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New Year, Same Beef With Beef
From Stephanie Feldstein, Population and Sustainability Program Director
We’re ringing in the new year by calling on the United States to finally take dietary shifts seriously as a climate-change strategy.
The Center for Biological Diversity and 250 other organizations and experts sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in response to a comment he made at the COP28 U.N. climate change conference that he doesn’t hear much about reducing meat consumption as a climate solution.
The letter urges the USDA to address healthy, just and sustainable diets by aligning food and climate goals in its programs, making meat and dairy reduction a key part of its climate strategies, and integrating sustainability into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “Secretary Vilsack can’t keep his head in the sand anymore, because this letter delivers the message loud and clear,” said Jennifer Molidor, senior food campaigner at the Center. “We have to address our meat-heavy diets now, or the climate emergency will force us to.”
Join us by sending your own message to Secretary Vilsack urging him to prioritize reducing meat consumption across the country. Then read on for more about the latest issues in sustainable food, a new book series for kids about population pressure, and an opportunity to receive free Endangered Species Condoms.
A study recently published in the journal Nature Communications found that the decline of large mammals, which began about 50,000 years ago, was caused by humans — not climate change. Lead researcher Jens-Christian Svenning explained, “If climate was the cause, we should see greater fluctuations [in mammal decline] when the climate changed prior to 50,000 years ago. But we don’t. Humans are therefore the most likely explanation.”
Guacamole vs. Butterflies
Super Bowl Sunday is a winning day for the avocado industry, with more avocados consumed that day than any other time of year. But the losing team is Mexico’s forests and the wildlife who depend on them, including monarch butterflies. Most of the avocados sold in the United States come from a single region in Mexico, where the rapidly expanding industry is decimating forest habitats. Illegal deforestation also brings land grabs, water hoarding, pollution and violence to local communities.
Some companies have deforestation policies for products like palm oil and beef, but they’ve done little to address deforestation in their avocado supply chains. By 2050 the land used to grow avocados will increase by 70% at the expense of even more forests, including the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
Here’s one thing you can do: Ask major grocery companies and importers to commit to sourcing deforestation-free avocados.
Address Food Waste by Addressing Overproduction
Nearly 40% of food produced in the United States is never eaten. That means all the land, water, pesticides and energy that went into producing that food were also wasted. And excess food dumped in landfills adds to climate-warming methane pollution as it decays, compounding agriculture’s harm to the planet. In December the Biden administration released the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics, an important first step in tackling food waste.
While the strategy includes preventative measures, like educating shoppers and food-service providers on waste prevention, it doesn’t specify how the agencies plan to rein in the unnecessary overproduction of food. That’s a major oversight, argues Mark Rifkin, the Center’s senior food and agriculture policy specialist, in an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun. “Unless we prevent it at the source,” he says, “food waste will continue to contribute to agriculture emissions and waste land and water that desperately need conservation.”
Here’s one thing you can do: Submit your own comment to the Environmental Protection Agency urging it to prioritize food waste prevention and end overproduction.
Planet Human: New Children’s Book Series
My new series of children’s books highlights how human industries have shaped the environment over time and around the globe. The six-book Planet Human series tells the story of how agriculture, digital communications, energy, fast fashion, pets and plastic changed the world. It’s hard for most people to grasp the scale on which humans have fundamentally altered the face of the planet. These books help kids understand what it means to live in a world of 8 billion people.
The books are published by Cherry Lake Publishing and are geared to grades 4 to 7 and available in paperback, ebook or reinforced binding for libraries and schools.
Here’s one thing you can do: Ask your local school or public library to carry the Planet Human series. (Need to find a library? Check out this free tool.)
Envisioning a Just Transition Toward Reuse
We’re surrounded by plastic. It’s in the single-use packaging we discard, cheap products that fill our stores, and in our clothing, which sheds microplastic fibers in the wash. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and pollutes the environment when it’s trashed. From start to finish, it’s a nightmare for wildlife, ecosystems and environmental justice.
Transforming our economy from its dependence on disposable goods to one that prioritizes reuse is a fitting — and crucial — challenge for our times. The Center recently joined other activists on Upstream Solutions’ The Indisposable Podcast to talk about the best practices for a transition to reuse that centers those who’ve been most marginalized by our throwaway economy.
Here’s one thing you can do: Urge officials to create a strong, binding treaty to address the plastic pollution crisis.
Wildlife Spotlight: West Virginia Spring Salamander
West Virginia spring salamanders have exceptionally large gray bodies with pale spots. They are one of the few cave salamanders to undergo complete metamorphosis from an aquatic larva to a land-dwelling adult. The salamander lives in only one cave and stream system in West Virginia’s Greenbrier County, and fewer than 300 of the animals remain.
Following 13 years of advocacy by the Center and allies, last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the salamander as endangered. The Service also proposed designating 2.2 miles of caves and streams in Greenbrier County as critical habitat for the endangered amphibian.
Center for Biological Diversity | Saving Life on Earth
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Photo credits: Earth on a plate via Canva; grizzlies by I-Ting Chiang/Flickr; guacamole graphic by Linda Rico/Center for Biological Diversity; Endangered Species Condoms and distributors used with permission; agricultural field by James Baltz/Unsplash; Planet Human books by Stephanie Feldstein/Center for Biological Diversity; Hawaiian monk seal by Matthew Chauvin/NOAA; West Virginia spring salamander courtesy USGS.
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Center for Biological Diversity
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Tucson, AZ 85702