Soy Crops and Subsidies

Soy is a core crop in our modern world.

Globally, soy is heavily subsidized by the government and consumed in vast amounts. When consumed in moderation, soy has a two-fold effect. It helps to spare animal lives and it also offers potential health benefits. (McCue & Shetty, 2004). In particular, vegans are huge fans because no animals are harmed or killed in the process of soy production. However, underlying these surface advantages, soy-lovers must face the hard truth of its severe environmental impact.

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

Soy is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. (Brown et al., 2005). The high demand for soy has led to an uptick in production. In other words, this drastic increase in consumer demand for soy is at the cost of the Amazon. Sadly, the Amazon is undergoing massive deforestation — at an astonishingly high rate — to make more land available for soy. Additionally, soy production has a negative impact on the biodiversity of the rainforest. (Fearnside, 2001).

Unfortunately for the Amazon, deforestation and depletion are embedded into its rich history. Interestingly, deforestation rates resulting from soy production are similar to deforestation rates resulting from cattle farming. One of the reasons for this is that soy is used to feed “pork, poultry, and dairy cows,” and is also used in the production of bio-diesel and vegetable oil. This finding is alarming for those who consider themselves plant-based foodies and, especially, if those plant-based foodies are seeking to make significant environmental change.

Adding onto the list of negatives, indigenous people are being displaced as a consequence of the Amazonian deforestation. Again, the consumer demand for the soy crop is in such a high demand, therefore, this causes deforestation to occur at a, simultaneously, high rate. To emphasize, this again leads to indigenous people being kicked off their lands at a high rate.

While it is intuitive that the food we buy (read: agricultural industries we support) have environmental implications, we do not often realize the humane implications as a result of our purchases — they are, truly, nothing short of eye-opening.

Plant-Based Diets?

When people choose to transition to a more plant-based diet, it is common for them to purchase meat alternatives to facilitate the diet change. Luckily, there are a large number of companies that produce meat alternatives to support vegans, vegetarians, or the occasional Meatless Monday practitioner. However, we must be wary of these alternatives as many of them are made with soy. One of the many reasons that people may choose to change their diet may be to reduce their impact on the environment. However, if individuals with this goal are doing so by consuming meat alternatives laden with environmentally-taxing soy protein, they are not achieving their goal!

As mentioned in an earlier post, eliminating animal products from our diets is a huge step towards sustainability. But, we must also be wary of the amount of soy that we use as replacements for the animal products that previously existed in our diets. So, instead of going to the store and purchasing the latest meat or cheese substitute--which is most likely made with soy--consider buying some sort of non-soy legume such as black beans, lentils, or chickpeas which will still provide protein without sacrificing the health of our planet.

Non-Digital Sources:

  1. Brown, J.C., Koeppe, M., Coles, B., Price, K.P. (2005). Soybean Production and Conversion of Tropical Forest in the Brazilian Amazon: The Case of Vilhena, Rondônia. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment. 34 (6).

  2. Fearnside, P. (2001). Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environmental Conservation,28 (1), 23-38.

  3. McCue, P., Shetty, K. (2004) Health Benefits of Soy Isoflavonoids and Strategies for Enhancement: A Review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 44:5, 361-367

To Coffee Lovers

Do you love coffee?

Well, guess what? You are not alone! There’s over a 50% chance that you, as an American, wake up and gulp down at least one cup of coffee each day. Actually, it’s closer to 1.6 cups of coffee, but that’s not the important part. You and 150 million of your coffee drinking companions should expect a great deal of change to your daily ritual. Recently, a study published in Science Advances Magazine determined that over 60% of coffee species are at risk of extinction! Additionally, just over 10% of the 124 species examined were classified as “data deficient”. The term “data deficient” means that the species are not used enough in the coffee production supply chain to determine whether the strands are healthy. Or, in other words, less than 30% of all known coffee species are not at risk to extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s various standards.

