Great Apes Could Lose 94% of African Home Due to Climate Crisis and Other Human Actions, Study Finds
Humans are at risk of putting their closest animal relatives out of a home.
A new study published in Diversity and Distributions Sunday warned that Africa's great apes could lose more than 90 percent of their habitat within the next 30 years due to the combined pressures of human population growth, resource extraction and the climate crisis.
"It's a perfect storm for many of our closest genetic relatives, many of which are flagship species for conservation efforts within Africa and worldwide," study leader and Liverpool John Moores University biologist Joana Carvalho told The Guardian. "If we add climate change to the current causes of territory loss, the picture looks devastating."
All of Africa's great apes — chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos — are already listed as either endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as the Max Planck Society noted. In order to determine how these iconic species would fare in the future, an international team of researchers from almost 50 universities, institutions and conservation groups, including the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, turned to the IUCN's apes database, as The Guardian explained. This database provides information on population, threats and conservation efforts at hundreds of sites over the last 20 years. Building on this data, the researchers then modeled the impacts of climate change, population growth and land-use change through 2050 using both a best and worst-case scenario.
"'Best case' implies slowly declining carbon emissions and that appropriate mitigation measures will be put in place," study co-author and German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and the Martin Luther University post-doctoral researcher Jessica Junker told the Max Planck Society. "'Worst case' assumes that emissions continue to rise unchecked — in other words, business as usual."
In the best case scenario, the apes would still lose 85 percent of their range, 50 percent of this outside national parks and other protected areas. In the worst case scenario, they would lose 94 percent of their range, 61 percent outside of national parks.
"What is predicted is really bad," Carvalho told The Guardian.
Part of the problem is that 30 years is simply not enough time for great apes to migrate to more suitable habitats as the climate shifts. Another problem is that higher temperatures will push ideal conditions from the lowlands to the highlands, but not all great apes live in areas that have easy access to higher environments.
"As climate change forces the different types of vegetation to essentially shift uphill, it means that all animals – not only great apes – that depend on particular habitat types will be forced to move uphill or become locally extinct," researcher Fiona Maisels of the Wildlife Conservation Society told The Guardian. "But when the hills are low, many species will not be able to go higher than the land allows, and huge numbers of animals and plants will simply vanish."
While this is bleak, there are things that we can do now to ensure a better future for great apes. One important step is to make sure that conservation areas are well connected to each other, making it easier for great apes to move as conditions change. Planning new protected areas based on climate models could also help, as the Max Planck Society noted.
Consumers in wealthier countries can also do their part by putting pressure on companies that extract resources like phone minerals, palm oil and timber unsustainably from current ape habitats, as The Guardian noted.
"The global consumption of natural resources extracted from great ape ranges is one of the main causes of great ape decline," study author Hjalmar Kühl from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology told the Max Planck Society. "All nations that benefit from these resources have a responsibility to ensure a better future for great apes, their habitats as well as the people living in them by advancing a more sustainable economy."
By Rizki Nugraha, Michaela Cavanagh and Holly Young
Just like his father and grandfather, Alfian has spent his whole life working as a fisherman on the banks of the Batang Hari river in Rukam, Indonesia.
In the village of 1,200 residents, rows of houses sit low to the ground beside the water, buttressed on the other side by swampy peatlands.
The natural environment has long sustained the life of this village on the island of Sumatra. But now 48-year-old Alfian is struggling. "The fish are gone from the river," he says. "It's barely enough for daily survival."
Alfian remembers when many fish species lived in the peatlands. He could feed his family for a week with the money from one day's catch.
The fate of both Alfian's daily catch and Rukam itself is intertwined with that of an estimated US $60 billion-dollar industry.
Indonesia sits at the heart of the global palm oil trade. In 2002, it arrived on the banks of Rukam when the Indonesian company PT Erasakti Wira Forestama (EWF) offered the villagers a one-time payment for their land.
Some villagers resisted. Syafei, a 68-year-old who was chief of Rukam at the time, advocated for joint ownership and management of the lands between villagers and the company. But he says some residents pressured him to accept the terms.
They were offered roughly €55,000 (700 million Rupiah, $62,333 according to conversation rates at the time) for approximately 2,300 hectares (5684 acres) in total.
"At that time, that amount of money was really huge," says Syafei. The villagers were "yearning for the compensation."
In the end the community sold the land. Valuable peatlands were converted to plantations — and the repercussions of the decision are still felt today.
The Environmental Cost of Palm Oil
Touted as a wonder commodity, palm oil is found in a vast array of products and has been an undeniable driver of economic growth in the country.
But the environment has paid the price — namely through deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, and polluted water and air.
Slash-and-burn techniques, used to clear large swathes of land for plantations, are particularly devastating in peatlands like those found in Rukam. Peatlands are made up of thick layers of decomposed organic material and burning them releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
Rukam's residents have witnessed their landscape transform since they sold their land.
The peatlands were drained to make them usable for palm oil. A water pump brought in for irrigation disrupted the natural flow of water, redirecting it from the river to the plantation — which made it difficult for Rukam's residents' to access water for their own fields.
The situation worsened when a flood dam, used to protect the oil palm plantation from flooding, was built in 2009.
"As a consequence, villagers experience more damaging floods in the rainy season and don't have enough water in the dry season," says Rudiansyah, from WALHI, Indonesia's largest environmental organization. Farming has become difficult.
The profits from the sale of land, which were split evenly among residents, were not long-lasting. In fact, Rudiansyah claims Rukam's economy shrank significantly after the land conversion. While there is no data from before EWF came to the village, a study from WALHI and the University of Jambi found 366 of 494 families in Rukam were considered "poor" or "very poor" in 2018.
WALHI and many villagers put this down primarily to the loss of fishing ground due to the palm oil expansion.
Residents say the lakes they used to fish in disappeared after the land conversion and that they've seen fish stocks dramatically decline. When peatlands were drained many valuable species lost their breeding grounds. Now, there are only 53 fishermen, making around €8 ($8.70) per day.
With few alternatives left, many residents have turned to working on the palm oil plantations to earn a living.
Roughly 150 people, or about 16% of the village, work on the EWF plantation, which covers more than 4,000 hectares of land between the Batang Hari and the Kumpeh rivers.
"The only way to survive is to work on the plantation," says Hikmawati, a 35-year-old Rukam resident. Hikmawati worked distributing fertilizer on the plantation but eventually quit because of the high workload and low wages.
Now Hikmawati is trying to earn a living as a seamstress, while her husband works as a driver for the few remaining fishermen.
Loss and Regret
Hikmawati can't imagine any future for Rukam and would turn back the clock if she could: "I'd go back to the olden days where we could grow rice, or when there were still plenty of fish around."
She's not alone. "When I see the vanishing forest, I feel sad... The future looks bleak," fisherman Alfian says. "If nothing changes, then the next generation will leave, and this village will go extinct. Because there is nothing to live for anymore."
Alfian expects he will be the last in the family line of fishermen. "Maybe my children will only learn the names and types of fish that used to live here," he says.
For former village chief Syafei, regret is tinged with frustration: "Everything I had planned for the future has gone to the bottom of the ocean because they didn't want to listen to me."
Many in the community feel a sense of loss, and not just concerning their livelihood. "Countless species of medicinal plants are also lost because of the land conversion from peat forest to plantation," says Rudiansyah.
It's a response common to many villages impacted by the industry. "There is without question an enormous amount of regret for those communities," says Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
"Rukam's story is actually representative for a lot of the villages in Indonesia that are engaging palm oil," says Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature palm oil task force.
