Category Archives: Life/Animal Rights

Racism in Food Systems and the Vegan Community

Racism is one of the major social justice issues of the modern era. It can be seen in all corners of the globe, and in virtually every industry, negatively impacting minority communities and overall public health. The global food system is no exception.

As a niche dietary movement, veganism is particularly problematic, with various news sources referring to the community as “elitist,” and even demonstrative of white privilege. To those social critics, the very idea of an individual choosing what he or she will (or won’t) eat is a virtual impossibility for impoverished minority populations.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

When you look at it from a global standpoint, in fact, veganism is primarily a product of non-white cultures. After all, India is home to more vegetarians than any other country on Earth, more than 400 million of them. While less popular, vegan diets are also common, primarily among the most devout practitioners of the country’s major religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. Both belief systems emphasize the practice of ahimsa or non-violence towards all beings. Accordingly, the consumption of animals does not align with ahimsa.

It’s a different story in the U.S., where meat-eating is akin to a national pastime. Indeed, in 2018, Americans set a record for annual pounds of meat consumed, averaging a whopping 220 pounds per person. Conversely, only about 3% of the U.S. population considers themselves vegan, avoiding all food and ingredients that come from animals.

Yet research indicates that veganism is on the rise across America, and African-Americans are the most frequent converts, at a rate of nearly 3-to-1. According to BBC News, many Black Americans view the vegan movement as a tool for both social change and improved health. And those beliefs aren’t simply wishful thinking: veganism and social justice often go hand-in-hand.

Adopting a Vegan Lifestyle

It’s important to note that, as a lifestyle, veganism encompasses much more than mindful dietary choices. Many of those who adopt a vegan diet also choose not to purchase and/or use items that are made from animals, from textiles to household goods and beyond.

Unfortunately, however, the vegan community has been known to overlook humanity’s needs in favor of animals and the natural world itself. The primary tenets of veganism are advocating for animals that have no voice of their own, a mindset known as “speciesism,” as well as reducing the effects of climate change. In many vegan circles, the rights of animals are prioritized over that of people, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Thus, with racial tensions nearing a breaking point across the U.S., it’s more important than ever for the vegan community, as well as the global food system, to shed their racist pasts. Accountability is a key factor in the push to end systemic racism within the food system, and various potential solutions exist. Let’s take a look at what’s at stake, how we got here, and how the vegan community can help create lasting social change.

From the Environment to Public Health: Reasons to Go Vegan

The rise of veganism in the 21st century is rooted in several beliefs and causes. Religious adherence and environmental concerns are among the most common reasons why people from all walks of life choose to consume a plant-based diet. Yet for many within the vegan community, the decision to stop eating meat comes down to basic knowledge: that of knowing where your food comes from.

An unfortunate side effect of modern life is that most of us consume whatever types of food are available to us, no matter the source or nutritional value. Highly processed foods are ubiquitous within U.S. supermarkets and convenience stores, along with unhealthy ingredients including high-fructose corn syrup and chemical-based food dyes. Where meat, produce, and dairy products are concerned, you must also consider the impact of factory farming, in regards to both animal cruelty and racial inequality.

Yet, for Americans living in marginalized communities and/or food deserts, the concept of choice doesn’t really factor into the equation. And therein lies one of the biggest pitfalls of modern veganism — it’s simply “not culturally adaptable or accessible for all people around the world,” writes Jenna Ruzekowicz for The Stanford Daily. What’s more, wealthier vegans often demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding of just how crucial meat is to many cultures.

Food as a Social Justice Movement

Make no mistake: cultural sensitivity is a necessary ingredient in the fight to quell systemic racism within the U.S. food system. Put simply, being culturally sensitive means that you make the effort to understand how an individual’s background forms the core of their beliefs, and influences thoughts, feelings, habits, and behaviors.

When it comes to a particular individual’s dietary choices, the vegan community must therefore avoid gatekeeping and remain open-minded to the vast differences among people. For marginalized groups, there may be many barriers to adopting a vegan or plant-based diet, despite the inherent health benefits. The inaccessible high cost and potential unavailability of fresh, healthy foods are two of the most notable barriers.

One’s occupational status may also be a huge factor in terms of dietary choices, as racism within the food system isn’t confined to the consumer level. Historically, farming has been confined to white America, at least where land ownership and profits are concerned. Only about 1.3% of U.S. farm owners or operators are Black, and they typically earn much less than their white counterparts. In comparison, more than 80% percent of farm laborers are non-white, BIPOC, reports Triple Pundit.

This type of racial disparity is unfortunately rampant across all corners of the global food system. The good news is that there’s been plenty of pushback in recent years, wherein marginalized populations are taking greater control of their food choices.

The Rise of the Plant-Based Diet in Minority Communities

As more and more people learn about the potential upsides of a vegan lifestyle, the diet has breached all corners of society. Gardening has become somewhat of a guerrilla act in various urban settings, and may even serve to help marginalized populations heal from a long history of racism. Urban gardens provide access to healthy, fresh food, but they also strengthen communities and can improve public health overall.

Wealthier BIPOC have also jumped on the vegan bandwagon. Notable Black athletes who reportedly eat a vegan diet include NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, champion tennis player Venus Williams, and Colin Kaepernick, activist and former quarterback. By publicly touting the health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets, these public figures may just inspire regular citizens to follow suit.

Especially in a society that’s saturated by social media, the endorsement of a celebrity to a particular cause, such as veganism, truly does have the power to change people’s minds. Where consumer behavior and corporate profits are concerned, various data supports the idea that celebrity endorsement works. To wit: “A celebrity endorsement increases a company’s sales an average of 4% relative to its competition,” according to USA Today. That influence effectively translates to social justice causes and lifestyle choices as well, including veganism.

Tools for Systemic Change Within the Global Food System

Yet true systemic change also requires real effort from the general public, not only celebrities. The vegan community and food distribution companies alike must strive for accountability, by acknowledging any harm they may have inflicted on BIPOC communities, and actively working to support those communities. Vegan BIPOC must be given a voice and the opportunity to bring the message of ahimsa to marginalized communities across the U.S.

On an individual level, you can support BIPOC vegans by supporting minority-owned businesses, no matter the products or services provided. And as today’s gig workers are poised to become the leaders of tomorrow, the food industry must support every worker, regardless of race, class, or dietary habits. Resilience and adaptability come with the territory for many of America’s BIPOC, traits that are vital to future success, whether as a vegan business owner or environmental advocate.

Those who adopt a vegan lifestyle don’t do so lightly. To the bulk of the community, veganism offers a tangible method towards systemic change and environmental stewardship. Yet veganism also has a problematic past, wherein minorities have been historically underrepresented. In our abundantly diverse world, cultural sensitivity and increased business opportunities for BIPOC hold the key to lasting change within the food system, as well as overall public health.

Key Takeaways

Ultimately, veganism comes down to the freedom and opportunity to make mindful choices about what you eat. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible for every American. BIPOC are especially underrepresented within the vegan community, although plant-based diets are historically rooted in Asia and the Middle East. It’s time to acknowledge the pervasive racism with the national food system and work to mitigate food deserts and inequality, while also advocating for more healthful eating on a national scale. Finally, we must leave racist ideals and systems behind for good, both for the health of the planet and people from all walks of life.

The post Racism in Food Systems and the Vegan Community first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Lighting up the Elite’s Solutions will Still Smell of Sulphur

I also know that one must do what one can do. No matter how little it is, it is nonetheless a human testimony and human testimonies, as long as they are not based on greed or personal ambition for power, can have unexpected positive effects.…I believe in local action and in small dimensions. It is only in such environments that human creativity and meaningful identities can truly surface and flourish.

Manfred Max-Neef

There are many-many gross things in the news every nanosecond of anti-social media’s and mass mainlining media’s dead from the navel up “stories.”

Imagine, now, the Great White Hope, the Sir David and the Prince William doling out a few million bucks here and there for, drum roll, individuals, companies and agencies that come up with solutions to the world’s environmental problems.

Imagine that, the deeply steeped in eugenics Attenborough, and the DNA-mutated mentally inbred royalty, having people jump through hoops to help move forward the powers that be in capitalism.

Here’s a doozy from this insipidly wet milquetoast PR spin — “We can’t cut down rain-forests forever and anything that we can’t do forever is by definition unsustainable,” says Attenborough. Adding that “if we act now we can yet put it right,” how amazing would that be? We must all act now.

Oh, cry for me, Military Industrial Complex. Nary a word about the Prince’s jets and missiles. Nothing about the deeply embedded complex that holds up the war lords. Again, to repeat – that’s Silicon Valley, that’s fast food, that’s paint, hardware, clothing, IT, telecom, med, media, pharma, oil, gas, nuclear, wires, plastics, satellites,  technical writers, office supplies, water, air, soil suppliers, engineering outfits, lumber, milling, smelting, big earth movers, drone makers, all of those grand pieces and bits that put together this zombie squid of war war war.

You will not hear that in the Attenborough line – no more war machines, soldiers, flyovers, Kings Guards, air-naval-ground-moon bases. Imagine, he states how he was 11 years old with a world population of, drum roll, 2.3 billion (1937).

And, now it’s 7.8 billion, and huge parts of the globe are dead of wild lands and are invaded by, well, you guessed it (but not coming from the Prince’s or Knight’s mouths) – capitalists and empires running their criminal operations for the banks, the investors, the elites. Oh, mining, ag, metals, fossil fuel, minerals, fish, water, data, human lives for the operation that gets old Attenborough flying around the world in his jet-setting ways.

Let’s see, since 1937, hundreds of trillions spent on missiles, NASA/aerospace, satellites, war-war-war; and what else has occurred since wee David grew up to be 94? No mention of the amassing of chemicals, industrial farms, the huge consumer-capitalist bases of seizing power, products, resources and people from other countries, all for god, country, queen, and Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and, pick your bank poison here  ____________! He will not speak of the accumulation of wealth and land and power by his own Anglo-Saxon greedy men of war-debt-slavery.

He wants birth-control, forced sterilization for the dark people, and LEED and zero waste third and fourth homes-castles-island enclaves for the beautiful people. No limits on the beautiful people’s families and 5.6 earths for their lifestyle Earth Footprint.

This is more of the same bizarre stuff – five prizes, $1.2 million each, for 10 years. This is the infantilism of the globe and the great super hero rescuer narrative for the beautiful people who want nothing more than capitalism that pays, has returns on investments and smells-tastes-feels-looks-sounds like green porn.

“We rely entirely on this finely tuned life-support machine” says Sir David Attenborough when describing our little blue planet, in his recently released book and documentary “A Life on Our Planet.” The legendary naturalist and broadcaster, now 94, has spent his entire life traveling the world documenting wildlife, for us to enjoy from the comfort of our living rooms. He is thought to be one of the most well-traveled people on the planet, for The Life of Birds documentary alone, it is estimated he traveled a whopping 256,000 miles. That is the same as traveling around the world ten times. And this was only for one of the eight series he has made for the BBC over the course of almost 30 years. He now joins forces with Prince William with whom he shares a passion for the environment, to help launch the Earthshot Prize. Aiming to be the most prestigious global environment prize, it will be awarded to those who come up with extraordinary ways to help tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges of our planet. [source]

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough launch Earthshot Prize

Quaint. Bad writing. It is like a Jack and Jill nursery tale. Not journalism.

Here’s my email – contact me ASAP, Sir David and Prince Billy. No millions spent on techno fixes, on big giant scoops for ocean plastic, seed storage projects for the moon or mars. No 29 million studies and 29 white papers and a hundred million sad-sack pretzel logic to save the planet. I got the idea, man, and we can distribute that $60 million to sue the shit out of the main perpetrators of poisons. Outfits like British Petroleum? Uh?

Simple stuff, so again, my contact email, Davey and Willie,  is below. Here

Here, my idea — I can think of a massive one weekend event – how about a thousand or 10,000 thousand two-day charrettes. Globally. Giant brainstorming sessions. Giving young people the facilitation tools to come up with a 10-part or 100-part plan to save people, planets, plants, populations of animal species.

Easy, man – with all the shit-show tools of Zoom and satellite feeds and computers and, well, you think that maybe 10,000 teach-ins and brainstorming sessions simultaneously might produce a few common threads, in the countries on the African Continent, North, Middle and South America, Middle East, Far East, Island nations, and more.

Let’s see – I bet with the right engagement, those young students and their tag-along parents and uncles and aunts might be coming up with this:

  • immediate end to military spending
  • utilizing the equipment militaries have for restorative natural, agro-ecological, and community projects
  • no more billionaires
  • no more men and women ruling from the top down
  • no more corporations dictating the size, shape, limits, lifespans of individual humans, ecosystems, bio-regions, nations, and hemispheres
  • massive collective agro-ecological farming to feed the world
  • massive eminent domain for empty buildings, second, third, fourth homes
  • microhome villages served with intergenerational diverse people healing minds-bodies-earth-natural systems
  • a collective and massive global year of strikes
  • the new framework for producing food, producing goods, producing small-locally owned businesses
  • colleges for all, and all departments engaged in connected and holistic teaching . . .
  • no more economy over anything thinking
  • deep ethics taught in all those subjects
  • community schools led by students and people in the communities
  • native and indigenous led governance, land ethic, air ethic, and cultural engagement
  • arts, culture, intergenerational housing, and, alas, no more shit jobs (RIP David Graeber!)

And, more, and can you imagine all those 10,000 community-based charrettes, where people – the young and the very old and the most vulnerable – are not just at the table, but are the facilitators. Sure, the concepts of global heating will be tantamount as well as restorative cultural-economic-spiritual-racial justice.

I am convinced that these youth forums will produce manifestos so similar, so tied to the very idea of “an injury to one is an injury to all” that all the retrograde, violent, and colonized war lord and banking lovers would be pushed out of the realm. Join us, sure.

But imagine now this Earth-Shot prize being something completely different than the old model of “who has the best ideas to fit into the capitalist paradigm to play around with some of the major issues earth and people are facing.”

Solve microplastics? Well, first, now, stop the plastic’s industry and yank them all out of the hands of felons and profit gougers. The packaging industries? Done. The clear cutters, strip miners, mountaintop removers – gone, out of business.

The commodities trading? Gone. The stockholders, the monopolies, the BlackRocks, gone. I believe those 10,000 or 100,000 charrettes and youth-led think tanks and solutions cabals would produce the tools, the language and the spirit of structural global change. Email me, Dave and Billy.

Oh, I know it will be a lot of work, but the young and the very old and the vulnerable are up to the task. There is really nothing else on earth to do but working for the human/animal/plant family and natural world and working collectively so people in the next county don’t suffer while the other county doesn’t suffer.

Precautionary principle, life cycle analysis, and much more-more for an ecosocialist world. Whoops, did I use the term, Socialist?

The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change,
and the disease is the capitalist development model.
— Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, September 2007,

The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

Youth who are not completely damaged by consumerism/anti-social media/drugs/epigenetics/Breaking Bad parents are naturally connected to other peoples, and given the space and chance, they are the solutions makers.

No more TED Talk white bread talkers, no more mass mainlining media info-tainment, no more celebrity culture dominating everything, no more-no more.

Again, utilize this shit-show Zoom Doom and media platforms to get these 10,000 or 100,000 teach-ins/charrettes up on all platforms. Imagine, even all those colonized millionaire media fakes, all those prune headed politicians, all those stem-cell sucking CEO’s like Bezos and Zuckerberg, well, they will have to watch, man.

