Tag Archives: #climate

Ribbon Fish being overfished in Malvan, India (Image by Pooja Rathod under Creative Commons License)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 3

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

Russia is first among the developed nations to say that they are going to be glyphosate-free by 2025.  Mexico will gradually phase out glyphosate by the end of 2024.  Why are we driving our soil to extinction?  Why can’t we pledge to be a glyphosate-free and LibertyLink-free nation?  Why does our government pass legislation that makes it illegal for the Environmental Protection Agency to consider generational toxicity data?

We live in an environment where pig stool is considered such a biohazard that it’s illegal to transport it across state lines.  “Imagine billions of gallons of pig stool outside of Smithfield, North Carolina, or ten times more in Hubei province.  We have these massive pig stool lakes, every teaspoon of which has millions of microorganisms that are all under severe stress from glyphosate and everything else, and they are cranking out viruses at an astounding rate,” says Dr. Zach Bush.

Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

As he untangles the workings of the virus, Dr. Bush observes that we break down our innate immune system through the mechanisms of soil, water, and air.  While 75% of air samples in the U.S. are contaminated with glyphosate, the wildfires in Australia and California in 2020 also released an enormous amount of PM 2.5 in our environment.  “Sars-COV2 + influenza viruses bind to PM2.5, and when humans experience long-term exposure to this air pollution, it lowers the innate resistance to viral infection,” he explains.  “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention always sends out toxicologists along with infectious disease scientists to a new pandemic site.  It’s been long recognized by the CDC that the environment is a critical piece of the pandemic, but they only publish the findings around the virus, not around the toxicity in the environment.”

Setting the narrative of the pandemic right, Dr. Bush points out that rather than focusing on living in harmony with nature, we have created a perturbation in nature and our relationship to nature is expressing itself in a pandemic.  He also asserts that our reductionist belief system that pharmacy is going to fix everything is keeping the vast majority of our country’s population sick and disease-ridden.  “The human body isn’t as delicate as we are led to believe—we are actually quite resilient.  We don’t live in a world where we are under constant attack by nature.  It’s really the other way around: The destruction of nature by humankind has ultimately altered our biology to a point where we have had to maladapt to our self-created toxic environment.  The human species has become a parasite of planet Earth.  We are the disease.”  Dr. Bush makes a plea for cleaning up our soil, water, and air to prevent future pandemics and affirms that the healthcare system will right itself as soon as we fix the food system.

A nationwide study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health corroborates Dr. Bush’s comments on the known connections between PM2.5 exposure and a higher risk of death from COVID-19 and other cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.  The study states that an increase of only 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 death rate.  The researchers wrote: “The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

With the pandemic rampant last year, a TIME article questioned: “As the coronavirus has spread through America’s meatpacking plants amid growing recognition that overcrowded factory farms are risk factors for other diseases, some people have wondered whether we’ve reached a tipping point.  Might Americans finally be ready to go easy on their beloved hot dogs and steaks?”  The answer is: “Simply put, no.”  The article quotes Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America: “They (the producers) want them to imagine there’s no backstory, and for the vast majority of people, I think that is still the case.”

As if oceans belong on our planet to supply “seafood”, fish are readily offered when servers are asked for meat-free options in restaurants.  If animal agriculture has ravaged our environment, industrial fishing has been equally devastating for the earth, polluting our oceans and waterways.  According to National Geographic, “more than 55 percent of ocean surface is covered by industrial fishing…That’s more than four times the area covered by agriculture.”

As the loss of ocean biodiversity accelerates, it’s predicted that in 30 years there will be little or no salt-water fish.  “Biodiversity is a finite resource, and we are going to end up with nothing left … if nothing changes,” says Professor Boris Worm, a marine ecologist.

Supermarket fish come from commercial fishing or aquafarming.  Both have devastated our ecosystems.  Industrial fishing deploys massive ships–supertrawlers–which remain out at sea for weeks and months at a time.  These ships require large amounts of CO2-producing fuel.  They catch hundreds of tons of fish every single day because they can process or freeze on the ship itself.  “The fishing nets scrape up fish—and anything else in their path—wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems and ocean habitats.  The United Nations estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling.”  When hauled out of the water, surviving fish undergo excruciatingly painful decompression that causes severe bladder, eyes, and stomach damage.  Fishing lines catch and kill unintended species such as different fish, sea birds, turtles, and whales.  These animals are considered “bycatch” and thrown overboard.  

Aquaculture farming raises fish in the same unnatural, enclosed conditions as the factory-farmed livestock, and produces enormous waste.  They are also fed high quantities of antibiotics and have alarming levels of harmful chemicals.  Also, it takes up to five pounds of smaller wild fish from the ocean to produce just one pound of fish meat from salmon or bass, two of the most common fish being raised on factory farms.

Dr. Jyotsna Puri, Director, Environment, Climate, Nutrition, Gender, and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, finds it arrogant to make life and death decisions on the basis of benefits for humans.  “This is ironic since humans have defined a completely new geologic period called the Anthropocene, defined mainly because of the disasters we have wreaked!  THAT should have been a wake-up moment for us. But it hasn’t been.  The anthropocentric view of life will have to change.  Every policy is subservient to the demands of Homo sapiens.  We have to change the way we function if we want to stave off the next pandemic.”  Dr. Puri argues that people change behavior when you set up the incentives and the infrastructure to make change possible.  She recommends creating a common global standardized measure to know a corporate’s or government’s impact on the environment and on our climate. 

“Monoculture of the mind–as I have called it–is the inability to see how ecosystems work, the inability to see how diversity is vital…Without biodiversity we will have no health,” Dr. Vandana Shiva points out.  Championing small farmers who provide 80% of the food we eat globally, she says that if the small farmers are no more, India is not India.  Along with many scientists and researchers around the world, she asserts that GMO crops have brought more pesticide use and created new pests: “Genetic engineering is nothing more than genetic reductionism based on a very false assumption of genetic determinism.”

“These chemical companies cause a disaster, and then from the impacts of that disaster, they create a new market, and make a bigger disaster, and they create a new market.  So, every cost borne by the environment and by humans becomes a new market of opportunity for the same people who cause that problem.  Right now, the health damages caused by the chemicals and GMOs in our food are becoming the biggest market for a combination of Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Tech, and Big Money.  It’s one big cancerous slop on this planet.”  Dr. Shiva refuses to be subjugated to “digital agriculture and the financialization of nature”.  One of her books, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, discusses the new imperialism of food brought on by the likes of Bill Gates, who has been pushing monoculture GMO crops around the world.  She comments that “the digital farming without farmers that he is pushing so hard and so violently is the reason that farmers’ protests in India are being ignored.”

