“How we treat animals is often dependent on how they display characteristics we think are human.”
That is why London-based animal photographer Tim Flach focuses his lens on the close-up detail that “beautifully highlights the similarities between animals and humans. Flach told the New York Times that he wants his photos to engage people in debates about our relationship with animals.”
“If you go to the supermarket today, we’re more used to seeing packaged animals with no feathers and no head,” he says. He aims to show us how they should be seen. More and more we are learning about nonhumans’ personality,intelligence, and emotions, that are just like ours.
Animals display loving tendencies towards their young, their family, and their friends
They have proven to be much more intelligent than we ever thought possible
Though we feel like we are above or “better than” animals …
… they are incredibly similar to us in many ways
Their emotional capacity is astounding
Even the animals we consider completely different from us have human-like qualities
If you truly look at the animals around you …
… you will find how much you have in common with them …
… and how amazing they truly all are
Please, please, please check out Tim’s website. I have rarely, if ever, seen such stunning photos of animals. The man is a genius!
The Dene Déline are a First Nation people of Canada, with a name-meaning that positively sings:
“Where the water flows”
The People of Great Bear Lake
The settlement of Déline lies on the western shore of Great Bear Lake in the remote Northwest Territories. Great Bear Lake, which is sacred to the Dene Déline, is as vast as the ocean. And so pristine, so pure, “you can lower a cup into the water and drink it.” ¹
The Dene Déline’s spiritual connection with the lake is ancient and profound – their other name, Sahtuto’ine, means ‘People of Bear Lake’. There is a myth passed down through the generations that at the bottom of the lake there lies a gigantic beating heart, a water-heart which gives life to the grass and the trees, the insects, the birds, the animals – and to them. To everything.
“There are prophecies, and relationships with the lake that go back thousands of years. There is, in fact, a prophecy that talks about Great Bear Lake being one of the last remaining bodies of freshwater on this planet.” Stan Boychuk, expert in First Nation culture.
The prophecy he refers to was made by a Dene Déline elder by the name of Eht’se Ayah, who “foretold that in the future, people from the south would come to Great Bear Lake because it would be one of the few places left with water to drink and fish to eat. He said so many boats would come that you could walk from one to another without entering the water. Simply put, Great Bear Lake would be a last refuge for humanity.” ¹
Today, in the 21st century, Eht’se Ayah’s prophecy has already partly come true. Of the 10 largest lakes in the world (yes, we may never have heard of Great Bear Lake, but it comes in at no. 8, bigger than Belgium and deeper than Lake Superior), it is the only one still remaining unspoilt, intact, primeval.
Unexpectedly, a new report from NASA of all things, gives additional credibility to Ayah’s prophecy. NASA’s GRACE satellite mission finds that of the world’s 37 largest aquifers (layers of water-bearing permeable rock under the Earth’s surface), 21 are being depleted at an unsustainable rate, and of those, 8 have little or no water recharging them. We “are inching toward a world where fresh water is much more difficult to come by.” Read more
The Dene Déline’s Territory, Tsá Tué
A while back, if you wanted to visit the township of Déline on the lake shore, you would need to take a hair-raising 200 mile drive along an ice road in the winter time, the only time you could get there by road, and when the temperature is in the minus 20s C. Nowadays you can fly to see the wonder that is Tsá Tué, the 36,000 sq miles of taiga around Déline – ancient boreal forest and water, and one of UNESCO’s most newly-designated biospheres. You can see from the map below how remote Tsá Tué is. And, what 36,000 sq miles looks like – BIG!
You would be forgiven for thinking that sometime over my many years I might have stumbled across biospheres, especially as there are 669 of them dotted about the world. But no. Now I have though, I’m very excited. They are SSSSs – ‘Science for Sustainability Support Sites’, jargon for those special places where human life and activity is both sustainable, and in balance with the local ecosystem.
A UNESCO biosphere typically comprises three interrelated zones:
A core ecosystem of strictly protected landscape, wildlife and plants, with enough genetic diversity to maintain a healthy population of local species
A buffer zone surrounding the core where only activity compatible with research, education and training is permitted
A transition area – the outer circle – where human economic activity goes on, in a way that is culturally and ecologically sustainable
You’ll find biospheres in the Volga floodplain in Russia, in the Maldives, Ecuador, China, India, Japan – in 120 different countries. Closer to home there’s one in France’s Dordogne region, and here in the UK, Galloway & southern Ayrshire where two biospheres merge.
