Forest Loss in Papua New Guinea Increases Domestic Violence Against Women
By John C. Cannon
Change. That's what Monica Yongol has seen in her 54 years. In that time, the loggers and then the oil palm companies have moved into the remote corner of Papua New Guinea where she raised her family, altering the contours of the society she knew.
"Things have changed a lot over the years for the women," Yongol said. "The male members of society or even other males from other clans, they go ahead and make decisions in private spaces, which means women are not included."
Often, those decisions determine the fate of the forests that the people of Mu, Yongol's village in the rural local-level government of East Pomio on New Britain Island, have lived next to and subsisted on for generations. In East Pomio, part of Pomio district in East New Britain province, mothers have traditionally passed what they have down to their children. The principle has worked well, Yongol said, because women have a vested interest in ensuring that the land continues to provide for them.
"Women are looking at how they sustain the lives of their children in the future generations," she said, "whereas men are more looking at short-term benefits."
But the influx of "development" — first to harvest the island's tropical timber in the 1990s, and more recently to set up oil palm plantations — backed by politicians and lawmakers in distant capitals, has shifted the calculus around the value of the land. Yongol and the other women gathered at the Vunapope Catholic Mission on a muggy November afternoon said they feel sidelined, shut out of decisions about what's to happen to the forests where they have traditionally tended their gardens, gathered wood and harvested wild-growing food.
In another cruel twist, Elizabeth Tongne said, these attitudes also lead to the scapegoating of women for standing in the way of progress.
"They're blaming us for stopping development on the land," she said.
Tongne, sporting a worn T-shirt emblazoned with "Badass PACIFIC Feminist," is the founder and director of Wide Bay Conservation Association, a local community-based organization named for the thumb of the Solomon Sea pushing into New Britain's eastern shore next to East Pomio. She and her team at Wide Bay organized a seven-day convention to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at the Catholic mission just outside Kokopo, the provincial capital of East New Britain.
The women, leaders from Mu and a handful of other East Pomio villages, spent the days sharing their stories, identifying the problems they face, like domestic and community violence, and coming up with strategies to address them. Tongne and her team also aimed to provide them with information that would help their fellow women, as well as children and young girls, back home. They held presentations on the importance of education and avoiding teenage pregnancy, and they covered tangible skills such as farming, banking and "marketing" (selling goods like produce, tobacco and betel nut at market). As Tongne explained, the loss of the forest has left women and young girls with fewer options in their home villages.
Fresh produce at the Kokopo market. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
A Changing Island
The forested mountains rising in sight of Kokopo are constant reminders of the island's volcanic past — and present, if the 2014 eruption of the still-puffing Tavurvur volcano northwest of town is any indication. But the face of the island is shifting faster than the pace of geologic time, especially with the recent creep of oil palm over the past two decades. From the air, the crop's progress lurches inward from the province's outer edges: deep green canopy giving way first to brown earth and splintering logging roads and then to neat rows of the drooping, top-heavy trees that produce the world's most popular vegetable oil.
The dense forests that covered more than 98% of the province as recently as 2010 have begun to wink out, according to satellite data. Tongne said that oil palm companies began building roads and clearing forest for plantations in East Pomio around 2008. Today, clearings and plantations creep up coastal hillsides, albeit at a much smaller scale than the expanses you'd see in Borneo or other parts of Southeast Asia.
Pomio is the remotest district in East New Britain, Tongne told me, and perhaps that's saved it from some of the heavier forest loss seen in other parts of the province. Still, between 2001 and 2018, data from the University of Maryland show that tree cover has diminished by nearly 9% in the province, which has lost more than 1,370 square kilometers (529 square miles) of forest in that time. Much of that has happened in the last decade, with forest loss peaking at 201 km2 (78 mi2) in 2015, in a province covering a total of 15,816 km2 (6,107 mi2). Recent satellite images captured over the past few months show many new frontiers of deforestation encroaching into old-growth rainforest in East New Britain, including roads expanding inland from Pomio's coast.
Around the world, corporations comb through ecosystems in search of resources to feed their bottom lines. Timber and palm oil are the top commodities in this South Pacific corner of Papua New Guinea, but similar patterns emerge whether the prize is oil, natural gas, copper or gold.
