Watching Cowspiracy was very shocking and devastating. One of the major things that I found shocking was that many environmental organizations ignored the fact that animal agriculture was the number contributor to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Cows produce 51% of greenhouse gases- more than the entire transportation section. With a big issue like this you’d think environmental organizations would draw more attention to this since they want to save the environment, right? Unfortunately the opposite happens and they refuse to bring attention to the subject. In fact, environmental organizations depend on memberships to get their funding. A ton of people eat meat and if you start telling people to change their lifestyle and stop eating meat for the sake of our environment they might withdraw their membership and the organizations lose money.

In order to get meat to the table, a lot of grassland is needed. Land is becoming limited because of our growing human population. So forests get cut down and deforestation becomes an issue. Once you have grasslands, you’ll need a lot of water for cows to drink and survive. Raising livestock in the United States in total consumes 32 trillion gallons of water. While the cow is growing at an extremely, unhealthy fast rate they are releasing tons of methane into our atmosphere. A lot goes into the animal agriculture industry and a lot of bad stuff comes out of it.

A devastating scene in the movie was when a backyard duck farmer cut a ducks head off in front of another duck and a little girl. The little girl didn’t even flinch and asked why the duck was still moving. Later on the duck farmer explained what he did was “just something that had to be done”. It was extremely heartbreaking.

Cowspiracy was filled with a lot of good knowledge and made you really think about what other issues are being hidden from consumers. Towards the end of the movie it was really pushing the idea of not eating meat at all and how cutting down meat consumption won’t help. I don’t completely agree with this. I believe that anyone can help make a positive change to our environment. Realistically, every single person will not stop eating meat but if people are aware of what is going on in our country and find out that there are solutions to these issues I think that will start a great domino effect.

Bag It Event

On Wednesday evening I attended “Bag It” presented by the Alliance for Planet Earth. The presentation was about plastic bags and included a panel of speakers as well as a screening of a documentary. The panel included Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, Lia Colabello of 5 Gyres, and Katie Zimmerman of Coastal Conservation League. It was also a zero waste event, meaning all of the food that was served with compostable plates and silverware. Overall, I really enjoyed this event and I feel like I learned a lot from it.

First, the panel spoke about plastic bags and the threat they pose to both our local environment and the planet as a whole. Charleston is particularly sensitive to plastic bags because we live in a coastal environment. When plastic bags get discarded they often end up in the ocean, where they pose a serious threat to wildlife, especially turtles. Folly Beach in particular is home to many loggerhead turtles, so they’re especially concerned with plastic use. I also learned that although plastic doesn’t degrade, it does get broken into smaller and smaller pieces which never disappear and are incredibly hard to clean up, and when in the ocean they attract other chemicals creating a threat for both wildlife and human health. When we eat fish, we may also be ingesting chemicals that the fish had in its system as a result of pollution. A lot of health complications from this bio magnification are still unknown.

A second main point discussed by the panel was policy. Each person on the panel believed that policy was the best way to combat the consequences of plastic pollution. In this past election cycle Folly Beach was the first community in the greater Charleston areas to ban not only plastic bags, but also all Styrofoam containers. This is a huge step forward in protecting our coastline and oceans. Now that Folly Beach has passed this legislation, it will pave the way for places like Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island to take similar steps. However, these policies generally come with a fair amount of opposition, especially from the plastic industry. Some places in the US have passed “preemptive legislation” which essentially makes it impossible to ban plastic bags like Folly Beach recently did. This type of legislation was attempted in Charleston, but fortunately did not pass. I thought the discussion on policy was really informative, and inspiring that places like Charleston are beginning to make real change.

Finally, we watched “Bag it: is your life too plastic”, a documentary about the effects of plastic pollution worldwide. The film followed Jeb Berrier, an average American who attempts to learn more about our dependence on plastics and how it is harming the environment.  Although the documentary was very interesting and informative, I feel the panel was my favorite part of the event. I learned about how plastic impacts me and where I live and how policy can help change that. It was great to hear from real local officials on what we could do to help protect our environment.


By Lea Wright

Five Gyres – Microplastics

This semester I had an amazing opportunity to intern for Five Gyres through the Office of Sustainability. Five Gyres is an organization, founded by Sylvia A. Earle, that researches plastic pollution in our ocean and discovers what solutions are out there to help out our ocean. During my internship, I learned so much about the issues at hand regarding our ocean and aquatic wildlife. I spent a lot of my work focusing on microplastics. Microplastics, or microbeads, are tiny plastic beads that are in our cosmetic and hygienic products. When we wash our face, tiny microbeads are washed down the drain. Water then goes through a water treatment plant where it is ‘cleansed’ before entering the ocean. Since microplastics are so small, a majority of the time the beads slip through the treatment plant and sneak into the ocean. Imagine how many microbeads float in our ocean from the thousands of people who wash their face on a daily basis. When in the ocean, the microbeads act as a sponge, absorbing many toxins and pollutants. These pollutants will either form gyres or float among the ocean. Aquatic wildlife feed on the toxic microbeads and for those who are meat-eaters, researchers are finding that people are ingesting these microplastics as well due to fish consumption.