Did you know that — worldwide — coffee plants are 3 times more at risk of extinction than any other type of plants? Want to know why? Well, even if we ignore the effects of climate change in the study about Coffea Arabica (the most commonly traded coffee species) we would have to discuss deforestation. Also, as a fun fact, Coffea Arabica amounts to 60% of the worlds coffee trade!

These coffee species moved from the category of Least Concern (LC) to Endangered (EN) almost overnight!

This suggests that if we were able to acquire similar levels of data for all other coffee species similar harrowing inquires may be found. However, climate change is not the only human-induced threat to coffee!

Deforestation plays a significant role in threatening our coffee.

Deforestation is another example of a perverse incentive. When we consider the quality of wood from coffee trees, generally, people in the area desire to use it for timber. This practice coupled with other types of habit-loss inducing practices — raising livestock or other agricultural activities — lead to the continual decline of safe and protected forested areas for coffee to grow.

While it may be hard to give up coffee, it is possible to ensure the health and prosperity of coffee species around the world. In order to make an impact on an individual level, there are two things we must do. Firstly, we have to enhance research capabilities and continue studies by Science Advances Magazine and other organizations just like them. These researches allow us to focus on derivatives in species state of health and give us a higher fidelity look into the problem at hand. Secondly, we must work to ensure more protection of the forested ecosystem that coffee inhabits occurs. This is meant to slow down the continual rate of decline. More time to tackle the external consequences of drinking coffee, also will allow us to help solve the world’s greatest problem. Climate change.

Save our coffee species so we can stay awake in the mornings! If you like what we write, follow us on Twitter @CountCurrent or Instagram @thecountercurrent! Or find us on Facebook!

Hang In There, Bats!

Having trouble sleeping? 

So do your friends, bats! Bats are a vital group to the ecology of mammals, representing 20% of their diversity with over 1200 species

Fruit-eating bats pollinate and disperse seeds for more than 50% of the rainforest, ensuring its vitality. Insect-eating bats control most of the agriculture pests in the United States and those pesky mosquitoes. They have seriously helped humans deal with Nipah virus, SARS, Ebola, malaria and other viruses

Some studies show that bats eat more than 70% of their weight in insects every night!

What does that even mean? According to Bat Conservation International, this would be about 1000 mosquitos in an hour. They don’t only eat mosquitoes either. Some bats even eat stinkbugs on macadamia nut farms, which are a major agricultural pest. In short, bats save lives. 

Texas loves them!

Braken Cave is known to have the largest bat roost in the world, with over 20 million. But, bats are suffering to stay alive elsewhere because of a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome, wiping out populations in the U.S. and Canda. This fungus originating from Europe resides in more than half of the U.S. and five Canadian provinces. Some scientists even predict regional extinction of bat species from this fungus. The reason it is called White Nose Syndrome is that a white fungal growth becomes apparent on the bat’s muzzle and wings once infected. 

“The mortality is unprecedented in my experience, and I’ve been working with bats for 40 years.”

Thomas Kunz, Biology Professor and Director of Boston University’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology 

Since 2000 the leading causes of bat population decline has been from White Nose Syndrome and collisions with wind turbines. So how are we impacting their population? Climate change. Although it is unknown why White Nose Syndrome is spreading and killing more bats , we do know that fungus only grows at cold temperatures. In Albany, NY, people noticed that bats were flying during frigid days rather than hibernating in their caves and being nocturnal. As much as 97% of bat populations have thinned in the North East including New York, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. With climate change, weather patterns are becoming more extreme (like the polar vortex sending down Arctic winds to northern, mid-America). With colder weather, bats are likely to come out of hibernation early or offset their nocturnal sleeping patterns. Not only is this disruptive but it severely hurts their immune systems, potentially causing their inability to ward off the infections from White Nose Syndrome as effectively as they could.  

Bats help us fight infections, so let’s help them fight off infections too!

