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Rainforest in ruin. Mighty Earth

Chocolate Barons Devastate National Parks in West Africa

By Davis Harper

For several years, chocolate barons have devastated forests to make room to plant cocoa, a crop that naturally grows in shade. Now, a report from Mighty Earth—a nonprofit that works to conserve threatened landscapes—shows new evidence that illegal deforestation is occurring in protected areas; specifically, in the national parks of West Africa.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce a combined 2.6 million tons of chocolate—60 percent of the world's supply. It's no wonder so many of these nations' protected lands are at risk. According to Mighty Earth's report, 10 percent of Ghana's tree cover has been replaced by cocoa monocultures. The Ivory Coast, once heavily forested and extremely biodiverse, has lost seven of its 23 protected areas to cocoa. Due to habitat loss, its chimpanzees are now endangered, and its elephants are nearly extinct. This means that companies like Mars, Nestlé, Hersey's and Godiva are on the hot seat for making products using cocoa grown by uncertified sources.

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Regeneration International

How to Start a Regenerative Agriculture Movement in Your Community

By Regeneration International

The most important, although as of yet little known, new paradigm shift and set of practices in the world today is regenerative agriculture, or rather regenerative food, farming and land use. Regeneration practices, scaled up globally on billions of acres of farmland, pasture, and forest, have the potential to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming and, at the same time, provide solutions to other burning issues such as poverty, deteriorating public health, environmental degradation, and global conflict.

The world-changing promise of regeneration lies in the fact that a large scale increase in plant photosynthesis (i.e. drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, releasing oxygen, but transferring a major proportion of carbon into the plant roots and soil) made possible by fundamental changes in farming, grazing and land use practices, (along with the transition to 100 percent renewable energy) across billions of acres, can drawdown enough excess CO2 from the atmosphere into our living soils, plants, and forests to reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate.

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It’s Time to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides

The Canadian government is banning plastic microbeads in toiletries. Although designed to clean us, they're polluting the environment, putting the health of fish, wildlife and people at risk. Manufacturers and consumers ushered plastic microbeads into the marketplace, but when we learned of their dangers, we moved to phase them out.

Why, then, is it taking so long to phase out the world's most widely used insecticides, neonicotinoids? Scientists have proven they're harming not only the pests they're designed to kill, but also a long list of non-target species, including pollinators we rely on globally for about one-third of food crops.

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Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace

WWF: 60% of Global Biodiversity Loss Due to Land Cleared for Meat-Based Diets

A lot has been said about the many links between the food on our plates to climate change. But a new report from the World Wildlife Fund UK (WWF) highlights how the livestock industry also gobbles up a massive amount of land, leading to wide-scale biodiversity loss.

Producing the animal feed for meat- and dairy-heavy Western diets uses up a lot of the planet's precious resources. Simply put, the more animal products we eat, the more feed we need to produce, but growing the crops used for that feed—such as soy and corn—eats up land, the Appetite for Destruction report notes.

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The Torrey pine is one of California's most iconic trees. Jill Hamilton

'Genetic Rescue' May Be the Secret to Saving This Iconic Tree

By Jake Buehler

The wind rips across California's Santa Rosa Island, howling as it flattens dry grass and sage in unrelenting waves. Downhill, a small group of trees, stark against the cobalt blue of the Pacific, stand firm. Their gnarled branches barely sway, knotted up in a cloud of green needles, perpetually pinned backward like a flag in a storm.

The trees seem like an avatar of resilience in an austere environment, but Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana) are some of the most rare and critically endangered pines in the world. A century ago, the pines went through a near-extinction-level population crash when the trees, never common, were largely cleared for pastureland development. The survivors were mostly in isolated areas—like Santa Rosa Island—that had only been settled by a few trees to begin with. The number of trees has increased since then, and their blown-up bonsai appearance has made Torrey pines popular ornamental trees. But the population bottleneck caused by the near-extinction meant the obliteration of nearly all of the species' genetic diversity.

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A coffee farmer picks fresh coffee cherries in Colombia. Neil Palmer / International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Global Food Crops Also Face Earth's Sixth Great Mass Extinction

Human civilization utterly depends on our precious food supplies, but the planet's sixth mass extinction of plants and animals currently underway is also threatening the world's food crops, according to a new report from Bioversity International.

"Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention," Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, wrote in an article for the Guardian.

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Amazon pink river dolphin. Shutterstock

381 New Species Discovered in the Amazon

A new WWF and Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development report, released Aug. 30, reveals that a new animal or plant species is discovered in the Amazon every two days, the fastest rate to be observed this century. The findings come as huge parts of the forest are increasingly under threat, sparking further concern over the irreversible—and potentially catastrophic—consequences unsustainable policy and decision-making could have.

New Species of Vertebrates and Plants in the Amazon 2014-2015 details 381 new species that were discovered over 24 months, including 216 plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals (2 of which are fossils), 19 reptiles and 1 bird.

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Hine's Emerald Dragonfly. Missouri Department of Conservation

Escalating Use of Pesticides Harms Already Imperiled Aquatic Invertebrates

A new analysis published this month by U.S. Geological Survey scientists found pesticides at high enough concentrations to harm already imperiled aquatic invertebrates in more than half of 100 streams studied in the Midwest and Great Plains. The pesticide levels threaten species like the Hine's emerald dragonfly and the sheepnose mussel.

The U.S. Geological Survey study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found an average of 54 pesticides in each stream in both agricultural and urban areas, spotlighting the ever-broadening contamination of waterways caused by the nation's escalating use of pesticides.

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Insights

Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity.

The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth's long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

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