Eco-Activism: The Issues We Can No Longer Ignore
The ice caps are melting, temperatures are rising, natural disasters are imminent, another ecosystem has been destroyed. You’ve heard it all before. The shocking statistics, the bold headlines and the seeming lack of resolve and responses from global politics, to truly make a unified and lasting change to the way in which we collectively treat our one and only home- our supposed forever home.
But what are the less discussed issues that face both our natural worlds, but also society as a whole? These issues feed into the wider problems we face as part of global warming, water shortages, the destruction of ecosystems and of course the socio-political-economic impact of eco-migration. These are the issues that are shocking in their own way, but are not receiving the front-page coverage that other environmental issues may or may not also receive. With more pressing issues within UK, European and US media, it seems apparent that a lot of other issues including climate change and environmental policy are forced into a backseat position on the global stage.
Individuals, communities, and not-for-profit organisations are however taking a stand. Eco-Activism is a term that refers to these mostly unsung heroes who are making a commotion, spreading the word and standing up for mother nature in all her glories.
“Just like any other form of activism, eco-activism is simply a form of engagement in social and/ or political campaigns with the aim of preventing damage to the environment” (WECF, 2018).
So, without further ado what are the deeper issues that these campaigners are bringing to light, and how do these issues feed into the already exacerbated environmental issues that we, and future generations will begin to pay for?
Food Wastage: Where Did All the Food Go?
Globally, we produce enough food to feed the world population a few times over. FACT. So then, you may ask, why are there 795 million people across the world who do not have enough food to lead a healthy active lifestyle? Why in developing countries is 12.9% of the population undernourished and underfed? Where did all the good go?! The simple answer to this- the bin. My bin, your bin, Frank down the road’s bin, bins in our hospitals, in our supermarkets, but most importantly in our factories. We are all part of the chain of consumers and wasters. Admittedly, we are a smaller part of the picture than many people first realise. Supermarkets and manufacturers make up two-thirds of food waste rates in the UK, however by asserting pressure on these organisations, and by actively reducing our food waste we can work towards improving these stats.
The solution is not resolvable by sending over food from our cupboards to these populations, which would in itself increase food air miles and result in poorer quality, perishable items being sent to those who need it most. Instead, if land in these countries was reclaimed for subsistence uses, for the population that lives in these countries, then these citizens would be allowed to benefit from these resources. The previous head of the FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) calls this issue a new type of ‘neo-colonialism’ in which the poorer nations produce food for the rich at the expense of their own people (Waste, 2009, p. 87). If we reduce food waste in our own society with individual and UK-wide industrial action, the land used for this excess food which is going to waste, could be tied to those who actually need its produce.
Obviously, this is a solution which has its own faults too, with countries relying on the economic benefits of having as much sellable produce for export as possible, with little attention to its own citizens. However, with greater changes, and realistic predictions of what the western world actually requires, changes can begin to be made to even out the spread of fresh produce internationally.
The Livestock Problem: What a Load of Hot Air
“Animal agriculture produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide, a gas with a global warning potential 296 times greater than CO2 per pound. Yet all we hear about is fossil fuels” (Cowspiracy, 2014).
Emissions from CO2 are predicted to raise by 20% in the next few decades, whereas emissions from agriculture is predicted to be closer to an 80% increase. Our appetite for meat is driving livestock rates up considerably, which is further fuelling the increase in global nitrous oxide levels as a result.
Furthermore, another consideration is the amount of water used in the livestock industry which is shockingly high, completely outweighing domestic use by 1000%, with domestic use accounting for 5% and animal agriculture accounting for 55% of global water use. For every 1Ib of beef sold, 2,500 gallons of water is required throughout the entire livestock production process. That is, essentially, for every 4 burgers consumed enough water for 145 showers (lasting around 10 minutes each).
Another perspective to consider, when discussing environmental campaigning for water usage levels is that of fracking. Fracking has been highlighted as a huge waster of water, yet in the US fracking uses around 100 billion gallons of water compared to 34 trillion gallons for animal agriculture. This is an increase of water use by 3400%.
Fracking receives huge amounts of media attention due to the water usage levels required during the process of retrieving gas. This is completely understandable, with media attention also focusing on the environmental impact of fracking, in addition with the diversion of investment away from renewable sources. However, this does not explain why there is a lack of mainstream media discussion on water use in the meat industry. With levels this high, it seems as though there really is an elephant in the room on environmental discussions portrayed by media outlets. This is an issue that will not be going away in a hurry, and can only gain prominence in years to come.