Old Knights and Princes are not the future. The rich and the white race rampaging throughout history in their empires of greed, religion, conquistadors of rape-pillage-theft-murder; those manipulators, those penury-creators, those bamboozlers, the smoke and mirror charlatans, the debt holders, the criminal injustice purveyors, all those blood diamond types, I know for a fact that two day teach-in and charrette, they will be tossed out as anything more than thieves and destroyers.

Give peace a chance? Give the youth the platform, the facilitation, the attention, the manifestos to change this world.  Coming up with some bio-mimic paint that self cleans will not cut it. Global shit in who is at the table, who writes the rules, who brings forth the ideas. N O  M O R E  white guys setting the stage and making the rules.

Oh, what a world it would be, and what would it take to get those 100,000 global charrettes working? Technology. Computers? Some WIFI connections? Email me now, sirs and princes!

Let the youth, the young from lower economic communities, the people of the so-called developing or less developed world make their mark now. Forget about the compostable toilets and home-sited wind turbine.

And this is what the Earthshot Prize aims to do. Just as the moonshot that John F. Kennedy proposed in the 1960s was a catalyst for new technology such as the MRI scanner and satellite dishes that helped us go to the moon, this prize aims through Earthshot challenges to create a new wave of ambition and innovation around finding ways to help save the planet. The committee has announced it will spend the next 10 years $60 million, awarding annually five, $1.2 million prizes to individuals, organizations and those around the world who are working to provide solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problems.

It is no surprise that the dominant global system which is responsible for the ecological crisis also sets the terms of the debate about this crisis, for capital commands the means of production of knowledge, as much as that of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Accordingly, its politicians, bureaucrats, economists and professors send forth an endless stream of proposals, all variations on the theme that the world’s ecological damage can be repaired without disruption of market mechanisms and of the system of accumulation that commands the world economy.

But a person cannot serve two masters – the integrity of the earth and the profitability of capitalism. One must be abandoned, and history leaves little question about the allegiances of the vast majority of policy-makers. There is every reason, therefore, to radically doubt the capacity of established measures to check the slide to ecological catastrophe.

Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

The post Lighting up the Elite’s Solutions will Still Smell of Sulphur first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Fish Do Grow on Trees

You’ve got to start thinking about this as an ecosystem. All these plantations might as well be growing corn. But if you want clean water, salmon, wildlife, and high-quality lumber, you’ve got to have a forest.
— Mike Fay, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence

Seeing a pair of bald eagles, a possum and a black bear just minutes into my trip to an interview is, to say the least, icing on the “Eco Cake.”

Especially now, with so many people in various stages of isolation and paranoia — restricting time outdoors has a double-whammy effect on our mental health, but also on the health of a community who expects in-person participation and face-to-face debate.

Virtual bird watching and online hikes just don’t cut it.

My assignment is to catch a 30-something scientist — coordinator of a non-profit — doing what he loves best: hands-on, in-the-field work, coordinating with landowners on projects to restore river refugia.

I met Evan Hayduk, 35, with Mid-Coast Watershed Council when I first moved to the coast from Portland. That was Jan 2019 at Oregon Coast Community College for a dual presentation as part of the Williams Lecture series.

“Shedding a Scientific and Humanitarian Light on Climate Change” was a one-two punch featuring Hayduk alongside Bill Kucha, well-known artist and founder the 350 Oregon Central Coast.

That night unfolded as a contrast in personalities, age and emphases. Kucha is a 70-plus-year-old two-and three-dimensional artist who also composes and performs his music, guitar in hand. Hayduk opened up the talk with a detailed PowerPoint that emphasized the power of natural tidelands/wetlands to not only purify water for species like salmon, but also as natural mitigation for carbon dioxide absorption from fossil fuel burning.

Tidal wetlands are important habitats for salmon and a diversity of other fish and wildlife species. They also trap sediment, buffer coastal communities from flooding and erosion and perform other valued ecosystem services. — Hayduk

This is a story about a man, about his passion, about his vision to see a better world through several lenses, not exclusively through biology.

The first personality to greet me on the private land near Lobster Creek was Hayduk’s loyal two-year-old Australian shepherd, appropriately named, “Tahoma.”

“The original name for Mount Rainer,” Hayduk emphasizes. In fact, “Tahoma” is the Puyallup word for “Supreme Mountain,” and according to others, Tahoma translates to “the breast of the milk-white waters.” Or as Hayduk has heard, Mother Mountain.

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Before his gig here with Mid-Coast Watershed Council (MCWC) starting 2016, Hayduk worked on Tahoma (Mount Rainier National Park) running the restoration crew at its native plant nursery.

Today, we are on one of four adjoining 40-acre chunks whose landowners have granted Hayduk and MCWC access to flood plain habitat and Little Lobster creek to “help restore once was a healthy complex riparian ecosystem.”

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All water flows downstream

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. — John Muir

While the Alsea River is the mainstem of salmon runs, tributaries like Lobster Creek play a crucial role in salmon health. We are in an area known as Five Rivers, 25 miles east of Waldport. Alder, Cougar, Buck, Crab and Cherry creeks make up those five tributaries.

Within the Alsea Basin, the Lobster/Five Rivers watershed provides an important contribution to the populations of native fish. However, water quality problems, relating to stream temperature, have been documented in several sub-watersheds and along the main stems of both Lobster Creak and Five Rivers. The level of disturbance in the watershed has contributed to the degradation of quality habitat. [So states a 227-page scientific paper, from the Bureau of Land Management, “Lobster/Five Rivers Watershed Analysis.]

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Hayduk is “eyes, ears and feet/hands on the ground” coordinator of this project. The day I show up, he has 164 home-propagated lupines and a couple of dozen Camus bulb starts. Zach and Casey from Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District (LSWCD) soon arrive as part of their regular brush-clearing duties to fight back the canary grass and Himalayan blackberry bushes, both pernicious invasive species in our ecosystem.

They have an auguring machine to dig holes for all these pollinating plants Hayduk and his wife, Jen, grew in their Waldport home garden. Jen is the interim director of LSWCD.

Team players

The husband-wife team met in 2008 when they both worked for a backcountry conservation crew near Port Angeles. She’s from Pennsylvania, and Hayduk grew up in Woodinville (near Seattle) with his two older sisters and parents.

My dad was a general contractor in Seattle. My family had 1.5 acres and turned it into a formal English garden, so I spent a lot of time with plants.

He tells me he always knew he’d be working with plants as he got older. He did an undergraduate degree at Santa Clara University. He graduated from the Evergreen State College in 2012 with a master’s in Environmental Studies. One of his more unique programming experiences as a student was contributing to the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) in school in Olympia.

I gravitate toward the prison work he did more than eight years ago. On SPP’s website, the goal is clear: “SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.”

Hayduk’s work now is all about conservation, restoration and replicating the natural systems that contribute to streambeds and streambanks gaining structures that make them prime refuge for young salmon and other species to blend into a natural ecological community, or web.

Stream Fish, Flora

Now there are some things in the world we can’t change — gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and wellbeing. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere, for example.

–– Canadian scientist and TV series producer David Suzuki

It goes without saying rehabilitating an ecosystem like a Coastal Range temperate forest is much more complicated (and complex) than sending a projectile into space.

Evan Hayduk is one of these “forest triage experts” — he sees what 150 years of headstrong resource exploitation, unchecked razing of ecosystems and overharvesting have done and how difficult it is to put it all back together.

I met up with him on the land where he is rehabilitating riparian and river systems. This article was precipitated by my interest in Hayduk’s association with Mid-Coast Watersheds Council, most notably the monthly guest speaker series, “From Ridgetop to Reef.”

He also has just received an impressive laurel: American Fisheries Society’s 2020 Rising Star Award. This is a recognition of Hayduk’s work as someone early in his career through a partnership with NOAA and the National Fish Habitat Partnership:

“Hayduk was recognized for the quantity and quality of his restoration projects and his cooperative work with agencies and landowners.”

He sent me the entire package — the award, the letters of recommendation, projects he has worked on, his college transcripts. As I’ve learned in the Deep Dive column reporting/writing, we have some real gems on the coast. Hayduk could be a superstar in a larger non-profit and in a bigger demographic.

His job with MCWC — promoting freshwater and coastal fish conservation — is one-part grant writer, one-part field expert, one-part people manager, one-part public engagement/relationships impresario. He told me that he goes to landowners with those streams, creeks and rivers run through their properties in order to find ways to encourage stream health and restoration mitigation.

My time with him in early June focused on the process of dropping 60-foot trees into streams, crisscross fashion. This might seem counterintuitive as a best practice for stream health, but in fact, it’s a dynamic natural way to rebuild stream beds and create a functioning healthy floodplain and wetlands cohesion.

He tells me this replication of an ecosystem’s natural hydrodynamic process creates these weirs and in-stream structures that “spread the creek out,” keeping gravel beds intact all the while connecting cold water refugia to the floodplain.

The most challenging aspect of these projects comes down to humans.

“We need to work with land owners,” he tells me. “I sort of see myself as the glue between everybody.”

He shows me this riparian floodplain near the Upper Little Lobster Creek where he and his crew of volunteers have planted conifers, including cedars, and other plants to help revitalize the power of those trees to hold in soil. When the deciduous alders age out (around 60 years), they have a tendency to fall. Conifers live longer and they too will fall and act as natural “damming structures” to replicate what a natural stream should be: a haven for salmon and other aquatic species.

I study all these saplings growing inside “cages” that protect their early growth from deer.

Wood Wide Web

“The wood wide web has been mapped, traced, monitored, and coaxed to reveal the beautiful structures and finely adapted languages of the forest network. We have learned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trespass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community. These discoveries have transformed our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system. Ours is not the only lab making these discoveries-there is a burst of careful scientific research occurring worldwide that is uncovering all manner of ways that trees communicate with each other above and below ground.” ― Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World”

The connection between healthy rivers, functioning floodplains, and healthy fish, Evan emphasizes while putting planting riverbank lupine (Lupinus rivularis) in clusters of four, is trees. I learned much of these interlinked processes while teaching and living in Spokane, working on issues around the Spokane River, a highly urbanized and suburbanized river. Those forested watersheds have much higher water quality. Trees also provide a wide variety of ecological services.

Hayduk sources logs from many places, including Georgia Pacific other for-profit outfits, land owners and from projects on BLM, State and National Forest lands.

While the tree canopy lessens the erosive impact of rain and slows the velocity of stormwater flowing towards the river, trees trap sediments that build the floodplain while the roots stabilize the riverbanks.

I jump into some “ponding” water just below one of the crisscross tree structures Evan and his volunteers had dropped into this moving water refugia, Little Lobster Creek. I was presented with nice stretches of fine sand and cul-de-sacs of great pebble beds, perfect habitat for salmon redds. Hayduk showed me fresh water mussels. Crayfish were scrambling in the shallows piercing the shadows underwater.

Hayduk emphasized that there are some healthy stream systems in our area where past disruptive logging practices and snag clearing have not been so impactful and permanent. However, the cost for this sort of project Hayduk is heading up tallies to $28,000 per acre, with invasive species, brush clearing and salvage log/wood placement as the large chunk of the bill.

The tree species that best work for the log weirs and dams are conifers, like Doug firs and cedar, that latter species having the added benefit of not rotting for decades while submerged.

It’s a no-brainer trees also provide shade for maintaining water temperature. To carry the analogy to the end point, we see fallen leaves, limbs and branches support food webs by providing food and habitat for insects that are food for fish, Hayduk states. Clean, cool water with more food equals bigger fish.

Nuances like growing alders on the flood plain or marsh plain encourages other species of trees to grow on the decaying fallen alder.

Looking at the ecosystem from a centuries-versus-a-few-decades perspective is important in understanding what Evan and others of his ilk are attempting. “Big conifers that fall help with grade control. Water tables rise. Conifers in the riparian areas can grow from 100 to 200 years before they fall into the creek.”

This concept of a “messy” stream refugia as being the most healthful for all species is anathema to the way most humans have thought about rivers. Scientists like Hayduk know fish get through any of the hurdles a natural stream environment presents them — even with huge logs and entire trees with root balls integrated into the water flow.

Big enough wood simulating log jams buy time to get refugia back to an interconnected vibrancy. Thus far, in this area, 28 structures have been laid on 2.4 miles of stream, Hayduk stated.

Fragility in a huge forest

He shows me areas where logging trucks came in and now the stream is bare of trees and also where channel incision had “down cut” incisions into the bedrock, not a healthy Coho or chinook refuge.

Again, this is a fragile complex system Hayduk and his cohorts work on. The flood plain is many yards beyond the actual stream channel. So, a 30-foot creek flood flow necessitates a 60-foot log or fallen tree.

The connection between fish, trees and rivers is now poised emerging in our urban areas as sound ecology and ecosystem management. Many cities, large and small, are recognizing the benefits of reestablishing the physical and emotional linkage between river, trees and the human community. For instance, San Antonio has its iconic River Walk, Chicago has just completed its riverfront, Washington DC has its Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, and Pittsburgh has reconnected neighborhoods to its three rivers via a network of urban trails.

We talk about the high turnover rate for positions like his own, as well as his wife’s at the Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District.

His wife Jen knows the connection of little things put back into an ecosystem having global ramifications. She obtained her master’s degree at OSU in marine resource management.

Back to the glossary: Jen Hayduk could explain the power of blue carbon, which is elegantly illustrated by this marine plant species she was studying — seagrass (Zostera marina). These seagrass habitats provide important “ecosystem services,” including their ability to take up and store substantial amounts of organic carbon, known as “blue carbon.”

Again, the couple not only understands the fragility of homo sapiens as an individual species in a time of COVID-19, but how the cultural and economic activities can so easily be disrupted.

No more volunteers out in the field, Hayduk tells me, and many projects are on hold and grants stalled/delayed because of the lockdown.

The lack of human traffic might be temporarily beneficial to such threatened species as the Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) and Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), but Evan Hayduk would rather spend time in the field with people throwing in to help him with his work with river and wetlands restoration.

His background in human rehabilitation through ecological health started with people locked out of society, in tiny prison cells.

“The effects of nature on incarcerated individuals is powerful,” Hayduk tells me. His mentor was Nalini Nadkarni, Ph.D., Founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. “Prisoners spend limited time outside. But the program demonstrated they are good with plant stuff. It’s a powerful therapeutic tool, working with the Oregon spotted frog raising them from tadpoles all the way to adult frogs and releasing them into the wild.”

For individuals like Hayduk, “the cure” is being outside, working with/within nature, and with people (Homo sapiens), who are also part of the ecosystems, whether we recognize it or not.

Right now, Jen and Evan are tending a huge Waldport home garden, pickled goodies like carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. Jen has even gotten into exotic plant growing, selling one of her “children” on etsy.com for a pretty penny.

They are self-sufficient, well-traveled, share visions and know how to grow food. Traits we all might need when the you know what tied to global warming hits the fan.

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Q&A: Evan Hayduk Style

Hayduk is a busy fellow, having put in 63-hour work weeks and rushing to harvest tons of garden produce and preserving them, an undertaking he and his wife Jen have been doing for several weeks. Still, though, Hayduk put down some compelling responses to my intrusive queries.

Paul: What are the three things you suggest citizens can do to help folks like you and nonprofits like MCWC do what you have to do to protect salmon habitat/refugia?

