1) COP26 explained, including our 11 Goals for the Summit
2) New studies find that sea otters stimulate eelgrass sexual production
3) As Allbirds announces plans to go public, we take a look at the validity of their sustainability claims
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WHAT IS COP26 AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
This all started in 1992 with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It’s a treaty that now spans 196 countries & the European Union. They now meet as the Conference of Parties (COP) because, well, UNFCCC doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now does it?
This is the 26th such convention. And a pretty darn important once. We know from the August IPCC Report that things are not going well to say the least. We are nowhere near the necessary targets to limit our global warming goals set out in the Paris Agreement and irrevocable damage is happening across the planet.
It’s also worth noting that this is the UN Climate Summit, with a focus on Greenhouse Gases & Global Warming primarily, which is separate from the UN Biodiversity Summit held two weeks ago in Kunming. Please remember these are two separate but highly overlapping crises. So not every critical topic on saving this planet will come up at COP26, but we hope that in and of itself is discussed.
As for the conference itself, essentially the country leaders start by giving everyone an update on their status and numbers, then leave their delegates to discuss and negotiate new goals and targets, while the private sector holds their own meetings and discussions in and around the summit. The fact that the decision makers just make an appearance and then dip out is beyond frustrating if you ask us.
PARIS AGREEMENT CHECK-IN
5 years ago, at COP21 in Paris there was an agreement signed you may have heard of. That treaty set out a goal to minimize global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels with an ideal goal of 1.5C as the peak along with the reductions in emissions each member nation needed to achieve by 2030 and 2050 to get there.
So how are we doing? About as bad as we could be on a global basis. We are currently on pace to hit a 2.9C increase by 2100 and even with current pledges and targets that would be 2.4C. For context, at even 1.5C which is all but unavoidable we will lose the Arctic, some 20-30% of major coastal cities and towns, and have droughts, floods, and lethal heat waves as a regular part of our lives. That’s probably the BEST case scenario.
Current pledges will get us to a 7.5% reduction in emissions by 2030 when we need to be at 30% to stay below 2C and 55% to stay below 1.5C. Not ideal Bob.
The US had been making some good strides under Biden after ZERO progress under Trump, who of course decided to pull us out of the agreement altogether, until Biden and the US were dealt a huge blow with Joe Manchin voting down the bill to clean up our electric grid a couple weeks ago, putting a major egg on Biden’s face going into this Summit.
China is being vague as usual, and built 76% of the world’s new coal plants in 2020. The UK declared itself way off target. India set their own goals in 2016 much lower than required so they can spin a good story, and Putin on the Russia end has basically disregarded the climate crisis altogether,
Things are downright awful. So this conference could not be coming at a more urgent time.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE
Ok so to help you prepare, we’ve outlined 11 things we’d like to see happen at COP26. If all 11 happened we’d be thrilled, but at this stage we’ll take what we can get. After the Summit, we will look back through each item on this list.
1. Put Some Damn Teeth In It
We have zero patience for more pledges and goals. If nations do not start making commitments with teeth to them, we are never going to make progress. For example, how about some self-imposed sanctions if one does not meet critical targets. Those six largest polluters – US, China, UK, India, Russia, Japan – could fine themselves for not hitting targets and those fines are added to the war chest being for smaller, developing nations to fund climate damage and mitigation.
Or how about committing total transparency to the other parties via a regular audits that any country can call upon another to perform?
Or using emergency mandates to push hardline sanctions on the private sectors?
Please, we can do better than high level pledges. We have to.
2. Get the &%^ off of Fossil Fuels
Perhaps the biggest theme is accelerating us off fossil fuels and into renewables. We can not and should not continue to use alternatives like direct-air capture to justify more moderate emission caps. Lower emissions and removing carbon should be two completely separate goals.
The problem has always been that the countries can not agree as to who should move off of fossil fuels at what pace. A country like India feels it requires fossil fuels to reach the economic development of the US, which has already captured more benefit from burning the hell out of fossil fuels for decades – 25% of all the historical emissions are from the US. India is not wrong. But rather than pointing fingers and waiting for others to show their cards first, every one of the 6 most polluting countries should be making their own aggressive commitments irregardless of what others are doing.
