Lee Barwood

Paranormal, Mystery, and Environmental Fiction

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Gail Gipp, manager of the Australian Wildlife Hospital, and friend

Dr. Jon Hanger, head veterinarian at the Australian Wildlife Hospital, and friend

The Environment:
The Beat of Gaia's Heart


October 7, 2007


Costing the Earth

Welcome to the fourth issue of The Beat of Gaia's Heart, the newsletter about the other Web – the one that connects us all to each other and to the animals, the environment, and the Earth.

September is the month that everyone scrambles – to cram in the last precious summer activities before school and fall start, and then to get ready for school and for winter projects. Things were busy here, too. On September 8, I took part in Long Branch, NJ’s Long Branch Day walkathon, with several friends and coworkers, to raise money for the Australian Wildlife Hospital, the cause that benefits from all sales of my book Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retellings (www.koalajo.com). The event was held under a blazing sun more suited to summer, and we were all very happy to have our Klassic Koalas caps on as we “walked a mile for a koala!” I am very proud to say that we raised $300 that day in pledges and donations for the Hospital, so our total is rising. Please help us raise more money to help the Hospital build its new building. If books aren’t your thing, check out the great koala gifts available at Koala Jo – everything from the aforementioned caps to t-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and even jewelry.

The Australian Wildlife Hospital, founded in memory of the late Steve Irwin’s mother Lyn, is a major project of Wildlife Warriors Worldwide. It started out as an avocado processing shed, and has grown to care for a vast number of wild creatures, koalas chief among them; there are currently more than 50 koalas undergoing treatment at present. They receive nearly 100 wildlife emergency calls each day, and up to 30 different species are admitted daily. They need more room!

It Cost the Earth

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression in the title above. It means, of course, something that’s dreadfully expensive. But these days, it has a literal meaning that we might do well to think about before we buy anything.

The headlines for the last several months have been full of recalls of Chinese-made products and contaminated American foods – everything from pet food to toothpaste to tires, children’s toys, and jewelry, and spinach to carrots. Just Friday came the announcement that Topps Meat Co., LLC, has shut its doors, effective immediately, after its recall of hamburger, the second-largest beef recall in the history of the US, expanded to 21.7 million pounds. The hamburger may have been contaminated with E. coli bacteria, which can sicken and even kill the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems.

Think about that for just a moment. 21.7 million pounds of hamburger meat. How many head of cattle went into that quantity of meat? According to the Minnesota Beef Council’s website’s “Beef Trivia” answers (that’s another title to contemplate – what’s trivial about our food supply?), an average steer weighs 1,000 pounds when sent to market. Of that 1,000 pounds, obviously not all of it ends up as hamburger. A 1,000-pound steer yields, according to this site, approximately 430 pounds of edible meat. Assume for a moment, even though it’s not true, that all 430 pounds of that meat goes into hamburger. It doesn’t, of course – there are steaks and roasts and other cuts of meat – but at 430 pounds per steer, that means that a minimum of 50,465 steers went into that batch of hamburger that has now been declared unsafe for consumption. That’s 50,465 living, breathing beings that died to make hamburger that nobody can eat. Also according to their site, 40-45% of beef becomes hamburger, so that raises the total – to 56,773 animals in all (figuring that 45% of their meat became hamburger). And just Saturday it was announced that Cargill, which produced the hamburger patties sold at Sam’s Club, recalled over 840,000 pounds of beef and then expanded the recall to 2.8 million pounds. That’s another 4,340 animals, calculating at 45% of their meat becoming hamburger.

And even if you don’t want to think of it in terms of the number of cattle’s lives forfeited for a batch of contaminated meat that’s being destroyed, think for a moment about all the other waste that went into this recall. Cattle don’t just graze any more. In fact, feed lot cattle are fed a diet of corn and grain when being “finished off” for market – a diet they don’t eat in nature. Now that everyone’s going crazy for ethanol fuel (an alternative to gasoline that is not as environmentally friendly as it sounds), the price of corn is going up. In turn, that raises the price of beef, as cattlemen have to pay higher prices to feed their beef cattle.

Cattle fed corn and other grains produce more methane than cattle on a “natural” diet of grazing. This contributes to global warming. Methane is more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.

It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to make one pound of beef. How much water was lost in these recalls of 21.7 million and 2.8 million pounds of beef? You do the math. Considering how many regions of the country have been under drought in the past year, perhaps it wasn’t worth the cost in water.

