Science & Technology

Operation Missing Link: Why We Aren’t Done Yet

Al Gore getting Nobel Prize.

In 2011, Kamal Prasad, editor-in-chief of LLV, and I started Operation Missing Link, a social movement aimed at getting climate leaders to speak openly about the harmful connection between animal agriculture and climate change. Al Gore was one of our targets, as his globally active Climate Reality Project is missing essential education about the importance of a plant-based diet in fighting climate change. Recent research shows that 80% of US land use is accounted for by animal agriculture, and 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the livestock sector. In other words, an elephant-sized piece of the solution is missing from Gore’s “reality” solution.

Gore adopted a vegan diet earlier this year, and this seems to have pleased the environmental and health communities. In a recent interview, however, Gore distinguished himself from those who go vegan for the climate, environment, or health, stating:

“Over a year ago I changed my diet to a vegan diet, really just to experiment to see what it was like,” he says. “And I felt better, so I continued with it. Now, for many people, that choice is connected to environmental ethics and health issues and all that stuff, but I just wanted to try it to see what it was like. In a visceral way, I felt better, so I’ve continued with it and I’m likely to continue it for the rest of my life.”

As a self-appointed climate leader who has global reach, influence, and real power to make a difference, Gore is still not serving his constituents well. He still isn’t speaking openly about why the shift to a plant-based lifestyle is critical if we are to solve climate change. In fact, he is distancing himself from the issue by saying that he just did it because it feels good.

Clearly, he can do better. So, Operation Missing Link continues, and you can sign a petition or submit a video to Al Gore, asking him to tell people about the number one thing they can do to solve climate change and show the world that he really can lead on this issue.

 

Image credit: Kjetil Bjørnsrud via Wikimedia

Cowspiracy: A Truth Whose Time Has Come

cowspiracy

Full disclosure: Editor-in-chief of Life, Love, V, Kamal Prasad, did some videography for Cowspiracy but does not have a financial stake in it.

On the evening of June 19, I attended the San Francisco premiere of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, an environmental documentary about the elephant in the room that is responsible for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions (drum roll)…animal agriculture.

I have been raising awareness about this issue for a few years and had high hopes for this film, because humanity really needs this conversation to be mainstreamed now. My expectations were exceeded.

The documentary follows the journey of Kip Andersen, co-director, who wants to figure out how to make a difference and live as sustainable a lifestyle as possible. What he discovers astonishes him, and he decides to ask some questions and make a documentary to track his findings.

Kip visits executives at major environmental organizations like the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), The Climate Reality Project, Oceana, Greenpeace, The Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Sierra Club and others to ask simple questions about what they think the impact of animal agriculture is on environmental degradation, habitat loss, climate change, and deforestation. The film captures awkward moments when executives falter as they attempt to give coherent responses. There’s a sinister feeling as we, the viewers realize that these leaders are either hiding something, or have completely missed the mark on letting their membership know the best way to stop and reverse some of the biggest environmental problems facing our planet today. Sailesh Rao of Climate Healers perfectly captures these organizations’ predicament in his recent review of the film.

Co-director Keegan Kuhn masterfully captures the compassion and eloquence of those who are not afraid (including a former board member of Greenpeace) to talk openly about the solution that is staring us all in the face. Perhaps most powerful is the transformation Kip undergoes while making this film.

I was getting goose bumps while watching this documentary, because I’ve never seen all the facts laid out so clearly and with such visual simplicity. I admire how vividly this duo has captured the reality of climate change and environmental degradation in our era. They have tastefully and beautifully illustrated the defining challenge of our time, including the failure of leading environmental organizations to see the issue for what it is and to align their actions with real solutions. When I was talking to Keegan after the premiere, he mentioned that their goal was not to shame anyone, but to honestly portray the current situation. They have certainly done that.

Basically, the current situation is that environmental organizations are doing a great disservice to those of us who donate time and money for causes that are sidestepping the real solution. If you donate to environmental organizations, you need to watch this film. On a more positive note, folks at the Center for Biological Diversity, after watching Cowspiracy, have taken the lead in telling its members about eliminating animal products from their lives.

No spoilers here. Suffice it to say that if you care about the environment, or children, or wildlife, or animals, you need to watch this film. Even if you don’t care, and want to see an exceptional example of good storytelling and exquisite filmmaking with disarming humor and touching depth, this could be the most important film you see this year.

This is a story of what it means for one person to have the courage and common sense to discover and act upon facts. It’s about how to face the reality we live in today, on the path to transforming that reality into a better tomorrow for all life. As Kip put it at the San Francisco premiere, “The transformation is already underway. Just enjoy the ride.”

Remember this conversation from The Matrix?

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?

Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

Find a Cowspiracy screening near you and prepare to see.

 

Image credit: Cowspiracy

Vegan Foods For Future Astronauts

Future astronauts will be vegan.We seem to have an abundance of resources to devote to raising animal foods for consumption here on Earth. However, astronauts, especially those who would be the first to set foot on Mars, will not have that luxury.