The biggest priority – cleaning the electricity grid. The US lost its program to do so 2 weeks ago due to our mess of a Congress and the divisive politics, let’s hope other nations can pick up the slack.
3. Nuclear Renaissance
Tied to #2, we need a groundswell of support for investing in nuclear energy, small modular reactors, advancements in geological waste storage, and so forth. There is NO WAY we can reach lower emission caps required to keep global warming below 2C without nuclear. Absolutely no way. If you need convincing, yes we did a podcast on that.
4. Funding Climate & Biodiversity Protection in Developing Nations
At a bare minimum, we need to deliver on the commitment made in 2009 to provide $100B a year in financing from developed nations to still developing ones to fund climate relief and mitigation. That was due in 2020 and didn’t happen, with those powers that were claiming COVID got in the way. Bullshit. Get it done.
But we have more ambitions here. We’d like to see the foundation laid for a market to pay developing nations to maintain their forests, coastal marine ecosystems, wetlands and more. This is where that critical biodiversity overlap comes in. Not only are these ecosystems necessary to preserving life on this planet, but they serve as valuable carbon sinks. The largest ones remaining are in the still developing nations.
We all complain about Brazil tearing down their Amazon in the name of the same agricultural growth we the US have benefited from – we just tore most of ours down before the science of climate change was really ready. Well how about instead we create a system where Brazil and in particular the Indigenous peoples living in the Amazon earn money for protecting it due to its role in sequestering carbon? It’s possible. The math is there. We just need to do it.
As for deforestation in Brazil, we did a podcast on that.
5. Push the Carbon Tax Ball Up The Hill
One of the most divisive issues centers around a true carbon tax, something kicked around since the 80s that is far more aggressive than tax incentives for renewables or cap and trade markets….actually putting a hard tax on pollution.
Eventually we believe someone is going to do it. The EU seems closest. And then we need that first pioneer to have some success and pave a way for others. Will someone please stand up and make a pledge here?
6. Circular Economy
Anyone who thinks we can recycle our way out of our massive global waste problem is delusional. Oh and yeah, we did a podcast on that too.
We have changed HOW we make things and push harder and faster towards a truly circular economy for consumable goods.
Progress can come in many forms, from larger commitments to compost incentives to banning single-use plastics to taxing non-biodegradable products.
7. Electric Vehicles
Think it was just because Hertz bought 100,000 Teslas that the Tesla stock has jumped 25% in the last week? We think not. The market knows a bigger push into EVs is coming at COP26, and we hope they are right.
Biggest goal here – formal dates for completely shutting down the sale of diesel engine cars and big moves to doing the same in trucking and shipping as well.
8. A Reckoning on Net Zero
We are getting sick and tired of all these shallow, poorly designed, carbon offset heavy Net Zero plans coming out of major corporations to check the ole climate box and keep on business as usual.
We want to see this get called out. That people recognize we need companies to get to net zero the right way, even if slower, then the wrong way at breakneck speed. This means actually changing how they make and source and provide their goods and services, not purchasing offsets as a substitute.
9. Regenerative Agriculture gets a Spotlight
Hey global warming, your friend biodiversity collapse is at the door again. Maybe ya’ll should just move in together?
Another area of overlap between these two crises. We are utilizing land at an incredibly inefficient rate long term because of the damage our modern mono-agriculture causes. This is leading to both biodiversity collapse and losing the powerful carbon sink our soil provides. Oh yeah, we have a podcast on that too!!!! Crazy. It’s almost like we are obsessed with this stuff.
But seriously, regenerative agriculture has never gotten much attention at COP Climate Summits, and we’d like to see that change.
10. US & China
Finally, we REALLY need to see some progress on US-China relations as it relates to climate. Look we can continue to disagree on other things, and we can and should continue to compete economically, but we have to be arm in arm on the climate front. The entire world depends on it. We hate bestowing so much power and influence in terms of the planet’s fate on these two highly frustrating global powers, but it is what it is.