Back at Tsá Tué
Tsá Tué is not only one of the most recently designated biospheres (2016); it’s not only the largest on the North American continent; it is also the only one in the world entirely controlled by an indigenous people. Shortly after its designation by UNESCO as a biosphere, the Canadian government granted Déline self-government, strengthening the Sahtuto’ine’s ability to protect their land and Great Bear Lake. And this is how they celebrated that historic moment in the life of their people:
Tsá Tué’s biodiversity is rich and healthy
The Sahtuto’ine live in harmony with the lake and the land, seeing themselves as stewards of this magnificent piece of N. American wilderness. They have been here for 6000 years, as much a part of the landscape as the grizzlies, moose and caribou they share it with, the snowshoe hares, the arctic foxes, wolves, wolverines and lynx.
And birds: ducks and geese, sparrows, finches, waxwings, warblers, sandpipers, cranes, hawks and eagles in their billions. All these and more nest and raise young in the Canadian taiga, feasting on the humid summer’s swarms of insects, and fall’s berry bonanza before they leave once more, migrating to more temperate climes.
Tsá Tué’s biodiversity has suffered no diminution in recent years – unlike the devastating losses in the ecosystems of, for instance, the Borneo rainforest or the Amazon basin. That isn’t just down to the almost inaccessible remoteness of the territory the Sahtuto’ine inhabit, although that certainly helps. Even supposing they had little respect for the plant and animal life they live among (but the very opposite is the case), with a tiny population of just 600 souls they would be very hard pressed to make much of an impact on their vast wilderness environment. In Tsá Tué, the Sahtuto’ine average 1 person to every 60 sq miles. Compare that with the UK’s 1,010 people to 1 sq mile. Little wonder our own biodiversity is under such severe pressure.
In that case, why does Tsá Tué need this biosphere designation from UNESCO?
The designation will help this tiny community resist attempts from outsiders to exploit their land. Predatory multinational corporations find ways of circumventing protections, even those instituted at national level. There is reason to fear. The area’s natural resources have been plundered before.²
Being an SSSS will make it that much harder to do. And that together with their new self-governing status means their future as a people, and the guardianship of Tsá Tué, belong entirely in their own hands.
Sahtuto’ine beliefs – “When People and Animals were Equal”
“There was a time when it was believed that everyone was the same – animals, birds and humans. It was believed that a creature or a human could change from animal to bird, human to animal, bird to animal. It was also believed that with the change, animals and birds had the power to speak.”
That time “came to an end about the time the first European explorers arrived in the area. By then, most animals no longer had the power to speak or to change their appearance. Only medicine persons with strong dream power could still talk to the animals.” ³
“Every seed is awakened and so is all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our animal neighbours the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land”
The wisdom of Sitting Bull, a Teton Dakota chief of the 19th century, not a Sahtuto’ine of course, but voicing a belief common to all First Nation peoples of N. America.
Historically, “Animals were respected as equal in rights to humans. Of course they were hunted, but only for food, and the hunter first asked permission of the animal’s spirit. Among the hunter-gatherers the land was owned in common: there was no concept of private property in land, and the idea that it could be bought and sold was repugnant. Many Indians had an appreciation of nature’s beauty as intense as any Romantic poet.
“The Indians viewed the white man’s attitude to nature as the polar opposite of the Indian. The white man seemed hell-bent on destroying not just the Indians, but the whole natural order, felling forests, clearing land, killing animals for sport.”▪︎
But the Sahtuto’ine traditional culture remains little changed. We can be sure they will continue to treasure the priceless pristine wilderness that is Tsá Tué. It could not be in safer hands.
Let’s give the last word to Sahtuto’ine Walter Behza, who has had the responsibility of managing these boreal lands for many years and is now official Integrated Resource Management Advisor for Tsá Tué:
“Listen to what the land wants, listen to what the lake wants, listen to what the animals want”
²”The area became prominent when pitchblende was discovered at the Eldorado Mine, some 250 km (160 mi) away, on the eastern shore, at Port Radium. During World War II, the Canadian Government took over the mine and began to produce uranium for the then-secret Americannuclear bombproject. Uranium product was transported from Port Radium by barge across Great Bear Lake where a portage network was established along the Bear River, across the bay from Fort Franklin, where many of the Dene men found work. As the risks associated with radioactive materials were not well communicated, it is believed that many of the Dene were exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation, which Déline residents believe resulted in the development of cancer and led to premature deaths. Wiki
Well, we can put the dinosaur question to bed right away, because it can’t be done. Those particular animals have been extinct for more than 65 million years and there simply is no viable DNA to recover.