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers a plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture, saying that “avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science, it’s immoral.”  The ecological and health safety of GMOs has been questioned by research across the world that has busted these two assumptions: 1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and 2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture allow higher yields. GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods has hundreds of citations of peer-reviewed articles that cannot be dismissed.  Since the GMOs are proprietary, and since most university agronomy departments receive massive funding from agritech companies, when a study does document harm, it and its authors are subjected to career-ending attacks. 

In spite of trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, lives, and immeasurable hours of learning lost for school children, isn’t it staggering to know that no public health agency has declared that we will be in pandemic after pandemic so long as the world is so hungry for meat?  Isn’t it criminal that the CDC, the USDA, our politicians, or public health officials never talk about closing the overcrowded and filthy factory farms? 

Yes, sadly, there are places in this world where people are so desperately hungry and live in such dire conditions that they will eat whatever they could lay their hands on.  That’s not the case with most in developed countries where there is an abundant supply of other foods.  In fact, 30% of all food produced globally is wasted, and in the United States alone, we waste upwards of 40% of our food.  

March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)
March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada in 2013 (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)

When I hear that “We are all in this together,” or, “we all need to sacrifice and practice our shared commitment to take individual responsibility and civic accountability,” I want to cry out: “No, vegans and vegetarians have not brought this pandemic upon humanity!”  Yet, it is those who perform their civic duty toward their fellow humans and toward this planet–by choosing what they put on their plate for each meal–who are also being forced to sacrifice by locking themselves down and keeping their children from attending schools.  Why are meat-eaters commanding sacrifice from vegans and vegetarians?

Officials across the E.U. as well as in the U.S. have called upon citizens’ sense of duty and empathy, promoting messages of unity and communal sacrifice.  But, nobody is asking: “Sacrifice for whom and for what?”  Do we sacrifice for those who want these factory farms to keep butchering and producing meat for their dinner plates?  Do we sacrifice for those feeling complacent driving their Teslas and flaunting biodegradable disposables priding themselves that they are doing a huge favor to planet Earth – while completely ignoring that the most powerful choice one could make for the well-being of our planet is our food?  Do we sacrifice so that billions of taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize the factory farms and vaccines, while the Food and Drug Administration lets multibillion-dollar industries sell ultra-processed foods that keep our population sick and dependent on pharmaceuticals for a lifetime?

Do we sacrifice for the politicians and public health officials to order lockdowns while we never hear our government talk about pulling out all the junk foods, sodas, alcohol, vaping products, cigarettes, guns, disposable plastics, GMOs, and glyphosate from our stores?  Do we sacrifice for our government to subsidize Roundup Ready and LibertyLink crops which deplete our foods and hence our bodies of all the vital nutrients?  Why is there no discussion from our public health agencies about nutrition and lifestyle, guiding us on disease prevention?  

Why do 60% of Americans live with chronic health conditions?  Why are our politicians allowed to subsidize Big Ag that has only focused on herbicides, monocrops, and GMOs, to produce crops that grow faster and bigger but depleted of protein, vitamins, and minerals that the crops contained half a century ago?  How do the WHO, governments, and pharmaceuticals around the world get away with spending billions to invest in band-aids of vaccines after vaccines rather than address the root causes that bring about these pandemics?  Our students have been locked inside their homes because of the pandemic.  Why does producing cheap meat have priority over the well-being and health of our future generation?  Why should vegetarians and vegans bear the brunt of the irresponsibility and inhumanity of those who are not satisfied to consume the abundant plant foods that Mother Earth has to offer?  Is the U.S. the only country that has foods and drugs under the same administration?  Isn’t this counter-intuitive?  

“We need to be prepared for whatever COVID-24 is going to look like,” says Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.  In that case, shouldn’t President Biden prioritize banning factory farms, glyphosate, and LibertyLink, in order to prepare the U.S. for future pandemic threats?  Isn’t prevention always better than cure?  Isn’t it a global problem that we are killing 60 billion animals a year for human consumption?  As Dr. Shiva asks, are we going to have a world view of regeneration – with our role in regeneration – or a world view of conquest and war?  

Thanksgiving has always been a difficult time for me, even more so last year with COVID-19 raging.  Saying “Happy Thanksgiving” to anyone was harder than ever—it seemed more appropriate to mourn not only the Native Americans who lost their lives and land, and the millions of intelligent but helpless, butchered, and broiled turkeys, but also the staggering losses due to a pandemic.  What’s “happy,” after all, about this holiday knowing that every year humans brutalize and kill millions of animals in the name of celebrations?  Knowing that factory farms keep turkeys captive in filthy, merciless conditions?  And knowing that science has shown again and again that factory farms and slaughterhouses are breeding grounds for pandemics with their cruel and irresponsible “processing” of animals?

Industrial turkey barn (Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)
Industrial turkey barn (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)

Organizations like Food and Water Watch have been calling upon citizens to ask Congress to ban factory farms as they “place our public health and food supply at risk, pollute the environment and our drinking water, and wreck rural communities–while increasing corporate control over our food.”  Activist organizations like Environmental Working Group that question agricultural practices, use of toxic chemicals, and provide information on environmental and water quality issues are being drowned by the continuous onslaught of corporate greed, while those who choose not to eat meat feel powerless about their tax dollars going toward subsidizing butchering of animals and egregious agricultural practices that are destroying our ecology.  

Mahatma Gandhi had said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

Dr. Michael Greger writes: “As long as there is poultry, there will be pandemics.  It may be us or them.” 

Or, as ecologist Rachel Carlson put it succinctly nearly sixty years ago, “Nature fights back.” 

In the afterward of Dr. Greger’s book, Dr. Kennedy Shortidge–who discovered H5N1–appeals: “We have reached a critical point.  Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in an increasingly harrowing viral storm threatening each of us.  We must dramatically change the way we interact with animals for the sake of all animals.” 

For those who reach for any kind of meat or seafood, I implore you to ask yourself: Am I bringing our planet one step closer to enormous suffering from yet another pandemic–and one step closer to extinction–with my choice?

Go back to read Part 1 and Part 2!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

Local seeds and produce (Image by Drona Chetri from Navdanya)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 2

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!

