Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Do the Math

Monday, December 27th, 2010

It has been conservatively estimated that every human being that consumes animals takes about  90-100 lives each year. That is a carnage of immense proportions. If each vegan advocate on average reaches a person by mid-life, that would still be the saving of about 4,000-5,000 animal lives. Is there any form of activism that can save that many lives? However you spread the word about veganism, remember those thousands of lives that hang in the balance.

If every vegan can convince one other human to embrace a philosophy of veganism, the vegan population would double. And doubling begins to gain momentum until, after just a few years, the numbers become huge.

If 1% of the world’s population is indeed vegan, as estimated, that means there are over sixty-seven million of us. In only four years, there would be a billion of us.

As billions of animals are slaughtered each year, their combined energy usage drawn from the earth’s resources will soon deplete what is left alive on earth.

As thousands of acres of forests are cut down and used for animal grazing, less land is available for animal habitat and for creating the oxygen we require to breathe. There are only so many acres of land on the planet.

Human population is estimated to reach 9 billion in short order.

Do the math.

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140 Billion Animals Slaughtered Every Year

World Population Clock

Animals Slaughtered  2003 – from UN stats

A Single Drop of Water

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Water is projected to become the hottest commodity on the planet in the near future, the one that will be most in demand and shortest in supply. More people currently die from lack of clean water than are killed by all forms of violence, including war. In the industrialized world, many people have turned to bottled water as an option, but regulations for the quality and purity of bottled water are less than those of tap water in many areas. And with bottled water comes a continent of disposable plastics that endangers wildlife and contributes to many deaths for marine animals. Sadly, plastic waste has been found in deep waters in remote areas of the ocean. In Africa, women and children walk over 100 million hours daily just to access water — resulting in less hours spent in school and in other productive work. Water, one of the most basic necessities of life, is already scarce for much of the world.

Animal Agriculture is the Thirstiest Industry on Earth

Animal agriculture is the thirstiest industry on the planet, requiring water to feed the grain which will then be fed to the animals. The animals themselves require water, of course, but the run-off of their waste degrades the waterways, which run into the oceans and creates dead zones from the excessive amounts of nitrogen, zones which appear to be growing ever larger. Then there is the water required in animal operations, whether in factory farming or slaughter facilities, used to clean away the considerable amounts of toxic wastes created by this intensive farming method.  One half of all water used in the U.S. goes to animal agriculture and its demands. One kilogram of beef requires 100,000 liters of water, whereas one kilogram of potatoes requires only 500 liters of water. It takes 4,000 glasses of water to yield one single glass of milk, a return on investment of water resources that is unsustainable.

Become the Needed Change Towards Water Conservation

None of us can become an ocean of change by ourselves. Yet, each of us can only contribute a small portion towards the whole. Collectively, we must create the solution for tomorrow’s problems. Together, we can effect a sea of change, one single drop of water at a time.  Here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Go vegan. By avoiding all animal products, you will contribute greatly towards water and land conservation, as well as diminishing your carbon footprint and decreasing cruelty and suffering for billions of helpless animals each year.
  • Go to Water.org and join Matt Damon in supporting clean water for people who need it.
  • Drink tap water – you can invest in a filtration system which connects to your tap water or purchase filters and filter your own water. You might find your tap water is just fine – try testing it or sending it to a lab to be sure.
  • Avoid all animal products: food, clothing, cleaning supplies, shampoos, lotions, and a variety of other products use animals and their by-products. As the demand for animal-free products grows, so too will businesses that supply these types of products. Choose clean water by buying animal-free.
  • Talk to other people about our water resources and how the horrendous practices of animal agriculture are destroying them.
  • Watch the film Flow or the film Blue Gold to better understand how the lack of water is impacting the world.

Note: This post is part of Blog Action Day 2010!