Let’s hope these two are not like old foes ignoring each other at a high school reunion. Put the past in the past and grow up and recognize what is needed of you. Break bread and cooperate.
11. Support for Climate Refugees
Over 65% of all refugees worldwide are displaced from climate related issues – namely natural disasters and prolonged crop failures due to droughts. It’s about time we call it what it is and set up a framework to help these people and for the developing countries responsible for the bulk of the global warming – hello USA – to take accountability and provide significant funding and amnesty to help. Our Southern Border Issue is by and large a climate crisis – as millions across Central America have been displaced due to extreme weather. We benefited economically from causing it, and we need to now take responsibility to address it. Same goes for all major developed economic powers.
SEA OTTERS ARE EELGRASS APHRODISIACS
A new study in Science was published that provides some very compelling research for why we should love and support sea otters – as if their appearance and mannerisms were not enough!
For a long time, it was assumed the sea otters are harmful to seagrass beds such as eelgrass because they dig them up when searching for clams.
As it turns out, that’s not the case. Sea otters are actually stimulating eelgrass sexual production. There are two ways eelgrass reproduce – asexual reproduction via root cloning – and sexual reproduction via seed dispersal that produces flowers which get pollinated and support other species. Sea otters stimulate the latter, which is a big boost to their ecosystems.
To conduct this study, Dr. Erin Foster looked at habitats that had otters for over 100 years vs. a few decades vs. under 10 years, and collected eelgrass shoots from each. While also factoring in other variables such as seabed depth, temperature and meadow size, the length of time otters have been around turned out to have the highest correlation to flower producing version of eelgrass.
Add this to the list of ecological benefits from sea otters -which includes managing sizes of prey populations such as sea urchins which feed on kelp. Healthy sea otters = healthy kelp forests.
SEA OTTER RECOVERY
In a conservation success that few know about, sea otters have rebounded amazingly well off the coast of British Columbia and Southern Alaska after being completely exterminated by 1929.
Prior to the explosion of marine hunting and the fur trade in the 1700s, there were approximately 300,000 sea otters in this region. By 1911 there were just 2,000, and by 1929 there were zero.
Sea otters were reintroduced in 1969, and have really rebounded well ever since. Today there are an estimated 10,000. With their comeback, kelp forests have flourished. They are critical ecosystems that sequester lots of carbon and foster biodiversity. Species diversity is up 37% in this area as well since the otters returned.
All good news. However there has been lots of push back as well, mainly from commercial fishing and a few Indigenous tribes. Commercial fishermen were cleaning up with the abundant numbers of sea urchins, clams, and other shellfish. With the sea otters back and feasting on those same animals, it’s estimated that commercial fishing could lose $7M per year. However these fisherman are not factoring in the social and global value of kelp, are not interested in harvesting kelp because the demand is not as high and their existing tools don’t work as well in terms of fishing at scale, and they will not be bothered by the overfishing issue facing all of our oceans right now.
The indigenous plight is a bit more nuanced and complex. With sea otters depleted for such a long time, these communities became more and more dependent on shellfish for survival. It is not as easy for them to adapt and change at the pace sea otters have fostered. However, given sea otter populations used to be 30x larger and these communities have been here for thousands of years, there is reason to believe co-existence is plausible.
The study itself is pretty ground breaking and kudos to Dr. Foster and everyone who contributed to it. Once again another lesson in the critical cascade impacts of apex predator species and the intricacies of natural ecosystems and biodiversity. This should support more sea otter recovery and protection worldwide.
As for the commercial fishing and Indigenous fishing challenges in British Columbia….we believe commercial entities should turn to harvesting and processing more kelp anyhow and the fish species that thrive in kelp forests alongside shellfish as it is far more sustainable and regenerative. This is just the case of a system purely designed for mass scale with complete disregard for environmental impact – high volume, scale shellfish fishing – being challenged and needing to be replaced with a more regenerative alternative. We are all for that.
