Tag Archives: planet

Great Barrier Reef sees record coral deaths this year

Warming oceans this year have caused the largest die-off of corals ever recorded on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, scientists said this week.

The worst-affected area is a 700-kilometer (400-mile) swath in the north of the World Heritage-listed 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) chain of reefs off Australia’s northeast coast, said the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The center, based at James Cook University in Queensland state, found during dive surveys in October and November that the swath north of Port Douglas had lost an average of 67 percent of its shallow-water corals in the past nine months.

Farther south, over the vast central and southern regions that cover most of the reef, scientists found a much lower death toll.

The central region lost 6 percent of bleached coral and the southern region only 1 percent.

“The mortality we’ve measured along the length of the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly patchy,” the center’s director, Terry Hughes, told reporters. “There’s very severe damage in the northern section of the reef.”

“The good news is that south of Port Douglas, including the major tourist areas around Cairns and the Whitsundays (Whitsunday Islands), have had relatively low levels of mortality,” he added.

The governments of Australia and Queensland will update the UNESCO World Heritage Center this week on progress being made to protect and improve the reef, including their response to coral bleaching.

Providing a status update to the World Heritage Committee was required as part of its decision in June last year not to list the reef as “in danger.”

Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said Tuesday that the reef’s coral cover had increased by 19 percent in recent years before it suffered a “significant bleaching event” this year, caused by the El Nino weather effect and climate change.

“What that shows is that the Great Barrier Reef is very resilient and quite strong,” Frydenberg’s office said in a statement.

The governments plan to spend 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.5 billion) over the next decade on improving the reef’s health.

Hughes said the coral death rates in the north would likely make the task of keeping the reef off the “in danger” list much harder.

“In its ongoing dialogue with UNESCO, Australia has said the outstanding universal values of reef are in tact because of the pristine condition of the northern reef. That’s simply no longer the case,” Hughes said.

Researcher Andrew Baird said the 2016 coral die-off was “substantially worse” than the previous worst-ever event in 1998.

“The proportion of reefs that were severely affected was much, much higher,” Baird said, adding that he did not have precise figures immediately available.

The 1998 event was restricted to in-shore reefs around the Queensland coastal city of Townsville, while the 2016 destruction affected a much larger area, he said.

Scientists expect that the northern region will take at least 10 to 15 years to regain the lost corals. They are concerned that another bleaching event could interrupt that recovery.

There have been three extreme mass bleaching events in 18 years on the reef. In each case, the areas that suffered the worst bleaching were where the water was hottest for the longest period of time.

Reef tourism operator Craig Stephen did not expect the dead coral would diminish visitors’ experience of one of Australia’s biggest tourist drawcards.

“The patchiness of the bleaching means that we can still provide our customers with a world-class coral reef experience by taking them to reefs that are still in top condition,” Stephen said in a statement.

Graeme Kelleher, who headed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for 16 years, said last week that Australians must not buy the “political lie” that they can have the reef as well as major coal mines nearby.

“We’ve lost 50 percent of the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef in the last 30 years and the main cause of that is the burning of fossil fuel. I sincerely hope UNESCO rejects the claim that the government is doing enough,” Kelleher said.

Global agreement to tackle climate change takes effect Nov. 4

A new global agreement to tackle climate change will take effect on Nov. 4 after the accord crossed an important threshold for support late on Wednesday.

European nations, Canada, Bolivia and Nepal boosted official backing for the 2015 Paris Agreement to countries representing more than 55 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions, as needed for implementation.

By Thursday, 74 countries or parties to the U.N. climate change convention had formally joined the Paris Agreement, adding up to nearly 60 percent of global emissions, a U.N. website showed.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Wednesday “a historic day in the fight to protect our planet for future generations”.

“If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet,” he said.

Work will start at U.N. climate talks in Morocco next month to hammer out the rules for putting the accord into practice.

Here is a selection of comments on the agreement’s entry into force from top officials and climate change experts:

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State:

“Today it is crystal clear that we have finally woken up. We have learned from the false starts of the past, and we are now – finally – on the path to protecting the future for our children, our grandchildren and generations to come.”

Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary-General:

“Now we must move from words to deeds and put Paris into action. We need all hands on deck – every part of society must be mobilized to reduce emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable climate impacts.”

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):

“Entry into force bodes well for the urgent, accelerated implementation of climate action that is now needed to realize a better, more secure world and to support also the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Mohamed Adow, senior climate advisor, Christian Aid:

“The speed at which the Paris Agreement has come into force has been remarkable. But we now need to see tangible actions to follow just as quickly. As Hurricane Matthew leaves destruction across the Caribbean, we’re reminded that our climate continues to undergo rapid change and we are continuing to pollute it.”

Wolfgang Jamann, CEO and secretary general, CARE International:

To see the benefits of the Paris Agreement, “we need to keep the momentum, and quickly step up actions to cut emissions by shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Governments need to rapidly improve the climate resilience of their most vulnerable and marginalized populations especially women and girls. Otherwise the agreement will be an empty shell, and the consequences will continue to be devastating for millions around the world.”

Heather Coleman, climate change manager, Oxfam America:

“While countries have all pledged to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the collective commitments made are still not enough to prevent dangerous climate change. Countries need to implement and scale up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a clean, resilient economy.

Oxfam estimates that the communities most vulnerable to feeling the effects of climate change are only receiving a fraction of the money that rich countries pledged to adaptation.”

Jennifer Morgan, executive director, Greenpeace International:

“Now that a truly global binding climate agreement is in place, governments should have the confidence to not only meet but also beat their national targets and provide support to the poorest countries.”

Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute:

“With the agreement in full force, countries can shift their focus from commitment to action.

We must create more livable, low-carbon cities and expand the supply of land and forests for carbon storage. We must slash food loss and waste, a major source of emissions and a travesty for people who lack enough food. And, we must continue to work at all levels – global, national, cities and communities – to build the political will for this transformation.”

May Boeve, executive director, 350.org:

“The entry (into force) of the Paris climate agreement represents a turning point in the fight against climate change: the era of fossil fuels is finally coming to an end. Now the real work begins. The only way to meet the 1.5 or 2°C target (for global temperature rise) is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The fossil fuel industry’s current ‘drill and burn’ business plan is completely incompatible with this agreement.”

Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer, IKEA Group:

“The Paris agreement represents a turning point for business. The certainty of ever-stronger policies to reduce emissions creates clarity and unlocks opportunities for developing products, services and operations for a low-carbon economy. We are only at the beginning, but the pace at which countries have been ratifying the agreement shows that the policy leadership is there to achieve real change. Now we need to work together for a rapid transition to a future built on clean, renewable energy.”

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Genetic ‘extinction’ technology raises concerns at World Conservation Congress

As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are raising awareness about the potentially dangerous use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to deliberately cause targeted species to become extinct.

Members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, including NGOs, government representatives and scientific and academic institutions, overwhelmingly voted to adopt a de facto moratorium on supporting or endorsing research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes until the IUCN has fully assessed their impacts.

Yet, scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation.

Announced this week, a long list of environmental leaders — including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman — have lent their support to the open letter: “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.”

The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, president of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility. “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s Congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives.

One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them.

Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds.

The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aim to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” said Dr. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“Genetic extinction technologies are a false and dangerous solution to the problem of biodiversity loss,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “There are real, sustainable, community-based conservation efforts that should be supported. We are concerned that genetic extinction technologies will allow new destructive agricultural practices and even use by the military. Speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen. We support those in the IUCN who recognize the gravity of irreversible and irresponsible technologies such as gene drives.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Pope calls for new work of mercy: Care for environment

Pope Francis on Thursday proposed that caring for the environment be added to the traditional seven works of mercy that Christians are called to perform, taking his green agenda to a new level by supplementing Jesus’ Gospel call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.

Francis made the ambitious proposal in a message to mark the church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which he instituted last year in a bid to highlight his ecological concerns.

