Time to Choose

Time to Choose

Directed by Charles Ferguson (2015)

Film Review

The appraisal of the renewables market is clearly out-of date in this 2015 film. Nevertheless  it contains excellent new material on mountaintop removal (for coal) and coal mining and pollution in China; the growing rollout of rooftop solar in the Third World (as of 2015, 70% of Bangladeshi residents still lacked access to electricity); and the disastrous replacement of Indonesia’s tropical forests with palm oil plantations.

As of 2015, 70% of the world’s carbon emission come from burning fossil fuels and 30% from destroying the world’s forests for agriculture.

The filmmakers link Brazil’s ongoing destruction of the Amazon to the country’s growing export of soy to Chinese pig farms. The country’s massive rainforest destruction has significantly reduced rain fall, leaving Sao Paulo’s 20 million residents to confront chronic water shortages. Illegally driven from their land to create soy plantations that only benefit a handful of billionaires, many subsistence farmers are left with no way to support themselves.

Illegal destruction of Indonesia’s tropical rainforests for palm oil production also displaces many of the country’s subsistence farmers, as well as leading to the near-extinction of orangutan populations. Palm oil is the main ingredient in many processed foods.

Owing to the clear cutting and burning of their rainforests, Indonesia currently has the third highest level of CO2 pollution after China and the US.

The main premise of this film is that we already have all the necessary technology to end rainforest destruction and replace fossil fuels with cheaper and cleaner renewable energy. For decades, the main obstacle to environmental reform has been billionaire oligarchs blocking forest conservation and the roll-out of renewable energy technology.

Filmmakers also emphasize the contribution industrial agriculture plays in increasing carbon emissions. This relates to the abandonment of traditional farming practices that capture carbon in the soil. At present real food (ie non-processed foods produced by traditional farming methods) is referred to as “specialty crops.”

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

 

 

A Study in Israeli Pro-Corporate Propaganda

 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

By Yuval Noah Harari

Kinnneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir (Hebrew edition) 2011

McLelland & Stewart (English paperback) 2016

Book Review

I picked up this book believing Harari was an anthropologist. He’s actually an Israeli historian and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His area of of specialty is medieval and military history.*

The book is aimed at a sixth grade reading level and and displays a disappointing lack of scholarship (Harari has mentioned in several interviews that “meditation” is a primary tool he uses in research). Largely based on popular pseudo-scientific mythology, it seems aimed at promoting Harari’s pet theories linking history and biology to conclude humans have no serious alternative to the pro-corporate political/economic regime we currently live under.

Many of his assertions blatantly contradict existing research evidence:

  • Harari devotes a whole chapter to the history of money, which he erroneously traces back to barter. This is a discredited myth first promulgated by Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations. Recent anthropological research indicates that primitive credit creation (rather than barter) was the true precursor to coins and notes.
  • He states Columbus died erroneously believing he had discovered islands off the west coast of India, which is totally unsupported by the contemporaneous letters and diaries (See Lies My Teacher Told Me).
  • He maintains industrialized agriculture was essential to the development of industrialized cities, which totally overlooks major cities India built  in a country devoted almost exclusively to pre-industrial agriculture. At present industrialized agriculture only produces 20% of the food we eat. See Capitlaism, Colonialism and the Failure of Industrial Agriculture
  • He promotes the discredited myth that fields and and feed lots have become vastly more productive thanks to artificial fertilizers and pesticides, hormones, and GMOs. More than two decades of research reveals otherwise – that industrial monoculture agriculture produces far fewer calories per acre than traditional polyculture methods that emphasize soil health. Other research reveals industrial farming methods are systematically degrading and depleting topsoil, as well as killing vital soil organisms and pollinators (such as bees).
  • He also promotes the discredited serotonin model of happiness promoted by drug companies, despite hundreds of studies showing SSRIs are no more effective in alleviating depression than placebo.

Some of his claims are just plain ludicrous (even for 2011):

  • Since 1945 no independent nation recognized by the UN has been wiped off the map. (He conveniently overlooks Palestine)
  • The world has seen no international wars since 1945. (What about the US wars on Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Yemen?).
  • Famine has been eliminated (He seems to overlook the 800,000 – 1,000,000 million people who die annually from malnutrition and malnutrition-related illness).
  • He assures us that prophecies of resource scarcity are “probably misplaced” (ignoring well-documented collapse of fish stocks, die off of bees and other pollinators, freshwater shortages, and topsoil depletion).
  • He maintains if we are sick in modern society, health insurance steps in (Is he joking?)

