Earth Island Journal

Why It's Morally Wrong to Use Other Sentient Beings for Our Purpose - Whether for Food or Research

At one point in her career, Lori Marino worked with NASA astronauts, studying how they respond to being in zero gravity conditions. While that was somewhat exciting, Marino says she “simply didn’t find humans as interesting as other animals.” So the neuroscientist and behavioral biologist went back to her first love – studying nonhumans. Internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins, whales, and primates, Marino is scientist of a rather rare order – one who thinks it’s “morally objectionable” to use other sentient animals for our purposes, whether it be for food, or for captive and invasive research.

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What I've Learned From Non-Human Animals - and Why We Need to Reconceptualize Our Relationship With Other Species

I didn’t know how to act when I first met her. It was an uncharacteristically calm, clear day. The surface of the water was like liquid velvet. I sat on the concrete steps of the pier that jutted out from the ragged Scottish coastline, gazing downwards as she floated just below the surface. She came up for a breath, exhaling loudly with a hint of what seemed to be playful exasperation. Then she rolled onto her side and looked directly into my eyes. Hers were deep black with a circle of thin brown iris, and filled with meaning that I still, to this day, cannot put into words.

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Prisoners Are Finding a New Purpose in Life by Helping Endangered Species

Six women sit on overturned crates tending to seedlings inside a greenhouse in Wilsonville, Oregon. Light filters through the clear plastic roof and a break in the clouds sends streaks of sunlight over an open end of the structure. Birds call out, interrupting the peaceful scene as the women focus on harvesting leaves from early blue violets planted in rows of black plastic containers. The violet leaves will be used to feed threatened silverspot butterflies. If it were not for the women’s florescent green vests and the bright orange Department of Corrections seal stamped on their jeans, the scene could easily be mistaken for a commercial nursery. As it is, the women are prisoners behind the razor-wire fences surrounding Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, a minimum and medium security prison located on 108 acres in western Oregon, less than 20 miles south of Portland.

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Cemeteries Can Serve as Lifeboats That Protect Biodiversity

our white-tailed deer graze atop a rise, oblivious to Jay P Lee and GW Palen, and other folks named Stowell and Whitehead and Slayton and Potter interred there. It’s afternoon – an uncommon feeding time for deer that usually prefer dawn and dusk – on a fall day at Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing, Michigan. The deer browse amongst the graves, apparently unperturbed by the writer, photographer, and ecologist walking at the foot of their hill, discussing varieties of lichen on tombstones, the food value of nonnative honeysuckle for wildlife, and the evils of invasive buckthorn.

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Marine Mammals Are Suffering From a Life-Threatening Toxin Off California's Coast

On a gloomy July morning on California’s Central Coast, the holding pens at the Marine Mammal Center’s Morro Bay facility were filled to capacity. “It’s been a busy month,” said Operations Director Diana Kramer, “And looks like it’s only going to get busier.”

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For Critically Endangered California Condors, Oregon's Hunters May Pose the Gravest Threat

In the heat of the high-desert summer in 2014, a crew of wildlife researchers drove the dusty, gravel ranch roads in eastern Oregon, eyes on the sky in search of big broad-winged hawks, like red-tails and Swainson’s, soaring above, scanning the landscape for rodents and rabbits. Spotting a hunting hawk, they hit the gas, racing 1,500 yards or so ahead of the raptor. They tossed out a bal-chatri—a trap consisting of a mesh wire dome festooned with nylon slipknots and a mouse inside for bait. Spying the mouse, the hawk dove, talons extended, expecting to connect with a meal, only to find itself entangled in the knots. Bal-chatris, originally developed by falconers in India, are among the most effective ways of capturing raptors alive.

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My Quest to Save Imperiled Mussels

On a March day in 2009, nine years after Chewacla Creek dried up, I stood in the roadside weeds near a county road bridge in Alabama. The creek – the city of Auburn’s water supply – was flowing again, thanks to legal protection. I was wiggling first my legs, then my arms, into a borrowed wet suit. I left it unzipped while I bent over, one hand on the truck’s tailgate for balance. My other hand reached to shoehorn my sneakers over neoprene booties. I straightened, returning my attention to the zipper. It gaped like an open shell, displaying my pregnant belly, almost four months round. With effort, I zipped up the two halves, encasing myself. My first child would dangle below me while I snorkeled – something I’d never done before.