In terms of the Indigenous communities impacted, there are two things we can and should do:
- Provide financial assistance to these communities to source alternative food and set up kelp farms to aid them in this transition
- Allow a small quota for sea otter hunting that meets biological and ecological targets and is only available for impacted tribes, not the general public or general hunters. Monitor and audit this every year to minimize its need with the hope of weaning off over time as #1 takes shape.
Sources for this Story:
ALLBIRDS GOING PUBLIC
Allbirds, the millennial obsessed sustainable shoe brand, announced plans to go public. It’s an important filing in showing the investor and corporate world that there is money to be made in doing things with an environmental focus. While Allbirds is by no means perfect, and we’ll get into that, they certainly are far better than nearly every other shoe company ever made when it comes to environmental impact and transparency, and so we should be rooting for their success. While also pushing them in the right ways as well.
The company is hoping to fetch a valuation as high as $2.2B, which is going to be tricky. They company earned $219M in revenue in 2019 operating at a $26M loss. The trailing 12 months likely are around $250M in revenue at a $40M loss. Getting a 10x multiple on gross revenue while unprofitable is something usually only tech companies can pull off. So we’ll see.
They have really built their company and captured consumer attention on 2 key principles:
- Better for the Planet – this is plastered across every ad, social media account, PR release, and partnership.
- High Quality Design – they also just flat out make great shoes that are comfortable, durable and have their own unique look and feel.
LET’S START WITH THE GOOD
There is a lot to like about Allbirds. There are over 20 billion shoes sold worldwide each year and most are made using plastic and leather. Plastic of course comes from petroleum, and leather comes from factory farmed bovine in most cases – both suck environmentally and ethically. And while most shoe brands have a small collection not using these sources, Allbirds has built an entire product line avoiding them.
While Allbirds does now make some apparel too, shoes are the overwhelming bulk of their sales and they use the same materials for the most part in their apparel that they use in their shoes.
As for that material, these are the main sources:
- Wool – their top source
- Eucalyptus Tree – that they use to make lyocell fibers
- Snow Crab Shells
That is not 100% of their materials source but those are the main ones they hang their hat on. And while there are valid critiques of some of their wool and snow crab sources, these are far better than traditional plastic and leather.
They also get a strong grade from us on Transparency. You can see in their Sustainability report here how much visibility they provide.
By 2030 they plan on cutting their per-unit emissions down by 95%, an incredibly bold and ambitious goal we hope they achieve.
We often talk about the importance for companies to positively influence systemic change as a priority way above net-zero emissions, and Allbirds certainly is doing so across multiple fronts:
A) Regenerative Agriculture – they very much understand how important this is and prioritize it in a big way. They are there with their wool farms but would like to see them push the other sources here as well.
B) Renewable Sources – eucalyptus is a great example of a material source far more renewable and regenerative than petroleum or cattle.
C) Renewable Energy – they’ve set some great goals for 100% renewable energy at owned and operated facilities and finished goods manufacturers by 2025, as well as moving transportation to 95% ocean to minimize the more pollutive air travel for goods
First, it’s worth noting that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Allbirds for their sustainability claims and the treatment of sheep at their partner farms.
Digging into this a bit more, it seems they boil down into:
– Concerns they are using the most conservative of assumptions in their carbon footprint calculators
- Concerns they are not accounting for the full environmental impact of wool production in terms of its land and water use
- Concerns that their main wool supplier, ZQ Marino, is excluding the slaughter and transport processes in their certification programs
- Concerns that their snow crab shell providers in Canada are using practices that harm whales as a by-product
The calculation estimate challenges may be accurate, but honestly they are not going to move the needle in the wrong direction too much. The ethical treatment of sheep at their partner farms is super concerning, BUT it’s worth noting that PETA, who filed the case, is suspecting mistreatment based on farms of similar size but has no hard evidence their farms per say are using abusive practices. And the snow crab shells are a tiny fraction of their materials source and likely will stay that way given their product line, but we’d like to see more transparency here from Allbirds.