Replete as it is with valuable minerals and the world's third-largest rainforest full of tropical timber, Papua New Guinea continues to struggle with economic development. Outsiders, meanwhile, have profited from those resources, as Australia did in its role as colonial administrator until 1975, and foreign companies from the U.S., Australia and China continue to do today.
East New Britain province has lost nearly 9% of its tree cover since 2001, and deforestation has accelerated since then, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland. The inset shows logging roads proliferating around the town of Pomio on Jacquinot Bay. To the northeast, in East Pomio rural local-level government on Wide Bay, deforestation for timber and oil palm has seeped inland. Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA/Planet Labs, accessed through Global Forest Watch on May 13, 2020.
The Connection Between Violence and Deforestation
Around the world, the "colonial" approach aimed at extracting valuable resources has destroyed "traditional and customary social relations" in local communities, Jeanette Sequeira, vice director and gender program coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition, said in a telephone interview.
"Often, this is in the land of indigenous peoples and local communities where there's already insecure land tenure," she said. "When you have corporations coming in and occupying these lands, there's just total loss of governance."
Global Forest Coalition and its more than 100 member organizations around the world have studied the interplay between gender and forest loss around the world. While the context of each local situation is unique, Sequeira said that the coalition's partners have seen the impact that forest loss can have on the most vulnerable members of society. In many cases, that means women.
"Deforestation and climate change and environmental degradation do lead to an increase in violence against women," Sequeira said. "I think that's a claim we can make more and more."
Along with the evaporation of the trees, the rights of women to determine what happens to the land they depend on have likewise vanished, Monica Yongol said, as the other women in the room nodded in agreement. The changes have jolted their communities. They've made it harder to provide for their families. And problems like teenage pregnancy, drug use and domestic violence in their communities have cropped up that the women say didn't exist before.
Several argue that the problem is rooted in the silencing of women's voices that's become more common. Yongol recounted a meeting held by a landowner company, a common organizational structure in Papua New Guinea formed by landholders to negotiate with developers, such as logging companies, on behalf of communities.
A woman at the meeting stood up and asked why the group hadn't informed all of the landowners about what would happen if the outside company interested in their land secured development rights, Yongol said. The tenets of free, prior and informed consent, accepted global standards set forth by the United Nations, hold that all community members should be aware of the plans for the land they depend on. In this case, however, the chairman dismissed her comment, telling her that she shouldn't have a say — because she was a woman.
Forest clearance and plantations have crept inland from Wide Bay, an arcing inlet in Pomio District. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
The influx of developers didn't introduce such sexist attitudes to this part of Papua New Guinea. John Suka, a former teacher and now an elected councilor for the East Pomio rural local-level government, said that much of the problem stems from the "old ways."
There is "no fairness or equality," he said. "That's the first thing, maybe because of some traditional or customary ways of thinking."
Suka said that the upheaval in these societies triggered by surging interest from outside companies has exacerbated the situation. Without secure claims to the land, women are in a precarious position, especially when companies' respect even for the rights of a community as a whole is tenuous at best.
Society prior to the arrival of logging companies and plantation developers was neither perfectly fair nor equitable, Suka said. But, he added, the temptation to turn land rights, however spurious, into upfront cash and other benefits for certain members has changed the respect for other customs, such as that of matrilineal inheritance. And it's led some men to assume the roles of brokers in which they speak for entire communities.
At times, certainly, Suka said, "They have sold what they shouldn't be selling."
The airstrip at Tokua, south of Kokopo, with still-active volcanoes in the background. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
Tongne said that these developments often touch off a chain of consequences for women.
"Once land is sold and taken away from them, there is a greater violence against women," she said, for several reasons. The forests in East New Britain, and indeed many parts of the country, have long served as a storehouse of ready food and supplies. They're essential in times of plenty, and they serve as vital emergency caches when times are tough.
"If there's a drought, the women know where to find food in the forest," Tongne told me.
But as logging and industrial agriculture replace forests close to home, women are forced to travel farther to gather food and other resources or to tend their gardens. That time spent on the road is time they're not looking after their homes or raising their children, Tongne said.
"The men begin to beat them up," she added. "Violence comes about because there is no food on the table."
