From Our Readers
It was encouraging to read in “Paper Chase” [January-February] about the intense grassroots and political pressures placed upon several major corporations and to see that Victoria’s Secret, Williams-Sonoma, Dell, and L.L. Bean have agreed to “green up” their paper purchases and follow more sustainable guidelines for production of their catalogs. Obviously, much more work needs to be done to persuade other companies. I wrote personal letters to Kimberly-Clark and Sears citing information from your article, and I am waiting for responses. Hopefully other individuals will write to companies as well, but I think that pressure from Audubon, ForestEthics, and other environmental groups is necessary to make major corporations aware of the negative impacts their practices have on our planet, as well as the positive things they can do.
There was no mention in “Paper Chase” of the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, an agreement worked out a few years ago among First Nations representatives, conservationists, and commercial interests. This was hailed as a major proactive plan to mitigate climate change and protect the habitat for billions of birds. What is the current status of this plan? And how can that agenda be promoted?
T. Edward Nickens responds: The Boreal Forest Conservation Framework (BFCF) is a national vision for Canada that’s based on the establishment of a network of large interconnected protected areas, covering about half of the country’s boreal forest, and the use of leading-edge sustainable development practices in remaining areas. Many of the entities I spoke with during my research (ForestEthics, Boreal Songbird Initiative, even companies such as Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, Black Diamond, and Coffee for the Birds) are BFCF signatories. With its announcement about protecting half its remaining northern boreal forest, Ontario joined the Northwest Territories in leading the way toward realization of the BFCF. One great way to promote the BFCF is to support the conservation groups implementing the vision. For more information and a complete list, visit the Canadian Boreal Intiative.
I read with interest “The Low-Carbon Diet” [January-February], and I draw a much different conclusion regarding author Mike Tidwell’s assertion that “it’s got to be about morality, about right versus wrong.” Why are we not seeing more emphasis on solving the root cause of the many dilemmas we face: global overpopulation? I don’t think the solution to carbon emissions is to spread finite resources among an obscenely large and growing global population. A sustainable population, considerably lower than at present, is the only rational goal worthy of pursuit. So when I read Tidwell’s well-written prose, I must question the morality of his having fathered two children, adding to the root cause of many of the problems under which all living creatures suffer. We must solve the problem, not the symptom.
Tidwell and others make the claim that even grass-fed animals generate greenhouse gases not related to the fossil fuel-intensive grain production that provides nutrients for feedlot animal production. Specifically he states that cows and other animals generate methane. But the methane generated is not fossil carbon, it is part of the short-term carbon cycle—i.e., the carbon in question was removed from the atmosphere within the past year or so by photosynthesis, consumed by the animal, and released back into the atmosphere. So though methane is more potent (but shorter-lived) than CO2, animal-generated methane is not adding carbon mass to the atmosphere.
Mike Tidwell responds: Michael Fagan has a point that livestock fed on grass versus energy-intensive factory grain pellets will produce less in the way of greenhouse gases. But there’s disagreement among scientists as to how much of the carbon captured in grass is then fed back to the atmosphere as methane, a gas 21 times more powerful than CO2. Much of the grass actually winds up as manure ready to fertilize the ground for more grass or vegetable crops. But there’s no doubt that mass meat consumption at current levels cannot be sustained by free-range, grass-fed animals. The sheer increase in required land would topple more carbon-sequestering forests and pollute more streams to meet the daily U.S. intake of a nearly 4,000-calories-per-day diet that is heavy on meat and dairy. Best to eat no meat at all or dramatically less of the grass-fed variety.
It was the animals’ suffering that made me turn to ethical veganism 20 years ago. After becoming vegan I learned what a boon it is for my own health—I never fall sick anymore. I also understood what it means for the environment. Eating plants instead of animals has a huge impact on every sphere of our life. It also has emotional and spiritual benefits that only someone who has tried it knows about.