Officials said the call was the logical extension of Francis’ landmark and controversial ecological encyclical issued last year. In it, the world’s first Latin American pope called for a revolution to correct what he said was a “structurally perverse” economic system in which the rich exploited the poor and turned the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”

This year, the Sept. 1 day of prayer for the planet falls during Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy, a yearlong focus on the church’s merciful side. During the event, the faithful have been urged to practice the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy, which were first outlined in the Gospel and articulated over centuries by philosophers and theologians.

In addition to feeding the hungry, they include counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant and praying to God for the living and dead.

In the message, Francis said the faithful should use the holy year to ask forgiveness for the “sins” against the environment that have been committed by the “irresponsible, selfish” and profit-at-all-cost economic and political system.

“Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short-term and immediate financial or electoral gains,” he wrote. “Instead, they urgently need to be redirected to the common good, which includes sustainability and care for creation.”

He called for all of humanity to take concrete steps to change course, starting with repaying what he called the “ecological debt” that wealthy countries owe the poor. Recycling, turning off the lights and car-pooling can all help, he said.

“Repaying (the debt) would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development,” he wrote.

Finally, he proposed that caring for the environment be added as a “complement” to the seven spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

“This message is the next logical step after (the encyclical), for it is showing us how to internalize its teaching in our lives and in our world,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, who helped draft the original encyclical and is Francis’ point-man on all environmental matters.

 

UN: 2016 on track to be hottest year on record

The first six months of this year have continued to shatter global heat records, putting 2016 on track to be the Earth’s hottest year on record, the World Meteorological Organization said this week.

The United Nations-linked body said in a report that June 2016 was the 14th consecutive month of record heat around the planet and the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th Century average.

The organization said that global warming causing carbon dioxide concentrations, so far this year, have surpassed the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million in the atmosphere.

“Another month, another record. And another. And another. Decades-long trends of climate change are reaching new climaxes, fuelled by the strong 2015/2016 El Nino,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“This underlines more starkly than ever the need to approve and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

The report found that heat has resulted in very early onset of seasonal melting of major ice sheets with Arctic Sea ice now covering about 40 percent less area during the summer melt season than it did in the 1970s.

The heat conditions played havoc with weather conditions with many regions including the United States experiencing drier than normal conditions, while China, central Europe and much of Australia experienced wetter than usual weather.

The increased heat also resulted in widespread bleaching of coral reefs around world, threatening marine ecosystems, the report said.

According to NASA figures cited in the report, the first half of 2016 was on average 2.4 degrees (1.3 C) warmer than in the late 19th Century, prior to industrialization.

On Wednesday, Segolene Royal, who headed the global climate negotiations, said she wants nations to ratify the Paris climate agreement by the time parties to the global climate talks meet again in Morocco in early November.

The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries have ratified it, so far only 19 have done so.

Earth’s heat streak continues for a record 11 months

Earth’s record monthly heat streak has hit 11 months in a row — a record in itself.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week that March’s average global temperature of 54.9 degrees (12.7 degrees Celsius) was not only the hottest March, but continues a record streak that started last May.

According to NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden, the 11 heat records in a row smashes a streak of 10 set in 1944. Climate scientists say this is a result of El Nino, along with relentless, man-made global warming.

Blunden and Michael Mann at Penn State University worry that people will be desensitized to the drumbeat of broken records and will not realize the real effect they have on weather — for example, massive changes in what is supposed to be winter in the Arctic. Greenland had a record early start for its ice sheet melting. The Arctic had its smallest winter maximum for sea ice and it was the second smallest March snow cover for the Northern Hemisphere.

“It’s becoming monotonous in a way,” said Jason Furtado, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s absolutely disturbing … We’re losing critical elements of our climate system.”

March was 2.2 degrees (1.2 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th-century average. That’s a record amount above average for any month, breaking the mark set only the month before. Africa and the Indian Ocean were especially warm, Blunden said.

The first three months of the year were 2.07 degrees warmer than normal (1.15 degrees Celsius) and half a degree (0.28 degrees Celsius) warmer than the previous record start, set last year.

