Starbucks, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Palm Oil Is Destroying Our Planet
Starbucks has a bigger problem than the controversy over its new red holiday cup. The company is still buying palm oil and other agricultural products that might be linked to tropical forest destruction. Many scientists, environmental groups and labor organizations aren't happy about it.
Thursday, that coalition sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz urging him to strengthen his company's procurement policy to ensure it doesn't contribute to deforestation, a significant cause of global warming. The commodities in question include wood, paper products and palm oil, an ingredient in a number of Starbucks menu items, including its Java Chip Frappuccino drink and Cranberry Bliss Bar dessert.
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The signatories on the letter include the Center for International Policy, Forest Heroes, the International Labor Rights Forum, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation Norway, Sierra Club, SumOfUs and Union of Concerned Scientists. In addition to the letter, more than 300,000 consumers have petitioned Starbucks to go deforestation-free.
"Starbucks likes to promote itself as a responsible corporate citizen, but it lags far behind consumer and industry standards for protecting forests," Lael Goodman, a Union of Concerned Scientists analyst, said. "To maintain its do-gooder reputation, Starbucks should permanently sever any connection to forest destruction by adopting a strong procurement policy that clearly spells out a timetable for implementation."
The company currently has a weak procurement commitment for palm oil, which comes mainly from Southeast Asia. Irresponsible growers there routinely destroy tropical forests and peatlands for plantations, producing fires that emit tons of carbon pollution. They also threaten the health of area residents, and endanger elephants, orangutans and tigers. This year, the haze from annual agricultural fires is the worst in 20 years, affecting more than 43 million people across the region. There have been 19 haze-related deaths in Indonesia so far and hundreds of thousands of people have developed acute lung infections. But that's not all. Besides the damage the fires do to public health and the environment, plantation owners all too often appropriate land from local communities and exploit child and immigrant labor.
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In July, after receiving a 10 out of a potential score of 100 in Union of Concerned Scientists's 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard and pressure from consumers, Starbucks responded. It promised "a stronger focus" on preserving forests and peatlands.
The company's pledge didn't impress the coalition. Its letter points out that "'a stronger focus' falls well short of the industry standard of a strict 'No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation' palm oil sourcing policy and time-bound implementation plan." Other fast food chains, including Dunkin' Brands, McDonald's and Yum! Brands—owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—have adopted zero-deforestation procurement policies.
Starbucks also vowed to only buy palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but the company acknowledges that RSPO certification is insufficient.
Indeed, RSPO standards address a number of key issues, such as pesticide use and labor conditions, but don't go far enough to protect the climate. RSPO certification, for example, still allows producers to clear forests and peatlands to create or expand plantations. Only pristine and primary forests are completely off-limits. The standards also don't restrict carbon emissions from plantation development. They only offer guidelines for reporting emissions from forest conversion.
Finally, Starbucks made a commitment "to pursuing zero net deforestation across our supply chain," meaning for all of the products it buys, not only palm oil. That didn't sit well with the coalition, either—for good reason.
The word "pursuing," as the coalition letter points out, lacks specificity. What is needed, the letter says, is a firm timetable for achieving that goal. Perhaps even more important, "zero net deforestation means that Starbucks is willing to do business with a company that clears forests, so long as it plants saplings elsewhere. Applying this approach to tropical forests would send even more [carbon] pollution into the atmosphere."
Starbucks' brand is "synonymous with sustainability and innovation," the letter reads. "We are sure that Starbucks ... does not wish to be further associated with these problematic issues."
Coincidentally, now is a convenient time for Starbucks to adopt a deforestation-free palm oil policy. As it turns out, most globally traded palm oil will be covered by deforestation-free commitments by the beginning of next year. So, Starbucks, wake up and smell the coffee.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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