JD Slajchert

Engineer of Words. Division 1 Student-Athlete. Author.

Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper. Ready? Write down JD Slajchert. You’ll want to remember his name. Although JD is just 23 years old, he already is a published author. MoonFlower, his debut novel, has done extremely well — especially, as a first time author. To elaborate, on Amazon the book has only earned “5 Star Reviews” from 16 different Amazon members and has two fantastic editorial reviews. Further, what’s very unique about JD’s writing process is how few people knew about the book before it was published.

“I wanted to keep the writing of my first book a secret because I was afraid of what people might think. To be a full time student and a college basketball player while writing a novel is a pretty strange combination, to say the least. So, rather than trying to sound high and mighty about my routine, I kept it all to myself.” — JD

For those who have not read the book, our writing staff would highly encourage it. MoonFlower is a great story because it captures two of the most powerful emotions humans can experience — love and loss. Inspired by true events, JD expertly navigates the trenches of heartbreak warfare by allowing the reader the chance to witness whimsical love. As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to difficult, real-world concepts like how to be a co-parent to a chronically ill sister and more. While many of the reviews on Amazon for the book left the reader in tears, the love JD shares in the story is unquestionably real.

Q: In your own words, who are you and what motivates you in life? — Ryan

A: I am someone that focuses on the little details. In my opinion helping someone or doing the right thing doesn't have to be some grand gesture, so I strive to live by that. It's the small things that excite me which is why I wanted to become a writer. The loss of my best friend at the age of ten years old motivates me everyday. I know that he had dreams and goals, so it is up to me to not only pursue my dreams for myself, but also for Luc Bodden. — JD

When JD was only ten years old, his best friend died. Luc Bodden passed away from sickle cell disease. The book is just one of the ways that JD honors the life of his former best friend. Currently, he serves as the Director of Relationship Development on the Luc Strong Foundation. The Luc Strong Foundation was established by Luc Bodden’s parents to help alleviate the financial hardships of families. In particular, the foundation focuses on reducing costs for children with sickle cell disease who are undergoing a bone marrow transplant process.

Tangentially, in life, we have all crossed paths with individuals who say something and do something else. With JD, he was never like that. For him, writing is a method to capture emotions, thoughts, and even moments in a snapshot of time. Our guess is, if you ever were to praise JD for the work he has done to honor Luc Bodden’s memory, he would either sheepishly say thanks and redirect the conversation or politely dismiss the gratitude by mentioning that there is much more work that needs to be done.

Environmental Stewardship & Disaster Relief

When considering how to balance the concepts of environmental stewardship and disaster relief for the Woolsey fire, JD had several great thoughts. According to him, “[success] in my opinion for our disaster relief is coincidentally the same as success with our campaign for the book. If we helped one person then it was worth it.“

“If one person read my book and it helped them through a tough time or showed them to follow their dreams then it was all worth it. If our disaster relief helps one person bounce back who lost their home in the fire then I'm more than happy with our effort.” — JD

Further on the topic of environmental stewardship is the idea of waste. Personally, as a writer, JD has not experienced too much waste in the industry. Generally, all forms of communications are done electronically and this reduces the need for paper. His book is even available on the Kindle which is encouraging. Despite the importance of environmental stewardship, JD is primarily focusing on rehabilitation as it relates to disaster relief.

“The protection and conservation of our environment is the most important political topic for our country. No other topic matters if we don't have a planet to execute these orders on and if we continue to waste and pollute our environment then we will have irreversible consequences. We have to do a better job.” — JD

Philanthropy: The Woolsey Fire & Teresa Alaniz

Until March 3rd, 100% of the book sales from Moonflower will be donated to the victims of the Woolsey Fire. So if you want to buy a copy of the book, JD encourages reader to buy prior to the deadline. Here is the Amazon link, if you are interested!