Dr. Vandana Shiva argues that the World Bank pushed the privatization of seeds in India in 1991, introducing a very distorted model of agriculture.  It created refugees out of Indian farmers who moved to the cities, became today’s migrant labor, and are now refugees from the cities because of the Corona crisis.  With the pandemic and sudden lockdown, the livelihood of half of India just evaporated.  This India that works for its bread also suddenly added to the ranks of the hungry.  Before the pandemic, nearly one million children under five were dying of hunger annually, and there were 190 million hungry people already.  COVID added many more millions.  The farmers who went the World Bank way to grow cash crops were unable to sell when all the long-distance supply chains collapsed due to COVID.  

“We were always told that industrial food is cheap and is feeding the world.  So I started to do full cost accounting and found that there are trillions and trillions of dollars of shadow in environmental destruction, biodiversity destruction, destruction of farmers, and destruction of our health.  When we add all that together, we will realize that we could not afford industrial food pushed by the old Poison Cartel and Big Oil,” Dr. Shiva explains.  She gives an example of biofuel–which is made to look very efficient–and big government subsidies to divert food to biofuel.  But, it takes more fossil fuel to produce biofuel than its substitutes.  “We measure nutrition per acre, we measure health per care, and our work with real farmers and true cost accounting is showing that small farms with biodiversity, without chemicals, can feed two times Indian population…They take pride in feeding 1.3 billion.  I can tell you the U.S. model can’t feed 1.3 billion.” 

Defending the world’s largest protests by farmers in India against the new agricultural laws that would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers–which would leave them at the mercy of buyers–Dr. Shiva says that in the globalized system of monopolistic buying, the original farmer gets as little as 0.5 to 5%.  Global corporations break national boundaries, they break national sovereignty, and Indian farmers are fighting for food sovereignty.  She says that in spite of the global powers wanting to grab the land and turn India into a large farm desert like the midwest of the U.S., the small farmers are fighting because of their love for Mother Earth. 

John Robbins says that livestock provides just 18% of calories but takes up more than 80% of farmland.  “Right now, 81% of the world’s agricultural land is used to provide meat, eggs, and dairy products.  That’s an astounding amount of land on planet Earth.  But, plant foods, on the other hand, require far less land and far fewer resources, and can actually help sequester the carbon in the soil.  We could feed the entire world’s population, and free up so much land that could be used to grow more food for future generations…The scientific consensus is very clear that industrial meat production is responsible for a major portion of all our greenhouse emissions.”  Elaborating on the findings of Oxford Martin School researchers, he says that a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could save up to 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

When Amazon rainforests were burning, French president Emanuel Macron wrote that the lungs which produce 20% oxygen for the planet were burning.  According to TIME, in 2018, Brazil exported some $6 billion worth of beef, more than any other country in history.  In Brazil, cattle account for 80% of deforested land.  Why are Brazilians cutting down their forests?  To make quick money by trying to meet an increasing demand for beef around the world. 

There are many doctors who have been shouting out loud, along with Dr. Michael Greger, that there is no human nutritional need for any animal protein.  In fact, according to the Harvard University School of Medicine, the healthiest sources of protein are “beans, nuts, grains and other vegetable sources of protein.”  One reason India was not considered a high-risk area for novel influenza strains is because a large portion of the population is vegetarian.  But, over the past 25 years, India’s diet has changed.  The middle classes of India have been pushed into admiring junk foods, taking pride in flocking for meat at McDonald’s and KFCs, and urban populations consider a Coke-and-Pepsi-diet a declaration of being progressive.  So, India is now the capital of diabetes in the world.  The risks from COVID escalate multifold with any chronic disease, including diabetes. 

Social psychologist Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, offers an absorbing look at what she calls carnism, the belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals when we would never dream of eating others.  Dr. Joy says that eating animals without thinking about it makes this behavior invisible.  She calls this invisible belief system “carnism”.  There are Three Ns of justification–Dr. Joy argues–that consuming meat is normal, natural, and necessary.  She explains that “the belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable–if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.”  This myth of necessity has been promoted by the meat industry despite widespread and substantial evidence to the contrary.  She discusses many ways our system has made eating animals acceptable: Objectification, viewing animals as things rather than living, breathing, feeling beings;  Deindividualization, looking at animals as a group or a species rather than individuals with their own personalities and preferences;  Dichotomization, categorizing animals into edible or inedible, so that we can eat our steak while we pet our dog.

Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)
Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)

Renowned, multi-disciplinary Dr. Zach Bush proclaims that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on the planet and humanity is one of the countless species headed for extinction.  In 2019, Dr. Bush correctly predicted that Hubei, China would be the center of a pandemic due to its high levels of air pollution combined with the pollution from large factory farms.  “Animals around the world are largely being held in captivity, in extremely toxic and inhumane conditions.  If we see viruses coming out of that, that’s the microbiome’s check on the reality that we live in.  There are checks and balances in biology, certainly, that work better than the checks and balances in our government,”  Dr. Bush comments.

One molecule in our food and water system called glyphosatethe active ingredient in Roundup – is causing huge endocrine disruption in our bodies and poisoning our environment.  It poisons our genome and blocks the ability to make glutathione, which is our main antioxidant.  Dr. Bush says that by using antimicrobials like glyphosate, which act as an antibiotic for the earth, we have been destroying our soil and depleting nutrients from our food.  Glyphosate is only one of 260 chemicals in our food system.  “Glyphosate is at over 5 billion pounds of consumption worldwide and it is, unfortunately, a water-soluble toxin.  A water-soluble toxin is a bad idea on a planet that is 70% water not just by surface area, but for the air we breathe, for the clouds that rain it down upon us, for the plants that grow within that soil, and for the bodies that live off of those plants.” 

Our staple superfoods are contaminated because of the farming practices using so much glyphosate, and our foods are making us sick.  The third-largest crop we grow in the U.S., right behind corn and soybean, is our neighborhood lawns and it extends to our playing fields and golf courses sprayed with Roundup.  Glyphosate is destroying not just the proteins for human life but also for bacterial life.  It functions as a potent antibiotic, kills life in the soil, and also kills life in the gut.  So when we are eating, drinking, and breathing Roundup, we are destroying our gut microbiome which determines our health.  Simply put, when you harm the gut, you are harming the human.  As a result, we are experiencing an extinction of the diversity of microbes within our gut, which parallels the extinction that is gripping the planet.

