The disturbing headline consumed the front page of the March 15, 2005, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Parents in Abuse Case Get Prison; They Used Shock Collar; Hot Iron.” The story below it detailed the unthinkable. A Wisconsin couple routinely shocked their 17-year-old daughter with a dog’s electric “training” collar and burned her with a hot iron. At the trial, Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Tom Fallon described both tools as “instruments of torture.”1
Why isn’t a shock collar considered an instrument of torture for a non-human animal as well?
These popular devices are marketed as “correctional collars,” and are often part of “invisible fence” systems, but they are hardly benign training tools. Rather, they are designed to electrically shock non-human animals, mostly dogs.
On its website, Invisible Fence Co. displays its “fence” like a golden aura surrounding dogs playing in a yard, and boasts of an ever-expanding market. The company claims its systems have “protected” more than one million dogs of every breed for more than 30 years. The systems are now sold for puppies as young as eight weeks old.2
Invisible Fence, which originated the devices in 1974, was purchased by Radio Systems Corporation in 2006. Radio Systems also acquired several other brands of the systems, including SportDog, Petsafe and Innotek. In 2006, Radio Systems reported annual sales in excess of $30 million, which represents prodigious growth from the $1 million sales reported in 1991.3
Yet as sales have risen, so has the outcry about the adverse effect of shock devices. Several countries have banned or severely restricted shock collars, including Denmark, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Wales. A bill to prohibit them is currently pending in England.4 When they were being considered for a ban in Wales, which became effective last December, Environment Minister Carwyn Jones pronounced them “totally barbaric.”5
Scientific research has cited the harmful effects of shock collars. A July 2005 report by Esther Schalke, of the University of Veterinary Medicine at Hannover, Germany, found elevated heart rates and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the saliva of 14 beagles
trained with electronic collars. Schalke’s report concluded, “The general use of electric shock collars is not consistent with animal welfare.”6
This study followed another by Dr. Matthijs B. H. Schilder and Dr. Joanne A.M. van der Borg at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, in 2004. It showed that 32 German shepherds were adversely affected by shock collars, long after the shock occurred.7
Shock training teaches a dog to obey through fear and punishment. An “invisible fence” is actually a radio wire buried several inches deep along the perimeter of a yard. A hidden transmitter emits a radio signal along the wire. When the dog approaches the boundary, this signal is picked up by the computer collar and starts beeping. If the dog ignores the beeping and remains near the fence for more than a few seconds, an electric shock is delivered to the dog’s neck through two blunt electrodes attached to the collar. The shock increases in intensity if the dog fails to heed the warning, ranging from a level one shock to a level ten for “stubborn dogs.”8
To find out what a level ten shock is like, FoA went to The Pet Store Online9 and had an email exchange with a customer service representative named Ellen, who declined to give a last name. Ellen explained that the highest level of shock on the stubborn dog device is comparable on most brands, which is “7,500 volts of correction. Pretty strong, but will not physically ‘hurt’ the dog, just get their attention.”
One of these devices, a SportDOG SD-400 s tubborn dog collar, was reportedly used on an eight-year-old girl in yet another disturbing case from Wisconsin in 2005. The girl’s stepfather was charged with felony child abuse for shocking her with the collar, which had settings from one to eight and delivered electrical shocks ranging from 760 volts to 6,520 volts, according to the company's technical support department in Knoxville, Tenn.. In the criminal complaint, the girl told investigators she “cried a lot because it hurt a lot,” when the shock was administered.10
Yet Invisible Fence spokesperson Mark Thomas claimed even the highest level of “correction may be uncomfortable and startling to your dog, but will not hurt them.”11
The Scottish Kennel Club reached the opposite conclusion when they tested the devices on themselves and members of the U.K. Parliament last June.12 Although the collars were set at only one third of their full power, MP Eleanor Laing described the painful shock as a wake-up call. “That really hurt! Imagine if that was used on a dog’s neck. That is positively cruel …I am a complete convert and will definitely be signing the motion against them.”
Why, then, are shock fences and collars systems so popular?
