1) Coping with eco-anxiety in the wake of rising climate concerns
2) Getting off dirt-cheap palm oil proves difficult as the price of food -and its competitors- rise amid the pandemic
3) As new ruling provides wolves with federal protection again in all states except Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, badgers face a similar fight in the UK
A recent article in the New York Times pointed to a rising trend in diagnosis cases of climate anxiety and the growing field of “ecospyschology.”
Climate or eco-anxiety does not necessitate that you have been directly impacted by say an extreme weather event or the collapse of an ecosystem you call home. It is the constant state of worry that comes from thinking about the challenges facing this planet and with it our existence. It is stressing out about the daily things you have to use to get by day to day that are not as sustainable as you’d like. It can even make someone question turning on their own electricity, thinking about the carbon footprint it’s causing. Anxiety is rooted in worrying about the future. It takes many forms. Sadly climate anxiety has become a very real thing.
Many people care deeply about this planet and protecting it, but either are not sure of how they can meaningfully impact change, or are faced with so many doomsday reports that they worry about the realistic prospects of turning this thing around in the right direction. I imagine some of you who read deal with this at times, I know I do as well.
Compounding things even further is the notion that worrying about the environment is a “luxury” problem to have. How privileged one must be to have the capacity to grow anxious about the climate or species loss or human displacement when so many of us struggle day to day just to make ends meet. So then on top of feeling these worries, you feel bad for having them in the first place.
In a recent report from The Lancent surveying 10,000 people aged 16 to 25, forty-five percent of respondents said worry about climate negatively affected their daily life. Three-quarters said they believed “the future is frightening,” and 56 percent said “humanity is doomed.”
Climate Anxiety is a very real thing and nobody should feel bad for experiencing it. That said, let’s better understand how we got here and how to reframe this for those of us who encounter this. We think we can help 🙂
BUSINESS MODEL OF MEDIA & INFLUENCERS
In our opinion, the core of the problem is the overall business model of media. From cable news to social media to Substack newsletters, everyone is competing for eyeballs. There is so much content and news out there and competition is cutthroat.
The fastest way to get clicks is to be negative. Studies have shown time and time again that in a business model predicated on clicking headlines – particularly an issue on social media where you have a split second to capture someone’s attention as they doom scroll away – scary, polarizing, negative headlines perform a lot better than positive or neutral ones. Here is a Freakonomics episode we love breaking this trend down even further.
As a result, when it comes to climate, much of the content we encounter is doomsday in nature. They focus on the disasters that loom ahead due to global warming and biodiversity collapse. They focus on all the negativity of existing companies and products. If you deeply care about this issue, it’s a constant barrage of anxiety inducing content.
On top of that, we have green shaming going on everyone across social media, especially amongst the influencer elite. Constantly calling out people for buying clothes from certain places, eating meat, driving a Diesel engine car, traveling on planes, creating waste, etc……all the while these folks are doing the same things behind the scenes. And if they aren’t, if they are in a position where they can afford to eat Vegan, buy a Tesla, and pay 200% more for eco-friendly clothing, well that’s out of privilege. Many on the receiving end of these callouts can’t afford to do the same, or are balancing so much in their daily lives that they don’t have the luxury of upending their lifestyle.
We need to stop focusing climate news around doomsday material and stop green shaming people and putting the responsibility on individuals. Both of these are paths to no actual progress and lead to other negative by-products such as climate anxiety.
OUR TAKE – REFRAMING THE OPPORTUNITY AHEAD
First, if you are experiencing crippling climate anxiety, please don’t feel ashamed about it and know there are professionals out there who can help. And here’s a great resource for some peer support groups on this topic as well.
There are three things we want to point out that can really help all of us reframe this issue:
1. The changes we need to make to mitigate and adapt to climate change are not about sacrifice and struggle but should be centered around opportunity. As we do things like shifting towards clean energy and regenerative agriculture, our lives will improve. People will be healthier. Outdoor spaces will be more accessible. New jobs will be created that people will be proud to do. We will make meaningful strides in solving our socioeconomic gaps as well. The opportunity ahead should be shifted from one of avoiding the worst case scenarios to one of ushering in a new age of better life for all. This is something to be excited for. Is there work to be done? Absolutely. But let’s frame that work around the positive prospects of a better life for all rather than the negative prospects of what happens if we don’t get there.
