As Dr. Joseph Drew Lanham writes in his beautiful and deeply moving memoir, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, from his earliest days growing up in the piedmont forests and fields of Edgefield, South Carolina, he dreamed of flight. This fascination with the aerial journeys of the blue jays that stole his grandmother’s pecans and the crows that invaded his father’s cornfield sparked Dr. Lanham’s lifelong dedication to studying birds and to exploring what it means to be a “rare bird” himself: a Black man in a field that is overwhelmingly white and an ecologist finding freedom through wildness on land where his ancestors were enslaved. In addition to advancing scientific understanding of wild animals, Dr. Lanham has written extensively about the deep and often overlooked connections between how we treat nature and how we treat our fellow humans. In this episode, we speak with Dr. Lanham about how bird lives and Black lives intertwine in the story of the Carolina Parakeet, the language-defying joy of watching swallow-tailed kites, and why Emily Dickinson was right in declaring that “hope is the thing with feathers.”
Born in Paris to an African-American GI and a French woman at the end of World War II, Dr. Daniel Pauly rose from a difficult and extraordinarily unusual childhood in Europe to become one of the most daring, productive, and influential fisheries scientists in the history of the field — and the first to illuminate the global extent and significance of overfishing. A professor and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Pauly has devoted his career to studying and documenting the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems and advocating for cutting-edge policies to address it. The software, scientific tools, and methods he and his research team developed have transformed understanding of how humans are impacting oceans. His research makes very clear that fish are in global peril — and so, in turn, are we. If our species manages to reverse course and avoid the “watery horror show,” as he calls it, for which we’re on track, it will be thanks in large part to his and his colleagues’ vision, courage, and decades of tireless work. In this episode, we speak with Dr. Pauly about the “toxic triad” that characterizes modern fisheries (catches are underreported, science is ignored, and the environment is blamed when fish populations collapse as a result), how “shifting baseline syndrome” — a term he coined — results in slow and inadequate responses to overfishing and climate change, why fish are shrinking and struggling to breathe as oceans warm, and why we need to end high seas fishing and government subsidies of international fishing fleets.
As wildlife across Canada face unprecedented pressures from climate change and industrial development, Indigenous Peoples, who have relied upon and managed these animals for millennia, are leading the way on ensuring their protection. From Newfoundland and Labrador to the Yukon Territory, groundbreaking Indigenous-led protection initiatives are ensuring Canada’s treasured species like the boreal caribou and globally important landscapes are safeguarded for future generations. In this episode, we speak with Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI) founder and director Valérie Courtois, an Innu forester who is a leading advocate for Indigenous-run guardianship and land protection across Canada. Courtois discusses the remarkable efforts of seven First Nations to pull caribou in the Ungava Peninsula back from the brink and her work empowering Indigenous peoples to manage and protect their ancestral lands.
Amid the systematic cruelties and alienating conditions which define our factory farm system, Farm Sanctuary stands out as an exemplar of human kindness. Over the past thirty years, Farm Sanctuary — co-founded and led by our guest, Gene Baur — has rescued thousands of farm animals from short, tortured lives in industrial confinement and allowed them to live out their days in comfort. There, these rescued cows, pigs, sheep and more serve as ambassadors, teaching millions of people — from schoolchildren to Hollywood stars — that farm animals are individuals with personalities and emotions and deserve to be treated as more than just widgets on an assembly line. In this episode, we speak with Baur about the origins and evolution of Farm Sanctuary, how animals who have suffered transform when they are treated with gentleness for the first time, and the globe wave of farm animal sanctuaries that his work inspired. From spur-of-the-moment calf rescues with celebrity supporters like Joaquin Phoenix to lawsuits against companies and government agencies, Baur has fought tirelessly to protect farm animals from cruelty and to promote a more compassionate world.
The repercussions of the international wildlife trade, which is a primary driver of our planet’s biodiversity crisis, have recently hit close to home. With the society-altering impacts of Covid-19, which scientists think originated in wild animals, and the cultural storm around the Netflix hit “Tiger King,” the true cost of the wildlife trade and the U.S.’s role in driving it have become topics of national concern. In this episode, we speak with Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Zak Smith, who has fought for years to protect at-risk wildlife from exploitation. Smith discusses his work leveraging international, federal, and state and local mechanisms to safeguard some of our planet’s most iconic species — such as vaquitas, giraffes, and elephants — and his vision for a more sustainable, equitable world.
Roughly two-thirds of emerging infectious diseases — including COVID-19 and almost all recent epidemics — originate in the bodies of animals. Microbes have spilled over from animals to humans for time immemorial, but, as our species dominates the biosphere and transforms the frequency and nature of human-animal interactions, the rate at which microbes are jumping the species barrier is rapidly accelerating. In this episode, we speak with investigative journalist Sonia Shah, author of “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond,” about the history of viral infections and how our treatment of animals and the planet — via the burning of fossil fuels, biodiversity loss, deforestation, factory farming, the wildlife trade, and more — is fueling the eruption and spread of infectious diseases.
In an age where almost everything we eat is produced outside of public view, whistleblowers are critical to maintaining the integrity of our food systems. These principled insiders are often the first people to warn the public — often at grave personal cost — when food is unsafe, when workers face inhumane conditions, when food labels mislead consumers, and when animals and the environment are being abused. But who defends these front-line defenders?
Our guest, attorney Amanda Hitt, has been a champion and visionary for protecting and empowering food system whistleblowers for over a decade. As the founder and director of the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign, Hitt’s clients have included USDA food safety inspectors in ultra-high-speed slaughterhouses, contract poultry farmers faced with exploitative contracts and company retaliation, and animal researchers privy to taxpayer-funded waste and cruelty. In addition to litigating whistleblowers’ cases, Hitt and her team work to draw public attention to these whistleblowers’ stories and to turn their revelations into systemic legal reforms. In this episode, Hitt takes us inside the world of animal agriculture industry whistleblowers. We speak with Hitt about her clients’ stories and motivations, the patchwork of laws that provide protections and redress for whistleblowers, the reality behind her video game “Bacon Defender,” and why food animal welfare, public health, and worker rights are inextricably intertwined.