Dodos? Yes. The dodo is on the list of ‘Candidate Species for De-extinction’. To be a possible candidate the chosen animal must have a living genetic relative, and the dodo does have one, and a very pretty one at that – the Nicobar pigeon, seen here
Of the two main contenders for resurrection, one is large and iconic like the dinosaur – the woolly mammoth. And the other is a bird like the dodo – the great auk.
So how would it be done?
You have to start by retrieving the animal’s DNA, either from fossils in museums or from preserved tissue in permafrost. From that sample the whole genetic code is rebuilt. Enter our friend CRISPR and the DNA is edited into an embryo of its nearest living relative. (There are a couple of other methods if you want to read more)
With the mammoth (relative Asian elephant) we’re already at this stage. Next we need a mother to carry that embryo to term. Or if not a mother, at least a womb which in this case will be an artificial one.
Great auks could be edited into razorbill DNA with a mother goose as parent. Projects for ‘de-extincting’ heath hens and passenger pigeons are also on the move.
That said, it’s all – if not entirely a pipe-dream – still a long way off. Not in my lifetime anyway.
They are great believers in de-extinction and here’s why:
Preserving biodiversity and genetic diversity
Restoring ecosystems that have diminished since the animals went extinct
Importantly, estorative justice – undoing the harm that we humans did to them in the past
Advancing science to prevent future extinctions
An example of where de-extinction research is already proving beneficial is the American Chestnut tree. A fungus rendered it extinct in its natural environment, but the genome of lab specimens has been tweaked to make it fungus-resistant. And now it’s ready for successful reintroduction.
In March, a panel of five experts discussed an intriguing topic the recent Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate in New York: if we went extinct ourselves, would it be a good idea for a superior life form to bring us humans back?
Not that we would get a say in such a scenario. But my own preemptive answer would be NO, NO, NO, bearing in mind the forces of destruction we’ve unleashed on the planet and all the other species we (don’t) share it with.
The panel’s objection to the idea was very different Their worry would be what this superior life form might do with us:
Were another intelligent life to de-extinctify humans, would they put us in a zoo-like environment? For a sentient being, that would be “extremely frightening and scary,” said panelist Greg Kaebnick, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York. “The animal welfare concerns just get overwhelming.”
Funny how that matters for humans but not for any other sentient animals already held captive in zoos. Hard to believe an intelligent person could make such a remark and not pause to reflect on what he has just said. Come to think of it though, perhaps a zoo (where we could inflict no further harm) might be the best place to contain such a dangerous species as Homo Sapiens.
Why not to bother?
Let’s forget humans for a moment. Aside from the practical scientific difficulties, why is de-extinction problematical? There are many compelling reasons:
If the de-extinctified animal is not a perfect copy of its forebears, could it be classified as the same species, or would we actually be playing God and creating a whole new species, a Frankenstein’s monster?
What of failed attempts resulting in maimed, deformed, stillborn animals?
If the animal did turn out a perfect copy, wouldn’t it immediately have to go on the endangered Red List?
What if appropriate food sources and habitat no longer exist?
What if the microbiota (the bacterial life within the species’ body, vital in maintaining its functioning) no longer exists and cannot be replicated?
Alternatively what if the DNA of a virus had, unbeknownst to the de-extinctifiers, incorporated itself into the animals’ genetic code? De-extinction carries the possibility of apocalyptic fallout
What effects might there be on present ecosystems? Another dangerous unknown
How many animals of one species need to be de-extinctified to provide a wide enough gene pool? We know it can’t be done for dinosaurs, but even if it could, “It would take about 5,000 Velociraptors (or any dinosaur species, for that matter) to make a sustainable population with sufficient genetic diversity. “ Todd Marshall
Where exactly does human responsibility for the revived creatures end?
And most importantly of all to my mind, wouldn’t the money at present spent on de-extinction research, be put to better use protecting, and improving the habitat of, the huge numbers of species already at high risk of extinction?
And, might funding de-extinction of a small number of species actually threaten the survival chances of a larger number of already existing species?
For me it’s a no-brainer, and researchers in biodiversity agree. The answer to those last two questions is a resounding Yes. In New Zealand for example, government funds at present earmarked for reviving 11 extinct species threaten to sacrifice at least 31 existing ones. The negative impact on biodiversity looks to be even greater in Australia where funding is allocated for 5 extinct species. More than 8 times that number of existing threatened species could be saved for the same money.