*See How Yuval Harari Became the Pet Ideologist of the Liberal Elites

The Importance of Economic Relocalization

Local Futures: Beyond the Monoculture

Local Futures (1998)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the early work of Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of Ancient Futures (formerly the International Society for Ecology and Culture – ISEC) and author of the book Ancient Futures (1991). Her work is also featured in the films Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (1993) and Economics of Happiness (see A Film About Economic Relocalization ).

The film recounts her work assisting the people of Ladakh in resisting globalization pressures that threatened to destroy Ladakhi culture, environment, livelihoods and health.

Norberg-Hodge maintains the effects of globalization are extremely negative for the vast majority of the world. Globalization’s emphasis on ever increasing production and growth destroys ecosystems, cultural diversity and livelihoods, as it drives poor people off their land and into urban slums.

What she and other members of ISEC have learned over the past three decades is that strengthening local economies can help young indigenous people resist psychological pressure (from continual bombardment with Western advertising) to discard traditional farming, production and cultural practices in favor of Western materialism. Without this support, young people become very susceptible to Western disinformation denigrating their traditional way of life. This, in turn, can lead to profound feelings of self-doubt, depression and even violence.

In 1995, Norberg-Hodge established a 3,000+ member network of Ladakhi women that focused on rejuvenating local culture and production methods, small scale renewable energy projects and a reduction in TV viewing.

With the help of ISEC, she also established local ecology networks that became involved in regional government and helped revive ancient Tibetan medicine.

Most importantly, ISEC has played a big role in organizing cultural exchanges between Ladakhi and Western sustainability activists. Sometimes it’s only in visiting the West that young Ladakhi realize how destructive globalization, industrial agriculture and ever increasing production and economic growth really are.

Norberg-Hodge’s work has had a major influence on the growing local food movement and the mushrooming of farmer’s markets throughout the industrialized world.

Industrial Agriculture: The Truth About Where Your Meat Comes From

Land of Hope and Glory UK Earthlings Documentary

Surge (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the brutal conditions under which factory farmed animals are raised in the UK, Australia and the US. This type of footage is extremely rare because Food Inc makes every effort to conceal the disgusting conditions under which our meat is produced.

Factory farmed pigs and chickens seem to fare the worst. Even though pigs are as intelligent and emotionally complex as dogs, they are raised in extremely confining cages and forced to lie in their own feces, as well as being routinely tortured and beaten by their keepers. Pigs, like most other factory farmed animals, are fed massive doses of antibiotics (contributing to antibody resistance and the rise of “superbugs”) while continual exposure to feces makes factory farmed meat a major source of food borne illness.

Chickens and more than 90% of ducks and turkeys are also crowded into pens. In chickens raised for meat, 45% suffer painful fractures because their specially bred bodies are too heavy for their skeleton.

What seems most consistent among all factory farmed animals (besides their continual exposure to feces) are the inhumane conditions under which they are killed. Although most jurisdictions require them to be asphyxiated or electrically stunned prior to slaughter, abattoir personnel are rushed and poorly trained. As the film clearly shows, many animals are still alive when they’re butchered.

 

How Industrial Farming Destroys Complex Plant Interrelationships

What Plants Talk About

PBS (2014)

Film Review

The title of this documentary is misleading, as it focuses more on plant behavior than on plant communication. The latter is surprisingly similar to animal behavior in many respects. Research shows plants forage for food (via their roots), just as animals do. Like animals they also have complex social relationships with other plants. Not only do they compete aggressively with other plants for light and nutrients, but they share nutrients with sister plants and band together to fight off predators. For example, plants give off distress hormones when they’re attacked, and selective plants (such as lupins) give off noxious substances that protect all the plants around them.

In forests, mother trees have bee found to nurture daughter trees that are too shaded to produce their own sugars via photosynthesis. By injecting large mother trees with carbon-14, scientists discovered they were transferring sugars through their roots to young saplings that surrounded them.

In a forest trees establish vast cooperative networks with fungi that exchange nutrients they capture from soil for the sugars trees produce.

These complex networks are destroyed by industrial agriculture. Plowing and heavy use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides destroy the vast fungal network essential for healthy plant growth. This is the main reason why organic farming – which preserves vital soil organisms – produces much higher overall yields than industrial agriculture.

Why Growth is the Main Cause of Poverty

Growth Equals Poverty

Vendana Shiva (2013)

In this presentation, environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva challenges the Wall Street mythology that economic growth reduces poverty. Using her own country India as an example, she demonstrates how poverty (and inequality) increase in direct correlation to GDP increases.