Evan: A. Help and protect beaver on the landscape. This is #1. Beavers do a better job to create and maintain salmon habitat than we could ever hope to. Tolerate beavers if you live on a property that has a stream. There are beaver solutions that make it easier to “live with beaver.” Inform your neighbors about the importance of beaver and join efforts to stop trapping and killing of this ecosystem engineer.

B. Get involved! Volunteer your time helping at a MCWC event (when we bring them back after COVID-19). If you live on a river or stream clear invasive species and plant natives. Or give us a call and we can help.

C. Donate! Donations to the MCWC are tax deductible! They go directly to helping us get projects on the ground that protect and improve salmon habitat. For a non-profit like ours, just a little goes a long way.

Paul: Who are two of your biggest influences in this work, in your life?

Evan: I think I’ll separate that out into two categories life/work.

Life: My parents. I grew up observing an absolute model of love, hard work and kindness. My dad worked his way from a carpenter to owning his own construction company. This instilled a work ethic that I couldn’t shake even if I tried. I spent weekends growing up working in our 1.5-acre garden, working with my dad to turn bare land into formal English gardens. If I don’t put in a good amount of time in any given weekend now, I feel like my weekend was wasted.

Work: I’ve been lucky along the way to have some great mentors. I mentioned to you Nalini Nadkarni, who I worked with at Evergreen with the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Nalini is the most amazing person I have ever been around. Her energy is contagious, and when she is in a room there is an electricity that is undeniable.

During my time at MCWC, I also have had amazing support from some Oregon Coast legends. Before retiring in November 2018, Wayne Hoffman was an absolute encyclopedia of information. I could walk into his office, ask about any given creek on the midcoast, and Wayne could ramble on forever about the stream, current conditions, past projects, habitat potential, etc. Fran Recht and Paul Engelmeyer, who started the MCWC back in the late 1990s, are both dedicated stewards of the environment and have devoted their lives to the midcoast. My success at MCWC is due in large part to Wayne, Fran and Paul, and the rest of the active MCWC board and community.

Paul: If you were to present to a high school class, what would your elevator speech introduction be to them.

Evan: Salmon and people aren’t that different. We all need cool, clean water to survive. The actions we take to restore salmon habitat — replacing bad culverts, placing large wood in streams, planting native trees and shrubs — all do more than just restore salmon habitat. These actions restore the natural systems and processes that give us idyllic images of cold-water streams rushing through lush, green mountain terrain. We are focused on salmon, but the work we do touches everything that lives on the landscape — from birds, to bees, to you and to me!

Paul: Ocean forest range here and Olympics are some of the best places on earth to capture carbon. What makes your work out here so vital to that part of the picture?

Evan: Carbon storage is story of our lifetime. We have pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere that we have offset the balance of the system. Protecting and restoring old growth forests, sinks for carbon, is vital. Restoring salt and freshwater marshes and wetlands is also crucial. We can keep carbon locked up in estuary mud or in a 10-foot diameter cedar tree, but if these systems that support these processes are not protected and restored, we are headed down a bad path.

Paul: What are two of your most observable successes thus far in your work here?

Evan: In the last couple years we have tackled some very big projects, though any large wood placed in a stream, any tree planted, or invasive species removed is a success. By far the most observable success was the North Creek culvert project. This project was completed in 2019, restoring full aquatic organism passage to 13 stream miles of pristine habitat on US Forest Service managed lands in the Drift Creek (Siletz) basin. The undersized culvert, installed in 1958, not only blocked adult and juvenile salmon from accessing habitat upstream, but also ceased river processes and degraded habitat above and below the culvert site. The complex project in a remote location was difficult, and 60 years of “Band-Aid” solutions failed because they didn’t address the real problem: the culvert itself.

Paul: A “land ethic” by Aldo Leopold says a lot — riff with it, as in these two quotes:

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Evan: We as people often see ourselves as other, as separate from nature, but this couldn’t be more incorrect. We not only breathe the same air as all other beings on this earth, we have by every measure had a greater impact than any.

Paul: Again, if you as director got a $5 million check from nonprofit for your work, no strings attached, what would you use that for?

Evan: Well, a boy can dream, can’t he? I think acquisition of important habitat areas would be high on the list (other than just hiring other staff to help!). Though, giving a better wage and benefits package to our staff and work crew would be a no-brainer.

Paul: Give the young reader some spiel on why they might want to pursue a degree or degrees in the general field of environmental sciences tied to ecology during a time of COVID-19, dwindling budgets for these sorts of jobs and more and more tuition expenses.

Evan: I had a professor at Evergreen (Gerardo Chin-Leo) who liked to say one of my favorite expressions: “Science is the painful expression of the obvious”. He also liked to say “Ecology isn’t rocket science; it is way more complicated than that.” Everything in this world in inextricably connected, the clues are in the interactions of flora and fauna on the landscape. Uncovering these connections and understanding how the work we see today has evolved through millennia of interactions is incredibly enthralling (to me!). These times are hard (COVID), budgets are being slashed in this field, salaries in this line of work have never been great. However, the folks that choose this line of work have a greater calling. Understanding this complex world which we are a part of and working to restore ecosystems is more rewarding that any paycheck could ever be.

Paul: Wood wide web — In your own words, explain this concept, if you have any input around how this concept ties to what you are doing in the “preservation” field.

Evan: This gets at the complexity (it isn’t rocket science!) of the natural world. Above ground we see large trees, growing individually across the landscape. What we don’t see, is the complex system of roots, fungi and microbes below the soil that supports this vast forest. Tree talk to each other, conspire when drought is near, and share resources/nutrients through the fungal networks that have co-evolved with them over millennia. This is the original “community”, and our communities could get a lot of good out of better understanding how to work together towards a shared goal.

Paul: You are working in restorative ecology. Explain that.

Evan: We are working with a degraded landscape. We are also dealing with shifting baselines. Bad enough is the direct impact on habitat over the last 200 or so years, this has gone further to disrupt ecosystem processes that maintain what we think of as a functioning system. Restoring these processes is difficult, but if successful, process-based restoration can reset these systems to be self-sustaining. Though the impact can be quick, the restoration can take centuries. When we plant a tree for long-term recruitment of wood to a stream, it’s full impact won’t be felt for 100 or 200 years.

Paul: Then, you were working in a sort of restorative justice program at Evergreen tied to sustainability in prisons. Expand.

Evan: This is where I lean on the words of Nalini: the power of nature. Everyone who works with SPP sees the power of fresh air and getting your hands dirty. Working in a prison can be a dismal setting — windowless cells, limited outside time, fluorescent lights. This is not a restorative situation. There are major problems with the criminal justice system in this country, I don’t claim to be an expert on this. But I have seen the impact that building a greenhouse in a prison yard can bring. What the nurturing of a tiny plant from seed to flower can do for a person. We worked with prisoners to captive rear Taylor’s Checkerspot butterflies and Oregon spotted frogs in Washington. Watching these “hardened” criminals hand feed and raise these tiny creatures in a prison setting was restorative, for me, and for those individuals. The guys that raised the frogs made hats with “Cedar Creek (Prison) Frog Crew” printed on them, they wore them around the prison like badges of honor.

Paul: Where do you see yourself in 15 years? Location-wise, intellectually speaking, emotionally, and politically?

Evan: Oof. I’ve been so busy lately I’ve just been able to take it day by day. In 15 years, I’ll be 50. I have no idea where this world will be at that point, so I really can’t say where I’ll be either. Long term dreams are important, but right now I’m just thinking about how to get my projects on the ground for this summer…

Note: First appeared in Paul’s column, Deep Dive, in Oregon Coast Today.

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Killing Koalas: The Promise of Extinction Down Under

The British conservationist Gerald Durrell once remarked that the koala was “the most boring of animals”. Its brain size, proportionally the smallest of any mammal, evolved to cope with its slow metabolism. But the spectacle of these singed, toasted animals was a terrifyingly cruel one to behold. As good stretches of Australia burned over the last bushfire season, the sheer scale and intensity of this otherwise regular occurrence suggested something beyond remedy. Fires bring with them bold destruction and vigorous promise. What is taken can be renewed.

That matter of renewal has been brought into question. Environmental degradation, anthropogenic meddling and all around beastliness to country, has made Australia a titan of destructiveness. In terms of mammals, its rate of extinction is grimly impressive, making it the leader in an inglorious pack. As John Woinarski noted in 2018, “Over the last two hundred years at least 34 Australian mammal species and 29 birds have become extinct.”

A New South Wales Parliamentary committee has brought more bad tidings to further blot the copybook. Published on June 30, 2020, Koala populations and the habitat in New South Wales suggests that the animal, in the absence of government intervention, is doomed to extinction by 2050. The culprits of depredation have not changed, and the report reads like a doomsday call.

The list of findings would make bruising reading to even the most stone-hearted property developer. The casualties for this particular marsupial during the course of the recent bushfires is said to be 5,000. A warning is issued that the current estimated number of 36,000 koalas in New South Wales following the 2019-2020 bushfires “is outdated and unreliable”. Continuous logging of NSW native forests “has had cumulative impacts on koalas over many years because it has reduced the maturity, size and availability of preferred feed and roost trees.” Climate change had also compounded “the severity and impact of other threats, such as drought and bushfires, on koala populations.” Firmer interventions by the state government were needed to address population declines.

Existing policies on koala protection were also found to be deficient. The NSW Koala Strategy fell “short of the NSW Chief Scientist’s recommendation of a whole-of-government koala strategy with the objective of stabilising and then increasing koala numbers.” It did not “prioritise and resource the urgent need to protect koala habitat across all tenures.” A question mark remained on the issue of translocation as a viable strategy of coping with species preservation.

The committee makes 42 recommendations, some of them eminently sensible. But sensibility requires action; and action demands will. Such will, it was noted by committee members, does not seem present at the government level. Cate Faehrmann, the committee chair and member of the Greens, was exasperated in her foreword, claiming frustration at hearing “from government witnesses that the policies and laws in place to protect koalas and their habitat are adequate.”

Saving such a species can only commence in earnest at the council, local government level. One recommendation insists on giving the reins to community groups by means of additional funding and support “so that they can plant trees and regenerate bushland along koala and wildlife corridors and explore mechanisms to protect these corridors in-perpetuity.” More funding is suggested for local councils to develop conservation programs and “conducting mapping […] for comprehensive koala plans of management.”

Other recommendations will irk industry, including the recommendation that the NSW government visit the destructive impacts of logging “in all public native (non-plantation) forests in the context of enabling koala habitat to be identified and protected”. The logging and deforestation lobbies will be particularly worried about recommendation 41, which suggests the creation of the Great Koala National Park, an idea first put forth by the National Parks Association of NSW in 2015. That association can hardly be accused of lacking money sense: establishing such a park, they suggest, “could become a globally significant tourist attraction.” (This would hardly help in arresting pervasive environmental fragmentation.) 175,000 hectares of public state forests would be added to the existing protected complement, creating a total of 315,000 hectares reserve.

This is of little comfort to such opponents of the scheme as the Australian Workers’ Union of NSW, an organisation not exactly known for its green tendencies. The committee report duly notes the union’s view that the park would result in a “catastrophic destruction of regional economies and jobs”. Assistant Secretary Paul Noack even went so far as to dismiss the effectiveness of such a venture. Forget parks, he suggested; focus on creating “koala protection areas”.

Noack need not be too bothered. Inquiries of this sort always risk succumbing to reductive strategies and severe trimming. Then comes the matter of vacuous symbolism. The koala draws the attention of the camera and the publicity minded bureaucrat, only to vanish from the policy discussion. As the Australia Koala Foundation’s chief executive Deborah Tabart has remarked, “the koala has many powerful enemies”.

In September 2011, an Australian Senate inquiry named The Koala – saving our national icon covered similar ground the NSW parliamentary report does. Good habitat mapping and the identification of “a standardised set of methodologies in estimating koala populations” were recommended; a national koala monitoring and evaluation program was suggested. But the report lacks bite and desperation. Committee members, for instance, remarked on “the complexity of this multifaceted issue”, often political code for inertia. Koala populations might have been in sharp decline in the Mulga Lands of Queensland, but were healthy on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Such tentative observations did little to discourage the devastating land clearing that continues its remorseless march in Queensland and NSW. Regional forest arrangements made over the last two decades have also been found to be woefully inadequate in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and Victoria.

Prior to the conflagrations over the course of 2019 and 2020, the Australian Koala Foundation was already spreading the gloomy word that the koala population in Australia stood at 80,000, making them “functionally extinct”. A species considered as such is gazing over the precipice, essentially irrelevant or ineffectual in their ecosystem, incapable of reproducing or simply inbreeding. As Christine Hosking remarked in The Conversation in May 2019, “It’s hard to say exactly how many koalas are still remaining in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, but they are highly vulnerable to threats including deforestation, disease and the effects of climate change.”

In November 2019, Natasha Daly penned a corrective in the National Geographic, amassing a range of qualifying opinions. There had been “erroneous declarations that the animals have lost most of their habit and are ‘functionally extinct’ making the rounds in headlines and on social media, illustrating just how quickly misinformation can spread in times of crisis.” Chris Johnson, professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Tasmania, wished to dampen such apocalyptic calls. “Koala populations will continue to decline because of lots of interacting reasons, but we’re not at the point where one event can take them out.” Diana Fisher of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland suggested that the species was “threatened in some parts of its range and not in others.”

Such views, in the aftermath of the latest round of lethal bushfires, must come across as a bit hair-splitting. The vulnerability of the species has reached apocalyptic levels and human complacency, along with the usual crippling disregard shown through a lack of enforceable protections, might well prove to be the enemy of this animal.

How Much Violence and Destruction is Enough for Depraved American Leaders and Their Subjects?

Without trampling through all the historical details, we can designate the entire history of [Americans]—the glorious past so eulogized by our fathers—as the history of shame, for in that history there is more betrayal, apostasy, perfidious intrigue, ignominious defeat, well-deserved failure, base vengeance, merciless retaliation and brutality that no hypocrisy can mask…So let’s forget about the past and old glories, namely let’s leave it be, let’s no longer bring up those shames of the past and the jumbled mendacities considered worthy of praise, it’s more than enough for us just to remain on the surface of that swamp if at all possible, the swamp denoting the state of moral values today…Whoever is [American] continually postpones his present, exchanging it for a future that will never arrive.

Baron Wenkheim’s Homecoming, Laszlo Krasznahorkai

What subcategory of human being takes a knee on a handcuffed man, mashed face down on the pavement and, ultimately, forces him to die? Such was the action of a psychopathic white Minneapolis, Minnesota, police-paramilitary officer named Derek Chauvin, that resulted in the death of a black man, George Floyd.

Right there, on the street, recorded live by a bystander. Chauvin continued his personal application of the death penalty even as he knew he was being filmed. Idiot or no? Did he think he’d be exonerated by his superiors? Now the world can watch a uniformed member of the Minnesota State paramilitary apparatus snuff the life out of a human being. For what? An allegedly forged $20 bill?

And the result?

A long overdue protest movement in major cities across the United States that is posing a challenge to the State-Wall Street monopoly on violence that disproportionately eliminates blacks, Latino’s and poor whites. And let’s not forget those citizens in foreign countries wiped off the map by perpetual US bombing and drone attacks. (State-Wall Street: referring to corporations, lobbyists, finance houses, politicians, mainstream media, upper echelon military, etc.)