This was saddening to learn but there are ways to help the ocean and its wildlife. LUSH cosmetics and Native Eyewear are two of many companies that are eco-friendly and aware of the ocean-polluting issue. All of LUSH’s products are animal-free tested, made naturally by hand, and does not contain microbeads. 80% of their products are vegan and their products have an expiration date because of the natural preservatives it contains. Native Eyewear is a cosmetic company that sells makeup made without any microplastics. So when someone goes to wash off his or her makeup, the makeup being washed down the drain is not harmful to the environment.

Soon, companies that do or do not contain microbeads in their products will no longer have the luxury option of choosing. A microbead ban is projected to go in action in January 2017. This ban will permit cosmetic and hygienic companies from making their products with microbeads.

Along with microbeads, I also did work with microfibers. Microfibers are tiny fibers that fall from clothing in washing machines. Just like microbeads, microfibers are too small to be caught in water treatment plants and they escape into the ocean. Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear is one of few companies that is trying to shift consumers to clothing without microfibers.

Working with Five Gyres was incredibly interesting and I have already made the switch to microplastic-free products. My toothpaste, cleanser, shampoo, lotion, and many more products all come from companies that promote a microplastic free lifestyle. It wasn’t a hard switch at all, especially after learning about the harmful effects that our cosmetic and hygienic products could have on our environment. If you visit Five Gyres website, they provide information on harmful plastic that are in people’s daily lives and solution to these issues.

Cowspiracy Documentary

I attended the screening of the documentary Cowspiracy. A month or two prior one of my friends told me she was considering becoming a vegan. She has been a vegetarian for over a year for environmental and health reasons, but after watching Cowspiracy she realized cutting out only meat wasn’t enough. To be honest I thought she was a little crazy. I’ve mostly been a vegetarian for the past few months, but to cut out cheese? And eggs? What about milk and yogurt? How can someone survive without such key parts of our diet? These questions ran through my head while talking to her. However after watching Cowspiracy for myself I can see what inspired my friend to make the change.

Cowspiracy is a documentary made by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Anderson. The film begins when Anderson discovers that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all transportation admissions combined. Not to mention the meat and dairy industries combined use nearly ⅓ of all fresh water in the world today. Anderson found this information from an article posted by the United Nations, but wondered why the big environmental agencies like Greenpeace and the Sierra Nevada Club were silent on the matter. The documentary follows Anderson as he searches to uncover the truth. I was surprised by all of the governmental and environmental agencies reluctant to admit the impact of agriculture farming on the environment. The deeper Anderson dug the more shocking it was. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. So why would environmental organizations not be speaking out about it? Or willing to admit it in an interview?  One possibility is that by telling people that the only way to save the planet is to stop eating meat and cheese, they may lose support and members.

At one point in the film Anderson met a farmer who raises about 30 ducks in his backyard. In the film he picks two ducks and beheads them on camera. It was almost unbearable to watch as the duck squirmed helplessly as his neck was hacked apart. Almost even as horrible to watch was the body still squirming after the head was detached. Behind the farmer a man held the other duck who watched his soon to be fate. After this scene Anderson is very shaken up and he states that if he cannot kill an animal for food he cannot justify another person doing it for him. This idea has been something I have been thinking about for a while. Pigs are very intelligent animals and act almost like dogs do. Mama cows cry when their babies are taken away from them. These animals may not have the same level of consciousness as humans, but they still have a sense of community for one another. I could never harm one of these creatures, but by eating them am I not still the cause of their death? It has become something I can no longer justify.

I thought not eating meat was enough. But watching Cowspiracy I don’t think it is. Two days after a calf is born they are taken from their mother and given a new home in a space hardly bigger than they are. The film footage showed lumps all over the stomachs of cows as they were shuffled from their small enclosures into the area where they would be milked. Chickens are fed so many hormones that their bodies grow bigger than their legs can support. Chickens raised in the industry can barely walk more than one or two steps. To take away an animals ability to walk is not right. 

Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher, was interviewed and he had some very bold statements. He
said that if you are not a vegan than you are not an environmentalist. While this seems really harsh the facts show that the number one way to lower our impact on the environment is to cut out meat and dairy products completely. Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life. Each day we have the opportunity to make a real difference, it comes down to whether we care enough about our environment to do so.