But though their civil disobedience might seem mainstream within the climate movement, the blockaders are taking some seriously big risks out there, and a new documentary shows just how big. The nearly hour-long film by Garrett Graham was produced in collaboration with the blockaders and includes footage they shot themselves, from some places where journalists might fear to tread lest, you know, pepper-spray, choke-holds, etc.
The piece, adapted from Michael Moss' forthcoming book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is well worth devouring. In it, Moss tracks the development of consumer-friendly products such as Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper and Lunchables from research and development in the late '80s to the obesity epidemic of our modern times. Moss writes:
So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
Does it surprise you that food giants Kraft, Pepsi, and General Mills use extensive research-and-development processes designed to find a consumer's ideal "bliss point"? Does it surprise you that said "bliss point" is a combination of way more sugar, salt, and fat than any of us would load up on a plate otherwise? Does it surprise you that this makes those corporate food giants a huge ton of cash?
None of these things surprised me. Moss' piece is scary, and these corporations' tactics are extraordinary, but they seem right in line with the marketing ploys that have shaped our well-padded American lives for the last three decades. What did surprise me was the story of Jeffrey Dunn.
Farmers markets sometimes get a bad rap for catering to the moneyed set, as though only the well-to-do like to buy their produce in a pleasant, social, outdoor environment, direct from the source.
It turns out that's all a bunch of compost. Low-income shoppers are actually the real farmers-market power users, buying bigger shares of their groceries at the markets than at other stores compared to middle- and high-income shoppers, according to a new report from the Project for Public Spaces.
Pirate fishing is an entertainingly named but actually terrible scourge of the oceans.
"It leaves communities without much needed food and income and the marine environment smashed and empty," according to Greenpeace, which has estimated that there are upwards of 1,000 illegal industrial-scale fishing ships at sea. "Pirate fishing compounds the global environmental damage from other destructive fisheries. Because they operate, quite literally, off the radar of any enforcement, the fishing techniques they use are destroying ocean life." The practice is rampant in Central America and parts of Europe and Africa.
But now the super-intimidating international policing ubergroup INTERPOL is convening for the first time ever to talk about policing these pirates at next week's International Fisheries Enforcement Conference in Lyon, France. "High-level Chiefs in the field of fisheries law enforcement are invited to join together with the aim of sharing expertise and strategies to prevent and combat fisheries crime," says INTERPOL.
After a seriously dry run, some drought-stricken farmers have gotten a bit of a reprieve. Snow dumping this week on the country's potential future dust bowl is great news for suffering, parched wheat crops.
Nearly a foot or more of snow fell across key growing areas in Oklahoma and Kansas in the last 24 hours, and more was coming.
"I feel a lot better this morning," said Kansas wheat farmer Scott Van Allen, who has about 2,300 acres planted to winter wheat in south-central Kansas. "It snowed all night on us. I was getting very concerned with the lack of moisture we've had."
Well, Scott, here are some scientists to rain on your parade (except without any actual rain, sorry). This extreme weather isn't nearly extreme enough to make up for the other extreme weather.
No justice, no ride to work! The vast majority of transit systems in the U.S. have cut service, raised fares, or both over the last two years, affecting those who rely on public transportation especially hard.
For millions of American families, the commute to work is more than stressful: it can also be cripplingly costly. While the average family spends around 19 percent of its budget getting around, very low-income families (defined as families who make less than half of an area’s median income) can see as much as 55 percent of their earnings eaten up by transportation costs, according to a report by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development. ...
Cyclists may be the happiest commuters, but not when they're getting shit from passing drivers. Flashback to the summer of 2011, when Los Angeles passed an ordinance to make harassing cyclists a civil and suable infraction. Throw a thing at a cyclist and they can take you to court and seek damages -- revolutionary!
Well, we're not quite there yet, but in the year and a half since L.A. passed its law, Washington, D.C., and the California cities of Berkeley, Sunnyvale, and Sebastopol have all passed similar ordinances. Healdsburg, Calif., is now considering one, too.
To be fair, Columbia, Mo., was actually the first city to enact an ordinance banning harassment of cyclists in 2009, but it didn't include the all-important civil infraction bit. L.A.'s law and those modeled after it make it possible for cyclists to take their harassers to civil court, where there is a lower burden of proof.
