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The Great Irony in Showtime’s Climate Show

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There’s a terrible irony right there in the opening sequence of the first episode of the new Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously.

Nelly Montez describes what happened to her and thousands of other workers when Cargill, one of the world’s largest factory farm operations, closed its slaughterhouse in the small town of Plainview, Texas. As she explains it:

“We never saw it coming … That day when they told us, they took us into the cafeteria … It was like they’d rounded us up like a herd of cattle … and they just hit us over the head with it.

DonCheadleNellyMontez_YearsOfLivingDangerously-041614To this day, Montez and the 2,200 other people who’d been working at the slaughterhouse are still bewildered. They have no idea how or why this could have happened.

Back in February, 2013, when the plant closed, another employee, Stacy Bull, who’d worked there for 11 years, told local TV news:

“I asked God every night, ‘What is the next step?’ My mom, my kids… I have three nieces and nephews, that’s what worries me the most,” Bull said. “I have supported them all my life.”

Cargill spokesman Michael Martin explained that the company had idled the plant because of the drought and the dwindling supply of cows, who were at their lowest number since 1967.

And Police Captain Manuel Balderas organized a weekly gathering where townspeople would walk for four miles around the perimeter of the slaughterhouse. The purpose: to encircle the plant with prayers.

“It’s going to have to be a miracle. That’s what we’re praying for.”

When Don Cheadle arrives with the Showtime production crew, the walk is still happening, and he joins in. Here’s a six-minute clip from the show, where Cheadle talks with people from the town and with cattle ranchers like Marty Best, whose 17,000 acres of land are bone dry:

So, what’s the great irony in all this? It’s not the fact that people like Nelly Montez and Marty Best are bewildered by what’s happening. It’s not the fact that they’re suspicious of climate change science. (Later on, we get to meet Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., a locally-grown scientist and strongly committed Christian who talks the language of cattle-ranching country and explains it all to them. So there’s plenty of information about human-caused climate change.)

ranchland-041614The thing that’s never mentioned – and here’s the great irony – is that climate change isn’t just about people driving cars in distant cities, or burning coal and cutting down rainforests in faraway countries; it’s about the cattle ranching industry itself.

Never mentioned anywhere in this TV show is how this local industry – the ranching and slaughtering of cows – is playing such an enormous part in driving the climate change that’s now destroying these folks’ livelihood.

Cows – and especially cows who are raised for slaughter – emit more greenhouse gases (from both ends) than all the automobiles in the world.

It’s not that climate change is destroying the cattle industry; it’s that the cattle industry is destroying the climate!In other words, it’s not that climate change is destroying the cattle industry; it’s that the cattle industry is destroying the climate!

Even if we humans were to cut down just a bit on the amount of meat we eat, the results would be huge. According to the Environmental Defense Fund:

It turns out you don’t have to make a big change in your kitchen in order to make a big change in the world – and improve your health. If all of us adopted this simple initiative, we would save enough energy annually – from avoided meat production – equivalent to taking eight million cars off the road.

There’s much more, too: how the land is torn up and literally turned to dust in ranching operations; the huge depletion of water that’s involved in growing the crops to feed and raise the animals; the destruction of wildlife who were there, along with multitudes of now-vanished plants, before humans arrived with their cattle.

It’s the whole, huge global industry that’s behind names like Cargill.

(By way of background, Cargill employs over 140,000 employees in 66 countries, supplies about 22 percent of the US domestic meat market, and produces 25 percent of all United States grain exports. All of the eggs used in McDonald’s restaurants in the US pass through Cargill’s plants, and, as part of its overseas operations, it’s also the largest poultry producer in Thailand. In 2013, it declared revenues of $136.7 billion and earnings of $2.31 billion in 2013.)

Sadly and ironically, it’s the workers and ranchers themselves who have been so much a part of bringing about their own demise. And for whatever reason, this critically important, central fact is entirely omitted from the show.

Sadly and ironically, they’ve helped to bring about their own demise. And this critically important fact is entirely omitted from the show.Maybe the producers thought it would be too upsetting to include this. Maybe they thought it would come across like they’re blaming these hard-working folks. Maybe. But wouldn’t you think that people who are so bewildered by what’s happening would want to know the how’s and why’s of what’s happening. If it’s all because of things that are totally outside of our control, then we are truly helpless. But when we know what’s happening and why, then at least we’re in a position to take some action – maybe not enough, but at least something.

Of course, the same applies to all of us. We’re all, all together, playing our part in what’s bringing on this great extinction catastrophe. Kudos to Showtime for devoting a whole series to explaining it. But it’s remarkable that in this first episode, they’d avoid mentioning one of the most critical factors –and how the very people who are being so badly hurt had helped to bring about their own demise.

That’s real tragedy – in the true (Greek tragedy) meaning of the word.

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