On these extended journeys to the forest, women might face the threat of attack from people from other villages or clans, or from the workers brought in from outside communities by the companies.
Before, "We had a lot of safety and security. We can walk, visit friends, long distances to other villages," said Lucy Teine, a 50-year-old woman from the East Pomio village of Iwai. "But now, with the population that's coming in to work in those developments, that's now a threat for us."
The fraying of the social fabric exacerbated by outsiders who might harbor different values is a symptom of a larger issue. Foundational blame for these changes lies with the mentalities that colonialism introduced, according to Sequeira.
While sexism has persisted in many societies around the world, "Indigenous communities had, in many cases, more equitable gender relations before the advent of colonialism," she said. "Women and men had different, respected roles and status in communities."
John Suka, an elected councilor in the East Pomio local-level government, at the Vunapope Catholic Mission. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
A Global Issue
The Global Forest Coalition and its partners have been investigating issues like these around the world. They've found that, while the details may change from place to place, there are broad commonalities among the communities affected by land development and extractivism, Sequeira said.
"We know that these [roles] became eroded as we had colonial administrations and just the complete dispossession and destruction of indigenous identity," she said.
In Colombia, she said, women and men are supposed to have equal rights to the land. But, "That's not really how it plays out."
"You still have women who have to ask permission [from] their husbands or partners for being able to use a bit of land to cultivate medicinal herbs and other food for household consumption," Sequeira said.
In many places — though not everywhere —laws are in place that should protect land rights, including those of women, she added. Where the system falls short is in implementing these statutes. What that means, broadly, is that forests suffer when women don't have a say in land rights.
"[W]omen play a vital role in forest conservation," Sequeira and her colleagues wrote in a November 2019 blog post. "Women interact daily with forests and other ecosystems, relying on them for household needs and their livelihoods, but also for conservation and restoration."
Several active volcanoes sit just northwest of the town of Kokopo. Tavurvur last erupted in 2014. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
Research conducted in India and Nepal and published in the journal Ecological Economics has shown that forests do better when women are involved in the decision-making process. But impediments, from patriarchal attitudes to "wife bashing" as domestic violence is viscerally referred to in East New Britain, can stand in the way of that progress on both the conservation and social justice fronts.
A 2010 countrywide study , published in the journal Contemporary PNG Studies, found that almost two-thirds of women had suffered gender-based attacks.
John Suka said addressing the problem of violence is critical. But up until now, it's not been something that's been seen as a priority. In most cases, government agencies don't have the capacity — or the will — to enforce these laws, he said.
"All the levels of government have the responsibility, but the point is, they don't implement what they are supposed to be implementing," Suka added. "It's a great failure across the board."
He said that a shift in thinking is called for.
"Of course, before we were kept in a little box with our own way of life," he said. "Today, we are in a new world."
Sequeira said she agrees that changing systemic attitudes is paramount.
"What we need is more than just policies and sanctions," she said. Elsewhere, she added, campaigns and dialogues around gender equality and women's rights have been effective at transforming the "culture of violence." Women, too, have taken control of their own plight, forming "brigades" that accompany vulnerable women on trips outside the community — say, to the forest.
Sequeira said women in other parts of the world also engage the broader community using "naming and shaming protocols" to call out perpetrators of violence against women. And both men and women partake in neighborhood watch programs.
She also said that violence on the personal level must be seen through the broader lens of what's happening to people's land in the community traced back to colonial paradigms.
"Dispossession and loss of land rights and extractivism … are also forms of patriarchal violence," Sequeira said in the interview.
In their blog post, she and her colleagues wrote that not only must women deal with the traditional ways of thinking that often relegate them to less-than status. They "must often defend their forests against the massive threats from extractivism, whether it be industrial livestock and agriculture (such as the production of soy and palm oil) or mining mega-projects."
"Forest conservation can never be successful or bring about social justice," they added, "if it does not address the prevalence of the various manifestations of violence against women, and especially so on the front-lines of the environmental and climate crisis."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
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By Agustín del Castillo
For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.