Power to the State-Wall Street, Not the People

It’s not the death of a black, white, Latino, Syrian or Iraqi, that is of concern to the State-Wall Street; rather it is the fear of the violent challenge posed by the protestors here at home (or insurgents abroad, China, Russia) to the State-Wall Street monopoly on violence.

The fear of the State-Wall Street crowd is so intense that the governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, called the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to talk about strategy and tactics to subdue the protestors. Is that such a good idea given that the Taliban is pushing the US military out of Afghanistan?

The Pentagon is finally going to go to open war against its own—again— people first starting with the National Guard deployment in Minneapolis and followed by active duty military police. Most Americans will not care as they have been pummeled with constant propaganda about the military being a divine institution. What’s next? Another Jackson State?

The protests underway have at their foundation the totalitarian economic conditions which the State-Wall Street benignly incarcerate the larger population leaving them with the sham outlet of elections that simply replaces one prison warden with another. Vote for what? Another fascist like President Donald J. Trump or governors around the country who have their eyes on senate or house seats?

Why would someone like Floyd, allegedly, try to pass off a $20 note? You can’t separate that act from the grueling austerity measures and unemployment in the USA that leaves the young and poor, and lower classes of all stripes with no economic future and struggling to make ends meet each day, even to put food on the table.Yeah, sure, the COVID-19 Pandemic has been really tough on most Americans. But where are the trillions of federal dollars in the form of food aid, unemployment benefits, jobs programs for the Floyd’s and others in this country?

The State-Wall Street act as if over 100,000 Americans deaths from COVID-19 (largely poor, elderly, black) don’t matter at all. Nothing to see here, move along, the dear leaders say. Put the American flags at half mast, the president says. Here’s $1200 for each household, the US Congress says. Bow your heads in remembrance of the 100K religious leaders say. With this kind of American psychopathic leadership mentality that seems now to have infected nearly all American political and economic leaders, what’s one more George Floyd to them?

And it was chaotic ineptitude by the Trump administration, and his predecessors, that led to so many deaths. Even the nonpartisan Lancet weighed in on the matter with an unsigned editorial:

Funding to the CDC for a long time has been subject to conservative politics that have increasingly eroded the agency’s ability to mount effective, evidence-based public health responses. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration resisted providing the sufficient budget that the CDC needed to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis. The George W Bush administration put restrictions on global and domestic HIV prevention and reproductive health programming.

The Trump administration further chipped away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases. CDC staff in China were cut back with the last remaining CDC officer recalled home from China CDC in July 2019, leaving an intelligence vacuum when COVID-19 began to emerge.

If You Can Kill 1 or 100K Americans, Why not Kill the Environment and Wildlife?

Everywhere across the spectrum that you look you can see the State-Wall Street turning the clock back to the early 1960s. Nowhere is this more evident than in the repeal of environmental and wildlife protections.

The Trump administration is relaxing a rule on the hunting and killing of bear cubs and wolves in their dens. According to Newsweek this report:

The National Park Service described the new rule as an effort to reinstate federal alignment with the state’s hunting regulations, according to an NPS news release. The rule, which is expected to go into effect in late June, would reverse course on hunting restrictions introduced in 2015 by President Barack Obama’s administration.

NPS spokesperson Peter Christian told the Anchorage Daily News that hunters would be allowed under the new rule to use artificial lighting to entice black bears out of their dens, employ bait to attract black and brown bears, hunt wolves and coyotes during their denning season, and catch caribou while they are swimming.

The New York Times has a running list of Trump’s assault on the environment. It notes that:

The bulk of the rollbacks identified by the Times have been carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency, which repealed and replaced the Obama-era emissions rules for power plants and vehicles; weakened protections for more than half the nation’s wetlands; and withdrew the legal justification for restricting mercury emissions from power plants. At the same time, the Interior Department has worked to open up more land for oil and gas leasing by cutting back protected areas and limiting wildlife protections.

And, Oh, The Joy of Watching People Suffer and Die

Isn’t it enough for Americans to have hunted down Osama Bin Laden and killed him (a video somewhere); captured Saddam Hussein only to watch him hang in a stairwell; or have Muammar Gaddafi killed and stabbed in the anus with a bayonet?

Isn’t it enough for Americans to have lived with nearly 10 to 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and hear/see the daily reports of civilian casualties killed by US and Coalition forces and the millions of displaced persons caused by US wars, combat action?

Human Lab Rats: The U.S. Government’s Secret History of Grisly Experiments

They were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep, so banal you don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late.
— Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I have never known any government to put the best interests of its people first, and this COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

Now this isn’t intended to be a debate over whether COVID-19 is a legitimate health crisis or a manufactured threat. Such crises can—and are—manipulated by governments in order to expand their powers. As such, it is possible for the virus to be both a genuine menace to public health and a menace to freedom.

Yet we can’t afford to overlook the fact that governments the world over, including the U.S. government, have unleashed untold horrors upon the world in the name of global conquest, the acquisition of greater wealth, scientific experimentation, and technological advances, all packaged in the guise of the greater good.

While the U.S. government is currently looking into the possibility that the novel coronavirus spread from a Chinese laboratory rather than a market, the virus could just as easily have been created by the U.S. government or one of its allies.

After all, grisly experiments, barbaric behavior and inhumane conditions have become synonymous with the U.S. government, which has meted out untold horrors against humans and animals alike.

For instance, did you know that the U.S. government has been buying hundreds of dogs and cats from “Asian meat markets” as part of a gruesome experiment into food-borne illnesses?

The cannibalistic experiments involve killing cats and dogs purchased from Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, China and Ethiopia, and then feeding the dead remains to laboratory kittens, bred in government laboratories for the express purpose of being infected with a disease and then killed.

It gets more gruesome.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been removing parts of dogs’ brains to see how it affects their breathing; applying electrodes to dogs’ spinal cords (before and after severing them) to see how it impacts their cough reflexes; and implanting pacemakers in dogs’ hearts and then inducing them to have heart attacks (before draining their blood). All of the laboratory dogs are killed during the course of these experiments.

It’s not just animals that are being treated like lab rats by government agencies.

“We the people” have also become the police state’s guinea pigs: to be caged, branded, experimented upon without our knowledge or consent, and then conveniently discarded and left to suffer from the after-effects.

Back in 2017, FEMA “inadvertently” exposed nearly 10,000 firefighters, paramedics and other responders to a deadly form of ricin during simulated bioterrorism response sessions. In 2015, it was discovered that an Army lab had been “mistakenly” shipping deadly anthrax to labs and defense contractors for a decade.

While these particular incidents have been dismissed as “accidents,” you don’t have to dig very deep or go very back in the nation’s history to uncover numerous cases in which the government deliberately conducted secret experiments on an unsuspecting populace—citizens and noncitizens alike—making healthy people sick by spraying them with chemicals, injecting them with infectious diseases and exposing them to airborne toxins.

At the time, the government reasoned that it was legitimate to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society such as prisoners, mental patients, and poor blacks.

In Alabama, for example, 600 black men with syphilis were allowed to suffer without proper medical treatment in order to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis. In California, older prisoners had testicles from livestock and from recently executed convicts implanted in them to test their virility. In Connecticut, mental patients were injected with hepatitis.

In Maryland, sleeping prisoners had a pandemic flu virus sprayed up their noses. In Georgia, two dozen “volunteering” prison inmates had gonorrhea bacteria pumped directly into their urinary tracts through the penis. In Michigan, male patients at an insane asylum were exposed to the flu after first being injected with an experimental flu vaccine. In Minnesota, 11 public service employee “volunteers” were injected with malaria, then starved for five days.

In New York, dying patients had cancer cells introduced into their systems. In Ohio, over 100 inmates were injected with live cancer cells. Also in New York, prisoners at a reformatory prison were also split into two groups to determine how a deadly stomach virus was spread: the first group was made to swallow an unfiltered stool suspension, while the second group merely breathed in germs sprayed into the air. And in Staten Island, children with mental retardation were given hepatitis orally and by injection to see if they could then be cured.

As the Associated Press reports, “The late 1940s and 1950s saw huge growth in the U.S. pharmaceutical and health care industries, accompanied by a boom in prisoner experiments funded by both the government and corporations. By the 1960s, at least half the states allowed prisoners to be used as medical guinea pigs … because they were cheaper than chimpanzees.”

Moreover, “Some of these studies, mostly from the 1940s to the ’60s, apparently were never covered by news media. Others were reported at the time, but the focus was on the promise of enduring new cures, while glossing over how test subjects were treated.”

Media blackouts, propaganda, spin. Sound familiar?

How many government incursions into our freedoms have been blacked out, buried under “entertainment” news headlines, or spun in such a way as to suggest that anyone voicing a word of caution is paranoid or conspiratorial?

Unfortunately, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the atrocities the government has inflicted on an unsuspecting populace in the name of secret experimentation.

For instance, there was the U.S. military’s secret race-based testing of mustard gas on more than 60,000 enlisted men. As NPR reports, “All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.”

And then there was the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program in which hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel were dosed with LSD, some having the hallucinogenic drug slipped into their drinks at the beach, in city bars, at restaurants. As Time reports, “before the documentation and other facts of the program were made public, those who talked of it were frequently dismissed as being psychotic.”

Now one might argue that this is all ancient history and that the government today is different from the government of yesteryear, but has the U.S. government really changed?

Has the government become any more humane, any more respectful of the rights of the citizenry?

Has it become any more transparent or willing to abide by the rule of law? Has it become any more truthful about its activities? Has it become any more cognizant of its appointed role as a guardian of our rights?

Or has the government simply hunkered down and hidden its nefarious acts and dastardly experiments under layers of secrecy, legalism and obfuscations? Has it not become wilier, more slippery, more difficult to pin down?

Having mastered the Orwellian art of Doublespeak and followed the Huxleyan blueprint for distraction and diversion, are we not dealing with a government that is simply craftier and more conniving that it used to be?

Consider this: after revelations about the government’s experiments spanning the 20th century spawned outrage, the government began looking for human guinea pigs in other countries, where “clinical trials could be done more cheaply and with fewer rules.”

In Guatemala, prisoners and patients at a mental hospital were infected with syphilis, “apparently to test whether penicillin could prevent some sexually transmitted disease.” In Uganda, U.S.-funded doctors “failed to give the AIDS drug AZT to all the HIV-infected pregnant women in a study… even though it would have protected their newborns.” Meanwhile, in Nigeria, children with meningitis were used to test an antibiotic named Trovan. Eleven children died and many others were left disabled.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Case in point: back in 2016, it was announced that scientists working for the Department of Homeland Security would begin releasing various gases and particles on crowded subway platforms as part of an experiment aimed at testing bioterror airflow in New York subways.

The government insisted that the gases released into the subways by the DHS were nontoxic and did not pose a health risk. It’s in our best interests, they said, to understand how quickly a chemical or biological terrorist attack might spread. And look how cool the technology is—said the government cheerleaders—that scientists can use something called DNATrax to track the movement of microscopic substances in air and food. (Imagine the kinds of surveillance that could be carried out by the government using trackable airborne microscopic substances you breathe in or ingest.)

Mind you, this is the same government that in 1949 sprayed bacteria into the Pentagon’s air handling system, then the world’s largest office building. In 1950, special ops forces sprayed bacteria from Navy ships off the coast of Norfolk and San Francisco, in the latter case exposing all of the city’s 800,000 residents.

In 1953, government operatives staged “mock” anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg using generators placed on top of cars. Local governments were reportedly told that “‘invisible smokescreen[s]’ were being deployed to mask the city on enemy radar.” Later experiments covered territory as wide-ranging as Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas.

In 1965, the government’s experiments in bioterror took aim at Washington’s National Airport, followed by a 1966 experiment in which army scientists exposed a million subway NYC passengers to airborne bacteria that causes food poisoning.

And this is the same government that has taken every bit of technology sold to us as being in our best interests—GPS devices, surveillance, nonlethal weapons, etc.—and used it against us, to track, control and trap us.

So, no, I don’t think the government’s ethics have changed much over the years. It’s just taken its nefarious programs undercover.

The question remains: why is the government doing this? The answer is always the same: money, power and total domination.

It’s the same answer no matter which totalitarian regime is in power.

The mindset driving these programs has, appropriately, been likened to that of Nazi doctors experimenting on Jews. As the Holocaust Museum recounts, Nazi physicians “conducted painful and often deadly experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent.”

The Nazi’s unethical experiments ran the gamut from freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia, tests to determine the maximum altitude for parachuting out of a plane, injecting prisoners with malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis, exposing prisoners to phosgene and mustard gas, and mass sterilization experiments.

The horrors being meted out against the American people can be traced back, in a direct line, to the horrors meted out in Nazi laboratories. In fact, following the second World War, the U.S. government recruited many of Hitler’s employees, adopted his protocols, embraced his mindset about law and order and experimentation, and implemented his tactics in incremental steps.

Sounds far-fetched, you say? Read on. It’s all documented.

As historian Robert Gellately recounts, the Nazi police state was initially so admired for its efficiency and order by the world powers of the day that J. Edgar Hoover, then-head of the FBI, actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany’s secret police, the Gestapo.

The FBI was so impressed with the Nazi regime that, according to the New York Times, in the decades after World War II, the FBI, along with other government agencies, aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, including some of Hitler’s highest henchmen.

All told, thousands of Nazi collaborators—including the head of a Nazi concentration camp, among others—were given secret visas and brought to America by way of Project Paperclip. Subsequently, they were hired on as spies, informants and scientific advisers, and then camouflaged to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown. All the while, thousands of Jewish refugees were refused entry visas to the U.S. on the grounds that it could threaten national securi

Adding further insult to injury, American taxpayers have been paying to keep these ex-Nazis on the U.S. government’s payroll ever since. And in true Gestapo fashion, anyone who has dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties has found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.

As if the government’s covert, taxpayer-funded employment of Nazis after World War II wasn’t bad enough, U.S. government agencies—the FBI, CIA and the military—have since fully embraced many of the Nazi’s well-honed policing tactics, and have used them repeatedly against American citizens.

It’s certainly easy to denounce the full-frontal horrors carried out by the scientific and medical community within a despotic regime such as Nazi Germany, but what do you do when it’s your own government that claims to be a champion of human rights all the while allowing its agents to engage in the foulest, bases and most despicable acts of torture, abuse and experimentation?

When all is said and done, this is not a government that has our best interests at heart.

This is not a government that values us.

Perhaps the answer lies in The Third Man, Carol Reed’s influential 1949 film starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. In the film, set in a post-WW II Vienna, rogue war profiteer Harry Lime has come to view human carnage with a callous indifference, unconcerned that the diluted penicillin he’s been trafficking underground has resulted in the tortured deaths of young children.

Challenged by his old friend Holly Martins to consider the consequences of his actions, Lime responds, “In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?

“Have you ever seen any of your victims?” asks Martins.

“Victims?” responds Limes, as he looks down from the top of a Ferris wheel onto a populace reduced to mere dots on the ground. “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax — the only way you can save money nowadays.”

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is how the U.S. government sees us, too, when it looks down upon us from its lofty perch.

To the powers-that-be, the rest of us are insignificant specks, faceless dots on the ground.

To the architects of the American police state, we are not worthy or vested with inherent rights. This is how the government can justify treating us like economic units to be bought and sold and traded, or caged rats to be experimented upon and discarded when we’ve outgrown our usefulness.

To those who call the shots in the halls of government, “we the people” are merely the means to an end.