2. We also see a lot of rhetoric centered around humans as a cancer of sorts to the planet. That this planet would be much better off if humans didn’t exist. Look, I’ve been there. People can really suck. Not just on the climate front, but in all aspects. It’s hard not to see something like the annihilation of the Brazil rainforest and the wonderful species that call it home and think “you know, screw humanity, we don’t deserve to be here and everything would be better off without us.” The thing is…..this is not scientifically true. The planet and all life on it needs human beings. This is because the greenhouse gas effect we caused following the 1st Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 – 15,000 years ago stabilized our atmosphere coming out of the most recent Ice Age. We need the right level of human induced greenhouse effect for this planet to thrive. It’s just that today we’ve gone way past that point and it needs to drastically come down. That said, don’t lose sight that Earth needs humans. We were the missing ingredient of sorts that allowed the planet to hit its optimal point of stabilization and productivity. And even with 8 billion of us running around, we can make the changes to get us back to that point.
3. Solving climate change and biodiversity collapse is not any one person’s responsibility. Individual purchasing decisions are not going to get us out of this problem. A reminder that in 2004, the carbon footprint calculator was introduced by British Petroleum in an attempt to put the responsibility on individual choices rather than themselves, knowing full well that when it came to energy and electricity, nobody has an actual choice. Stop with the green shaming. Everyone is dealing with different challenges and situations in life that you have no clue about. If someone is making more sustainable choices, that’s great, and we support that 100%. Our team tries to do the same. However asking or even worse demanding others to do the same is serving one’s own ego, not the planet. There are far better ways to impact change as an individual. One is to discuss and share stories around climate change with a focus on solutions and opportunity. That is what we try to do here with Animalia but you can do this with those in your life. Be an advocate and spread hope, not dread. Another is your vote. Vote for representatives locally and nationally that prioritize climate on their agenda.
And honestly, if you ever hit a wall and just want to vent or someone to talk to, email us! Heck, email me directly – James@iloveanimalia.com – and I promise I’ll get back to you 🙂
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RISING FOOD PRICES POINT TO OUR CHALLENGE IN GETTING OFF PALM OIL
One of our 2 pillars for preserving our planet is to shift from our highly augmented (fertilizers, pesticides) form of single crop industrial-scale agriculture into one of a mix of regenerative, biodiverse agriculture & vertical farming. The other pillar is shifting from fossil fuels to renewables. If we do these two things, we will preserve life on this planet for all.
The problem with our agricultural system is it has been set up purely for scaling cheap food with total disregard for the environment, and frankly for people’s health as well. The difficulty in shifting off of this is that it does allow for the availability of cheap food, even if it’s not all that nutritious or environmentally friendly.
There is perhaps no better example of this than palm oil. If you’re not familiar with it, well you encounter it all the time. Palm oil is in everything. In fact, it makes up 60% of all the vegetable oil used in the world. Ranging from candy to peanut butter to margarine to chips to bread to lipstick and shampoo. This is because it is very unique in that it can survive high temperatures and has a long shelf life. But it’s also incredibly cheap to harvest. 1 hectare of palm oil can reliably produce 4 tons of vegetable oil in a year, compared to 0.67 tons of rapeseed oil, 0.48 tons of sunflower oil, and 0.38 tons of soybean oil. (Palm, soy, and rapeseed make up most of the vegetable oil market). It is dirt cheap.
And it’s dirt cheap because our current economic system does not factor in environmental or social costs. About 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia & Indonesia. Since 1990, Indonesia has cleared 25 million acres of forest for palm oil. It’s one of the most environmentally destructive crops there is because it is invasive and natural resource intensive. Socially, the palm plantations displace Indigenous communities and underpay local workers. Palm oil is also not great for our health. But again, none of those costs are recognized despite being there.
As a result, palm oil has proliferated into everything we eat over the last 30 years. It’s also used for biofuels – 25% of palm oil goes to biofuel and some nations still classify this as a renewable energy source. The shells can even be crushed and used to make concrete!
However, because of International pushback & the pandemic, palm oil prices have skyrocketed. Moving from $600 a ton in early 2020 to over $1200 a ton today after Indonesia just announced that all providers must reserve 20% at fixed prices for domestic consumption. The result showcases just how hard the challenge is to shift our agricultural system while keeping food accessible along the way.
