Economic Impacts of Climate Change

Stories of Climate Change

University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment (2016)

Film Review

Stories of Climate Change is a short documentary about the economic impact of changing climate – rising sea levels, floods, droughts, short springs and warmer water temperatures – on various North Carolina business owners. Each vignette is a little under four minutes. (If Vimeo is set on autoplay Parts 1-6 and 7-11 should autoplay sequentially. The alternative is to click individual vignettes as they appear in the preview panel on the right).

First up is a beekeeper who reports that shorter springs (resulting in a decline in flowering plants and nectar) kill off up to 50% of her bees every year.

Next is the manager of a seafood market, who talks about sea bass dying out as warmer water temperatures interfere with spawning and other fish species moving as far north as Maryland and New England.

In the third vignette a hunting guide talks about the decline in the number of migratory birds flying south due to warmer temperatures.

In Part 4 a wildlife refuge manager talks about rising sea levels causing increased soil salinity and killing off pine forests that used to support woodpeckers and other native birds.

In Part 5 a fishing guide talks about his region experiencing the drought of the century, the flood of the century and the killing frost of the century – along with a mass of crop failures – in the last five years. He also observes that city people don’t see climate change because they’re out of touch with the natural landscape.

In Part 6 a hunter/fisherman talks about the loss of seasonal variations, resulting in long winters, hot dry summers and unprececidentated infestations of mosquitoes and tics that can last up to Christmas.

In Part 7 a family of asthmatics discusses the direct impact of climate change (long hot summers with lots of pollen and wildfires) on their health.

In Part 8 a trout farmer discusses how decreased oxygenation has caused several years where her entire stock was wiped out.

In Part 9 an oyster fisherman describes how a rise in sea levels is causing increased erosion and sedimentation that is suffocating oyster beds.

In Part 10 an apple grower who took over a 100 year old orchard 200 years ago talks about the loss of his entire crop for four years running. Buds form prematurely due to unseasonably warm March weather and are killed by sudden cold snaps in April.

In Part 11 a ranchers talks about her difficulty managing longer more severe droughts, longer more severe rainy periods and sudden severe heat waves. A few years ago she lost 50 chickens and turkeys when the temperature rose from 70 to 100 in 45 minutes.

Fighting Monsanto in India

Bullshit!

Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Kardalian (2005)

Film Review

Bullshit! is about Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva. It takes its title from the “Bullshit Award” she received from a pro-Monsanto lobby group in 2004. Despite the intended insult (they sent the cow dung through the mail), Vendana was thrilled. Cow dung is revered in rural India, where it’s used as fuel and mixed with mud to construct water tight walls and flooring.

The film traces how Vendana abandoned nuclear physics in 1985 to start the Novdanya Institute, dedicated to reclaiming native plants and seeds as a commons for people to enjoy collectively – instead of a private commodity to increase the profits of multinational seed companies like Monsanto.

Novdanya runs a seed bank called The School of Nine Seeds. Its primary purpose is to preserve rare and heritage seeds that have been large replaced by a handful of hybrid monoculture crops. With growing water scarcity, Novdanya places special emphasis on drought resistant millets with a high protein content.

Another high priority for Vendana is her battle against Monsanto’s campaign to flood India, an early target starting in the late nineties, with GMO crops. Many Indian farmers have bankrupted themselves purchasing GMO seeds, particularly Roundup-ready varieties. When the high yields they were promised failed to eventuate, thousands committed suicide.*

Bullshit! also profiles Vendana’s role in the antiglobalization movement, particularly the anti-WTO protest in Cancun Mexico in September 2003. The public suicide of Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae was instrumental in galvanizing opposition from third world farmers against WTO provisions enabling the US to destroy local markets by dumping cheap agricultural products in third world countries.

In 2000 Vendana collaborated with Greenpeace to force the EU to revoke a patent they had granted Monsanto on the neem tree and an ancient variety of Indian wheat.

The film  ends by highlighting Shiva’s involvement, along with other high profile antiglobalization activists (including Canadian water activist Maude Barlow and French farmer Jose Bove) in a 640-day sit down strike to shut down a Coca Cola bottling plant that was illegal depleting a fresh water aquifer.


*According to New Dehli TV, close to 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
** The final breakdown of the so-called “Doha Round” of WTO negotiations in 2008 would eventually lead the US to promote the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Initiative (TTPI) in its place.

The American Obsession with Lawns

Gimme Green

Eric Flagg and Isaac Brown (2007)

Film Review

Americans are more obsessed with lawns than any other nationality. Lawns are a comparatively new innovation associated with the boom in home ownership the US experienced in the mid-twentieth century. They were virtually unknown in 1900, when 75% of Americans rented their homes. In 2007 when this film was made, US wilderness was being converted to lawn at a rate of 5,000 acres per day.

