How far would you go to save our planet?

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Is violence justified in saving our planet? How far would you go or would allow someone else to go to protect our environment?

I had just finished watching a documentary titled ‘If a tree falls’. To summarise, this documentary looks at the earth liberation front, an environmental organisation that moved from more passive and non violent protest towards an approach of more direct and violent action. This doco follows a few of the former members of the ELF (earth liberation front) whilst they are being sentenced under what was eventually defined as eco-terroism. The ELF became involved in the destruction through arson of several business’s and organisations that they felt were damaging the environment , for example companies that were involved in logging of old growth forests. Now the documentary itself was good (however i have seen better) and it got me thinking if we can justify these acts of sabotage which caused millions of dollars worth of damage to these businesses which may or may not be acting legally. Can individuals or organisations take it upon themselves to engage in illegal activities for the sake of environmental conservation and which inevitably brings these issues to the forefront of the media and potentially politics. If you agree with these actions, do you have any limitations or rules that you feel need to be respected? I also feel i need to make it clear that no person was harmed during these acts of so called eco-terroism, and the damage was done to property.

For me there are two issues that are different and therefore require a slightly different answer:
If the organisation which was attacked was engaging in illegal activity such as illegal dumping of waste, or poaching of animals i feel that acts of sabotage against these groups (without harming anyone) would be justified. Unfortunately other way to deal with it i.e legally can take significant time, and have been known to impose minimal penalties to organisations that have done irreversible damage to the environment. For me thats a no brainer- the organisation deserves what it gets.

However the other issue is if an organisation are acting within the law, yet are having a negative impact on wild life, is it justifiable to engage in sabotage, direct action, eco-terroism, or whatever you like to call it. Unfortunately here i can not make a sweeping statement to agree or disagree. One of the problems is that change takes time, and time is not what a lot of critically endangered species have. While protests go on, and peaceful activism goes on, and don’t get me wrong it is positive, sometimes the change it brings about is far too slow. We are in a period of existence when the rate of species extinction is greater than in any previous point in our history- we are killing more things off in at a faster rate than ever before, and at a faster rate than laws can be made to protect them. It must also be noted that obviously different countries place different value on their eco-system, and may never put protective measures in place to protect their environment… for me it is justifiable if the normal process is not keeping them safe. In my view its a last resort but an effective one, although i also believe that there needs to be boundaries and rules. An example of a rule could be no human casualties, although this may be impossible to ensure with violent acts which then create the grey areas. I would need to feel that i could undertake this action without harming anyone, that the normal legal process or lobbying would not quick enough, and that the species is at immediate risk.

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An example of a group that i admire, and have been effective in their direct action is the Sea Sheperd. This group seek to protect whales and cetaceans through direct actions which involve attempting to sabotage Japanese Whaling ships to make them ineffective, as well as generally getting in their way and hampering their ability to hunt. I agree with what they are doing even though they have been labelled as terroists by some countries. Sea Sheperds efforts have not only saved countless whales lives, the pressure and publicity they applied to their cause has contributed to the international courts ruling that the Japanese ‘research’ hunts were not legal- how many of these majestic creatures would have died whilst waiting for this ruling had Sea Shepard not become involved? Too many.

sea sheperd

I think its important to also remember that just because its the law, it doesn’t make it right. I have a friend who has been involved in Animal Rights Activism, and has at times been involved in activities that result in breaking into farms and freeing caged animals such as chickens. These farmers are not breaking the law by keeping these animals under horrible conditions (the treatment of change animals is a whole other discussion but do some research and you will see), but that doesn’t make it acceptable for an animal to suffer like that. Was his actions justified- in my opinion yes (and hopefully that farmer will move away from caged farming towards free range)