Livestock Water Usage – Cornell

An Even More Inconvenient Truth

Rejoice With the Truth

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
~ Mark Twain, American author (1835–1910)

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  ~ 1 Cor 13:6, NIV

Rev. Michael P. Orsi recently wrote an article, “The Nonhuman Animal” for American Spectator. In his article he supports the findings of Wesley Smith’s book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.  The title is derived from something stated by Ingrid Newkirk, founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who actually said: “When it comes to having a central nervous system, and the ability to feel pain, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” Ignoring the original  purpose of that statement, Orsi goes on to call the term “animal rights” oxymoronic. Taken at the root, “oxy” indicates pointed or acute and “moronic” indicates foolish or stupid; the term is usually used to indicate a contradiction in terminology. According to Smith, animals cannot have rights because 1) they are amoral and 2) they cannot bear obligations. He fails to address the basis of animal rights as sentience, that animals can feel and therefore are worthy of consideration. Orsi too is stuck in archaic thinking as demonstrated by his referring to an animal as  ”it,”, thus immediately objectifying animals:

Thus, an animal’s awareness of its surroundings or its impulses — to whatever limited degree it can be aware — is sufficient to imbue it with rights equal to those of human beings.

Given that human beings have more than enough resources and could choose to leave animals alone yet instead choose to cause endless suffering, it is hard to see how this kind of “exceptionalism” is praiseworthy.

Nonhuman Animals as Rights Bearers

I would challenge Rev. Orsi and Wesley Smith on both counts. First, what evidence is there that animals are amoral? How many animals have risked their own lives in times of danger rather than just skedaddling (Civil War slang meaning to leave in a hurry) in order to save another human or nonhuman animal? Animals show affection and loyalty, something some of our more morally challenged fellow humans often fail to do. They are social beings who show comfort to others in their communities. Recent research continues to show us more and more that we humans tend to miss signs of intelligence, morality and sentience that are not exactly like our own. As to bearing obligations, if Smith means legal obligations within the human community, then he is right. But animals have borne endless obligations to humans, including being forced into lives of misery and servitude. Within the human-nonhuman relational construct, most humans have not borne any obligations towards nonhumans. A one-sided approach to ethics hardly seems fair, especially from a man who is a spiritual leader. Perhaps it is the very “human exceptionalism” that gives Rev. Orsi such comfort that  is causing so much suffering in the world. Domination and exploitation tend to spiral outward.

Orsi fears people whom he perceives want animals to have rights comparable to human beings (voting? driving? paying the mortgage?). I have not read Smith’s book, but have heard him debate Gary Francione regarding animal rights.  Smith, like Orsi, seems unaware of the plethora of evidence about the sentience of animals and takes a stand for exploitation of animals to continue without limitation. While Smith’s book does accept welfarism as legitimate, since it is part of the status quo, Smith and Orsi both believe that welfarism is doing a splendid job of keeping animals protected. Orsi seems particularly concerned with animals achieving any legal status beyond property, fearing that humans will somehow be threatened with extinction. He goes on to fear not only animal protectionists but environmental protectionists, too:

Smith doesn’t connect animal rights activism with the broader environmental movement, but the similarly anti-human aspect of the “green” agenda demonstrates a natural linkage (which would make an intriguing subject for a follow-up book). One need only look at the environmentalists’ emphasis on caring for the ecosystem while decrying the damage done to it by human beings with their infernal “carbon footprints.” Both movements seek the reduction of human presence on the planet through birth control, euthanasia, eugenics — even by starvation, if you carry the policies they advocate to their natural conclusions.

Assuming no responsibility for the tremendous suffering and destruction which human hubris has put forth on the earth, Orsi stays firmly locked into his sense of entitlement. His concern is only for the rights of humans, his rights. Yet the only right I have heard Gary Francione request on behalf of animals is their right to their very lives, the right to be free from property status.  Somehow, treating animals as the living, feeling, sensitive beings that they are, threatens something deep within Smith and Orsi, causing them to make outrageous claims against both animals and the people who recognize the injustice of their current status. Orsi conclude with:

Religious leaders, especially, should take note and warn their adherents of the underlying threat that this radical movement poses to our Judeo-Christian belief system and to all human life.

Isn’t God omnipotent? Surely our little rag-tag group of Animal Rights activists pose no real threat. Once again, Orsi needs to do some research. He has missed what is happening with regard to environmental degradation, especially what animal agriculture, corporate interests and and greed are doing to the natural world. Human overpopulation and a lack of responsibility towards the earth have led us to the brink of self extinction; the vegans and animal rights folks are trying to save the world, not destroy it. If Orsi truly worships the Being he believes is the Creator of this once-magnificent planet, it would seem he would need to treat the Creation with a bit more respect. Were we not supposed to tend the garden, rather than annihilate it?