Beyond NOAA, NASA, the Japanese weather agency and satellite tracking measurements have reported that March was a record hot month. Blunden said there’s a good chance April will mark a solid year of records. Eventually, she said, the record setting streak will come to an end as the El Nino dissipates.

El Nino, a warming of parts of the Pacific which changes weather worldwide, tends to push global temperatures up. La Nina, its cooling flip side, is forecast for later this year.

For NOAA, this is the 37th time monthly heat records have been broken since the year 2000, but it has been more than 99 years since the last time a global cold record has been set.

NOAA records go back to 1880.

On the Web

NOAA: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/summary-info/global/201603

The Paris climate deal at a glance

Four months after negotiating a global climate agreement in Paris, government officials were assembling in New York on April 22 to sign the pact in a ceremony at the United Nations.

Here are some of the key elements of the Paris deal, which is the first agreement requiring all countries to join the fight against global warming.

TEMPERATURE GOAL

The objective of the agreement is to keep the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. At that level, scientists believe the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. The agreement also includes an aspirational goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Temperatures have already risen by almost 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) since the industrial revolution.

INDIVIDUAL TARGETS

Countries are required to set national targets for reducing or reining in their greenhouse gas emissions. Those targets aren’t legally binding, but countries must report on their progress and update their targets every five years. The first cycle begins in 2020. Only developed countries are expected to slash their emissions in absolute terms. Developing nations are “encouraged” to do so as their capabilities evolve over time.

TRANSPARENCY

There is no penalty if countries miss their emissions targets. Instead, the agreement relies on transparency rules to motivate countries to fulfill their pledges. All countries must report on their efforts to reduce their emissions. But some “flexibility” is allowed for developing countries that need it, which was a key demand from China.

MONEY

The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn’t require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the agreement itself, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020.

LOSS AND DAMAGE

In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing “loss and damage” associated with climate-related disasters. The U.S. long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage caused by extreme weather events. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote specifically stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.

WITHDRAWAL

The agreement will enter into force 30 days after 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have completed the ratification process. It’s possible to withdraw from the treaty, but not in the first three years after it enters into force. There’s also a one-year notice period, so the earliest a country could drop out is four years after the agreement has come into effect.

 

Record 155 countries to sign climate agreement

A record 155 countries will sign the landmark agreement to tackle climate change at a ceremony at U.N. headquarters on April 22.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said that five countries — Barbados, Belize, Tuvalu, Maldives and Samoa — will not only sign the agreement reached in Paris in December but deliver their ratification.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French President Francois Hollande and French Environment Minister Segolene Royal, who is in charge of global climate negotiations, have invited leaders from all 193 U.N. member states to the event. The U.N. says more than 60 heads of state and government plan to attend.

The current record of 119 signatures on the opening day for signing an international agreement is held by the Law of the Sea treaty in 1994.

The Paris agreement will take effect 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the secretary-general.

The list of countries planning to sign the Paris agreement includes the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming: China, United States, Japan, India, Brazil, Australia and many European Union countries including Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

The agreement sets a collective goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It requires all countries to submit plans for climate action and to update them every five years, though such plans are not legally binding.

Secretary-General Ban has stressed that the signing ceremony is just a first step in accelerating efforts to tackle climate change.

On the Web

Test your knowledge of the Paris agreement.

 

Group to observe Earth Day by giving away condoms

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to celebrate Earth Day by asking people to think about saving the planet through safe sex — and giving out condoms.

The center is distributing 25,000 free Endangered Species Condoms nationwide for Earth Day to highlight the connection between reproductive rights and the wildlife extinction crisis, according to a news release.

The condoms will be given away by 300 volunteers at Earth Day events, rallies and on college campuses.

From CBD: With human population continuing to grow at a rate of about 227,000 people per day, driving habitat loss and competition for natural resources, ensuring that people only have children if and when they’re ready is a critical part of protecting wildlife. But the United States has the highest fertility rate of any industrialized nation, and nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended.

