Issue No. 7
Elephant Poaching Down
Although 10 - 15,000 elephants continue to be killed each year, the mortality rate from poaching has fallen from a high of more than 10% in 2011 to less than 4% in 2017. The decline is being attributed to reduced demand for ivory from China and Southeast Asia. However, researchers say the current level of poaching is still unsustainable. There are only 350,000 elephants remaining in Africa. Source: Greenlight, The Guardian
Why Monocultures Are Bad
Just 12 types of plants and five animal species provide three-quarters of the world’s food supply. And rice, maize and wheat provide 60% of the calories in the global human diet. This loss of diversity presents a huge threat e.g., malnutrition, because a single pathogen or parasite could wipe out a region. Monocropping also depletes the soil of nutrients. Source: faunalytics.org
Why Eating Less Meat and Dairy Is Good
Aside from fewer GHG emissions, other benefits include: protecting the rainforest (animal agriculture drives 91% of its destruction); reducing the run-off of chemicals, fertilizers and antibiotics into waterways which creates dead zones -- among other hazards; and, replenishing the seas (300,000 marine mammals e.g., whales and dolphins, plus 1,000s of turtles, seals and birds, die each year caught in fishing nets).
speaking words of wisdom
“Don’t say you are just one person, or ask what you can do. Decide what you will do, whom you will vote for, what you will eat and drive …”
— Carl Safina, author and founder of the not-for-profit Safina Centre
“To … protect human civilization, a massive globalization of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate. This would be akin in scale to the World War Two emergency mobilization .”
— Australia’s climate think tank, Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration
Photo: Ian Espinosa/Unsplash
on the horizon
Investors Are Asking: Is the Seafood Industry Sustainable?
An investor coalition that manages $12 trillion dollars is asking tough questions about how aquaculture is dealing with the risks of climate change, antibiotic use and habitat destruction. A report by Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) details 10 risk factors facing the industry that if not addressed effectively will threaten its sustainability.
Aquaculture has grown rapidly to become a $230 billion industry and now more than half of all seafood consumed is from fish farms. In this website’s May 12 blog, “Something Fishy About Fish Farms”, we explored the sustainability problem of using 20-25% of global wild fish stocks to make fish meal and fish oil to feed farmed fish. The FAIRR report identifies this and other risks e.g., how warmer waters and salinity changes in waters off North America and Europe are likely to lead to more salmon diseases, parasites and toxic algal blooms.
Algal blooms, in part caused by nutrient-rich waste from fish farms, caused $2 billion in losses for Chilean fish farms in 2016 and killed seven million salmon this spring in Norway. To fight disease and parasites, fish farmers use excessive amounts of antibiotics, with Chilean salmon and Asian shrimp having some of the highest usage rates in food production. Chilean salmon are given antibiotics at 10 times the rate used for global chicken production on average.
The FAIRR report shows that 70% of seafood consumed in the US comes from Asia and half from fish farms. The FDA reports increasing rates of refusals of shrimp imports from Asia and India due to contamination with banned antibiotics. And farmed fish production from Southeast Asia is expected to drop by up to 30% by 2050 due to rising seas temperatures and ocean acidification. The report suggests that solutions could include reduced antibiotic use, fish feed made from bacteria or insects, and more cultivation of mussels and oysters, species that do not require fish meal. Other solutions include the burgeoning production of plant-based seafood alternatives and cultured seafood grown from cells. www.fairr.org
The History of Global Emissions Tells Another Story
“China is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases so how is anything we do going to make a meaningful difference?” This seems like a fair question but it only addresses part of the picture and it doesn’t get us off the hook.
The lack of motivation to reduce a country’s carbon emissions because other nations are currently producing more is a false equivalence and is only looking at part of the equation. The above chart takes us back to 1750 and shows the historical carbon contribution of the world’s nations. This tells another story and poses a different question.
There is a crucial difference between current and cumulative emissions. Because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for centuries, countries with a longer history of industrialization have a much larger cumulative footprint. So, there’s a case to be made for suggesting it is the cumulative contribution that should guide our actions.
The UK organization, Carbon Brief, www.carbonbrief.org, has put together a short compelling video that shows how the GHG emissions footprint of each major nation has changed year by year since the beginning of industrialization. The graphic above shows the picture in 2003 but the video tracks the dynamic changes for every year since 1750. You can find the video on www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/4/24/18512804/climate-change-united-states-china-emissions It shows that because it was the pioneer of industrialization, the UK was initially the largest emitter until other industrialized nations such as Germany, the US and the former Soviet Union caught up.
So, the overall historical emissions footprint based on the historical track record shows a strikingly different picture. Despite China being the largest emitter today, on a cumulative basis the US has a GHG footprint (397 gigatonnes of CO2) -- almost twice that of China (214 gtCO2) -- and Canada is ranked ninth overall despite having a much smaller share of the current global emissions.
So, while global GHG emissions continue to rise and reducing them is now a global imperative, the question could become, “why wouldn’t countries with the largest cumulative emissions track records take on more of the burden of dealing with the issue too?”.
the deeper dive
Bread Beer and Biogas May Help Save the Planet
On a global basis, we waste or throw away one-third of all food produced and it has a huge carbon footprint i.e., if food waste was a country it would have the third largest carbon footprint after China and the US. The UN’s FAO says we waste 1.3 billion tons of food globally each year.