An Unwillingness to Recognize Exploitation and Injustice Within the Church

Finally, Orsi thinks that people who are proponents of animal rights really value nonhuman animals over human beings; he fears these people and their movement pose a threat to the theory that humans are exceptional and dominant. If Orsi was willing to take the abject cruelty with which animals are treated into consideration, if he had taken any time to research these issues, it would be difficult to see how a man of a benevolent God could support such horrors towards other feeling beings.  If there are any threats to the Judeo-Christian legacy and his own Catholic church, it may be internal, rather than external.  Perhaps it comes from an unwillingness to recognize exploitation and injustice, whether it is in the form of pedophilia or animal cruelty or homophobia.  It is the very conservative, traditional vantage point behind which Orsi hides that will render him unable to witness the truth.  It is revealed when he states that animal welfare is acceptable because the laws have already made certain animals are treated humanely, that animals feel “as little anxiety and pain as possible” when being slaughtered. Rev. Orsi must be living under a rock, with all the undercover videos available these days, with the film Earthlings available for viewing online, with all the documentary films available on any Netflix site, and Meet Your Meat available on YouTube, with all the recorded statements from slaughterhouse workers, if he truly believes that. The global horror that is life for most animals on this earth seems to have escaped him. It would seem that Orsi simply does not want anything to change, because his foundation is inextricably intertwined with a belief that humans are superior and animals are put on earth for man’s use, however cruelly mankind wants to use them. If he were to admit that animals are beings who feel, experience emotions, and suffer greatly, it might cause him to reassess his beliefs. If his religious tradition is in jeopardy because a small percentage of humans believe that such injustice is intolerable, perhaps he needs to look for the numerous inconsistencies inherent in what he espouses. Where is the mercy of his God for the animals? What constitutes morality and superiority? Surely, this holocaust for animals created by mankind does not lay claim to any kind of moral superiority, but rather to shame.

Black Water

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Years ago, I was the only female on a project for the hookup and commissioning of an oil platform off the Southern California coast, north of Santa Barbara.  My job was onshore computer functions, technical support, and employee relations. Translation: I ran errands and took the men that were injured to the hospital., went and loaded steel plates in the back of the company truck, ran toilet paper out to the helicopter, went and selected their movies at the local movie rental place. And I took the heat when someone had to get fired, because the thinking was they were less likely to punch me in the nose than the next guy.  When I saw where I was going to be working, I was horrified.  The only bathroom in the heliport had a door that didn’t lock or close all the way and it was right where the men congregated to wait to get out to the platform. I immediately told my boss, “I will not drink any water until this project is over!” In a weird bit of coincidence, my boss and I had the exact same birthdate, same year, and same place. We were two little babies in those plastic beds on rollers, side by side, never knowing we would one day be reunited on a tragic mission of folly.

(more…)

Canaries and Coal Mines

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Years ago, coal miners used to take a canary with them when they went down to the mines. If the dangerous gases, like carbon monoxide and methane, rose to the level of killing the canary, then the miners knew it was time to get out.  That powerful vision of a bird, a winged creature of beauty, delicacy and vibrant color, a bird of song being dragged into the bowels of the earth, into the toxic dust, into the darkness, paints a drab picture of how humans have used nonhuman animals for their own purpose, missing the majesty of the nonhuman animal altogether. The animals were simply a living insurance policy.  Canaries had already been trapped and for years for their song and beauty and have been used extensively in research in neurogenesis and song encodification.  Whatever Nature’s purpose was in developing the canary, Man’s purpose was much more limited.

Going into the mines in the days before there were appropriate safety measures and ventilation systems was indeed a dangerous occupation.  But the minute human beings decided to take a bird into the mines, a system of domination and subjugation was unleashed. Whenever such an hierarchical structure is put into place, destruction is sure to follow.