“We the people”—who think, who reason, who take a stand, who resist, who demand to be treated with dignity and care, who believe in freedom and justice for all—have become obsolete, undervalued citizens of a totalitarian state that, in the words of Rod Serling, “has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom.”

In this sense, we are all Romney Wordsworth, the condemned man in Serling’s Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man.”

The Obsolete Man” speaks to the dangers of a government that views people as expendable once they have outgrown their usefulness to the State. Yet—and here’s the kicker—this is where the government through its monstrous inhumanity also becomes obsolete. As Serling noted in his original script for “The Obsolete Man,” “Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man…that state is obsolete.”

How do you defeat a monster? You start by recognizing the monster for what it is.

The Decade Of Transformation: Being In Balance With Nature

Save Our Planet Save Our Future, Belgium, January 31, 2019 (Photo: EuroNews/Twitter)

This is the fourth newsletter in our series on the 2020s as a decade of transformation See Remaking International Relations, Remaking the Economy for the People, and Remaking Healthcare. In addition to COVID-19 and the economic collapse, multiple crises are reaching a peak and the world is changing as a result. How the world changes will be determined in some part by our actions. This week, we look at what can be done to bring our societies into balance with nature.

Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes an alternative theory of evolution to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” in her book, “Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution.” Sahtouris finds that evolution is cyclical, a spiral instead of linear. She describes how when a new species arises, it upsets the ecological equilibrium as it comes into competition with other species over habitat. The task of that species in the adolescent phase of its evolution is to find its niche in a way that is cooperative with other species. If it fails, it goes extinct.

The human species is in its adolescent phase, and now it is time to recognize our mistakes and change our behaviors. Sahtouris writes:

Like any adolescent who is suddenly aware of having created a very real life crisis, our species faces a choice — the choice between pursuing our dangerous course to disaster or stopping and trying to find mature solutions to our crises. This choice point is the brink of maturity — the point at which we must decide whether to continue our suicidal course or turn from it to responsible maturity. Are we going to continue our disastrously competitive economics, our ravaging conversion of our natural supply base into things, our pollution of basic soils, waters and atmosphere in the process? Or will we change the way we see life — our worldview, our self-image, our goals, and our behavior — in accord with our new knowledge of living nature in evolution?

We’re in for a rough patch

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred quickly. The first documented cases occurred in Wuhan, China in late December. The first reported case outside of China occurred two weeks later in Thailand. At that point, it was also discovered that human-to-human transmission of the virus could occur. One week later, the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States. Within a month, 18 countries besides China had infections. By early March, there were 500 cases in the United States impacting 30 states plus the District of Columbia. And within another month, the number of cases in the US grew one thousand-fold to 500,000, with 20,000 deaths. These are only the ones we know about. It is certain that the number of cases in the US is being undercounted, perhaps by a factor of ten, as are deaths.

Within a matter of months, the pandemic has had wide-ranging and devastating impacts. There are nearly two million cases in 210 countries. Over 100,000 people have died. Health care systems are being overwhelmed. The pandemic triggered a global recession, which the world was on course to experience at some point soon, and this was before the economy started shutting down.

Nearly 17 million people in the US became unemployed in the last three weeks. This is also likely an underestimate as unemployment offices are overwhelmed. And a majority of workers in the fields of construction, manufacturing, and transportation, and in the service sectors are unable to meet their basic needs. Millions are losing their health insurance when they need it most.

As abruptly as the pandemic and global economic collapse have changed our lives, scientists predict another rapid disruption in our lives is on the horizon. A new study published in Nature predicts ecosystem collapse could start occurring within the next decade. Researchers found that many species are already living near the limits of the conditions they require to survive. As the planet heats up, many species will reach their limit simultaneously and there will be mass die-offs.

Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News explains:

As global warming heats their habitat to the point that it is intolerable, many species have no place to go. Some will go extinct, with a domino effect that affects scores of other species. If it gets too hot for bumblebees, for example, it affects the reproduction of plants. If it gets too warm for insects and reptiles, it affects food supplies for birds and mammals.

When ecosystems start collapsing abruptly, we will face similar situations as we are facing today with the twin COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. We will be forced to adapt to a new reality, but this time it will be a reality that threatens the food supply in addition to increasing the risk of disease. Just as health professionals warned us for years that we were unprepared for an inevitable pandemic, climate scientists are warning us of ecosystem collapse. We can mitigate the crisis, but that is only going to happen if we take the initiative to make it happen.

COVID-19 will change the world (From News Karnataka)

We’re all connected and it’s all connected

Before we start looking at solutions, we must understand the roots of the crises we face. It is by changing systems at the root level that we will bring about the transformation we need. Of course, this won’t be an in-depth examination. That is beyond the scope of a newsletter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are a connected global community. Diseases, greenhouse gases, and capital are not restricted by borders. What we do in one place, impacts another. To stop the pandemic, we must control the infection everywhere or there will always be a repository perpetuating it and putting any of us at risk. International cooperation and solidarity are required to make the transition we need.

The same is true with the climate crisis and the globalized neoliberal economy. They are connected to each other and to our health. It is the globalized neoliberal financial system that has driven the race to the bottom. Capital moves freely about the world in search of the cheapest labor and resources. Many governments, especially those in the global south, compete with each other to loosen regulations that protect workers and the environment to attract capital to their countries. Corporate trade agreements make transnational corporate profits more important than protecting the planet. Humans have created multiple environmental crises from polluting the Earth, as Robert J. Burrowes writes, turning it into a junk planet.

Capitalism knows no limits when it comes to profits. People are being displaced from their land as corporations gobble it up for mining, energy production or industrial agriculture. This forces people deeper into wild habitats where they come in contact with wildlife and also pushes wildlife into human communities. It increases the chances of transmission of disease.

As Keishia Taylor explains, “…human activity disrupts ecosystems and damages biodiversity, shaking loose viruses, which then need a new host.” As the barriers between humans and wildlife break down, the greater the risk for zoonoses, diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. COVID-19 “is the sixth major epidemic in the last 26 years that originated in bats, mediated by a range of farmed, domesticated or hunted animals.” Factory farming is a great culprit driving these epidemics. Large numbers of animals live in crowded and unnatural environments, which weaken their immune systems and make disease transmission more likely.

Biodiversity is key to healthy ecosystems, writes Eric Roston in TIME. He adds, “Almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to humans… after 1940 can be traced to changes in land use, agriculture, or wildlife hunting. …There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people.” The climate crisis is another threat to biodiversity as described above, for which governments are not responding.

Capitalism drives the exploitation of people and resources for profit without regard for the consequences. The burning of cheap, dirty fossil fuels for transportation required to connect disparate parts of the global supply chain as well as the oil and gas industry’s history of pushing dirty forms of transit drives greenhouse gas emissions along with large polluting industries and factory farms. Destruction of the land, including our forests, has lowered the capacity for natural carbon sequestration. This has led to the high levels of carbon in the atmosphere that cause climate chaos; record high temperatures are heating the oceans and storms, fires and droughts are causing more damage.

Vijay Prashad describes the many ways neoliberal capitalism has also driven privatization of state institutions, such as healthcare, and has created precarious livelihoods in his newsletter “We Won’t Go Back to Normal, Because Normal Was the Problem.” And that is our task: to make sure that out of these crises come major changes, the maturation of our species to cooperate with the ecosystems in which we live.

Activists march in a climate change rally in London, Britain, September. 20, 2019 (Reuters)

Opportunities for change

Life has changed drastically for many people as we are suddenly required to stay in our homes. Education has moved online. People are doing more of their own food preparation. Conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled, and some have moved online. We’ve had to change our habits quickly to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases.

One positive side effect of our reduced activity is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly. Charles Komanoff and Christopher Ketcham of the Carbon Tax Institute estimate that the drop could be as much as 50% this year. They identify four positive lessons from the pandemic: greater reliance on science, the recognition that government action is required to confront crises, the knowledge that we can change our behavior quickly, and the necessity of social solidarity.

We can take rapid action to “flatten the curve” of greenhouse gas emissions just as we are for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a list of ten basic steps we can take to reduce greenhouse gases and support the health of all living beings and the planet:

  1. Decentralize agriculture – End monopolized industrial agriculture and return to small and medium-sized farms owned by farmers who will manage the land in ways that support biodiversity, rebuild the soil and sequester carbon. This means organic farming methods and includes urban agriculture to produce food locally.
  2. End land grabs – Stop the land grabs that drive people off their land and allow them to return. Smaller landowners tend to be better stewards of the land.
  3. Sequester carbon naturally – Do this through regenerative farming methods, and by restoring wetlands which has the added benefit of buffering sea level rise, and protecting forests, especially mature forests.
  4. Restore wildlife habitat – Protect wildlife areas and plan our communities in ways that do not encroach upon them. This includes rethinking tourism. There are some areas humans ought to avoid out of respect for wildlife habitat.
  5. End fossil fuel and nuclear use – Move rapidly to a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy. To make this a just transition, areas that overuse energy will need to reduce consumption and areas that do not have enough energy to meet basic needs will need to increase energy use. This also means finding ways to reduce travel until we can reduce the carbon output. Many businesses and organizations are changing to online meetings and conferences instead of doing them in-person.
  6. Decentralize energy production – Massive solar and wind farms can be disruptive through displacement of communities and the destruction of wildlife areas. Energy production can be integrated into the infrastructure; e.g., on rooftops, parking lots and community solar. Decentralized production ends energy monopolies and allows many people to benefit from the energy they produce.
  7. Remake transportation – Reduce energy use significantly through investment in mass public transit and shared ownership of vehicles as cars are parked 95% of the time. Many cities already have fleets of cars for short-term rental. Fewer cars mean fewer resources being used. And we can increase bike and pedestrian areas to encourage less driving.
  8. Rebuild the rail system – Electrify our railroads and increase their use for moving goods and people. Decentralized energy production can feed into the rail line to power it. This is a concept called Solutionary Rail.
  9. Become zero waste communities – Rethink our consumption and reduce it to what is necessary and then find ways to meet our necessities through closed-loop production cycles, reuse of materials, sharing of items and more.
  10. Cooperate more – In this pandemic, people around the world are organizing mutual aid to provide food and other basic needs. Let’s build on this spirit to look out for each other and connect human-to-human. We may find that building our communities will increase sharing and reduce our desire for so much stuff.

There are more steps we could add to this list that include socializing sectors of the economy so that human rights and protection of the planet supersede corporate profits, remaking trade along the same lines and strengthening localized, worker or community-owned enterprises.

We are truly at a crossroads. The pandemic has taught us to act in solidarity and that we can alter our lifestyles drastically when necessary. The climate crisis requires us to flatten the curve of our greenhouse gas emissions and toxic, polluting society. We can’t go back to normal because normal is killing us. The time is now to create a new world in balance with nature.

The Sides of Beef: Humans and Meat Eating

For the purposes of preserving any status quo in the present day United States, nothing surpasses a strategy of any question or issue ‘cultural.’ This has the immediate effect of splitting even slight difference of opinion into hostile camps and deliberately provokes absolutist, visceral responses. Such exchanges, particularly in the sewer of social media or cable news shows fiercely competing with each other as much of this as can by squeezing as much as this as possible into a given timeslot, provoke further tribal response and so it goes until we have things like ‘Red States vs Blue States’, the ‘rural-urban divide’, and ‘flyover country’ vs ‘elite’ cities.

Hence the amount of political energy vested in what are considered cultural issues. Is the right to an abortion, with little or no restriction, an inherent part of women’s rights? Does the 2nd Amendment provide a citizen with a basically unlimited right to own and carry guns? According to opinion polls there are acceptable compromises that could at least mitigate these questions for a while. However such compromises inevitably run into militant factions strenuously defending their respective ‘cultures.’ Such a dynamic has an additional benefit of creating enough tribal feeling to evoke a group-think that spreads from issue to issue. Homo sapiens are always complicated, yet for many it is obvious that uncovering their view on abortion or guns one can gather much or all of the rest of their worldview. Thus the stalemate endures.

Perhaps nothing provokes cultural sentiment more than food. The act of experiencing a distinct culture often begins with its cuisine. Indeed as Italian historian Massimo Montanari put it, food is culture. The food consumed with family and friends at gatherings and holidays is not only culinary pleasure, it also could serve as an emotional link to the past or be the material expression of religion.

Given all that it was no surprise that after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced their Green New Deal proposal in February 2019, the Republican counterattacks aimed straight for the public’s stomach. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, top Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, made a point of holding up a hamburger during a news conference. Before taking a bite he railed, “If this goes through, this will be outlawed.” Sen. Josh Barrasso of Wyoming, chair of the Environment and Public Works, proclaimed, “Say goodbye to dairy, to beef, to family farms, to ranches. American favorites like cheeseburgers and milkshakes would become a thing of the past.” Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, joked “Chick-fil-A stock will go way up” because Democrats are “trying to get rid of all cows.” Such attacks are obviously hysterical, the Green New Deal mentions nothing about banning beef (the only mention of beef from Ocasio-Cortez herself was: “Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner”), but they are also obviously deliberate. While managing to leave out apple pie, can anything encapsulate American cultural mythology (certainly in it suburban post-World War II form, the root of much present day mythology) than burgers and milkshakes? What should stimulate a more militant cultural response than a policy that seeks their elimination?

Yet food must come from somewhere. Where there is food there is production and there an open mind finds a gateway to a labyrinth. With charges of banning cows came jokes about kooky fears of cow farts. In reality, gas discharges from cows, burbs more than farts, come in the form of methane. Methane warms the Earth up to 84 times faster than CO2 (the process is called ‘enteric fermentation’ — when cows eat grass the microbes in the rumen break down and ferment it making methane as a by-product). On a planet that contains many millions of cows for slaughter, this is a lot of methane. The EPA estimates that gashouse emissions from agriculture made up 9 percent of U.S. gas emissions in 2016. Globally beef production emits by far the largest amount of greenhouse gases of any type of food production (even more substantially if combined with dairy production).

Of course, global warming isn’t the only issue found in the production of meat. There is always the large question of animal rights. Perhaps a significant percentage of the population would insist that they pay no mind, or even resent, the question of animal rights, particularly when it comes to food. This doesn’t alter the reality that the question is omnipresent.

Even casual consumers of news come across their fair share of it. This past November New York City joined California in banning foie gras, the French dish made up of duck or goose livers that are fattened through force feeding. A steel pipe is inserted down the throat with the liver fattened to as much as 10 times the normal size. The ban is scheduled to take effect in 2022, over the objections of some prominent chefs (Chicago had banned the dish in 2006 only to overturn the ban two years later). In July 2019 Japan caused controversy by announcing that it would withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling. The IWC banned commercial whale hunting in 1986, though Japan continued whaling under the banner of scientific research (other countries also probably continued to some extent on an undercover basis). Within days of the hunt resuming, meat cut-offs from two minke whales sold for up to 15,000 yen ($140). In this same arena, those old enough in the late-1980s, can recall the tuna controversy involving dolphins being caught as bycatch. Public outrage led to the creation of the ‘Dolphin Safe’ label. Subsequent years have shown the label has been largely fraudulent, a recent study showed that dolphin numbers in the Indian Ocean have declined by 87 percent since 1980, however the public sentiment is real. Obviously this sentiment didn’t extend to the tuna destined for cans.