Dr. Nandita Shah
I’m totally impressed with Tidwell’s unselfish decision to change his diet. But I must take issue with his comment, “The bad news, I suppose, is that the cost of meat could rise.” Pricing people out of buying a dangerous product is good news, just as raising the price of gasoline in order to reduce our profligate use of fossil fuels would be a good thing. I also take exception to the observation that “knowingly eating food that makes you fat or harms your local fish and birds is one thing. Knowingly eating food that makes children across much of the world hungry is another.” To my mind, they are all the same thing. There aren’t degrees of immorality based on the victim’s identity. If we learn nothing else from this global mess of our own making, it should be apparent that what hurts one living being in earth’s family hurts all beings, and what damages one place on this planet damages all places. Thankfully, the corollary is also true: What helps one individual helps all, and what helps one location helps all corners of the globe. Tidwell’s walk of his talk is proof of the latter.
To suggest that eating meat is immoral and contributes to suffering and hunger for children is insulting. Tidwell criticizes the use of synthetic fertilizer, then the proliferation of animal manure. So what are the organic farmers and gardeners to use for soil enrichment and compost? He also narrows down his criticism to “we in the West” for our errant ways. What about the rest of the world that is producing and eating meat and factory farming?
Palm Coast, FL
One can still enjoy meat and live low-carbon. White-tailed deer are at historic population peaks in much of the East, as are feral pigs in the South. Both provide local, organic, low-fat meat without the heavy carbon footprint. Sustainable populations of other species of wildlife and fish provide the same benefit, and also provide outdoor recreation. Responsible hunting and fishing should not be overlooked as options for people who choose to live by high environmental standards.
GIVING A HOOT
As “Owl War II” [“Incite,” January-February] highlights, scientists acknowledge that barred owl competition is a main threat to recovering the northern spotted owl, yet no clear remedy exists. One way to address the threat is to control barred owls through lethal or non-lethal means in certain areas. However, scientific and ethical questions remain about whether barred owl control is feasible, effective, or the right thing to do. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is designing barred owl control experiments to gather more information, and hiring an ethicist to work with us and a stakeholder group to better understand the ethical dimensions of such control before any widespread efforts are taken. We are working closely with a number of nongovernmental organizations, including the Audubon Society of Portland, on the idea of control experiments. We will make an informed decision on whether large-scale control in some areas is warranted only after more research and thorough analysis are completed.
Paul Henson, Ph.D.
Oregon State Supervisor
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
THE BEEF ON BEEF
In “High Steaks” [January-February], which reviewed Courtney White’s book Revolution on the Range, a reference is made to the poor condition of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona, while nearby land being grazed by livestock remains healthy. This is another example of a now-common claim being made by the livestock industry: that grasslands in arid climates benefit from grazing, while livestock “exclosures” are suffering ecologically. Unfortunately, this provocative, seductive-sounding assertion is utterly without scientific foundation. A more careful and believable assessment is a book by Carl and Jane Bock, The View From Bald Hill: Thirty Years in an Arizona Grassland, describing peer-reviewed scientific work on the recovery of grasslands at a National Audubon research facility that is, not coincidentally, just a few hours’ drive from the Buenos Aires refuge.
The Bocks have had no trouble at all documenting recovery from abusive livestock practices, and they have noted the dramatic contrasts with grazed areas across the fence, as any visitor can attest to. To be sure, the rate of recovery is dependent on many environmental factors, and therefore spatially variable. But attributing slow recovery to a lack of cattle grazing is wishful thinking: Some grazed lands will take decades to recover, and the most abused may never do so, as the Bocks have noted.
White and the Quivira Coalition are trying to improve livestock practices in the Southwest, and that is a good thing. But putting lipstick on the pig of vast destruction caused by a century of abuse by cows is going to be a challenge indeed.
Bernard R. Foy
Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society
Santa Fe, NM
The hubris of Courtney White and others who believe that nature will fall apart if humans aren’t there “managing” the land is unbelievable. All livestock production in the arid West has unavoidable ecological impacts—changes in nutrient cycles, changes in fire regimes, soil compaction, spread of weeds, competition with native herbivores, damage to riparian zones, dewatering rivers (for irrigation), and so forth. And the list of species endangered or jeopardized primarily or largely as a result of livestock production includes many animals well known to Audubon readers, including the sage-grouse. Indeed, livestock grazing is the single greatest cause of species endangerment in the West. A much clearer picture of how the livestock industry degrades our public lands and bullies public employees and activists is Mike Hudak’s book Western Turf Wars.
Editor, Welfare Ranching
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