It's Big, and Growing: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

by Michele McKay

Out in the ocean, thousands of miles from land, floats the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here, currents in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre converge and drift slowly in vast circles, concentrating debris into a huge garbage vortex. Trash has been accumulating in this Patch for decades; its size could now exceed that of the continental United States.

Millions of pounds of garbage end up in the ocean every year. Some of it is intentionally dumped from vessels, some accidentally lost at sea, and some washes from land via storm drains and streams. By far the bulk of the rubbish is plastic…parts of the Garbage Patch are now a plastic “soup” where there may even be more plastic, by weight, than plankton.

Here in Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program’s outreach coordinator, Carey Morishige, says that our location in the Pacific creates a particular problem, as ocean currents and winds accumulate tons of non-biodegradable litter into our waters and onto our beaches. The plastic debris is more than unsightly: it traps, mutilates, lacerates organs, and starves sea turtles, marine mammals, birds, and fish. It may also be releasing toxins that progress up the aquatic food chain.

Two eco-mariners, Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal, recently sailed through the Pacific garbage patch from California to Hawaii on a ‘junk raft’ made of 15,000 plastic bottles bound together with old fishing net. Their mission: to help call attention to the accumulation of plastic in the seas and to organizations that are addressing the problem or supporting legislation on plastic waste. Eriksen and Paschal report that after 3 months at sea none of the plastic bottles in their raft pontoons showed much wear and tear, demonstrating the durability of plastic trash in the ocean. The very feature that makes plastic useful to people also makes it an ecological disaster: it doesn’t go away. Contrary to common misconceptions, plastic does not biodegrade – it just breaks down into very tiny pieces. Eventually, these micro-bits end up on beaches, inside sea creatures, and on the ocean floor, becoming part of the sedimentary record for millions of years.

What you can do

Prevent the proliferation of plastic:

  • Remember to take reusable shopping bags, food containers, and water bottles when you go out – and to use them! Buy in bulk, and avoid excessive packaging.
  • Know what can be recycled in your area, and buy items in recyclable containers.
  • Don’t litter, ever. Be part of the solution by picking up litter when you see it.

Learn more:

Go Veggie for the Environment

by Michele McKay

Many readers care deeply about the health of our planet – you make an effort to recycle, to cut energy and water use, and to protect the Earth’s air, water, and ecosystems. But are you aware that your choice of food is the single most important decision you make for the Earth? Eating meat supports the very industry that is causing the greatest environmental destruction worldwide! In choosing a plant-based, vegetarian diet you can elect to:

Help reduce global warming

Raising animals for food generates more ‘greenhouse gas’ than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.1 In addition to CO2, the livestock industry produces other greenhouse gases with even higher global warming potentials: methane (23 times that of CO2), nitrous oxide (300 times that of CO2), and ammonia. And, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just 8 years, as opposed to 100 years for CO2. Reducing the demand for meat would rapidly lower atmospheric methane, a key contributor to global warming.2

Save vast amounts of water

Producing one pound of beef requires approximately 2,500 gallons of water, whereas a pound of soy requires 250 gallons of water, and a pound of wheat only 25 gallons.

Avoid pollution of waterways

Farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the US, yet factory farms don't have sewage treatment systems. Manure, antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, and other livestock-related pollutants foul our rivers and streams, and enter the human food chain through water supplies.3

Reduce the loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat

30% of the earth’s entire land surface (or, put another way, 70% of all agricultural land) is used for livestock.4 In the Amazon region, rainforests are being cut and burned to create pastures, thus releasing CO2 and causing incalculable loss of plant and animal species.5

Ensure environmental sustainability

Demand for meat is expected to double by the year 2050. Producing animal flesh requires up to three times as many resources as producing plant-based food.6 Do the math! Pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, species loss, demand for water, and strain on land use will only get catastrophically worse. A vegetarian diet is our best step toward environmental sustainability.

What you can do

Shrink your ecological footprint by going veggie! You will be doing something nice for the planet – and the animals that share it with us – every time you eat.