And then, last but far from least, is the human cost. Because meat takes so many more resources to produce, the typical diet of beef cattle takes resources away from what can be fed to humans – if corn and grains are being purchased for animal feed, less of it is available to feed people who live on very little in other parts of the world. Less land is available to grow crops. And when you add ethanol into the picture, with corn being sold at even higher prices, that means there is less corn available to feed people because it’s being bought to feed cars – many of which get abysmal mileage.

Now step that human cost up to a more personal level. The people who worked at Topps are now out of work. All of them. The company, founded in 1940 and employing 87 people in Elizabeth, NJ, is gone. Eighty-seven people no longer have jobs. The ripple effect on their families and the local economy will hurt. And even though industry spokesmen say that the company was not large enough to harm the beef industry as a whole, it’s not the first company to close its doors due to contaminated beef – and these days, as we learn more and more about the size of the job involved in inspecting food processing plants, the reality is that Topps will likely not be the last.

Corporate food production, these days, is fraught with problems. Organic farming and humane raising of animals for food avoids many of these problems due to the nature of the work. In addition, small farmers are much more closely connected with the food they produce, so they are less likely to take actions that may compromise the quality of the food they produce. They constantly fight against the watering down of standards that is sought by the biggest players in the food industry. And work done on a smaller scale is easier to control, easier to police, easier to observe personally.

Returning for a moment to China – we’ve heard rumblings in the press of environmental problems there, with rivers contaminated with chemicals and loss of habitat for native animals, but we have no appreciation of the magnitude of the problem. China, in its race to grow its economy, has taken on a number of projects to provide electricity and other resources that have been fought by environmentalists for years. The Three Gorges Dam project is just one of them – something I first heard about years ago when it was just in the planning stages and in search of financing (by international and American banks). Three Gorges displaced over a million people. And the danger faced by people who live nearby, in case of natural disaster, are incalculable. Factories and farms, according to a recent New York Times article on pollution in China, spew their waste products into rivers and lakes freely, with no concern for water contamination, and into the air with the same disregard for the needs of anyone who breathes. The air pollution has traveled far enough that we’ve already felt its effects here in the US – and as far back as 2000.

There are many other subjects I had originally planned on including in this essay. Blood diamonds from Africa, for instance; granite kitchen countertops (quarried by blasting, and shipped at great expense from its source), and wood floors and furniture made from trees that were not sustainably grown –exotic hardwoods harvested in South America, or perhaps even teak from Myanmar – sources from countries with repressive or unenlightened governments (remember Myanmar’s latest presence in the headlines?) do more harm than we know. Clothing from designers who use furs from China – if you haven’t seen the films on how Chinese furs – often from dogs and cats – are produced, it’s an education in itself. If more people knew what went into producing these garments, they would eliminate them from their wardrobes.

How does all this relate? How does it relate to the title I chose for this essay? If we truly consider the ultimate cost of our actions, our purchases, their sources, we can find ways to change. Whether it’s buying from different suppliers and manufacturers, cutting some foods from our diets, or making changes in other ways, we can find a way to live so that each of our purchases doesn’t “cost the earth.”

This month I’m recommending Marlies Bugman’s sequel to Kangaroo Dog, titled Bluegum Christmas (www.zumayapublications.com). It’s a year later in young Ben Arthurson’s life, and things are looking up – maybe.

Ben is nearly eight, and once again it’s a Tasmanian Christmas season. Life at home is good since his father remarried and his Auntie Steffie has become his new mum. But there’s trouble on the horizon, and this time it’s because of the neighbors.

Samantha Hogan and her family live on the farm next to Ben. At least, they had until a bushfire in the bluegum forest destroyed part of her family’s farm and cost Sam her voice. Ol’ Jack, her grandfather, is in the hospital and not expected to come home again. And Sam’s parents Ken and Rosemary haven’t lived at the farm since the fire; now Ken is thinking of selling the farm and logging the bluegum woods that his father had planted more than thirty years before to feed the wild things of their part of Tasmania – the swift parrots, the thylacines (their survival has been kept secret, as readers of Bugman’s first book have learned), and the other creatures that depend on the blossoms, fruit, and trees.

Bugman excels at introducing elements of her stories in a way that children can accept and pick up on. Young Ben sees “Christmas birds” out his window when his family must trim a single branch from the bluegum tree that is growing too close to the house – a bluegum that is so young it has just flowered for the first time. But that first sparse flowering is enough to lure the endangered swift parrots to its branches, and when Ben sees them he is delighted – and a ready convert to saving their habitat. Of course, his gentle nature, as depicted by Bugman, has already come to the fore in her previous book.

