscarriages and stillbirths.

Old Indian women protest Bhopal DisasterPhoto by Bhopal Medical AppealA protest rally during the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Disaster in 2012. In the past 30 years, only seven Union Carbide officials, all local Indian hires, have been held responsible for the leak that killed thousands of people. Not a single American manager of the company has been charged.

In the years since, residents of Bhopal have continued to be exposed to toxic chemicals through water and soil contamination linked to the plant and illnesses persist, both in survivors of the 1984 disaster and children born in Bhopal since then. In 1989, Union Carbide $470 million in compensation to the victims, but that translated to only about $500 each for more than 90 percent of the victims. Activists in India are now demanding that Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 1999, pay $8 billion more in compensation.

On the 30th anniversary of the deadly incident, organizations representing survivors, including the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, have released a list of demands aimed at repairing ongoing damages from the incident. Apart from additional compensation for the victims and their families, they are asking that Dow fully clean the contamination resulting from the Bhopal plant, and that principals responsible for the plant – either directly or through permitting, contracting and …more

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Yet Another Tar Sands Pipeline Project Faces Public Resistance in Canada

Citizen action against the Trans Mountain project underscores growing public mistrust of the federal government

Canadian environmentalists’ and activists’ attention over the past two weeks has been directed at the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project after more than 100 people were arrested at a protest that flared up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby as Kinder Morgan commenced survey work on the project.

Rally against Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby MountainPhoto by Mark KlotzA lot of Canadians have lost faith in federal government's pipeline approval process.

The expansion project is one of four massive pipeline projects currently being considered for approval, in addition to Keystone XL, Energy East, and Northern Gateway that would each move nearly a million barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta’s tar sands oil mines.

The company plans to expand the capacity of the 60-year-old pipeline that runs from Edmonton, Alberta to marketing terminals and refineries in the central British Columbia region. The $5.4 billion project would add 620 miles of new pipeline, 120 miles of reactivated pipeline and an expanded marine terminal in Burnaby to handle up to 890,000 barrels of bitumen per day that would be shipped to overseas markets in supertankers. Part of the project includes drilling holes in Burnaby Mountain to run an extension through the mountain and over a conservation site, which include a popular hiking area for local residents.

Environmentalists and local residents are worried not only about environmental damage from possible pipelines leaks and spills (yet another pipeline spill was reported as recently as Sunday), but also about that risk posed by increased oil tanker traffic through pristine waters that many local residents and First Nation groups depend on.

Following two weeks of protests against the pipeline at the survey site, last Friday, Nov. 28, Kinder Morgan announced that it was halting its survey work immediately and withdrawing from the site. Although those protesting the project celebrated a small victory, they know the battle is far from over.
The pipeline is currently under federal review by the National Energy Board. There is much public distrust in this process and groups opposing Trans Mountain, including Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, and are calling for the province of British Columbia to conduct their own provincial review.

“I think there’s a lot of people who have lost faith in the National Energy Board, in its impartiality, its subjectivity in considering these (pipeline projects),” …more

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Oil Train Blockades in the Pacific Northwest and the Transformative Power of Direct Action

Direct action can deeply transform participants in ways critical to mobilization and innovation in the climate movement

“One, two, three, lift!”

With that command, a group of about eight people from Portland Rising Tide and South Sound Rising Tide shouldered three heavy, 30-foot steel poles. Balancing the poles, they slowly walked down the railroad tracks leading to the Global Partners oil terminal about a mile away on the Columbia River, and 60 miles northeast of Portland, OR. Within minutes the poles were converted into a tripod and Sunny Glover was climbing up and assembling a platform some 25 feet from the ground. Individuals were dispatched to inform the port authorities, and those on the ground awaited word from the teams up and down the tracks in the event of an approaching train. No trains carrying Bakken oil would come through that day. The blockade lasted some nine hours into the night until the police dangerously cut the tripod legs one by one, a couple feet at a time, while Glover’s neck was still locked to one of the poles.

Oil Train BlockadePhoto by Trip Jennings A protester sits atop the apex of a tripod blocking the train tracks at the Global Partners oil terminal in Oregon.

While the duration of the blockade was itself impressive, this action also contained something little acknowledged, but equally powerful: the ability of this kind of direct action to transform the participants themselves.

The massive nature of the climate crisis and the unwillingness of existing political leaders and institutions to act has created a cynicism and paralysis that often quiets us in the very moment when it is most critical that we act. It is not sufficient for direct action to target only those individuals and companies responsible for the crisis. These actions must also offer the possibility of a transformation that changes our sense of power, inspires others, and overcomes the cynicism at the heart of disengagement. We must also be the targets of our own actions.

The Global Partners blockade was part of a series of actions over the summer of 2014. It followed on the heels of a similar tripod blockade at the Everett rail yard several weeks earlier. In that instance, Seattle Rising Tide blocked an oil train in the rail yard for over eight hours. One person sat atop the apex of the tripod while four …more

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