Footnotes: 
  1. “Livestock a major threat to environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html
  2. EarthSave, “EarthSave Report: “A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes,” Noam Mohr, Aug. 2005: http://earthsave.org/globalwarming.htm
  3. Ed Ayres, "Will We Still Eat Meat?" Time, 8 Nov. 1999: http://www.time.com/time/reports/v21/health/meat_mag.html
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Rome. http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm
  5. White, T. 2000. Diet and the distribution of environmental impact. Ecological Economics. 34, 145-153.
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Rome: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e00.pdf

Make Every day Earth Day by Keeping Meat Off Your Plate

by Michele McKay

Surveys indicate that three-quarters of Americans see themselves as having concern for the environment. Many of us make an effort to recycle, to reduce our energy and water consumption, and to protect our air, water, and ecosystems.

et many people who care deeply about the health of our planet do not realize that buying meat means that with every purchase they are supporting an industry that is the single largest contributor to environmental destruction. If we really want to help make the world a better place, we can not do it on a diet of animal flesh. Many environmental organizations – including the National Audubon Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists – now understand how much environmental havoc is being wreaked by raising animals for meat:

  • Pollution: In the United States, 130 times more sewage waste comes from factory farms than from people, causing more water pollution than any other activity. Rivers in 22 states and groundwater in 17 states have been polluted by animal excrement. The livestock industryis responsible for contamination of soils with pesticides and heavy metals, and for acid rain from ammonia emissions.
  • Water: Raising animals for food requires more water than all other uses put together. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat.
  • Soil erosion: Animal farming is responsible for 85 percent of soil erosion in the United States, and has already caused the permanent loss of three-fourths of our topsoil.
  • Fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and air pollution: One-third of all fossil fuels used in this country go to factory farming, and are responsible for associated emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution.
  • Land use and world hunger: 80 percent of our agricultural land is used to raise farmed animals, and 70 percent of the grains that are grown in the United States are used to feed them. World hunger could be overcome if we fed grains to people, not animals.
  • Deforestation: In the United States and South America, many millions of square acres of forest and rainforest have been stripped in order to raise livestock for slaughter.

Beyond the environmental damage caused by the livestock industry, raising animals for meat inflicts pain and suffering in violent and inhumane slaughter practices.

As individuals, we can reject the environmental damage and the violence of factory farms/slaughterhouses by choosing a vegetarian diet. Truly informed environmentalists have no place for meat on their plate.

Marine Debris

by Michele McKay

Most people never see it until it washes up on shore… but debris in the ocean damages more than just the beauty of our beaches. Bits of plastic, myriad containers, and derelict fishing gear are a serious threat to ocean and coastal ecosystems, killing marine mammals, fish and seabirds, even as they create a hazard to human health, safety, and navigation.

Marine debris is typically any human-made solid object, discarded or disposed, that enters the coastal or marine environment, originating from both land and ocean-based sources. Waste that is dumped at sea, lost or abandoned fishing equipment, coastal litter, and trash that washes to the sea from streams and storm drains all contribute to the problem. Pieces of plastic, nets, and line can be lethal when sea animals ingest or become entangled in them. Bits of floating debris are often mistaken for food, and cause internal injury, blockage, starvation, and death to marine life. Seabirds, such as the Laysan albatross, often feed plastic debris to their chicks, with deadly results.

Discarded fishing gear continues to trap and kill marine life for decades after being abandoned or lost. Whales, dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles become entangled in “ghost” nets and lines in Hawaiian waters every year. Derelict fishing nets accumulate and roll along the ocean bottom by wave and current action, breaking and destroying the coral reefs that are the heart of many Hawaiian marine ecosystems.

Marine debris degrades slowly. The Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida gives these decomposition times for common items floating in our waters:

  • Plastic bags – 10 to 20 years
  • Foam cups, coolers, and buoys – 50 to 80 years
  • Aluminum cans – 80 to 200 years
  • Disposable diapers – 450 years
  • Plastic beverage bottles – 450 years
  • Monofilament fishing line – 600 years

What you can do:

  • Remember that the sea and the land are connected.
  • Dispose of rubbish properly and pick up litter wherever you see it.
  • Participate in beach and litter cleanup projects.
  • Help educate friends and family about the harm marine debris can cause.
  • Learn more by visiting www.marinedebris.noaa.gov, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program web site.

The Paradox of "Certified Humane" Meat

by Michele McKay

A logo proclaiming “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” may now appear on meat, poultry, egg and dairy products that meet qualifications of humane treatment defined by the non-profit organization Humane Farm Animal Care. The program is well-meaning in its intention of compassion, but paradoxically, no matter how well butcher animals are treated while being raised and handled, they are doomed to an eventual violent and brutal slaughter. And though the “humane” label may appeal to people who are concerned about the planet and its creatures, the truth is that every purchase of meat supports an industry that is the single largest contributor to environmental damage. If we really want our actions to reflect compassion, and if we want to help make the world a cleaner, healthier place, we cannot do it on a diet of animal flesh.