Our bigger critique is the obsession with carbon footprint. They put it on every product, which is asking the consumer in a way to use it when making a purchase decision and thus be thinking about their overall carbon footprint in general.
We’ve said before that we don’t feel this is helpful. Let’s not put the onus on end consumers in this way. Allbirds is doing so much good on how they are positively impacting system changes, and we’d prefer they continue to emphasize those stories and win consumers over that way rather than the ole carbon footprint.
Oh and a side note- some of their apparel uses recycled polyester which produces a lot of micro plastics when washed that pollute our oceans, so we’d like to see them drop this one!
While Allbirds can continue to improve and they have some open questions to answer, and it remains to be seen how far they can scale their environmental-focused supply chain without sacrificing the standards of it, we applaud what they’ve done and see their IPO as a big statement to the larger finance world to back these types of brands. So we are rooting for success, although financially think they are shooting for too high of a price given their economics!
We need to get our footwear industry off of petroleum (plastics) and factory farmed livestock (leather), so success from Allbirds is a step in the right direction.
One of the most promising things coming out of the summit was a much stronger commitment globally to the “30×30” program. Protecting 30% of our natural lands and oceans by 2030. Right now we are at 15% for lands and 7% for oceans, far off the mark.
And being off the mark for biodiversity goals is far too common. From the 20 targets set by this same summit in 2010, we’ve only partially achieved 6 of them. That’s terrible. And we’re getting tired of the all talk and little action mantra of these summits.
There were 3 key targets identified at the summit to protect biodiversity:
- Eat less meat – the amount of land we continue to use inefficiently for livestock and the overfishing we do to our oceans has to be addressed
- Bring nature into cities – we need to build green, natural spaces into our cities vs. just laying pavement everywhere we can
- Stop fossil fuels – here’s one that everyone at the COP26 Climate Summit will cheer on as well
And worth noting there was progress identified. 20 million farmers in China reduced their nitrogen fertilizer usage while increasing yields. Liberia and Gambia showed how they are cracking down on overfishing from non-locals.
Here are some other key targets:
- Reducing the rate of introducing invasive species by 50%
- Reducing pesticides to 2/3 of where they are today
- Putting more environmental rigor around where we choose to farm and mine
- Raise at least $200B per year to support developing countries in protecting biodiversity
If you look on our website – www.joinanimalia.com – you will see our purpose here at Animalia is to start discussions and share solutions around 2 primary topics:
- Reducing emissions and decarbonizing our lives
- Protecting biodiversity
It is so important we share focus across both. We believe the climate/emissions issues trump biodiversity because of economics. There is simply more money flowing in the energy space right now, particularly around startups and policy work. There is hardly anything in Biden’s $3.5T spending bill to protect our oceans and natural water bodies, for example, when compared to energy and warming.
These two things are separate but not opposed. They are two, deep, lifelong best friends who are getting beat up by the same bully – humans!
As usual with these summits, a lot of the right talk, and some solid goals set, but no concrete definition on the actions in detail that everyone is going to take to get there. Nothing binding. Nothing truly at stake.
We can do better. We have to. But let’s start by acknowledging the biodiversity crisis and give it more attention.
|DECARBONIZING FOSSIL FUELS TED TALK|
|Recently the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell and Engine No.1 shared the TED stage with climate activist Lauren MacDonald. Fast forward to the 17:00 minute mark and enjoy watching Lauren just hand it to the Shell CEO.|
RE-EMERGENCE OF AFRICAN SWINE FEVER POINTS CONTINUED CHALLENGE OF LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY
Here at Animalia we have taken a different stance on veganism and include anyone who is cutting back what they can on traditional meat consumption, even 10%, to be in the vegan family. This is because it should not be so absolute in definition, but rather a movement to get us off the world of the destructive, factory farm livestock industry designed for pure scale and into a world of regenerative, livestock farming which would undoubtedly lead to less supply, and that means we need a little less demand.