"Certain communities benefit from palm oil, but for communities in which residents go fishing or hunting or collecting plants as part of their livelihoods, they tend to lose out quite badly when palm oil goes in and cuts down the forest, because you've got major environmental impacts."
A study out of Kalimantan, Indonesia, found a marked decline in social and environmental well-being in communities with oil palm plantations between 2000 and 2014 — particularly those, like Rukam, that relied on subsistence-based livelihoods.
According to Rudiansyah, Rukam is an unusual case because it chose to sell its land as opposed to many communities plagued by conflicts with palm oil companies.
But Sunderland argues fully informed consent is often lacking: "People should be able to make a decision based on the full knowledge of what the implications are. And that's not the case — palm oil is sold as the financial answer to communities' problems.... Palm oil companies negotiate very disingenuously and essentially don't provide all the information."
As part of the concession agreement with the local government, EWF made regular corporate responsibility payments to Rukam, used to build infrastructure in the village.
Still, some villagers now say they were misled about the impact on water and degradation of their peatland forest.
"At that time [of the sale] we didn't know the impact will be like this. It wasn't known to us that there was a plan to build the dam," says Alfian.
"Flooding wasn't even a problem [before], not like now where the water has become dark and murky, probably caused by the pollution from the plantation," says Hikmawati. Although no official study has been carried out, residents have accused the company of dumping chemicals in the river.
EWF has not responded to requests for comment on these allegations.
"The company should have been fair towards the villagers, not trying to destroy their livelihood, but to embrace them as strategic partners," says Rudiansyah, arguing lack of proper education in the community also played a role.
Wildfires and Mixed Progress
Despite established criteria from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in data from 2018, only 19% of palm oil produced globally was certified sustainable. Furthermore, Greenpeace have argued deforestation continues to happen even among certified palm oil companies.
The Indonesian government has frequently touted the economic benefits of the industry. However, in the wake of the 2015 wildfires, which destroyed 2.6 million hectares of land including large swathes of peatland, the government took steps that earned international praise.
The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) was set up in 2016 and by the end of 2018, it had restored more than 679,000 hectares. In 2019, the same year as more intense wildfires hit the country, the Indonesian government also issued a permanent moratorium on new forest clearance for activities like palm oil development and logging.
But not all are convinced of the progress.
"[Palm oil] companies benefit from poorly enforced laws, which in some cases are also poorly drafted," says Sol Gosetti from Greenpeace, referring to the creation of the BRG and renewed government action against companies destroying forests and peatland, such as mandating punitive fines and revoking licenses.
"The intentions [of government plans] seemed good, but there has been very mixed follow up and research in the field shows that the plantation sector is still not changing its practices," says Gosetti. "In the meantime, a number of plantation companies continue expansion; clearing forests and draining wet, carbon-rich peatlands."
Despite the moratorium, a Greenpeace investigation in 2019 found that more than 1 million hectares had been burned in protected areas. The government has also been criticized for a failure to enforce industry transparency or regulations and tackle human rights abuses.
Yet at the local level, some see reasons to believe the peatlands have a future.
Panace, 39, is a farmer living in Pematang Rahim, a village not far from Rukam. He used to cultivate palm oil on peatlands, but found it was very expensive as a smallholder farmer and was degrading the soil.
Now he is one of many farmers working to rehabilitate their land through the peat restoration program. The first step is rewetting the peatlands by installing infrastructure like deep wells and canal blockings to redistribute water. Then trees and other crops are replanted to repair damaged land.
"We are going to continue diversifying our own crops and try to establish polyculture," says Panace. "We have started with Pinang palm — which grows well in peatlands and has a higher price on the market than palm oil fruits — and so far, it looks really promising."
The program depends on the willingness of both farmers and palm oil companies to participate but Panace believes education is key in the future. The program also works with community groups, NGOs and universities to promote the advantages of peatland restoration.
Change will not happen overnight. "Peatland recovery takes decades, while restoration activities have only been running for four years," says Myrna Safitri, from BRG. But once established on a broad scale it could help mitigate the spread of wildfires.
While restoration has not yet reached Rukam, not all residents are resigned to their village's fate.
Following pressure from the region's provincial government and WALHI, EWF has agreed to meet three demands of the villagers in Rukam, set to be put into effect this year: To repair the health of the soil, to help residents set up rice fields and irrigation systems, and to restore the water source for agriculture and clean drinking water.
This comes almost two decades after the decision that changed everything for Rukam. "Years ago, we only needed to take what nature provided for us," laments Syafei. "Our entire way of life was dependent on the natural rhythm of the seasons."
But he hasn't completely given up hope there is still time to recognize what is at stake. "If we don't learn from the past, then this village might disappear."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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From bamboo utensils to bamboo toothbrushes, household products made from bamboo are becoming more popular every year. If you have allergies, neck pain or wake up constantly to flip your pillow to the cold side, bamboo pillows have the potential to help you sleep peacefully through the night.
In this article, we'll explain the benefits of bamboo pillows and how they can help you on your journey to better sleep. We'll also recommend a few of the best pillows on the market so you can choose new bedding that's right for you.
Our Picks for the Top Bamboo Pillows
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. Learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall: Sleepsia Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow
- Best Luxury Pillow: Cosy House Collection Luxury Bamboo Pillow
- Best Body Pillow: Snuggle-Pedic Full Body Pillow
- Best Bamboo Alternative: Avocado Green Pillow
Why Switch to Bamboo Pillows?
Bamboo may be thought of as a tree-like structure because of its resilience, but it's actually classified as grass, which can be spun and woven in a soft, spongy material much like cotton. The pillows are made with a bamboo-based outer sleeve and stuffed with foam pieces in order to mold to your head position. Bamboo is considered naturally hypoallergenic and doesn't attract pests, bacterias or other fungi like most other plants.
Bedding materials such as cotton and silk don't have the concise cellulose structure that bamboo does. The material's cell structure allows more oxygen circulation, which keeps it lightweight and breathable so your pillow stays cooler longer.
Other than the sleeping benefits of the pillows, bamboo is considered an extremely sustainable material through production. The adaptable plant works as a great renewable resource, as it can thrive in any soil type and it is considered one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. As the bamboo is grown, it produces more oxygen than its calculated carbon emissions. And the cultivation of bamboo doesn't require fertilizer or pesticides, so ecosystems around the bamboo farms can be left unharmed.
Although bamboo itself is a completely natural and sustainable material, it has to undergo a strong chemical process in order to become a textile. Bamboo viscose, which is a type of rayon, is controversial among environmentalists because of this process, but overall, bamboo derivatives still produce lower carbon emissions than traditional polyester bedding. New bamboo textile processes are also being developed to be much more eco-friendly.
Full Reviews of Our Top Picks
When choosing our top recommended bamboo pillows, we looked at factors including:
- Comfort: Quality comes first when choosing bedding. The bamboo pillows chosen contain soft and snug adjustable filling to adapt to your preferred firmness.
- Materials: Most traditional pillows are stuffed with synthetic foam that contains VOCs, also known as volatile organic compounds. We ensure both the bamboo fabric and foam used in our picks are toxin-free.
- Cost: Bamboo pillows are usually a little more expensive than regular polyester or feather pillows because of their superior comfort and eco-friendly properties. It's important that the product you spend your money on is worth the cost and will hold up long-term.
- Customer reviews: We look at real and verified reviews in order to make sure each product is genuinely beneficial to customers' sleep.
