Independent journalist Will Potter’s work investigates how environmental whistleblowing is criminalized as domestic terrorism. Today, as Potter’s TED2014 talk is released on TED.com, Potter is launching a Kickstarter campaign to take his research to the air. He plans to acquire a drone in order to document agricultural abuses in states that are currently debating laws that would make it illegal to photograph or film their operations – begging the question, “What are they trying to hide?” We asked Potter to tell us more.
Why do you need a drone to investigate factory farms?
Factory farms are doing everything they can to stop consumers from seeing the reality of most food is produced. And they’ve been quite blunt about their motivations: a wave of new legislation in the United States explicitly criminalizes anyone who photographs or films animal cruelty on farms. These “ag-gag” laws are a direct response to a series of damning investigations by animal welfare groups. In Idaho, for instance, the new law came after investigators exposed workers beating cows and sexually abusing the animals.
Satellite photographs have already revealed shocking environmental pollution at industrial agriculture sites— will a drone allow us to see even more? As a journalist, I think the best way to confront attempts at secrecy is to shine a light on the abuses. Corporations are trying to shoot the messenger, and shut down anyone who exposes what they’re doing. But that just means we, as journalists, need to be more creative in our tactics. So for my next investigation, I am going to purchase a drone and photograph these farms from the sky.
What’s the goal of this Kickstarter campaign? And why now?
I have launched this Kickstarter campaign to purchase the drone, and I will share the results of my investigation in both a short documentary and an e-book. This investigation couldn’t come at a better time: multiple states (and countries) are considering ag-gag laws, while voters are considering efforts to eliminate some of the worst abuses on factory farms.
It’s my hope that this investigation will allow us to have a more informed debate. What are factory farms trying to hide? Let’s find out.
To learn more about Potter and his work, visit the TED Blog >>>
When former accountant Sanga Moses ran into his sister on a far-from-home road carrying firewood on what was supposed to be a school day, his life changed. He knew that Uganda’s rapidly disappearing forests had big implications for the environment, but he hadn’t recognized the day-to-day effect it was having on the lives of his family and village. Now, with his company Eco-fuel Africa, Moses helps farmers transform agricultural waste into cooking fuel, and also sponsors tree-planting projects. Here, he tells the TED Blog about fast-changing ecological conditions in Uganda, and how he hopes to help restore the country’s forests as quickly as possible.
You started out as an accountant, and now you are an environmental entrepreneur. What was the moment that changed the course of your life?
I used to work for one of the biggest banks here in Uganda, and that meant that I was away from my home village. One day, I decided to go check on my mother and little sister. This was a Wednesday — and I ran into my sister on her way carrying wood. She saw me and started crying. She said, “I’m supposed to be in school today. But mother told me to go out and get the wood, and I do this at least twice a week.”
Seeing her didn’t surprise me at first, because I also carried wood as a kid. At first I didn’t get what was wrong. [When she started crying], I thought that maybe my mother was sick or something terribly wrong had happened at home. I helped her put the wood down, and we sat for a few minutes and I asked her, “What is the problem? Why are you crying?” She told me, “It’s about the wood. I’m supposed to be in school today. [But] my mom told me to skip school to go out and get the wood. ” I told her I would talk to our mother, and bring her back to a school in the city where I worked so she wouldn’t have to fetch wood.
But when I spoke to my mother, she said, “No, you can’t do that. She’s the only girl I have, I’m an old woman, I can’t survive without her. If you take her, I’ll be dead.” I went back to the city, but this conversation haunted me. I couldn’t really live my life anymore. I was constantly thinking about my sister, at the verge of losing the only opportunity she had to a better life — that is, education. And as a child who grew up in a rural area, my own life was transformed by education.
I wasn’t sure what to do. All I knew was how to be an accountant and work in a financial institution. But one night, I asked myself, “If I don’t don’t do something, who will? I am just complaining about what I can’t do, and my sister can’t go to school because she has to fetch wood.”
The press machine forms briquettes of biochar fuel. Photo: Eco-fuel Africa
But wait, why had this become a problem when you’d fetched wood as a child yourself?
