Lynn Fang

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  1. Eating Meat and Climate Change

    When you eat a hamburger, you aren’t just causing a cow to suffer; you are also supporting an industry that is rapidly destroying our water, air, soil, and forests. It takes an estimated 4.8 pounds of grain, 390 gallons of water, and .25 gallons of gasoline to produce a pound of beef. Livestock production requires 10 to 1000 times more land, energy, and water than is necessary to produce an equivalent amount of plant food. The Earth could support a vegetarian population many times its present size. But the current world population could not be sustained on meat-based diets. [Global Action Network] In light of the current UN Climate Change Conference, COP16, in Cancun, I've chosen to participate in the Green Your Plate social media campaign, in order to raise awareness surrounding livestock contributions to climate change. The way that factory farming is done today poses tremendous risks to climate change. This stems from a reliance on corn for feed, pooling manure into stagnant lagoons that release methane, use of petroleum-fueled machinery, and pollution to air and water which have unknown consequences for global warming. The Corn Problem The US corn industry is the most heavily subsidized farm crop of all, and so we have a huge excess of corn. A good chunk of that corn does not taste good, has low nutrient value, and is meant to be used as livestock feed. However, cows have special stomachs meant to eat grass, not corn. Michael Pollan explains the details in this New York Times piece: A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio. This feedlot corn took a great deal of water, pesticides, and fertilizer to grow. Forestland is often burned down for agriculture - forests purify air and water, sequester carbon, and build soil. These gifts of the forest are lost because we want to grow corn to force-feed it to our cattle, so they'll fatten up faster. Because cows get sick from eating corn, large amounts of antibiotics are given to them to ensure that they won't react too terribly to the corn feed. They are also given growth hormones to speed up their growth. These antibiotics and hormones break down in the cow's body, and leave through its excrements - manure and urine, which inevitably ends up in the water supply. Factory farms’ heavy reliance on antibiotics encourages antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which affects both the quality of your meat as well as your own personal health. All living things undergo genetic mutations – this is the basis for evolution. New genes, new proteins, new survival tools. Over time, as bacteria mutate, certain populations acquire increased immunity to specific antibiotic drugs, meaning they are ever less likely to die. Conventionally-produced meat is more likely to become spoiled with bacteria – you suffer the consequence of foodborne illness. Many factory farm workers do not respond to antibiotics in treatment, because the bacteria they are surrounded by have acquired resistance, and we don’t have new antibiotics to treat them yet. This also affects antibiotics used to treat human pathogens, as diseases from animals can infect humans. Where there's lots of cows, manure, and feed, there will be lots of dust. Microbes, organic matter, and excrement can all get blown into the air, passing through wind currents unknown pathogens and polluting toxins. The Manure Problem Massive amounts of manure build up quickly in feedlots, and are siphoned off to a manure lagoon. Whereas in a sustainable system, waste is a valued resource and never left sitting out, a conventional system is not able to use manure effectively. Some of it is used to fertilize crops, but most of it just sits there, collecting. Manure lagoons pollute groundwater, deplete soil fertility, kill off economically viable animals such as fish, and they release large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Animal sewage, nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, and soil erosion from major farming states in the Midwest flows into the Mississippi River, which empties at the Gulf of Mexico. Here, you can find a Dead Zone, an aquatic ecosystem devoid of life. All of that sludge flowing down to the Gulf causes huge algal blooms, which take up most of the dissolved oxygen, and prevents other lifeforms from taking hold. What does a dead zone mean for climate change? University of Maryland oceanographer Lou Codispoti says, As the volume of hypoxic [oxygen-deprived] waters move towards the sea surface and expands along our coasts, their ability to produce the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) increases. With low-oxygen waters currently producing about half of the ocean's net nitrous oxide, we could see an additional significant atmospheric increase if these 'dead zones' continue to expand. So, if we continue to farm animals like we do now, we can expect: destruction of forestland (which sequesters carbon) for feedlot corn growth manure lagoons release methane, a greenhouse gas dependence on large petroleum-fueled machines and factories increasing number of dead zones, which release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas An oft-quoted UN study claims factory farming contributes as much as 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Water pollution means dead zones, which also means loss of fish for fishermen - which means local economies are destroyed. Air pollution causes breathing problems and other unknowns. All of this pollution - for what? So you can have cheap meat at every meal? For further reading: Meatless Monday: How I Became a Vegetarian Meatless Monday: Beginner's Cheatsheet - 12 Tips to Becoming Vegetarian ScienceDaily - Aquatic 'dead zones' contribute to climate change WSJ - Manure Raises New Stink Factory Farm Map Global Action Network - How Factory Farms Contribute to Global Warming Worldwatch Institute - Livestock and Climate Change By the way, if you'd like to join the Green Your Plate campaign, sign up here. *Photo by Keven Law