Dr. Bush, who has devoted his time to soil science and regenerative agriculture, has been educating farmers on the dangers of chemical farming, making them aware that they are facing the highest levels of chronic disease in the world.  He speaks of the last 90 miles of the Mississippi river that collects about 80% of the Roundup in our environment and is now cancer alleys. 

“If you look at the graph of the growth of GMOs, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence.  You could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s…Monoculture farms and monoculture factory farms become hotbeds of disease,” comments Dr. Shiva, on the harm caused by this Bayer-Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with GMO crops.

Dr. Bush explains that with every introduction of glyphosate starting with its debut in 1976, spraying of wheat starting in 1992, and the Roundup Ready GMO crops in 1996, there has been an uptick in chronic and autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and neurologic degenerative conditions.  Glyphosate was originally used as an industrial pipe cleaner as it would leach out heavy metal buildup in older pipes.  Millions of acres of U.S. farmland are now covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. 

Bayer, a German company, cleverly got the GMO approval for LibertyLink a year before they bought Monsanto.  They are happy to pay billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements as they very slowly phase out glyphosate while the court systems slog along, sweeping in as a savior with their jackpot LibertyLink.  LibertyLink is another GMO approved by the E.U., the U.S., and Canada.  Instead of disrupting the glycine amino acid pathway which glyphosate does, LibertyLink crops–genetically modified to handle spraying of a chemical called glufosinate–disrupt amino acids that are critical for human reproduction.  LibertyLink, unfortunately, is already growing throughout the whole midwest.  “The sperm counts in all Western countries have dropped by 52-57% over the last few decades, and we are now seeing one in three males with a sperm count at infertility level and one in four women is struggling with infertility.  We are losing the capacity to procreate, we are losing the capacity for human life.  We are failing as a biological species because of the collapse of biology beneath our feet, beneath our gut, beneath the soils that dwell around us.” 

Talking about the “victory gardens” in World War II that provided some 40 percent of all produce consumed in the U.S., Dr. Bush says: “We stopped growing food in the United States.  If you think we have a serious crisis in our hospitals now, wait till our food system is disrupted…Our supply chains are tenuous…Kansas–our most agricultural state in the U.S. where 90% of the acreage is agriculturally managed– imports 90% of their food as a state and one in four children is going hungry in Kansas for lack of calories today.”  He laments the dramatic increase in chronic diseases we have seen so far, and notes how our children are aging fast, developing the diseases that we used to see in geriatrics. 

Dr. Bush predicts that if we just look forward to 16 years–four more American presidents–we will hit autism for one in three children, and adults with about 75% cancer rates.  “Our food system is 1.2 trillion dollars a year, our medical system is 3.7 trillion dollars a year.  We are three times outspending our food with just the cost of chronic disease care…We have a completely unsustainable model for agriculture and disease care in the U.S. which is going to drive us bankrupt as a nation…The farmer and the physician have been trained by the same chemical companies and so we have been indoctrinated into the same pharmaceutical codependence and world view, whether we be a farmer or a physician.”  

Discussing his work with his non-profit Farmer’s Footprint, he remarks: “My greatest hope is for this third generation of Roundup children.  Let’s reverse out of that epigenetic doom that we have set for them.  Let them find a pathway into a new epigenetic hope through their reconnection to real food, through a really healthy soil and water ecosystem.” 

Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 1

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 2 and Part 3!

“My dream in 1987 was that I will not let the Monsantos have a monopoly over the seed.  They cannot pretend they invented the seed, they cannot pretend it’s a machine that they put in place.  This illusion is too much of an abuse against the creativity and creation of the earth.  I decided to protect the seed because I didn’t accept it being in the hands of a few people just for profit and monopoly.  I could not accept the untruth of the seed being patented.  For me, saving seeds and exchanging seeds is maintaining the continuity of cycles of life in farming, in nature, and in society,” says environmental activist, author, and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva, explaining her life’s work.

Dr. Shiva continues: “Monsanto and Bayer have a long history.  They made explosives and lethally poisonous gases using shared technologies and sold them to both sides in the two world wars…Industrial agriculture is nothing else but a subsidy to the continuation of the war that started in Hitler’s concentration camps.  And in the process, we have destroyed the land, destroyed biodiversity, destroyed insects, butterflies, pollinators, and we have destroyed the farmers.”  She comments that it’s not going to work to have “the whole world declare a war on a little virus because humans have lost every war against microbes.  They turn out to be so much smarter…The garden is going to be our savior in the time of artificial intelligence.”

A virus that has locked down the world and robbed the livelihoods of millions for over a year now has a message for humanity, if only we could pay attention to it – we are just the tip of biology on this earth.  The pandemic is not a natural disaster, but a human-caused disaster.  If we do not respect the rights of other species or our fellow human beings, our planet will continue to evolve, even without us.

“It was a bad day for viruses,” Moderna’s chair Noubar Afeyan says about the day when he got the first word of his company’s clinical trial results.  “We may never have a pandemic again.”

As tempting as it is to believe, I find it more realistic to go with the thesis of Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How to Survive a Pandemic“When I was growing up, there was no such thing as HIV/AIDS.  Where did this virus come from?” he asks in the preface of this book.  The current coronavirus pandemic may just be a dress rehearsal for the coming plague.  We are heading toward a much deadlier pandemic–a hundred times worse than COVID-19–which would threaten our civilization, he argues.

As he delves into tracing the roots of many pandemics to industrialized animal agriculture, he also mourns the loss of more than half of the Earth’s tropical forests that have been cleared due to the expanding livestock production.  This “hamburgerization” of the rainforests has set the stage for disease emergence and transmission in many ways.  As the rainforests of Africa were destroyed for logging operations, gorillas and chimpanzees were shot and sold as food.  Tracing the roots of HIV to bushmeat, he writes: “Someone butchered a chimp a few decades ago and now thirty million people are dead.”  Human outbreaks of Ebola have been traced to exposure to the dead bodies of infected great apes hunted for food.  

“Increasing consumer demand for animal products worldwide over the past few decades has led to a global explosion in massive animal agriculture operations which have come to play a key role in the Third Age of emerging human disease,” says Dr. Greger.  His details on factory farming practices are eye-opening for meat consumers: “The stress associated with the routine mutilations farm animals are subjected to without anesthesia–including castration, branding, dehorning, detoeing, teeth clipping, beak trimming, and tail docking–coupled with the metabolic demands of intensive production, such as artificially augmented reproduction, lactation, early weaning, and accelerated growth rates, leave animals extremely prone to disease.”  