Along with the labels which make the devices seem positive, they are advertised as simple, quick-working ways to keep dogs safe while allowing them room to play. They are also fairly inexpensive, usually selling for lower that $300, slightly less than a chain-link fence.13
Anyone can buy a shock device. Yet the collars are capable of “effortlessly inflicting suffering and punishment at the touch of a button,” said Ross Minett, Director of the Scotland-based Advocates for Animals.14
Occasionally, the authorities do pursue criminal charges against people who use the devices on non-human animals, but they are few and far between. Ami Moore, a Chicago dog trainer, was arrested on July 14, 2006, on two counts of cruelty to animals. She was charged in a police report with “tormenting a Newfoundland dog by repeatedly administering shocks via an electronic collar that caused the dog to cry out in pain, pant in distress and scratch at the collar in an attempt to stop the shocking sensation.”15
Although Moore bills herself as Chicago’s “dog whisperer,” it is a self- appointed title, as no state in the U.S. requires any official certification for private dog trainers. In Connecticut, training companies (but not private trainers) must be licensed, according to Maureen Griffin, state supervisor of the Animal Control Division. Regulatory loopholes allow unlicensed, private individuals to use shock collars, but forbid licensed training companies from doing so.16
Aside from being a dispenser of pain in the hands of a particularly sadistic owner, the s hock devices also come with a potential for malfunctioning, because of failing batteries, or faults in either the transmitter or boundary wire. In one such case in Idaho, on May 21, 2002, an eight-month old yellow Lab named Rufus suffered first, second and third degree chemical burns because a collar went haywire on a rainy day. The injury left a “deep hole in the neck and a green corrosion on and around the collar and on the hair of the neck,” according to the medical report by Susan K. Benson, DVM.18
Compounding the problem, an invisible fence system only confines the collared dog, and does not prevent others from entering the property, Ansari points out. “It doesn’t stop other roaming cats and dogs from entering the yard, and they can torment the heck out of the collared dog,” she said.
Ansari describes her first encounter with shock devices as unnerving, with striking similarities to the Ami Moore case. “I saw a 'dog trainer' last summer using shock collars with a remote. At first what I noticed were two lovely and timid dogs off-leash at an adoption fair and their beautiful eyes looked terrified. I learned was that a woman standing about 10 feet away was administering shocks if the dogs went too far from her,” she explained. “Since I heard no verbal requests from her, I'm not sure how the dogs knew what 'too far' was. I was moved to tears…. In speaking to others I found that many were just as horrified as I was, but that the method is legal.”
T he heightened sensitivity of non-human animals to electric stimuli makes these devices especially inappropriate, Ansari said. “We should be outraged by the use of shock collars. We have long talked about the sensitivity of non-human animals to electric stimuli generated from things like storms, earthquakes….The animal may feel the stimuli ten times more strongly. I find the popularity of the 'invisible fence' and the use of shock collars totally devoid of any thought for the feelings of the one receiving the shock.”
To Ansari, a “quick fix” training solution like an invisible fence system undermines the process. “ Integrating a new family member takes time, patience and compassion for best long-term results,” and works most effectively with positive reinforcement, she said. Ansari now refuses to adopt dogs to anyone who uses the devices, which she believes can cause irrevocable harm to our relationship with non human animals. “ My experience has been that the reasons someone chooses a shock fence have less to do with the well-being of the animal than the convenience of the human. When I hear them say they will use a shock fence, a red flag goes up: How will this person handle other challenges with the dog if what they want now is a neat, quick, easy fix? If someone is demonstrating an unwillingness to give their time then I cannot, in good conscience, approve an adoption.”
She would like to see other rescue groups follow suit. “ Rescue and adoption groups, including staff at municipal facilities, are in a position to influence a 'captive audience', so to speak, of individuals who are seeking to bring a non-human animal into their home,” she said.
Permanently etched in Ansari’s memory is a troubling case in which a dog was adopted to a family who used a shock fence. “ A family with a large home and yard applied for a chocolate lab who was available for adoption. The family's previous dog had been killed by a car when he broke through the 'invisible fence' to catch a ball that the children threw,” she explained. “The family planned to continue the use of the collar/fence with the new adoptee. At the time, I did not have final say on adoptions, and my strong protests against this adoption went unheeded. About a month later, the adopters called to say this wonderful dog was hyperactive and they were bringing a trainer in to work with him. I'm still haunted by that placement and believe that the use of the shock collar was causing increased anxiety in the dog.”
