Are Our Dietary Habits the Real Inconvenient Truth?

This is the 18th in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Until this point, we’ve been discussing what’s in the Community Climate Action Plan that shouldn’t be, namely, the deer killing plan.

Is there anything that the task force should have considered that they didn’t?

On June 23, 2015, the Energy and Climate Protection Task Force presented a draft version of the Community Climate Action Plan to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and asked for their feedback. Mayor Lydia Lavelle suggested an initiative to encourage eating less meat and more foods that don’t emit greenhouse gasses.

The Mayor is wise. According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined. And according to a 2009 report by the Worldwatch Institute, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

At that same meeting, Alderman Sammy Slade expressed the desire to align the climate action plan with social justice issues. We wonder if he knows that perhaps the most pressing social justice issue of our time is the fact that “82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe.

The Task Force ultimately gave lip service to the Mayor’s suggestions in Community Integration Recommendation #1: Create Grass Roots Partnerships to Engage Community. Within that recommendation, under the heading Implementation Opportunities, we find: “Many local and other groups are involved in environmental outreach and/or climate action. These include but are not limited to…Meatless Monday Communities…Carrboro can adapt and use programs with proven track records for community engagement.

According to the Triangle Meatless Monday web site, “Meatless Monday is an international non-profit initiative established to encourage healthier and more sustainable eating, one step at a time.

“Triangle Meatless Monday (TMM) is our local version of the initiative, inviting everyone to try meat-free dishes each Monday. To make it easier and more fun, we have invited Triangle area restaurants to participate by offering at least one vegan dish.”

Durham’s County Commissioners officially proclaimed Mondays as “Meatless Monday” at their monthly board meeting on Monday, June 13th, 2011.

The Town of Chapel Hill passed a lamer version of the resolution by proclaiming September 2011 as “Meatless Monday” month.

And there, the “proven track record” of the Triangle “Meatless Mondays Communities” ends.

In his book, Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work (Langdon Street Press, 2013), Dr. Richard Oppenlander writes that 45% of the Earth’s landmass is now devoted to livestock, including land used for grazing and land on which plants used to feed livestock are grown.

For centuries, Earth’s forests have been cut down primarily to create more land for grazing cattle. Worldwide, 91 percent of all rainforest land deforested since 1970 is now used for grazing livestock, much of it for export from poorer nations to richer ones.

There is more than enough food to feed the world’s population today, and even enough to feed the nine billion people projected to be alive in 2050. But because half of the world’s grain is fed to livestock rather than directly to humans, many millions of people face starvation or food insecurity at the same time that resources are being depleted at an alarmingly unsustainable pace. At current rates of animal food consumption, we would need two Earths to feed everyone expected to be alive in 2030. As Oppenlander writes, we have the ability to feed everyone, now and in the future, but only if we change the types of foods we consume. As long as humans consume animals and their secretions, the problem is unsolvable.

Unfortunately, in current political and public policy debates, resistance to seriously examining the unsustainable impacts of animal agriculture is deeply entrenched. Oppenlander suggests that this may be because the meat-eating leaders of corporations, governments, and the environmental movement refuse to believe evidence that would require them to question their own dietary habits.

Eating locally grown plant food brings many health and environmental advantages. However, Oppenlander cautions, contrary to myth, even a 100% locally sourced diet that includes typical amounts of animal products uses more fossil fuel than a plant-based diet of foods trucked 1,500 miles. The reason is that transportation from farmer to retailer accounts for only 4 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted in the entire food production process.

The Task Force’s recommended goal is “a 50% reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.” Perhaps they don’t realize that we could reach that goal almost overnight by eliminating animal flesh and secretions from our diets. A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover.

Can Naturalized Landscaping and Deer Coexist?

This is the 17th in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Assertion 17: “Encourage naturalized landscaping instead of manicured lawns. These types of landscapes offer critical wildlife habitat, cause a decline in the use of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, more effectively capture stormwater runoff, and reduce the heat island effect.” [page 47]

Encouraging naturalized landscaping instead of manicured lawns is an excellent suggestion. Many of the plants that cause the most complaints regarding deer damage, including tulips, hostas, and azaleas, are not native to the southeastern United States and should be avoided in naturalized landscaping. There are other plants, including American holly and southern magnolia, that are both native to our area and tend to be avoided by deer. There’s a helpful list here.

As for the native species that deer love, plant them behind tall fences so that they can thrive. Ditto with your vegetable garden.


Does Killing Deer Improve Their Health?

This is the tenth in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Assertion 10: “A reduced/better managed deer population would…Improve the overall health of the deer population…” [page 43]

In what perverse moral universe do we improve the overall health of a population by killing some of them and wounding or crippling as many as we kill?

“Improved health” when applied to free-living animals is hunter-speak for improved fertility. It creates more animals, not fewer, which is exactly the opposite of the stated goal of the task force.

Killing a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister disrupts deer families and causes fear, trauma, stress, and other unhealthy outcomes.


Can the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Address All Concerns in Carrboro?

This is the eighth in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Assertion 8: “The NC Wildlife Resources Commission and others are available to advise the Town about the feasibility of creating a program that is tailored to the needs of Carrboro and addresses all concerns.” [page 42]

The NC Wildlife Resources Commission, like all state wildlife agencies, exists for a reason, and it’s not to tailor programs to the needs of Carrboro.