Dr. Greger also lays out the environmental impact of factory farms throughout this book.  He cites Robert F. Kennedy Jr. describing North Carolina’s hog farms: “Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their putrefying waste into 10-acre, open-air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and tens of millions of gallons of hog feces ooze into North Carolina’s rivers.”   What about Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks in alfalfa sprouts and greens?  The bacteria from chicken and cattle manure get onto sprouts as the level of infection in animal feces has risen with the intensification of factory farming.

“There is shit in the meat,” says Eric Schlosser, in his book Fast Food Nation.  Writing about the processing of chickens at factory farms in her book Spoiled, author Nicols Fox says that the “final product is no different than if you stuck it in the toilet and ate it.”  As he narrates the filthy conditions at factory farms, Dr. Greger argues that it is easier to blame practices that may be culturally foreign, such as wet markets and bushmeat, than it is to look at our own plates in the mirror.  The first hybrid swine flu virus was discovered in North America.  “With massive concentrations of farm animals within whom to mutate, these new swine flu viruses in North America seem to be on an evolutionary fast track, jumping and reassorting between species at an unprecedented rate.”

In a gut-wrenching account of the abuse of animals, Dr. Greger writes: “A hen needs 291 square inches of space to flap her wings, 197 square inches to turn around, and 72 square inches just to stand freely.  U.S. commercial battery facilities typically allow each bird an average of 64 square inches.  Laying hen warehouses can average more than a hundred thousand chickens per shed.”  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a single gram of manure from an infected chicken can contain “enough virus to infect 1 million birds.”

These animals are bred to be sick.  In the 1950s, the industry could raise a five-pound chicken in less than three months.  This now takes an average of forty-five days. Broilers with a faster growth rate are under physiological and immunological stress that makes them more sensitive to infectious diseases.  Dr. Greger says that H5N1 ought to have been the wake-up call to industry breeders that myopic breeding schemes prioritizing growth over health concerns threaten the continued viability of their industry.  Unfortunately, “the message does not seem to have gotten through.”  

A dead hen at an industrial egg farm in Taiwan. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur at We Animals)

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic we have had, Dr. Greger points out:  “Bird flu viruses have been detected every year in the U.S. since the mid-1960s.  In just the last five years, the United States has suffered more than two hundred outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, including H5N1, H5N8, H7N8, and H7H9, resulting in the deaths of more than fifty million chickens and turkeys.”  He explains that by adapting to chickens, bird flu viruses hit an evolutionary jackpot.  And, by adapting to chickens, the viruses may be adapting to the human race–another multibillion-host bonanza for the viruses. 

Dr. Greger also reports the meat industry’s efforts to cover up the information on disease outbreaks over the decades.  The industry’s attempts at poultry vaccinations have led to viral mutations and vaccine-resistant strains.  He quotes industry insiders who admit that truly informed consumers are the last thing they need: “If most urban meat-eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, and could see the birds being “harvested” and then being “processed”….some, perhaps many of them, would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat.” His book presents many stories of outbreaks in factory farms from New Jersey to Oklahoma as well as of the cover-ups by corporate producers and veterinarians.

Considering the role of funding for the meat industry, Dr. Greger mentions that the World Bank, which has funded large-scale livestock projects in developing nations, has acknowledged that there is “a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security are threatened” with large factory farms.  While production profitability has been the sole consideration, critics have argued that human and animal health and welfare, soil health, biodiversity, climate change, social justice, equity, good governance, and environmental stewardship have been completely ignored. 

In painstaking details throughout his book, Dr. Greger explains that reckless animal agriculture practices have given rise to endless diseases caused by humans.  The root causes behind the Third Age of human disease are “anthropogenic,” meaning human-caused.  “As climate changes and ecosystems are destroyed, pathogens will become ubiquitous, constantly mixing and mutating to find new animal hosts and new avenues of infection.”  Referring to pandemic influenza, Nobel Prize winner scientist Joshua Lederberg said: “Some people think I am being hysterical, but there are catastrophes ahead.  We live in evolutionary competition with microbes–bacteria and viruses.  There is no guarantee that we will be the survivors.”

Is it possible to prevent future pandemics?  “As hard as it is to imagine a virus more ominous than H5N1, intensive poultry production on a global scale is a relatively new phenomenon.  As poultry consumption continues to soar in the developing world, there is no biological reason that bird flu could not evolve and mutate into an even deadlier niche…Even if H5N1 never developed the capacity to go pandemic, it may only be a matter of time before the new poultry factories of the world breed the deadliest of combinations,” claims Dr. Greger.  He offers a moratorium on factory farms as one of the solutions: “If the development of animal agriculture marked the “start of the era of zoonosis,” then the scaling back of animal agricultural production may hasten its end.” 

“We may be one bushmeat meal away from the next HIV, one pangolin plate away from the next killer coronavirus, and one factory farm away from the next deadly flu…Tragically, it may take a pandemic with a virus like H5N1 or H7N9 before the world realizes the true cost of cheap chicken,” Dr. Greger declares as he concludes his remarkable book.

In an interview with Senator Cory Booker–who has unveiled a bill to reform the farm system–food revolutionist and author John Robbins says that 80% of the antibiotics that are used in the U.S. for all purposes aren’t used as medicines to treat bacterial infections in human beings, which is the rightful use, but they are used as feed-additives in factory farms and in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  If this continues, we are heading into superbugs when no antibiotic will work on human infections.  Senator Booker says that his bill is a “real leverage point to look at our food systems in America, and to take steps to correct this injustice” where 90% of our agriculture subsidies using taxpayer money is going into four monocrops.  “A significant amount goes to feeding livestock…and the rest of it goes to things that make us sicker, like corn syrup.  That’s why my kids in Newark can find a Twinkie product cheaper than an apple…We have a savagely broken food system; these powerful interests protect it, and this is not for the small, independent family farmer.  This is for the big multinational corporations who get billions of dollars because of our subsidies.”  As someone who believes that change can start with a single person, Senator Booker quotes an old saying that change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington.  He calls on citizens to double down on their activism and find ways to demand a change by working with local legislators, house members, and senators on these issues.