Best Overall: Sleepsia Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow
The Sleepsia Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow is our pick for the overall best bamboo pillow because it offers just the right amount of support for side sleepers, stomach sleepers and back sleepers. Unlike most memory foam pillows, which use a large compact memory foam base, the shredded memory foam in these sleeper pillows allows you to easily add or remove the filling to meet your optimal comfortability. This memory foam pillow can support your neck, shoulders and upper back muscles without putting stress on your spine.
The bamboo cover as well as the memory foam allow for better air circulation to keep you from feeling too warm. These bamboo pillowcases are antibacterial as well as machine washable, so you can always have a clean sleep. The sizes range from standard to king-size pillows and are sold in a compact box that can easily be reused or recycled after purchasing.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 6,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Sleepsia's memory foam pillow uses CertiPUR-US® certified safe foam to ensure low emissions and prohibits the use of harmful components.
Best Luxury Pillow: Cosy House Collection Luxury Bamboo Pillow
Cosy House's king- and queen-size pillows are made with high-quality, bamboo-derived rayon fabric. The premium bamboo fibers increase airflow and temperature control so you won't have to flip to the cool side of your pillow through the night. If the pillows get dirty or flat over time, simply throw them in the washer and dryer to make them feel brand new again.
These bamboo pillows have a middle layer of transitional foam for extra durability as well as a safe, non-toxic filling to ensure you can sleep comfortably. If you're not satisfied with the luxurious product, Cosy House offers a satisfaction guarantee and will answer any questions or concerns in a timely manner.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with over 2,300 Amazon ratings.
Why Buy: Cosy House products are Amazon's Choice for luxury bamboo pillows and are CertiPUR-US certified. They contain premium materials to ensure you get the best possible sleep.
Best Body Pillow: Snuggle-Pedic Full Body Pillow
If you have back pain and neck pain, the Snuggle-Pedic Full Body Pillow will be able to support your full body to relieve tension while sleeping. The 4.5-foot-long pillow works great as a pregnancy pillow or for anyone seeking premium comfort and support.
The Snuggle-Pedic was developed by chiropractors who wanted to help restless patients get a good night's sleep. The doctors found that your body is able to evenly distribute its weight and naturally align your spine when hugging a body pillow. Inside the pillow is a cooling material that is designed to absorb heat and help people prone to night sweats and overheating. The shredded memory foam pillow can be easily maneuvered to your body's comfort and is fully machine washable if you want to clean or re-fluff it for long-lasting coziness.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 14,300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Made in the USA and GreenGuard Gold certified, Snuggle-Pedic ensures non-toxic stuffing.
Best alternative: Avocado Green Pillow
If bamboo pillows just aren't for you, Avocado's 100% organic cotton pillow is just as sustainable and comfy. When you open the sleeve, the pillow is divided into three main materials. The outer layer consists of a quilt-like cover made from high-quality cotton. The soft organic latex ribbons underneath provide structure and customizable firmness to support all sleep positions. Finally, the pillow is stuffed with eco-friendly kapok tree fiber which is hypoallergenic, biodegradable and never grown with pesticides.
Avocado provides an extra bag of filling if you want to adjust your volume for a softer or more extra firm pillow. You can wash your removable cotton pillow cover if needed, but there's no need to use bleach and hanging it to dry will keep it from naturally shrinking. The soft pillows come in every size necessary and pair well with Avocado's green mattress if you're determined to sleep well with sustainable peace of mind.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with over 5,000 ratings on the Avocado website
Why Buy: Vegan, GreenGuard certified and considered a carbon-negative business, Avocado's Green Pillow has passed some of the most strict emissions and sustainability testing for sleeping products on the market today.
Frequently Asked Questions: Bamboo Pillows
Is a bamboo pillow sustainable?
Bamboo is considered a great renewable resource that can be used in many different household items and is a great alternative to traditional polyester bedding products. The fast-growing plant has such a high carbon to oxygen rate that it actually offsets carbon emissions, and it doesn't require any fertilization or pesticides that could potentially cause runoff production. However, the production process to turn bamboo into a textile can create toxins that leach into the environment. Still, it's a better alternative to full synthetic materials.
What is so special about bamboo pillows?Bamboo bed pillows are a great product to try if you have trouble sleeping because of allergy issues, breathing problems or overheating at night. They are known for their distinct fibers that encourage airflow and make the pillows so lightweight. The breathable features have shown evidence of hypoallergenic properties and create a natural cooling to help sleepers get a good night of rest.
During a bird evolution study on the island of Borneo in May of 2016, a research team discovered an owl that hadn't been seen in the wild since 1892. Quickly grabbing their cameras, the researchers captured the first-ever photos of the rare bird, identifying it as the rare Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl, native to southeast Asia.
At the time of its re-discovery, the elusive owl was roosting just a meter above the ground. "It was a pretty rapid progression of emotions when I first saw the owl — absolute shock and excitement that we'd found this mythical bird, then pure anxiety that I had to document it as fast as I could," Andy Boyce, an avian ecologist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, told the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.
The island of Borneo, which is divided politically among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, is a hotspot for biodiversity — home to orangutans, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants, according to the UN Environment Programme. It's also home to the Otus brookii brookii, one of the two sub-species and "far more elusive" Rajah scops owls, according to the Global Wildlife Conservation. The other sub-species, Otus brookii solokensis, is found in Sumatra and is well documented.
Researchers were able to identify the owl based on its distinct characteristics, such as its orange irises, small ear tufts and speckled brown and black crown, the GWC reported. But to their surprise, the researchers found that the feather colors and patterns of the O. brookii brookii varied from its Sumatran counterpart, meaning that the two owls may actually be entirely different species.
If the owl is endemic to only Borneo and is its own species, conservation action is more likely, Boyce explained. But researchers haven't been able to find the owl since and reckon its one-time sighting could mean its numbers are low in the wild.
"Unfortunately, we are only good at conserving what we know and what we name," Boyce said, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. "Our sole sighting during this intensive study confirms this owl lives in mature montane forests, likely above or below the survey area… To protect this bird, we need a firm understanding of its habitat and ecology."
Only half of Bornean forest cover remains today, the UN Environment Programme reported. As climate change, deforestation and expansion of palm oil continue to threaten the owl's habitat, researchers, with almost no data of the owl's vocalizations, distribution, breeding biology and population size, are running out of time to shine a light on the mysterious species.
Additional studies on the owl "could have important conservation implications," yet its rarity makes these studies "impossible," the researchers wrote in their findings, published last week in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Finding another individual or population is necessary to learn more about the Bornean Rajah scops owl and protect them from increasing climate-related threats.
John Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy, said the important thing about rediscovering lost birds "is the excitement and interest they generate," according to the GWC. "The idea that there's a mysterious species out there that no one can find at the moment should be a call to action for birdwatchers in the area, and it's a way of getting people excited to search new areas and help make discoveries."
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A new study published Wednesday found that the destruction of primary forest increased by 12% in 2020, impacting ecosystems that store vast amounts of carbon and shelter abundant biodiversity.
Brazil saw the worst losses, three times higher than the next highest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the report from Global Forest Watch (GFW) citing satellite data.
The driving factor of deforestation has been a combination of a demand for commodities, increased agriculture, and climate change.
2020 was meant to be a "landmark year" in the fight against deforestation in which companies, countries and international organizations had pledged to halve or completely stop forest loss, said the report.
What Were the Main Takeaways?
The report, which included data from the University of Maryland, study cited in the report registered the destruction of 10.4 million acres (4.2 million hectares) of primary forest.