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Many Native Communities Are Being Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change

Fawn Sharp grew up in Taholah village, a small community on the Quinault Reservation nestled between the mouth of the Quinault River and the Pacific Ocean. She spent her childhood summers surrounded by water, splashing in Lake Quinault on the eastern edge of the reservation, and hiking along the local beaches near the village, scouring the rocks for starfish and other treasures. In the mornings, she was often up before the sun, out fishing with her grandparents on the river.

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America's Toxic Prisons: The Environmental Injustices of Mass Incarceration

Matthew Morgenstern is convinced his Hodgkin's lymphoma was caused by exposure to toxic coal ash from the massive dump right across the road from SCI Fayette, a maximum-security prison in LaBelle, Pennsylvania, where he is currently serving a 5- to 10-year sentence. "In 2010 and until I left in 2013, the water always had a brown tint to it. Not to mention the dust clouds that used to come off the dump trucks ... which we all breathed in.... Every single day I would wake up and there would be a layer of dust on everything," he writes from inside the prison. When Morgenstern was sent back to SCI Fayette in 2016 after he violated parole, he found that the dust issue had abated a bit -- work at the dump has been stalled for a year due to litigation -- but the water still runs brownish and sometimes has "a funky smell." He says he knows that the environment in and around the prison is still "messed up" and he's concerned that his immune system, already weakened from fighting and overcoming cancer, won't be able to withstand another onslaught of toxic exposure. "I myself have no doubt that if I'm kept here at Fayette, I will once again become sick," he writes.

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School Lunches Across the U.S. May Be Moving Towards Healthy Organic Food

When you picture school lunch what comes to mind? Gooey pizza and floppy French fries, or fresh organic produce and chicken raised without routine antibiotics? My guess is the former. But thanks to advocates around the country, someday it may just be the latter. 

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There's a Racial Shift Underway in Who Visits America's National Parks

I remember the first time I gazed upon the towering redwoods at Redwoods National Park, majestic and magical in their presence. I felt a spiritual connection, walking among these ancients and elders, thinking about the magical realism of Latin American literature and wondering which familial spirit would be right around the trail bend, ready to give me advice.

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High Levels of Toxins Found in Bodies of People Living Near Fracking Sites

Many of the toxic chemicals escaping from fracking and natural gas processing sites and storage facilities may be present in much higher concentrations in the bodies of people living or working near such sites, new research has shown.

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Living Near Greenery May Increase Your Lifespan

Many of us plant trees, shrubs, and other plants around our homes to beautify our surroundings. A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives reveals that this attractive greenery has another significant benefit as well — people living in greener neighborhoods may live longer.

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Toxic Teflon Chemical, C8, Found In Tap Water in Several States

New information emerged last month about toxic contamination from chemicals used to manufacture Teflon pots and pans and many other consumer, military, and industrial products. Water tests in several states have revealed a growing number of sites where the groundwater is polluted by the most well studied of these chemicals — C8 or PFOA — prompting calls from a group of state governors for federal action.

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'Epidemic' of Premature Births Increasingly Linked to Air Pollution

One in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death for children under five and is linked to numerous health problems that persist throughout life. Many factors can contribute to preterm birth but air pollution – particularly fine particulate pollution – is increasingly being linked to the incidence of premature birth in the US and elsewhere around the world. According to a study published today inEnvironmental Health Perspectives, the annual economic costs of the nearly 16,000 premature births linked to air pollution in the US each year has reached $4.33 billion.

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The Sad Tale of an Osprey Held for Ransom in Haiti

In early February as Haitians took to the streets of the capital city of Port-au-Prince in violent protest against the government, a quieter political drama of international consequence unfolded in a far away village in the Central Plateau where a man held a migrating raptor for ransom hoping it would be his ticket out of the country.

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This Wildlife Refuge Used to Be One of America’s Most Polluted Nuclear Sites - but Is It Safe Now?

On arrival, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is, frankly, uninviting. A bevy of heavy trucks heading to and from the adjacent aggregates mining site churn up clouds of dust as they pass the multi-padlocked refuge gate. A faded sign with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) logo announces “AREA BEYOND THIS SIGN CLOSED. All public entry prohibited.” Just outside the refuge entrance, RVs are crowded into a storage area at the edge of an underground natural gas pipeline. Six white wind turbines tower incongruously nearby.

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America's Wild Horses Continue to Lose Habitat to Special Interest Groups

Chief, a Kiger mustang born in the remote wilderness of Utah, lives with 400 other rescued wild horses and burros in a 1,500 acre sanctuary, hundreds of miles from his original home. Years ago the stallion was captured in a round up led by the Bureau of Land Management. After a long helicopter chase, he ended up in a government-run holding facility for years before being adopted by Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA. Not all horses rounded up by the BLM are as lucky.