In many cases, lawns are a middle class luxury imposed by local authorities determined to preserve neighborhood “property values.” In the film, a homeowner who has created a bird habitat out of trees and shrubs is ordered to cut them down.

Americans spend $40 billion a year maintaining their 41 million acres of lawn. The largest irrigated crop in the US, lawns consume 30,000 tons of pesticide yearly. And contrary to manufacturer claims, 17 of the 30 most commonly used pesticides end up in drinking water. Fifteen of them are possible or probable carcinogens. Children in families that use pesticides on their lawns have a 6.5 times greater risk of leukemia.

The water wasted on lawn maintenance is equally concerning. Forty to sixty percent of household water goes to landscaping, an average of 200 gallons per American per day.

Severe drought conditions are forcing California and the Southwest to rethink their lawn addition. In 1999, Las Vegas instituted a turf-rebate program that paid homeowners up to $1.50 per square foot to rip out their lawns. At present, the city bans grass front yards in new developments. Alternatives explored in the documentary are artificial (plastic turf) or natural desert landscapes.

My personal preference, climate permitting, is to convert lawns to edible landscape. My property was entirely lawn and ornamental shrubs when I first moved in. In eight years, I have replaced nearly all of it with fruit trees, perennial herbs and runner beans and vegetables.

Nestle Enjoys Unlimited Water Despite Sacramento Drought

california drought

The city of Sacramento, in their fourth year of severe drought, continues to allow the Nestle water bottling plant to draw unlimited (estimated at up to 80 million gallons a year) from local aquifers. Meanwhile according to IndyMedia reporter Dan Bacher (Nestle Continues Stealing World’s Water During Drought), Sacramento residents have been slapped with drastic water restrictions.

On March 12, Jay Farniglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion laboratory/Caltech, wrote in the LA Times that California has only one year of water left in its reservoirs – while the state’s backup supply, their groundwater aquifers are rapidly depleting.

The city charges Nestle the residential rate, 65 cents, for each 470 gallons it takes. The company then rakes in record profits by selling the water back to Sacramento residents for close to five dollars a gallon.

Under brand names such as Perrier and San Pellegrino, Nestle is currently the world’s largest bottled water supplier. They are notorious for denying that water is a human right at the 2000 World Water Forum

The Crunch Nestle Alliance, a coalition of environmentalists, Native Americans and other activists, is demanding that the city charge Nestle commercial rates for their water or tax their profits. Or better still that Nestle voluntarily shut down their Sacramento bottling plant.

Bacher’s article also notes that Governor Jerry Brown seeks to further limit Sacramentans access to water by fast tracking his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). This would involve construction of peripheral tunnels to ship Sacramento River water to corporate agrobusiness, Southern California water agencies and oil companies that require massive amounts of water for fracking operations. If it goes forward, the BDCP would force vast tracts of Sacramento Delta farmland out of production for the benefit San Joaquin Valley factory farms and the fracking industry.

In the video below Nestle’s CEO Peter Brabeck explains why he believes water should be privatized – after forcefully arguing for Europe to remove their ban on genetically modified foods.

The Crunch Nestle Alliance, which doesn’t have a website, can be contacted through Andy Conn at camphgr55@gmail.com.

photo credit: CalPERS and the Drought via photopin (license)

A Natural Solution to Drought

In the video below, Australian permaculture guru Geoff Lawton challenges the energy intensive system of water management employed in the southwestern US and California.

He gives the example of the canal off the Colorado River, which presently transports water 300 miles to Tucson. Increasing evaporation has made the water so saline that it’s useless for irrigation – except for golf courses. A sinking water table means massive energy is required to elevate the water prior to transporting it. In fact, providing water to Tucson is the single biggest consumer of electricity in the state of Arizona.

Lawton contrasts this energy intensive approach to water management with a system of swales* built in the Sonora Desert 80 years ago under the Works Project Administration (Roosevelt’s New Deal job creation program). After 80 years, the swales are full of lush grasslands and trees that have self-planted.

This low-energy design approach, which works with nature rather than against it, can be used to transform any desert region into productive food forests.

The video has been censored from YouTube, but you can see it at http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/73485-an-oasis-in-the-american-desert

In the second video Lawton takes viewers through a food forest he built, by constructing swales, in the Jordanian desert.