Consider the environmental havoc being caused by raising animals for meat:

  • Pollution: In the US, 130 times more sewage waste comes from livestock than from people. The livestock industry causes more water pollution than any other activity andis responsible for pesticide and heavy metal contamination of soils.
  • Water use: Raising animals for food requires more water than all other uses put together. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat.
  • Soil erosion: Animal farming is responsible for 85% of the soil erosion in the United States, and contributes to the loss of irreplaceable topsoil.
  • Land use and world hunger: 80% of our agricultural land is used to raise farmed animals, and 70% of the grain grown in the US is used to feed them. A plant-based diet represents a big step toward combating world hunger.
  • Fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and air pollution: One-third of all the fossil fuel consumed in the US goes to factory farming, thus contributing to associated greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that at least 18% of global warming is livestock-related.
  • Deforestation: In the western hemisphere, millions of square acres of forest/rainforest have been stripped to raise livestock, causing environmental degradation and raising concerns about global climate change.

What you can do:

Over 10 billion land animals are killed for meat every year. As individuals, we can reject the violence and the environmental destruction of the slaughter industry by choosing a vegetarian diet. There is nothing “green” or humane about raising animals only to kill and eat them

Celebrate Earth Day - Veggie Style

by Tracy Rohland

With more than 6 billion people living on planet earth using her water, her oil, her plants and her air, she is very overwhelmed. She is desperately hoping that we, the people who traverse her soil on a daily basis, will be more courteous and careful.

April 22 is Earth Day, a perfect opportunity to salute Mother Earth and remember how vital it is that we take care of her.

In 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson founded the first annual Earth Day, kicking off the grassroots environmental movement in America and around the world. Since the founding of Earth Day, environmental issues have been brought to the forefront of politics and the media. People around the world have become more aware of the human impact on the environment and more conscientious about their individual roles in maintaining the health of the environment. Vehicle emission restrictions have become stricter, recycling has become a household activity, sewage treatment has drastically improved, and hundreds of thousands of people have eliminated meat products from their diet. The transition to a vegetarian diet is a practical way that every person can work to make a brighter future for the planet.

In recent years, many studies have been done comparing the environmental impact of a meat-based diet to a vegetarian diet. All of these studies conclude that raising animals for slaughter is a deplorable waste of resources. According to Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University's Ecology Department, it takes 500 liters of water to produce 1kg of potatoes, 900 liters per kg of wheat, 3,500 liters per kg of digestible chicken flesh and an incredible 100,000 liters for 1kg of beef. The pollution of water sources is also a huge problem with meat companies. Furthermore, the amount of grain that is grown to feed livestock could solve the famine problem of the world.

In her book, The State of the Environment Atlas, Joni Seager states, 'In cycling our grain through livestock, we waste 90 percent of its protein and 96 percent of its calories. An acre of cereal can produce five times more protein than an acre devoted to meat production; and legumes (beans, lentils, peas) can produce ten times as much. Thus the greater the human consumption of animal products, the fewer people can be fed.

Raising animals for slaughter also affects the air we breathe. An estimated 100 million tons of methane (12 percent – 15 percent of all methane emissions) are released into the atmosphere each year by cattle, contributing significantly to global warming. All over the world, ranchers will cut down expanses of forest for cattle ranching, let the animals graze for a few years, then leave the once fruitful land, barren and worthless. When hamburgers are two for a dollar, it is easy to ignore the actual cost to our planet and future generations, but it is critical that we consider this before it is too late.

A vegetarian diet is the healthiest and most efficient means of producing food. Since 1977, Down To Earth has been committed to promoting vegetarianism, healthy living, respect for the environment, and sustainable organic farming. This Earth Day, make a choice that will better your own health, the health of Mother Earth, and the health of generations to come – go veggie.

The Earth Heats Up and Coral Reefs Diminish

While scientists and policy makers have grappled for decades over the hot-button issue of global warming, a groundbreaking new study firmly establishes the fact that the earth is heating up as a result of worldwide industrialization.