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Sustainable Sabotage: Animal Activists Use New Tactics to Thwart Trophy Hunters

Stephanie looked in her rear-view mirror and watched as the black Suburban descended upon her Jeep. She punched the accelerator in an effort to put some distance between the two vehicles, but the Suburban kept gaining. Matthew, riding shotgun, turned in his seat to watch it. 

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For More Than 50 Years, DuPont Concealed the Cancer-Causing Properties of Teflon

Almost two decades ago, Carla Bartlett, a then 41-year -old West Virginia secretary and mother of two, was first diagnosed with cancer – what her surgeon later labeled a “garden variety” type of kidney cancer. 

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Thousands of Planned Coal Plants, if Built, Could Doom Efforts to Contain Global Warming

I landed in Calcutta (Kolkata, if you are a stickler for official names) on November 30, the day the world leaders, policy makers, and environmental activists gathered in Paris to figure out how to curb climate change. Officially, it’s wintertime in this city of my birth, but the air on Monday night was anything but chilly. Instead, it was uncomfortably muggy. The only sign of winter was the hazy air — a regular year-end feature in this overcrowded, traffic-choked metropolis in eastern India.

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FDA’s Approval of GE Salmon Based on Bad Science, Say Consumer Advocates

More than 20 years after the first genetically engineered plant hit American grocery stores, the FDA has approved the first transgenic animal for human consumption: a salmon.

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Nearly 300 Bears Killed in Florida’s First Black Bear Hunt in Decades

It was a sad weekend for bears in Florida. Saturday marked the start of Florida’s first statewide bear hunt since 1972. Wildlife officials ended the season on Sunday after hunters killed 295 bears in just two days, approaching the statewide limit of 320 bears. The hunt had been approved for up to seven days.

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After the Frack: Bright Lights in the Middle of Nowhere

The humming sound was deafening. Standing in the driveway of the Brothers’ home it was 50 decibels, but as we walked toward the edge of the road, the sound meter jumped to 85 decibels. The creator of this offensively loud humming noise was the compressor station located just across the road. It ran night and day, 24/7, and had invaded Frank and Theresa Brothers’ home just a year ago. Unfortunately, compressor stations are a necessary component of an oil and gas pipeline system. They help move gas and liquids from one part of the pipeline system to another.

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Leading Climatologist Says It's Not Too Late to Solve Climate Change

Last week climate scientists from around the world met in Paris for the largest scientific gathering in advance of the U.N.-sponsored climate talks that will be held in the French capital in December. During the conference I was able to sit down for a one-on-one interview with conference chair Jean Jouzel, who also currently serves as the vice chair of the Working Group I panel of the International Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

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Obama Creates Three New National Monuments Protecting One Million More Acres of Public Lands

Using his authority under the Antiquities Act, President Barack Obama today signed into being three new national monuments in California, Nevada and Texas. Together, the new monuments protect more than one million acres of public lands. National monuments are similar to national parks, except that they can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government via a presidential proclamation. With these new designations, Obama will have used the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 19 national monuments in the United States. Altogether, he has protected more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters; more than any other president.

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You Probably Throw Away More Food Than You Think

We all throw away food. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of all food is trashed as it makes it way from farm to table, or more aptly, as it doesn’t. But how aware are we of our own waste? And what motivates us to rethink our shopping habits or reconsider that wilting lettuce in the back of the fridge?

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Can GMOs Help Feed a Planet Stressed by Climate Change and Overpopulation?

Nigel Taylor spreads apart the wilted and discolored leaves of a cassava plant. He wants us to see its sickness on full display. Taylor leads a team of scientists in St. Louis attempting to genetically engineer a virus-resistant version of the plant, and is working with researchers in Uganda and Kenya, where cassava is a staple crop. Once created, this plant will be delivered to small-landholder farmers for widespread use in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

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War Games Set to Begin in the Pristine Gulf of Alaska Amid Protests

Today the US Navy plans to unleash 6,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members along with three Navy Destroyers, 200 aircrafts, untold weaponry, and a submarine to converge in war games in the Gulf of Alaska. The training exercises are scheduled to continue through June 26.

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Hope for Elephants as China to Shut Down Domestic Ivory Market

Last week was a big one for African elephants. China, the world’s largest market for illegal ivory, announced that it would phase-out its legal, domestic ivory market. With elephants under dire threat from poaching, the news could not be more welcome to conservationists.  

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FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents

This story was produced in partnership with The Guardian.

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