Environmental Sustainability

Author headlines environmental sustainability speaker series

Author, journalist and activist Michael Grunwald P'26 '28 injected hope and calls to action into a frank and disturbing discussion about how the world's climate problem has shifted from fossil fuels to food production. The recent clean energy revolution has diminished the impact of fossil fuels, but "the race to feed the world is frying the world," Grunwald, the inaugural speaker in RE's Environmental Sustainability Speaker Series, said at the Posner Lecture Hall on April 18. "We are eating the earth."
The author of the critically acclaimed The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, Grunwald explained that while coal use has decreased with the rise of solar and wind power, the demand for food and the space needed to produce it are increasing. He called animal agriculture a "climate disaster," noting that methane-producing cows and the expanse of land they require represent the largest issue. Meanwhile, the deforestation that results from the need for farmland strips deprives nature of its best natural defense against carbon emissions: trees.

"Fossil fuels are getting better," he said. "The food problem is worse ... It's the only Earth we've got, so we should probably try to stop eating it."

He summed up his message to attendees in six words: "Eat less beef. Waste less food."

Grunwald served as the centerpiece of RE's celebration of Earth Week. Invited to RE by Director of Environmental Sustainability Kelly Jackson, Grunwald met with attendees before the event and took questions after. Currently working on a book for Simon & Schuster about the issues he discussed during the April 18 lecture, he joked that the crowd could help him filter out the boring parts. He is also the co-host of the "Climavores" podcast and the food and climate columnist for Canary Media. He was a staff writer for Politico magazine, Time magazine and The Washington Post.

Acknowledging that the science, economics and politics are complicated, he shared a host of ideas to help make a dent in the problem. He discussed restoring carbon sinks (planting trees), regenerative agriculture, precision, high-density agriculture, improving degraded pastures and consuming more plant-based meat. 

"Fake meat is way better for the environment than real meat, because it uses like 95 percent of the land," he said. "But it's only 1 percent of the market ... The point is that the future doesn't have to look like the past.

"We need systemic change," he also said. "But we also need to change our behaviors."
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.