Preventing farmer suicide protests. (Image by Navdanya)

As for Dr. Shiva, she took the inspiration from Gandhi’s spinning wheel–which was against the Satanic mills of England that had colonized the world and created slavery–and started saving seeds to fight American agrochemical company Monsanto’s tyrannical control of seeds, and has since worked tirelessly with small farmers.  Her organization, Navdanya, has built 150 community seed banks in different parts of India.  Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the “new gift” (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds.)   “Whenever a farmer has a seed, they are not in debt.  Because it is the seeds bred for chemicals or genetically engineered seeds that need chemicals that get farmers into debt, for seed, and for chemicals.  That’s the primary reason for about 70% of the debt…First they said without chemicals you can’t grow food.  Then they said without GMOs you can’t grow food.  And now they are saying that without digital agriculture you can’t grow food…The Corona crisis is forcing humanity to shake the myth of certainty and predictability.  The entire mechanistic industrial ideal which assumes total control, total prediction, and has got us in this mess, assumes separation that we are not part of nature and we are masters.” Dr. Shiva proclaims that uncertainty and non-separation from nature is the way the world is woven.

 Continue on to read the rest of the series: Part 2 and Part 3!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

Cycles of Destruction and Renewal

As 2020 inexorably moved to a close, the world watched as the global COVID-19 pandemic affected every aspect of our lives and livelihoods. Personally, my mindset moved between fatalism and cabin fever driven anxiety that this virus would dictate our lives for a much longer period than would be satisfied by short-term adjustments.

Indian mythology talks of cycles of destruction and renewal of the universe; one cycle of creation is but a blink of the eye of a creator. Indian philosophy also speaks of negating the very concept of time – it is just a mind-made construct. So, it might be wise to push all these thoughts aside, and just live in the present, after all the current situation just brings the point home that this is all we have to play with.

A new government took the helm in the USA on January 2021, and the events surrounding this hard-fought contentious election eclipsed preoccupations with a global crisis at times. It is definitely a source of comfort for some of us that this government will not be headed by an ‘outsider’ but a dyed-in-the-wool politician whose actions will hopefully be geared towards what we normally think of as good governance. This brings hope, as we can now focus on forward momentum to solve national issues, and potentially even contribute to global solutions. 

We can look forward to a creatively modified life as we align our priorities towards intelligent survival. If history is a stern teacher, we have learned that it took about 2 years for the 1918 flu pandemic to quieten down, so if one needs a projection this is as good as any.

Namaste as a greeting instead of handshakes and hugs, limiting larger social interactions – which includes physical congregation in the workplace – and curbing unnecessary shopping should easy for those who are familiar with the Indian ethos. A successful vaccine will definitely contribute to our arsenal, but it will only work in concert with a compliant global population.

Changing lifestyles and work mandates will inevitably result in the waning of some industries. The immediate fallout is in our neighborhood restaurants and businesses, but the drastic downswing of local and global travel over the past 9 months has already benefitted our 21st-century environment. An upsurge in the exploration and development of clean energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels is underway, and while each source comes with its specific benefits and challenges it could emerge as a strong global contender if it is appropriately prioritized and funded. This positive shift in lifestyle could emerge as the proverbial silver lining to what is otherwise being experienced as a global life-threatening event, and we could transform the unavoidable destruction of aspects of life as we know it into the creation of a potentially better environment for all of life.

Ducks on Schuylkill River

As species shift their ecologies and relate more to a lifestyle that is unencumbered by human occupation and pollution, a positive outcome appears to be an emerging clean environmental slate. While wind and solar energy seem to be the most developed alternative energy options at present, exploration of other sources including geothermal and hydrokinetic to harness power from the earth and oceans would add to renewable energy options.

Resources need to be constantly provided to make these initiatives a success. While working in a ‘tier-1’ city in India in 2014, I purchased a car that was fueled by CNG (compressed natural gas) as a cleaner fuel option. My good intentions were limited by the availability of the fuel. I learned that waiting in line at selected gas stations at 6.30 am could result in a full tank of CNG in my car. However, too many failed attempts after seemingly endless waits led to the increasing need of choosing a car that ran on petrol. My upfront investment in paying a premium for a CNG car was burnt at the gas station so to speak.

The development of technologies for renewable fuels has seen steady progress over the past two decades, and current estimates for renewable technologies producing electricity vary between 10-20%. The unexpected impetus for a better environment provided by COVID-19 could be a boon, but other studies suggest that a rebound in carbon dioxide emissions could easily be conceivable when the pandemic is controlled. Lasting change in preventing increasing global temperatures and a continued positive environmental change post-pandemic will continue to require effort from us at an individual and global level.

Being woken up to the squawking of ducks on the Schuylkill River – where parent birds breed, babies grow up, and fly away to start a new cycle of life – is gratifying. The hope is that this will continue for years to come.


L. Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She is the author of White Blackmail, a work of fiction, and can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar.

Delhi and San Jose Have the Same Gray Skies

(Featured Image: Delhi, India 2019 Air Pollution (left), San Jose, CA 2020 Air Pollution (right))

Leaving the polluted, smog-filled skies of Delhi, my dad settled for the blue skies and greenery of South San Jose. “I would never live anywhere but California,” he says. 

30 years later, I stare at the smoke-filled skies in San Jose and worry about my parents and their friends. I think about how they should sell their property in light of the wildfires edging closer and closer to their home. A new wave of air pollution and insecurity caused by the climate crisis.

Dr. Anthony LeRoy Westerling, Professor of Management of Complex Systems, UC Merced, who has led climate assessment activities for the state of California, predicted the increasing frequency of wildfires. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 25th, he raised concerns about wildfires becoming a common event within the next 30 years. Santa Clara County, home to a large immigrant population – 39% Asian and 49% minority communities – is facing serious risks.

The loss of a home is the loss of the only generational wealth accumulated in this country and the dream of a better life for immigrant populations. I know it to be true for my quintessential Indian-American Family. If displaced, relocation is not simple. The security of a familial network does not necessarily exist and with COVID lurking, shelters are limited. 

The loss of wealth is layered when addressing air pollution. Proper healthcare for the adverse effects of the climate crisis becomes a necessity, but is it accessible and does it account for race?

My mom coughs and shuffles around the house, tired of being stuck at home. She hasn’t left the house in 2 weeks because of her Asthma, a condition that only took hold after years in America. Since COVID began, she hasn’t gotten the care required for her severe Asthma and has to be particularly cautious. Her quality of life has declined and I don’t want this for her long term. But she is not alone.

Communities of color are disproportionately affected by the double punch combo of health inequity and climate injustice reminds Dr. Robert Bullard, Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University. In a study done by the EPA in 2018, it was found that communities of color and, black communities specifically, were exposed to 1.5 times more air particulate matter and its accompanying burden than its counterpart white communities. Adults and children from these sectors were 5-10 times more likely to develop Asthma and potentially lose their life to it.  