PALM OIL DILEMMA
There are two main reasons for the surge in pricing:
- The pandemic’s impacts on supply chains and workers have created pent up demand at a time where supply is going the opposite direction
- International crackdown such as laws in Europe forbidding purchasing imports from deforested products, and an renewed interest in protecting our remaining natural resources and their potential to be properly monetized for their carbon sequestration work, have led Indonesia & Malaysia to slow down palm oil plantation expansion
Palm oil is heavily used domestically by Indonesians as well. To limit the negative impact on domestic pricing, Indonesia a few weeks ago declared that all palm oil providers have to carve out a minimum of 20% of their output at fixed prices for domestic use.
This surged the export price even higher still.
Vegetable oil alternatives are facing their own challenges as well. Soybean oil providers in South America have been hit by heavy droughts. Same for many rapeseed oil providers in Europe.
As a result, across the globe, vegetable oil prices are up 4% since December, a record month to month increase.
Food prices overall are at their highest since 2011.
And therein lies the rub. By clamping down on the supply of palm oil, be it directly via stricter deforestation sanctions or indirectly with supply chain disruption, the short term impact is higher prices on the cheaper, processed foods it’s found in. Which primarily impacts working and lower middle class people that rely on it more than more affluent folks. Which gives the palm oil industry a great and plausible reason to avoid these environmental standards as it immediately impacts those most marginalized.
In addition, as supply lowers in Southeast Asia, it’s starting to pick up in Brazil. Palm oil has arrived in Brazil under a President in Bolsonaro who loves tearing down forests in the name of economic gain. Not ideal considering the Amazon is teetering on the edge of turning into a net carbon emitter rather than a carbon sink.
So what do we do?
We’ve unfortunately built a food system that supplies the mass market of the world with unhealthy, environmentally destructive but cheap processed foods. Palm oil has been a mega contributor of this Unwinding this is not easy given there is no margin for error and no ability and higher food prices can create even more social inequity.
Solving this takes a multi-pronged approach.
- We need private innovation on alternatives to palm oil that can scale and be affordable. There are things happening here. In Indonesia, they believe the tamanu tree can be an alternative feedstock for biofuels that is native to the lands and can be harvested in already burned, depleted sites and mining sites, requiring no new deforestation, for example. Insects such as mealworms present an alternative to palm oil used in livestock feed and pet food, possibly even our own if we can convince humans to eat it, which require very little use of land and water to farm.
- We need government programs in place to subsidize healthier alternatives so those costs are not borne by the consumers or the companies creating them, and the most logical way to pay for this is taxing the crap. Aka the vaunted added sugar tax as a great example, something that has been discussed so many times but is kept at bay by the lobbying power of the processed food world that relies on it. This can change.
- We need international cooperation and diplomacy on environmental standards and programs. It’s not good if we agree to cut back on palm oil from Indonesia due to 30+ years of deforestation but then Brazil is able to pick up the demand for themselves and tear down their own forests. It also is not right to ask these countries to just blindly give up the economic opportunity here because it’s the right thing to do when we did the same thing decades earlier and have our own massively toxic industrial agricultural system we export and profit from. These countries should be paid to maintain their remaining forests because of the carbon they sequester and the economic value we can directly associate that with due to the link between global warming and extreme weather patterns and the damage they cause.
All three need to be working hand in hand. Remove one of these levers and a plausible transition off of palm oil falls apart.
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AMERICAN WOLVES GET A WIN WHILE BRITISH BADGERS HOPE FOR THE SAME
One of the trademark characteristics of almost all Anglo-Saxon colonial settlers, including us, is we tend to prefer to hunt and kill any wild predators we can’t easily domesticate. Getting approval for it has historically been as easy as tossing livestock in their natural path, avoiding any efforts at all to prevent conflict in non-lethal ways (such as stronger fencing), and waiting for the predator to kill one cow or sheep and having carte blanche in perpetuity to kill them all.
And as you’ll learn this trait is as British as it is American.
Wolves were wiped out of the lower 48 states before finally being restored in 1995 in Yellowstone. They’ve grown with protection in the decades since but Donald Trump revoked their federal protection in 2021, supported by the Fish & Wildlife service who falsely claimed wolf populations had fully recovered, leading to a massacre across many states.
Well this week, put a win on the board for the wolves. A US District Judge in California successfully repealed the decision on grounds that the Fish & Wildlife Service only measured two core regions of wolf populations and ignored numbers in other regions.
