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A baby elephant nuzzles its mother in the Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Critical elephant habitat is being decimated to make room for palm oil plantations. Paul Hitlon / RAN

World's Biggest Brands Are Pushing Indonesia's Endangered Elephants to Extinction

By Emma Rae Lierley

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia thrums with life. It is an ancient, 6.5 million acres of lush rainforest and steamy peat swamps, and because of its rich biodiversity, is one of the most important rainforests still standing today.

Its clear rivers provide drinking water for millions of people and its lowland and mountainous rainforests are literally the last place on Earth where Sumatran elephants, orangutans, tigers, rhinos and sunbears still coexist in the wild. Globally, we all depend on it for the climate regulating effects such a large carbon-sink can have.

And yet, the Leuser Ecosystem is being actively destroyed for palm oil and other industries.

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Hong Kong's Palm Oil Spill Is Wreaking Havoc on Marine Life

On the night of Aug. 3 two ships collided south of Hong Kong in the approach waters to the Pearl River Delta. According to information obtained from the Tradewinds News, the Japanese GMS chemical tanker Global Apollon and the Pacific International Lines containership Kota Ganteng had a collision but details remain very slim. Details of the damage is also unknown however the Kota Ganteng containership has since sailed onwards to Singapore. The Global Apollon remains at anchor in the waters near the Chinese Guishan Islands just to the South West of Hong Kong's Soko Islands.

The Global Apollon was carrying 9,000 tons of raw palm oil and a substantial (unknown) amount of this was spilt into the surrounding waters. The Guangzhou authorities dispatched nine vessels to assist and contain from reports we have seen, yet the Hong Kong government claim that they were not told of the spill until Aug. 5. By the time the Hong Kong government found out, large amounts of this palm oil began washing up on Hong Kong's southern beaches.

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Beef cattle awaiting slaughter in a corral. Fabio Nascimento

Study Links Most Amazon Deforestation to 128 Slaughterhouses

By Eduardo Pegurier, Translated by Bruno Moraes

Satellites are mechanical reporters of the Amazon deforestation process. By documenting the degradation and gaps created by the clear-cutting process over the years, they deliver the verdict: Two-thirds of the Amazon's deforested area has been turned into pastures.

From the ground, the cattle count reveals that the Amazon is home to more cattle than people. By 2016, the region's cattle numbers amounted to 85 million head, compared to a human population of 25 million—more than three cows per person. In the city of São Félix do Xingu, which contains the largest herd in Brazil, this proportion reaches 18 cows to 1 person.

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Africa's giraffe population has plunged almost 40 percent in the past 30 years. Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity

Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction Already Underway

Scientists warn in a new study that Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction that is "more severe than perceived."

Not only that, human activity—including pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, poaching, warming oceans and extreme weather events tied to climate change—is to blame for this massive loss in biodiversity, according to an analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Scientists Say Only 10 Years Left to Save the Planet

The planet, as we know it, has been given a deadline: 10 years. According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, if humans don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically and maintain carbon sinks, like forests, then the results will be catastrophic for the climate. But the researchers have developed a model that they believe could do the trick.

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Historic Verdict in Indonesia’s Fight Against Deforestation

In a historic verdict in defense of forests and human rights, a court in Central Kalimantan has ordered the government of the Indonesian province to review the permits of palm oil companies associated with massive forest and peat land fires in 2015.

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7 Ways You Contribute to Rainforest Destruction on a Daily Basis

By Sophia Lepore

People don't usually think about the destruction of rainforests while washing their hands, applying lipstick or doing laundry. But thanks to high demand for products containing palm oil, which is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, consumers are inadvertently contributing to deforestation.

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Exclusive Clip: DiCaprio's Climate Doc Exposes Destruction of Rainforest for Palm Oil as Huge Driver of Global Carbon Emissions

A new documentary produced and starring actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio premieres in Los Angeles today and will be broadcast globally in 45 languages in 171 countries on the National Geographic Channel starting Oct. 30, timed to air in advance of the November elections.

The film highlights the critical role forest destruction plays in driving carbon pollution into Earth's atmosphere and focuses specifically on how the rapid spread of industrial palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia are at the heart of this crisis. The film It is directed by Fisher Stevens who, like DiCaprio, is an Academy Award winner.

Watch the exclusive clip here:

The film captures DiCaprio's visit to the Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh, Indonesia, where extremely high rates of forest clearance have exacerbated the climate change dilemma. Indonesia is now one of the world's top carbon emitting countries, primarily due to the massive deforestation in the region. Before the Flood notes that as it was being filmed in late 2015, man-made fires in Indonesia were spewing more carbon pollution on a daily basis than the entire U.S. economy combined. These illegal fires are an annual occurrence as a method of clearing land for palm-oil plantations. And just more than a week ago, the Indonesian government again declared a national state of emergency due to the severe impacts caused by the out of control fires.

"This important film brings much needed attention to the destruction of rainforests for palm oil, which is a huge driver of global climate change. We must aggressively address the deforestation crisis in places like Indonesia's Leuser Ecosystem," said Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "With palm oil in roughly half of all packaged goods at the grocery store, it's up to all of us to demand major global brands like PepsiCo finally do the right thing and break the link between their products and tropical forest destruction."

DiCaprio met with Allen during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) to discuss the urgent situation facing the Leuser Ecosystem and the critical connection between deforestation and global carbon emissions.

Following his conversation with Allen, DiCaprio's trip to the Leuser Ecosystem caused an international uproar when the Indonesian government briefly threatened him with deportation following his social media posts that drew attention to the deforestation and destruction caused by palm oil expansion. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation later committed three years of major funding for local and international efforts to save the Leuser Ecosystem.