The study, published in the April 28, 2005 issue of Science, is led by James Hansen, one of NASA’s top climatologists. Hansen and other researchers, using ocean data collected over a 10-year period, conclusively found that the warming trend of the ocean could not be attributed to natural variation. Rather, the oceanic warming they found fit in precisely with the expected effects of modern industrialization.

How does global warming affect the oceanic habitat and the plants and creatures that reside in the ocean? Coral reefs, which are very sensitive to even small temperature changes in the ocean, are nature’s barometer of oceanic warming. As a result of global warming, scientists have observed the massive bleaching of coral reefs around the globe.

The “bleaching” of coral reefs occurs when coral reefs are stressed by environmental factors and expel the tiny algae that live on them. The algae are important because they give the reefs their color and provide food for them. After a severe bleaching, coral reefs often die.

Coral reefs suffer bleaching as a result of many environmental factors, such as pollution and destructive fishing practices; however warming is perhaps the most important cause of the bleaching of coral reefs. As global warming continues, the bleaching and death of coral reefs around the world may become an unavoidable reality.

Another example of how sensitive ocean creatures are to climate change are phytoplankton, which are microscopic plants that live near the surface of the ocean and use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. Phytoplankton are important because they are the foundation of the marine food chain. When surface waters are too warm, this prevents the cooler nutrient-rich waters from swelling up to the surface where the phytoplankton live. If phytoplankton are not able to grow properly, it will disrupt the entire oceanic food chain.

While the ocean is able to absorb a great deal of heat without a large temperature change, we can see that the creatures that live in the ocean are greatly affected by even these minute temperature increases. So far, the ocean surface temperatures around the world have risen by an average of .9 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists predict at least another degree of warming over the next 100 years – even without further greenhouse emissions. Warming could also occur much more quickly if protective policies are not implemented.

The best way to help prevent continued global warming is by adopting an earth-conscious lifestyle – the most important step being to move towards a vegetarian diet. Few people realize that one third of the earth’s fossil fuels are used to raise animals for food. Gradually eliminating flesh foods from our diet is the simplest way to help conserve energy and preserve the environment. For more tips on how you can help protect our oceans, check out the Make Everyday Earth Day and Health Tips sections of our website.

Vegetarian Solution - Part 2

by Michael Bond

A real environmentalist does not eat meat. Rather, they understand that raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth by polluting and depleting our land, water, and air and they want no part of it. Read on and you will see why the most important step you can take to save the planet is to go vegetarian.

Global Warming

According to a United Nations report in 2006, raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” There’s a lot of talk about curbing global warming by reducing carbon emissions. But surprising very few people are presenting the fact that mainstream acceptance of a vegetarian diet would have a huge impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (of both CO2 and methane). In fact, on the basis of carbon emissions, adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car. That is because every single stage of meat production involves heavy pollution, massive releases of greenhouse gases, and massive amounts of energy.

Destruction of Rainforests and Forest Land

Would you clear 55 square feet of rainforest just to eat a hamburger? That is about what it takes if you are consuming meat imported from South America. An area of rainforest the size of seven football fields is destroyed every minute to make room for grazing cattle. When rainforests are destroyed, so is a rich variety of plant life and entire species of wildlife. And it’s not just the rainforests that are vanishing, in the United States, more than 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut just for animal agriculture. Conversely, by choosing to be a vegetarian, you alone would save one acre of trees every year.

Pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the run-off from factory farms pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. Livestock produces 130 times the amount of waste as all the people in the United States. Since there are no federal guidelines that regulate how factory farms treat, store, and dispose of it, this untreated and unsanitary waste ends up polluting our water, destroying our topsoil, and contaminating our air.

Water Supplies

In the United States, we are rapidly depleting our underground aquifers faster than they are being replenished. Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food. Consider this: a totally vegetarian diet requires only 300 gallons of water per day, while a meat-eating diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day. In other words, for every pound of beef you don’t eat, you are saving more water than you would by not showering at all for almost an entire year.

There are so many great meat-free options available; you will not miss out on anything by switching to a vegetarian diet. Simply by changing the food on your plate, you have the power to change the world for the better. If you care about the environment, go vegetarian.

Footnotes: 

At Down to Earth, we have held true to our values and our vegetarian commitment for over 25 years. Vegetarianism is a choice each of us can make to improve our health and the health of the environment and we feel it is our duty to educate people about the countless benefits of a plant-based diet.