The whale and dolphin examples perhaps show what could be close to a collective consciousness: the more intelligent, therefore perhaps the more human-like, the animal, the less it is eaten or hunted. They also make the obvious point that tastes and standards change and in both directions. In colonial America, lobsters were so looked down upon they were eaten only by the poor and imprisoned. In fact, at a time when the words ‘prisoners rights’ were many decades from being a mainstream expression, several states had laws on the books forbidding the feeding of lobsters to prisoners more than once a week. Given their appearance, their sheer number at the time, and their habit of feeding on dead things, lobsters were seen in the same vain as rats or pigeons. Now not only is lobster chic, lobsters have the additional honor of being boiled alive before being consumed.

Picture a fish capable of swimming at speeds up to 80 kilometers per hour and able to navigate entire oceans, thousands of miles a month; a warm bodied creature that can practically maintain the body temperature of a mammal a kilometer below the sea surface; a fish so mechanically efficient that when scientists endeavored to build a mechanical fish this same fish was used as a model. A generation or two ago, Bluefin Tuna was barely food, at least for humans. Its only solid market was as pet food for dogs, cats, and horses or as game for fisherman to battle with then bury after the catch. Last year in Tokyo, a 612 pound tuna sold at auction for $3 million on its way to becoming Akami and Toro. The demand for Bluefin Tuna has grown so much the majestic fish is now threatened (the Atlantic Bluefin is listed as endangered, the Pacific Bluefin as ‘vulnerable’).

circa 1875: A group of men killing buffalo from the top of a railroad train. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

So it goes: Bison were hunted to near extinction on the U.S. Plains the 19th century after it was discovered that its skin made excellent belts for driving stationary steam engines and other machinery. Plus Bison being the pillar of the Indigenous people’s diet an unwritten policy was in effect of making Indigenous peoples dependent on the U.S. government for food. The bison’s docile nature made it very easy pray for hunters on horseback (often supplied by the military with ammunition). Skinners left bison carcasses whole to rot in the sun. Fast forward to the present and bison meat occupies a sizable and growing niche market.

Horse meat has a long, strange history. As the industrial revolution raged in Europe, the population expanding and the price of meat high, there was a push by elites to convince the masses to eat it. With thousands of workhorses dropping dead from exertion, their carcasses being turned in glue and leather, there was a ready supply of meat. The movement had more success in France than England. In the U.S. consumption flared briefly during the World Wars also when the price of beef skyrocketed. At times it was passed off as beef. The last facilities in the U.S. for processing horse meat closed in 2007 after Congress passed the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Slaughtering horses wasn’t outlawed but funding for federal and commercial inspections was cancelled, shutting down the industry. This was actually repealed in 2011 but the industry had a difficult time finding towns that had the stomach to host facilities and horse meat remains a very rare sight on American menus. In 2018 a ban on slaughtering horses for meat was renewed with bipartisan support. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, a Republican and co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus, proclaimed ‘The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that must end.’ Meanwhile plenty of horses are still exported for slaughter and horsemeat continues to be eaten in many countries ranging from China, to Mexico, to several regions in Italy.

If all this is dizzying there is still the problem of pigs. Pigs have old reputations in popular culture. While it hasn’t been all bad, think ‘piggy banks’, ‘this little piggy’, and Charlotte’s Web (ironically Charlotte the spider saves Wilmer the livestock pig from slaughter), it has been mostly bad. There is a decent chance ‘pig’ is the oldest, most used childhood insult. After childhood, its uses cover every insult or negative description adults hurl at each other: eating too much, being overweight, dirty in an unhygienic sense (the Islamic ban on eating pork stems from this), dirty in a sexual sense, low class (‘happy as a pig in shit’), even outright evil (ask cops).

It is remarkable just how off this is in reality. Pigs are actually very clean creatures. If given enough space they will go out of their way not to soil the space they sleep or eat. There is no chance for anyone to ‘sweat like a pig’ given that pigs do not have sweat glands. The mud thing is what pigs do when they need to cool down (the resulting layer of caked mud probably serves other good functions as well including preventing sun burns and acting as insect repellent).

In 2015 the International Journal of Comparative Psychology published an essay titled “Thinking Pigs: A Comparative Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Personality in Sus domesticus.” The survey, which is available online, ‘identified a number of findings of pig cognition, emotion, and behavior which suggest that pigs possess complex ethological traits similar, but not identical to dogs and chimpanzees.’ Evidence strongly suggests pigs have good memories- experiments at the University of Pennsylvania from the 1990s trained pigs to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts and use the cursor to distinguish between scribbles they knew and those they were seeing for the first time. They learned this task as fast as chimpanzees. Scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands conducted an experiment that showed that pigs are capable of empathy (i.e. sharing the emotional response someone else is having) by reacting to the behavior, both pleasant and stressful, of other pigs. They are able to plan ahead and recognize other pigs as individuals. Lists along the lines of ‘The World’s Smartest Animals’ are bound to be simplistic clickbait, but such lists consistently rank pigs near the top.

The obvious parallel is dogs. Humans eating dogs has a long history. Hippocrates himself promoted dog meat as a source of strength. The main source of food for the Aztecs was Mexican hairless dog. Present day China still has the annual Yulin dog meat festival (racist rumors of dogs and cats being served in local Chinese restaurants under the guise of chicken or pork were once endemic in working class neighborhoods in the U.S.). Dog eating can be found in the Philippines, Vietnam, and the Korean Peninsula. About 2.5 million dogs are raised on farms in South Korea though a large majority of South Koreans don’t eat dog meat. Lest this be consigned as an Asian thing, a 2012 investigation by Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger uncovered the practice in rural Switzerland (it was outlawed officially in 2015). Dog meat is consumed to some extent in a number of countries in Africa (20 more or less) for pleasure and alleged medicinal purposes.

As for the U.S., a point made wittily well by Jonathan Safrar Foer in his book Eating Animals, there are mountains of dogs begging to be eaten. While the number has actually declined significantly over the past decade, the ASPCA estimates that 670,000 dogs are euthanized every year (1.5 million shelter animals if the 860,000 cats are added). That amounts to millions of pounds of meat discarded. That meat would even cover some progressive bases: humanely sacrificed and local. As Foer puts it: “It would be demented to yank pets from their homes. But eating those strays, those runaways, those not-quite-cute-enough-to take- and not-quite-well-behaved enough-to-keep dogs would be killing a flock of birds with one stone and eating it, too.”

Obviously such a plan will not come to pass. It is difficult to see a great majority of even the most committed carnivores digging into dogs. Dog eating figures to remain taboo in most circles in the world and become taboo in others as time passes. Given that pigs are as intelligent, if not more, is there a way to square the fact that pork has consistently remained the most consumed meat in the world?

In the present age, factory farming, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is where all these issues play out. When first published in 1987, Gregory Stock’s Book of Questions asked readers: “Would you be willing to go to a slaughterhouse and kill a cow?” If that question is meant to provoke squeamish contemplation and discussion, what sentiment reveals itself with the question “Would you be willing to go to a slaughterhouse and kill and/or dismember thousands of cows a day?” We call cow meat ‘beef’ and pig meat ‘pork‘, not as George Bernard Shaw suggested the ‘scorched corpses of animals.’ Is it possible to picture a food festival celebrating locally produced food that includes viewing the chickens or cows being killed as part of the experience? Make no mistake, if the word brutal has any real meaning, factory farming is brutal. The scale is of it is truly mindboggling. At the moment 70 billion animals now exist as objects for consumption, 60 percent of mammals on Earth. According to the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), the American meat industry in 2017 processed 9 billion chickens (equaling 42.2 billion pounds of meat), 32.2 million cattle and calves (26.3 billion pounds), 121 million hogs (26.6 billion pounds), and 241.7 million turkeys (5.9 billion pounds- roughly 20 percent are eaten on Thanksgiving).

One need not be a card carrying member of PETA to have an uneasy feeling about what it takes to pull this off. ‘Debeaking’ boiler chickens due to the fact that maximum commercial efficiency requires very large populations of chickens to be confined in very tight quarters which could cause the chickens to go crazy and peck each other to death (needless to say the debeaking process is automated). The same kind of efficiency is at work in ‘docking’ hogs tails. Bored, crammed together hogs would be tempted to chew the tails off each other. Unless they are used for breeding, hogs are castrated because it makes the subsequent meat smell better (the odor, known as ‘boar taint’, does not affect the safety of the pork but the Department of Agriculture doesn’t allow it into the food supply).

Another practice that the industry can’t seem to get rid of is the use of gestation crates. These crates are where most breeding sows (female hogs) spend the entirety of their near four month pregnancies. The crates are roughly two-and-half-by-seven-foot, meaning the sows are unable to turn around, suffer decreased bone density from lack of movement, and often develop sores. Hens used in egg production face a similar life. Shoved into “battery cages”, roughly ten hens to a cage, 18 inches by 24 inches, the light in the houses is manipulated to maximize egg production and for a couple of weeks the hens are fed less to induce an extra cycle of laying. Hens in their natural environment lay 20 eggs a year. On a modern farm with a high protein diet and constant lighting manipulation they lay 500, all while living a small portion of their natural lifespan before dying of exhaustion. That’s female chicks. As for male chicks, egg farms for years have simply ground up or gassed them right after they hatch since they don’t lay eggs or grown big enough to sell for meat. That is many millions of chicks per year. The egg industry claims this practice at least is due to end this year.

Then there has long been the use of antibiotics, both to ward off disease, or better as a cheaper alternative to keep animals healthy, and to attain unnatural growth. Here there seems to have a spot of progress. The FDA issued a regulation on January 1st 2017 that antibiotics that are significant for human health can no longer be used for growth promotion or feed efficiency. According to an FDA report published in 2018, domestic sales of medically important antibiotics for use in livestock decreased 33 percent from 2015 to 2016, 28 percent from 2009, the first year the FDA started collecting data. Still a majority of antibiotics are used on food animals. At the current rate, worldwide by 2030 over 200,000 tons of antibiotics will be used on food animals. This raises big problems for people. It is a main source of the expanding crisis of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention report on Antimicrobial Resistance Threats reported that more than 2.8 million antibiotic resistant infections occur in the U.S. every year, with more than 35,000 deaths.

Add pollution to the mix. In a year on a typical factory farm cattle produce in the neighborhood of 344 million pounds of manure; pigs around 7.2 million pounds, chickens 6.6 million. This can only be estimated because factory farms are exempt reporting requirements under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and no federal agency keeps consistent, reliable data. Generally, farms dispose of animal waste by spraying it as fertilizer and storing the excess in huge underground pits or open-air lagoons. The lagoons are full of chemicals like ammonia, methane, CO2, and hydrogen sulfide. Sulfur-eating bacteria often turn the mixture bright pink. Since cropland can absorb only so much, a good amount of the waste ends up in rivers, streams, and groundwater. Rain can cause overflow (the massive pork industry in North Carolina Factory, over 2020 hog CAFOs, regularly face the threat of hurricanes) and the tanks can crack. It is no surprise factory farms are the largest polluters of lakes and rivers in the U.S.

To top all this off there is simply land. According to data by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Bank statistics, glaciers make up 10 percent of global land; 19 percent of land can be categorized as barren, land in which less than one-third of the area has vegetation- deserts, rocks, salt flats. Given that we spent almost all out time among our fellow humans (or watching each other on TV) it is perhaps strange to know that things like cities, towns, and villages make up only one percent of the Earth’s land; as does fresh water (lakes, rivers). Shrub makes up eight percent, forests still make up 26 percent. Subtract animal feed and the land devoted to growing the crops we directly consume (fruits, vegetables) makes up seven percent. Do the quick arithmetic and find that there is 27 percent of the planet’s land remaining, the largest amount, that between growing food crops, grazing, and production it goes into producing meat and dairy. Or to consider it another way, livestock production consumes 58 percent of the biomass humans annually draw from the biosphere.

Again there has been some progress on this front in recent times. The FAO estimates since the turn of the century 74 million less hectares are being used for pasture. North America, Australia, and Europe have less pasture land now than in 1961. Some of this was no doubt offshored to poorer places in the world but more recently pasture area has begun to plateau in countries like China and Brazil (in Brazil this is under major threat by the Bolsonaro government’s policy toward the Amazon). This decline has occurred as meat production has increased. The cattle industry, by far the largest user of pasture globally saw meat and milk yields grow by 29 percent and 22 percent since 1961. The decline is due a steady increase in feed efficiency, the amount an animal produces per unit of food consumed, and more efficiently managed grazing. Needless to say given everything else that’s being explored here, any progress in land usage doesn’t inherently benefit the animals. If cattle aren’t allowed to graze in wide open spaces, they graze in tighter, nastier quarters.

Questions about things like land usage need not lead to anti-humanist sentiment. Geologists are increasingly calling for the current epoch to be renamed the Anthropocene to reflect the profound impact that humanity has on the Earth. This should be seen as cause for humble pride rather than a grim tragedy. Despite the delusions of some environmentalists there never was a ‘balanced’ nature before humans or outside of human activity. Extinction has always been omnipresent in nature. Earth’s history has featured five mass extinctions, defined as a period of time when a large percentage of known living species go extinct. Most famous is the K.T. Extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. It just didn’t take the dinosaurs though — around 75 percent of species also went. One enduring result was the extinction of dinosaurs allowed mammals (like us), the largest of which during the time of dinosaurs was probably the size of raccoon, to eventually grow and expand given that there were no longer towering dinosaurs to hunt them.

The K-T Extinction wasn’t even the largest mass extinction. That honor goes to the Permian Extinction around 250 million years ago. An estimated 96 percent of species went extinct. It doesn’t just happen during periods of mass extinctions either. Shark Week addicts know that probably the coolest shark ever on the planet, Megalodon, went extinct for reasons that aren’t yet clear. A few million years after the dinosaurs fell, the fossils of the Titanoboa appear in what is now Colombia. Titanoboa was a snake 40-50 feet long weighing well over a ton that used constriction to squeeze the life out of its victims (the warmer weather of the Paleocene allowed for huge reptiles). Again, the only way we’ll ever see it is if we decide for some reason to try to recreate it. And that is the point. Glorious actions like preserving and returning land to forests or reintroducing species result from human action. The planet itself has no need to be saved from global warming. As Leon Trotsky wrote in his 1924 book Literature and Revolution regarding the future of human technology:

He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of rivers and he will lay down rules for oceans. The idealist simpletons may say this is a bore, but that is why they are simpletons…. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times.

In that spirit, and getting back to the issue of land usage, it is hard to imagine a global democratic decision would allocate so much land to meat production. Since meat production at this point takes up too much land, contributes a lot to global warming, makes tons of pollution, and is quite brutish to the animals it makes meat out of, the obvious question arising is should people be vegetarians. In the Western world vegetarianism always had its notable defenders. The Pythagoreans back in the 6th century BCE didn’t eat meat. Pythagoras is quoted as saying, “As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”1

If it would be ideal for humans to get their protein from beans, legumes, and soy, materially speaking we confront this fact: in 1970 the average American ate roughly 200 pounds of meat per year. Today the number is roughly 20 pounds more, not less. More significantly from where we sit now is the trend that has proven to be a truism worldwide: the more a country develops, the more meat its people consume. Meat consumption has skyrocketed in China in recent decades. Since 1990 it has nearly doubled in Brazil. Argentina and Australia rank near the top (the one partial exception to this has been India due to the influence of vegetarianism in Hinduism). This does not figure to change any time soon. For low-income countries meat is still of luxury. Luxuries being desirable they turn into necessities whenever possible. The FAO estimates that consumption of beef, pork, and chicken in Africa will all increase by at least 200 percent by 2050.