Not only were canaries commodified but so were mice, horses, boys, minorities, immigrants, and impoverished mountain people.  My own grandfather worked in the mines when he was only a little boy, something that is difficult to grasp when I reflect on the lives of the children in my family.  Here is Podcast Appalachia to gives us some background on the history of coal.

~~~~~~King Coal: Podcast Appalachia~~~~~~

The first principal of the Abolitionist Approach is right of animals not to be property. Introduction of the property status of animals in the mines was soon followed by the same callous use of human animals, with the mining companies holding almost complete control over the lives of their workers.

The mining industry has developed ways to get the coal in every more radical and destructive ways. Mountain Top Removal literally blows the top off of mountains, with the remaining detritus falling into the streams and valleys below, wreaking havoc, destroying habitat and animal lives, and killing human beings when heavy rains literally flood the mountain hollows.  Short-term benefits for a few and adverse consequences for the many, especially for those without a voice.  Just like in the animal rights movement we have those who try to change only the perimeters of the existing system of dominance, the coal industry has its proponents of clean coal.  Here is an NPR podcast on that topic:

~~~~~~~~~~~NPR: Clean Coal

This will be a very clean operation. We need to go deeper and deeper. There will be no problems.  Sound familiar? The situation in the Gulf of Mexico with the oil leak, the situation with our diminishing coral reefs, the situation with the increasing extinction of animal and botanical species, and the ongoing slaughter of billions of living beings for the appetites and use of human beings. The metaphor of the canary in the coal mine is a potent one, an animal designed to soar against the blue sky, confined to darkness, unable to spread his wings, much like the chickens used for egg production. There are millions of animals who lives lives of extreme desperation as they are forced to stand on cement or lay in their own waste, all due to the hubris and insensitivity human beings.

A poem from William Wordsworth comes to mind,

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things–
We murder to dissect.

In the last podcast, I discussed how regulations do not necessarily protect animals. The animals in a protected category were actually the ones most hunted, because their status put the biggest price on their heads. As long as animals are property, there is no way to keep them safe. What is needed is a shift in thinking and the only way I know to get there is through the Abolitionist Approach.  The canary in the coal min has served as a warning about how a system of domination can bring destruction. Now the only question is this: will we listen?

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Bright spots on the animal rights front:

Vincent Guihan’s We Other Animals blog and Animal Emancipation forum

Vincent Guihan interview on Veganacious

Vegan for Life Podcast

LiveVegan videocasts – Trish Roberts

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Podcast Appalachia – King Coal

NPR Podcast on Clean Coal

It’s Hot in Here – Get Off the Coal Train

Canary in a Coal Mine by the Police

Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford

The Tables Turned by William Wordworth

I Love Mountains (dot) org’s video with Woody Harrelson on Mountaintop Removal

Oysters, Oy!

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

A recent article on Slate proclaimed that vegans should be eating oysters by the boatloads.  But before anyone starts ordering a barge of bivalves, please think about these humble life forms. They have been reduced to 5% of their former population off our Eastern coast from  200 years ago. Heavy metals like cadmium and rising ocean temperatures along with poaching are putting their future at risk. Belonging to the mollusk tribe, they are in the same family as an octopus, one of the most intelligent of the mollusks. An octopus is thought to have the intelligence of a cat.  Cuttlefish also belong to this group of animals.  I recently witnessed a beautiful bit of underwater photography of cuttlefish.  They are quite elegant with their long arms floating like veils in front of them, with a male arcing them in a defensive posture to warn another male away from the female of his desire.  Well, somethings transcend the genus or tribe, don’t they? The film is a beautiful statement of another world which we land-bound humans often do not realize is there, yet shares a balance in nature with us, however unseen.

Christopher Cox Promotes Eating Oysters in Slate Article

Christopher Cox, writer of the pro-oyster eating article on Slate, states the following:

Animals are terribly inefficient machines for turning plants into food, and an inefficiency of this scale is disastrous.

First of all, animals are NOT machines! They are, like us humans, living, breathing creatures who feel hunger and pain, want to be left alone to live their lives, want to live with their own tribe, and want to avoid pain and death. To Mr. Cox, the problem is one of inefficiency. While he makes a good point (yes, animals use much grain and other resources that would feed more people than the flesh of the animals would), is that really the point? The problem is one of attitude and disrespect to other life forms, to the delicate balance of ecosystems that support all life. If humans could create an efficient way of turning flesh into food, I would still decline. Factory or lab-farmed meat is not on my horizon. Of course, eating lower on the food chain also helps prevent the ingestion of the massive amounts of pollution to which poor attitudes have contributed by allowing destruction of other species habitats in the natural world.

