South America's Second-Largest Forest Is Also Burning — and 'Environmentally Friendly' Charcoal Is Subsidizing Its Destruction
The Gran Chaco, which spans from Bolivia and Brazil to Paraguay and Argentina, is extremely bio-diverse, with more than 3,400 plant and 900 animal species — including quebracho blanco trees, tapirs and jaguars. It is also home to at least 30 indigenous peoples, including the Ayoreo, some of whom live in voluntary isolation in their historic homelands as well Mennonite colonies.
Now, due to the some of the fastest deforestation in the world, this once enormous ecosystem may soon be gone outside of protected areas. Since 2001, more than 31,000 square miles of forest were felled to make way for agriculture and cattle ranching in the Gran Chaco.
Deforestation in South America since 2001, shown in pink.
More than half of that deforestation took place in Paraguay, a small South American country of 7 million.
But beyond beef and soy, the cleared land of the Gran Chaco produces some pretty unexpected stuff, too — everyday products that are exported and sold abroad to consumers who may never know their purchases contribute to the destruction of South America's second largest forest.
Growing pains in the Chaco
Freshly chained and scraped: Where a Paraguayan forest once stood, a cow pasture is in the making.
Joel E. Correia
I have investigated the spread of export-oriented agriculture in Paraguay since 2011. Paraguay, the eighth largest exporter of beef globally, sells 350,000 tons of beef each year to Russia, Israel, Chile and beyond.
The Paraguayan government hopes to climb into the top five of global beef exporters in the next 10 years. To meet that goal, ranchers will need more land — a lot of it —since Paraguay's beef industry is based on grazing, rather than the feedlot model prevalent in the U.S.
To clear forest land for grazing, both legally and illegally, Paraguayan cattle ranchers use what's called "chaining." That means leveling the forest with tractors that drag heavy chains. Then they burn the fallen trees.
Increasingly, some Paraguayan ranchers are realizing that there's money to be made off those felled trees, too. Rather than just incinerating the wood in their fields, they turn it into carbón — or charcoal, in English.
Across the Paraguayan Chaco, large brick kilns located off of main roads slowly bake the wood cleared from nearby forests, transforming it into charcoal that fuels weekend cookouts worldwide.
Weekend Cookouts and Luxury Leather
Kilns making charcoal in Paraguay's Chaco.
Joel E. Correia
Paraguayan charcoal may be a "natural" product, but it's hardly environmentally friendly. That's because making and selling charcoal from recently cut trees — trees that previously went to waste — makes deforestation more profitable.
As a result, purchases of this product indirectly contribute to the deforestation of the Chaco, sometimes turning environmentally minded consumers into unknowing accomplices in the decimation of South America's second-largest forest.
A similar problem arises with another Chaco good that's sold far and wide: leather.
Paraguay exported nearly 9 million pounds of leather — a byproduct of its beef industry — last year.
Paraguayan leather is refined and used in numerous industries across the world, particularly in Europe.
Car companies BMW, Citroën, Peugeot, Renault, Porsche and Ferrari all use leather from the Chaco to wrap everything from seats to steering wheels.
Playing a pickup game of soccer this weekend? Your shoes could be made of the same stuff.
Leather and charcoal don't just make environmental degradation of the Paraguayan Chaco forest more profitable — sometimes, they are produced using forced labor.
According to recent complaints filed with the Paraguayan attorney general's office and labor department, some Chaco cattle ranches exploit indigenous people, paying extremely low wages for jobs like fence building, clearing land or herding cattle. Some workers must buy food from expensive ranch stores using systems of credit that entrap them in debt.
A September 2018 United Nations report on contemporary forms of slavery in Paraguay shows that forced labor on Chaco cattle ranches and related industries is slowly improving due to increased compliance with labor laws, but affirms that it remains prevalent.
Going, Going, …
It can be overwhelming, I know, for consumers to investigate whether their leather, say, or the charcoal for their BBQ is ethically sourced.
There are so many worrying environmental problems in the world, and global supply chains are incredibly complex. So for consumers living far from the places that produce the goods they buy — even very conscientious ones — it is easier to focus on extraordinary events like the Amazon fires than to contemplate the unintended consequences of a weekend cookout.
But commonplace consumption habits matter when it comes to global environmental health. The things we buy may support the harmful underlying practices and industries that lead to acute crises like Amazonian fires or generalized problems driven by climate change.
That said, there's no "out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to social and environmental justice. If South America's great Gran Chaco forest continues to be leveled at the current rates, it will recede before most people even knew it existed.
Joel E. Correia is a member of the American Association of Geographers. The association is a funding partner of The Conversation US.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- A Second Wave of COVID-19 Looms Large—and It's Not Because of ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Asymptomatic COVID-19: Five Questions Answered - EcoWatch ›
- Standing Rock Veterans Lead Fight to Shut Down Enbridge Line 5 ... ›
- 2 Women Charged With Conspiracy, Arson Over 2017 Dakota ... ›
- What's Next for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock? - EcoWatch ›
- Protesters Lock Their Bodies to Machines to Stop Dakota Access ... ›
- Stopping a Dakota Access Pipeline Leak in Under 10 Minutes? A ... ›
A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.
- Plagues Follow Bad Leadership in Ancient Greek Tales - EcoWatch ›
- Black Death Is Back! Two Cases of Plague Confirmed in China ... ›
By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
- 5 Ways to Make Your Garden Regenerative - EcoWatch ›
- How to Make your House and Garden More Tranquil - EcoWatch ›
- Gardening in Hard Times Has Deep History - EcoWatch ›
By Emma Charlton
The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.
Value of air conditioning imports in selected OECD countries. ScienceDirect
The ‘Golden Thread’<p>The <a href="https://www.endenergypoverty.org/reports" target="_blank">Global Commission to End Energy Poverty</a> calls access to energy the "golden thread" that weaves together economic growth, human development, and environmental sustainability. And one of the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/archive/sdg-07-affordable-and-clean-energy" target="_blank">United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals</a> is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.</p><p>Sustainability also has a large role to play in the future of energy and failing to embed green policies in COVID-19 stimulus packages and underinvesting in green infrastructure are current risks, according to the <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_COVID_19_Risks_Outlook_Special_Edition_Pages.pdf" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</p><p>In its vision for a 'Great Reset' – building a better world after the pandemic – the Forum and the IMF jointly backed the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/end-fossil-fuel-subsidies-economy-imf-georgieva-great-reset-climate/" target="_blank">transition to a green economy</a> and called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.</p>
As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.
Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images
The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.
- Summer Heat Won't Kill the Coronavirus, New Study Says - EcoWatch ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›