Perhaps with all that, it is inevitable to see meat consumption as natural for our species. After all there are plenty of backsliding vegans in the world. Vegetarianism could be a real challenge, at least at first. Practically the entire Western diet is based off dishes having a protein. Umami is one of the basic tastes to which are tongues are sensitive along with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Scientifically speaking, Umami refers to the taste of glutamate, inosinate, or guanylate and it is prominent in animal protein. Hence the menus of vegetarian establishments are often full of dishes that directly aim to replicate the texture and taste of meat. The Impossible Burger’s success is directly due to its likeness to a real burger. Meat is packed with a wide range of vitamins, including b12 which is not found in plants, or at least in a form active to humans (vegans are often advised to take a b12 supplement). While anti-vegans have often overstated the importance of our teeth design for meat eating, our teeth are nothing compared with many of our mammalian cousins, there is no question that our bodies are evolved to process fats better than the other great apes.

Our earliest ancestors were at least largely vegetarians. Serious meat eating entered the picture about 2.5 million years ago. In her book Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Years Obsession With Meat, Marta Zaraska describes that this was at least in part due to climate change. Between 2.6 and 2.5 million years ago, the planet got significantly hotter and drier. As it did previously lush rain forests of Africa turned into grassland. Grassland had less of the green plants our ancestors were used to eating but more abundant grazing animals. More dead grazing animals laying in the grasslands meant more opportunity to experiment with meat.

One quite popular theory, first put forward by Leslie Aiello and Peter Wheeler in 1995, known as the Expensive-Tissue Hypothesis, posits that the switch to calorie-dense meat and marrow, with less bulky plant fiber, particularly after somebody figured out meat could be cooked with fire, allowed our ancestors to develop smaller guts (less need for a long digestive tract for processing plant matter). The energy freed up here was used by our brains to grow. Our brains, 2 percent of our body mass, use 20 percent of our body’s total energy, compared with dogs and cats 3-4 percent (other apes’ brains require 8 percent). If true then eating meat is indeed what made us human (it was not that our ancestors’ diet had to shift to meat per se for it to happen, meat was simply the available diet that made it happen). Like all theories this one has been challenged. Some scientists theorize it is our muscles, either in their size or distribution, which paid for our bigger brains. Others theorize that it was a combination of factors.

Whatever the case, we did evolve powerful enough brains that behavior need not be completely deterministic. A Financial Times headline from December 26, 2019 read, “Have we reached peak meat?” There is some evidence of a shift. The emergence of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, along with the hipster passion for almond and oat milk, has the meat and dairy industries fearful enough to be launching lawsuits to deny such products the label of ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ thereby relegating them to less trafficked market isles. On the other hand, while these companies have lit up the stock market and plant based burgers are appearing on big name fast food menus, their sales are still miniscule next to meat. If $800 million in U.S. plant-based sales in the past year sounds like a lot, the meat market in the U.S. was valued at $74 billion; globally $1.2 trillion. The number of outright vegetarians and vegans is fuzzy, but probably tops out at only 5 percent of the population. For years FAO has promoted eating insects as a sustainable source of protein. Being coldblooded they require less energy to stay warm- therefore less feed, thus making them more efficient. Insects make up 80 percent of the world’s living species and, safe to say, are thought of as most unhuman (though they can still be quite magnificent). In the case of eating probably alien to a fault. Look for places selling insects and they can be found in U.S. cities but at this point it seems Americans would still eat them more on a dare than a desire.

So if the planet isn’t destined to turn vegan, could it be convinced to at least eat meat at more sustainable levels? This has happened in the U.S. to some types of meat. Veal consumption peaked in the U.S. in 1944 at 8.6 lbs. per person. While veal is still popular in Europe, in the U.S. it is now at about 0.2 lbs. (‘Milk Fed’ veal, known as more tender and desirable than ‘Pink’ veal, is another poignant example cruelty. It results from deliberately giving calves anemia). Americans actually eat less beef than we used to; beef consumption peaked in the mid-1970s. From 2004-2015 it declined by nearly 20 percent (still it is 4 times the world average). Pork consumption has been more stable but has declined slightly from pre-1950 heights. It is chicken production and consumption that has exploded the past 40 years; paradoxically for being a low fat, healthier alternative to red meat and for being eaten as ‘wings’ covered with fatty skin and thick BBQ sauce or fried as ‘fingers’ (McDonalds unleashed the very influential McNugget in 1982, it has more fat than their hamburgers).

An EAT-Lancet Commission report argues that a transformation to healthy, sustainable diets will require a greater than 50 percent reduction in things like sugar and red meat, primarily by reducing consumption in wealthier countries. Any overt attempt to reduce meat consumption in the U.S. will run into a predictable ‘Don’t Thread on Me’ reaction. Whatever the virtues of such sentiment it suffers from an endemic shortcoming. While militantly declaring the right to choose from a menu it largely neglects questions of how and why the menu was put together in the first place.

For instance, the U.S. government owns and controls 640 million acres of land, a great majority of it in the West. On 229 million acres of this public land, the federal government, for a fee, allows livestock operations and cattle producers to use the land for grazing. These fees are much less than it would cost to graze livestock on private land, in fact, the fees are less than 7 percent of what grazing would cost on private lands. The costs lost to this boondoggle are covered by tax dollars amounting to $125 million a year.

Beyond that the federal government (not even including state and local governments) fund the agriculture industry to the tune of over $20 billion a year. These subsidies have roots going back to the Great Depression, an age when farming employed more people and there were simply more family farms, with the idea being to assist farmers through the uncertainty of farming (weather, commodity price swings) to ensure the food supply was stale. Nowadays the largest, richest farms receive the lion’s share of funding. From 1995 to 2017 the top 10 percent of richest farms got 77 percent of it (the top 1 percent pulled in 26 percent). For a long time there was direct payments to farmers, mainly those growing corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice. These were eliminated in 2014, however other subsidies were expanded. The EWG Farm Subsidy database calculates that from 1995 to 2019 a total of $391 billion worth of subsidies, including insurance, loans, and research has been paid out. Subsidies for corn artificially cheapen its price, enable overproduction, and allow very cheap feed for livestock.

In Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon estimates that for every dollar in retail sales of meat, fish, eggs, or dairy, the industry imposes an external cost of $1.70. That comes to $414 billion a year. This would make the true cost of a fast food hamburger $11. While that is perhaps pushing it to far (the book incorporates health care costs into the estimate and it’s impossible to pin down the precise effects eating meat has on heart disease and cancer) the overall point remains. Making food producers swallow the full cost of production, including environmental costs, is a crucial reform.

Is there a way out of all this, for humans to have their meat and eat it too? The specter of lab grown meat has lingered over the industry for years. It first officially appeared in 2013. Dutch stem cell researcher Mark Post, Chief Scientific Officer of Mosa Meat, unveiled what was billed as the first hamburger made by growing cow cells, rather than slaughtering a cow. The cost to produce it was $325,000. Costs are falling slowly but surely. The basic idea is stem cells are taken from the muscle of an animal via a small biopsy under anesthesia. The cells are mixed with nutrients, salts, pH buffers, and growth factor and left to multiply. That’s it. No greenhouse emissions, no slaughterhouses, and it figures a lot of land that could be used for more noble purposes or simply returned to forest where we can not only reintroduce species but witness the emergence of new ones. A slew of startups are working to bring it to market soon.

Questions will be legion. Will lab grown meat become culturally accepted immediately or will the label ‘Frankenmeat’ stick? No doubt there will be lawsuits by the industry over whether lab grown meat should even be classified as meat. On what kind of scale can it be produced? Any food system will be responsible for feeding a global population expected to stabilize at around 9.8 billion in 2050. Most importantly, will it taste as good as traditional meat? One can only hope the answer to all these questions is loudly affirmative. It isn’t difficult to imagine future generations looking back in disbelief and disgust at our epoch of factory farms, perhaps even in the same light to how we now view slavery. It should be our task by any means to become modern day abolitionists.

  1. Attribution to Pythagoras by Ovid, as quoted in The Extended Circle: A Dictionary of Humane Thought (1985) by Jon Wynne-Tyson, p 260.

Alien Invaders and the Ethic of the Earth

Imagine this rather typical SF scenario: alien invaders arrive on Earth. They are vastly superior in intelligence, technology, and most importantly, ethics. They quickly perceive that Earthlings are a dire mortal threat to the Earth’s biosphere. They reason that they must take decisive action soon, or else the Earth will meet its biological death. What are they to do?

First, they take up a consequentialist position and reason that eliminating a significant portion of the human population would immediately alleviate Earth’s acute environmental problems while saving countless numbers of species.

Second, they reason deontologically according to a “planetary ethic” that the biosphere of a planet and all the species that inhabit it are sacred and must be protected at all costs. If one species is destroying it, it must be destroyed before it is further able to inflict greater and lasting damage to it.

However, some aliens see the problem more complexly. They in their turn try to work out a maximally “virtuous” solution that will both ensure the continuance of the human race and the flourishing of the biosphere.

Of course, in this tale, most humans would root for the third option.

The question for us then is how do we get there?

If we adopt a mix of all three perspectives perhaps we will be closer to a solution.

If we accept some version of a “categorical planetary ethic” then we as a species have an absolute duty to both the biosphere and all its inhabitants. We have a sacred duty of care and preservation.

If this first premise is widely agreed upon then a number of possible restrictive actions follow:

1) Human reproductive freedom should/must be immediately limited to a rate of replacement and thus 0 growth. It is neither rational nor ethical that human population growth should be unlimited while the capacity of the biosphere to sustain such growth is not.

2) Human economic, political, scientific endeavors should be structured/organized in such a way as to produce the maximum benefit to the biosphere and its inhabitants. The source of all life takes precedence over particular lives and their parochial interests.

3) Humans should be educated and sensitized to their universal duty to the planet viewing themselves not just as “cosmopolitans” but as “defenders of the biosphere”.

4) Radical green politics should coordinate their policies on a voluntary, if urgent, worldwide foundation. Thus, Global governance should “green” with time.

These, of course, are just some basic ideas. The future of the Earth and not just humanity depends on both a change of consciousness and new ethical practices. We must leave our old nationalist, productivist, consumerist, paranoically competitive identities behind and become a new collectivity of planet loving “aliens” who have come to rescue us from ourselves.

Dammed Good Question about the Green New Deal

Hydroelectric power from dams might be the thorniest question that proponents of the Green New Deal (GND) have to grapple with. Providing more energy than solar and wind combined, dams could well become the backup for energy if it proves impossible to get off of fossil fuels fast enough.

Rivers and lakes are an integral part of human existence, with virtually all major inland cities being located next to one of them. They provide water for drinking, bathing, food, and medicine. Their sustenance is not just for humans but for untold numbers of tiny organisms, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Rivers integrate plant and animal life forms and connect human communities to each other.

As capitalism grew, rivers transported huge quantities of lumber from clear cuts, oil from under the ground and coal ripped from mountains. Rivers have been used for trash disposal, as if carrying it somewhere else would make it vanish. Nor can rivers make industrial and agricultural poisons disappear but can only carry them until they create huge dead zones. Victors of battles have let rivers float human bodies to remind those living downstream of their military prowess.

The advent of electricity meant that those seeking to dominate nature found an extraordinary tool at their disposal – hydro-electric power from dams. There are 57,000 large dams in the world and more could be on the way. Thus, it is important that GND advocates clarify whether they support building more dams or endorse a moratorium on their construction.

Dams were an integral part of economic expansion under Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal. Building new dams continued past FDR, providing about a third of US electrical power in the 1950s. That has declined in the twenty-first century, mainly because of expanded fossil fuel use. The greatest wave of global dam-building has been since World War II and 80% of their current use is for hydro-power. Dams have fragmented over two-thirds of long rivers.

One of the most infamous is Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River. Planned in 1975, it would be the second largest dam system in Brazil and the fourth largest in the world; but opposition stalled it. It was revived during the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and tension over its construction mounted under Dilma Rousseff’s government. In May 2016 the first turbine went online; 16 main turbines were functioning in September 2019, and completion is scheduled for 2020.

Mongolia hopes to use dams as part of a strategy to move away from fossil fuels. It’s action plan is called the “Green Development Policy,” which seems to echo “Green New Deal” proposals of western countries. The Selenge River, a transnational body of water originating in Mongolia, contributes over half the water to Russia’s Lake Baikal which is so huge that it contains about “20% of the worlds unfrozen fresh water.” Area lakes are already shrinking due to water withdrawal and Lital Khaikin writes that “encroachment of heavy industry threatens the fragile balance of the Baikal and the river-systems that are connected to it.”

With many calling for expansion of large dams, it is necessary to consider what this would mean for river life forms, people living next to or downstream from dams, economics of hydro-power, climate change and unforeseen dangers. Here are 10 potential problems with dams.

1. Dams destroy species and disrupt balances between species that make up ecosystems.

According to International Rivers: “The number-one cause of species extinction is habitat loss.” Due to the assault on rivers, freshwater ecosystems probably have the highest reduction in biodiversity, higher even than those on land.

The decline of a species often has ripple effects on other species. When salmon reproduction is interrupted on the lower Snake River Dams in the Pacific Northwest orcas may starve because so few reach the ocean. River dolphins of the Yangtze were the first human-caused extinction of dolphins, due to construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam. Less well-known examples abound. The Kihansi Spray Toad of Tanzania became extinct in the wild because of the Kihansi Dam in the southern Udzungwa Mountains. The dam reduced the spray zone around the waterfall by 90%, dooming the toad.

Plants, are likewise threatened by dams. Rowan Jacobsen’s 2019 article describes how the Falls-of-the-Ohio scurfpea, whose habitat was limited to a few Ohio River islets, became extinct in the 1920s due to dam construction. Another 2019 Scientific American article explains that 85% of bugs along the Colorado River lays eggs along its banks. As water levels go up and down according to power needs, the insect eggs often get too dry to survive, upsetting the balance between species in the ecosystem. This is particularly unnerving because a 2017 paper in PLOS ONE documented a greater than 75% decline in flying insect mass in Germany.

The plants and animals mentioned here are a small cross-section of known species rendered extinct by dams. The key phrase is “known species:” It is impossible to know how many reptiles, amphibians insects, microorganisms and even birds and mammals which were never discovered no longer exist due to dams. It is also unclear how these extinctions affect broader ecosystems.

Why do dams have such devastating consequences for life forms? They block fish migration and sometimes “completely separate spawning habitats from rearing habitats.” Still water in a dam’s reservoir is a profoundly different environment than flowing water in a river to which species have adapted over millennia. Sediments are critical for maintaining river life downstream but accumulate at the bottom of the reservoir. As International Rivers explains, “Changes in temperature, chemical composition, dissolved oxygen levels and the physical properties of a reservoir are often not suitable to the aquatic plants and animals that evolved with a given river system.” Industrial and agricultural chemicals that settle and concentrate in the reservoir are not healthy for fish and other living things.

2. Dams drive people out of their homes.

Those of us who grew up watching American TV in the 1950s and 60s had a steady diet of troops driving Indians off the landscape of the country’s West. An even more effective tool of America’s ethnic cleansing was undermining the species on which Indians depended, such as buffalo and fish. Roosevelt’s New Deal promised that building dams would help lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately, the Hoover Dam took reservation land from Yuma Indians during 1933-35. By the early 1940s, 22 dams were planned for North Dakota which required evacuating 20,000 people, including many Indians.