The loss of tree cover ー which refers to plantations as well as natural forest ー was a total of 30 million acres. Australia saw a ninefold increase in tree cover loss from late 2019 to early 2020 compared to 2018 primarily driven by extreme weather.
Heat and drought also stoked huge fires in Siberia and deep into the Amazon, researchers said.
The findings did, however, show signs of hope, particularly in southeast Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia saw downward trends for deforestation after implementing regulations such as a temporary palm oil license ban — although that is set to expire in 2021.
Researchers Voice Concern
These losses constitute a "climate emergency. They're a biodiversity crisis, a humanitarian disaster, and a loss of economic opportunity," said Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, which is behind the
The destruction of tropical forests released vast amounts of CO2 in 2020, a total of 2.6 million tons. That equals the annual amount of emissions from India's 570 million cars, researchers said.
COVID's Impact on Deforestation
The study suggested that COVID-19 restrictions may have had an effect when it came to illegal harvesting because forests were less protected or the return of large numbers of people to rural areas.
Researchers, however, said that little had changed when it comes to the trajectory of forest destruction. They warned the worst could still be to come if countries slash protections in an attempt to ramp up economic growth, hampered by the pandemic.
If deforestation goes unchecked it could lead to a negative feedback loop ー where trees lost leads to more carbon in the air, which in turn leads to increased climate change impacts leading to more trees being lost, researchers said.
The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic could offer and opportunity to reimagine policies and economies in a way that protects forest before it is too late, the report suggests.
Seymour said the most "ominous signal" from the 2020 data is the instances of forests themselves falling victim to climate change.
"The longer we wait to stop forestation, and get other sectors on to net zero trajectories, the more likely it is that our natural carbon sinks will go up in smoke," she said.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
A whopping 30-40% of all food in the United States is wasted each year, a considerable portion of which is connected with grocery retail. According to the EPA, food containers and packaging account for 23% of landfill waste, and grocery stores have been found responsible for 10% of all U.S. food waste. Grocery shopping also represents a considerable source of spending: the average American multi-person household spends an average of $118 a week on groceries.
Waste associated with grocery shopping happens on multiple levels: packaging and bagging groceries, choosing between the many options available, and actually using all the food once it's made it home, to name a few.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce waste and shop greener; from ditching single-use grocery bags, to decoding plastic packaging labels, to choosing produce more deliberately, our choices in the aisles make a significant impact.
1. Bring Your Own Grocery and Produce Bags
Roughly 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used by Americans each year, which are difficult to recycle and often make their way into waterways after being discarded, where they are consumed by wildlife and send further microplastics up the food chain.
Forgoing this source of waste is as simple as collecting a few reusable bags (no need for anything fancy) and keeping them easily accessible for grocery trips. Leave a few in the car in case you forget them, and check out packable bags to keep in your purse, backpack, or pocket for impromptu grocery runs.
Instead of putting produce in plastic bags, invest in an inexpensive set of reusable produce bags as well, which you can use to hold loose fruits, vegetables, and herbs, opting for the package-less option in the fresh foods section.
2. Buy in Bulk
Hiraman / E+ / Getty Images
Plastic packaging is a major source of waste, especially regarding food; packaging and containers alone account for more than 23% of all waste in landfills, according to the EPA.
To avoid contributing to this deluge of plastic, take advantage of the bulk sections found in many grocery stores, where customers can fill containers with loose, unpackaged goods, and pay by weight. Better yet, you can use your own reusable produce bags, and skip the plastic entirely.
Buying in bulk is a convenient alternative to items traditionally wrapped in plastic – especially dry goods like coffee, beans, nuts, and grains – and can reduce food waste in your home by supplying exactly the amount needed, as opposed to the pre-determined quantities of packaged foods, which might be more than you can use.
You can also research all-bulk grocery stores or filleries – stores specifically designed to sell foods in bulk without packaging – in your area to buy even more unpackaged items like spices, butter, crackers, oils, baking ingredients, pasta, eggs, and cleaning solutions.
3. Ask Your Grocery Store About Taring
Some grocery stores are also set up to support taring: weighing reusable containers brought by customers to fill with bulk goods, sometimes including liquids and other items that can't be put in a reusable bag.
Taring allows you to fill any vessel you already have: glass jars, upcycled plastic containers, Tupperware, etc. Most stores will require that customers pre-weigh the vessel and take note of the weight before filling it, which will be accounted for and subtracted from the total weight at checkout.
Even if your grocery store is not set up to support taring, ask an employee if you can take note of the weight of your container and subtract this from the total weight and price of your purchase.
4. Shop Local and In-Season
All food needs to get transported before it ends up in the grocery store aisles; often by boat, truck or plane, emitting carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane into the atmosphere.
Shopping locally if you are able cuts down on food miles – the distance a product traveled from the farm to your plate – while also supporting local farmers. Not all areas will have equal access to affordable local products, but research nearby farms that sell products or offer CSA memberships, or visit a local farmer's market to learn your options. Some farms will also sell wholesale to grocery stores, so you can purchase their crops just as easily as conventional products.
Similarly, if you're buying something out of season, it's likely to come from somewhere far away where it is in season. Check out the USDA's Seasonal Produce Guide to learn when in-season fruits and vegetables hit the grocery shelves, and try to shop according to the growing season.
5. Research Where Your Food Comes From and How It's Produced
d3sign / Moment / Getty Images
It's not always possible to shop locally or in-season, but you can still make a well-informed decision about what to put in your cart.
Find out who grew/manufactured the item and what their practices are, including whether they have ethical standards for raising meat, use pesticide-free pest management practices, etc.
Looking for labels is very helpful, especially USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified. USDA Organic is a stringent certification, and guarantees that the farm has followed certain standards for pest management, additives, animal raising, etc. Similarly, if a product has been vetted by Fairtrade International, the product fulfills certain economic, environmental, and social criteria to ensure that trade is equitable and producers are paid fairly. Don't be fooled by illegitimate certifications and phraseology like "pasture-raised," "certified sustainable," or other claims that aren't based on actual, verifiable standards.
Commercial seafood production in particular has devastating consequences for oceans. Destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling – in which massive nets are dragged along the ocean floor – destroy delicate ecosystems, disrupt aquatic food chains by removing large amounts of one species, and often ensnare species (sometimes endangered or protected) that were not intended to be caught, called bycatch.
Look for the Aquaculture Stewardship Council or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) seals on seafood to know it was produced responsibly. Seafood Watch also provides consumer guides for purchasing seafood in every region, a search tool to find the best options for a seafood product, and an app to help you find ethically-sourced seafood in your area.
6. More Fresh, Less Processed
Without the additional production and packaging undergone by processed foods items, fresh foods are often considered to have a smaller environmental impact, but this can be difficult to determine.
The sustainability of a food item depends on its entire life cycle: the processing, storing, preserving, and refrigerating needed to bring it from farm to plate. For example, buying minimally-processed foods – such as canned vegetables or dried fruit – might result in fewer emissions than fresh food that has to be prepared at home. Similarly, if eating processed foods results in less wasted food (since they last longer in the cabinet than perishables in the fridge), this might make them a more sustainable option for some.
However, many ultra-processed foods (those that contain little or no whole foods, and are mostly or entirely made with substances derived from foods and additives) contain palm and soy oils, which are associated with deforestation, degradation of natural habitats, and environmentally destructive large-scale agriculture.
Replacing ultra-processed foods with fresh, plant-based, local, whole foods is preferable, which produce relatively few emissions and retain more of their nutritional content. When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the grocery story – where the fresh foods are generally kept – as much as possible.