When I was growing up, we had a forest close by. It no longer exists now. I used to graze cows as a kid and we would graze in forests — have a lot of fun, play hide and seek. But kids these days don’t have that luxury. It’s all empty land — you can see virtually 50 kilometers away because it’s all empty.
The problem is that once people deplete the few forests remaining, they must venture further to find wood. At first, I thought I was just blowing my sister’s dilemma out of proportion, but it became clear that she is not alone. There are so many people — so many kids like her who can’t go to school because there are no trees left in the villages. At my office, where I had access to the internet, I did some research. I found that Uganda has already lost 70% of its forests. According to UN statistics, Uganda will have no forests left by the year 2052 if nothing is done to curb the current rate of deforestation. In a few years’ time, Uganda will have to import wood. But we’re talking about people who live on less than two dollars a day. If we imported wood, would they be able to afford it? And if they can’t afford cooking fuel, how will they survive?
So what you noticed was a connection between changes in the environment and a threat to your community’s way of life.
Yes. It’s actually about the entire ecosystem. When I was younger and we had forest, we were semi-nomads — a cattle-keeping community that traveled with cows. It was easy to take care of them, because seasons were stable, rains were predictable, we had water. In the last ten years, things have changed for the worse. Now droughts are becoming persistent. Actually, as I speak to you now, my family is relocating our cows to a distant area because there’s no water left in the village — also a problem of deforestation. Even in national parks, animals are dying, and the population of buffalo is getting lower, and people encroach looking for water. People are competing for the little that is remaining. And in mountainous areas where all the trees have been cut down, the hills are so dry they develop cracks. When it rains, landslides cover people’s houses and it floods — people are dying because of this. It’s not the world that I grew up in.
In January of 2013, TED Fellow Cesar Harada, inventor of an open-source sailing robot, set sail on a four-month, 14-country round-the-world journey with Unreasonable at Sea, a global innovation accelerator on board a boat. Here, he tells us about how this extraordinary voyage helped crystallize his vision for how his open source sailing robot Protei will contribute to cleaning up the world’s ocean and freshwater environments.
What is Unreasonable at Sea, and how did you come to join this expedition?
The Unreasonable at Sea is an accelerator for global innovation in social entrepreneurship. It’s a program for 10 entrepreneurs hosted on a floating university that sails around the world for four months while being mentored by a group of 20 of the world’s most potent entrepreneurs. On the ship we developed our strategy and business models — in port we met with potential investors, governments, academics, nonprofits and the local startup scene.
The program was started by Daniel Epstein, co-founder of the Unreasonable Institute, and George Kembel co-founder of the Stanford d.school. Several of my friends recommended that I apply to this program. At first sight, it was very attractive, but when I found that they would take 6% equities from our company Protei, Inc., I became hesitant. Fairly close to the deadline, the TED Fellows program organisers encouraged me to apply, so I finally did and decided to go with Gabriella Levine, Protei, Inc.’s COO, on this life-changing adventure. The program went beyond my expectations, changed me as a person and helped us define our business future.
What was the mission of the journey, and how did it dovetail with what you’re doing with Protei?
About 1,000 companies applied to this program shy of 100 different countries of origin, and only 11 ended up being selected. The main criterion is that you have to be a for-profit startup providing a technology that has the potential to impact positively the lives of millions of people. The core belief of the program is “entrepreneurship can change the world” — quoting George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man (/woman) adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Even though the program is taking place on the seven seas, Protei was the only company which was actively connected to the ocean. Our company designs and manufactures open hardware — shape-shifting sailing robots to explore and clean the ocean. Think maritime drone to transport environmental sensors and clean-up payload. The range of applications for a fleet would be to skim oil spills, collect plastic trash, measure radioactivity around Fukushima, patrol natural reserves and fish populations, mapping coral reefs, providing data connections between underwater robots and satellites. We have decided not to support weaponized applications.
Tell us about a few of your most crucial stops and what you learned in each. How will these inform your future work with Protei?