We’re hopelessly failing to safeguard life forms in the here and now, so is it wise to use scientific expertise and precious funding to bring back the distant dead – those that really are as dead as a dodo?
Jurassic Park? Inspired idea for a movie. Let’s just leave it where it belongs – on the silver screen.
Birds. Airports. Those two words rarely if ever sit happily together. The Airbus forced in 2009 to make a dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River after Canada geese were sucked into both engines, triggered an unstoppable wave of bird slaughter at airports round the world. The unfortunate animals just happening to be in the ‘wrong’ place were gassed, shot and poisoned in an attempt to prevent bird ‘strikes’ on aircraft. Still are. Airports in China included. At China’s east coast Lishe Airport, for instance, the grassland where migrating egrets stop to feed is being sprayed with rat poison.
“Where biodiversity is most in trouble, it’s in trouble because of direct conflict with human activity.”
So, the world’s first ever custom-built airport for birds? Mudflats, reed beds, lakes and shallow rapids – something for every feathered frequent flyer. Not a plane in sight – and in China?
China’s conservation record has not been so hot in the past, to put it politely, so it’s a big surprise, but an incredibly welcome one. In actual fact, the super-power is now ahead of the game in the management of flourishing ecosystems and has declared its vision of becoming the ecological civilization of the 21st century¹
“It’s just such a historic moment in China, with the highest level of government pushing for a level of investment in nature that’s completely unprecedented.”Yale University ecologist Gretchen Daily,
The Chinese government partnered with Yale and with Gretchen, co-director of the Natural Capital Project, for research on the state of their network of national parks and nature reserves. And now the ecologist is helping the Chinese ‘reimagine’ these spaces to reverse the decline in biodiversity, and at the same time provide ecosystem services such as sandstorm protection and flood control.
“We’re recommending a great expansion of nature reserves to encompass all of the major groups of biodiversity that we studied, which includes plants and the four vertebra groups — mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. That involves many new reserves being established”
And the Lingang Bird Sanctuary in Tianjin is such a one. It has been “specifically designed to accommodate thousands of daily takeoffs and landings by the 50 million birds traveling along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.”This flyway, one of 9 major bird migration flyways across the globe, stretches over 22 countries – the list includes China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, taking in Indonesia and Thailand on the way.
The new ‘airport’ at Lingang is all good news:
It’s where it’s most needed, sitting in the most threatened of all 9 global flyways, and in a country where 70% of intertidal habitat has been lost in the last 10 years
It’s expected to provide the perfect refuelling stop for those millions of migrating waterbirds – more than 50 species
The design² includes an education and research centre – another plus for bird conservation
It will provide green lungs for the city of Tianjin, frequently blanketed with smog so thick it shuts down its real airports
It will also act as a ‘sponge city’³ (more below)
It transforms a former ugly, dirty, smelly landfill site into a fabulous green eco park
It will provide a much-needed green space where humans too can enjoy the outdoors, breath fresh clean air, wander along miles of walking and cycling trails, watch the wonder of migrating birds and hopefully learn the value of making space in our overcrowded world for other living creatures
Let’s hope Lingang, due to be completed in 2018 ready for its visitors, human, avian and hopefully a bounty of other wildlife, will provide a template for such projects in the future.
¹“The [Chinese] Congress clearly stated that China must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Actions and activities relating to China’s geographical space, industrial structures, modes of production and people’s living should all be conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment so as to create a sound working and living environment for the Chinese people and make contributions to global ecological safety.” UN Environment Our Planet
Wow – way to go China! Other countries take note. Ms Daily though sounds a note of caution:
“Aligning the activities of over a billion people around conservation might prove to be a challenge, even with the best of leadership we can hope for.”
²Australian landscape architecture firm McGregor Coxall (“We Value Cities Ecologies & Communities”) partnered with Avifauna Research in this ambitious project.
Lingang bird airport is one of 16 pilot projects in the new Sponge City initiative. In the most populated country in the world, where half of its 527 rapidly-growing cities suffer water shortages classed by the UN as ‘severe’, and another half have woefully inadequate flood protection, there’s a pressing need for storm water to be ‘reimagined’. Last year for instance, the floods in north and central China killed at least 150 people with many more missing, destroyed 53,000 houses and saw hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
But all that water can be turned from a disaster into an opportunity. ‘Reimagine’ the city as a giant, super-absorbant sponge. Catch the water with rooftop gardens, and at road-level plant-filled ditches (called bioswales) instead of concrete, and lo, you have water for gardens and urban farms, for flushing toilets, and even replenishing drinking water supplies. And zero flooding.
