Catherine Clarke Fox of National Geographic adds: “But all those plastic bottles use a lot of fossil fuels and pollute the environment. In fact, Americans buy more bottled water than any other nation in the world, adding 29 billion water bottles a year to the problem. In order to make all these bottles, manufacturers use 17 million barrels of crude oil. That’s enough oil to keep a million cars going for twelve months. Imagine a water bottle filled a quarter of the way up with oil. That’s about how much oil was needed to produce the bottle.”

***

Tired of getting animal blood on his socks, Uncle Sam reaches for his leather shoes…courtesy of the $1.5-billion-and-100-million-animal-skins-per-year U.S. industry.

***

“Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse byproduct,” says animal issues columnist Carla Bennett. “It’s a booming industry and an important part of the slaughter trade, since skin accounts for approximately 50 percent of the total byproduct value of cattle.” Leather is also made from slaughtered horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. “When dairy cows’ production declines, for example, their skin is made into leather; the hides of their offspring, ‘veal’ calves, are made into high-priced calfskin,” adds Bennett. “Thus, the economic success of the slaughterhouse (and the factory farm) is directly linked to the sale of leather goods.”

Another tactic for procuring animal skins is hunting. Species such as zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes are murdered solely for their hides. These animals are often endangered or illegally poached-and death is rarely swift or painless. Alligators are clubbed with axes and hammers and may suffer for hours. Reptiles are skinned alive to achieve suppleness in the leather and may take days to die. Kid goats are boiled alive.

A clever diversionary tactic of leather makers is to label their products “biodegradable” while pointing out that synthetic versions are usually petroleum-based. However, says Sally Clinton in Vegetarian Journal, the tanning process acts to “stabilize the collagen or protein fibers so that they are no longer biodegradable.” In turn, the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology explains, “On the basis of quantity of energy consumed per unit of product produced, the leather-manufacturing industry would be categorized with the aluminum, paper, steel, cement, and petroleum-manufacturing industries as a gross consumer of energy.” The primary reason for this is that over 95 percent of U.S. leather is chrome tanned. “All wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the EPA,” writes Clinton. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area surrounding one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average. According to a study released by the New York State Department of Health, more than half of all testicular cancer victims work in tanneries.

***

Uncle Sam heads for his beloved SUV, trying his best to not only find his cell phone but also to avoid stepping on the thousands of dying frogs that litter his driveway.

***

The South American tree frogs’ population is declining and biologists are blaming global warming. These frogs, it seems, have the very un-froglike habit of basking in the hot sun (most frogs normally avoid prolonged exposure to light due to the risk of overheating and dehydration). According to a research team at the University of Manchester, “global warming is leading to more cloud cover in the frogs’ natural habitat. This, in turn, is denying them the opportunity to ‘sunbathe’ and kill off fatal Chytrid fungal infections, leading to many species dying out.”

Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at the Manchester Museum, says: “With a third of the world’s amphibians currently under threat it’s vitally important we do our utmost to investigate the reasons why they are dying out at such an alarming rate.”

***

Uncle Sam starts up the engine and plugs in his cell phone headset, ready for a drive’s worth of important, essential, and utterly crucial business calls…but how can he hear over the sorrowful primate calls echoing off the SUV’s interior?

***

Here’s how the United Nations describes it: “Columbite-tantalite-coltan for short-is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge.” Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics products such as cell phones.

Why would the UN be involved in describing a component of your cell phone? Well, coltan is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an African nation besieged by a brutal civil war. The mining and sale of coltan is used by both sides in the conflict to fund their military mayhem. In addition, the UN explains: “In order to mine for coltan, rebels have overrun Congo’s national parks, clearing out large chunks of the area’s lush forests. In addition, the poverty and starvation caused by the war have driven some miners and rebels to hunt the parks’ endangered elephants and gorillas for food.” Within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the number of eastern lowland gorillas has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only 3,000 now remain.

***

Uncle Sam (on the phone): “Yeah, I’m on my way. (pause) I’m fine. Just got a headache. So much damn background noise lately. (pause) Ah, stop your worrying. It’s all gonna be fine. What could possibly go wrong now that Obama is in charge?”

(To be continued?)