Ansari proposes a “product boycott” of shock fences and shock collars. “They’ve been around too long without challenge. I would love to see strong educational efforts to get consumers to refuse to use them,” she said. “From a consumer standpoint, I believe that shock collars and shock fences should give a full disclosure of all the problems that can occur, including the risk of injury or death to the resident animal as well as others in the area. And certainly a critique by influential groups is crucial.”
Despite the concerns raised by Ansari and other animal advocates, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is listed as Invisible Fence’s “ exclusive partner” on the company’s website. This partnership comes with “donations in the form of royalties” for the ASPCA, according to ASPCA spokesperson Inga Fairclough, who would not disclose the amount.19
But opposition is mounting. Last year, a grassroots movement opposing shock collars was launched by Barbara Davis of Corona, CA. Davis said she started a coalition and website, www.noshockcollars.com, so that all those opposed to “the use of electric shock collars…would have a place to record their name in a public way.” Davis’ effort has attracted growing support. “Many of the supporters are involved with dogs that have been emotionally and behaviorally damaged by the devices.”20
The mythology about shock fences and collars has been replaced by scientific evidence. Friends of Animals refused to endorse them and supports Ansari’s call for action. It’s time to boycott these devices.
- 1. Meg Jones, “Parents in Abuse Case Get Prison, They Used Shock Collar, Hot Iron” – The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (15 Mar. 2005).
- 2. Invisible Fence, Inc., Online Services (last visited 27 Jun. 2007).
- 3. Radio Systems Corporation Press Release, “Radio Systems Corporation Launches SportDog,” (dated 3 Feb. 2003).
- 4. Information published by the Scottish Kennel Club in a brochure, “Why Electric Shock Collars for Dogs Should Be Banned” (May 2006).
- 5. The national website of Wales, Online Services (last visited 27 June 2007).
- 6. E. Schalke, “Stress Symptoms Caused by the Use of Electric Training Collars on Dogs in Everyday Life Situations” – Current Issues and Research in Veterinary Behavior Medicine (Jul. 2005).
- 7. Matthijs B. H. Schilder and Dr. Joanne A.M. van der Borg, “Training Dogs With the Help of the Shock Collar: Short and Long Term Effects” – Applied Animal Behavior Science, (2004). Dr. Schilder was also interviewed by email about his study.
- 8. Quoted on Invisible Fence, Inc., Online Services (last visited 27 Jun. 2007).
- 9. The Pet Store Online, Online Services (contacted 27 June 2007).
- 10. Dan Benson, “Man Charged With Shocking Girl, 8” – The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (12 Oct. 2005).
- 11. Phone interview with Invisible Fence spokesperson Mark Thomas (18 May 2007).
- 12. Kennel Club press release, “The Association of Pet Dog Trainers Supports the Kennel Club Campaign to Ban Electric Shock Collars,” (dated 21 Mar. 2006).
- 13. PetSafe, Inc., Online Services (last visited 27 June 2007).
- 14. Email interview with Ross Minett, Director, Advocates for Animals (9 May 2007).
- 15. Tasneem Paghdiwala, “The Arrest of ‘Dog Whisperer’ Ami Moore for Cruelty to Animals Raises Questions about an Unregulated Industry” – Chicago Reader (6 Apr. 2007).
- 16. E-mail interview with Maureen Griffin, Connecticut State Supervisor, Animal Control Division (26 May 2007).
- 17. Helen L. McKinnon, <www.itsfortheanimals.com> (last visited 8 Jun. 2007).
- 18. Phone and email interviews with Marie Ansari, New Jersey-based Dog and Cat Fosterer and Rescue Liason with the New Jersey-based Lawyers in Defense of Animals. Ansari also works on a spay-neuter grant with FoA. (May 2007).
- 19. E-mail interview with Inga Fairclough, Media and Communications Spokesperson, ASPCA (23 May 2007).
- 20. E-mail interview with Barbara Davis, CPDT, APDT, Corona, California (22 May 2007).
With war, global warming, and disappearing natural resources, you might wonder sometimes if American musicians are too caught up in these issues, or paralyzed by them, to give thought to the social justice other animals need as well. Happily, this is not the case. You probably know about Chrissie Hynde’s protests against fast-food giants and The B-52s (moral) fear of fur. And there are plenty of other top-notch singers and songwriters talking about, and advocating for, the rights of our non-verbal fellow creatures to live a natural, dignified life. Each has a different issue that fires them up, but conceptually they are all on the same page.