“Animal testing is considered unnecessarily cruel by many, especially since new methods are being developed to take its place. The most promising are organ-chips that contain human cells and imitate the complexity of particular organs. Now they are on their way to being commonly used. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office has just entered into an agreement last Tuesday with the company Emulate that creates ‘organs-on-chips’ to develop and test the technology.
“Using these organ-chips could eliminate the need to test drugs or cosmetics on animals. These chips are much more accurate than animal testing, which is good for animals and for us. The chip is the size of an AA battery. It is transparent and made out of flexible polymers. The chip contains little channels filled with tens of thousands of human cells and fluid that imitate human functions and reproduce blood and air flow similarly to in the body. Therefore, chips can recreate breathing motions and muscle contractions.
“‘We are excited to begin this relationship with FDA as a potential first step toward accelerating the adoption of our Human Emulation System for broad application as a new testing platform for a wide range of products that are reviewed and approved by regulatory authorities to protect and improve human health.’– Geraldine A. Hamilton, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate.”
Isn’t this epic? A fantastic breakthrough – not even so much the technology which has been around for a while, but the fact that Emulate has been able to forge this agreement with the FDA.
Though no-one knows exact numbers, it is reckoned that every year more than 100 million animals in the US alone, are subjected to chemical, drug, food, and cosmetics tests, as well as medical training exercisesand experiments at universities. And that’s without including mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals, which actually make up more than 99 percent of animals used in experiments, but because they are not covered by even the limited protections of America’s Animal Welfare Act, go uncounted
The USA heads the list of the top 10 animal testing countries in the world, which include Japan, China, Australia, France, Canada, the UK, Germany, Taiwan and Brazil.
Animal experiments are sadly not in decline, and in many parts of the world are on the increase (e.g. China) or remain at the same level as they were in the 1980s or 1990s (e.g. the UK, Europe).
Whatever, one animal being tortured in a lab – and it always is torture – is one too many.
The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for monitoring the application of animal welfare legislation for animals in labs. It’s not exactly renowned for the rigour of its oversight at the best of times. Then two months ago this headline appeared in The Washington Post:
USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.”
So this latest news from Emulate and the FDA is all the more welcome – and surprising, considering the state of play in Washington DC right now.
Where the US leads, others are swift to follow. Let us hope this will indeed be the beginning of the end of animal suffering in laboratories.
“Nature inspires me. My hope is that my art will serve its purpose, remind us of how the human-nature relationship is supposed to be, beautiful, harmonious, and living side by side. My subjects are often children and animals because they are sincere, unprejudiced and unpretentious. There’s an innate relationship between them.”Indonesian artist Elicia Edijanto
I find these watercolour paintings profoundly moving. I hope you enjoy them, and that they will continue to touch the hearts of those who see them. The simplicity of colour and detail creates a timeless, tranquil, dreamlike other-world. Is this the Garden of Eden? The kingdom of heaven? The way life was here on Earth before abuse of power, greed, exploitation, cruelty and fear trampled innocence, reverence, trust and love into the dust? Elicia’s art brings to my mind two passages from the Bible, see below.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.Isaiah 11 v 6
He[Jesus]called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Matt 18 vv 2-4
Elicia depicts the animals with simple reverence, in all their majesty. They are here in their own personhood, with their own standing. They do not seek Man’s permission. They owe us nothing. They are here by right.
Discover the artist and see more of Elicia’s beautiful work on her website
A truly disturbing fact I never knew until now, maybe you did. There are way more hens than people in the world. Nineteen billion in fact, 3 hens to every 1 human. And the numbers just keep rising.
( I like to call these clever, social birds hens rather than chickens. Chicken is their flesh, not their personhood.)
To mark yesterday’s National Poultry Day, and in the run up to Easter when chicks and eggs traditionally take centre stage, here’s what I’ve gleaned from three recent pieces about hens, and indeed chicken, the meat:-
Will Brexit & Trump really force us to eat chlorine-washed chicken?