  2. 5 Reasons Why Pesticides are Bad

    At this point, most people are at least somewhat aware that pesticides cause a great deal of environmental harm. Less well known are the effects pesticides have on individual and public health. Here, I give you 5 compelling reasons to avoid pesticides. A quick note: This list is a little data-heavy. To start, it will help to read through the bold lines first, and then go back to see the data behind each claim. 1. Acute exposure can kill you. “Late in the afternoon of April 1, 1990, a three-year-old girl playing in front of her trailer home in California's San Joaquin Valley suddenly lost control of her body and began foaming at the mouth. By the time the girl arrived at the local emergency room, she was near death. She recovered eventually. A report filed with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation concluded the child had been poisoned by aldicarb, a highly toxic insecticide that works the same way on people as it does on bugs -- like nerve gas. ‘Somebody had parked a tractor with pesticide material on it right in front of the play area,' said Michael O'Malley, the author of the report and a physician at the University of California, Davis.†-- Matt Crenson, Associated Press, December 9, 1997 Some common symptoms of over-exposure include burning, stinging, or itchy eyes, nose, throat and skin; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, coughing, headache. These symptoms can range from mild irritation to death. These symptoms are often misdiagnosed and not attributed to pesticide poisoning. [Peel Public Health] 2. Chronic exposure to pesticides can lead to neurological damage, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies have shown a link between pesticide exposure and the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other neurological conditions such as epilepsy. The main path of exposure is airborne: breathing pesticides. Recently, UCLA researchers looked at Central Valley residents diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and found that “years of exposure to the combination of these two pesticides [the herbicide paraquat and fungicide maneb] increased the risk of Parkinson's by 75 percent. Further, for people 60 years old or younger diagnosed with Parkinson's, earlier exposure had increased their risk for the disease by as much as four- to six-fold.†[ScienceDaily] Dr. Patrick Carr of the University of North Dakota finds that low doses of pesticide exposure induces physical changes in the brain, shown in a PET scan. These changes correlate to “a loss of neurons in particular regions of the brain.†Other regions not experiencing a loss instead express different amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals, altering the delicate chemical balance in the brain. [MPRNews] 3. Chronic exposure to pesticides increases the chance of developing endocrine and reproductive disorders. Here are two pesticides to use as case studies: DDT: Young women exposed to DDT (in the 1950s) have a greater chance of developing breast cancer later in life. From the Pesticide Action Network - UK: One recent study found higher levels of miscarriages among women exposed to DDT, and reproductive disorders associated with DDT are well documented in animal studies[6,7]. Another recent study found developmental delays among babies and toddlers exposed in the womb[8]. Other studies have linked DDT to reduced breastmilk production, premature delivery and reduced infant birthweights[9,10]. DDT is classified by US and international authorities as a probable human carcinogen[11]. DDT is now banned in the US, but is being revived for use as an anti-malaria agent in developing nations. I mention DDT because it shows you the egregious effects of using pesticides that have been poorly studied. Additionally, DDT is still present in our air. Atrazine: Atrazine has been one of the top two selling pesticides in the US, also commonly found in household pesticide sprays. Many studies on frogs and rodents have shown that atrazine causes developmental disorders and delays and compromises healthy immune function. Most significantly, atrazine causes male frogs and rodents to feminize and produce ovaries and eggs. Animal studies have predictive value in humans, as hormone functions are very similar among all animals. Tyrone Hayes, professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley (whose course I took, he is absolutely amazing, by the way), has done extensive work on this subject and is a prime example of science activism. His website, informs the public about all deleterious effects of atrazine and is backed up with extensive research data. His site states, similar to atrazine’s induction of prostate cancer and mammary cancer in laboratory rodents, men exposed to atrazine in a Syngenta production facility in Louisiana developed prostate cancer at 8.4 times the rate of unexposed factory workers [9, 10] and women whose well water was contaminated with atrazine were more likely to develop breast cancer when compared to women who lived in the same area, but who do not drink well water [11]. 4. Pesticide spray can drift through the air, being carried thousands of miles from where it was originally sprayed. They contaminate our waterways, and can be found in drinking water. Pesticides can be detected miles from agricultural sites, can be detected in rainfall, as well as in the air. A study by the US Geological Survey in 2000 revealed that “every rain and air sample collected from the urban and agricultural sites had detectable levels of multiple pesticides. The magnitude of total concentration was 5-10 times higher at the agricultural site as compared to the urban site.