Now on to the oyster and other shellfish.  When in the Bay of Conception in Baja, Mexico, I was privileged to see some amazing marine life.  There was a fish there that had little square teeth, just like mine.  I was vegetarian anyway, but if I wasn’t that would have done it for me. (Why is it that animals that we identify with impact us most?) I had no idea any fish had mouths so human-like.  Yet, go back to the underwater scene of the cuttlefish to realize what a complex community lives therein. Just because it is unlike ours, or hidden from our view, does not mean it should not exist just for itself, for its own majesty.

Also while in the Bay of Conception, I witnessed clams running away. I never knew they could move like that, but they have feet that move them, as do oysters. And those bipedic bivalves wanted to get away from danger as much as any animals I have seen. Oysters, however, once they plant themselves, rarely move.  They have  sensitivity to light, to temperature, to chemicals, and they show a stress response (think noradrenaline) when scraped or shaken.  They have photosensitive fibers near the edge of their shells and optic fibers that allow them to sense shadows.  They do have a nervous system but it is considered primitive, without an identifiable brain such as humans have but rather is attached to ganglia. They do have a beating heart, kidneys, and breathe via gills and mantle much like fish.

The oyster is an important component of reefs that protect our seashores. Their shells help build the substance of the reefs and the reefs in turn help to protect our shores. They have the unique ability to filter water and help keep their communities clean.  They have a very strong muscle that protects them from predators, but still are a source of food for many marine animals, too.

The problem with Mr. Cox’s idea to eat “boatloads” of oysters, or any other creature, is the attitude.  Consuming communities should hardly be the goal at this point in the world’s history, with most of the sea’s marine animals in sharp decline and many on the verge of extinction.  According to marine biologist Boze Hancock, coral reefs have been reduced by 20% and oyster reefs by 85%!

The Oyster Represents Sexuality, Wealth, Status, and Success

The oyster represents many things in our culture.  According to Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ (1600).’Falstaff: I will not lend thee a penny. Pistol: Why, then, the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.’ Act II, Scene II. The pearls that come from oysters are caused by an irritant that the oyster then develops a defense against.  A natural pearl only occurs occasionally, making them extremely valuable.

Thought to be an aphrodisiac, oysters are sought after to increase one’s libido.

Anton Chekov Wrote A Classic  Story about Oysters Denoting Class Disparity

Here is a short story by Anton Chekov, Oysters.

In this story, oysters represent the disparity between social classes. It seems that for thousands of years, some cultures on earth have looked at other creatures only as what they represent rather than what they are.

I sincerely hope that humans will consider other life forms as they exist in this world, separate but still a part of the web of life, created with purpose.  Because the real question is not whether they can think like we can, feel like we feel or whether they are easy to catch.  The real question is this: can human beings ever consider anyone else’s community, habitat or home, anyone else’s life, to be worth leaving alone? Can humans peacefully co-exist with Others? It is about respect for life and that includes the role of oysters, too.

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Susan Voisin of Fat Free Vegan on Veganacious

I was recently lucky enough to catch up with Susan Voisin of Fat Free Vegan. A busy creative woman with a background in website design, Susan has a family which includes a husband, a daughter, four cat and a dog.  She maintains a popular website and blog, and has compiled one of the most extensive recipe resources on the internet, helpful for both vegans and those searching for low fat cuisine. With hundreds of fans and thousands of visitors to her site, Susan has become a positive force in the vegan community. She always maintains a welcoming tone, noting that most of us have not been vegan forever.

Wildlife Podcast – Cuttlefish

Slate article by Christopher Cox

NY Time article about eating oysters

Leonard Lopate’s Underreported – Oysters

Nature Science Update – Stressed Oysters Sicken

Phylum Mollusca

Environmental impact of pollution on oysters and reefs

Fat Free Vegan

Profile of Susan Voisin

A Small Visitor

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

hopper

Early one morning, I decided to capture the morning dew in the green belt, but before I even left the yard, this handsome chap was posing for me. If you notice, he seems to tilt his head ever so slightly and wait for me. I was able to take several shots before he left; he was a very patient subject.  I have noticed that because I get so excited when I find an interesting photographic subjects, the boys are beginning to get excited too. “Wow, this one is beaOOOtiful!”  I will hear them remark. Beautiful indeed.