The Nevado de Colima volcano stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level. Agustín del Castillo<p>According to biologist José Villa Castillo, the director of Nevado de Colima National Park and Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park, it is imperative to stop the commercialization of the tree's timber and to create policies that conserve the forests in which it lives. Villa Castillo also supported the inclusion of the tree on the endangered species list.</p><p>Villa Castillo acknowledged the enormous challenge of conserving this tree, and he said the pressure to exploit its timber without sustainable management is far from the only problem. The expansion of the nearby avocado industry also threatens its survival.</p><p>When allowed to grow, the Colima fir tree can become monumental: It can reach 60 meters (196 feet) in height and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. To protect this giant, specialists and communities often promote ecotourism and conservation projects inside the national and state parks that surround the Nevado de Colima volcano.</p>
Fires That Clear Land for Avocado Crops<p>In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Guadalajara proposed to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) the recognition of the <em>A. colimensis</em> as a unique species to differentiate it from the sacred fir (<em>A. religiosa</em>), which is the dominant fir tree in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a collection of volcanoes in central Mexico.</p><p>The Colima fir tree "has extremely low genetic diversity; it has the lowest known genetic diversity among all the species in the Abies genus in Mesoamerica and one of the lowest among all the species of trees on the planet," according to the authors of the proposal to recognize the tree as an endangered species. The area it occupies "is very limited": just 15,002 hectares (37,071 acres), or 0.007% of the territory of Mexico.</p><p>The Nevado de Colima volcano, which stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level, is one of only eight peaks that exceed 4,000 m (13,123 ft) in Mexico. It is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Pacific Ocean and is considered an "evolutionary island" because the ecosystems in its high-altitude areas drive unique adaptations in species and are cut off from other ecosystems by hundreds of kilometers. The Colima fir tree is an example of the area's biological differentiation, according to Libertad Arredondo, a researcher and expert on the ecology of high mountains.</p>
The fir forests are mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. Agustín del Castillo<p>Even though the tree has remained on that "evolutionary island," its situation has become increasingly complicated by the impact of deforestation, which was propelled by the issuance of permits for forest exploitation. Fires, started to convert the land to agriculture or other uses, also present a threat to the ecosystem, according to the experts who suggested the tree should be considered endangered.</p><p>The researchers said the tree's future prospects are further complicated by its slow growth rate, its high degree of genetic erosion, the effects of climate change, and the movement of clouds to higher altitudes. The position of clouds is crucial because they act as an essential source of moisture for fir trees.</p><p>Villa Castillo, an expert in pine genetics and reproduction, said the Colima fir tree has never been successfully reproduced in nurseries, which would likely make it impossible to conduct reforestation efforts to help repopulate the species.</p><p>The forests that contain the Colima fir tree are in cold, humid climates, with very little light reaching the understory, and they're mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. The species thrives when surrounded by oak trees, coniferous trees and other types of vegetation common in mountainous cloud forests. The tree also requires a primary habitat with little disturbance from humans.</p><p>According to Villa Castillo, fire kills most Colima fir tree seedlings, as it kills seedlings of other species in the <em>Abies</em> genus. In recent years, more fires have been started in the forest to clear the way for avocado trees.</p>
A tree and other vegetation in the cloud forest surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo<p>Sonia Navarro Pérez, a researcher from the University of Guadalajara who has monitored and conducted biological inventories in the area, has seen firsthand how the growth of the avocado industry has led to the loss of important forested areas.</p><p>She described the case of the indigenous community of San José del Carmen, which is in the municipality of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, near one of the patches of forest.</p><p>"We were working with them to establish productive alternatives that are good for nature," Navarro Pérez said. "But when the avocado came, it overwhelmed us completely."</p><p>Since 2013, the coniferous forests around the Nevado de Colima volcano have lost nearly 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) due to illegal logging, livestock rearing and intentionally set fires, according to Mexico's deforestation risk index developed by the <a href="https://www.gob.mx/inecc" target="_blank">National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change</a>.</p>
