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Can meat eaters be green? October 26, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Column, Environment, Global warming, Life, rant, Society, Sustainable Living.
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Can meat eaters be green?

(This column was first published on 2010-09-08 at News24 here)

I’ve been an omnivore all my life. Although I’ve wrestled with the idea of vegetarianism at various times, I’ve never found the arguments particularly convincing.

We come from a long line of hunters and eaters of meat. Cut marks on almost 3.4 million year old animal bones tell us so, as does the tooth enamel of our distant hominin ancestors. Hunter-gatherers are so called for good reason. We have evolved on a mixed diet that includes meat, and some of the essential nutrients our bodies require, including vitamin A, vitamin D and the amino acid tryptophan, are exceedingly difficult to find in plant sources.

In recent years, however, vegetarian and vegan activists have added a new charge against us carnivores: you can not consume meat and also claim to be an environmentalist. The main culprits behind this claim are cows.

Cows, the argument goes, are fed grains like maize and soy which are grown on huge tracts of land – some of which used to be Amazon rainforest – with massive inputs of fossil fuels and water, and since they also belch voluminous quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, they have monstrous carbon hoofprints. A 2006 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that 18% of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – more than what’s generated by all of transportation put together – comes from livestock.

So does this spell the end of my meat eating days? Well, no. It turns out that there are cows and there are cows, and not all of them eat grains or contribute massively to climate change.

Good cow, bad cow

Let’s start with the “bad” cows. After the Second World War, the so-called Green Revolution was driven mostly by the large-scale production of artificial nitrogen fertiliser using huge amounts of cheap oil, gas, coal and electricity. This allowed the farming of livestock animals including cows, which had previously been integral providers of soil fertility on farms through their manure, to be separated from the production of grains.

Grains were now grown industrially, on big, state-subsidised, monocrop factory farms with nutrients provided by synthetic fertilisers, resulting in major surpluses during the second half of the 20th Century. Crammed into high-density “feedlots”, cows could be fattened and brought to market in record time on a diet of this cheap grain, while being responsible for criminal levels of greenhouse gas emissions and noxious effluents by the pond full.

And then there are the “good” cows. Cows that are allowed to graze on pastures of mixed grasses, their natural diet. Cows that are part of agricultural systems that carefully integrate animals and perennial polycultures and mimic nature’s cycles, rather than being production units in disaggregated food factories generating pollution and waste and demanding constant inputs of non-renewable resources. Cows that are carbon-neutral or perhaps even carbon-negative.

On his Polyface Farm in Virginia, pioneering family farmer Joel Salatin, for instance, rotates cows and chickens on pastures of mixed perennial grasses which are neither plowed or artificially fertilised nor sprayed with pesticides and also host foraging pigs, turkeys and rabbits. Over a period of more than 45 years, Salatin, who only sells his produce locally, has been able to raise the carbon content of his pasture soils by 6.5%.

Soils contain about two-thirds of the planet’s carbon reserves – more than forests, oceans and the atmosphere put together – and while industrial farming of annual monocrops depletes soil fertility and leads to billions of tonnes of soil erosion annually, Salatin’s roving bovines continually fertilise their pastures and sequester carbon in the soil they help to build.

It has been estimated that system’s such as Salatin’s, which combine appropriate livestock and mixed, predominantly perennial crops, are capable of removing substantially more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit.

None of this should be an excuse to relax and enjoy another bite of your rump steak though. If we want to be environmentalists and eat meat, too, it’s our responsibility to find out where our meat comes from and how it was produced. It’s our duty not to eat grain-fattened, factory-farmed meat, and to support local farmers who raise good old pasture-fed, soil-building, carbon-sequestering, sustainable cows.

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The Most Dangerous Man In America October 18, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Film screening, History, Politics, Society, South Africa.
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Documentary about freedom of information to be shown in Cape Town

Are you worried about the Protection of Information Bill currently before Parliament? Join the Right2Know Campaign for a screening of The Most Dangerous Man In America, a documentary which illustrates the dangers of restricted public access to information – even in a democracy – and was nominated for an Oscar in 2010.

The Most Dangerous Man In America will be shown at the Labia on Orange cinema in Cape Town on Monday 25 October at 6:15pm.

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and leading Vietnam War strategist, concludes that the war is based on decades of lies and leaks 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to The New York Times, making headlines around the world. Hailed as a hero, vilified as a traitor and ostracised even by his closest colleagues, Ellsberg risks life in prison to stop a war he helped to plan.

The Most Dangerous Man In America tells the riveting story of one man’s profound change of heart and takes a piercing look at the world of government secrecy as revealed by the ultimate insider. Characterised by an epic battle between America’s greatest newspapers and its president, which goes all the way to the Supreme Court, this political thriller unravels a saga that leads directly to Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam War.

The scenario described by The Most Dangerous Man In America is incredibly relevant to the situation faced by South African’s at this very moment in time. If you care about your right to access to information, don’t miss this feature-length documentary.

The Right2Know Campaign is an umbrella campaign representing a broad front of over 700 civil society groups. We believe a responsive and accountable democracy able to meet the basic needs of our people is built on transparency and the free flow of information. The Right2Know campaign statement – “Let the truth be told. Stop the Secrecy Bill!” – was drafted following parliamentary hearings on the Bill in July 2010 and demands that secrecy legislation must comply with constitutional values. It is based upon detailed submissions made to Parliament by civil society groups. For more information about the Right2Know Campaign consult www.r2k.org.za.

The screening will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion.

Tickets are R20 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. This is a once-off screening and we strongly recommended that you reserve tickets to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by the Right2Know Campaign, the Tri- Continental Film Festival, the Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social, political and environmental messages to South African audiences.

Contacts:

The Labia:
021 424 5927

The Right2Know Campaign:

Sarah Duff

079 862 6696

sarahemilyduff@gmail.com

www.r2k.org.za

While You Were Sleeping:
Andreas Späth
084 772 1056
Andreas_Spath@yahoo.com
http://www.whileyouweresleeping.wordpress.com

IWW documentary screening and public meeting October 12, 2010

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, anarchism, Cape Town, Film screening, Politics, Society, South Africa, Work.
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Join the Cape Town Branch of the IWW for:

A screening of the short documentary “Together we win: the fight to organise Starbucks” followed by a public meeting on “Organising as casuals and contract workers”.

Most workers today work in casual and precarious jobs. In many parts of the world, including South Africa, most unions have not been up to this challenge, and have often failed to organise casual workers.


The IWW Starbucks Union, however, is different. The entire union is made up of casual workers who are organising themselves at Starbucks stores. In tribute to their comrades in the IWW Starbucks Union, the Cape IWW branch is presenting a documentary made by these workers themselves. This inspiring movie tells the remarkable the story of how casual workers in the Starbucks chain of stores fought for and won the right to organise.

Date: Saturday 16th October 2010

Time: 14h00

Venue: Cape Town Democracy Centre, 6 Spin Street, Cape Town

For more information or to RSVP contact us on iww-ct@live.co.za