If you would like to become a vegetarian, but are not sure where to start, we will do everything we can to help you. Come to our free vegetarian nutrition classes and vegetarian cooking classes, take a guided tour of our store, and be sure to take advantage of the awesome vegetarian recipes on our website.

Swine Flu: Protect Your Health, Protect the Planet

Photo: Pigs in a Holding Pen

by Michele McKay

Reminders about swine flu re-emerge with flu season: Be sure to wash hands, cover sneezes, avoid contact with others, and eat a healthy diet. These measures are important and effective in preventing the spread of flu viruses. But let’s step back and take a look at what’s behind swine flu… its source, its affect on the health of our planet, and what we can do in the “big picture” to prevent its social, environmental, and ethical consequences. Huge factory farms, known in the industry as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), raise thousands of animals under severely crowded conditions for the purpose of slaughter. Researchers recognize that intensive and filthy pig CAFOs are the source of swine flu, as well as being potential sources of new and dangerous viruses that could infect humans. Moreover, intensive meat production threatens our planet’s health – it is the number one cause of global environmental damage, contributing to:

Global warming

Raising animals for food generates more CO2 and other greenhouse gas than all the cars and trucks on earth combined. Reducing demand for meat could rapidly lower atmospheric gases that are key contributors to global warming.

Pollution of rivers, streams, and oceans

Farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the US, yet CAFOs and factory farms do not use sewage treatment systems. Manure, antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, and other effluents pollute waterways and enter the human food chain.

Squandering of water

It takes 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of beef. In contrast, producing a pound of soy requires only 250 gallons of water, and a pound of wheat just 25 gallons.

Loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity

Today, 30% of the earth’s entire land surface – 70% of all agricultural land – goes to supporting livestock. Clearing land to create pasture or grow animal feed results in deforestation, ecosystem destruction, and the incalculable loss of plant and animal species (and also releases vast CO2 stores).

Unsustainable resource use

Producing animal flesh requires up to three times as many resources as producing plant foods, and it leads to conflicts over water and land use. A vegetarian diet is our best step toward sustainable resource use.

What you can do:

Adopting a vegetarian diet not only helps avoid the basic sources of swine flu but also responds to serious global environmental challenges. Through a healthy, plant-based diet, you can help to protect public health, prevent the extreme suffering of animals, and care for the planet every time you eat.

Say No to Factory Farms: A Triple-Win Solution

Photo: Pigs on a Factory Farm

by Michele McKay

Huge factory farms, known in the industry as “Confined Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs), raise thousands of animals under severely crowded conditions for the purpose of slaughter. CAFOs have long been recognized by scientists as potential sources of new and dangerous influenza viruses that could infect humans. "These mixing bowls of intensive operations of chickens and pigs are contributing to speeding up viral evolution,” says Ellen Silbergeld, a leading researcher of pathogen evolution in CAFOs and professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Recent outbreaks of swine and avian flu affirm that CAFOs are a threat to public health. However meat production also threatens our planet’s health – it’s the number one cause of global environmental damage. In choosing a vegetarian diet you can help the world to:

Reduce global warming

In its 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Most of it comes from methane gas generated by manure. Reducing demand for meat could rapidly lower atmospheric gases that are key contributors to global warming.

Save vast amounts of water

Producing a pound of soy requires approximately 250 gallons of water, and a pound of wheat only 25 gallons. However, it takes a whopping 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of beef, a tremendous waste in our water-short world.

Avoid pollution of waterways

Farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the US, yet CAFOs and factory farms don't have sewage treatment systems. Manure, antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, and other livestock-related effluents pollute rivers and streams, and they enter the human food chain through water supplies.

Reduce the loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity

Clearing land to create pasture or grow animal feed results in deforestation, ecosystem destruction, and the incalculable loss of plant and animal species (and also releases vast CO2 stores). Today, 30% of the earth’s entire land surface – or 70% of all agricultural land – goes to supporting livestock.

Ensure environmental sustainability

The production of animal flesh requires up to three times as many resources as the production of plant foods, while causing pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, species loss, water conflicts, and strains on land use. A vegetarian diet is our best step toward environmental sustainability.

What you can do

Say “NO” to meat production and CAFOs by adopting a plant-based diet. You will be protecting public health, preventing the extreme suffering of animals, and caring for the planet every time you eat. It’s a triple win-win solution to serious global challenges.