Michael Franks is as legendary as cool-jazz singer-songwriters get. From his 1976 Warner Brothers debut, “The Art Of Tea” (which contained hits like “Popsicle Toes” and “Eggplant” ), to later radio staples, “When Sly Calls,” and “Rainy Night In Tokyo,” Franks has been calming the musical souls of sophisticated listeners for over three decades. In his own quiet way, Franks has also been spreading the gospel of justice for animals.
“I think I can trace my animal consciousness-raising to the early 70s,” says Franks, whose speaking voice is as wry, relaxed and rhythmic as the one he uses to sing. “I was teaching at UCLA and met a musician named Maurice Rogers. Maurice was a vegetarian and was very enthusiastic about the lifestyle. He took me to some vegetarian restaurants in L.A. I immediately started feeling healthier, so I was hooked.”
“Like a lot of people,” Franks recalls, “I got into eating ‘veggie’ first. My ethical feelings about the animals themselves took a couple of years to kick in.”
If there’s a particular bit of animal injustice that (as the hipsters say) “harshes the mellow” of Franks, it would be puppy mills.
“The whole idea of puppy mills and backyard breeders is pathetic and infuriating,” Franks says, voice rising. “They need to be shut down.”
“When you think of all the dogs in shelters or who are homeless,” adds Franks, “It makes you feel sick. It’s one of the reasons I adopt my dogs and also belong to Hearts United for Animals.”
Hearts is a no-kill shelter that not only houses its dogs in comfortable surroundings, but does yeoman work, matching up the homeless with humans who want a pet.
“When I think about justice for animals, my first thought is, please spay and neuter your cats and dogs,” Franks insists. “And please adopt a pet instead of dealing with a mill or a breeder.”
Franks, whose next project may be a series of duets of his most famous songs with acolytes like Macy Gray, didn’t say if he had a practice of taking his dog to the studio with him, but it’s not hard to imagine his soothing voice adding years to the life of his adopted Dachshund.
Nellie McKay , whose debut album “Get Away From Me” caused a sensation three years ago, shares with Franks a love of jazz. Yet despite the sweet breathiness of her speaking voice, there’s no mistaking McKay’s passion for justice between the species.
“I think my consciousness about animals and how disrespectfully they can be treated started when I was seven or eight,” says McKay. “I was brought to a lab animal protest and the thing that stayed with me was ‘Cages are bad.’ I can’t see any reason why animals should ever be in them.”
There’s more: “Today, for instance, I’m upset that in New Jersey, a mother bear who came out of the wild was shot, right in front of her cubs. That was horrifying to me. It was probably just cheaper and less time-consuming than tranquilizing and releasing her.”
McKay is particularly concerned — and somewhat hopeful — about the connection between what one eats, how it’s produced, and how the plant-based culinary arts might determine the fate of our planet.
“I’m thrilled that more and more people are discussing global warming and how real the danger is,” says McKay. “It’s also cool that hybrid cars are coming more into vogue.” But McKay wishes government would address animal agribusiness. Referring to a United Nations report that emerged in January, McKay asks, “Did you know that a vegan [annually] puts a ton-and-a-half less CO2 into the atmosphere?” Driving a Prius instead of a sedan such as a Toyota Camry saves more than a ton of carbon-dioxide emission a year, while adopting a plant-based diet saves at least 1.5 tons of carbon-dioxide. “ So,” says McKay, “Being a vegan is actually more important for our air than driving a Prius!”
When not out touring or recording the music for Rob Reiner’s new film “Rumor Has It…” (go to www .nelliemckay.com for details), the young singer and songwriter appears at rallies and protests on behalf of animals. New Yorkers are already familiar with McKay’s presence at Friends of Animals’ interventions at the Canadian Embassy, on behalf of the seals off Newfoundland’s coast. The killing of seals has yet to end, yet despite anger over this, McKay says she feels more than a bit of optimism for the future of nonhuman beings in the world.
“The thing that’s great is, animal rights, respect for animals, this has turned into a global movement,” observes McKay, who believes that the way this issue it transcends geography “means there’s hope for us all.”
