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Susie Cagle's Posts

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Green vs. green: The slimy battle for Drakes Bay

It's springtime at the Point Reyes National Seashore, about an hour outside of San Francisco, and the cold wind whips off the sea and through the tall grass along the cliffs. Cows wander and graze along the fingers of land that reach out into the estuary’s tiny bays, an area altogether encompassing just over three square miles.

Beyond the estuary, at the outer edges of the seashore, seals sun themselves on the beaches, packed in tightly and squirming along the shoreline.

From March through June, the estuary is quiet. The seashore boasts more than 28,000 acres of agricultural land, most of it for beef and dairy production -- but it’s pupping season for the seals, and the National Park Service has instated its annual ban on the motorboats that usually zip around the estuary, planting and harvesting millions of oysters for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

Read more: Food, Politics

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A gag too far: How ag-gag laws can backfire

A slew of bills currently in front of state legislatures around the country aims to make it a crime to document what goes on behind slaughterhouse doors. But these bills themselves may be a blessing in disguise for animal rights activists.

Take the example of Wyoming, where a proposed bill recently dropped like a pesticide-poisoned honeybee. The bill would have made any recording illegal without permission from the facility owner, with a penalty of six months in jail and a $750 fine. Pushed by a Republican rancher, Wyoming House Bill 126 seemed set to pass the state senate.

That is, until "PETA had Bob Barker come out against it and it got a lot of media attention," Green is the New Red journalist Will Potter explains. "Bob Barker saves the day."

NEWAggagcowwithwordsandsigPotter and activist Andy Stepanian have been two of the most outspoken voices against ag-gag bills. When several bills made their way to state legislatures last year, "the threat was clear and real," Potter says. A domino effect seemed impending: If farm-friendly legislators could push these bills through in Missouri and Utah, what might happen nationwide?

"Each one of these pieces of 'model legislation' is seeing just how far they could push the envelope," says Stepanian. "'We have case law on record in this state, why don't you do the same thing in your state?' In time it chips away at our democratic freedoms."

But ultimately -- oddly enough -- both Potter and Stepanian aren't worried. Sure, if they passed, these laws would be a gut shot to the animal protection movement. But in becoming a national news story, ag-gags may have backfired instead. Every time a publication covers farm protection proposals, it uses the horrible images of abuse that investigators have dug up. That has made these stories a great way for activists to spread their message. And it has made Potter and Stepanian downright optimistic.

Read more: Food, Politics

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Two views on ag-gags: The investigator and the farm advocate

"Farm protection" or "ag-gag" laws aim to outlaw the kinds of undercover investigations that have resulted in massive meat recalls, plant closures, and even criminal charges.

Specifically, they're designed to deter the kind of work done by people like Lindsay.

For two years Lindsay (not her real name) has worked for a national animal advocacy nonprofit that sends investigators to take jobs at farms and slaughterhouses across the country, each for a few weeks at a time, in an effort to root out abuses.

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"I use a hidden camera to film the day-to-day activities in these facilities while I am there working. I take detailed notes on what I witness and document," she tells me. "With such minimal [government] oversight, these industries are pretty much left to police themselves, so it’s not uncommon to find acts of abuse or negligent behavior that may violate state or federal laws."

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When Lindsay works on one of these farms, she acts like any other employee -- except for the secret documentation part. Under a slew of existing and proposed ag-gag laws, Lindsay would be committing at least two crimes: fraudulent employment and secret filming. "I do not work in the states that have passed ag-gag laws already, nor do any other investigators I know," she says. "These laws are clearly intended to stop investigations like the ones that I do, and they in fact have that effect. It feels like a desperate move by industrialized agriculture."

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The state(s) of the ag-gag

Over the past few years, farm protection or ag-gag laws have sprouted faster than Monsanto Roundup-Ready corn. Some of the laws are highly restrictive, while others are pretty lax. Roll over the different states for specific info on each law.

Read more: Food, Politics

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Troubled slaughter: Big Ag fights to keep out prying eyes

NEWAggagcowwithwordsandsigThere's a Paul McCartney quote popular with veg-heads: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian." It may not be quite as simple as all that, but he's definitely got a point.

For a little over 10 years, groups such as Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and Compassion Over Killing have conducted undercover investigations into abuses and rules violations on factory farms, and publicized what they've documented to lobby for change.

It's worked: Individual campaigns have resulted in business closures, criminal charges, and even broader changes in social behavior. That has got Big Animal Ag scared.

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So it has done what Big Ag does best: crafted legislation and lobbied for it. State farm-protection laws, or "ag-gags," as The New York Times' Mark Bittman lovingly called them, come in many different forms, mixing various combinations of restrictions on undercover filming and activist access to farms and slaughterhouses. Some of the laws give a nod to the value of whistleblowers but require that damning footage be handed over to law enforcement within a day or two, immediately blowing the cover of investigations that would typically last from two to six weeks.