“The real heart of the issue is that Americans, women especially, don’t have access to contraception or family planning tools they want or need to make decisions about their reproductive futures. While the rate of unintended pregnancy has recently dropped in the United States, it’s still incredibly high,” said Leigh Moyer, the center’s population organizer. “Right now it seems like lawmakers are doing everything they can to restrict reproductive healthcare. If we want to have healthy human — and wildlife — families we need to protect and expand access to reproductive healthcare for everyone.”

The United States scored a D+ overall on reproductive rights, according to the Population Institute’s 2015 Reproductive Health and Rights Report Card.

That’s down from a C last year, due to an “extremely hostile” atmosphere around reproductive health and rights, a teen pregnancy rate higher than any other developed country and a wave of funding cuts and restrictive policies.

The center’s Endangered Species Condoms were created to raise awareness about the effect of human population growth on wildlife species and are wrapped in colorful packages featuring six different endangered species and information about the impact of runaway human population growth on polar bears, monarch butterflies and other imperiled wildlife.

The center has given away 650,000 of the free condoms since 2009.

The center is also launching a new video series on YouTube and Facebook where staff have frank discussions about how most environmental catastrophes, including the extinction crisis, are driven by human population growth and overconsumption.

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to celebrate Earth Day by asking people to think about saving the planet through safe sex — and giving out condoms. — PHOTO: designed by Lori Lieber with artwork by Shawn DiCriscio. © 2015
The Center for Biological Diversity plans to celebrate Earth Day by asking people to think about saving the planet through safe sex — and giving out condoms. — PHOTO: Designed by Lori Lieber with artwork by Shawn DiCriscio.

To veg out is in: Activists organize Milwaukee Veg Expo

The moment for Pete Woodward of Milwaukee came when he read the bumper sticker, “Eat plants for the planet.” Something clicked, said the 29-year-old mechanic, and he began the cycle to following a vegetarian diet.

For Molly Risser of Madison, the commitment came after an afternoon in a dog park.

The 34-year-old office assistant recalled, “A friend was trying to get me to go vegetarian and she said, ‘Just imagine those people are chickens instead of dogs.’ I did. I know it sounds absurd, but your mind bends when you picture people playing in the park with a bunch of chickens.”

Both relatively new converts to the vegetarian lifestyle, Woodward and Risser are looking forward to a new event on Milwaukee’s calendar — the Veg Expo, which takes place at Hart Park in Wauwatosa 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 7.

An announcement for the event invited people to “come veg with us!” and by that the organizers mean come learn from experts about the varied benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle for animals, people and the planet.

Behind the expo

A primary organization behind the expo is Citizens United for Animals or CUFA, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting, defending and respecting “the inherent rights of all nonhuman animals to live lives free from suffering, abuse and exploitation.”

Members of the organizing committee also represent other groups, including the Madison-based Alliance for Animals and the Environment.

Those who attend the expo can expect to learn about animal cruelty, including abuses in the factory farming of animals. Attendees also will learn about animal rescue campaigns and efforts to re-home dogs and cats and other animals in southeastern Wisconsin.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.19.05 AM

Tim Swartz, a volunteer with the Alliance for Animals and the Environment and member of the expo organizing committee, became involved in promoting veg culture about a year ago after reading The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, a book by Wayne Pacelle, the president of The Humane Society of the United States.

“It was my first exposure to just the problem of factory farming, to how animals are treated on factory farms,” Swartz said. “I was appalled.”

Swartz knew he wanted to make personal changes in his life: “That caused me to decide that I didn’t want to support what was going on any more and to pursue a vegan diet. … It took me a little time to fully get there.”

He also knew he wanted to get involved in a greater cause. “I wanted to make an effort to educate other people,” he said. “And when I learned about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, well, that compelled me even more.”

Consider these environmental benefits of a plant-based diet versus the impact of animal agriculture:

  • A plant-based diet free of meat, dairy and eggs can save more carbon emissions than driving a Toyota Prius — about 50 percent more, according to ChooseVeg.com and Mercy for Animals.
  • Raising animals for food uses about 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass.
  • About 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States is used to feed farmed animals.
  • About 80 percent of the land deforested in the Amazon is used to pasture cattle.
  • To produce a pound of animal protein compared with a pound of soy protein, it takes 12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuel and 15 times as much water.