Richie Havens has been recording since the mid-sixties and was the first artist onstage at Woodstock in 1969. Havens, for whom the sobriquet “legend” was possibly invented, also has the big picture in mind when it comes to our living sanely and humanely with the world’s other conscious beings. Havens’ classic sixties’ values rise in his mellow purr: “A lot of what humans have to learn, still, is empathy. We need to be able to identify with beings on that side of the fence, you know?”
“I had a friend back in the 70s, whom I met when I lived in a houseboat, at the 79 th Street boat basin, who was a diver and expert on the sea and its history,” Havens says. “He used to talk about our invasion of the waters which began in Shakespearean times. He knew it was pretty unnatural to go down in diving equipment and invade this world. Eventually, my friend started tours for kids and took them out and around City Island and Long Island Sound. This way he was able to impart to the kids what was being thrown in our waters and how it was killing undersea life. Education, especially among school kids, is the key. Children really get how bad it is to pollute the waters and harm fish and other aquatic creatures. And when they grow up, if they’ve learned this, they tend to indulge less in destructive behavior.”
Havens on animal testing? “That has absolutely got to stop. I’ve heard there’s an entire city beneath Los Alamos, where animal testing goes on, on an incredibly large scale.” Havens, like McKay, is somewhat optimistic.
“We’re headed toward the end of the book now,” Havens says, softly apocalyptic. “But if we go back and look at everything we’ve learned in the rest of the book, the answers are all there.”
Young people are especially aware, Havens observes. “I know, because a lot of them come to my concerts. I have faith that they can help us live more humanely with everything natural in the world. With animals at the top of that list.”
If great reviews and airplay determined fame, Richard X. Heyman would be a household name. Since his major label debut, “Hey Man!” on Sire records in the early 90s, this one man power-pop band has done everything from playing drums with Brian Wilson to racking up impressive airplay on NPR and FUV with his latest disc, “Actual Sighs.” Heyman, a longtime New Yorker, is also one of the original proponents of the now widely respected trap-neuter-release concept for feral cats.
“For the longest time, I was feeding and building shelters for cats on the Lower East Side,” says Heyman. “Cats would come to get fed, but then more — and more — would join them. The way they breed, soon they were increasing exponentially. So, a neighbor gave me her car and I rounded up scores of cats, got them spayed or neutered and the ones I couldn’t keep (Richard, with his music and life partner Nancy, have 19), we released back into the wilds of Manhattan.” But two busy musicians can’t look after all the hungry, sick felines in a region of New York on their own; they implore people everywhere to have their cats spayed or neutered.
Amy Ray , one-half of the legendary folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, has an even more fiery answer. “I live out in the country, not too far from Atlanta, and I see the results of overpopulation. It’s horrifying.” Ray declares: “I swear, if it were up to me, I would end all breeding of dogs and cats in this country.”
Ray thinks disrespect for animals is due to a “disconnect” that starts at the grade school level, where little is said about animal farming. Ray (who also has a solo act, Amy Ray and the Volunteers), together with her musical partner Emily Saliers, have a link to resources on their website, and plans to connect visitors to everything from how to find homes for stray animals, to community-based activist groups, and even how to find out about mobile veterinary units who will come out to the country and spay and neuter cats and dogs.
Ray states, “People don’t realize that we share our space with animals. And the eco-system is very sensitive. Without real thought as to what’s good for animals, the eco-system we share just becomes that much more imperiled. And with that compromised, well, we’re all — human and animal — going to be in a lot of trouble. So we better wise up.”
A vehicle that runs on vegetables? It might sound unrealistic, but it’s here. Increasingly, people are replacing petroleum-based fuels with vegetable-based ones in their vehicles, hoping to travel in a more sustainable and environmentally responsible way.
The conversion cannot be done with gasoline-fueled vehicles, but it’s an option for those with diesel engines, and we’ve seen it most frequently in the pre-1987 Mercedes sedan.
Loren Lockman, founder and director of the Tanglewood Wellness Center, spoke at a Friends of Animals conference about the importance of treading lightly on the earth. Loren runs a recycled and extremely handsome two-door Mercedes Benz with vegetable oil recycled from restaurants.