A section of cloud forest in San José del Carmen, inside the state park created in 2009. Community members have been protecting the forest voluntarily for over two decades. Agustín del Castillo<p>"[What was once] an original area of 7,000 hectares [17,300 acres] of fir-specific forest is now cut in half," said Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks.</p><p>The expansion of the avocado crops is the most recent threat in a series of events that have negatively impacted the conservation of the forests in the area.</p><p>Between the 1940s and the 1990s, the Atenquique Industrial Company had exclusive rights to use the timber from these forests under a concession from the Mexican government. The result was "that the forests were skimmed — that is, they took the best parts," Villa Castillo said.</p><p>When the concession expired in 1995, the forests did not experience a transition to a sustainable timber extraction method. Those who, along with landowners who held small plots, had rights to the shared land were limited to selling the forested areas, at very low prices, to the new logging industries located in Ciudad Guzmán. "Then, there were many abuses against the communities. The money was given to the caciques" — families who have always controlled the shared land — "alms were left for the community, and our forests were very poorly managed," said Rafael González Merín, the former president of Huescalapa, a collective of communally owned farmland known as an <em>ejido</em>.</p><p>As a result, many residents of the community believe the solution is to conserve the forests with productive projects.</p>
Communities Pitch in to Save Their Trees<p>Unlike the communities that have been overtaken by the avocado industry, Huescalapa has largely managed to resist its arrival. The community of shared land, which spans more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), is home to pine and fir trees within its shady temperate forests.</p><p>The residents of Huescalapa have also set aside the proposals they've received from the forestry industry, which has expressed interest in buying their trees.</p><p>According to Gerardo Bernabé Aguayo, logging activity in this area of Jalisco "has been very negative because the industry has managed delicate areas — with very limited species — poorly, so we are supporting and launching projects with the communities." Bernabé Aguayo is the president of the board of trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins, a civil association created about 20 years ago after being promoted by the government of the state of Jalisco. To support the conservation of the national and state parks, the board has financing from the regional private sector.</p><p>The board manages about 6 million pesos ($268,000) contributed by the federal government in 2020. With resources from the private sector, it has been able to access an additional 1.5 million pesos ($67,000).</p>
An area of fir trees that has been destroyed by logging. Agustín del Castillo<p>Rodrigo Cantera Hernández, the president of the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center, said that in Huescalapa, the caciques removed timber from the fir forests, "but they did not report any money to the other community members, so we fought to eject them and were able to do so a couple of years ago."</p><p>In Huescalapa, three main conflicts over timber have taken place in the past 20 years. First, in 1999, a group of community members sold part of the forest to a forestry industry from Ciudad Guzmán. A movement led by citizens put an end to the logging five months later.</p><p>Next, in 2012, environmental authorities granted permission for forest exploitation in these areas, so fir trees continued to be cut down. An opinion by the <a href="https://www.ideaac.org.mx/" target="_blank">Institute of Environmental Law</a>, a civil society organization, cited scientific evidence that demonstrated the uniqueness of mountain fir trees and forced SEMARNAT to withdraw these permissions.</p>
The citizens of Huescalapa formed a cooperative to launch the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center. El Alcázar Ecotourism Center<p>Then, in 2015, a federal judge suspended a new authorization to exploit timber in the cloud forest.</p><p>For communities like Huescalapa to have economic options that do not involve the use of timber because of the detrimental effects that this may have on the remaining population of Colima fir trees, ecotourism and similar activities are promoted.</p><p>According to Bernabé Aguayo, the goal is for the natural forest to be conserved as "a key area for contemplation, enjoyment, the preservation of environmental services, and research."</p><p>In 2019, the cooperative in El Alcázar received 1 million pesos ($44,600), which allowed it to have the basic infrastructure for the ecotourism center. The cooperative may receive an additional 3 million pesos ($133,800) in 2020 to purchase more equipment and improve the roads, but support for this funding was blocked in a community assembly. "They have not understood that it is for the benefit of everyone, that it is not money for our pockets," said Cantera Hernández, the president of the cooperative.</p><p>In Huescalapa, one of the challenges that interferes with efforts to promote the ecotourism center is the division that exists between community members. Many seek to use the timber, but others are already convinced of the importance of conservation.</p><p>Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks, emphasized that projects similar to the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center are being promoted in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo, which are very close to the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima.</p>
María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, the leader of the Amixtlán cooperative, which was created in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>The Amixtlán Ecotourism Center is located in the community of San José del Carmen. A cluster of cabins marks the entrance to the cloud forest, designated a state park since 2009.</p><p>"We decided to protect our forest long before they declared the state park, 20 years before then," said María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, a community leader in San José del Carmen. She recalled that when loggers came with offers to buy the forest, members of the community believed that they offered very little payment and that "the damage [that the loggers left] was too much." For that reason, they decided "not to touch the forest, because it produces water for the crops and for our houses."</p><p>Cortés Reyes said the community was able to construct the ecotourism center because it had resources managed by the Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park and by the Board of Trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins. However, she said it is important that more promotion is given to the area and that urgent problems, such as those with the water supply system, are resolved.</p>