7. Shop Ugly
Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Moment / Getty Images
If produce is perfectly edible, yet cosmetically imperfect – carrots with multiple stalks, non-spherical apples, asymmetrical bell peppers – it'll often be rejected by grocery stores or left on the shelves, untaken by consumers.
Ugly produce subscription boxes have offered an alternative to consumers – although their ethics and place in ending home- and store-level food waste has been questioned – but you can always opt for the "uglier" options on the grocery store shelves, ensuring that they don't eventually get tossed by the store.
8. Plan Your Meals and Make a List
You might often find yourself at the grocery store without a grocery list or meal plan for the week, which inevitably leads to impulse-buying and speculating about what you might need. An average American wastes about 21% of the food they buy – equal to roughly $1,800 a year – much of which could be avoided by buying only what you know you need.
Make a list before every grocery trip, checking the fridge and cabinets to make sure you don't buy anything you already have. If you generally buy the same items, create a generic grocery list to print out each week and mark what is needed.
9. Check the Plastics
Of course, you might not be able to ditch plastic entirely when grocery shopping. Check out the labels on items packaged in plastic before buying, and choose those that are less impactful and more easily recycled. HDPE and PETE products are generally easier to recycle, so purchasing items packaged in these kinds of plastic have a better chance of actually making it to the recycling plant.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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By Andrea Germanos
A group of more than 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses "a double climate problem" that threatens forests' biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet's ecological emergency.
The demand came in a letter addressed to European Commission President Urusla Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The signatories—including renowned botanist Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden—reject the assertion that burning biomass is carbon neutral.
"Regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change” Over 500 scientists tell world leaders, to st… https://t.co/kFt4ofX6l6— Greta Thunberg (@Greta Thunberg)1613065055.0
Referring to forest "preservation and restoration" as key in meeting the nations' declared goals of carbon neutrality by 2050, the letter frames the slashing of trees for bioenergy as "misguided."
"We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world's biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy," the group wrote.
The destruction of forests, which are a carbon sink, creates a "carbon debt." And though regrowing "trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt," the signatories say that "regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change."
What's more, burning trees is "carbon-inefficient," they say. "Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels."
Another issue is that efforts using taxpayer money to sustain biomass burning stymies what are truly renewable energy policies.
"Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions," the letter states. "Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming."
The letter denounces as further troubling proposals to burn palm oil and soybean, which would entail further deforestation to make way for palm and soy crops.
Merely making countries responsible for the emissions that stem from land use changes is insufficient, the scientists write, because that would "not alter the incentives created by [national] laws for power plants and factories to burn wood."
As such, the letter calls on governments to end measures including subsidies that advance the burning of biomass. More specifically, the group writes:
The European Union needs to stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral in its renewable energy standards and in its emissions trading system. Japan needs to stop subsidizing power plants to burn wood. And the United States needs to avoid treating biomass as carbon neutral or low carbon as the new administration crafts climate rules and creates incentives to reduce global warming.
Simply put, "Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity," the letter states.
The letter was released after groups including WWF urged the European Commission to change the Renewable Energy Directive so that the law would not classify as carbon neutral, and thus not subsidize, the burning of trees and crops for energy. The advocacy groups asked people to sign onto a petition by February 9 to "help end this madness."
"Fighting the climate emergency without changing the EU's biomass rules is like trying to bail out a boat with a hole in the bottom," Alex Mason, senior policy officer at WWF's European Policy Office, said in a statement Thursday.
"The revision of the EU renewables law is a crucial chance; the Commission must listen to scientists and citizens and stop trees being burned in the name of the climate," said Mason.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Arkilaus Kladit
My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.
We have been taught for generations about how to maintain a good relationship with the forest. If it is cut down, it will be the same as cutting down our lives. This has been critical for us during this Covid pandemic because, with the shortage of rice, we have been relying on our traditional staple food, sago, that comes from the forest. And we have gone further by harvesting it to provide food for the surrounding area.
Map of the Knasaimos traditional lands.
The first threat to our forest was in 1988-89 when I was young. The government wanted to make a transmigration scheme settlement in our area but our elders rejected it because we were worried a lot of new people would harm the forest. Then in the early 2000s companies came wanting to log the valuable trees in our forest. After some years of struggle, we saw them off in 2005 but only after they did some damage to our forest.
The most recent threat is from oil palm. We heard news reports in 2012 there was an oil palm company going into a neighboring village. The news was quite alarming. Our tribe was sad. We had heard about thousands of hectares being cleared for oil palm plantations in Merauke and Sorong Districts. We thought that if oil palm is planted in a neighboring village, it is certain that the forests around our villages, Sira and Manggroholo, could also be under threat. But we stood firm on protecting our forest for our children and grandchildren. Our people consistently oppose oil palm, because we realize that our economic, customary and cultural lives depend heavily on the forest.
After our earlier fight with the illegal loggers, we decided in 2006 that we wanted to gain recognition for our customary forests. What has interested me most was getting the rights of the people to manage their forest. We worked with our Non-Government Organization friends, including Bentara and Greenpeace, to do participatory mapping of our own village lands and mark the boundary of all 81,446 hectares of our tribal lands. It is our custom to pass down from generation to generation where the boundaries of our forests are. Everything is collective, or is inherited collectively through the clans; it comes from our ancestors.
In 2008 we made a declaration to reject logging and palm oil. We invited the Regent and local Parliament to tell them that our area is small, if these forests are cut down, where do we go then? Where will we find wood to build our house? Where will we go to make our gardens? Where do we go to get medicines? If forests in these two villages are cut down, where will we move to?
So then we began the process of getting the recognition for our customary forests so that it will not be continually disturbed by logging licenses or permits for oil palm plantations. In 2014, after a long struggle, we had success with Village Forest permits for 3,545 hectares of customary forests of the two villages Mangroholo and Sira. We celebrated securing permits from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry as part of the government's social forestry program. We now have the legal rights to face the threat of illegal deforestation, oil palm planting that damages the environment.
A good example of how different it is now with the Village Forest permit. One day when we were patrolling in our forest we found merbau or ironwood trees (Intsia bijuga) had been illegally cut. Merbau is one of the main trees targeted by the illegal loggers. We caught the people doing this and issued them with a customary fine of Rp40 million ($2,700).
As well, since we obtained the status of Village Forest and we manage the forest ourselves, we are more organized in using Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) such as damar (tree resin), agarwood, and sago, from a big palm that grows in our swamp forests. But our people have always made use of forests sustainably by taking forest products as needed. Especially with sago we have done a lot of work to turn it into a small enterprise that makes a good income for the village so we can pay things like school fees. We have had training, received new processing machines to speed up production, and help with local marketing to sell what we make. We have been providing food for the local region during Covid as the local government was buying our sago and giving it to the people. We are proud to make some money from our protected forest using our customary management without harming it. The forest is still here tall and strong.
But we still have a long way to go. We are now fighting for the recognition of the whole Knasaimos tribal area of 81,446 hectares as Customary Forest. We were very happy in 2018 when the Governor of West Papua Dominggus Mandacan made his commitment to make 70% of West Papua Province protected areas. For us it means the Governor is fighting alongside us.
For the future we hope that the regent of our District, Mr. Samsudin, will soon issue a regional regulation that recognizes Knasaimos rights and forest, and that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry will support our application for a Customary Forest permit through the government Social Forestry Scheme so we can be on the frontline in supporting the government to protect Papua's forests.