“All communities are not created equal,” advocates Dr. Bullard, giving context to the policies that created the disparity. People of color are more likely to live in cities that are in violation of the Clean Air Act. Years of racial redlining and urban heat centers expose minority communities to a worse standard of living. The climate crisis will continue to grow the wealth gap due to governmental organizations like FEMA, that use cost-benefit analysis to allocate resources after a crisis. 

Air pollution and its relationship to health equity and economic stratification is a global phenomenon. I am reminded of that when I think of Delhi’s greying atmosphere. Air pollution so thick, sunlight can’t penetrate it. Hindustan Times reports in 2017 that chronic respiratory illness is one of the leading causes of death in India. It is a cause for concern when I see those same skies in San Jose, California. Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Rajendra Shende emphatically states, “The poor are the first line victims.” This statement has a resounding message that connects environmental injustice and inequity.

Dr. Bullard and Dr. Shende both confront the powers which create policies – people with influence and wealth. Those same people shirk their responsibility and tax those with fewer means. As the former director of the United Nations Environmental Program, Dr. Shenda is passionate about the concept of common but differentiated responsibility. “Those who consumed the most and polluted should pay for those who did not consume and did not pollute,” he says. 

In California, the Cap and Trade program is working to lower carbon emissions and places the burden on the companies that rely on carbon. As recently as September 24th, Gavin Newson set the goal to ban all gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Yet, none of these are effective without global consent. Much like when the Montreal Act worked to lower Ozone layer depletion effectively, saving Delhi and San Jose is a collective effort. A developed nation and a developing nation are in the same conundrum. Environmental injustice is within communities and across countries.

Eventually, my dad in San Jose breathes the same air as his brother in Delhi…

Rely on science and vote comprehensively!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Featured Image of Delhi can be found here and license here.

Featured Image of San Jose shot by Jamie Shin. 

Our Planet To Save: Teens Educate

Many say that we have seen three wars in our lifetime: 9/11, the housing crisis, and the most current one, Coronavirus.

In the background, looming like an avatar for death, are cities covered in billowing smog from factories, blackened skies, and people gasping for the last bit of fresh air.  

Let us not forget the ongoing battle for clean air, fuel, and water….

In the race for power among competing foreign nations, many have pushed for industrialization to develop economic and social prowess. Toys, weaponry, and clothes all became commodities as a result of mass production, delighting many. 

It has been about 250 years since the industrial revolution and not much has changed in the fight to mitigate what we now call the climate crisis. Profits have been prioritized over well-being, as safety has taken a back seat to ease of life.

Climate change is something that is often overlooked by many who view the phenomenon as a “hoax” and question its existence due to lack of awareness and miseducation.

Is what we have done to our planet acceptable given the benefits of industries? What more can we do? Was this a problem waiting to happen?

These are questions we must ask ourselves daily, and frankly there isn’t a straightforward answer. Every individual, however, can make a change, and that’s what The Incentive, a climate change news publication built by a team of bay area high schoolers, is tackling head-on.

Founded by – Arun Balaji, Kaushal Kumar, and Sudhit Rao – juniors at Monta Vista High School, The Incentive joins the climate change movement and shakes things up.

The Incentive’s goal is to create a platform where people can receive reliable information regarding the implications of climate change. They are moving away from the average, uninspired, and repetitive news site that only reports on how climate change is impacting the environment. The Incentive’s angles on climate change are novel, as they take a look at the economy, societal culture, and local policy to frame their narratives. 

Imaged pulled from The Incentive website.

Part of their mission is to raise local awareness on the more subtle impacts of climate change by involving the next generation. In order to accomplish this, they have worked with middle school teachers in their community to increase the environmental literacy of their students by engaging with articles on The Incentive.

The organization strives to expand across the United States and turn their non-profit into a global institution. Currently, they have two affiliated chapters – one in New York and the other in Virginia – that are working to make an impact in their respective communities. They encourage their chapters to attend city council meetings, reach out to schools in their area to incorporate our website, attend climate change rallies, or create a club at their school. 

Due to collective efforts, the publication has managed to garner thousands of monthly viewers. Next steps include creating more chapters of The Incentive across several states and countries. If you are interested, here is a link to learn more about their outreach program.

The Incentive team hopes that through their publication and outreach, they will be able to make a significant impact on mitigating climate change and are strong believers that any individual, no matter their background or power can make an impact on mitigating climate change. All it takes is focus and dedication for any individual to make an impact.

Sudhit speaks on behalf of his organization, “We encourage all readers to get on social media and post ways they are mitigating climate change, whether it is planting a tree, telling your friends to do so, or being a full-on activist. It is our planet to save, and we are its last lifeline.”

For more information on The Incentive, follow their Instagram.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Rapid Renewal

With the entire world seemingly off the highways and on WebEx or Zoom, I got to thinking if there is some good that will come out of this pandemic, a silver lining in the polluted clouds.  For those of you not feeling terribly hopeful right now, isn’t it wonderful to know that when there’s a burning platform in front of us, we will come together to take action?  It gives me hope around what we, 7.6 billion, can collectively do to turn the tide on climate change!

To be sure, these trying times of the coronavirus might reverse the progress made with controlling carbon dioxide emissions; but in the first quarter of 2020, global emissions were down considerably.  Like an overweight sick person who loses weight, at least we plump citizens of the earth now empirically know that we can do something to manage our over-consumption.  Here’s a somewhat optimistic article I wrote from a family trip last year to Kerala, India’s own version of paradise.

On a hopeful day after Christmas in Kochi, I am reflecting on what a solar eclipse means to me.  While I can focus on the darkness, given the many blessings that have come my way I prefer the light.  Perhaps it is merely the spirit of the season that has given me hope in what otherwise has been a rather dispiriting close to the past decade.  Or perhaps because, here in Kerala, I’m reminded of the diversity that has long been India’s strength.

This inclusive sense of all religions sharing India as a welcoming home is reflected in a favorite ditty of mine from Manmohan Desai’s film Amar Akbar Anthony:

Anhoni ko honi karde honi ko anhoni | We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!

Ek jagah jab jama ho teeno | Together in one place, we three stand united:

Amar Akbar Anthony

This is the first time in nearly two decades that I have not spent Christmas Eve at the Stanford Theater on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California.  My family has made a tradition of going to see a film quite different from Amar Akbar Anthony, but one with a similarly hopeful heart: It’s A Wonderful Life, the holiday classic directed by Frank Capra.