A view of the Nevado de Colima volcano from the Amixtlán Ecotourism Center in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>In the community of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, citizens also promoted the Puerta de la Hacienda Ecotourism Center, where administrators support the biocultural production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from agave. The drink is made by two <em>mezcaleros</em>, or people who are experts in creating mezcal: Marcario Partida from Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and Rosario Pineda from Tetapán, a small community in Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>Other productive projects that are promoted in the communities include the organic production of eggs, such as by Efigenia Larios, a small producer from the community of El Tecuán. Additionally, the shared land communities of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, San José del Carmen and Huescalapa are provided with equipment for fire prevention and materials to help restore the forest soil.</p><p>Artists have painted murals that shine a spotlight on forest conservation in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>The intention of these efforts is to allow those who own land or have rights on this fragile mountain to "understand that there are other options besides logging, and that they, too, can generate development," said Arredondo, the researcher who specializes in the ecology of high mountains.</p><p>Despite the strong pressure for land use changes brought by the avocado agroindustry and fostered by the high level of impunity that often prevails in rural areas, many of the area's landowners continue to search for a model in which their forests can remain standing.</p><p>"Many neighbors say that we are foolish for not wanting to sell this beautiful forest that we have, but that money only lasts for a short time," said José Avalo Lino, a farmer in San José del Carmen. "We are so certain of [the importance of] preventing logging that, long before the declaration of the natural protected area, our community assembly had already decided to save this forest. We will continue to be 'foolish' in this decision."</p>
By Jeanette Cwienk
This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.
"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?
Going Green, or Just Greenwashing?<p>"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/patents-on-plants-is-the-sellout-of-genes-a-threat-to-farmers-and-global-food-security/a-49906072" target="_blank">genetic modification</a> nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."</p><p>Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace, says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.</p>
Independent Certifications Trustworthier<p>Both experts emphasize that independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Examples include the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS) and the IVN Best certification, which is awarded by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN).</p><p>Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.</p><p>"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable."</p><p>And that comes at a price. <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/heres-why-your-next-t-shirt-should-be-made-of-organic-cotton/a-39083921" target="_blank">Organic cotton</a> summer dresses certified with the GOTS label usually cost somewhere between €60-100 (about $67-113). </p>
Water Polluted and Wasted<p>Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/bangladeshs-textile-industry-works-towards-becoming-more-eco-friendly/a-50983898" target="_blank">textile producing countries across Asia</a> are worst affected.</p><p>Since launching its <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/" target="_blank">'Detox My Fashion'</a> campaign in 2011, Greenpeace has secured commitments from some 80 global companies in the fashion industry to eliminate hazardous chemicals by the end of this year.</p><p>But that alone doesn't imply sustainability. Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn.</p><p>"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."</p>
Eco Collections Remain a Market Niche<p>Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.</p><p>Germany is pursuing a new approach to green certification with its government-backed <a href="https://www.bmz.de/en/issues/textilwirtschaft/gruener_knopf/index.html" target="_blank">'Green Button' label</a>. A company can only use the label if all its products comply with high environmental and labor standards. These standards are not as strict as those demanded by organic certifiers, but experts say the 'Green Button' label is a step in the right direction, as it prevents producers offloading responsibility to subcontractors in the production chain.</p>
An 'Eco' Dress for €20 ($22.60): Too Good to Be True?<p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and 50% more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost.</p><p>Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their "sustainable" ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW.</p><p>H&M uses its own "CONSCIOUS" label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures."</p><p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic.</p><p><strong>The Real Problem Is One of Quantity</strong></p><p>Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. </p>
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