Notice the collar around his neck that appears almost studded by tiny gold dots, the transparency of his wings, the beautiful golden color of his antennae.  Here he is clinging to a post about 4′ high; how did he hop up so very high? How does such a fragile little creature survive in the world?  It is one blessing of being vegan; I no longer find other earthlings to be invisible. I appreciate them, and recognize what their life must be like, their struggle for existence, their importance to me and to the future.  A casual glance, and the green belt is quiet and still.  But a more careful look, and it is alive with birds, bugs, frogs, lizards, squirrels, snakes, geckos, cicadas, wasps. I can only imagine how alive it must have been before these homes were built. I hope there will be enough life left in the green belt for future generations of these magnificent animals to remain here.

Cruel Oil: Earth (in) Balance

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Learning to be an ethical consumer is no overnight task. Finding out about Fair Trade chocolate, learning to avoid products produced in sweatshops, and steering clear of companies that test on animals requires some investigation and research.  No problem is quite so difficult to unravel as that of palm oil.  A small little seed from the palm plant, it provides one of the most commercially popular and profitable sources of oil for most baked goods, snack foods, vegetable spreads, as well as soap and lotions. In fact, you may be using it without it being labeled as such – many products just say vegetable oil, not letting you know what kind of vegetable oil you are purchasing. Rainforest Action Network has developed a list of over 300 companies that are currently using palm oil.  Angelfire has their own list, too.  Some groups are advocating for labeling so that consumers may avoid this oil. Arbonne, Beauty without Cruelty, and Toms of Maine are some of the companies that use this oil.

When foreign agribusiness comes in, the locals are pushed out of tribal lands.  There are herbicides and pesticides that damage the environment, kill aquatic wildlife and ruin air quality.  In Papua New Guinea, Sumatra and Borneo, animal species are endangered, with a decimation to the orangutans and other species.  With rainforests and peat swamps being consumed for palm oil production, Indonesia has become the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gases along with a subsequent decrease in rainforest. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil was started in 2003, and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council is also looking at improving their practices, but as yet, the problems in palm oil production continue.  And there is evidence that it is bringing heart disease to the locals as well as proliferating it across the globe.

One of the problems with palm oil is that it is leading to deforestation as land is cleared for the palm plantations.  Orangutans have particularly been threatened, and many thousands have already been killed. It is estimated that 50 or more orangutans are killed every week due to this practice. Burned in the fires of clear-cutting, starved from lack of habitat, and captured by plantation owners, these close relatives of ours have been paying a grave price for the convenience of a box of crackers or some butter-like spread.  One of the problems is that there are three major U.S. purchasers of palm oil: ADM (Archer Daniel Midland), Bunge and Cargill.  The impact these large corporations are having on local people and wildlife is disastrous, producing mostly non-essential goods for American consumers and leaving devastation for the natives, both human and nonhuman, in their wake.  They are not increasing the quality of life for the locals, either. but in most cases are driving it downwards.

All agricultural land divests the natural world.  But at this late juncture, with ever-increasing extinction of animal species, with run-away human overpopulation posing the gravest threat to the planet that the world has known, with the rainforest the last best hope for being the lungs of the world and fighting against greenhouse gases and the crush of carbon footprints, it hardly seems worth it to purchase products that contain palm oil.  Many vegan cheeses contain these oils, but so do many products that do not identify the oil. Odwalla and KissMyFace, two products from the whole foods arena, use palm oil.  Dove soap is a big customer of palm oil. Check on the above links to determine if anything you intend to purchase contains the oil.