My family missed seeing our favorite Christmas movie because we were in Cherai Beach, at a resort some 45 minutes north of Kerala’s Cochin International Airport (COK).  We were having a reunion of sorts, with family in India coming from Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Pune, and family from outside of India coming from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  It has been a time of great joy, but I find myself reflecting on the past “dumpster fire” of a decade. 

I’m usually a hopeful sort, but as I look back over the past ten years, the metaphor that haunts me is a heartless fire.  I smell this place that I call home burning. Home is Earth. Home is India. Home is America.

Our planet is literally on fire.  According to nasa.gov, “The world is getting warmer. Whether the cause is human activity or natural variability—and the preponderance of evidence says it’s humans—thermometer readings all around the world have risen steadily since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”  The website proceeds to ask (and then answer), “But why should we care about one degree of warming?” I think each of us must answer that question in our own way. 

Raj with his granddaughter, Eshni.

For me, it’s not just the Earth science, although that, too, is vitally important.  It is about the world that my granddaughter, Eshni, will inhabit long after I am gone.  Already, I am distraught about the fact that while she was in New Delhi, Eshni was smoking nearly 50 cigarettes each day.  Okay, my daughter and son-in-law’s nine-month-old baby wasn’t actually dragging on several packs of Marlboros or Charminars, but she might as well have been.  The smoke in the capital of the country of my birth is intolerable and getting worse. I can barely imagine what is worse than intolerable. Unlivable? 

And the United States is not much better.  Although we Americans don’t have the daily visual clues to tell us that our planet is burning, I, as a Californian, can attest to the fact that the blue sky is a false harbinger of things to come if we don’t manage the change of climate change.  For two weeks last year, I could not step out of my home without tearing up. Yes, I’m an emotional sort who is easily moved to tears in sentimental Bollywood and Hollywood movies. But these weren’t filmy tears. No, the sun in my gray sky was eclipsed by smoke from fires burning thousands of acres over 100 miles away.  The sting of the smoke caused the tears and required me to wear a mask so that I could breathe. And if we can’t breathe, our world becomes unlivable, acre-by-acre. California’s thousands of charred acres have now given way to Australia’s millions of scarred acres. I take in the smoky air and choke at the impossibility of doing anything substantial about climate change.

When troubled by national and international issues, I look to good governance to save the day.  Surely the United Nations or the Prime Minister of India or the President of the United States have the foresight to envision a world that is habitable for my little Eshni.  Hooray for the UN. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has a fine objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”  If this were baseball, I would be shouting, “Hip, hip, hooray! Let’s put the UN Secretary-General into the Hall of Fame!” I would throw a parade for our collective grandchildren’s happy future world. Well, it seems that the UN does throw parties of a sort.  Year after year since 1995, there has been a Conference of the Parties. And year after year, the climate gets hotter and hotter. Protocols such as the Paris Agreement are ratified and rejected by the countries I call my own.

America and India’s positions on the protocols are quite telling and put one nation firmly in a disquieting Hall of Shame and the other in a disorienting Hall of Mirrors.

Trump’s United States is a rejecter of the protocols. Modi’s India is ostensibly a supporter. Both Trump and Modi remind me of those afflicted with the disease of hubris that has them looking directly at a solar eclipse as if their retinas could withstand fire.

In his first year in office, President Trump said, “The Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy,” and “puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.”  Donald Trump moved the needle from intolerable and unlivable to unthinkable. Midway through Trump’s term, The Atlantic Monthly listed some 50 unthinkable acts that characterized the Trump Presidency.  In essence, while the earth burns, Trump fiddles on his many incendiary interests including the following from the past 12 months:  building a wall at the US/Mexican border, adding trillions to the fiscal deficit, overseeing a contraction of domestic manufacturing, threatening and waffling on tariffs, recklessly executing an unethical—if not illegal—assassination of a foreign official to gin up a war to win votes, and responding to the inquiry of impeachment with a multitude of distracting lies.

On paper, Prime Minister Modi is the anti-Trump, almost an exemplar of climate change leadership.  He has done much to champion India as a global green leader; indeed, one can see solar panels floating on acres around COK, making Kochi’s airport the first in the world running fully on solar power.  But despite his laudable renewable energy investments in solar and wind farms, the Prime Minister was a reluctant signatory to the Paris Agreement; he has argued that as a developing country focused on giving her citizens a better life, India must not be constrained from investing in coal and other dirty fossil fuels.  There is much truth to the position that emerging economies merit dispensations not afforded to countries, which developed during the Industrial Age’s plunder of the Earth, but one must ask questions about Narendra Modi’s commitment to giving all Indians a better life.

What is the Prime Minister’s philosophy of social justice?  What are his intentions to make India not only a global green leader but also a moral leader?  Why does his office in Delhi encourage policies that are Hindu-centric rather than Hindustan-centric?  Perhaps the Modi Ministry could benefit from a rereading of Section 420 in the Indian Penal Code to clarify its disambiguation in how Muslims are treated as a source of terror. Certainly, a unified India would be more influential on the world stage if her fissiparous tendencies did not distract from the real terror of global warming.

Imagine an Earth with the blood-red skies of Australia where people flee to beaches to escape bushfires racing towards the coast. In Kerala, my hope is that we are not required to retire to backwaters houseboats to escape the fires of climate change; my hope is that we are not all sidetracked by our “Distractors-in-Chief;” my hope is that with a Surya Namaskar, we salute the sun as it rises; my hope is that hope is not eclipsed. 

While it has been lovely to celebrate time with family on the tranquil waters in what Keralites call “God’s Own Country,” inevitably all of us want to return to our wonderful lives in Pune, Melbourne, London, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and California. None of us desire a world where we, or our brothers and sisters, are climate refugees, or refugees of any sort seeking to escape home due to persecution of our race, religion, or sexual identity.  How about we convey our belief in the art of possibility and translate “Amar Akbar Anthony” for the next generation of (grand) children making Planet Earth their home?

We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!

Together in one place, we three stand united:

Eshni, Ayesha, Emily.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant, envisions 2020 as a transformative year.  His vision: Replace shortsighted politicians with clear-eyed leaders like Greta Thunberg (climate strike activist and Time’s 2019 Person of the Year) and Varshini Prakash (challenger of climate change’s status quo and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement).


Featured image drawn by Mangla Oza.