“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

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Doesn’t Boehner look happy?

Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address:

“And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

He talks the talk, now can he walk the walk?

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Overexploitation or just good food?

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Every time I go into the tropics something always amazes me. It could be the incredible size of the trees in the rainforest, the warm & blue waters at the beach, or the roads built into the sides of cliff faces. In the case of Vietnam what amazes me the most is the diversity of food.

A woman selling a variety of seafood products at the fish market

A woman selling a variety of seafood products at the fish market

The Vietnamese seem to utilize just about every plant and animal they can find and every town has a local or regional dish. While I have definitely enjoyed the amount and variety of cheap food, I can’t help but wonder where it all comes from and what it means in terms of the environment.

One of the main research topics in our group is the relationship between food and environmental health. Brian Machovina and Ken Feeley have written a series of articles describing how economic growth in countries like China can put a real strain on the agricultural system and lead to further habitat destruction through the need to expand food production.

Vietnam is no China, but with 90 million people (13th most populous country in the world) there are a lot of mouths to feed. In order to feed all those people you need to use everything you can. When you walk through the local markets you can be really astounded by the variety of animal products available. For example, in a relatively small market in Ho Chi Minh City there are the usual chicken, pork and beef vendors but there are also people selling baskets of fried insects, the infamous roasted dog, mounds of octopus, fresh turtles, bowls of frog legs, coffee made from weasel excrement, even plates with plucked sparrows and pigeons caught just outside of the market.

A roasted dog and unidentified species of reptile for sale in a local market in Ho Chi Minh City

A roasted dog and unidentified species of reptile for sale in a local market in Ho Chi Minh City.

In many of the more rural markets you really begin to see how the environment is utilized for food or personal enjoyment. Honey is always available in a variety of flavors. Local snakes are skinned and grilled for shoppers to enjoy. Forest mammals are often for sale either for food or just to have tied up as a pet and oddity in your house. Native birds are sold as ornaments to keep in a cage outside the front door. The list of native animal products goes on and on.

While I don’t intend to be overly critical of the Vietnamese customs and practices, I can’t help but notice that, like in many developing tropical countries, all the signs point to unplanned and non-sustainable use of the environment. In rural regions there is very little native forest left and forests are cleared to plant crops or graze animals almost everywhere that isn’t too steep. In the fish markets, overharvesting is painfully apparent due to the abundance of juvenile individuals for sale. Even the lack of proper garbage disposal poses a significant threat to the environment because trash clogs most major waterways.

Unidentified mammal skin for sale in rural market

Unidentified mammal skin for sale in rural market

Many people do not have the economic luxury to choose where their food comes from or how it is made. As a person living in a developed country with a reasonably good education, I have no right to judge the Vietnamese people on their daily living practices. Quite the opposite, I should use that education to make informed decisions about my lifestyle choices to ensure that I am living in the most sustainable way possible. So the next time I am at the store and see ‘Product of Vietnam’ on the label, I may do a little investigating first to find out if that product is made in a way that doesn’t overexploit the environment.

Buckets of juvenile and undersized crabs for sale

Buckets of juvenile and undersized crabs for sale

Eat healthier and save the environment

Upwithclimate team member Brian Machovina and his wife Eileen McHale recently gave a TEDx talk at FIU about “their entrepreneurial journey of the discovery of the connections between food, personal and environmental health”. It is a fascinating talk that uses their unique personal experiences as students and as the inventors of Yonanas to help highlight the impacts of global food consumption on conservation.  The overall conclusion of the talk will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Brian or past posts of upwithclimate – eat less meat!

You can watch Brian and Eileen’s talk HERE.