Episode 1: Soylent Green

Welcome to Carbon Neutral! This is a blog overview with links that go along with the discussion on our first podcast episode ever, Soylent Green.

We start off our episodes with news updates from our respective fields:

This week Emily, cocoa empress extraordinaire, directs our attention to UTZ (not the chip), which is a company that provides a framework for better farming practices and a certification label for companies that support sustainable farming of coffee, tea, cocoa, and hazelnut with respect to environmental practices and human rights. This label has been named the best sustainability label for these products. UTZ has just released a new guide on the chocolate making process as well as a discussion on sector-wide challenges, including poor working conditions and low income for farmers, deforestation, child labor, gender discrimination, and climate change. If you’re looking to learn more about your chocolate, coffee, tea or nutella addition, we would suggest looking for the UTZ certification on the packaging.

Concerned for fellow millennials, Jordan our recycling correspondent brings to attention a new study by Keep America Beautiful who surveyed 1000 adults about their thoughts on recycling. They found that 43% of millennials are skeptical that what they put in their curbside bin actually get recycled and that 31% of millennials believe that recycling is harmful to the environment. Here is the link to the study. For the record, neither of those things is true.

Steffi, our resident marine science enthusiast, discusses a new study by Louisiana State University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, funded by the NSF, which sought to quantify the cost of restoring adequate freshwater flow to mangrove forests in the Everglades of southern Florida. If there isn’t adequate freshwater available to these forests, the trees will die and all the carbon stored within the biomass will be released as methane, a very strong greenhouse gas. They estimated the cost of restoring freshwater flow to be between $2 billion and $3.4 billion. They determined the cost of the carbon-storage, as well as its other ecosystem services like water purification and storm protection, are worth much more than that.

The meat of each episode will revolve around a piece of pop culture, which we will summarize and discuss how this film/book/article relates to environmentalism. This week we discussed Soylent Green. Soylent Green is a 1970s Charleton Heston police thriller placed in a dystopian future in 2022. Resources are owned by just a few companies and people struggle to get the food and goods they need. The Soylent company controls 50% of global food supply and has just released a new product onto the market, Soylent Green. But what is Soylent Green? They say it’s made with algae, but we go on to learn through the questionably moral police tactics of Mr. Heston that it is actually made out of people!

The following conversation looks at questionable police tactics portrayed in the film, the idea of recycling human bodies and aspects of it with which we agree, commodification of humans, the earth and the earth’s ecosystem services, just how long we’ve been worried about the greenhouse effect getting out of hand, as well as a discussion on the revolving door. We also share some stats on the monopolization of seed companies that control seed distribution and how monopolization was predicted in Soylent Green. Finally we wonder about Soylent, the real meal replacer, which is now available on the market.

In our last segment we each share something that’s giving us hope for the earth this week. Emily shares that Novo Nordisk built a research partnership with C40, the global mayor’s partnership on climate, to map the co-benefits of climate and health. Co-benefits can include city bikes and bike lines contribute to improving climate (lower particle pollution, lower CO2) and improved health (exercise). More information on this partnership can be found here.

Jordan learned about an organization called Precious Plastic. This is a website with blueprints for low-cost, small-scale recycling equipment. You can take recyclable material and make your own new products. This is great for low-income communities in developing nations and can help eliminate plastic debris. This will be a triple win for reducing plastic debris, generating income, and creating new products with recycled materials.

Steffi shares that the population of a rare bottle-nosed whale (a whale that looks like a bottle-nosed dolphin but is the size of a killer whale) is thought to have been vastly underestimated. A friend of her’s was on a cruise where they spotted between 50 and 200 whales in one go, when only a total of 140 were thought to live in the area.

Silvan discusses a new paper published in Oceanography which says that algae can be a top contender to fight climate change. We can use it to make biodiesel and use the waste as animal feed. Although biodiesel still emits CO2 when burned, it is a renewable resource that we can grow locally and it is easy to implement with technology that we have today.

Don’t miss the full episode here.

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