In Mexico, building 4000 dams from 1936 to 2006 involved the removal of 185,000 people. As Brazil built Belo Monte, the government claimed that only 16,000 people were displaced. But those affected indicated that a more realistic number was 40,000. As dams expanded, they pushed an estimated 80,000,000 out of their homes globally.

3. Dams undermine indigenous cultures.

Cultural traditions are often closely connected to specific plants, animals, landmarks and bodies of water. When the New Deal’s Grand Coulee Dam robbed land from Native Americans, it broke their connection to salmon. Little known in the western world are efforts by Mongolia to expand dam construction in its norther provinces on the Selenge River and its tributary Eg River. The proposed Shuren Dam on the Selenge would flood sacred heregsuurs (graveyards) and archaeological sites in neighboring areas. The Egiin Gol Dam on the Eg would cause extensive displacement which would include Mongolian herder communities whose link to (Omul whitefish) would be severed. Though opposition led to both projects’ being canceled in 2017, what remains is Mongolia’s hopes to attract foreign investment from multinational corporations seeking resource extraction and hydro-electricity to power mining operations. Similar projects are reaching their tentacles across the planet.

Re-emergence of stagnant plans is exactly what happened with the Belo Monte Dam, which was only a gleam in investors’ eyes in 1975. Its enormous displacement of native peoples required destroying their ways of life. When it was being massively opposed, a coalition formed between the Munduruku and other Amazonian tribes of Juruna, Kayapo, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakana, and Arara who occupied the main construction site of the $14 billion undertaking.

In June 2013, Munduruku leaders released a letter (translated by Glenn H. Shepard) which included the following:

We know how the law of nature works through the teachings of the ancients … animals teach us things that we don’t know, and we can interpret the messages … The animals warn us of dangers that are about to happen… Non-Indians say these are just superstitions but it is for real… You should not play with nature: for us, this is very dangerous… All animals have have mother-spirits, whether fish, or forest animals, birds, plants, fire, earth, wind, waters, even spirit beings, they all have lives… We have sacred places along our Tapajós river and we, the Munduruku, do not disturb these places… What government is this that is speaking against us? And declaring war to finish us off in order to then give our lands to the big landowners, agribusiness, hydro-electric dams and mining companies?

4. Dams affect far more people than they displace.

People do not have to be pushed out of their homes or watch the flooding of sacred places to be affected by dams. An estimated 400-800 million people in the world who live downstream from dams lose access to clean water, are poisoned by industrial development, and watch resources such as fish shrink along with the quantity of water flowing through rivers. Especially those living in tropical areas can experience an increase in diseases such as malaria, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue, and schistosomiasis.

5. Conflicts over dams result in the arrest and killing of earth protectors.

Since 2009, the massive growth of dams in Mexico led to the arrest of over 250 and at least 8 deaths. Global Witness tabulated that “dams and other water resources” were the third leading industries (behind mining and agribusiness) to be associated with deaths of environmentalists in 2018.

Dams have also been linked to imprisonment and/or killings in many countries, including Burma, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Sudan. The greatest number of indigenous people massacred was when 440 were killed “to make way for Gautemala’s Chixoy Dam in 1982.” Extreme civil rights violations will undoubtedly rise in proportion to efforts to expand hydro-electric power.

6. Dams can increase the likelihood of wars over water resources.

Any time a river runs through two or more countries, there is a potential conflict over dam-building, especially if hostile relationships already exist. Shortly after Pakistan was created, on April 1, 1948 India began taking water from canals that went into Pakistan. The following month, the Dominion Accord required Pakistan to pay India in return for removing water. But a permanent solution was stalled until 1960 when Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty. Many disputes were settled via the Permanent Indus Commission. But in 2017 India built the Kishanganga Dam in Kashmir and developed the Ratle hydro-power station in the Chenab River despite objections from Pakistan. With Narendra Modi’s siege of Kashmir, dams can only intensify hostilities.

Access to water is central to tensions in the Middle East. The Tigris-Euphrates basin, which includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq and western Iran, is rapidly losing water. Conn Hallihan writes “For Syria and Iraq, the problem is Turkey and Ankara’s mania for dam building. Since 1975, Turkish dams have reduced the flow of water to Syria by 40% — and to Iraq by 80%… Israel also takes 87% of the West Bank aquifers, leaving the Palestinians only 13%.” Water conflicts will get worse over time – by 2030, 4 out of every 10 people in the world may not have access to water.

Rivers cross international borders of 145 countries, not all of whom get along well. Rivers crossing 9 to 11 countries include the Congo, Nile, Rhine and Niger. Like nuclear power plants, dams would be sitting duck targets during a no-hold-barred war, especially for a country deprived of water due to its opponent’s dam.

7. Dams contribute to climate change.

It would be a tragic irony if dams were used to combat climate change because they are a huge source of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Currently, rivers remove about 200 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually, both by carbon absorption and by carrying silt to the sea where it feeds plankton. Yet, dams interfere with rivers’ being a carbon sink and increase their functioning as a carbon source in multiple ways.

Building the giant Hoover Dam required 6.6 million tons of concrete. The larger Grand Coulee Dam required 24.3 million tons. Since enormous heat must be used to produce concrete, each ton manufactured releases one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, producing steel to reinforce the concrete and build other dam components requires enormous heat, resulting in CO2 releases. Of the tens of thousands of large dams in the world, these two required creating 30.9 million tons of CO2 just for the concrete: building dams has taken a huge bite out of the carbon sequestered by rivers.

In addition to CO2 release during manufacture of building materials for dams, organic matter rots in their reservoirs and produces the potent GHG methane. Far from being a minor source of carbon, this methane is estimated to “account for 4% of all human-made climate change, equivalent to the climate impact of aviation.”

Third, dams interfere with rivers’ transporting silt and nutrients downstream, which impairs their ability to remove carbon. Finally, some hydro-electric projects can create higher GHG emissions than coal-powered plants producing an equivalent quantity of electricity. Putting these together, dams are hardly a clean, green, carbon-free energy machine.

8. Dams increase differences between rich and poor.

Approval for building dams often begins with investors’ going to politicians who act as a link between them and the population. Politicians promise that the project will bring wealth to all. By the time it becomes clear that this is not happening, the politician is out of office or distracting people with another big promise.

In 1933, construction of the New Deal’s Hoover Dam meant pushing the Yumas off their reservation land so that a boom in energy production could swell corporate profits in the US Southwest. As a sop for losing the reservation, Yumas received five acres apiece with assurance that they could grow more crops due to new irrigation systems. Meanwhile, land was “sold to whites in 40- to 100- acre parcels.”

Construction of the Belo Monte Dam reflects a common occurrence. Though thousands of Indians were displaced, the energy created did not benefit them, but businesses such as aluminum smelters.

Since they can be constructed in small quantities, wind and solar power are often the best source of energy for sparsely populated areas. In contrast, “large hydro-power dams depend on central electric grids, which are not a cost-effective tool to reach rural populations, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Himalayas.”

9. Dams cost much more than promised.

Many factors feed into making dams hyper-expensive. The most obvious is construction costs which amounts to $2 trillion since 1950. A small country persuaded to use hydro-power as its major source of energy can find that the average cost overrun of 96% leaves it more indebted to and controlled by international lenders than it ever anticipated.

Dams lead to more dams. As investors and industrial manufacturers and mine owners reap riches from one dam, they have an incentive to construct more. This contributed to the US Colorado River’s being fragmented by at least 60 dams. Awareness that the Belo Monte Dam would make more upstream dams economically viable was a major source of opposition to it.

A third reason for dams’ being more expensive than promised is that maintenance is hardly, if ever, fully accounted for. Silt eventually interferes with the dam’s functioning. Turbines malfunction, cracks occur, design flaws appear and maintenance can be insufficient. For a combination of reasons, over 1000 dams have been removed in the US and the price of removal is rarely mentioned in cost projections.

The fourth, and most costly source of expense overruns for dams, is when they break. This brings us to the last of 10 problems. When negotiating over price, the construction company is highly unlikely to admit its life expectancy.

10. Dams break.

Unlike the extinction they cause, dams are not forever. And with today’s standards for privatized construction, they can be expected to last for shorter time periods than Roman coliseums and vastly less than Egyptian pyramids. As Worster wrote:

Steel penstocks [structures that carry water from the forebay tunnel to the power house to run the turbines] and headgates must someday rust and collapse. Concrete, so permanent-seeming in is youth, must turn soft and crumble. Heavy banks of earth, thrown up to trap a flood, must eventually, under the most favorable circumstances, erode away.

On March 14, 2019, the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River in Nebraska, which was 90 years old, broke due to heavy rain and flooding. The community was left wondering if a missing person had been drowned.

Americans who are old enough might remember the February 1972 collapse of the Buffalo Creek Dam for coal waste that burst and sent water flowing into nearby mining towns, drowning 125. In June of the same year the Canyon Lake Dam in South Dakota got clogged with debris until it broke and downstream communities around Rapid City lost 238 lives.

Failure to learn from these events led to completion of the Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho. Scientists wrote of dangers of putting a large structure in one of the most active earthquake zones in the US, adjacent to cracked and fragile canyon walls. In less than a year after completion it began springing leaks and in June 1976 it collapsed, killing 11 people and 13,000 cattle and washing away homes and a billion tons of topsoil.

The New England Historical Society documented the first major disaster as the Mill River Dam collapse of 1874 which caused 139 deaths. The worst such disaster in the US happened only 15 years later when warnings regarding the South Fork Dam near Johnstown, Pennsylvania were followed by its collapse, which killed 2209.

Eric Fish penned the disturbing story of the 1975 Banqiao Dam collapse, by far the most deadly the world has experienced to date. As part of the “Harness the Huai River” campaign, the dam was completed in 1952 in China’s Henan Province. By the 1970s, thousands of dams had been built across China. Scientific studies warned that projects could raise Henan’s water tables over safe levels. More warnings were issued that deforestation and mining could further increase the danger of building yet more dams in an earthquake-prone zone already fraught with landslides. Committed to rapid economic growth, the government ignored the warnings.

Cracks appeared almost as soon as the reservoir began filling up. With Soviet help, the structure was reinforced and it was called the “Iron Dam” to assure everyone of its safety. Nevertheless,

on Aug 5, 1975, a typhoon collided with a cold front over Henan and dropped the area’s average yearly rainfall in less than 24 hours. The 106 cm of rain that fell that day dwarfed the 30 cm daily limit the dam’s designers had anticipated. Witnesses said that the area was littered with birds that had been pummeled to death by the intense rainfall.

In an effort to mitigate downstream floods that were already severe, Banqiao was ordered not to fully open its sluice gates early in the storm. Then communication lines were knocked out, leaving operators guessing as to how the situation outside was unfolding. By the time the gates were fully opened, it was too late. Water was rising faster than it could escape.

A hydrologist had recommended building 12 sluice gates (which let water flow out at the base of a dam), but only 5 went into the final design and they were partially blocked by silt. Collapse of the Banqiao unleashed a 50 km/hour tidal wave down the river that knocked out 62 additional dams. Entire villages were swept away within minutes. One survivor recalled “I didn’t know where I was – just floating around in the water, screams and cries ringing in my ears. Suddenly, all the voices died down, leaving me in deadly silence.”

During the six hours that water poured out of the reservoir 26,000 lives were lost. Those living downstream soon envied the dead. The same torrent that flooded the reservoirs also washed out roads and knocked out rescue communication systems. When the rescue teams finally arrived, they found people standing on rooftops, holding onto trees or stranded on bits of dry land. They had kept themselves alive by eating tree leaves, animal carcasses that floated by or scavenged food that was often rotten. Hunger was joined by disease and summer heat.

For every person who died after the initial dam collapse, five more died from disease or plague. The total estimated death count was 171,000.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Banqiao is that the same dynamics for economic growth that laid its foundations continue to flourish. In 2011, Zhang Jinxuan, director of the Nujiang National Development and Reform Commission, spoke of China’s growth: “We must proceed. The resources here are too good. Not to develop is not an option.” China has thousands of dams at risk of breach, either because they are wearing out due to age or they are newer with poor construction. Zhou Fangping, with the Water Resources Department of Guangdong Province, has serious worries about the huge quantity. He told China Economic Weekly:

We have so many rivers to manage and so many irrigation and water conservancy projects. If there’s only one project, we can handle it, but there are so many… either we promise to complete all the projects but we don’t actually meet the targets, or we finish them all but with sub-standard quality.

China is hardly the only country which refuses to learn from Banqiao. Scientists still make recommendations that are ignored, either from a corporate desire to make more profits or from a bureaucratic state desire to expand its power. In the US, 24 of every 25 US dams are privately owned, with financial incentives to minimize repairs. Across the globe, more and more industrial plants full of toxic chemicals are located next to rivers, increasing potential hazards of flooding. Decision makers refuse to understand that climate crisis means that weather events which cause dam disasters are becoming more frequent and more extreme. They continue to build multiple dams on the same river. They seek to assure their citizens that past disasters were due to design problems and that “Generation Next” dams will be safe.

After thousands of years of warnings from philosophers and religious prophets that humanity can live prosperously by having less grandiose desires, political leaders insist that happiness flows from a fountain of possessions, which, in the 21st century, is a fountain of energy. The more power that leaders have over other people, the more power they seek over nature. Instead of trying to work with nature to strengthen local communities, they cling to technocratic ideologies that “bigger and more complicated” is better. If a previous dam broke, they fail to see the problem as the dam’s existence – they insist that if the next dam is bigger, with more concrete and more electrical parts, then the river can be controlled.

Though efforts to subdue rivers have long caused problems, modern capitalism has transformed this pathological view to cultural psychopathy. Psychopathy reflects a lack of guilt or shame over the damage that one causes. A corporation is a social entity which is unable to feel guilt or shame for undermining the survivability of humans and millions of other life forms.

After thousands of years of disrupting natural water flow, which has been exponentially accelerated during recent decades, it is past time for humanity to restore rivers and streams while maintaining a high quality of life. This is why “500 organizations from 85 countries call on governments, financiers and other institutions to keep large hydro-power projects out of their initiatives to address climate change.”

A critical question addresses what would happen if the goal of eliminating fossil fuels usage within 10 years cannot be accomplished with solar and wind power. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the massive growth of solar/wind technology cannot expand at such an enormous rate in this time period, and, if it were seriously attempted, it would cause disastrous ecological and human health problems. Though every source that provides data on sources of energy assigns different percentages to each sector, a reasonable estimate is that in 2018, global energy was supplied by 85% fossil fuels, 7% hydro-power, 4% nuclear power and 4% solar and wind power. Hydro-electric power from dams and nuclear power are obviously next in line for huge increases in sources of energy if solar/wind cannot replace fossil fuels rapidly enough.

There is another option; but GND plans are silent on it. That option is called “energy conservation.” It includes using vastly less energy by having compact communities that require less transportation, smaller home space that requires less heating and cooling, less production of energy-absorbing gadgets designed to fall apart or go out of style and a shorter work week via manufacturing less junk.

GND enthusiasts need to say which road they advocate traveling. Should we build more dams and nuclear plants even if that means sacrificing biodiversity and human health? Or, would it better to abandon the dream of infinite economic growth? Are GND proponents willing to consider the possibility that life would be better for all species, including humans, if corporations and governments are not allowed to increase energy production? If so, we might even save a few aquatic ecosystems.