Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet


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Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet

Feb. 1, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET
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Video by Kirk Semple, Adam Westbrook and Jonah M. Kessel

Mr. Semple is a reporter and producer with Opinion Video, where Mr. Westbrook is a producer and editor, and Mr. Kessel is the deputy director.

“We’re Cooked” is an Opinion Video series about our broken food system and the three chances you get to help fix it — and save the planet — every day.

The global food system is a wonder of technological and logistical brilliance. It feeds more people than ever, supplying a greater variety of food more cheaply and faster than ever.

It is also causing irreparable harm to the planet.

The system — a vast web of industries and processes that stretches from seed to pasture to packaging to supermarket to trash dump — produces at least a third of all human-caused greenhouse gases.

Yet somehow these impacts aren’t in the forefront of the conversation about global warming. Indeed, they often aren’t in the conversation at all.

In the Opinion Video above, we explore why. Our focus is American agriculture, an industry that, while feeding the United States, is also damaging the environment — contaminating the air and water, exhausting the soil, destroying wildlife habitats and spurring climate change.

But despite these harms, the sector has largely been spared environmental regulation. This exception reflects, in part, the special place that farmers occupy in the American imagination. But the industry, particularly the big corporations that are increasingly dominating the sector, are also aided by one of the most effective lobbies on the planet.

This is the first in a series of three Opinion Videos that we are publishing this month. each providing an angle on the food system and, we hope, changing the way you look at food and making you think twice about what you put on your plate. The second video will examine how a few powerful companies dominate the chicken industry, trapping farmers in exploitative relationships and condemning the animals to short, wretched lives. The third video will propose a dietary modification that may gross you out — but also might help curb climate change.

For now, pull up a chair at the lobbyists’ lunch table. Juicy, expensive steak is on the menu. If you’re a taxpayer in the United States, try your best to enjoy it. After all, considering agriculture’s enormous public subsidies and the harm the industry is doing to your land, air and water, it’s you who will ultimately be picking up the tab.

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Kirk Semple (@KirkSemple) is a reporter and producer with Opinion Video.

Adam Westbrook is a producer with Opinion Video.

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