Different people who have investigated have differing opinions of the problem.  Colleen Patrick Goudreau of Compassionate Cooks believes that Earth Balance is an ethical product; yet Earth Balance admits it is difficult for any company to obtain ethically produced palm oil right now. Their organic blend is certified sustainable and comes from the Agropalma plantation in Brazil; however, they are unable to certify all their palm oil at this time as some may not be from sustainable sources. Since the three large corporations that produce palm oil do not certify the origins of their oil, smaller companies that purchase the oil for their products may be incapable of determining where the oil was harvested. In an article by Deb on Invisible Voices, she came to the conclusion that avoiding palm oil makes sense.  Some folks are using another type of spread substitute, although I have not yet tried it nor have I researched if it is an ethical substitute. Some have turned to Daabon products, although some sources report the company is not without flaw either.  They did not respond to my request for information. What’s a vegan to do?

After speaking to T. J. McIntyre of Earth Balance, it was apparent that his company is trying to be ever more ethical and environmentally sound.  They recently reduced the resin in tubs used to hold Earth Balance by 25%.  They are also converting their exterior cardboard packaging, which will save thousands of trees. They rely on the use of the palm fruit oil, not the palm kernel oil, so their product is reportedly better at reducing cholesterol. With so many products failing to even denote palm oil on their labels, it seems unfair to penalize those that do. Yet it is even more important to protect the native human and nonhuman animals, plants and biosphere.  With global warming ever looming as a threat to the planet, this is not time to divest ourselves of the remaining rainforests.

To summarize, the problems with palm oil are:

  • Lack of labeling so consumers can make the choice to avoid palm oils
  • Lack or information regarding origin of the oil from the Big 3
  • As with animal agriculture, there is a demand, and that demand will be met
  • The oil is primarily grown in areas that are being deforested and that are critical to ALL life
  • Palm oil is a commercially profitable commodity that endangers wildlife and local people

I have heard it put like this: We can live with only one kidney; we can live with only one ear, one arm, one leg. But at some point, if we keep slicing away at ourselves, we cannot sustain the organism.  I believe this is where we are in respect to chopping away at the earth, the habitat, the animal species.  And for what?  These are non-essential items.  I use soap that has no palm oil and it is better than any commercially prepared soap on the market.

This is one issue that is going to require some thoughtful investigation. I would urge you to read the links in this article, check out the links to the articles of others, and come to your own determination. Here are some options:

  1. Use only Organic Earth Balance, which uses certified palm oil sources from sustainable businesses
  2. Use another vegan spread that does not contain any palm oil (if you can find one)
  3. Quit using any products that contain palm oil from any source (this is admittedly difficult to ascertain)
  4. Limit use to only those products whose practices seem ethical
  5. Become active in trying to protect the remaining rainforests
  6. Become active in holding the corporations accountable and promote accurate labeling
  7. Spread the word about palm oil
  8. Boycott companies that use the oil, especially the “Dirty 19″ (see link above for list of companies using palm oil)

You will not discover your ethical options without at least a few clicks of the mouse. This article has been the most research-intensive article I have written to date, and I still have much to learn.  Personally, the life of one orangutan is more significant to my future than a tub of butter; I am just not certain how my consumer choices can best protect that orangutan, especially when ethical consumers are in the minority;  I think some activism is also required. Without proper labeling, corporate accountability, or protection for the native land, I am not convinced there will be an answer in time to protect the animals or their habitat.  I am fortunate in that I buy very few commercially prepared items, but have purchased Earth Balance in the past.  It is a product well-loved by many vegans.  I know researching fairly produced and traded items can be difficult. But when did vegans ever let that stop them from being ethical consumers?

Here is a list of organizations that may help you take action:

Send a letter to ADM and Cargill

Rainforest Action Network

Save the Orangutans

Earth Balance

Anti-Climatic Change

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009


How did climate change lose its climax?  How did the public become so accepting of the planet veering off into self-destruction?  When did watching walruses get trampled and polar bears drown start to seem acceptable to everyone? How about massive tsunamis and hurricanes? It seems clear to me that nature is changing and we humble persons had better wake up before it is too late, if it is not too late already.  It seems like I should be working 20 hours a day on some innovative new kind of green energy and working from home, in a home with only one light on and only for a little while.  But that is not what seems to be going on in my neighborhood. I am sure that in just a few weeks, Christmas lights will be blossoming from every front stoop and shoppers will be busy contributing the GNP and the devastation of the globe simultaneously.