Im currently reading Dian Fosseys book, Gorillas in the mist (which I’m finding fascinating by the way). If you don’t know her, she lived in Rwanda, and the Congo where she lived in the mountains amongst the mountain Gorillas whee she studied them and eventually interacted with them for. She became a passionate advocate for the Gorillas at a time when little was know, and even less was done to protect the national reserve they lived in and there was almost no protection for the Gorillas. Dian undertook her own forms of direct action to protect the mountain gorillas and other animals within her study range. She harassed the poachers and destroyed their traps and camps, she held cattle hostage from grazers, and established unit poacher patrols. She did those things because no one else was doing it. Could she have lobbied the Rwandan government to legally enforce the national park rules? yes she could.. but in the meantime the mountain Gorillas numbers would have likely become further decimated beyond recovery. She took action which i felt was justified.

dian

What i do not agree with however is using fear of harm to acquire this change. Making threats against someone i ABSOLUTELY do not agree with. Yes there may be fear associated with all acts of violence, but it crosses the line when people fear that they are targeted. Can you protect and engage in potentially violent activism against an activity without people doing the activity living in fear, i hope so and i believe so.

For me the people engage in activism of all sorts are special, and those that engage in direct actions also. They often risk a lot for little personal gain, other than the knowledge that a whale, or gorilla, or an old growth first that is home to millions of species can survive another day. They defend the defenceless.

It must be noted that i support the idea that other avenues be explore prior to any violent direct action and it be used as a last resort after careful consideration, and that not all are appropriate and justifiable in my opinion.

Peace

Peace

Palm Oil: Its in most things we eat and why we should avoid it.

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So Palm Oil…. some of you may have heard all the issues related to palm oil, and other may not. Lets have a look at whats its all about. Essentially palm oil is a very prized ingredient in loads of products, from chocolates to shampoos. With the demand on the rise and production set to double forests are being cleared and replaced by palm plantations (another example of monoculture).

So whats wrong with Palm oil?
The main issue of palm oil is the land required to cultivate it. Palm oil has been linked to huge amounts of deforestation which leads to land degradation, and loss of habitat for many species and a reduction in biodiversity. It was estimated that due to Palm oil 1/3 of all mammals are now critically endangered in Indonesia. The clearing of the rainforests which are considered biodiversity hotspots leads to the displacement of many endemic species with the highly publicised victims of this habitat destruction being orang-utans and the sumatran tiger.
The loss of rainforest also contributes to climate change as well as the process of clearing which involves burning the land lead to greenhouse gas emissions (Indonesia being the 3rd largest contributor to greenhouse gases)

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So where is this happening?
this is mainly occurring in south east Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, although production does occur in Africa and South America.

Why is Palm Oil so popular?
Palm oil is versatile ingredient and used in a wide array of products: chocolate, ice cream, pizza, cosmetics, soap, margarine to name a few. In the UK palm oil is required to be named on the ingredients label of any product, however in many countries palm oil is described as vegetable oil, ands it has been estimated that in 1/3 of all vegetable oil is palm oil. The borneo Orang-utan survival website advises on palm oil in Australian and New Zealand products:

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand allows palm oil to be labelled simply as “vegetable oil” and indeed its presence can be even less visible as many of the more minor components of a product – colourings, flavourings, emulsifiers and humectants – are commonly palm oil derived. A quick test – if the saturated fat content is around 50% the likelihood of the vegetable oil being palm is high.
In cosmetics, palm oil is labelled Elaeis guineensis but as with the food industry, its presence is often less obvious. Any ingredient which includes the word “palm” (palmitate, palmitoyl or simply palm) will include palm oil. Other ingredients which commonly but not always use palm oil include cetyl alcohol, isopropyl, sodium lauryl sulphate, steareths, fatty alcohol sulphates, glycerine, cocoa butter equivalent and cocoa butter substitute.

So what can be done?

