CHANGING CLIMATE: Film and speaker series takes on agriculture and water pollution

Climate change has been a growing issue of concern worldwide for decades. It was only in 2015 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Paris Agreement, which just went into effect on Nov. 4. It helps combat greenhouse gases attributed to climate change; however, public education and awareness of what causes and impacts the climate are still crucial in the United States—especially within coastal areas.

new3To further educate the Wilmington community about various issues surrounding climate change, Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours will host the third and final installment of the Climate Change Film Screening and Speaker Series at the Ironclad Brewery on Nov. 17. The film is the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” with filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn addressing the cattle industry and animal agriculture’s impact on deforestation, water consumption and pollution, greenhouse gases, species extinction, and habitat loss. The event will host a raffle to benefit UNCW’s ECO Upcycle Project. There will also be a solar-powered generator demonstration, which will be donated to Standing Rock Sioux Action protesters in efforts to stop the North Dakota Access Pipeline. encore contributor John Wolfe will close the evening with an essay on climate change, but beforehand keynote speakers are slated to talk.

Dr. Anthony Snider of UNCW’s Dept. of Environmental Studies and Roger D. Shew from the Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences and Dept. Environmental Science will open the evening. Shew and Snider will attempt to help convey the film’s message but make local (and even personal) connections for the audience. Snider was on a discussion panel when “Cowspiracy” (also available on Netflix) was shown on UNCW’s campus earlier in the year.

“The film is important because it raises awareness about a component of climate change that both society and most environmental groups are loathe to discuss,” he tells. “Diet is personal, and people don’t like to question the environmental implications of their food. We have come to associate the way we eat with a long-standing definition of the ‘good life.’”

Shew adds how the footprint left behind from these animal industries are quite massive and have layers of negative effects. “[It’s] relative to land use, energy use, water use, and to greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “The point to be made is the widespread and sometimes devastating impact of meat production globally and of course locally, too.”

encore conversed with Shew and Snider to learn more about the local relevance of “Cowspiracy,” and what to expect at Thursday’s screening, as well as helpful ideas on how to proceed thereafter.

encore (e): Can you tell readers more about what you’ll be covering on water pollution and agriculture as a speaker—key ties you plan to make to NC water and agriculture?

Roger D. Shew (RS): I was asked to cover some of the issues of animal operations locally but also globally, and their impact on climate change and water quality. It is important we understand both the economic/societal need for meat, while also understanding we need to work to insure there is as minimal impact as possible on our natural resources. Habitat loss from land conversion is one of the primary drivers for loss of biodiversity for instance. I will show some of the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on our area as an aside with our animal operations/factory farms here in Southeastern NC.

Anthony Snider (AS): I will focus on how agriculture impacts water quality through both tillage and runoff. I’ll talk about potential solutions and hurdles to the issues and what is being done in other parts of the world to address them. Since our food system operates, for the most part, at the national and even international scales, I tend to focus on the larger picture rather than just NC.

e: In light of recent election results, wherein the president-elect has openly denied the existence of climate change, what do you think this is going to do to awareness, education and action?

RS: First, I am hopeful rhetoric is not policy. In one regard, if denial is promoted, it may galvanize others to take more action. However, I believe what a lot of folks are saying is they don’t believe humans are the prime drivers, and they don’t believe the impacts are as grave as everyone quotes. My opinion is there is abundant evidence that climate change is occurring (time of rainfall is changing, temperatures and growing seasons are shifting, etc.), and we should be taking actions to mitigate those changes. It is just like insurance: You maybe hope your house doesn’t burn but you want to be prepared in case something does happen—this is basically the precautionary principle. Sea level is a good case in point. Even though [NC] is only considering 30-year projections of sea-level rise, my opinion is this is good, but we should also be thinking further down the road with possibilities. I call this scenario “planning.”

AS: In reality the federal government has made less headway toward addressing climate change than many of the states and even municipalities. The emphasis on federal devolution by the incoming administration may bolster state-led efforts. At this point it is too early to tell what will actually happen at the federal level after January 20.

e: How have you approached the topics in the college classroom, and how do you expect the conversation to change, if at all?

RS: I am a geologist that teaches in both the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department and the Environmental Sciences Department. I teach multiple courses that have some aspect of energy, water, biodiversity, coastal processes and sea level, and climate. In fact, one course I teach is “Topics and Issues in Sustainability.” I try to show both the pros and cons of all topics and I try to give ways to address them. For instance, I could easily show you, without changing your lifestyle, how to reduce energy consumption (and therefore emissions) by 10 percent—and we could do the same with water. I think it is important we just don’t give gloom and doom but provide ways we can modify what we do to help with these issues.

AS: I teach a class on these topics at UNCW entitled “Food and the Environment.” By the time the class starts, we should have a better idea of whom the president-elect will choose to head important natural resources entities, such as the Department of Agriculture. Once we know who will be serving in those roles, we can discuss what to expect from their leadership.

e: Who do you envision the target audience being for this event? Are more like-minded folks, who already agree climate change is a top issue, likely to attend/be receptive of the message?

RS: The target audience should be everyone. Unfortunately, it is like many things we do today: You see the same folks. We need to take the conversation further and engage the community, our representatives, etc., on all issues. A good example was recently done by [New Hanover County] on developing the comprehensive plan for the county. If the community is not continuously engaged, and our commissioners/city council don’t ask and involve the community, we drift back to asking only those in our own sphere for comment. This is the problem we have today with politics. People develop opinions without facts and the whole story. Being passionate is great but you need facts, too—actually, more.

AS: Since the topic of food’s impact on climate change is not even on the general agenda of the American public, I don’t expect to see many people who are new to the subject. My guess is the audience will be primarily composed of folks seeking to gain information to undergird their efforts at spreading awareness of the topic.

e: What will be the call to action?

RS: Think! There are things you can do and hopefully influence others to adopt. You don’t have to be totally meatless or eliminate fossil fuels. We need to reduce and transition in a meaningful way but in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the economy and society. I think we can have meaningful reductions as I mentioned above.

e: How does, or could, solar energy impact how we approach agricultural related pollution?

RS: Solar is vital for us to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. NC has been a leader in solar installs over the past few years. Solar is not the answer in agricultural water pollution and emissions. We need to reduce and/or capture some of the methane from factory farms and eliminate wastewater runoff from those farms. Many farmers do a great job but we need more. There is a renewable energy mandate in place in NC to get some energy from swine operations as there is from poultry litter. These are small but we need to act to reduce emissions and runoff.

AS: Most of the pollution is associated with fossil-fuel use, especially petroleum and natural gas. The former is used for many agricultural chemicals and for transportation. The latter is often used in the creation of fertilizer. To the extent solar power can supplant electricity generation by fossil fuels, it can have an indirect impact on agriculture. But our present model is very heavily dependent on fossil fuels for inputs other than electricity.

e: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the series as a whole or the next installment?

RS: I hope folks will attend, ask questions, participate, and communicate what we can do to our neighbors and elected officials.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Thurs., Nov. 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. • Free
Ironclad Brewery • 115 N. 2nd St.

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