Last year, the New York Times put Oakland at No. 5 on its list of “the 45 places to go in 2012,” citing the city’s bars, restaurants, art, and music. The Huffington Post called the city “the coolest new kid in the country.” City officials sent out a press release and made a banner for City Hall celebrating these new honors.
“Oakland is on the rise as a national leader in green building, technology, and international trade. And we’re a nationally acclaimed center for dining, arts, and entertainment,” Mayor Jean Quan said last May, on the occasion of the city’s 160th birthday. “It is why those of us who live here, love our city.”
Notably missing from the city’s PR materials was the fact that Oakland hit No. 5 in another national ranking last year: the FBI’s list of the most violent cities. Oakland saw 131 murders in 2012, a 22 percent increase from the previous year, and a 43 percent rise in burglaries.
While the rest of California is rebounding from the recession, Oakland is struggling with crime, mismanagement, debt, and continued fallout from the mortgage crisis. The city’s police department is under federal monitoring, and millions spent on expensive consultants, most recently former LAPD and NYPD police chief Bill Bratton, have done little to challenge the status quo.
And yet many in Oakland’s growing “creative class” are in denial. Asked to comment about the problems for a recent story in Bloomberg, Doug Leeds, CEO of Ask.com, which moved to Oakland in 2004, was dismissive:
“We certainly read the stories and we see the figures increasing, but on a daily basis, we come to work and we don’t feel the impact of it,” Leeds said. “We don’t see crime tape on the streets, we don’t see chalk outlines of people, there aren't bullet noises.”
That’s nice for Leeds, but, though he apparently doesn't see it, Oakland is also in the midst of a housing, education, and employment crisis. It’s going to be hard to solve these problems if the new, well-to-do residents don’t acknowledge they exist, and even contribute to making them worse.
In front of the White House early Sunday afternoon, a young man deftly scaled a small leafless tree, to the shock and dismay of the older activists around him. One police officer suggested that he come down, which he eventually did -- only to be yelled at by a woman who said he'd damaged not only the tree but the entire climate movement.
"But you're not letting us talk," he told her. "It's just all about you."
"What's going to happen when everyone marches and then everyone goes home? There needs to be something more than that," the tree-climber, Max, of Washington, D.C., told me afterward.
This little altercation defined a tension I saw throughout the Forward on Climate rally Sunday: Climate change reformists and climate change radicals allied tentatively, uncomfortably, against a crazy warming world. When one calls for the largest climate rally in U.S. history, one cannot really control who shows up and what their protest tactics and goals might be. Reform, or revolt? Coax, or prod? Organic, pesticide-free carrot or sustainably harvested, renewable stick?
"The concept that Obama is our friend and he's going to help us is ridiculous. He is the enemy, by all accounts," said Max's friend Josh. (Both men declined to give their last names.)
"We shouldn't be approaching him and saying, 'We support you in your change.' We should be approaching him and saying, 'You fucking start this change or we're going to do it ourselves,'" said Max. "We're going to take over and cross this fence and walk over to that White House."
Organizers called it the largest climate rally in U.S. history, and it was. Depending on who you ask, there were 30,000, 40,000, even 50,000 people in Washington, D.C., Sunday to lobby for political action on climate change. Depending on who you ask, the tone was joyous or righteous. And depending on who you ask, those 30,000, 40,000, even 50,000 people were giving President Obama an angry demand, a stern but friendly prodding, or the "support he needs" to take action.
350.org, the Sierra Club, the Hip Hop Caucus, and a comprehensive list of basically anyone in the U.S. who cares about climate change joined with politicians, investors, indigenous peoples, and an assortment of celebrities (can't have a climate rally without some celebs!) to rally and lead a march on the White House Sunday afternoon, calling for an end to politics and policies that are cooking our planet to death. For all the serious stuff, it was also a party -- chants for justice were mixed in with mini dance parties to pop music. But for all the Gangnam Style, there was an overwhelming sense that, while this rally was a glorious show, it was also indicative of just how bad things have gotten.
"We have a very entrenched system that's going to really require us to work together for a vision of people, peace, and the planet," the Green Party's Jill Stein said in an interview. "We are here for the long haul."
From fracking and coal to factory farming, activists called for an end to all the little things that are adding up to climate meltdown. But mainly today we were here because of the Keystone XL pipeline -- the long-embattled project to pump vast quantities of tar-sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, halted a year ago by President Obama and up for a final decision this spring.