†In this study, methyl parathion was the pesticide with highest concentration in both air and rain samples. Additionally, even though two decades have passed since the ban of DDT in the US, a metabolite of DDT (p,p’-DDE) was detected in every air sample collected from the agricultural site and in over half the air samples from the urban site. Atrazine: Atrazine is highly mobile and can travel as far as 600 miles from the initial point of application. Every year, a half million pounds of atrazine returns to the US in the form of rain and snowfall. It is also the most common groundwater contaminant, and has persisted in France where it has not been applied for 15 years. [] The EPA allows an average of 3 ppb (parts per billion) of atrazine to be present in drinking water. This is a running average, and does not consider the maximum level that could possibly be present during peak use of atrazine. “Concentrations as low as 0.1 ppb have been shown to alter the development of sex characteristics in male frogs.†[NRDC] 5. Persistent pesticide use over long periods of time results in lower crop yields, reduced soil fertility, and increased susceptibility to attack by new forms of pests and disease. Soil fertility and crop yield: Pesticides reduce activity of beneficial microflora in soil, therefore while yields are initially high, they will decline over time due to loss of soil health and fertility. I will have to save discussion of beneficial microflora in soil for a different entry, but in essence, soil health depends on a large variety of factors. These include a combination of beneficial bacteria (rhizobia), fungi (mycelia), worms, etc, working together to aid plants in nutrient absorption. A study by Tulane University Professor John McLachlan reveals the inhibitory effects pesticides have on these beneficial microflora and fauna, and how this translates to declining yields over time, as well as declining soil health (the ability to continue to grow crops). Genetic diversity for resistance to pest and disease outbreak: Industrial agriculture also promotes growing crops in monoculture, which means to grow only one species of crop, eliminating any genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is an asset which protects against new diseases. Pests, viruses, and bacteria are all constantly mutating. If an invading pest arrives with a powerful new mutation, a monoculture cannot withstand the pest attack. However, a genetically diverse set of crops will have a greater chance of withstanding the attack, as some variations may have better protection against new intruders than others. Don’t put your eggs in one basket! Such extensive pesticide use increases a monoculture crop’s vulnerability to disease and also accelerates pesticide resistance in weeds. [PANNA] To end on an optimistic note: The amount of detectable pesticide residues in human urine drops immediately after switching to an organic diet. [Chengsheng Lu et. al] For further reading: Pesticides in rain in four agricultural watersheds in the United States NYTimes: Debating Just How Much Atrazine is Safe In Your Drinking Water Chronic dietary exposure to low-dose mixture of Genistein and Vinclozolin modifies the reproductive axis, testis transcriptome, and fertility Harvard School of Public Health: Pesticides Exposure Associated With Parkinson's Disease Daily Mail UK: Breathing pesticides can trigger MS and Parkinson's disease
  3. In the wake of such an enormous disaster that is the Gulf Oil spill, an unspeakable crime against living ecosystems, political leaders are getting a jostle. In the words of James Boyce: As the greatest domestic environmental disaster of this generation, and perhaps in the end of all generations, unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico, with literally no end in sight, the Grand Old Party has taken the extraordinary step of deciding that now is the perfect time to remind people we need to do MORE offshore oil drilling. Yes, the House Republican Conference has assembled an “Energy Rapid Response Team†ready to convince you that more offshore drilling is necessary, for great fear of rising costs of importing oil and fueling at the pump. James does well to criticize the reps who put this together. On the less ridiculous side, two moderate Republican governors took back their support for offshore drilling. Florida Republican governor Charlie Crist sided with McCain in 2008 in support of offshore drilling. After seeing the catastrophe in the Gulf, he now retracts his support. Flying over the spill site, Crist remarked, "Clearly it could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur. It's the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state. ... It's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today -- that's horrific -- and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's the opposite of safe." Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed his shock and distaste for the television images of the spill and promptly rescinded his interest in lifting a 40-year moratorium on drilling off the California coast. In 1969, a Union Oil Co. drilling platform off the Santa Barbara coast blew out and defiled miles of beaches and ocean ecosystems, prompting a moratorium on offshore drilling. Perhaps forty years is enough time to forget the horror of such an event (I wasn’t born yet). Almost fortunately, the Gulf Oil spill reminded us once again of what it feels like to see habitats die on a large scale. Obama has recently been interested in lifting bans on offshore drilling as well. Hopefully, he will listen to Greenpeace and change his mind. I know well mining companies attempt to deregulate safety measures as much as possible, causing things like the mining explosion one month ago. Mining companies often cite higher costs and loss of profits as the primary reason for not installing more advanced and reliable safety measures in their mining operations. They also invest in politicians. I’m thinking the oil industry operates very similarly.