Al Gore has tried. He has worked for decades on raising the awareness of the public to environmental concerns. Could there be anyone more frustrated than Al Gore? First he wins the popular vote for the presidency and then has it snatched from within his grasp. Not only did this rudely truncate his immediate career trajectory but it also meant the Anti-Awareness President just snuck in the back door of the White House.  It meant his work on the environment over the past several years would soon be laid to waste as the interests of Big Business trumped the interests of the American public. It meant the budget surplus would soon become the biggest deficit in history.  It meant peace and prosperity just lost out to war, greed, torture, cronyism, incompetence, abnormally huge disasters, and international disgrace. Then there was the problem with the vegans.  Vegans challenged Gore to go vegan if he really cared about the environment and global warming.  Green People challenged him to stop living in such a big house and take steps himself to stop global warming.  He did the latter; the former, not so much.  It was even more disappointing than his presidential loss for some of the vegan community, maybe for Al Gore himself; he could not seem to please anyone.  He continues trying to get the message out, but no one is actually paying much attention.  The global community is even getting frustrated with the ole U.S. for being a big contributor to climate change without taking a leadership role in moving the planet towards solutions. At least not yet.

People are tired. It was called “compassion fatigue” after Hurricane Katrina. We have been at “war” for so long that the word doesn’t resonate the way it once did.  And only a very small percentage of the population is actually aware of the war, actually paying the price in blood and tears for the war.  There are all of us who are out of work and worrying more specifically about paying the rent and buying our next meal.  Then there are all the millions of people that got Madoffed or scammed or sent into foreclosure.  On top of that are the millions of Americans who do not have adequate healthcare; some of them have insurance, just not the healthcare one would expect to accompany the policy. Some are going to die without proper healthcare; that is what keeps them up at night.  And the deficit that will be handed down to our grandchildren, the debt to China, the loss of prestige in the world community. Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror; will they prosecute for Guantanamo and waterboarding? Iran? North Korea? I am tired, too, just thinking of what Obama has on his plate. And he doesn’t exactly have the country behind him; at least there is a noisy group that seems to have zero respect even for the office of presidency anymore; surely race has nothing to do with that. Interesting, since the last guy could not even speak clearly but they never uttered a word. Good job, Brownie. Yeah. Uh Huh.

Climate change just sounds like more, well, change, and lately change has not meant anything too promising.  Yes we have a different set of players and they have certainly tried to institute positive changes. But they keep trying so very hard to play decently – with thugs and detractors. It won’t work. This is a very strange era and a stranger still decade behind us.  I think most people get caught up in what happened at work, getting the kids fed, pay the bills, clean the dishes and straighten up the bed, conk out, wake up to the alarm blaring and do it all again. Weekends mean groceries, vacuuming, laundry, kids and their activities, maybe a good escape movie, church on Sunday for some, lunch, then a nap and the whole thing starts all over. For the lucky ones with jobs that is.  For the rest it is jobhunting, rejection notices, unpaid bills, anxiety.

I just saw Michael Moore’s film, Capitalism: A Love Story.  It is one of those films that gets you laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time.  Old vintage 1950s film make it fun and lively, but it is no comedy. The ending is a delight: do not miss this film. Somehow we have been poisoning ourselves so slowly that we barely noticed.  Our environment has been becoming toxic, our economy dismal.  But even Michael Moore sounds like he is getting tired.  The lack of outrage is disheartening.  Anger and action require energy.  I hope we can all muster some, soon. There is so much to be done.  And as long as we are in the game, we might as well be on the right team.   Here is a list of organizations involved in finding answers. We owe it to future generations to see that there is….a future. October 15th is Blog Action Day. October 24th is International Climate Change Day. The best way to help is to go vegan; if you are already vegan, make certain you are conserving energy, keeping your tires inflated and getting the word out. Get in the game, and be on the winning team!

More information:

October 24th Intl. Climate Change Day

An Inconvenient Truth

Brighter Planet (bloggers)

Sierra Club Climate Crossroads

Stop Global Warming

Repower America

US EPA Site on Climate Change

Union of Concerned Scientists

Science Daily: Vegan Diets Better for Environment

The Vegan Post: Save the Environment