Problem-Solving

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by William Defebaugh

photograph by daniel beltrá

World Press award-winning Brazilian photographer Daniel Beltrá has dedicated his life to capturing humankind’s impact on the environment in visceral images ranging from the Amazon to the Arctic that make our devastation all too clear (see above). If you think that this line of work would make Beltrá a pessimist, though, you’d be wrong. “What keeps me going is humankind’s ability to solve problems,” he tells Atmos. “If we can send someone to the moon, surely our problems here can’t be so insurmountable.”

 

It’s sentiments like this that we have to rely on when news surfaces of a pregnant whale washing ashore in Sardinia with 48 pounds of plastic in its stomach—just a month after another whale was found dead in similar circumstances in the Philippines, having ingested almost twice as much. It’s estimated that 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year, and according to a recent report from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the amount of plastic in the world’s waters will outweigh the amount of fish by 2050.

 

It should come as a victory, then, that New York State lawmakers have agreed upon a statewide ban of single-use plastic bags from retail sales. Starting next March, the ban will reduce the 71,000 tons of plastic bags used annually in New York City. “I’ve been fishing 40 miles out in the ocean and you see a parade of these plastic bags just floating by,” said governor Andrew Cuomo, who personally backed the ban.

 

Elsewhere on land, Burger King has announced the new meatless Impossible Whopper, a plant-based alternative from Impossible Foods that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Burger King chief marketing officer Fernando Machado said, “People on my team who know the Whopper inside and out, they try it and they struggle to differentiate which one is which.” And the impact one patty can make is nothing to scoff at: According to Impossible Foods, choosing a plant-based Impossible Burger over a meat-based one saves the equivalent of 75 square feet of land, one half tub of bathwater, and 18 miles of emissions in a car.

 

Meanwhile, the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) has reported that traditional milk sales dropped by a staggering $1.1 billion in 2018 (from $14.7 to $13.6 billion). The primary reason? More and more consumers are interested in plant-based milk alternatives, an industry that was last valued at $11.9 billion in 2017, and is projected to surpass $34 billion in the next five years.

 

Speaking of agricultural revolutions, it seems that the fashion industry is finally taking note that the only way to make its practicing more sustainable is from the ground up. “Agriculture really represents the best chance that we have of mitigating and ending the climate crisis,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario recently stated. “The science is saying that if we converted all industrialized agriculture to regenerative, organic practices, we could sequester all the world’s carbon.” Regenerative agriculture maintains that before worrying about being able to sustain the planet as is, we need to heal what’s already been damaged—namely, our soil. It’s a burgeoning field that has attracted investments from clothing companies like Patagonia, luxury fashion house Kering, and activewear brand Prana, to name a few.

 

Yes, it seems that Beltrá was onto something: If there is any hope for the future, it just might rest in our ability to solve problems, no matter the odds or how large in scale.

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