In Hawaii, we learned how Protei could help aid plastic pollution research. We met with Dr. Henk Carson, Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins who are among the pioneers for plastic pollution research. We journeyed to Kamilo Beach and sampled plastic from the multicoloured beach made of pretty much only plastic. Pessimists estimate hundreds of millions of tons of plastic trash are currently breaking down into the ocean and slowly coming up the food chain back to our plates; the other estimate only tens of tons: the scientific community fails at agreeing on the actual amount of plastic pollution in the ocean and its destructive effect on the life in the ocean due to the lack of data, frequency and resolution. Protei could carry optical sensor similar to plankton counter and measure plastic debris in the ocean.
In Ghana, oil pollution is threatening traditional fisheries. In 2007 large oil reserves were discovered, and intensive exploitation started in 2010 near Takoradi shore, since renamed “oil city,” where western and Chinese oil companies have rushed. Traditional fisheries are suffering pollution, and the oil spill response capacity seems very inadequate, following the bad example of the Nigerian oil industry. We met representatives from the ministries of energy, environment and fisheries and universities, and also went fishing with local fishermen. Protei is a modular sailing robot, so we could carry fish counters as well as oil detection equipment to evaluate the impact of oil pollution on fish populations.
In Japan, we investigated radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean. With the Safecast volunteer network we built an underwater Geiger counter and measured radioactivity on the seabed in the exclusion area near Fukushima. Recently 120 tons of contaminated water used to cool down the melting nuclear power plant have leaked, and nobody knows the long term consequences of such pollution in the ocean. Around 300,000 Japanese are still refugees in their own country, unable to return to where they used to live in places that were either devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, or that are currently contaminated. We plan to return to Fukushima in September and deploy underwater Geiger counter-equipped Protei around the Fukushima power plant.
In the cases above, Protei can be a part of the solution. Protei will also be useful for general oceanography and water-quality assessment, especially in Vietnam and India, where we witnessed terrible river and lake pollution. In Morocco, we organized a hackathon that was so successful, some of the participants have now set their own permanent Hackerspace in Casablanca.
We are the first generation that has the knowledge and means to collaborate globally to solve poverty while ensuring respect for the environment and the dignity for the people. Web is the ideal tool to cooperate together and solve the crises that the world is facing today.
On behalf of the local community, my team (Vakanala) would like to thank all its fans for their support during the tournament “Humanity Calls”. Indeed, the local community of Manambolo through the NGO Vakanala received 1,098 votes at the friendly competition for the environment sponsored by Ebay Green Team. Thank you very much! This result gives us the 10th place out of 145 participating non profit and has raised U.S. $ 2,351.73 equivalent to more than 5 million Malagasy Ariary.
That was possible with the great support of my fellow TED fellow, Tin Ho Chow and his team at Big New Ideas who worked on the design of Humanity Calls, a social giving platform that helps raise funds for nonprofits through an online tournament.
As we are pioneering the system of “Fundraising/voting” competition in Madagascar, we are also thankful for the advise and personal donation from my fellow TED fellows Darius Weems and Logan Smalley. Logan took time to share with me his experience and tips from DGW (Darius Goes West). Their experience on “fundraising 2.0″ helped us so much.
Photo: TED Fellow Darius Weems and Me at TED 2009
Thanks to all of you, more than 1,800 trees will be planted in the south part of Madagascar, for a total target of 10,000 trees for the year 2010. The use of these funds will be communicated transparently on Vakanala website. The first trees will be planted arround September, when the first rain drops.
Between July 5 to July 30, 2010, Vakanala will be working to raise a minimum of $4,000 from at least 50 donors to fund a plant nursery, which will guarantees the sustainability of our reforestation project in Manambolo. Check out our project design: http://goto.gg/5824
This amount will ensure a permanent spot on GlobalGiving’s website, which would allow us the opportunity to grow greatly and expand as an organization.
With all the economic sanctions that our country “Madagascar” is facing, especially from European Union, from African union and from US , plus the economic recession, we have planned to succeed our project with “crowd funding” approaches and mobilize resources outside institutions. We have also worked on the scales and will work from small but sustainable developement project at the time.
How Can you help ?
We know that you can introduce us to a program or people that helps/ fund startup organisations or simply donateto us via our Global Giving web page.Your help is very much needed … and will be appraeciated greatly. In addition the project that gets most support or from the most donors will win up to $ 10 000, so every donation counts! And I am counting on you all!
What is GlobalGiving?