Well essentially when we make choices we have three choices:
Choose not to change our patterns of product choose which will inadvertently lead to products that include palm oil.
Choose products that use sustainable palm oil. Look for CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil) as well as organisations signing up to the RSPO with the aim of producing sustainable Palm oil. However it must be noted that there is heavy criticism of the RSPO as many feel it does not do enough to prevent deforestation, with many members continuing to engage in highly destructive practises.
Choose products that have not palm oil.

The key is making an informed choice and being aware of what ingredients are in your product.

I have attached an information sheet which will given you some CSPO and palm oil free brands and products, and although many of these products are found in Australia, there are some that are found internationally-palm oil free list_130115

Also the WWF has read retailers and manufactures on their palm oil use and this should definitely be looked at (especially if your a McDonalds fan!)- check out pages 15 and 17 on their report.- po_scorecard_2013_latest

please have a look and make a change!

Peace and palm oil free eating:)

Looking for the green shoe- one step at a time

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With estimations that shoe sales are around 20 billion annually, and that most of us will buy at least one pair of shoes this year ( i know i know- very conservative estimate, as i have many friends that would give Elton John a run for his money) we can all use this opportunity to demand that this industry better their methods and create a more environmentally friendly shoe.

My current casual shoes are on their last legs, and with the inside heel material having worn through, i thought it was time that i bought a new pair. Now i would probably in the past just go for aesthetic appearance as the main criteria for any new pair of shoes- and no doubt this is the main deciding factor in 99% of all our shoe choices. But this time i wanted to do something differently. I want to make a conscious effort to choose a shoe/brand (or pair thereof) that attempts to address their environmental impact. A shoe thats doing things different. A shoe thats walking in the right direction (plenty more puns where that came from).
I understand many of us do not wish to make massive changes to our lives and suddenly start wearing hemp footwear may be a too big a stride (get it..stride) for the urban dweller to make, i definitely wont be wearing potato sacks on my feet thats for sure. By knowing what to look out for we can make a more informed decision about what we wear and what compromises we are making when we wear it.

In London if you walk along oxford street and regent street the big brands are well represented, nike, adidas, new balance (the shoes i was going to buy pre eco research), pumas, and reebok to name a few. So have these brands addressed their environmental impact? and if so what are they doing?

The environmental impact of shoes:

Ok, so when we look at shoes and their environmental impact, what is it that we are looking at?
Essentially there are several areas such as; research and development, Manufacturing, transportation, storage, and disposal. Each with their own level of environmental impact. But as a consumer the information that we are most likely going to be able to access is the material of the shoe- and choosing the right materials and avoiding certain materials will make a significant impact on the environment.

What materials the shoe is made of plays a big role in its impact.
Firstly there are the cotton products that are used: You can have conventional cotton, organic cotton, or a cotton and nylon mix. Now the environmental impacts of convention cotton is the high water requirements plus massive pesticide and insecticide use. Cotton is a pesticide-heavy crop, accounting for approximately 25% of the world’s insecticide use and 10% of the world’s pesticide use. Organic cotton is without the use of insecticides/pesticides requires more land due to lower yields (although definitely a better choice than conventional cotton.), while the cotton and Nylon mix requires the use of energy and waste byproducts in the production.

Then we have our other natural products: Jute, Bamboo, Hemp, cork and leather. this is a funny group with no doubt the best materials to use and considered sustainable (natural and sustainable) except of course leather which almost deserves its own blog due to the huge environmental impact it has in all levels of its production. Jute, hemp and bamboo come from plants and require the separation of the fibres from the stalk. This can be done with chemicals, but can also be done naturally- of course naturally is better. Cork again is from certain trees and can be harvested without killing the tree and without the use of chemicals and is done by hand. Now we come to leather ( can see you all guiltily looking over to you leather jackets, bags and shoes- i know i did). The energy required to produce leather is 20 times that of any synthetic material and devotees the environment during the raising of the cow (land destruction, degradation, water usage, and mono cultured feed). The tanning process is also highly toxic and uses chromium a know carcinogen- literal poison for the earth. Although there are vegetable tanning methods.. these are used in less than 10% of leather products- what can i say…stay away from leather!