Ben and Sam hit it off right away. He is accepting of the fact that she cannot speak, and is anxious to learn sign language so that he can communicate with her more easily. She welcomes him as an uncritical friend, and offers to show him “her” woods – the bluegum forest that her grandfather had planted. And as the two explore, they find the best reason of all to make sure that the bluegum forest is protected – it has done just what Ol’ Jack had intended, and grown up to become a habitat for a flock of swift parrots.

This is a wonderful series, offering non-confrontational ways to educate both children and adults about the need to preserve and protect the plants, animals, and birds that populate our planet. Their beauty and uniqueness shine through, as does the protective spirit of the people she writes about. Each book focuses on a different creature of Tasmania, offering a glimpse of an unfamiliar landscape that is nonetheless filled with wonders. The colorful covers and black-and-white drawings inside display the author’s artistic talents, and children will be fascinated with the children’s adventures. The text is simple enough for them to manage, but presents a great opportunity for parents to read to younger children and introduce them to a world that is totally unknown – and yet so much like ours.

Bugman is also the author of Tazzie Devil Double Trouble, Quoll Quandary, and Golden Wings, with Bat Whispers due out this year. Each book looks at native animals, and the delicate environment in which they live, teaching children in the best way possible to care about the creatures and plants that live around them. Next month we’ll look at Tazzie Devil Double Trouble. More information is available at www.zumayapublishing.com and www.tasmanianartist.com.

Another fragile habitat is that of the Ozarks, and you can learn more about that in my book A Dream of Drowned Hollow, an environmental suspense/thriller. April Rue Stoner has an uncanny gift – she can see the spirits of the earth, and when she photographs them, others can see them too. But will that be enough to help her stop a developer who will stop at nothing to bring his version of prosperity to her Ozarks home? The book won Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award, and is published as an e-book and a large-print paperback from Double Dragon Publishing (www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-320-4 ).


Food Safety:
The Topps meat recall

Pollution in China:
“Choking on Growth,” in The New York Times

Facts about Food:
The Minnesota Beef Council’s “Beef Trivia” page

About.com’s sources on environmental reasons to go vegetarian

The Vegetarian Society of Georgia’s page on vegetarianism and the environment

Sustainable Choices:
Barefoot Floor’s section on sustainable choices

Construction Deal’s section on sustainable countertops

Women’s Issues:
WIMN’s Voices

Women’s E-News/Resources for Journalists

Medline Plus: Women’s Health

Feminist.com, filled with resources on everything from domestic violence to women-owned businesses

Australian Wildlife Hospital

Wildcare Australia

The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation, with local chapters in many coastal areas

Koala books and gifts at Koala Jo Publishing

A Dream of Drowned Hollow, Gryphon Award-winning environmental suspense/thriller

Environmental strategies:
Live Earth

The Lazy Environmentalist

Clean Ocean Action, working to clean up NJ shores

Oregon Swap – a way to trade what you don’t need for what you do

Vegetarian/vegan eating:
Klassic Koalas: Vegetarian Delights Too Cute to Eat; Vegetarian and vegan recipes –
some of them free!

A Forever-Home Foundation for animal rescue

First Strike: The Connection Between Animal Cruelty and Domestic Abuse

Farm Sanctuary

Other newsletters:
Bobbing Around, a potpourri of useful and valuable information

“A warrior takes responsibility for his acts, for the most trivial of acts. An average man acts out his thoughts, and never takes responsibility for what he does.” -- Carlos Castaneda

For more links, information, reviews, and suggestions, go to www.leebarwood.com. Or check out my blog on MySpace at www.myspace.com/leebarwood. See you next

Copyright 2007 by Lee Barwood

Selected Works

Love and death tread the boards at a haunted Victorian theater
Love can survive death -- but so can hate. The two collide in this haunted Ozarks tale of betrayal and heroism -- on both sides of the grave.
Australian wildlife images to stimulate creativity in children and adults alike
Vintage wildlife photos illustrate a children's story about koalas
Retellings of eight Australian Aboriginal tales, mostly focusing on the koala -- a powerful figure in Aboriginal lore
Gryphon Award-winning ecological fantasy novel, now available from Double Dragon Publishing (February 2006)
Volume I of The Ribbons of Power, this was Honor Book Award winner in Andre Norton's Gryphon Award competition
Volume II of The Ribbons of Power
A professor is murdered. Can the plot be unraveled?

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