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Feeding the Food that Feeds Us

Categories: Conservation, Green Consumerism, Nature Preservation

Oceanic Fish Farms

Here’s a telling discussion: in order to deal with the fact that certain commercially consumed fish species, such as salmon, have declined precipitously, human society has engaged in fish farming.  In short: commercially consumed fish, such as salmon and tuna, are raised in captivity, corralled and contained on the coast in full or semi-captivity, and fed a controlled diet to ensure maximum marketability.  The problem, however, is that in order to raise salmon and other carnivorous species in captivity, aquaculturalists end up capturing and ‘converting’ lesser fish into fish meal.  In doing so, we end up consuming a greater amount of fish as hidden costs: it takes about 20kg of fish meal to produce 1kg of farmed tuna.

Now, one group of scientists at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is working on a solution to the problem.  Tellingly, the issue is not framed as a matter of reducing consumption, but as a matter of reformulating the produced fish meal so that the quantity of lesser fish is reduced, and substituted by, for example, soybeans and poultry.  As described in this article, one of the scientists argues that “We have to raise more fish,” noting that “…it’s simple economics.

Simple economics.  What a shame.  There are a variety of problems with this attitude – instead of re-examining the nature of excessive consumption (a worthwhile topic, considering the rates of obesity), science is being dedicated towards maintaining the rate of resource exploitation – worse yet, advocating the adoption of engineered and unnatural fish food in the guise of environmentalism and sustainability.  It should be noted as well, that reforming the fish feed process will also likely lead to greater environmental stress in other ways.  Raising fish in captivity, regardless of whether they are fed an unnatural vegetarian diet (to which they have to become ‘accustomed’), places them at greater risk of disease.  To take only one epidemiological study, in a 2007 study published in Science Magazine, projections of the spread of salmon lice indicate that 99% of farmed pink salmon populations could collapse in 4 generations.  This is not even to mention the contribution of unnatural concentrations of fish waste and byproducts of antibiotics to marine coastal pollution, nor the fact that the industrialization of fish production means a greater concentration of capital, market share, and hence wealth among an elite few.  For a more in-depth critique of fish farming, which also has negative impacts on socioeconomic equity, food security, and animal rights, see this study.

Once again, the problem is straightforward – excessive and unbridled consumption threaten ecosystem stability and the natural balance and, not surprisingly, socioeconomic justice.  The solution should be straightforward as well – change the patterns of consumption.  Reduce the quantity of fish consumed – avoid industrially produced farmed fish for sure – and try to live sustainably.  Yet, once again, human ingenuity is being dedicated to maintaining irrational behavior at all costs.

The Limits to (Green) Growth

Categories: Green Consumerism, Green Energy

 

Birds Swarming a Wind Turbine

In The Not-So-Green Mountains (NYTimes.com), an interesting thing is occurring: for the sake of clean energy generated by windfarms, Green Mountain Power is razing wild forest in the mountains of Vermont.  This exposes one of the central problems of the modern lifestyle.

Even the most environmentally friendly forms of energy come with some ecological – and often socioeconomic – costs.  In addition to leading to biodiversity loss and deforestation, windfarms can also be catastrophic for migratory species.  Unfortunately, as in the Red Sea/Rift Valley Flyway, the wind conditions that are propitious for energy are also used by migratory soaring birds.  See here (pdf, 1.5MB) for a detailed report.  Similarly, hydropower, while ostensibly cutting down on fossil fuels and GHG emissions, require the transformation of river ecologies, and contribute to eutrophication, and variation in microclimates.  This is not even to mention the dislocation, and occasional human rights violations, that can occur when local communities are displaced for dam construction (pdf, 53KB), as in China.

There are limits to green innovation.  While necessary, it will not alleviate our human impact on the environment.  Perhaps as much attention should be paid to reducing our demand on energy as there is to finding new sources.  In any case, assuming that we can innovate our way to no net environmental impact is deeply problematic.

“Spiritual Feelings” Aren’t Worth A Million Dollars, Sorry

Categories: Environmental Rights and Justice, Green Consumerism

San Francisco Peaks

What the hell?  This is a case that highlights the inherent problems in basing a socioeconomic system primarily on increasing market access and unceasing capitalist growth.

Take this case: the Snowbowl Ski Resort in Arizona wants to expand the size of its ski resort.  It has a $12 million dollar plan to create fake snow in the San Francisco Peaks – north of Flagstaff – using recycled sewage and waste water.  However, the Peaks are also sacred land for (among others) the Hopi, Navajo, and Havasupai Nations.  In a suit brought by various Native American Nations against the Snowbowl, a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly recognized that the Peaks “are sacred to at least thirteen formally recognized Indian tribes, and that this religious significance is of centuries’ duration” (pdf). 

To be sure, there are environmental implications in using wastewater as snow.  Chemicals from pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, and pesticides can be persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  They tend to be long-lived, accumulate in living organisms, and some – such as atrazine – are endocrine disruptors.  But the panel specifically mentioned the religious implications of using poop water on the sacred ground of all these Nations, noting that this would violate their religious freedom.

However, in an appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court re-heard the case en banc, and in an 8-3 decision, reversed this claim.  This time, they found that the proposed development would do little more than damage “spiritual feelings,” and “give one religious sect a veto” over public lands.  Good news for the developer, who noted that “A healthy business economy is good for everybody. That’s just an economic reality.”

So there you have it.  Economic development and “progress” trump the religious freedom and rights of Nations.  Maybe it’s their own bad luck to have a religion based around the adoration of nature and the outdoors, considering that these are prime spots for real estate.  Even though balancing developmental needs and environmental claims can be really difficult, I’m not sure we’re served by having a system that posits recreation is more important, and has more legal standing than centuries old beliefs.  Well, it seems that the Native American Nations have an ancient and marvelous culture.

For me to poop on.

(Sign this petition, and take it to the White House).

Greenwashing

Categories: Green Consumerism

This is a fantastic, engaging (if salty) discussion of corporate greenwashing.  Green certification and consumerism is intended to contribute to better environmental behavior; problematically, these good intentions can be fairly easily hijacked (and we all know where good intentions lead):

6 Attempts at Corporate Greenwashing

The Dangers of Mainstream Environmentalism

Categories: Green Consumerism

We can all agree that as a society, each step we take towards greater sustainability is a good thing.  Slow our consumption of resources.  Recycle, when possible.  And support “green” behavior.  However, we should be very cautious about promoting green consumerism when it leads to outcomes like this: a corporation whose raison d’etre is based around extracting cheap oil for mass commodification and profit cannot meaningfully be said to be acting “sustainably” because they have acquired LEED certification for – of all things – a gas station.

If you look closely at the billboard in the photo of this article, you can see the slogan “A little better.”  I imagine it’s a “little better” for the Earth in much the same way being impaled by a spear with a diameter of 2″ is “a little better” than being impaled by one with a diameter of 2 1/2″

BP LEED certified gas station