The Kritic

‘Environment’ Category

I wish to preface this post by stating that the references made to the Australian Bush Meat trade in this post are only included as a condition of republishing this material as I feel the rest of the article has merit. I do not condone or support the commercial Bush Meat trade in any way and I encourage all readers to do the same.

Being vegetarian saves cows' lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures.

Being vegetarian saves cows' lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures.nunro

The ethics of eating red meat have been grilled recently by critics who question its consequences for environmental health and animal welfare. But if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.

Renowned ethicist Peter Singer says if there is a range of ways of feeding ourselves, we should choose the way that causes the least unnecessary harm to animals. Most animal rights advocates say this means we should eat plants rather than animals.

It takes somewhere between two to ten kilos of plants, depending on the type of plants involved, to produce one kilo of animal. Given the limited amount of productive land in the world, it would seem to some to make more sense to focus our culinary attentions on plants, because we would arguably get more energy per hectare for human consumption. Theoretically this should also mean fewer sentient animals would be killed to feed the ravenous appetites of ever more humans.

But before scratching rangelands-produced red meat off the “good to eat” list for ethical or environmental reasons, let’s test these presumptions.

Published figures suggest that, in Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in:

  • at least 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein
  • more environmental damage, and
  • a great deal more animal cruelty than does farming red meat.

How is this possible?

Agriculture to produce wheat, rice and pulses requires clear-felling native vegetation. That act alone results in the deaths of thousands of Australian animals and plants per hectare. Since Europeans arrived on this continent we have lost more than half of Australia’s unique native vegetation, mostly to increase production of monocultures of introduced species for human consumption.

Most of Australia’s arable land is already in use. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health. Or, if existing laws are changed, more native vegetation could be cleared for agriculture (an area the size of Victoria plus Tasmania would be needed to produce the additional amount of plant-based food required).

Australian cattle eat mostly pasture, reducing their environmental impact.

Australian cattle eat mostly pasture, reducing their environmental impact.chris runoff

Most cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture. This is usually rangelands, which constitute about 70% of the continent.

Grazing occurs on primarily native ecosystems. These have and maintain far higher levels of native biodiversity than croplands. The rangelands can’t be used to produce crops, so production of meat here doesn’t limit production of plant foods. Grazing is the only way humans can get substantial nutrients from 70% of the continent.

In some cases rangelands have been substantially altered to increase the percentage of stock-friendly plants. Grazing can also cause significant damage such as soil loss and erosion. But it doesn’t result in the native ecosystem “blitzkrieg” required to grow crops.

This environmental damage is causing some well-known environmentalists to question their own preconceptions. British environmental advocate George Monbiot, for example, publicly converted from vegan to omnivore after reading Simon Fairlie’s expose about meat’s sustainability. And environmental activist Lierre Keith documented the awesome damage to global environments involved in producing plant foods for human consumption.

In Australia we can also meet part of our protein needs using sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo meat. Unlike introduced meat animals, they don’t damage native biodiversity. They are soft-footed, low methane-producing and have relatively low water requirements. They also produce an exceptionally healthy low-fat meat.

In Australia 70% of the beef produced for human consumption comes from animals raised on grazing lands with very little or no grain supplements. At any time, only 2% of Australia’s national herd of cattle are eating grains in feed lots; the other 98% are raised on and feeding on grass. Two-thirds of cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture.

To produce protein from grazing beef, cattle are killed. One death delivers (on average, across Australia’s grazing lands) a carcass of about 288 kilograms. This is approximately 68% boneless meat which, at 23% protein equals 45kg of protein per animal killed. This means 2.2 animals killed for each 100kg of useable animal protein produced.

Producing protein from wheat means ploughing pasture land and planting it with seed. Anyone who has sat on a ploughing tractor knows the predatory birds that follow you all day are not there because they have nothing better to do. Ploughing and harvesting kill small mammals, snakes, lizards and other animals in vast numbers. In addition, millions of mice are poisoned in grain storage facilities every year.

However, the largest and best-researched loss of sentient life is the poisoning of mice during plagues.

Each area of grain production in Australia has a mouse plague on average every four years, with 500-1000 mice per hectare. Poisoning kills at least 80% of the mice.

At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0.8) to grow grain. Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is usable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of usable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.