Well, that’s a pretty unpleasant sentence all round, isn’t it? And the implications are even worse. Certain farming practices in the USA such as the use of specific antibiotics, pesticides and growth hormones, and yes, washing chicken in chlorinated water, are banned on health and environmental grounds under EU law. Which of course applies to the UK at the present time – but in the future, who knows?
“That could all be set to change—at least in Britain. There are worries that the UK Government may be about to open the door to hormone-pumped beef, pesticide-treated wheat, eggs from poor welfare hens, and swimming pool chicken.”
Because right at the top of Theresa May’s wishlist as she negotiates the UK’s withdrawal from Europe is a trade deal with the States. Chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Young is on record as saying if any deal is to be struck, the UK will have to lift its current (EU) ban on US food products.
And then there are the so-called “ag-gag” laws in the US that make it near impossible to expose certain animal welfare violations,
including the trauma endured by those millions of hapless hens.
Did you know that in the USA
There are no federal laws governing the conditions in which farmed animals are raised?
The majority of farmed animal suffering is exempt from state criminal anti-cruelty laws?
Many individual state criminal anti-cruelty laws exempt “standard” or “commonly accepted” agricultural practices?¹
Let’s hope those pics of PM May holding Donald Trump’s hand aren’t an ominous sign of things to come.
Our premier says not:”We are committed to maintaining, where possible improving, standards of welfare in the UK”. But haven’t we seen politicians of every hue executing spectacular u-turns when under pressure?
And in Mrs May’s statement the sting is in the tail: “while ensuring of course that our industry is not put at a competitive disadvantage.” Mmm, seems she’s already feeling the hot breath of the National Farmers Union on her back. They’re demanding a level playing field for meat sales and if that means lowering standards to US levels, so be it, is their thinking.
For the first time in 100 years those champion meat-eaters of the world, the Americans, are eating less beef. Sadly, although they are eating less beef, they are eating a lot more chicken. And it’s likely numbers will rise. By 2018 chicken consumption is expected to reach over 200lbs per head per annum in the US. There are at least 3 reasons for the trend away from beef to chicken:
Health warnings. Folk are getting the message that red meat is linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. They see chicken as the healthier option.
The message of livestock farming’s extravagantly huge environmental footprint is getting through, at least to some.
And the deal-clincher: beef pricesare nearly double what they were a decade ago, and now more than double the price of chicken.
If you think about it pound for pound of meat, in terms of hen’s feet on the ground this actually means an even greater number of individual nonhuman animals suffering at the hands of agribusiness for the benefit of consumers. This is why One Step for Animals focuses exclusively on hens. The numbers are the greatest. Therefore so is the need.
Nearly all of those 19 billion hens live a life of appalling suffering that has to be kept hidden from the eyes of the chicken-eating public who have no idea of what is going on behind closed doors. In Defense of Animals describes it like this:
“In less than 50 days from the time she is born, her bones will break beneath her own weight. By that time her breast valued only for the quantity of its white meat and not the gentle animal inside will be so massive, she will no longer be able to walk to the water bowl. Left in her own urine and feces and the bodily waste produced by up to 60,000 other chickens in the warehouse, her skin will blister and burn until the day she is brought to slaughter.”
Help expose the horrors these gentle souls are made to endure by supporting IDA’s appeal “to fund a secret Easter rescue mission that reveals once and for all how cruel and unnatural factory farming is for chickens, and documents the story of the chicks and chickens rescued to inspire others to choose alternative plant-based sources of protein.”
But let’s wind up on a happier note – this is what you won’t be exposed to if you choose not to eat the flesh of the hen
Maybe, just maybe, ‘clean meat’ will be the answer for those who still want to satisfy their chicken cravings – enter Memphis Meats’ first lab-grown chicken. Churchill’s prophesy was spot on:
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”— Winston Churchill, Fifty Years Hence (1931)
The company served its chicken and duck strips at an event in San Francisco last week and it passed the taste test. All the testers/tasters liked it and said they would happily eat it again.
A pound of the stuff at $9,000 is not quite as expensive as the first lab-grown burger which came in at $325,000. The plan is to bring the price tag down to the level of supermarket chicken by 2021.
Even so Memphis Meats will have its work cut out making significant inroads into the quantities of factory-farmed chicken the average American is currently eating in a year.
Clean meat is so much more environmentally friendly than the other kind. Studies show clean meat would potentially use 96% less greenhouse gas emission, 45% less energy, 99% less land and 96% less water than meat from animal agriculture.