If you are not convinced by the environmental reasons for doing so, and we just touched on more in the article above about biodiversity, well then let’s talk about zoonotic diseases. Many of the diseases that emirate from livestock due to their harsh, unethical conditions do affect humans – think Ebola, H1N1, and SARS, previous pandemics.
There are also those that affect only the animals themselves – in this case African Swine Fever – from a biological perspective, but they do end up crippling us from an economic and food supply perspective for how much we rely on the toxic end of this industry.
African Swine Fever (ASF) is rearing its ugly head again around the world, and it’s on the US doorstep for the first time since the 1980s, with cases in the Dominican and Haiti. It has already been contributing to the rising pork and bacon prices, but if it lands again in the US, expect catastrophic economic fallout.
HISTORY OF ASF
The disease was first discovered in Africa around 100 years ago and has been traveling the world ever since. It is incredibly transmissible, in ways that make COVID look like it’s not contagious at all. Not only can ASF survive and travel on clothing, farming equipment, and pig feed, it can even live in the pig meat after it’s been cooked and cured.
Pig meat happens to be the #1 most illegally seized item in US border crossings, but much goes undetected. So while humans are not infected by it, we sure as heck can transport it in more ways than one.
It’s devastating to pigs, causing internal bleeding and organ collapse. When outbreaks happen, the entire industry has to shut down. Millions of pigs potentially infected have to be slaughtered and disposed of. Which can destroy small farms, local economies, and lead to massive price hikes – all of which hurt working class people the most. ASF in the last couple years has ravaged China, the world’s largest pig producer, killing as much as 25-50% of all their pigs – which is contributing to the big price hikes you are seeing right now in something like bacon.
The problem in containing something like ASF is the way we raise and farm pigs. When we say factory farming livestock – we are referring to the really toxic end of the industry who is operating for pure scale. Animals living in massive, cramped pens, poor grain fed diets, hormone injections, land abuse…you name it. It’s bad for the animals and it’s bad for our health and it’s bad for the environment. There are plenty of more ethically and environmentally friendly ways to raise livestock, but not factory farming. Unfortunately in the US, 97% of our pigs are factory farmed.
And that style of farming also leads to more outbreaks and disease spread. Not just ASF, but diseases like H1N1 as well.
If ASF hits home again this fall or winter, as it very well may, it’s going to have major negative domino effects on our economy.
There are so many reasons to put an end to factory farming livestock and really no compelling reasons to keep it going. We have alternative food sources, people just don’t like to eat them. At some point, we are going to have to stop making cheap meat our #1 priority in life. We are going to have to accept that maybe meat should be a little pricier and eaten less frequently in order to ensure that it’s raised and harvested in the right way.
Proper, controlled rotational grazing of livestock can be a really critical part of regenerative agriculture. There is no clear reason to stand against that. Factory farming livestock is not that. In the case of pigs, this is essentially where all of it comes from.
Environmental and biodiversity concerns should lead the way here to stop this practice, but economic and public health concerns are very real as well. In the case of ASF, we are already seeing the economic impact with rising prices and if it hits home in the US as it seems it may, it’s going to get a lot worse. As for public health, while it’s still unproven if COVID-19 transferred to humans from an animal or from a lab, all other major outbreaks in the last 20-30 years have been animal derived. Many from unhealthy livestock kept in horrible conditions. And more are on their way.
Cell-based meats may be the solution long term, but they will take time to get to market and scale. If you are interested in hearing about that world, check out one of our previous podcasts below with Finless Foods founder and CEO Mike Seldin.
Sources for this Story:
Some related listening….
LAB GROWN MEAT IS IN YOUR FUTURE | WITH MICHAEL SELDON, CEO OF FINLESS FOODS
What if your favorite meat could be cultured in a lab and created with much less environmental harm? Would you be down?
We chat with CEO of Finless Foods, a company bringing sustainable, delicious seafood to the world, without having to farm or harvest live fish from our precious oceans by harnessing cellular biology.