Eat Like You Give a Damn

It’s Earth Week and we’re hearing all the awareness campaigns… Take shorter showers, change a light bulb, drive a hybrid, recycle etc. What’s noticeably missing is the most meaningful thing anyone can do to help the environment: Go vegan and stay vegan!

Our food choices have a significant impact on the environment. Eliminating animal products from one’s diet is one of the most meaningful things an individual can do to reduce his or her carbon footprint. What we buy and consume from the grocery store actually has more environmental impact than whether we carry it home in a reusable shopping bag or drive a hybrid to the store.

Animal agriculture is the culprit for many of the world’s most significant environmental problems — global warming, water use and pollution, massive energy consumption, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and species, as well as the profound impact fishing has on our oceans. A 2010 Report from the UN International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management strongly urges a global shift to a plant-based diet to both feed the hungry in the world and significantly reduce environmental impacts like climate change.

So why do animal products have such a profound carbon footprint? It’s a combination of things. Animal agriculture wastes massive amounts of energy and fossil fuels, and emits greenhouse gasses in the process. Factor in the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest for cattle grazing and raising soybeans to feed to animals, and you have a recipe for disaster in terms of climate change.

Climate Change: When it comes to climate change, farmed animals and their byproducts are responsible for 51% of annual worldwide human caused greenhouse gas emissions. This is according to a 2008 report from two prominent World Bank environmental advisers. They concluded that replacing animal products with plant-based foods would be the best approach for reversing climate change. They advise that this can reduce emissions even further than actions currently being taken to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy (see Livestock and Climate Change, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, World Watch Nov./Dec. 2009)

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Committee looked at the global impact of animal agriculture and found that farming animals emits more greenhouse gasses (18%) then all the world’s transportation— that’s all the automobiles, planes, trains and any other form of carbon-emitting transportation combined. So when you are considering how to significantly reduce your carbon footprint, often what comes to mind first is driving less or getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle, and while that certainly helps, your impact can be even more powerful by eliminating animal products from your diet.

A study by the University of Chicago found that eating a vegan diet is 50 percent more effective at fighting global warming than switching from a standard car to a hybrid.

Water: About 75% of all water-quality issues in United States waterways are the result of the animal agriculture. According to University of Chicago geophysicist and co-author of the study referenced above Gidon Eshel, this is because polluting our waterways is free: “If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag ― the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Globally, most of the world’s water is used for irrigation. Agricultural production, including farming animals, uses more fresh water than any other activity in the United States (See Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 660S-663S). In fact, over half the total amount of fresh water consumed in the U.S. goes to irrigate land to grow feed for livestock. Enormous amounts of additional water are used to water the animals, clean equipment, etc. A dairy operation that utilizes an automatic “flushing” system can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow per day (US Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. “Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook.” USDA. April 1992: p. 4-8).

It takes less water to produce one year’s worth of food for a vegan diet than it does to produce one month’s worth of food for a diet with animal products. Producing 1 lb. of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 lb. of grain protein (See Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 660S-663S). It has even been said that a vegan can leave the shower running for a year and still not waste as much water as a meat eater in the same year.

Ocean Problems: While beef may be the thought of as the Hummer of land based animal products, shrimp consumption is the “bulldozer” of the sea. Shrimp is the most widely consumed seafood product in the US. The method for catching shrimp in the wild is trawling. Trawling involves dragging nets larger than football fields along thousands of miles of ocean floor. Anything that can’t squeeze through the mesh of the net gets scooped up. After scraping the ocean floor clear of coral, plants, and all the fish and marine animals in their path, trawlers leave huge gashes in the ocean floor.

Think about the size of shrimp. Think about the net that is used to trawl for shrimp and how tight the mesh needs to be to capture them. Everything bigger than the shrimp that’s in the area gets caught, too. According to the United Nations’ Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, this method results in by-catch levels of up to 85%. In other words, in some instances only 15% of the catch was the target species, and most of the by-catch is considered useless and discarded.

Much like intensive animal agriculture depletes the land, fishing is depleting the oceans. Today’s stocks of large fish are only at 10% of what they were in 1950. The scientific journal Nature estimates that it only takes 10-15 years to deplete 90% of a fisheries stock. At this rate, stocks are expected to be completely gone by 2048. With consumption expected to increase by 25% by 2015, this collapse could happen even sooner.

Deforestation: Animal agriculture is responsible for the deforestation of thousands of acres of forests that help purify the air, reduce carbon dioxide, and that are home to many species of plants, birds and animals. According to the United Nations, “In the Amazon, cattle ranching is now the primary reason for deforestation.”

Large-scale dietary change to a plant-based diet could actually reverse deforestation. In the US, over 400 million acres of pasture and range land could be reforested (See Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2006).

Not to mention much of the grain produced in the US is used to feed livestock, with more than 70% of grains being used for this purpose. Not only does this waste land resources, but it misdirects our food resources as well. Almost 20% of the world’s population could be fed on what is consumed by cattle in the US. It’s estimated that one acre of trees is preserved each year by each individual who switches to a vegan diet.

So if you truly want to be a good steward of the Earth this Earth Day, remember that being vegan is by far the most ecological dietary choice you can make.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – Organic Turf Show

Talking about the Neighborhood Network’s Organic Turf Show. The only trade show and educational seminar we know of that is dedicated to 100% organic care of turf. The 12th annual Organic Turf Show will be held Feb. 17, 2011.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – Solar Power

In this episode, we talk to Gordian Raacke and Ashley Hunt-Martorano, the Executive Director and Program Director of Renewable Energy Long Island (RELI), about the benefits of solar power and the government and utility incentives available to Long Islanders for installing solar power on their homes.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – Environmental Triggers of Disease

Andrew and Beth talk to Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition and Executive Director of Prevention Is The Cure. This show is dedicated to the memory of Susan M. Cohen.