Don’t forget the rubber- rubber is derived naturally as sap and can be harvested sustainable, however it should be noted that in the process of turning it into a solid- chemicals are uses. The other options is synthetic rubber, which s derived form a whole range of chemicals and petrochemicals. The byproducts are co2 and volatile organic compounds. So the better of these two appears to be the natural one- although recycled rubber is also a good options and this of often derived from old tyres.

Now we come to the synthetics-
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): Used for the production of polyester fibre and derived from hydrocarbons, with the environmental impacts, energy use, water usage, and chemical use.
Polyurethane Foam (PU Foam): Its the foam thats used in shoes. Although highly toxic by products- it is highly recyclable and can used in other products.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA): Used as the cushioning for the sole. Emissions to air, water and intense energy consumption are the main environmental impacts associated with the production.
Nylon: Derived from hydrocarbons and petrochemicals nylon is unsustainable – the production of which results in nitrous oxide and harmful chemicals, needless to say not great for our planet.

What this says is that choosing natural, organic, and recycled materials is a good way to limited and reduce your environmental impact.

Now unfortunately with my limited access to the materials and manufacturing process for all the big brands, i am unable to definitively state which ones are the most environmentally friendly. They all appear to address the issues of sustainability in some way or another. To be honest, i get the impression that although there are some positive actions taking place i.e Nikes reuse a shoe program which re-uses shoes and turns them into new products, and pumas reduction of the shoe packaging, the majority of these actions are a practice in good PR. There doesn’t seem to be revolutionary changes in their shoe production or material use across the board, rather on specific ‘experimental’ sustainable shoes which gives the impression the brand is sustainable, yet in reality is only assigned to very specific products. It appears that synthetic material use is widespread and wastage relatively high. So when you decide to buy your shoes look at what that shoe is offering, and check the materials used for your shoe. Don’t be convinced by the green credentials of the brand especially if the shoe you are actually buying does not have any of those touted green credentials. If your interested in checking out what the big brands say- have a look:

Nike: http://about.nike.com/pages/sustainability
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New Balance:http://www.newbalance.com/inside-nb-environment.html

Puma:http://about.puma.com/en/sustainability/environment/zero-discharge-of-hazardous-chemicals

Adidas: http://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/products/materials/#/sustainable-better-cotton/pvc-and-phthalates/

What have i decided?

After attempting to find the perfect shoe, i feel i have failed miserably. I expected (or rather hoped) to find this perfect zero impact shoe. There are many shoes out there online that are much better environmental wise than the big brands, that use natural products, and made locally (therefore require less transport), but there is no shoe that i could find that was perfect. Many of the so called eco shoes use leather products (wtf?) so its a case of investigating yourself what each shoe is made of. I guess in the end its up to you what your choose. Me.. well I’ve decided to hold off buying a new pair of shoes, I’m not confident i have enough knowledge to make the choice i want to you.

While searching the web i came across this brand ‘patagonia’ who promote this interesting program as part of their environmental corporate responsibility. They have this program called ‘worn-wear’ which promotes keeping your clothing and shoes longer through making basic repairs and patching your belongings up. Yvon Chouinard from patagonia states:
“This program first asks customers to not buy something if they don’t need it. If they do need it, we ask that they buy what will last a long time – and to repair what breaks, reuse or resell whatever they don’t wear any more. And, finally, recycle whatever’s truly worn out,”. This makes a lot of sense to me. I mean its great to buy products that are environmentally sustainable, but as no product has zero impact, its much more effective to not buy a new product. Why do i need a new pair of shoes when i can mend the ones I’ve got… if i don’t buy a new pair of shoes i dont buy a product thats impacted on the environment, so in a way i guess i found the zero impact shoe, the ones i already have.

Peace and happy shoe shopping.

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