Concurrently, JD is attempting to raise $20,000 for a little girl named Teresa Alaniz. In the last week, JD has already managed to raise $4,860 to help Teresa. For those who are unfamiliar, Teresa suffers from a multitude of issues. Several include: “a lack of proper facial development, internal structural issues involving the location where her brain sits in her skull, the inability to breathe properly through her nose and mouth due to internal developmental problems, the inability to talk because of missing facial muscles, and trouble with spatial recognition cause by the unusual location of her brain.” If you want to donate or learn more, here is the Go Fund Me link!

Parting Thoughts

When we asked about plans for a second book, JD mentioned that “[only] a select few people are aware of the contents for my second novel and I plan on keeping it that way to protect the creative aspect of creating a compelling story.” Understandably, we’ll just have to read it when it debuts later in 2019!

Generally, when Counter Current features individuals or products on our site, we are doing so for informational purposes only. However, personally, I plan to buy a copy of JD’s book and definitely will donate to Teresa’s GoFundMe. If you like what we write, follow Counter Current on Twitter @CountCurrent, on Instagram at @thecountercurrent, and like our Facebook page! If you like the message JD is promoting, check out his website, follow him on Twitter @JD_Slajchert, and on Instagram @jd_slajchert! Happy Monday!

Empathy and Laki the Sugar Glider

We are the wildlife generation. Or at least we were.

From National Geographic heroes, like Steven Irwin, to amazing programs on the television, like Blue Planet 2, we grew up surrounded by the beauty of the wild. Whether it was an octopus darting through coral, a hippopotamus submerging underneath water, or a Nile crocodile snapping down on unsuspecting prey — there was absolutely nothing more fascinating on the television.

However, at some point along the way, we stopped watching the shows we once loved. We stopped being as fanatical in our love for nature. We focused instead on our formal education, sports, college acceptance letters, and jobs. As our generation grew up, discussions shifted away from who wanted to be a reporter for National Geographic to who wanted to work as a software engineer at Facebook.

The fact that people have different interests is a good thing. This is how our a market-based economy must function. We must acknowledge that, in our society, people are lucky enough to have the liberty to express self-determination. However, the necessity to be connected to nature and the environment is not conditional. That is, our ecosystem must shift away from being a fringe issue. All life and all things on this planet are merely derivatives of the natural world. Therefore, we must protect universal common goods by realigning our consumption in a consumer-based economy with the natural limitations of our ecosystem. Clearly, everyone is a shareholder in the success and liable for the failures when we think in the context of environmental stewardship.

The Erosion of Empathy

In a consumer-based society, it is easy to become fascinated by material goods and advancements in technology. This type of thinking is not prohibitively bad for the environment, but actually sustainable if business is conducted in an environmentally conscientious manner. Incentives must align with ecological measures of protection. Too often, this does not happen. Unchecked greed has a tendency to circumvent legislative controls and capital incentives to allow for the destruction of our habitable planet. For example, the common talking point by environmentalists is any failure of fracking.

For the very same reasons that make this world so amazing, these are the very same reasons that make this world so terrible. Perhaps the failures we witness are sparked from those of who do not practice empathy. There is a fantastic TED talk titled the “Erosion of Empathy” and the topic was presented by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen who serves as a Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge. As a cognitive neuroscientist, he breaks down empathy into two categories: cognitive and affective. Cognitive is the recognition of another person’s emotions and the ability to place oneself in another person’s shoes. Affective empathy, Baron-Cohen argues, is the ability to be affected by the recognized emotional experience another human being is experiencing. Or, in other words, it is the necessary factor in explaining human cruelty towards anything.

“Empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution.” —Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

In the video, Baron-Cohen acknowledges that there are three social factors that primarily affect empathy. The factors are the influence of authority, political or religious ideology, and tribalism. Tribalism, in particular, relates to both in-group and out-group relations that perpetuate propaganda for the explicit purpose of dehumanizing the opposition. Later in his talk, Baron-Cohen notes that those who are autistic and those who are psychopathic are mirror opposites. Essentially, those with autism tend to have affective, but not cognitive empathy and the converse is true for psychopaths. This understanding has a caveat, that is, people have varying shades of either or both types of empathy. To support his claims, Baron-Cohen referenced James Blair’s experiment at the Broadmoor hospital, discussed the MOA-A gene, and the impact of fetal testosterone.

How Do We Get It Back?

Naturally, if we assume Baron-Cohen is correct, the best way we can become more skilled practitioners at affective empathy is through targeting the three social factors he mentioned. As people, we have no control over the varying degree of the MOA-A gene we were predisposed to or the fetal testosterone we experienced during embryonic development. Despite the multiple ways to successfully break down social barriers, our team at Counter Current would like to feature a friend who owns a sugar glider. This example of atypical pet ownership is meant to be informative and not persuasive — this is not an analysis on the ethics behind the global wildlife trade rather insight on the marsupial.

Angela Karamanos is the proud mama of a semi-famous, female, sugar glider named Skatoulaki or, Laki, for short. For those who are not versed in Greek, we suggest you ‘Google it’. Angela, better known as Ang, is a 2018 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and played Division 1 Women’s soccer. Following graduation, she became a combat systems officer in the military and considers herself “wild, adventurous, and energetic.”

Q: “What do most people think when you tell/show them Laki?” —Ryan

A: “They say “only you would have a flying squirrel” and then proceed to ask me if she flies. After a minute or 2 they think she’s so cool because she’ll just hang out and jump between people like a little ninja. Then she’ll curl up and they all think she’s so cute.” —Angela

laki.jpeg

While living in Florida, she decided to purchase a sugar glider because they seemed like a lot of fun. According to her, “[they’re] tiny so you can take them anywhere without people knowing and they’re easy to take care of.” For her, compared to a dog or a cat, Laki is a way better fit. During the bonding process, she noticed how skittish sugar gliders can be, so it was awesome when she would “walk up to her cage and [Laki] would realize it’s me” as she “crawls right up my arm into my pocket.” From the description, it’s hard to imagine anything so cute.

However, sugar gliders are nocturnal creatures. In particular, it can be challenging to hear Laki barking at 4:30 AM because she wants to play, but it’s totally worth it because Laki is super loyal. Despite the patience required at the beginning, once Laki became familiar with Angela the nibbling or "crabbing” stopped. She recalled in the interview that there was this “one time I fell asleep with [Laki] in my pocket and when I woke up she wasn’t in my pocket anymore. I had no idea where she went and then I found her in my closet going crazy climbing up and through all my clothes!” Marsupials will climb on anything — or at the very least, try. Angela also mentioned another time she was lying down and Laki pounced right into her face with absolutely no regret. Without a doubt “it was pretty funny.”

An average day with Laki is built around routines. Angela loves to hang out with Laki and tries to as much as possible. In the morning, Laki is let out of her cage and fits snugly into Angela’s pocket. Later in the day, when Angela revisits the cage, she places Laki in to get some uninterrupted sleep. Around 8 or 9 PM, Angela will cut Laki some fresh fruits and veggies, so Laki can eat when she wakes up around 10 PM. From 10 to 11 or 12 PM, there is a strictly enforced playtime before Angela goes to bed. However, every day is different because Laki can be carried anywhere with Angela! Oh, and let’s not forget, that owning a pet has been show, scientifically, to make a person more empathetic.

Parting Thoughts

A huge thanks to Angela Karamanos for the interview! She was such a help and we wish her and Laki all the best. Stay tuned for an article about Laki, Zoboomafoo, and other marsupials that have made a splash in the lives of so many.

Disclaimer: This article is not a critique or an endorsement of the global wildlife trade for exotic animals. To our readers, expect a follow up article to discuss the potential benefits and negative implications of the global wildlife trade.