Of course the meat though ‘clean’ in that it is grown from stem cells humanely harvested one would hope from live animals and only a few at that, is not vegan as the Beyond Burger grown in the lab entirely from plant cells most definitely is.
Feast your eyes on a paradox. Self-taught American artist Tiffany Bozic’s vibrant paintings fuse together two incongruent poles. A high emotional charge / and rigorous scientific accuracy. Her own imaginative vision / and meticulous observation.
At first sight surreal. But look closer at what the surreal is unmasking. The ultimate reality, the ultimate truth, that we are all part of Planet Earth’s beautiful, inextricably-interwoven web of life and death.
Just as the image plays with our ideas of reality, the title of this painting plays with words, ‘Flora and Fawn’
Tiffany has spent most of her life “living with and observing the intricacies of nature.” If more of us could emulate her approach, what reverence for life would prevail.
Tiffany paints on boards of maple wood.
In some of her work, we see Tiffany making the grain of the wood itself an integral part of the image.
Futurology says you really can have too many bees!
Even the most indifferent to environmental issues and our native flora and fauna would have to be blind and deaf not to have registered the torrent of bad news about the dramatic and worrying decline in bee population numbers over the last few years.
So how could you possibly have too many bees?
We know of course that bee colonies are trucked all over the USA to pollinate crops as each comes into flower each year.
But until I came to write this post, I for one was completely unaware that right now millions of bees are being shipped around the globe to work their pollination magic. Here in the UK it seems we import 40,000-50,000 colonies each year. And global bee commerce continues to expand.
This is a problem for at least two reasons:
The colonies – provided by a handful of global suppliers – are screened for diseases and parasites, but that screening is not foolproof. And the imported bees hosting pathogens can and do spread their unwanted ‘guests’ to the local populations with disastrous results. “The effects include killing bees outright, or harming their ability to learn, which is crucial in finding food. In Argentina, imported parasites are driving native species to extinction.”¹ As the trade exports the industrious little insects to ever more locations, the danger of harmful effects on native bees and food security increases.
As well as putting their local cousins at risk, the imported bees, by pollinating invasive non-native plant species, are likely to accelerate their dispersion with unknowable effects on local biodiversity.
So I guess the problem isn’t exactly having too many bees per se, but too many bees on the move carrying pathogens to all corners of the world. It’s ironic but perturbing that an industry that’s mushroomed in response to an ever-widening pollinator shortage, will likely itself exacerbate the downward trend.
A big conservation problem then. One of five recently identified as global environmental risks by an international team of experts in science communication, research and horizon scanning. Horizon scanning (otherwise known as Futurology or Future Studies) is a collaborative process of assembling all available data in a particular field to identify future trends, both positive and negative.
While in an ideal world the crystal ball would reveal zero future environmental risks, it’s good to know at least that this particular expert team – undertaking their horizon-scanning in the field of species and ecosystems– pinpointed just 5 key risks, but twice as many hopeful opportunities. And as I’m keen to make this week a week of hope, I’ll list the remaining 4 risks in brief so we can get on to the good stuff.
1Sand scarcityI don’t know about you, but this is one possible problem I wouldn’t have imagined. “Sand is used in a diverse range of industries and as the human population increases so does the demand for sand. Impacts of sand mining include loss of species, degradation of habitats and social conflict”.
2Border fences affecting wild animals The impenetrable wall between the USA and Mexico promised by President Trump would adversely affect desert bighorn sheep, the endangered North American jaguar, the ocelot – now down to the last 50 in southern Texas and the cougar (pictured here).
“In total it’s estimated that 111 endangered species could suffer as a result of Trump’s wall, as well as 108 species of migratory birds.” Sadly the trend is not confined to the USA. The increased use of border fencing in Europe and elsewhere will have similar detrimental effects on the movement, migration and survival of wild animal species.²
3Changes in waste management affecting wild animals Another trend that wouldn’t spring immediately to mind – closing or covering rubbish dumps. That might sound like a positive, but will be bad news for wildlife scavengers habituated to this ready food supply.
4Wind speeds at the sea surface are increasing data indicates, and so is the frequency of gales. The effect on seabirds and migrating marine animals is an unknown, but unlikely to be beneficial.
Bad news is always unwelcome I know. But even the bad can have its good side. If it throws the spotlight on to a problem, we can start looking for solutions. Take science’s revelation about the damage to marine life from plastic microbeads. The data that surfaced in 2010 was troubling to say the least, but bringing it to light did bring about quite speedy international action in the form of bans on their use.