Links to web resources mentioned in the show:
Suffolk County Cancer Awareness Task Force
Suffolk County Cancer Awareness Task Force Home Product Checklist

Originally broadcast 1/12/2011.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – LI Interfaith Environment Network

This week we talk with the founders of the Long Island Interfaith Environment Network (LIIEN) about making places of worship greener and promoting good stewardship of the environment as a religious value.

Originally broadcast January 5, 2011.

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New Year, New Legislative Session, Same Commitment

With the New Year comes a new legislative session in Albany. That New Year and session were marked yesterday by newly elected Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech. With each legislative session comes the hope that our elected officials will do the hard work necessary to make a difference in the lives of citizens and the environment.

As the 2011 legislative session begins, the Neighborhood Network remains committed to the passage of legislation that would ban the use of toxic pesticides for non-essential, cosmetic purposes. Department of Environmental Conservation pesticide reporting figures show that over 5 million pounds and almost 400 thousand gallons of pesticides are applied yearly on Long Island by professional certified applicators. There are simply no figures on how much pesticides are applied by homeowners on their own property, but extrapolating from EPA national figures it is likely that a total of over 11 million pounds of pesticides are used on Long Island every year. We know that more than 100 pesticides and their breakdown products have already been discovered in Long Island groundwater. Knowing this, we are urging our elected officials to make this bill a priority for passage in this legislative session, and we’re encouraging our members to do the same.

Too many children are needlessly exposed to chemicals in the grass they play on. Pesticides kill non-target organisms in both soil and water and can stay in the environment for years. Data about the toxicity of chemicals in our environment is mounting and there is convincing evidence that harm to humans and the environment is of such magnitude and significance that new values for conducting human activities are necessary. Pesticides are associated with lung, breast, brain, prostate, stomach, kidney, and pancreatic cancers along with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia. Pesticides threaten reproductive health; contribute to underweight babies and birth defects.

Legislation is necessary to eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals used for non-essential lawn and turf maintenance. The bill we are working to pass would ban the use of pesticides on turf grass and ornamental plants, with specific exemptions for safer products including horticultural oils, soaps, biopesticides and materials on the Environmental Protection Agencies list of “minimum risk” pesticides. If their only purpose in the market place is to eliminate weeds and keep lawns green, the question becomes – can we continue to justify the use of toxic chemicals that pose the risks of accidental poisonings, long term health hazards, degradation of our drinking water, and harm to companion animals and wildlife?

The precautionary principle should act as a compelling starting point in the formulation of this legislation.

- The January 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle summarized the principle in this way:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

When weighing the risks versus the benefits of using chemicals it becomes clear that avoiding them is advisable. Especially when safer alternatives exist. Banning the use of these targeted pesticides sends a strong precautionary message to citizens, facilitates enforcement, and encourages the chemical industry to provide safer alternatives.

Action is necessary to make a difference for people and the environment. The time for a ban on toxic chemicals for unnecessary uses is now. Until it can be shown that continuing a regime of merely regulating the use of pesticides can result in a drop in their use and a decrease in exposures, arguments for regulation, no matter how well worded, no matter how well reasoned, are all moot. Repeating what has failed to show results over and over again is an exercise in futility. We either work from reality, diligently, truthfully and rationally, or we indulge in a delusion at the expense of those we represent.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – Smart Growth

Andrew talks with Eric Alexander, Executive Director of Vision Long Island about smart growth as an alternative to suburban sprawl.

Originally broadcast 12/29/10.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – Green Homes and Toxic Pesticide Ban Campaign

In this episode we talk with Neal Lewis of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College on NY’s Green Jobs/Green New York Program, and Demo Maratos of the Neighborhood Network on a campaign for a State law to ban toxic pesticides on turf and ornamental plants.

Originally broadcast on 12/22/10.

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Campaign Kick-off

The Neighborhood Network is kicking off our campaign for State-wide legislation banning the use of toxic pesticides for aesthetic purposes on turf and ornamental plants. On Thursday, December 30, at 12:00 noon, outside the Wild by Nature in Huntington, we will join with the organization Millions of Voters to begin a petition drive calling for this ban.

We don’t believe the use of poisons that can harm our health, our families, our drinking water and the environment is justified for keeping weeds out of lawns and insects out of flowerbeds. The risk associated with these pesticides is unacceptable, because safer, effective organic methods and low-risk materials are available. If you agree, join us there, bring a sign and demonstrate with us, sign the petition and make your voice heard. If you can’t make it, write your State Legislators.

Here are some of the pesticides used for turf care and the health effects associated with them:

  • 2,4-D (herbicide) — demonstrated carcinogen, reproductive effects, nerve toxin, birth defects.
  • Atrazine (herbicide) — possible human carcinogen, nerve toxin.
  • Dicamba (herbicide) — reproductive effects, nerve toxin, can cause severe, permanent damage to eyes.
  • Chlorothalonil (fungicide) — likely carcinogen, reproductive effects, nerve toxin.

Source of health effects info: Extoxnet, BeyondPesticides/NCAMP compilation from EPA data

Wild by Nature is located in Huntington at 369 West Main Street. Click for directions.

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Neighborhood Network Radio – Eco-Fashion

Andrew and Beth discuss eco-fashion. Materials are available to make your clothing choices more environmentally friendly. Also some information on “green” dry cleaning.

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