Read more: Food, Politics

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Jailed for eco-activism, and then jailed for blogging about eco-activism

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NYC ABC
Daniel McGowan

Environmental activist Daniel McGowan is out of prison, but he’s not out of the woods. He was incarcerated for seven years for his alleged involvement in arson at an Oregon lumber company, then thrown back in prison for writing about how his beliefs got him branded  a terrorist. He's now been released, but only after being told he can't publish his opinions or talk to the press.

McGowan is the central figure in the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary If a Tree Falls, which details the lead-up to his prison sentence for arson credited to the Earth Liberation Front. He was released this past December to a halfway house in New York City.

McGowan spent more than two years of his sentence in a Communication Management Unit (CMU), where his contact with the outside world through letters and phone calls was highly restricted. In a piece published in The Huffington Post on April 1, McGowan explains how he ended up in the CMU: The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) didn't like what he was writing about environmental activism from his cell. "In short, based on its disagreement with my political views, the government sent me to a prison unit from which it would be harder for me to be heard, serving as a punishment for my beliefs," he writes. McGowan learned these details after filing a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other CMU prisoners. Through the lawsuit, the BOP was forced to reveal some damning internal memos. McGowan:

The following speech is listed in these memos to justify my designation to these ultra-restrictive units:

My attempts to "unite" environmental and animal liberation movements, and to "educate" new members of the movement about errors of the past; my writings about "whether militancy is truly effective in all situations"; a letter I wrote discussing bringing unity to the environmental movement by focusing on global issues; the fact that I was "publishing [my] points of view on the internet in an attempt to act as a spokesperson for the movement"; and the BOP's belief that, through my writing, I have "continued to demonstrate [my] support for anarchist and radical environmental terrorist groups."

On April 4, three days after McGowan's post was published, the BOP responded by -- what else? -- throwing him back in prison for talking about what he wasn't supposed to talk about.

Read more: Politics

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Just, um, do it? Climate action, sponsored by Nike

Your hemp shoes won't save you.
Kicks on Fire
Your hemp shoes won't save you.

The oil industry isn't the only business flexing its muscle in Washington. The Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy coalition, aka BICEP, today released a “Climate Declaration" urging Congress to do some heavy lifting on climate change and "asserting that a bold response to the climate challenge is one of the greatest American economic opportunities of the 21st century.” Signatories include Nike, Starbucks, eBay, and 30 other companies, with a combined annual revenue of about $450 billion.

“The signers of the Climate Declaration have a clear message for Washington: Act on climate change. We are, and it’s good for our businesses,” Anne Kelly, director of BICEP, said in a statement.

From the statement: "The signatories of the Climate Declaration are calling for Congress to address climate change by promoting clean energy, boosting efficiency and limiting carbon emissions -- strategies that these businesses already employ within their own operations."

Though the clean coalition's efforts are aimed at policymakers, its business is really aimed at the rest of us. And that's where this effort starts to feel a bit self-serving.

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Changes on the horizon for California’s troubled Salton Sea?

The Salton Sea was once California's biggest tourist attraction -- now, with some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, it's the state's rustiest, dustiest failed region. With water usage in Southern California at a premium, the accidentally human-made sea is drying up, with its only significant inflow coming from nearby farm runoff. It's still vital wetlands for 400 species of migratory birds, but the sea is poised to evaporate into a 365-square-mile dust bowl right next to Palm Springs within just a few years. And while it may not be blowing airborne toxins all over southern California and Arizona just yet, it's already assaulting Los Angeles with its powerful poison "odor events," which scientists predict could only grow more intense. (You can read some background on the Salton Sea in my comic above, an excerpt from the [free!] December issue of Symbolia Magazine.)

Now for the first time in a while, politicians are actually sounding hopeful about mitigating the sea's degradation. (Sorry, disaster tourists.) “We have a united vision. For the first time, there’s a chance to make some progress,” says one local county supervisor. But they have very different ideas on how to do it.

Read more: Living, Politics

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Toxic algae is wiping out Florida’s manatees

Florida has the world's largest population of manatees, around 5,000 of the adorable, curious, endangered sea cows. In 1996, a red algae bloom killed 151 of them. Until this year, it was the most lethal red tide on record. But Florida has outdone itself this time.

So far this year, 241 manatees have been killed by a red algae bloom off the southwestern coast of the state. All across Florida, at least 463 manatees have died from a variety of causes, "more deaths than had been recorded in any previous comparable period,” reports The New York Times — more than 9 percent of the population in just over three months.

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Susie Cagle
Read more: Climate & Energy