everyone's harvest

Transforming our food system, one sustainable blog at a time

For Hudson Bay Polar Bears,
 The End is Already in Sight August 9, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — everyonesharvest @ 7:43 pm

FEATURED ARTICLE: For Hudson Bay Polar Bears, The End is Already in Sight


DISCLAIMER: the following content does not necessarily represent the beliefs, values and opinions of Everyone’s Harvest as a whole. These blog posts are written by individuals associated with this organization and are their personal views of food and our food systems. The sole purpose and mission of Everyone’s Harvest remains the same: “to create vibrant, healthy communities and equitable food webs.” 


Blog by Chiara Cabiglio, Everyone’s Harvest Intern

Featuring the Yale Environment 360 article, For Hudson Bay Polar Bears, The End is Already in Sight


You are probably wondering what on earth polar bears and global climate change have to do with food. Well, I will tell you in

this blog. When I woke up this morning, I read the headline of the following article: For Hudson Bay Polar Bears,
The End

is Already in Sight. You can imagine how this was not the most cheerful news to start my day with, especially because since

I’ve been a little girl, polar bears have always been my favorite animal. This Yale Environment 360 article, which I highly

implore everyone to read, features an interview with biologist Andrew E. Derocher of the University of Alberta. According to

Derocher and his colleagues, by evaluating projected sea ice declines, it is highly probable that western Hudson Bay’s polar

bear population could become extinct within 25 to 30 years. It is absolutely unfathomable to me to think that the entire polar

bear species could very well become extinct within my lifetime.


When you think of polar bears, the extinction of other species and global climate change, you probably think instantly of

carbon dioxide, cars and transportation. But did you know that our current industrial-food system is the

number one cause of global climate change? The following paragraphs explain why and are taken directly from the

book Comfortably Unaware by Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander, which I strongly suggest everyone to read. “Both methane and

nitrous oxide are much more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases. Methane has twenty-three times the global

warming effect potential as carbon dioxide. Approximately 40 percent of all methane produced by human activities is from

livestock and their flatulence and manure, to the point where atmospheric concentrations have risen 145 percent in just the

last fifteen years. Nitrous oxide is 310 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Our livestock industry

generates 65 percent of all human-related nitrous oxide (Page 6).”


“The livestock sector is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, measured in CO2 equivalent.

Global transportation, on the other hand, accounts for 13 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Put another way, what

you currently decide to eat every day creates more global warming than all the cars, planes, trains, buses, and trucks in the

world combined. The reason I say “currently decide to eat” is because through your food choices, you are ultimately

responsible for the demand of meat and raising the 65 billion animals each year that causes this large part of the global

warming issue and the much larger global depletion problem. If you simply stop the demand by choosing a plant-based diet,

and the largest component of global warming and depletion will go away (Page 16-17).”


“Over 70 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed – lost forever – due to cattle ranching. The United States is the

single largest consumer of Central and South American beef. A startling 95 percent of Brazil’s Atlantic coast rainforest has

been slashed and burned, the vast majority of it to raise cattle. Although it is not commonly known, approximately 34 million

acres of rainforest on earth are lost each year…As much as 80 percent of all global rainforest loss is turned into grazing for

cattle or crops for livestock, and the process is extremely land-intensive. It requires fifty-five square feet of rainforest to

produce just one quarter-pound burger. The crops grown on cleared rainforest are used to feed not only cattle but also

chickens, turkeys, and pigs. In one crop season alone, 2004-2005, more than 2.9 million acres of rainforest were destroyed,

primarily to grow crops for chickens used by Kentucky Fried Chicken. Another crop that is grown is soy, but not for direct

human use. Soy used directly for veggie burgers, tofu, and soy milk in America is almost exclusively grown in the United

States, but 80 percent of the entire world’s soy crop is produced and fed to farmed animals. Most of this soy is now grown on

rainforest-cleared land…So with every acre of rainforest lost to support the meat industry, the earth loses part of its lungs and

the ability to breathe and produce a fresh supply of oxygen – fourteen tons of oxygen per acre per year – while taking out tons

of global warming CO2 (Pages 22-23).”


And if any of this isn’t enough, according to Dr. Oppenlander, “more than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared

just to grow grain to feed livestock. Livestock occupy 30 percent of all land mass on earth, and another 33 percent of all

agricultural land is used to produce genetically modified organism (GMO) crops to feed these animals (Pages 27-28).” As you

can see, meat and dairy have a much larger carbon footprint than do fruits, vegetables and grains.


All of the forests that are being cut down to support cattle ranching, soy and corn production is resulting in tons of carbon

dioxide being released into the atmosphere. According to TIME Magazine’s article, Getting Real About the High Price of

Cheap Food, “add to the price tag the acceleration of global warming — our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of

U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.” It is no wonder, then, that Michael Pollan, one of the

nation’s most prominent thinkers and writers on food issues, says, “When we eat from the industrial-food system, we are

eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.” This is why the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from

315 ppm in 1958 to 385 ppm in 2008.


“How willing are consumers to rethink the way they shop for — and eat — food? For most people, price will remain the

biggest obstacle. Organic food continues to cost on average several times more than its conventional counterparts, and no

one goes to farmers’ markets for bargains. But not all costs can be measured by a price tag. Once you factor in crop subsidies,

ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced

food looks a lot pricier.”


Whether or not our food system becomes sustainable depends on the choices that we as individuals make everyday: what we

choose to eat three times a day (and sometimes more). Every time you buy organic, you are voting with your dollar in favor of

a more sustainable and just food system that has a smaller carbon footprint. The next time you think about getting your

groceries from Safeway or Costco, think about the present state of Planet Earth and instead, get your food from farmers’

markets and stores that sell local and organic products, such as New Leaf and Whole Foods. Do you want a more sustainable

world for your children and grandchildren to grow up in, a world where polar bears and honeybees actually exist? The choice

is up to you. In order to truly make a significant impact on global climate change, we as eaters must co-create a more

sustainable food system. Change will come not so much from the car you drive or the light bulb you use, but from what you

put in your mouth.


“It’s not a lot of fun for somebody who’s spent over 30 years studying polar bears,” says Derocher. “The first paper I

coauthored about this came out in 1993 and at that time I was still under the impression that even though climate change

was a concern it was really going to be for the next generation of biologists — or perhaps even the one after that — to deal

with the issue. And I’ve been really shocked at the rate of change, and I’ve probably been even more shocked at the lack of

concern of political bodies to deal with this… It’s been quite disheartening to watch this lack of interest, and I think it’s really

unfortunate that people don’t understand that we have a limited time to deal with this issue if we want to save the polar

bears.”    If we want to save the polar bears and other species from extinction due to global climate change, habitat loss and

environmental degradation, and if we want to save ourselves, then the world must wake up and change the way it eats and

the way our food is produced. Period.



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