“The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is the state government agency created…to conserve and sustain the state’s fish and wildlife resources…”

This mission (and indeed the very name of the organization) implies that animals exist to be “resources” for humans, assuming an unquestioned belief in the myth of dominionism. But we know that animals have a complex set of interests that do not include a desire to be human property. As Alice Walker famously said, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

And what about the mission to “conserve and sustain the state’s fish and wildlife”? It sounds good, but isn’t it the goal of Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Task Force to reduce the number of deer? “Conserve and sustain” sounds like the opposite of reducing population. In fact, elsewhere on their site, the commission admits that “hunting does not hurt deer populations.”

If we read further on the About page, we find the real reason for the Commissison’s enthusiasm for deer killing: “The sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal grants and other receipts provide financial support of the agency.  The Commission has an operational budget of approximately $65 million and employs over 590 full-time men and women across the state…”

So the bottom line is that the NC Wildlife Commission has no interest in reducing deer populations in Carrboro or anywhere else. Their mission is to “provide programs and opportunities that allow hunters, anglers, boaters; other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy wildlife-associated recreation.” In other words, they exist to provide humans the opportunity to kill for fun.


Is Urban Archery Safe for Carrboro?

This is the seventh in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Assertion 7: “While culling can be seen as a safety issue, there have been no documented archery related accidents in NC for the past 40 years.” [page 42]

It’s interesting that the Task Force repeats the statistic of “no documented archery related accidents in NC for the past 40 years.” The Urban Archery season has only been around since 2007, starting in smaller communities that are far less densely populated than Carrboro. As of 2016, 58 communities out of 739 in the state are participating, all of them far less densely populated than Carrboro. The communities that participate in Urban Archery season have population densities ranging from 195 people per square mile up to 2,745 people per square mile, with an average population density of 822 people per square mile. Carrboro has a population density of 3,133 people per square mile. It makes absolutely no sense for Carrboro to risk the safety of any of its residents or visitors by joining this foolish experiment called Urban Archery.

Last year, the Village Council in Pinehurst, North Carolina, which has a population density less than half of Carrboro’s, voted against using trained professionals to kill deer on the grounds of safety, and instead implemented sensible non-lethal methods to co-exist with their deer neighbors.

And just because no accidents have been reported so far in North Carolina does not mean that they aren’t happening elsewhere. On November 12, 2015, just two days after the Task Force delivered this report, a 54-year-old hunter in a tree stand in Millsboro, Delaware, shot an arrow that struck a 24-year-old man on the ground about 30 yards away. The injured man was airlifted to two different hospitals before undergoing surgery the following day.

The city council of Ellisville, Missouri wisely voted to put a moratorium on deer hunting after a child found an arrow in his yard.

According to the organization Safe Backyards, “While it is true that accidents with bows and arrows are less common than other forms of hunting, they do happen… Most go unreported, as people remove errant arrows from their yards, homes, garages, etc., without notifying the authorities. There are also deliberate killings with bows and arrows. It’s the prosecutions of these crimes that are rare.”

“One remarkable fact gleaned from the list of hunting accidents is the large number of incidents in which parents killed their children or children killed a parent or other relative…these are devastating traumas that ruin the lives of the survivors and destroy families.”

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission set Saturday, September 26, 2015, as its first annual Youth Deer Hunting Day. On this day, youth under the age of 16 could use any legal weapon to hunt deer of either sex and were not required to be accompanied by an adult if they had completed a hunter education course. The Youth Deer Hunting Day provisions apply to both private and public lands.  What could go wrong?

In January 2010, Chapel Hill Police Lt. Kevin Gunter said, “If an arrow strikes a tree and ricochets, it is a projectile that could cause death or serious injury.”

In October 2010, then-Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison reported, “Carrboro is very densely populated and there are very few areas where an urban deer hunt could be safely conducted. Even if the Town were to identify an area in which to hunt, ensuring that the hunt could be safely conducted would be a very difficult task. Town staff would be responsible for developing the urban archery program to be used within Town limits. Town staff would also be responsible for ensuring the safety of hunters and anyone else who may purposefully or mistakenly enter the hunt area. Some Carrboro police officers hunt deer but are not interested in hunting within Town limits as they believe that hunting here would be too dangerous.”

If you want to see some images of bow hunting accidents, click here. WARNING: Images are extremely graphic.



Does the deer population in Carrboro need to be “managed”?

This is the third in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Assertion 3: “Deer overpopulation needs to be better managed to reduce negative impacts on forest regeneration and ecosystem health and biodiversity.” [page 38]

Again, although there are three end notes at the bottom of page 38, none of them references any studies regarding deer and their adverse affect on forest regeneration, ecosystem health, or biodiversity.

And again, this assertion begins with the anthropocentric implicit bias of “deer overpopulation.” As we established earlier, the deer in Carrboro are not overpopulated.

According to In Defense of Animals, “Wildlife management, population control and wildlife conservation are euphemisms for killing–hunting, trapping and fishing for fun. A percentage of the wild animal population is specifically mandated to be killed. Hunters want us to believe that killing animals equals population control equals conservation, when in fact hunting causes overpopulation of deer, the hunters’ preferred victim species, destroys animal families, and leads to ecological disruption as well as skewed population dynamics.”

The second part of this assertion contains the unproven assumption that deer are adversely affecting forest regeneration, ecosystem health, and biodiversity. As we established earlier, “excess deer” are not the primary cause of decreasing plant diversity.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, “It is easy to point the finger at deer and blame them for our forest growth woes, yet the reality is that forests are affected by many things: acid rain, insect damage, disease, forest fragmentation, pollutants, loss of soil fertility, animal browsing, invasive and other competing plant species, parasitic organisms, climatic and weather extremes, over-development … and deer. It is vital in addressing deer-human conflicts that we not use deer as scapegoats for larger and more systemic ecological problems.”