I hope that every village in the Knasaimos customary area can experience the customary forest program to protect the future of our mother, the forest, and the rights to life of communities in Papua. Getting rights to forests in one's own area is the key to protecting the forest and community-based forest management. That is our aspiration, and this will make me very happy.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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With lockdowns in place and budgets slashed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many environmental protections vanished this past year, leaving some of the world's most vulnerable species and habitats at risk. But conservationists at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation were faced with an entirely different threat.
Their beloved orangutans share a strikingly similar DNA to humans, making them susceptible to respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, Reuters reported. So when it came time to reintroduce a group of rescued orangutans back into the wild, conservationists had to rethink their usual transportation methods to prevent potentially spreading the virus.
The solution? Reintroduce the critically endangered species via helicopter.
Last week, ten orangutans returned to the wild by taking a flight to the Indonesian portion of Borneo Island, Reuters reported.
"For an entire year, we have not been able to release orangutans due to the global pandemic, but we are still strongly committed to the orangutan conservation effort," Jamartin Sihite, CEO of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, said in a statement.
Prior to their release, the orangutans were held in rehabilitation centers, according to Reuters. They included five males, a mother and two babies and two other females.
"Using a helicopter is the best way to transport orangutans during the pandemic," Denny Kurniawan, BOSF program manager, told Reuters. Normally it would take three days to drive the orangutans to their drop-off area, adding to the risk of further exposure between humans and orangutans, Reuters noted. However, air travel reduced travel time and kept veterinarians and orangutans at a safer distance.
"Efforts to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus have hampered many conservation-related activities," Handi Nasoka, acting head of Central Kalimantan's conservation agency, told Reuters.
Orangutans are critically endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund, with about 104,700 Bornean orangutans remaining. While the decline in populations is partially due to the expansion of palm oil and other agricultural plantations, causing habitat loss, orangutans also fall prey to illegal hunting and trading. The latter has been on the rise since the pandemic started.
In Africa, for example, international travel restrictions caused the continent's $39 billion tourism industry to decline, The New York Times reported. Highly visited areas have become empty, making it difficult for conservation groups to keep track of illegal activity across Africa's vast lands, The New York Times reported.
"These animals are not just protected by rangers, they're also protected by tourist presence," Tim Davenport, who directs Africa's species conservation programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The New York Times. Since the March lockdown, South Africa had experienced a rapid increase in rhino poachings. Now poachers are taking advantage of unpatrolled lands, illustrating "the risks of relying too heavily on tourism to support conservation," Davenport added.
While the pandemic highlights the unique threat that economic struggle poses to endangered species, it also emphasizes the necessary role conservationists play in protecting them.
"We cannot afford to stop our work under any circumstance," Sunandar Trigunajasa, head of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency, which helped with the orangutan release, said in a statement. "What we must do is keep on innovating and adapting to the dynamic conditions and moving forward."
By Jack McGovan
In 1931, Soviet scientists were on the hunt for a natural source of rubber that would help the USSR become self-sufficient in key materials.
They scoured the vast and various territories of the Soviet Union and tested over 1,000 different species looking for an alternative to the South American rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensi. Eventually, on the steppes of Kazakhstan, they found one.
By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR's rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber.
Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.
But now, with demand for rubber continuing to grow, there is renewed interest in the Russian dandelion, particularly from the tire industry, which consumes 70% of the world's rubber supply.
Diversifying Natural Rubber
Overall, 65% of rubber consumed worldwide is derived from fossil fuels. This synthetic rubber is cheaper and more hardwearing than its natural counterpart. But natural rubber disperses heat better and has better grip, which is why tires are made with a mix of both.
Today, 90% of natural rubber comes from Havea plantations in Southeast Asia, which have been linked to deforestation. And there are commercial as well as environmental reasons the tire industry would like to find an alternative.
Havea rubber trees are vulnerable to a fungal leaf blight that has hit plantations in South America, making some in the tire industry nervous about such dependence on a single crop, with little genetic diversity, grown in a single geographical region.
Developing the Dandelion
Over recent years, projects in both Europe and the US have been taking a fresh shot at making dandelion rubber commercially viable.
Among them is Taraxagum, a collaboration between Continental Tires and the Fraunhofer Institute of Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Aachen, Germany.
"Continental Tires tested the performance of the material and said that it was brilliant — in some cases better than Hevea rubber," said Dirk Prüfer, a plant biotechnologist on the Taraxagum team.
Both Continental and competitor Apollo Tyres have used dandelion rubber to manufacture bike tires, and Continental reports "promising" tests on dandelion truck tires.
Apollo was part of the EU-funded DRIVE4EU consortium, a project that ran from 2014 to 2018 and worked on developing the entire production chain for dandelion rubber, starting with cultivation.
Unlike the rubber tree, the Russian dandelion thrives in temperate climates.
"We cultivated the dandelion in Belgium, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan," said Ingrid van der Meer, coordinator of DRIVE4EU, adding that other researchers had previously cultivated the crop in Sweden, Germany and the United States.
Fewer Chemicals and Poorer Soils
The Russian dandelion can also be grown on relatively poor soils, meaning it doesn't have to compete with agriculture. Prüfer said his team was researching whether brownfield land — former industrial sites that may be heavily polluted — might even be suitable.
"There are big areas like this near Cologne or Aachen that could potentially be used for cultivation," Prüfer said.
Once the dandelions are harvested "hot-water extraction" is used to separate out the rubber. "The roots are chopped up mechanically and water is added," van der Meer explained. "It has to be heated up, but no large volumes of chemicals are needed.
This is in contrast to Hevea rubber extraction, which requires the use of organic solvents, resulting in chemical waste that poses an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly.
Environmental Problems Persist
But while the Russian dandelion could make the production of tires greener, it won't improve their environmental impact once they leave the factory.
As tires are used, they shed microplastics, which are then carried on air and end up in oceans. A recent study found that this source of ocean microplastics amounts to 100,000 metric tons each year.
Then, at the end of their life, most tires finish up in landfill, in part because the mix of rubbers make them difficult to recycle.
"Tires are meant to optimize different kinds of properties, so it's not easy to just use one kind of rubber," said Francesco Piccihoni, an expert in rubber recycling at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
"You could make tires from only natural rubber but it degrades faster, meaning you would have to change the tires much more often," Piccihoni added.
Even shifting rubber farming to European wastelands wouldn't automatically avert deforestation in Asia. Georg Cadisch, an expert in tropical agronomy at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, says forests will continue to be felled as long as the land can be used more profitably for agriculture.
"Rubber farmers need to survive, so they would simply produce other crops," he said, adding that rubber plantations in China and Thailand have already been replaced with crops like palm oil or bananas.
Still, proponents of the Russian dandelion argue that as demand rises, we need a source of rubber that doesn't rely on expanding into new areas of forest. Growing it close to European and US tire factories would also means fewer CO2 emissions from transport.
And as far as performance goes, tire makers are impressed.
"The moment natural rubber from the dandelion is available in significant quantities, Apollo will resume using the material and develop other tire products," chief technical officer Daniele Lorenzetti said.
As things stand, though, the supply chain needs some work. "To compete with other rubbers, the production costs of dandelion rubber need to match the market price. This is not yet the case," said van der Meer, who will continue working on optimizing Russian dandelion cultivation.
For now, Europe's wastelands aren't about to be swathed in sunny yellow. But there might just be a bright future for a material that had been consigned to Soviet history.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Jessica Corbett
New data from a Norwegian nonprofit is generating fresh concerns about humanity's destruction of the natural world, revealing Monday that people have ravaged about two-thirds of original tropical rainforest cover globally.
The Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) analysis found that human activities including logging and land-use changes—often for farming—have destroyed 34% of old-growth tropical rainforests and degraded 30% worldwide.
RFN defined degraded forests as those that are partly destroyed or fully wiped out but replaced by more recent growth. The group's definition for intact forest, considered too strict by some experts, includes only areas that are at least 500 square kilometers or 193 square miles; trees and biodiversity are at greater risk in smaller zones.
Two-thirds of the world’s original tropical #rainforest cover have been degraded or destroyed, new @RainforestNORW… https://t.co/h4lzA5lyqg— WWF EU (@WWF EU)1615220106.0
The RFN findings, reported by Reuters, show that over half of the destruction since 2002 has been in the Amazon and neighboring rainforests. Deforestation in South America—particularly within Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon—has caused recent alarm given the role of rainforests in trapping carbon.
"Forests act as a two-lane highway in the climate system," explained Nancy Harris, Forests Program research director at the World Resources Institute (WRI), earlier this year. "Standing forests absorb carbon, but clearing forests releases it into the atmosphere."
A forest carbon flux map released in January by organizations including WRI found that between 2001 and 2019, forests emitted an average of 8.1 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually due to deforestation and other disturbances but also absorbed 16 billion metric tonnes per year over the same period.
Reuters reported Monday on RFN's analysis:
As more rainforest is destroyed, there is more potential for climate change, which in turn makes it more difficult for remaining forests to survive, said the report's author Anders Krogh, a tropical forest researcher.
"It's a terrifying cycle," Krogh said. The total lost between just 2002 and 2019 was larger than the area of France, he found.
Deforestation has surged in Brazil since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro—a foe of both environmental regulations and Indigenous people in his country—took office in early 2019. Brazilian forest loss hit a 12-year high in 2020, according to satellite imagery from the country's space research agency.
"Instead of acting to prevent the increase in deforestation, the Bolsonaro government has been denying the reality of the situation, dismantling environmental agencies, and attacking NGOs who work on the ground in the Amazon," said Greenpeace Brazil Amazon campaigner Cristiane Mazzetti in response to the data.
A look at tropical rainforest deforestation globally in 2019. Brazil/Americas far and away the leader. The drivers… https://t.co/w2ZWv1pYnd— Jake Spring (@Jake Spring)1615206122.0
Bolsonaro enjoyed a close relationship with former U.S. President Donald Trump—and both leaders faced an onslaught of global criticism for their similar response to various crises, from the raging coronavirus pandemic to the climate emergency.
Comments from Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo on Friday suggest that the recent swearing-in of U.S. President Joe Biden may mean a shift. According to Reuters, Araújo—who has called human-caused climate change a "Marxist conspiracy"—said the administrations are now collaborating on the crisis.
"Something that was regarded as an impediment... is totally out of the way. We are now working together... as key partners towards a successful COP26 and fully implementing climate agreements," said Araújo, referring to the United Nations climate summit rescheduled for November due to the pandemic.
A U.N. report released late last month found that the international community is quite far off from meeting the Paris climate agreement's 1.5°C and 2°C temperature targets based on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledges that governments have proposed for the next decade.
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian group Observatório do Clima, called Bolsonaro's plan "a trainwreck of reduced ambition" that "violates the Paris agreement by giving the country a free pass to emit 200 million tons to 400 million tons of CO2 more than the 2015 pledge."
"It totally eliminates any mention of deforestation control and it lacks clarity on its conditionality," added Astrini. He warned against accepting "such a dangerous precedent" and called for global pressure on his government "to go back to the drawing board" and formulate a pledge "with real targets."
Our new global report shows humans have degraded or destroyed 2/3 of the world’s original tropical #rainforest cove… https://t.co/aIXLccChAr— Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) (@Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN))1615205235.0
The Amazon "represents the best hope for preserving what rainforest remains," Reuters noted, adding that Krogh found the world's largest rainforest "and its neighbors—the Orinoco and the Andean rainforest—account for 73.5% of tropical forests still intact."
While that fact "gives hope," RFN tweeted Monday, the "current rate of destruction is frightening."
The group found that after South American rainforests, the top deforestation hot zones since 2002 have been Southeast Asian islands where trees have been cleared for palm oil plantations followed by Central Africa—specifically around the Congo River basin, where forest loss results from agriculture and logging.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.
If seen through to completion, the Tanah Merah project will generate an estimated $6 billion in timber and create a plantation almost twice the size of London, at the heart of the largest tract of intact rainforest left in Asia. It will also release an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at a time when Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions from deforestation.
Since March of last year, the Digoel Agri Group, founded by a politically connected Jakarta family and now backed by an investor from New Zealand, has bulldozed 170 hectares (420 acres) of rainforest in a section of the project previously spared from land clearing, satellite imagery shows.
The clearance amounts to a fraction of the 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) allocated for the project, now controlled by several different conglomerates. But it signals that deforestation could quickly accelerate after a decade of false starts by other investors.
A satellite view of Digoel Agri's forest clearance, seen in late November 2019.
Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.
The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border investigation by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds.
A subsequent report found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.
Two companies, majority-owned by anonymous firms registered in the United Arab Emirates, began operating on the basis of these permits, to the north of the land now held by Digoel Agri. In response to written questions from The Gecko Project and Mongabay they have denied the allegation that the permits were falsified.
On paper, Digoel Agri's involvement in the project represents a clean break from those allegations. The firm arrived on the scene after the suspect permits held by earlier investors were revoked and reassigned to it.
Jackson Iqbal de Hesselle, 32, a member of the Rumangkang family, which is behind Digoel Agri, said its operations were clean. "We're obeying the rules," he said in a recent interview at the firm's office in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.
However, while there are no apparent links between Digoel Agri and the previous investors, its ability to operate is partly predicated on the allegedly compromised licensing process that went before.
The legal basis of Digoel Agri's activities rests partly on decrees rezoning the land to allow development, issued by the Ministry of Forestry in 2012, following requests from earlier investors. The applications were based on the plantation permits that were allegedly falsified.
As of late last year, Indonesian authorities had yet to investigate the allegations, officials from several agencies said at the time.
NGOs scrutinizing the project assert that officials rushed into reallocating the lands to new investors without properly considering the allegations of irregularities in the licensing process and the environmental and social impacts the project would have.
Arie Rompas, the head of forest campaigns at Greenpeace Indonesia, called the Tanah Merah project a "public scandal" and said the permits underlying it should be examined and revoked.
"There is still an opportunity to save this area," he said.
Enter the Rumangkangs
Digoel Agri was set up by members of the Rumangkang family, according to the Indonesian government's corporate registry. The late family patriarch, Ventje Rumangkang, who died in February at the age of 74, was a founder of Indonesia's Democratic Party, the vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful presidential run in 2004.
At their office in Jayapura, Jackson and his brother Jones Rumangkang, 44, said they had decided to invest in the Tanah Merah project after being encouraged to do so by bureaucrats in Boven Digoel, the district in which the project is located. They then formed several companies under the Digoel Agri brand and set about acquiring the permits.
The brothers said they were helped along by Fabianus Senfahagi, the head of a local indigenous people's association. He had played a role shepherding through the project in its early stages, accompanying surveyors sent by other investors around 2012.
A paper trail of correspondence among Fabianus and government officials shows he subsequently agitated for the permits to be revoked and reassigned to the Digoel Agri Group.
His letters to the district government in 2014 claimed the local Auyu people were anxiously waiting for the project to begin. By this time, the land concessions that would be transferred to the Rumangkangs were majority-owned by Tadmax Resources, a Malaysian logging and property conglomerate. Minority stakes were retained by the Menara Group, an enigmatic Jakarta firm that brought the project to life in 2010.