The expo, first and foremost, is an educational forum.

The lineup of speakers includes:

  • Robert Grillo of Free From Harm. He’s at work on a book about how pop culture uses a variety of fictions to influence our food choices.
  • Carol D’Anca of Food Not Meds. She’s a nutritionist and author of “Food not Meds.”
  • Dr. Kevin Fullin, chief of staff of the United Hospital System in Kenosha. He’s given more than 100 talks on plant-based nutrition and is chef who specializes in plant-based cooking.
  • Anne Temple of Moms Across America. She’s led the March Against Monsanto in Milwaukee and also lobbied Congress for food-labeling legislation.
  • Dr. Terry Mason of the Cook County Department of Public Health in Illinois. He was featured in the film Forks over Knives and has delivered many presentations on health and nutrition.

At the expo

Swartz hopes those who attend will listen to the experts, browse a marketplace, meet advocates and activists and sample vegan dishes served by restaurant vendors.

“Lots of education is going to be going on,” he said. “That’s our main goal. For one thing, people should know there are delicious vegan foods that are out there and you don’t have to sacrifice enjoyment and taste. We’re really focusing on the food.”

“It’s just going to be great to network with the people who are there,” said Rachel Golusinski of Milwaukee, an expo organizer and CUFA member who switched to a vegan diet about six years ago — just before Thanksgiving. “There are great opportunities.”

Woodward said he plans to attend the expo with a consumer’s eye. “I am vegetarian. I don’t need convincing. I’m cool with that and a lot healthier. What I want to know about is the best vegetarian restaurants and food.”

Risser said she wants to connect with activists. Notice of participation by PETA and Mercy for Animals caught her attention.

“I really, really respect what they do,” said Risser. “But I’ve never meant anyone with the groups. So I’m like really looking forward to talking with people and finding out how I can help.”

Risser said she’s eager to get more involved in a veg community.

“This is a true story. My mom had an easier time when I came out as gay than when I told her I was vegetarian. And then vegan,” Risser said. “So I hope to meet some people, making make some friends. Maybe I’ll even bring my mom — or not.”

Organizers hope to see 1,000 people attend the expo.

“It’s not meant to be a fundraiser,” said Swartz. “It’s a free event. We’re really just investing and educating the city about environmental, ethical and health issues.”

Golusinski said organizers also are looking to the 2017 expo.

“We already have so many things planned for next year,” she said of event, observing that most weekends there’s a veg fest taking place somewhere in the United States.

Golusinski attended five such events since becoming a vegan, a conversion that came after viewing a video about the factory farming of animals.

“I just said, ‘I’m not going to pay people to do this anymore,” Golusinski remembered.

She recalled a slight learning curve, especially when selecting a restaurant to dine out. Events such as Veg Expo take out the curve.

SAVE THE DATES

Milwaukee’s first Veg Expo takes place 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on May 7 in Hart Park, 7300 W. Chestnut St., Wauwatosa. There is no cost to attend the event, though some vendors will be selling food and beverages. For more, go to mkevegexpo.com.

Also of interest:

• World Day for Laboratory Animals, April 23. In Dane County, activists will gather at
1 p.m. at Hawthorne Library and carpool to a protest site.

• Mad City Vegan Fest, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. on June 18,
Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall. The festival features vendors offering vegan food, as well as information about the vegetarian lifestyle, animal welfare, animal rescue and more.

PRODUCE PATCH

The Dane County Farmers’ Market, a Madison tradition since 1972 and the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States, opened its outdoor season April 16 and continues on Saturdays at the Capitol Square into early November.

The county’s Wednesday Market, located in the 200 block of MLK Jr. Boulevard between the Capitol and Monona Terrace, opened April 20.

Both markets take place rain or shine.

For more, go to dcfm.org.

— Lisa Neff