Some of this grain is used to “finish” beef cattle in feed lots (some is food for dairy cattle, pigs and poultry), but it is still the case that many more sentient lives are sacrificed to produce usable protein from grains than from rangelands cattle.

There is a further issue to consider here: the question of sentience – the capacity to feel, perceive or be conscious.

You might not think the billions of insects and spiders killed by grain production are sentient, though they perceive and respond to the world around them. You may dismiss snakes and lizards as cold-blooded creatures incapable of sentience, though they form pair bonds and care for their young. But what about mice?

Mice are far more sentient than we thought. They sing complex, personalised love songs to each other that get more complex over time. Singing of any kind is a rare behaviour among mammals, previously known only to occur in whales, bats and humans.

Girl mice, like swooning human teenagers, try to get close to a skilled crooner. Now researchers are trying to determine whether song innovations are genetically programmed or or whether mice learn to vary their songs as they mature.

Hoping to prepare them for an ethical oversight

“Hoping to prepare them for an ethical oversight”Nikkita Archer

Baby mice left in the nest sing to their mothers — a kind of crying song to call them back. For every female killed by the poisons we administer, on average five to six totally dependent baby mice will, despite singing their hearts out to call their mothers back home, inevitably die of starvation, dehydration or predation.

When cattle, kangaroos and other meat animals are harvested they are killed instantly. Mice die a slow and very painful death from poisons. From a welfare point of view, these methods are among the least acceptable modes of killing. Although joeys are sometimes killed or left to fend for themselves, only 30% of kangaroos shot are females, only some of which will have young (the industry’s code of practice says shooters should avoid shooting females with dependent young). However, many times this number of dependent baby mice are left to die when we deliberately poison their mothers by the millions.

Replacing red meat with grain products leads to many more sentient animal deaths, far greater animal suffering and significantly more environmental degradation. Protein obtained from grazing livestock costs far fewer lives per kilogram: it is a more humane, ethical and environmentally-friendly dietary option.

So, what does a hungry human do? Our teeth and digestive system are adapted for omnivory. But we are now challenged to think about philosophical issues. We worry about the ethics involved in killing grazing animals and wonder if there are other more humane ways of obtaining adequate nutrients.

Relying on grains and pulses brings destruction of native ecosystems, significant threats to native species and at least 25 times more deaths of sentient animals per kilogram of food. Most of these animals sing love songs to each other, until we inhumanely mass-slaughter them.

Former Justice of the High Court, the Hon. Michael Kirby, wrote that:

“In our shared sentience, human beings are intimately connected with other animals. Endowed with reason and speech, we are uniquely empowered to make ethical decisions and to unite for social change on behalf of others that have no voice. Exploited animals cannot protest about their treatment or demand a better life. They are entirely at our mercy. So every decision of animal welfare, whether in Parliament or the supermarket, presents us with a profound test of moral character”.

We now know the mice have a voice, but we haven’t been listening.

The challenge for the ethical eater is to choose the diet that causes the least deaths and environmental damage. There would appear to be far more ethical support for an omnivorous diet that includes rangeland-grown red meat and even more support for one that includes sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo.

Thanks to many colleagues including Rosie Cooney, Peter Ampt, Grahame Webb, Bob Beale, Gordon Grigg, John Kelly, Suzanne Hand, Greg Miles, Alex Baumber, George Wilson, Peter Banks, Michael Cermak, Barry Cohen, Dan Lunney, Ernie Lundelius Jr and anonymous referees of the Australian Zoologist paper who provided helpful critiques.

The ConversationAt the time of original publication Mike Archer AM did not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and had no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
By Mike Archer AM, Professor, Evolution of Earth & Life Systems Research Group at UNSW Australia
Read the original article.

Harmful Plastics

Much of Australia’s waste plastic is ending up in the ocean, and in fish.Photo: John Schneider

Each square kilometre of Australian sea surface water is contaminated by around 4,000 pieces of tiny plastics, according to our study published today in journal PLOS ONE and data repository Dryad.

These small plastic fragments, mostly less than 5mm across, are loaded with pollutants that can negatively affect several marine species, from tiny fish and zooplankton to large turtles and whales.

Plastic pollution hazards to Australian species and ecological communities are therefore likely broader than those officially recognised.

Understanding the plastic pollution issue

Unfortunately, part of our plastic waste winds up in the oceans. Plastics can be transported from populated areas to the marine environment by rivers, wind, tides, rainwater, storm drains, sewage disposal, and flooding, or can directly reach the sea from boats and offshore installations.