As a meat eater myself, I am hardly suggesting that everyone should immediately cut all meat out from their diet. Instead, as individuals and groups we need to feed this issue into the food wastage crisis discussed above. How much meat are we throwing away on a weekly basis, meat that has been reared, raised and processed for our enjoyment, with farmers increasing livestock numbers to satiate us, and to fill supermarket quotas.
An alternative that is gaining much popularity both in the UK and internationally is the flexitarian diet, which endorses a type of semi-vegetarianism in which individuals have a mostly plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat. Alternatives to meat such as Quorn, The Tofoo Co, Cauldron Foods, and Gardein are expanding into one of the newest, and most competitive grocery markets, with new own brand ranges and products being developed every day. This is allowing vast swathes of the population to supplement their diets with these alternatives, which can provide a healthier and more sustainable approach to consumption.
These are solutions which certainly do not provide a quick fix. Instead, this is the time to consider how we are all consuming goods, meat and otherwise, and take stock of our roles in the global food market. What we buy influences the supermarket quotas, which in turn influences the production levels of livestock farmers. With less meat and food wastage, and with much more flexible diets we can decrease both livestock levels and our waistlines.
Plastic Pollution: An Encore
Progress has been immense in the past 12 months for plastic reduction, with the campaign truly starting with the carrier bag tax introduced in October 2015. Further levies are due to come into effect January 2020 for carrier bag charges, and there is already a great number of businesses who are striving to reduce plastic usage, or even become entirely plastic free. The rise of plastic-free supermarkets is a refreshing approach to this issue, and truly shows a commitment to the cause and the future of our planet.
Regardless of these great strides forward, this title has been misleading. The plastic pollution problem is by no means an encore, instead it is a great leap into future of what a plastic-free world could look like. Further technological advances need to be made as the modern world is so heavily reliant on this material in all its forms, but the ball is rolling, gaining momentum and highlighting issues as it goes, with governments and organisations finally taking notice of their impact on our ecosystems.
To truly continue to move things forward, both organisations and consumers need to commit to eliminating single-use plastics. It is unfeasible to completely eliminate plastic production, as in the modern age we rely on plastic so heavily. Nonetheless, a great leap in this direction has already begun starting with carrier bags and straws. Coffee cups and water bottles are proving to be a harder challenge to combat, as both consumers and companies are unwilling to fully eliminate their use in our daily lives.
However, companies such as Carlsberg, Boston Tea Party, Waitrose, and JD Wetherspoons are all making small changes that are paving the way for others in the industry to also make advances. By replacing plastic in beer six-pack rings with adhesive on cans, eliminating the use of plastic coffee cups and replacing all plastic straws with paper ones, these companies are pioneers in reducing single-use plastic, showing a first attempt to further the cause. This does not completely remove them from scrutiny however, as each company still has areas of plastic usage that need to be worked on in the future.
Individuals such as you and I can begin to make small changes in our own lives to help reduce the manufacture of single-use plastics. Reusable cups and travel mugs are aplenty, with most coffee shop providers and supermarkets stocking this innovative product. Many also contain fun and fresh designs that really can reflect the personality of the owner too! Additionally, by committing to not purchasing toothpastes and scrubs that contain plastic microbeads, as well as not buying straws, cotton buds, plastic carrier bags can really make a difference.
Considering not buying plastics that have a short life span is also a further step in the right direction, and is naturally the next step in the plastic-elimination chain. Products such as disposable razors, plastic household cleaning product bottles, and hair care bottles all contribute to the global plastic problem. Longer lasting alternatives are available and eco-friendly packing, or lack of packaging, can be a simple day-to-day solution for all of us.
Final Remarks- Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Reclaim
Being an Eco-Activist does not require hours upon hours of campaigning or even drastic life changes. Instead, the focus is on the smaller choices that individuals make each day. Whether to have a meat reduced diet, perhaps giving up meat on one or two meals a week, or even sharing the message through social media, there is so much that can be done to really make a difference. Reusing and recycling plastic where possible is also key, avoiding single-use plastics in favour of long-term products. Lastly, keeping a closer eye on the food that you buy, only buying what is necessary and what will be used. Freezing is a hugely beneficial technique that many already use to reduce food waste. Simply freezing leftovers can really make a huge difference when it comes to food wastage, but it is also surprising the amount of produce that can be frozen- everything from cheese to chives, and mash to mangoes.
By no means am I an expert on the above, as someone who has only recently begun to explore the issues discussed. However, by beginning to study these subjects it becomes easier to see how everything is tied together, by starting to fix the cycle we can work towards fixing the entire problem. For the real data from the experts I have included a reading and watching list, if you wish to further explore any of the above topics!
Waste: Uncovering The Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart
Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine
How to Give Up Plastic: A Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time by Will McCallum
Recommended Watching (all on Netflix):
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
The True Cost
A Plastic Ocean