And a project called The Big Green Bus (www.TheBigGreenBus.org) promotes vegetable-based fuels by touring U.S. schools in a schoolbus that’s “powered by veggies” as a real-life lesson on the power of vegetables. By reducing emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, particulates and sulfates, the exhaust releases less greenhouse gas and less smog than that from regular gasoline.
And many have read about Joe Connor, a San Diego resident who grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, and drives a bright green Mercedes.1 Last spring and summer, Joe toured the United States, visiting a baseball game a day — including senior leagues, as well as college, high school and Little League games — to call attention to people’s dependence on petroleum and how the habit can be kicked. Joe’s 1984 car, fueled by used cooking oil from restaurants, gets about 25 miles per gallon on either diesel or waste oil.
Like Loren, Joe looks for fuel at restaurants, avoiding big chains with complex rules. Finding a local restaurant to supply the leftover oil is an excellent way to re-use a product that usually goes to waste. Asian restaurants usually fry in soy or canola oil, which are perfect for the purpose. The oil is filtered and poured into one of Joe’s two tanks. If necessary, the Mercedes can also be run on diesel fuel.
Joe isn’t sure if interest from the public will translate into action, although the tour attracted good media coverage and positive feedback, and the financial support of sponsors such as Louisville Slugger and Grease Car Vegetable Fuel Systems. He has since been contacted about doing a similar trip in Canada, this time driving to hockey rinks.
Biodiesel or Straight Vegetable Oil?
When the diesel engine was first designed, it ran on peanut oil, and was intended to free people from the steam and coal monopolies of the time. Unfortunately, one kind of fuel monopoly replaced another. But a growing number of drivers are liberating themselves from the system. You might have noticed the faint aroma of French fries as they drive by.
Whereas straight vegetable oil is 100% pure — safe and biodegradable, with no petroleum in the mix at all — biodiesel is a blend of a small amount of specially processed vegetable oil and regular petroleum diesel. The mixed fuel results in lower emissions than straight diesel, and is ready to use in any diesel engine without any modifications. Biodiesel is more common, increasingly available in commercial filling stations.
The proportion of the biodiesel to regular diesel in the mix is identified in the product’s name. For example, the common BD20 (or B20) blend is 20% biodiesel and 80% petro-diesel. Pure biodiesel is BD100 (or B100). Performance and efficiency of biodiesel is similar to that of diesel, but biodiesel tends to keep the engine cleaner.
What many people don’t know is that much of the currently available biodiesel for diesel engines uses animal fat. Also note that biodiesel and t he oils that go into its production are far cheaper when they come from Asia, South America or Africa, so most biodiesel in Europe and North America is not a local product; its importation means a great deal of energy use.
The Road to Sustainability?
In the long term, biofuels shouldn’t be considered a cure-all. You might have hear pure vegetable oil called ‘carbon neutral’ — plants absorb carbon, they’re burned as fuel, then re-absorbed back by the next generation of plants — but this burning still releases carbon and other materials. And much more farming would have to occur in order to produce vegetable oils for fuel, which translates into further loss of habitat for other animals. Palm oil, touted as a key biofuel, is taken from the forests at the expense of life and limb of orang-utans and many other animals of the Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests. Of those tremendous fires of Borneo in 1998, three-quarters were ignited by people clearing land for palm oil.2 Clearing forests is a cause of global warming and desertification; and i n regions where people are struggling to meet their basic food needs, edible crops such as corn may be grown to make fuel for export instead of food for local people. In central and South America, this conflict is already obvious.
This is why using leftover vegetable oil is the best way to take advantage of the biofuel option, as it involves re-using a waste product, not creating new demand.
In the future, we should focus on and promote technologies that rely on low-impact sources of energy, particular solar power; and probably the best move of all is to use and advance train services whenever we can. On this point, most drivers of vegetable-powered engines will strongly agree.
Lee Hall contributed to this report.
Young birch trees waft gently in a spring breeze. A finch alights on a branch, then takes off again. In the spring sunshine, rosebuds are on the very verge of bloom. If this seems like some suburban idyll, it’s not. It’s the rooftop of the 19 th floor of a residential tower, called the Solaire, in Battery Park City in New York. Standing at the building’s edge, looking down toward the north and east, one can see green, or vegetated, roofs on other residential buildings, the Tribeca and the Rhodesian. From this vantage point, they’re like sky gardens.