Wolves will now be receiving federal protection again in all states except Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Those states were delisted by Congress before the federal delisting took place.
Wolves in the US have forever been slaughtered on grounds of their threats to livestock, despite accounting for just 0.004% of livestock deaths in an average year. In fact, domestic dogs kill 5-10x more livestock per year than wild wolves. But ranchers and big agriculture have a lot of lobbying power here and they tend to get their way no matter what the science says. What’s most frustrating of all is that there are plenty of non-lethal ways to deter wolves most ranchers refuse to adopt. Not because of costs since many are subsidized or even offered from non-profit activists, but because of pride and ego. They WANT to hunt wolves and it gives them a rush to do so. Not all, but many.
As keystone species, wolves bring a lot of value to ecosystems. Ranging from culling diseased deer strengthening their populations to improving river water quality through the displacement of vegetation eating prey to more covered areas.
“This is a huge win for gray wolves and the many people across the country who care so deeply about them,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope this ruling finally convinces the Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its longstanding, misguided efforts to remove federal wolf protections. The agency should work instead to restore these ecologically important top carnivores to places like the southern Rockies and northeastern United States.”
This was a good victory. So let’s enjoy it.
THE UK BADGER NOT SO LUCKY
There’s another critical keystone species just across the ole pond that is not having much luck on very similar grounds: the badger.
Badgers are the longest living terrestrial carnivore in the UK and beloved culturally. They are highly curious, social creatures with some entertaining mannerisms. Not only do they have critical cascading effects on the food chain as apex predators, for example helping to manage population sizes of ground squirrels, but they also create lots of habitat for other species such as foxes and skunks via the tunnels they borrow.
In the UK, badgers share much of the pastureland in the countryside with livestock. They also share a really damaging disease – Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) – which can be carried by both species but once inside a cow, it needs to be destroyed as a farmer can not sell it’s meat or milk, rendering it useless for their purposes. Bovine TB can spread across a herd quite quickly.
Since 2013, the UK government has allowed for annual badger culling in the name of fighting Bovine TB. Badger activists point out that badger-linked Bovine TB cases account for just 5.7% of livestock deaths per year vs. the much larger number that famers and badger cullers put out there. They also cite there has not been a multitude of peer-reviewed, meta analyses that link badger culling with decreases in Bovine TB. Instead, the government points to one specific study done in 2017 that shows culling badgers may decrease Bovine TB by up to 16%.
Some studies even show that it may be livestock giving it to badgers more often than the other way around.
1/3 of all badgers have been killed since 2017 as a result. Activists are outraged.
Like with wolves, there are non-lethal ways to help address this which are being de-prioritizes.
- The current testing kits for livestock for Bovine TB are outdated and highly inaccurate, often leading to a negative test despite the illness being present, so the cow remains in the herd and spreads it
- There are TB vaccines that can be administered to badgers if there was funding to execute it
- Calls to improve the biosecurity of cattle – including the spreading of a contaminated mixture of manure and water on fields as fertilizer, missed targets for the removal of infected cattle, and poor disinfection of farms and vehicles.
Once again, generational hate is driving much of this senseless killing over actual science and willingness to adapt.
Species such as wolves and badgers are so important to ecosystem health. And ecosystem health is not only important to our climate, it’s important to our water quality and much more.
While we are very much against larger scale industrial livestock agriculture, we are not against ranching overall. In fact, science shows that more traditional, rotational livestock grazing can be beneficial for the surrounding environment and vegetation yield. Problem is this represents a tiny fraction of ranching today. Most ranchers are good, hard-working people whose livelihoods we need to protect, and the best way to do that is assist them in shifting to more environmentally friendly practices that allows them to sill maintain a business.
We have to learn to integrate again with nature. To harvest what we need for food in a regenerative way that will require changes in how we farm and possibly even what we eat. This is all possible, as are the many non-lethal deterrents offered to protect badgers. We just need the will to do them. It is not a matter of cost – the fees we pay ranchers for livestock depredation match the costs we’d pay for setting up non-lethal measures – it’s just a matter of unwillingness to do it.
We can change this. The decision on wolves proves this out. Here’s to more progress for wolves and badgers alike. And here’s to standing by the ranchers who are willing to adapt and learn to live with these critical apex predators.
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