Now that’s out the way we can, as promised, get to the good stuff – 10 new conservation opportunities opened up to us by advances in science and technology:
1 A new biological discovery: strains of Symbodinium (unicellular algae) found in coral reefs are resistant to heat and could hopefully be manipulated to protect reefs from the bleaching effect of rising temperatures in the ocean.
2An underwater robot called COTSbot has been very successful at controlling the crown-of-thorn starfish responsible for 40% of the damage to the Great Barrier Reef in the last 30 years. Robotics offer the prospect of more environmental wins. Watch COTSbot in action below.
3The portable 3D-printed electronic ‘dogs’ nose, bizarre as it sounds, works even better than the real thing. It will provide a major new asset for sniffing out illegal wildlife goods, especially at border crossings, and offers the potential to disrupt major black market trade routes. That would be huge.
5 Ah, we’ve hit a snag. With this one it seems like risks and opportunities might be fairly equally balanced. We’re talking floating wind farms. Right now the biggest in the world is being constructed off the coast of Scotland. Though more efficient in supplying green energy than land-based, and good for fish seeking a refuge, they would be no better than their land-based counterparts at avoiding collateral damage to birds in flight. Plus there’s a chance they could entangle marine mammals.
6The bionic leaf that makes fuel out of sunlight and water. Forget fitting solar panels to your roof. Just get your bionic leaf and make your own ready-to-use biomass. Watch the video to find out how.
7Lithium-air batteries. Yet another technology entirely new to me. If produced commercially, these batteries could revolutionise the clean energy industry by enabling electric cars to run on a battery a fifth of the cost and a fifth of the weight of batteries currently on the market. This means you could travel from London to Edinburgh – just over 400 miles – on a single charge. Right now an electric car can only drive between 50 and 80 miles per charge. If you’re interested in the science, click here.
8Reverse photosynthesis uses the sun’s energy to break down rather than build up plant material. It’s potential? To transform the production of biofuels and plastics and reduce fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.
9Carbon capture involves dissolving the carbon dioxide in water and injecting it into basalt rock, which is plentiful all around the globe. Once in the rock it undergoes a natural process. The basalts (volcanic rock) react with the gas-in-solution to form carbonate minerals. Hey presto, limestone! In the Iceland Carbfix project it took just two years for the solution to solidify. Compare that with the hundreds or even thousands of years that was predicted. Only the lack of political will is holding this one back. Grrr.
10Blockchain technology “By allowing digital information to be distributed but not copied, blockchain technology created the backbone of a new type of internet. Originally devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin, the tech community is now finding other potential uses for the technology.”
In the environmental field, these could be: “establishing a currency market for trading carbon credits, improving supply chain traceability (e.g. for sustainable fish) and tracking illegal wildlife trade.”
Which all goes to prove there are few conservation issues for which science and technology cannot find an answer. Futurology is right to see the almost limitless opportunities they offer.
But it’s not human ingenuity that is ever in question. Humankind’s will to implement preventions and solutions most certainly is, both at political and individual level.
The good news is, we have the power in our hands to act at both levels. In politics we can use our vote for the planet. We can also throw your support behind organisations actively engaged in protecting nature and lobbying governments or challenging them in courts of law.
On a purely individual level Friends of the Earth has a wealth of ideas and tips for living an eco-friendly life which is well worth exploring.
It is so beyond time to stop ravaging the Earth in the pursuit of our own selfish interests. We are currently pursuing a path that is not only irresponsible and disrespectful, but ultimately self-defeating. The real interests of the human race lie not in the rape and pillage of our precious planet and all the life in it, but in due reverence, regaining a sense of wonder, and careful loving stewardship. We can do it.
After all, there is only one Earth.
“I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace. I will honor all life, wherever and in whatever form it may dwell, on Earth my home, and in the mansions of the stars.”
I recommend multiple viewings to appreciate the incredible detail and get the full benefit.
Paper predators and prey spring to life in this visually stunning short from directors Dávid Ringeisen & László Ruska. An ordinary desk and typical office supplies are the backdrop for this micro-universe that carries the macro-message of wildlife conservation. While humans are left out of the piece, their impact is still present in a discarded cigarette butt that sparks an imaginary forest fire and an overflowing wastebasket that pollutes a fantastical rolling-chair river. This piece is part of the filmmakers’ MOME thesis project, the animation department at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary and was created for WWF Hungary.
The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s belief in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.