Urban rooftops are turning green, and the benefits are myriad. Green roofs can serve as sponges, absorbing storm water runoff and mitigating the effects of heavy rains that might otherwise cause sewers to overflow and pollute local waterways. They also cool buildings and the surrounding areas through “evapotranspiration,” in which plants absorb water through their roots and evaporate it through their leaves. This is why parks are noticeably cooler than city streets in summer. Green roofs also filter pollutants from the air, provide habitat for urban or migrating animals, and offer opportunities for food production.
It’s not exactly a new idea. The hanging gardens of Babylon and the sod roofs of wayfaring Vikings are historical examples. But the modern green roof movement began in West Berlin, according to Steven Peck, president of the Toronto-based nonprofit trade organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Its political and geographic isolation influenced the city’s urban ecology movement in the late ’70s and ’80s, and the clear environmental benefits of green roofs were incorporated into public policy. The green roof movement spread through Europe, where it remains much more advanced today than in North America.1 The Austrian city of Linz, for instance, mandates that new buildings in high-density areas have 80 percent green-roof coverage.2
But the greening of American rooftops is well under way in such cities as Toronto, Portland, New York, and Chicago.3 Mayor Richard Daley, who took office in Chicago in 1989, vowed to make the Windy City “the greenest city” in the United States. According to Sadhu Johnston, Chicago’s commissioner of the environment, a million square feet of green rooftops have been completed and some 3.5 million square feet are planned or under way.4
Chicago ’s 22,000-square-foot, 100-year-old City Hall building was one of the city’s first to go green, in 2001. The greenery has greatly reduced the surface temperature of the roof. In summer, says Johnston, measurements have shown that the temperature of the ambient air above the City Hall green roof was 80F degrees cooler than the air above the neighboring Administration’s black-tar roof. Not only is City Hall’s roof helping to mitigate “the urban heat island effect”—the tendency of metropolitan areas to be warmer than surrounding areas—but it also encourages biodiversity. The roof is covered with 150 kinds of trees, shrubs, and grasses, many of them native to the region. “I’ve seen peregrine falcons swooping down,” Johnston said. “There are butterflies, crickets, and even beehives.” Chicago remains at the forefront of the green-roof movement.
Leslie Hoffman, president of the New York-based environmental organization Earth Pledge, is also on a mission to spread the green. In 2002, she planted one of the first green roofs in Manhattan, on top of a renovated Georgian townhouse that serves as the Earth Pledge headquarters. It is covered with sedums, the drought-resistant succulents frequently used for green roofs, but for five years the rooftop also included a kitchen garden where employees composted lunch leftovers and grew an organic herb and vegetable garden.5
“I had an epiphany,” said Hoffman. “I am a longtime gardener, and I was up on the roof in the garden. The place was buzzing; the pollinators were going crazy. And I thought, What an elegant idea this is. There’s all this wasted space—city rooftops—that can be like oases. They can help with storm water management and the urban heat island effect or serve as places to garden. Such a big idea, complex in its variety of benefits.”
So Earth Pledge has expanded its Green Roof Initiative to 16 cities, including Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Atlanta. The dramatic increase in geographic scope has resulted in the neglect of the townhouse’s rooftop—it hasn’t been watered in two years. But a visitor recently found the sedums still thriving, doing their jobs of keeping the building cooler and managing storm runoff.
Those are the basic benefits driving the American green roof movement. Also gaining momentum are newer ideas such as promoting food production. For many years, the Fairmount Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver grew herbs, flowers and vegetables on its roof, saving its kitchen an estimated $30,000 a year in food costs.6
Paul Kephart, executive director of Rana Creek in California, is noted for emphasizing biodiversity in his living roof designs.7 Kephart used indigenous plants for the 69,000-square-foot roof of the Gap headquarters in San Bruno, recreating the coastal savannah ecosystem with native grasses and wildflowers. He also serves as a project design consultant on the two-acre living roof of the California Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate Park, designed by architect Renzo Piano and scheduled to be finished in 2008. The building’s roof mimics California’s rolling hills, with native vegetation providing habitat for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
As green roofs spread, they may help mitigate global warming. By reducing the urban heat island effect, the carbon footprint of energy use for air conditioning will be lessened. And they also keep us connected with nature.