Fortunately, food waste is one of the easier sustainability challenges to tackle. Here are some innovative solutions:
New technology is enabling Canadian cities to turn biogas from food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG) that can heat buildings, fuel vehicles or generate electricity. Some of the 120,000 tons a year of food waste and other organics that Toronto collects in its green bin program, is being taken to facilities that generate RNG to be fed into natural gas distribution systems. This saves the energy equivalent of taking 35,000 cars off the road a year.
The FAO says up to 45% of fruits and vegetables are wasted before they reach the market. The World Resources Institute reports that small farms without access to refrigeration can use a solar powered hydration system that prolongs crop storage. The system, made by Wakati, is a small tent with a solar-powered misting system needing only one litre of water a week. Tests have shown it can keep 200 kg of produce fresh for up to five days.
“Feedback”, a UK organization, runs a campaign called, “Feed the 5000”, that repurposes food waste. They’ve served tasty free lunches using only fresh, excess food that would otherwise have gone to waste to 5,000 people in 50 cities globally. In addition to the lunches, Feedback runs “gleaning networks” of volunteers to collect excess food from orchards, farms and market gardens, and gives it to charities, community groups, and foodbanks.
A British company brews beer from excess bread and donates the profits to Feedback. Toast Ale, brewed in London and Yorkshire, uses some of the 24 million slices of fresh bread that are wasted every day in the UK. Company founder Tristram Stuart, says that both beer and bread are made from water, grain and yeast. Toast Ale uses surplus bakery bread for one-third of its malted barley requirements and has brewed up more than one million slices of bread in the UK. This approach is now being used by craft brewers in seven countries including Canada, Iceland and the US who donate the proceeds to charity. To read more about Toast Ale see our blog of June 22, and for more ideas on how to fight food waste, visit the “Take Action” section on this website. Source: World Resources Institute.
freeing whales and dolphins
After a three-year process, Canada has banned the captivity of whales and dolphins for entertainment. It will now be a criminal offence to capture these highly social, intelligent creatures from the ocean and hold them in concrete tanks for the rest of their lives. Dubbed the “Free Willy” bill, this is the first legislation of its kind in North America and it was passed into law thanks in part to tens of thousands of Canadians who threw their support behind the bill as well as action by a coalition of marine scientists and animal advocacy groups.
Photo: Silviu Georgescu/Unsplash
1. Hot on the heels of the good news for whales and dolphins, Canada has banned the import and export of shark fins. This will end its participation in another cruel trade (fins are sliced off live animals which are left to sink in the water and slowly die). Canada was the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia.
2. Impossible Foods’ 2019 Impact Report discusses its mission to replace animals as a global food production system by 2035. It cited the huge carbon capture potential from allowing native ecosystems, usurped by feed crops and livestock grazing, to recover biomass and biodiversity as a way to turn back the clock on climate change.
3. The Bank of Canada recently listed the physical and transitional risks of climate change as one of six vulnerabilities facing Canada’s economy. Investors are unlikely to ignore this warning given BOC’s reputation for being data-driven and typically cautious.
4. Australia and New Zealand aim to grow one billion trees over the next decade and Pakistan launched a 10-Billion-Tree Tsunami in 2018 to be planted over the next five years. Also, the Philippines just passed a law requiring high school and college students to plant 10 trees in order to graduate. This should result in 175 million new trees each year.
1. Barclays analysts expect plant-based and cultured meats to occupy 10% of the market in 10 years. www.fooddive.com
2. Hundreds of rivers around the world contain dangerous levels of antibiotics according to a recent global study. Antibiotic pollution is a key way bacteria develop resistance to life-saving medicines. www.theguardian.com
3. Over 60% of household waste in Canada is avoidable and costs Canadian households an average of $1,100 a year. We buy too much and we store too much. Check out www.lovefoodhatewaste.ca.
4. Today, the poultry industry slaughters more birds in one day than it did in a year in 1930. www.therevelator.org
5. The UK government’s climate watchdog, “Committee on Climate Change” says people can reduce their diet-related emissions by 35% by moving from a high- to a low-meat diet. www.ccc.org.uk.
earth overshoot day
“Earth Overshoot Day” (EOD) marks the date each year when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds that which Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate in that year. Calculated and tracked by the international research organization, Global Footprint Network, www.footprintnetwork.org the date is falling earlier and earlier thanks to our unsustainable consumption patterns. In 2019, OED arrives on July 29 which is the earliest date by which nature’s resources budget for the year has been consumed since tracking began. By using up more ecological resources than nature can regenerate -- through overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide than ecosystems can absorb. It is the equivalent to consuming the resources of 1.7 Earths each year. The debt is being paid through climate change, drought and wildlife extinction. Not living within planetary boundaries is not sustainable, the number needs to be 1.0 or less. Here are a couple of examples of the scale of the effort required: if people reduced meat consumption by 50% it would move EOD back by six days; and cutting food waste in half would move it back by 11 days.
The following chart is a calculation of when EOD falls by country. You can go to www.footprintcalculator.org and calculate your personal footprint and compare your EOD with that of your country and the world.