The website Global Giving allows philanthropists to establish a direct contact with organizations in developing countries to effectively participate in their activities either through donations and / or expertise.
GlobalGiving is an organization that helps organizations like Vakanala to mobilize supports for their work in communities worldwide by offering a Web page and online tools to help them raise funds online.
About NGO VAKANALA
“Vakanala” means ” Pearls of Forest” in Malagasy language.
Vakanala, is a nonprofit organization based in Antananarivo that has set a goal to preserve the many little fragments of primary forests of Madagascar with sustainable reforestation.
These fragments, the last remnants of natural forests which covered the Island before our era, are of paramount importance : it is first real sanctuary for the unique biodiversity of Madagascar, which is it last refuge, but it is also a natural resource vital to the survival of rural communities to which they provide many services, natural raw materials, natural storage of rainwater, soil fertility, fight against desertification, and many others.
It’s been almost a year since Madagascar was turned upside down by political turmoil. Please, forget the kids’ movies with crazy penguins and lions for a minute, the situation is particularly worrying in here.
Presently Madagascar is sitting without any legitimate government and on the verge of anargie !!! This is the Africa that we are trying to change.Criminal politicians and Criminal gangs are stripping our poorly-protected country and it’s peoples.
According to a Mail & Guardian Online report, ‘Timber traders in Madagascar have effectively bought the right to pillage the country’s protected forest area with impunity. They are extracting up to $800 000 a day worth of timber,’ said Reiner Tegtmeyer of Global Witness. Some reports announce a figure of $460 000 a day.
In the other side, farmers reaction is immediate: loggin but also Slash and burn agriculture …
What we can do is to replant the trees and restart again and again … with more attention on the human need (reforestation for food, reforestation for energy …)
I want to share a small organisation that we have started named VAKANALA (NPO). Vakanala aim to act for nature and contribute on the reforestation and the conservation of the planet .
Earth’s Christmas is one of the vakanala project.
The idea is simple: When you buy your Christmas tree, please consider Madagascar. with a small contribution of $1, we plant a tree for you and you are offering a tree to the world.
May be a “classic idea” for you but IMPORTANT for the planet.
The tree (for this project) will be planted in the south-west Madagascar; to restore the cleared space between forest fragments of virgin forest still exists.
Halting forest degradation and forest restoration are on the agenda in Copenhagen. We also need to protect our intact ecosystems, which is by far the least expensive of all the solutions for climate change.
Bellow is the design of the project (fr)
Our ultimate goal is to preserve the most valuable ecosystem in the worldand what they contain, restore missing forest tree species endemic to the region, and also restore ecologically (through the trees that produce organic fertilizer ) specific areas included in the future complex forest for agriculture.
We have created earthschristmas.org to receive the beautiful gift you will give to our planet. Please also look at our Earth’s Christmas Facebook Application to Get trees planted in honors of your Facebook friends. On this application, a Google Maps can show you where the trees will be planted and we will us this technology to monitor your gift as the trees grow.
We have a few hands and we can plant trees for all “flying” TED conferences Attendees and all Technology Entertainment and Design lovers who mind their CO2 footprint.
Former blogger Andriankoto Ratozamanana decided he needed to do more than type to improve the standard of living and reforest in Madagascar. He cofounded MEGASEEDS Inc, which contributes to harnessing natural resources of the planet and ameliorating exploited habitats.
Majora Carter is the host of Sundance Channel’s Eco-Heroes, she is an American environmental advocate and artist. She is president of The Majora Carter Group, LLC, a green collar economic consulting firm. She is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, one of Newsweek’s “25 To Watch,” and one of Essence Magazine’s “25 most Influential African Americans.” Majora serves on the boards of Ceres, SJF, and the Wilderness Society.
Since 2007 Majora Carter has appeared on The Green, a television segment dedicated to the environment, shown on the Sundance Channel.The first season consisted of a series of 90 second op-eds shot in studio. The second season consisted of a series of short interview pieces with people who are taking uncommon approaches to environmental problems.
I had chance to appear on Majora’s TV show as guest . She is loads of inspiration for me to reach out and teach others about the value of our unique Environment.
I still have a long way to go before I can attain my dream but I am already thankful to TED for enlighten me and connecting me with wonderful people.