The examples she offers clearly apply to the US, UK and New Zealand. All three countries are experiencing alarming increases in poverty and inequality as GDP increases. As in India, the quality and availability of health, education and other public services have declined steeply as “growth” has increased.

She goes on to demonstrate what GDP growth really represents: the privatization (ie theft) of natural and public resources by a small number of elites.

In India at present, 1/4 of the population lives in abject poverty and 1/2 of children are malnourished. Vendana blames the increase in hunger on the forced adoption of industrial agriculture and GMO crops. Monsanto and GMO advocates like Bill gates argue that GMOs will decrease world hunger. In India, where Monsanto has successfully lobbied to make it illegal for farmers to save seed, just the opposite has happened.

This due partly to Monsanto’s seed monopoly, which has caused an 8,000% increase in the cost of seed; partly to the high cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides GMO crops require; and partly to the destruction of soil, bees and biodiversity caused by industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

The Ugly Truth About Factory Farms

The Truth About Factory Farms

The mass production of America’s food comes with a hefty price. Find out the environmental, animal, and human impact of raising over 99 percent of US farm animals in factory farms in this infographic,”The Truth About Factory Farms.” Visit our infographic page for the high-res version.

Capitalism, Colonialism and the Failure of Industrial Agriculture

This presentation by anti-GMO and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva focuses on colonialism and its fundamental role in capitalism. She quotes from 17th century philosophers Bacon and Locke, who laid the groundwork for a capitalist philosophy that is clearly at odds with most human needs.

Their determination to “dominate” (in some cases they use the world “rape”) the natural world went hand in hand with early capitalists’ determination to dominate and enslave third world peoples and steal their lands.

Industrial farming is an excellent example of this attempt to “dominate” nature. Although it’s promoted as a method of reducing world hunger, it actually feeds fewer people because it destroys soil, kills pollinators and reduces access to fresh water. Its true purpose is to produce immense profits for a handful of rich capitalists.

At present industrial agriculture, which only produces 20% of the food people eat, is responsible for 70% of global disease and malnutrition and 75% of the damage capitalism causes to the global ecology.

The True Cost of Cheap Meat

farmageddon

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

By Philip Lymbery with Isobel Oakeshott

Bloomsbury Press (2014)

Book Review

Farmageddon is about the false economy of industrial meat production. While the corporations that promote factory farming applaud themselves for producing “cheap meat” for poor people, when societal costs are counted, industrially produced meat costs society approximately 25 times the sticker price. So as not to infringe on corporate profits, the excess costs (for environmental clean-up and a myriad of health problems) are transferred to the taxpayer.

Lymbery, a long time organic farming proponent, provides an extremely thorough and compelling expose of the numerous drawbacks of raising livestock in concrete warehouses. The side effects of living adjacent to a factory farm include air and water pollution by toxic herbicides and pesticides, nitrates, pathogenic bacteria and arsenic; loss of songbirds, bees and other insect species; reduced life expectancy,* increased exposure to disease carrying mosquitoes, loss of earthworms (due to fertilizer-related soil acidification), increased incidence (by threefold) of childhood asthma; increased antibiotic resistance (due to routine feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed cows, pigs and chickens); reduced sperm counts and increased breast cancer and renal tumors related to Roundup, the herbicide used with GMO crops.

Lymbery also includes a section on industrially farmed fish and they risks they pose to the health of wild fish populations.

His final chapter includes a variety of policy recommendations that could facilitate a move away from industrial farming to safer, less environmentally destructive traditional farming.


*Individuals who live adjacent to intensive dairy farms have a ten year decrease in life expectancy.

Prince Charles’s Organic Farm

The Farmer and His Prince

Bertram Verhag (2014)

Film Review

The Farmer and His Prince is an English language film produced by German film director Bertram Verhag. It features an in-depth tour of His Royal Highness Prince Charles’s organic farm at High Gatehouse in Gloucestershire and substantive discussions with the Prince of Wales himself on industrial agriculture, factory farming, genetic modification, global warming and sustainable organic farming.

Prince Charles, the world’s most high profile organic farmer, converted his estate to organic agriculture in the 1980s. He raises sheep, dairy cows, rare breed pigs and a range of foot crops. Although he plays little role in the day-to-day management of the farm, he conducts tours there and is active in lobbying government policymakers and the food industry – both in Great Britain and internationally.

His farm supplies local hotels and markets and presently turns a small profit.