Architecture critic and author Jane Jacobs put the movement in perspective: “In its need for variety and acceptance of randomness, a flourishing natural ecosystem is more like a city than a plantation. Perhaps it will be the city that reawakens our understanding and appreciation of nature, in all its teeming, unpredictable complexity.”8
- 1. Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Toronto (phone interview with author, 23 May 2007).
- 2. Earth Pledge, Green Roofs: Ecological Design and Construction (Schiffer Publishing, 2005), at 74.
- 3. Stephanie Miller, “New Urban Pastures: The Promise of Green Roofs,” Satya (Jun./Jul. 2004).
- 4. Sadhu Johnston, Chicago Commissioner of the Environment (phone interview with author, 11 Jun. 2007).
- 5. Leslie Hoffman, executive director of Earth Pledge (personal interview with author, 1 Jun. 2007).
- 6. See the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Web site; available at www.greenroofs.net.
- 7. See the Rana Creek Web site; available at www.ranacreek.com.
- 8. Jane Jacobs, “The Greening of the City,” The New York Times Magazine (16 May 2004).
Among the featured speakers at a mainstream animal-protection conference in July called “Taking Action for Animals 2007” were Margaret Wittenberg of Whole Foods Market and Nicolette Hahn Niman of Niman Ranch, along with a full panel of ranchers who promoted their businesses for over an hour. Niman’s website urges customers: “Serve with pride the world's finest natural beef, pork and lamb.” And i n the latest trend to restyle agribusinesses as animal-welfare entities, the Animal Welfare Institute introduced the businesspeople of Niman Ranch as “approved” purveyors of animal flesh.
Sharing the speakers’ roster, most eerily, were representatives from two farm animal sanctuaries as well as representatives of several animal-protection groups.
The week of the conference, the New York Times printed “Bringing Moos and Oinks Into the Food Debate,” which traced the growing links between rescue and agribusiness.1 “As Farm Sanctuary has grown, so too has its influence,” said the Times, and “[e]ggs from cage-free hens have become so popular that there is a national shortage.”
The popularity of these eggs — and the new area of employment in agribusiness — is due to the non-stop promotion of these little cholesterol bombs both by profiteering companies and animal advocates. Why would animal advocates do such a thing?
Farm Sanctuary’s director said, “Instead of telling it like it is, we’re learning to present things in a more moderate way” — claiming it’s “respectful” to do this.
Campaigning that promotes eggs and other forms of agribusiness is part of what’s boosted the Humane Society’s assets to $223 million.2 Their acceptance of animal agribusiness ensures their “tent” is big enough to include the maximum donor base.
The article strongly suggests that agribusiness was changing its habits anyway, and that mainstream advocates are riding in the wake. The flurry of corporate animal-husbandry policies in recent years likely originated in the 1993 E. coli scare at Jack in the Box restaurants, which sickened hundreds and killed four children. Companies, says the Times, “had to get a better handle on where their meat was coming from.”
Activists’ campaigns, says Denny Lynch, a Wendy’s rep, have never “affected the company in terms of customer traffic or profitability.” People will pay more, explains Lynch, for flesh from animals whose origins can be traced from birth through processing.
The best way to deal with corporate promotions in the advocacy community is to see clearly that these are membership drives, not part of a movement for social progress.
Granted, “telling it like it is” won’t give you instant popularity. When mainstream advocacy seeks wealth and popularity at the expense of core values, those who take those values most to heart are considered inconvenient.
Here, then, is an inconvenient truth: While some advocates play footsie with Niman Ranch, the loss of the world’s free animals — caused largely by the ranches of the world — runs out of control. H abitats are being usurped and ruined by ranchers. Thus, t he mainstream groups are so busy claiming victories that they don’t stop to point out that ranches are the entities posing the biggest threats to free-living horses — the subjects of their own campaign!
To make way for animal feed, forests are being cleared across North America and worldwide. Our present course is expected to lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by 2100.3 As you read this, countless animals are being wiped out for the likes of companies such as Niman Ranch and Whole Foods Market. To sell their products, these businesses rely on the continued taste for the flesh of conscious beings whose children and parents belong to people who will have them killed in some vile, bloody slaughter site where human workers are bloodied and pressed to perform dozens of soulless acts throughout the hours of their days.