*A swale is an artificial ditch on contour used to slow and capture water runoff by spreading it horizontally across the landscape, thus facilitating runoff infiltration into the soil

 

Population and Sustainability: the Elephant in the Room

elephant

Population control is a taboo topic among in most sustainability circles. It shouldn’t be. According to a University of Oregon study, childbearing is the number one carbon intensive activity. Having just one has twenty times the impact of a lifetime of carbon frugality.

How Many People Can the Earth Support?

The human species lives on a finite planet with finite resources. Growing evidence suggests we have already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity. WHO and World Hunger data reveal our current system of industrial agriculture only feeds 84% of the global population. At present nearly a billion people (out of 7 billion) die of starvation or malnutrition-related disease.

I used to believe that third world hunger stemmed purely from inequality and maldistribution of food resources. Now I’m not so sure. In the past five years, desertification, drought, extreme weather events, increasing fossil fuel prices*, water scarcity and topsoil depletion have caused global food production to level out and start to decline.

The Good News

The good news is that fertility rates are already dropping. According to the CIA (the official source of international fertility data), the current global fertility rate is 2.45 births per woman. This is down from 2.50 in 2011 and 2.90 in 2006.

Demographers attribute the drop in third world fertility rates to massive urbanization and the entry of women into the workforce. In the developed world, declining fertility rates seem more closely linked to worsening economic conditions. In Japan, which has in continuous recession for two decades, the fertility rate is 1.39 In Greece it’s 1.40, in Italy 1.41.

At a global fertility rate of 2.45, the world will reach  replacement rate (2.1 births per woman), between 2020 and 2030 and peak at 8.5 billion in 2030.

At present the planet only feeds 5.88 billion people. Could we feed 8.5 billion? Possibly. If they all give up meat and we dig up a few thousand parking lots and return them to food production.

Dropping Fertility Rates: A Capitalist’s Worst Nightmare

The bad news is the enormous pressure Wall Street exerts to keep birth rates high. Declining population growth threatens the robust economic growth our current economic system relies on.

Like a pyramid scheme, monopoly capitalism is based on the continual creation of new debt. Perpetual economic growth is essential to repay this ever increasing debt. Without it, the pyramid collapses.

The Pressure to Have Babies

At present the US and New Zealand are tied for the second highest fertility rate (at 2.06) in the industrialized word (France is highest at 2.08). The first two countries share two specific population drivers: a high rate of teen pregnancy and the bombardment of young women with constant pro-baby media messaging.

The US is number one in the developed world for teen pregnancy. New Zealand is number two. Although Kiwi teenagers have excellent access to reproductive services (including abortion) through our national health service, there’s no effort to provide effective sex education in our public schools.

Meanwhile, thanks to the capture of New Zealand popular culture by American mass media, Kiwi girls are bombarded with the same well-oiled messaging about the new feminine mystique: that without thin, perfect bodies, faces, hair, husbands and babies, they are utterly worthless as women.

In the US, teenage girls have abysmal access to both sex education and contraception. It’s tempting to blame this on the rise of the religious right. I think the issue deserves more scrutiny. A close look at the millionaires and billionaires who have facilitated the boom in right wing fundamentalism suggests they have cynical economic reasons for furthering policies that ensure robust US population growth.

We Need a Movement

Clearly activists who are genuine about curbing carbon emissions must give population control the same priority they give changing light bulbs, installing solar panels and reducing car trips. We’re not talking mandatory sterilization, abortion or eugenics – but voluntary steps people can take to curb their fertility.

So what does a population control movement look like? First it’s got lots of men in it. Access to affordable abortion and contraception is no longer a woman’s issue – it deeply affects all of us. Growthbusters guru Dave Gardner clearly does his part by handing out endangered species condoms in the street. 

Secondly it works to actively counteract Wall Street messaging that pressurizes women to have more babies. The sustainability movement is successfully counteracting messages to consume more and incur more debt. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with pro-baby messaging. There are numerous advantages to remaining childless. We need to promote them.  

Finally it actively campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy.There is absolutely no reason why the Christian right should have a monopoly on pregnancy counseling. Progressives and liberals need to start our own rape crisis and sex education clinics, comparable to the “birth right” counseling movement. If the schools won’t do it, we need to educate teenage girls about debt rape and where they can obtain free and low cost contraception and morning after pills.

During the sixties, activists concerned about oppression in the schools, medical system, and other pro-corporate entities started their own alternative schools, clinics, abortion centers and child care programs. It’s time we followed their example.

*Fossil fuels are essential for industrial agriculture. In addition to fueling farm machinery, the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used in factory farming also derive from fossil fuels.

 Originally published in Dissident Voice

 photo credit: David Blackwell