Any trip to Mars will be a long affair. Under the best case scenarios, travel time to and back from Mars alone would take about a year. Anyone willing to travel that long will not want to spend anything less than several months on the Red Planet. The long trip, and limited space and resources make it necessary to ensure efficiency during the trip. And, plant-based foods are the most efficient way of getting the best nutrition from the source to a person on Earth, and as it turns out, in space too.

It makes sense then, that NASA is testing different types of vegan foods for astronauts making the long trip to make sure that the new Martians will have a variety of tastes, and easy-to-prepare options with the ingredients that will be accessible to them.

Of course, they will be growing most of their food once they are established on Mars. And to make sure that their gardens are successful, NASA is also testing different growing environments for the fruits and veggies that astronauts will be consuming.

Source: IO9, International Science Times

Image Credits: NASA

It’s Not Technology, It’s Behavior

bridge_water_road_21280_lRecently a very important study co-funded by NASA revealed that human civilization could be heading for collapse in as little as 15 years. The study consolidates risk criteria into two main indicators, an “us and them” situation between elites and the masses, and resources that are stretched to their limits and threaten the carrying capacity of the earth. These factors interplay to create a dangerous situation in which elites continue to live unsustainably and the rest of the world suffers. Sadly, the catastrophic collapse of food, water, and energy systems, as well as climate change will affect everybody, just not at the same time. As elites buy time, the masses continue to face increasingly severe impacts.

Technology, which many look to for a quick fix, tends to increase consumption, which counters its efficiency benefits. IT’s not technology that will save us, but our own actions, including how we use technology. The NASA study points to solutions that address the root causes: inequality and overconsumption. Increased demand for animal products as developing nations get wealthier is particularly problematic. These solutions include reducing social inequality, consuming fewer resources, and curbing population growth. The real solution is to change human behavior: if we can change how we live, share what we have, consume less, have fewer or no children, and begin to change our societal structures, we can turn this Titanic around.  There’s no time like now to begin!

Image credit: Chris Metcalf via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

IKEA Going Green?

ikea-cart-magic-1797389-lI have a strong radar for greenwashing, so when I started reading a recent interview with IKEA Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard, I was fully expecting my eyes to glaze over. It didn’t happen.

Three aspects of IKEA’s sustainability strategy stand out as authentic: IKEA’s management team apparently understands climate change as a long-term risk management issue, goes after transformative change instead of just incremental tweaks, and puts its money where its mouth is.

Howard describes IKEA’s view on sustainability as a way to build resilience for an uncertain future, based on solid values, concomitant strategies, and investment to back it all. The company is building its own wind, solar and geothermal capacity to ensure it can meet its own energy needs. Another strategy is to invest in paradigm shifts instead of improving on existing inefficient technologies; rather than improving on CFLs and halogens, IKEA has invested in 100% LED technology. IKEA is also implementing cost-effectiveness and efficiency measures to save money and energy, and proactively considering its role as a furniture provider in a resource-scarce world with a burgeoning middle-class population, and an unstable climate.

Says Howard: “All the challenges are solvable with the solutions we have today, but we don’t have the right leadership, policies and priorities in place. Most political and business leaders are in a state of denial.   Sustainability will be a decisive factor in terms of which business will be here in 30 years time.  It’s also the future of business.”

We, at LLV, couldn’t agree more.

Source: Forbes

Image credit: kobaku via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Climate Change Shrinks Critters

Climate change shrinks critters.New research shows that salamanders are shrinking in size as part of an adaptive response to climate change. The study measured the lengths of salamanders, finding them on average shorter, especially in warmer and drier conditions. This is a relatively novel area of research, as previous studies on the decline of amphibians, including salamanders, have rarely focused on climate change. The team that made this discovery had set out to study salamander population decline, and finding that disease was not the cause, were curious about whether climate change had anything to do with it. Their hypothesis turned out to be correct.

Scientists haven’t isolated the biological process that is at work; it could be plasticity, the ability of an organism to adjust its biological features based on changes in its environment. Alternatively, the reduced length of the salamanders could be due to changes in gene activity. Models suggest that compared to their ancestors, salamanders now need to burn more energy to stay as active, and spend more time finding food and hiding from predators.

All in all, it’s a difficult state of affairs for the little critters: hotter, and drier. Think of how all you want to do during a heat wave is lounge around under a tree with a cold drink; these little guys don’t have that luxury, and are shrinking just to keep up. At least we’re learning more about how they’re being affected, and hopefully we can ease their plight, especially the endangered ones, by fighting climate change.

Source: National Geographic

Image credit: Seemann via MorgueFile, Morguefile License

Fermented Clothes: A New Frontier?

fermented clothesTED fellow Suzanne Lee is writing a book called Fashioning the Future and in the process, investigating how bacteria can be the next generation’s clothes manufacturers, through the same process that gives us beer: fermentation.  In an interview for TED’s blog, she explains that like Maya, whom we featured earlier on LLV, Lee wants to improve upon the current toxicity and environmental degradation that is associated with producing textiles. Lee has turned to fermentation as a source of fiber production.