Throughout their marine journey, plastics break down into increasingly smaller pieces mostly due to the effect of sunlight and heat.

These plastic fragments, commonly called microplastics when smaller than 5mm, represent the vast majority of human-made debris present at beaches, seafloor, and in the water column.

The effects of plastics on food webs and ecosystems have become focus of concern over the last decade. It is now known that over half of our plastic objects contain at least one ingredient classified as hazardous.

To make matters worse, plastics that enter the oceans become increasingly toxic by adsorbing oily pollutants on their surface. When plastic is ingested, these concentrated toxins can be delivered to animals and transferred up their food chains.

This biomagnification of toxins is more likely to occur when plastics are small enough to be ingested by low trophic fauna, such as small fish and zooplankton.

These tiny ocean plastics may affect the health of entire food webs, which include humans. For instance, little plastic pieces were found in the stomach of some Southern Bluefin tuna captured off Tasmania and destined for human consumption.

What kind of plastic and where does it come from?

Until now, plastic contamination in Australian waters was mostly inferred from beach clean-up reports. There was no at-sea survey focused on sampling plastic debris in waters around this country.

I wanted to fill this gap. During my PhD research, I went on seven transit voyages aboard three Australian vessels: RV Southern Surveyor, RV Solander, and Comac Enterprise.

During these trips, I used a net called Manta Net to catch floating plastics at the ocean surface.

Small fragments of hard plastic were the most common type, but soft plastics, such as fragments of wrappers, and strings (mostly fishing lines) were also common.

Harmful Plastics Graph

Size and types of marine plastics collected around Australia. Examples of each plastic type are shown in the photos. Image: PLOS ONE

These plastics were mostly made of polyolefins (polyethylene and polypropylene). These polymers account for 52% of our plastic production and are typically used to make throwaway packaging. They are also used for manufacturing fishing equipment such as crates, nets, ropes, and lines.

Our overall mean sea surface plastic concentration was 4,256.4 plastic pieces per km2. This mean value is higher than those reported for other regions, such as the Caribbean Sea (1,414 pieces per km2) and Gulf of Maine (1,534 pieces per km2).

However, in the subtropical gyres, plastics tend to accumulate due to converging ocean currents, and mean plastic concentrations are higher: from 20,328 pieces per km2 in the North Atlantic Gyre, to 334,271 pieces per km2 in the North Pacific Gyre. The Mediterranean Sea is also a global hotspot for plastics: it has around 116,000 plastics per km2.

We observed higher plastic concentrations close to major Australian cities (Sydney, Brisbane) and industrial centres (Karratha) as well as in remote areas where ocean currents converged (such as south-west Tasmania).

Harmful Plastics Concentrations

Marine plastic concentrations in waters around Australia. White crosses indicate location of major Australian cities. Image: PLOS ONE

These observations, along with our ocean current modelling results, indicate that marine plastics reach Australian waters from multiple sources: domestic and international populated areas, as well as maritime operations.

Solutions

Plastics, made mostly of oil and gas, are cheaper than the natural materials they replace for the manufacture of many objects, such as packaging and fishing gear.

As a result, incentives to re-use or recycle every-day items have decreased over the last few decades. Meanwhile plastic production has increased from 1,700,00 tonnes in 1950 to 280,000,000 tonnes in 2011.

In Australia, 1,476,690 tonnes of plastics were used in 2011-2012, of which just 20.5% was recycled. Most of these plastics (around 37%) were used for manufacturing single-use disposable packaging, including plastic bottles, cups, and bags.

Marine plastic pollution is a global issue caused by our massive production of plastic waste. The solution for this recent environmental problem is not simple.

We believe there are three important steps. First, decrease plastic waste: this could be achieved by reducing production of single-use plastic packaging. Second, improve our plastic disposal practices on land at an international level. And last, better enforce the laws prohibiting dumping of plastics at sea.

Disclosure Statement

Julia Reisser is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia, and receives funding and support from the University of Western Australia and CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship.

Charitha Pattiaratchi does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
By Julia Reisser, University of Western Australia and Charitha Pattiaratchi, University of Western Australia
Read the original article.