Over the next three years, the permits held by Tadmax and Menara were revoked by the district and provincial governments. The stated rationale for cancelling them was the companies' failure to begin operating. However, bureaucrats at the Papua investment agency had also raised concerns that some of the permits had been falsified.
Tadmax and Menara have not responded to repeated requests to comment on these allegations.
By 2017, the concessions previously held by Tadmax and Menara had been reallocated to the Digoel Agri Group.
In early 2019, Tadmax and Menara challenged this decision. A letter to the central government from Dr. Sadino & Partners, a law firm representing the joint investors, accused officials of illegally revoking the permits. They also argued that anyone using the same land on the basis of new permits — like the ones underlying Digoel Agri's operations — was committing a crime.
Jones and Jackson insisted that Digoel Agri was in compliance with the law and had obtained the permits it needed to begin operating, from the district and provincial governments.
Ordinarily, to convert rainforest to a plantation, Digoel Agri would also have needed to apply to the forestry ministry in Jakarta to rezone the land for development. But by the time the Rumangkangs arrived in Papua, this process had already taken place.
The Menara Group and its co-investors had obtained decrees rezoning the land from the then-minister in 2011. These decrees were issued on the basis of permits that provincial government officials have repeatedly reported were falsified.
In an interview last year, Sigit Hardwinarto, the ministry's director-general of forest planning, said the rezoning could be reviewed if the allegation that the permits had been falsified was reported to his department.
The rezoning of the land is a legacy of the administration of President Yudhoyono and then-Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan. During his tenure, Zulkifli reportedly rezoned 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of land for conversion to oil palm plantations.
Yudhoyono's successor, President Joko Widodo, and the new forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, have sought to strike a different path. In 2018, Widodo signed a three-year moratorium on the issuance of new licenses for oil palm plantations.
The policy had been announced in the wake of Indonesia's 2015 fire and haze crisis, in which Indonesia's vast peat swamps burned as a result of agricultural fires from the oil palm and timber plantation industries. Toxic smoke from the fires drifted into neighboring countries, creating a public health crisis.
The moratorium explicitly barred the forestry ministry from rezoning land for oil palm development. It also instructed the cabinet to review all existing oil palm permits with an eye toward possibly revoking them. Several weeks after the president first declared he would sign the moratorium, in 2016, Siti singled out the Tanah Merah project as one that merited scrutiny.
In comments posted on her personal website, Siti referred disparagingly to the fact that the project appeared to have been established so the licenses could be "traded" to Malaysian investors, and said the president had instructed her to prioritize implementing the moratorium in Papua.
"We really have to safeguard [the forests of Papua] and must formulate and implement a development concept in Papua to the best of our ability," she quoted Widodo as telling her.
However, neither these policies nor the allegations around the Tanah Merah project have stymied its progress under the direction of new investors. NGOs monitoring the implementation of the moratorium have noted limited progress in Papua.
"There has been no significant progress in how this policy is implemented," said Arie, the Greenpeace campaigner. "The Tanah Merah project should be a strong case to see how this [policy] can be carried out seriously and effectively."
A road cuts through one of the Digoel Agri land concessions, seen in January. Pusaka
The Rumangkangs insist that the project will benefit the Auyu people. Jones said the ones he met were overjoyed about the prospect of a plantation on their land.
"They didn't just ask, they cried," he said. "The Auyu tribe is the poorest in Boven Digoel, even though they're so rich [in natural resources]."
The Rumangkangs have enlisted foreign investors to help them develop the plantation. Their chief partner is a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. In 2018, Mahon became the majority shareholder of the Digoel Agri subsidiaries with land concessions in the project. He could not be reached for comment.
Mahon associate Thirunavukarasu Selva Nithan, an Australian national, is the sole director of the three companies, corporate records show. Contacted by email, he said he had resigned his position and directed questions to Jackson.
The involvement of these investors adds to a growing list of actors from across the world with a stake in what could become the world's largest stretch of oil palm. Malaysian logging giant Shin Yang has constructed a sawmill to process timber from the project.
North of the Digoel Agri concessions, investors whose identities are hidden behind anonymously owned companies in the United Arab Emirates have also begun clearing land, with the Menara Group and the sister of a prominent politician from Indonesia's National Mandate Party as their minor partners. So far, they've bulldozed 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of forest, nearly 3% of the project's total area.
Yet another firm holds the rights to the northernmost block of the project. Corporate records show it is majority owned by two holding companies registered to a letterbox address in Malaysia. The minor shareholder in that venture is the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.
Many Auyu remain steadfastly opposed to the Tanah Merah project, according to Franky Samperante, the director of Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for indigenous peoples' rights.
Franky Samperante. Sandy Watt / The Gecko Project
On a recent trip to the area, he found that members of the Kemon clan, whose land has been targeted by Digoel Agri, did not want the plantation to go ahead on the grounds that it would destroy their food and water supplies.
He questioned the government's decision to allow the plantation to move ahead, without investigating the allegation that permits held by the earlier investors had been falsified.
"In light of the irregularities that have arisen, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must review the decrees rezoning the land," he said. "The government must impose sanctions on the perpetrators."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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The program that Indonesia started, Keluarga Harapan program, or "Family Hope" program, which provides direct cash transfers to low-income households to bring them above the poverty line, had no intention of helping the country's forests, which have been slashed down at a remarkable rate.
Instead, the program gave families money if they met certain conditions, like attending regular doctor visits, keeping kids in school, and participating in health and nutrition training. While conditional cash transfers are used in several countries around the world to alleviate poverty, they are not viewed as an environmentally friendly action, according to Science News.
That's because economic growth is often correlated with environmental degradation. But, that's correlation, not causation.
The new study, published in Science Advances, examined the habits of 266,533 households in 7,468 rural villages across 15 provinces on multiple islands between 2008 and 2012. The researchers then compared where the cash was distributed to satellite images of forests during the same timeframe. That's when they noticed that forests where the government was making payments were faring far better than other regions of Indonesia.
"For decades, people have been debating whether alleviating poverty and protecting the environment are at odds with each other. Resolving this debate is important because lots of poor people are found in the same areas where we find the most endangered ecosystems, like the rainforest," Paul Ferraro, an author of the study from Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek.
Saving Indonesia's forests is crucial for the health of the planet and wildlife. The forests are home to a diverse range of species and are efficient at capturing carbon. However, forest destruction is responsible for 10 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions, and much of it is the result of extreme poverty, as Bloomberg reported. For rural villages, selling timber and clearing land for cultivation is often an income stream of last resort.
Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest tropical forests, but it's also the top global producer of palm oil, which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires, according to Reuters.
Not only does Indonesia suffer from troubling rates of deforestation, it also has terrible income inequality. According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia had the third-highest rate of rainforest loss in the world in 2019. It also saw the divide between its richest and poorest citizens grow faster than any other country in Southeast Asia over the last two decades, and now has the sixth-largest wealth inequality gap in the world, according to Oxfam International, as Mic reported.
"No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty program on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it," said Ferraro, as Reuters reported.
The researchers suggest their results may spill over to other countries in Asia that have similar experiences, such as cutting down forests to grow rice as a supplement to a poor harvest. They also say that their study shows that's what's good for people is also good for the environment.
"The value of the avoided deforestation just for carbon dioxide emissions alone is more than the program costs," said Ferraro, as Science News reported, adding that the economic benefits of saving the forests justify the intervention.
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