So, if bacteria are producing clothes, you need to feed them, right? Right. Lee is exploring feeding bacteria with what they thrive on: sugar. Now, this sounds a little shaky and short-sighted at first, a bit like using corn for biofuels, which raises corn prices and disadvantages the poor when it comes to using corn for food.  However, Lee is looking at agricultural waste materials that are sugar-rich to avoid spiking the price of sugar for her fermented clothes. Reduce impacts on the environment and close the loop? We approve!

Lee is interested in creating products that are highly functional. However, fermented shoes and accessories aren’t about to appear in your stores just yet, because much more work is needed to make such products competitive and fashionable.

Image credit: mconnors via MorgueFile

Hemp Super Car Challenges Automobile Industry

Hemp traffic lightHemp continues its reign as a miracle plant, now as a key ingredient in what is being touted as the world’s most eco-friendly car.

The car, called the Kestrel, is being developed by Motive Industries Inc. with active support from the Canadian government.

Hemp lowers the embedded energy of the Kestrel, compared to the use of other materials, such as steel, which require much more energy and money to extract. Composite materials made with hemp can be stronger than steel and lighter than glass but with similar mechanical properties. The Kestrel seems sturdy and safe with an impact-resistant. It also offers a reasonably high speed of 90km or 56 miles per hour, and need recharging every 100 miles.

This isn’t the first time a car has been built out of hemp. Henry Ford had constructed them way back in the 40’s. Given the history of legal issues surround hemp, it is understandable that this versatile substance hasn’t been more widely accepted by the automobile industry. While Canada is supporting hemp, the U.S. still bans cannabis, preventing its use in many products for the food, oil, paper, textile, medicine, and of course, the automobile industry.

Despite this long-standing legal obstacle in the U.S., it’s heartening to see such a stellar car being produced by our Northern neighbors. Maybe good old competition will drive change in the courts so we Americans can enjoy sensible transportation too!

Image credit: aforero via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Source: Collective Evolution

 

Toward a Sustainable Future

wind farm_286327_lForum for the Future is a bit like us at Life, Love, V: interested in good news. The Forum works on sustainability issues, and was recently featured by Grist for one of their founding director’s books about a vision for a sustainable future. Jonathan Porritt’s book, called The Future We Made, talks about a future world in which population stabilizes at 9 billion and the economy is fueled mostly using renewable energy, among other features.

In his interview with Grist, Porritt explains his intentions:

What I’m trying to do in the book is to demonstrate to people that this innovation pipeline is bulging. There are new ideas and brilliant breakthroughs and all sorts of technological opportunities emerging on a daily basis. Which means we can free ourselves from fossil fuels, we can get incredible resource efficiency, we can learn how to manage water far more efficiently than we do now, we can turn waste into raw materials, we can deal with sanitation problems. We need that as a starting point, just to give people a sense of doability — it is doable. At the moment, too many people think it isn’t doable.

Such emphatic positivity is admirable. Porritt also emphasizes the importance of including connection to nature in education systems, and making the connections between our food and its impacts on the world; he describes these as issues he wishes we had already resolved. Porritt explains how humankinds’ food choices have put the world in a state of imbalance:

We seem to have got ourselves into a very bad place when it comes to our understanding of the importance of food, how it gets onto our plates, our relationship with the animals that we consume so thoughtlessly, and our relationship with the land that we pay no attention to at all. There are many, many people in our world who believe that that relationship between land-food-farming-health is absolutely at the heart of what a sustainable world has to mean.

For Porritt, resolving this dysfunctional relationship is critical to a sustainable future. We at LLV couldn’t agree more.

Image credit: dbking via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution. 

Source: Grist

Vertical Gardens Gain Popularity

A vertical garden in Mexico City.Vertical gardens are becoming popular as more and more of the world’s population lives in urban centers. Patrick Blanc has built the world’s tallest vertical garden in Sydney, Australia, with over 450 plant types, of which 250 are local plant species. Blanc learned to make vertical gardens as a child, once he understood that plants don’t need soil; they can grow in water, absorbing nutrients while also filtering the water. According to Blanc, vertical gardens afford a more complete view of all the plants when compared to a horizontal garden. Trained as a botanic scientist, Blanc is able to match plants to their preferred climate easily; this makes him a more time-efficient vertical garden creator compared to competitors.

Offering opportunities for showcasing architectural creativity, vertical gardens can be quite beautiful. Importantly, aside from being esthetically pleasing and well suited to urban populations, vertical gardens also help in “reforesting” urban landscapes, providing fresh air and humidity.  Research also shows that vertical gardens can play a role in adapting to climate change through their cooling effect in office buildings.

Image credit: SanGatchie via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. 

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