Balloons Blow

Balloons BlowPhoto: Balloons Blow

In August 2012 I introduced readers of The Kritic to the problem with balloons and their affect on the environment. In today’s blog I have asked Danielle and Chelsea of BalloonsBlow.org to write about their specific fight against the insidious balloon.

Balloons Blow was created by two sisters who got sick of finding balloons everywhere while out in nature. We’ve been cleaning the beach with our parents all our lives & started to notice an increase in balloon pollution (along with plastic, of course). When we went online and realized the only information on the internet was balloon industry propaganda, we created BalloonsBlow.org so people would have a place to get accurate balloon information. It is the only site dedicated to educating people and compiling information about balloon pollution.

We both have full time jobs, but Balloons Blow keeps us busy every day. The Earth and its wildlife will continue to inspire us to stay strong and continue our work toward a sustainable society that is aware of the impacts daily actions have on the planet. We are constantly motivated by our animal friends who need our help & the people around the world who have been inspired to also clean up whenever, wherever.

Balloons Blow has grown more than we ever imagined & is now a non-profit organization. We are awaiting our 501c3 approval, but most everything has been funded out of our own pockets. We just want people to quit littering with balloons!

To combat the balloon industry’s false claims of latex balloons biodegrading ‘as fast as an oak leaf’ or ‘up to six months’, we started our own backyard biodegradability test using two latex balloons that washed in to us while we were at the beach on December 24, 2011. Those balloons are still in our backyard and haven’t changed much since we brought them home from the beach over 23 months ago. We take pictures of the balloons monthly & believe our test is much more accurate than the single study touted by the balloon industry, which was done by a man paid by the balloon industry who frequently manipulated the balloons including the use of drying ovens, etc.

Biodegradability Test

Backyard Biodegradability TestPhoto: Balloons Blow

23 months since floating onto the beach from the sea partially inflated. Tied to a fence post & left to endure the extreme weather conditions of south Florida, these latex balloons have changed little since deflation & are definitely NOT biodegrading. Although their color is fading & they have plant matter stuck to them, they are still here. Changing from dry & stiff in the heat, to pliable & supple in the humidity. The attached plastic ribbons are becoming brittle & breaking apart.

Balloons are being released everyday by people and organizations all around the world. It is up to each one of us to educate each other. Sometimes it only takes a single e-mail or call to stop a mass littering event.

There are often many challenges when attempting to change people’s minds and actions. People can be very passionate about balloons. Some people can be very defensive.

Balloon releases are becoming popular with awareness group events. This is perplexing to us because awareness groups usually deal with an issue that affects life, whether it is human or another species. Not only can balloons themselves directly destroy life, but the helium that the balloons are filled with is being depleted at an alarming rate. Helium is a finite resource and is used in the medical field for a variety of procedures. Our society needs Helium to save lives, but it costs about ten thousand times more to get helium from the air than it does from rocks and natural gas reserves, and our supplies of Helium are being used at a “unimaginable” rate and could be gone within a generation according to Robert Richardson (Nobel Prize winner in 1996 for his work on superfluidity of Helium). Balloon releases are bad for everyone.

Our favorite alternative is planting trees and flowers because both support existing life and help create new lives. Ribbon dancers & bubbles are also fun!

There are a handful of states and cities around the globe that have balloon release regulations. Unfortunately, many of these laws are often unenforced and unknown. They also frequently allow for a certain number of balloons to be released and only penalize a fine for releases that exceed the limit. The legality of balloon releases is a tremendous obstacle. This multi-billion dollar industry spends big bucks lobbying to keep this littering legal. Creating laws regulating balloon releases may be a difficult and lengthy process, but their enactment would be concurrent with litter laws.

Having respect for the Earth in the simple act of refraining from littering and releasing balloons can lead to more environmentally conscious and sustainable actions.

Many people ask us, why balloons? After explaining the complex web of this question as it is directly related to released balloons (industry propaganda, lack of public awareness, encouragement of wastefulness, effects of wildlife, etc.) it always comes around to the big picture; sustainability. Throwing something ‘away’ takes it out of your sight, but not off of the planet. Recycling is a great alternative to throwing something ‘away’, but is becoming a bandage over the deeper wound. We are all victims of our society and are often coerced into buying more oil based plastics; but by coming together & (making) more conscious choices we CAN make a difference! We all have the power to control our actions and in the end change the course of history.

BALLOONS BLOW… DON’T LET THEM GO!

Balloonsblow.org