Watch the trailer for Before the Flood here:

Climate

3 Reasons Why You Should Submit Your Climate Story Today

Already the Flim4Climate Global Video Competition has more than 250 entries from 100 countries and counting. Each video is telling a story of how skyrocketing carbon emissions and the activities that feed those emissions are having impacts across the globe. More videos are being submitted every day.

Each story is its own. Some films focus on the individual, others focus on groups, a few focus on countries as a whole and others don't focus on humans at all—instead choosing to examine animals, plants or oceans. Individually, these films leave a viewer with a unique experience, but collectively these films combine to create a wonderful mosaic of some of the biggest issues related to climate change today.

We have one week left to the deadline for video submissions (enter your story before Sept. 15) and it is already clear that the stories told through Film4Climate hit the big issues and draw light on the often under told implications of the climate crisis.

Here are three takeaways from the submissions we've received so far and reasons why you should submit your climate story today:

Take 1: Consumption Junctions

If you were to blindly click on the part of the Film4Climate website where all the videos are displayed (vote for your favorite), there's a good chance you would find a film addressing consumption habits. Perhaps this increased emphasis on the electricity we use, the food we eat and the water we require, is indicative of a "post-Paris" climate movement that is beyond merely making noise directed at heads of state and obscure United Nations committees and is instead focused on actions that drive the transition away from fossil fuels.

Of course, meeting the targets agreed upon at Paris will require governments and heads of state to keep stepping up, but as seen in so many of the Film4Climate entries, it's the individual who really holds the power, especially when it comes to consumption. The film entries relating to electricity usage and the consequences our diets have on the planet, talk as much about the food and electricity that we don't use as much as the food and electricity we do use. And for good reason.

When it comes to electricity use, there are a few films that simply emphasize the difference in use by telling the stories of a few people. In the developed world there are huge differences when it comes to personal energy use. In the U.S. and Canada, for example, the average person uses about 4,500 kWh each year while a person in the UK or Germany will come in way under that by using under 2,000 kWh each year.

But variations don't just exist in the developed world, emerging economies show wide ranges in energy use. The average person in Brazil, Mexico and China uses about 500 kWh, but in Brazil residential use per person has been the same for almost 20 years, while in Mexico it is up 50 percent and in China it has increased 600 percent. There are film submissions from all these countries devoted to consumption habits.

Of course there are a number of positive stories of innovation that lead to smarter ways of consuming electricity and energy. Many of these films are incredibly inspiring and focus on very local solutions. When it comes to reducing pollution, being smarter about energy and rethinking our diets, there are a number of films highlighting champions that we can all learn from.

Beyond energy there is a major emphasis on food in the Film4Climate competition. Again, the films are complimented well by the facts on the ground. In the U.S. alone, approximately 40 percent of food goes to waste. Globally, about one third of the food produced for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted.

Unsurprisingly, much of the food-focused films in this contest so far are devoted to exposing the damage caused by the global meat industry. The World Resources Institute studied the impact of meat consumption on the planet and found that, "reducing heavy red meat consumption—primarily beef and lamb—would lead to a per capita food and land use-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction of between 15 and 35 percent by 2050." According to that same World Resources Institute report, "Beef uses more land and freshwater and generates more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein than any other commonly consumed food."

A growing global beef industry requires more land for grazing and that has resulted in massive clear cutting of the world's largest rainforest. Thus, the beef consumption issue is a deforestation issue. Which brings us to...

Take 2: Deforestation Flicks

For any environmentalist and for what is probably a large part of the population, seeing trees and forests cut down evokes a real and tangible emotion. The destruction of a living thing, that is a habitat for so many other living things and provides the oxygen all earthly things carries weight.

For any environmentalist and for what is probably a large part of the population, seeing trees and forests cut down evokes a real and tangible emotion.Mahmoud El-Kholy

It can manifest with a flinch that accompanies the screech of revved up chainsaw or the internal hollowness that radiates like tree rings from one's stomach when a giant tree thuds helplessly on the forest floor. Maybe these images, these sounds these feelings are the reason so many films in the Film4Climate contest highlight the deforestation issue.

While forest-related stories come from all parts of the world, Brazil is a common setting. Over the last thirty years, the Amazon rainforest has has lost about a fifth of its trees. There are a number of causes for this but the largest, as indicated above factor is cattle ranching. Trees are cut and the land is converted into a pasture for cattle grazing at such a staggering rate in Brazil that between 1996 and 2004, the total export value of Brazilian beef increased tenfold from $1.9 million to $1.9 billion. Brazil is now the largest beef exporter in the world. In other parts of the world, where cattle grazing persists so to does deforestation.

But it's not all cattle. Often, deforestation is the result of increased development or in other cases, deforestation is the result of a quest for palm oil, used in many household, cooking and cosmetic goods. A whopping 85 percent of all palm oil in the world is produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Be it beef production, palm oil or other factors, the world lost an estimated 129 million hectares of forest, an area the size of South Africa, between 1990 and 2015. This trend is a real life horror plot as forests are the largest holder of carbon, but deforestation is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuel burning, causing 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course not all the films focused on the negative of deforestation. Within every genre of film submitted so far to the contest, there are a number of solutions based films related to deforestation. In fact a common theme running through the positive deforestation films was one of rethinking our personal relationships with nature and how adjusting our mindset to when it comes to diet and development can make a difference.

Whether it's the positive or the negative, deforestation story needs to be told and I encourage any filmmaker out there working on the issue to enter their story.

Take 3: Water, Water Everywhere

Water runs through everything on this planet, so perhaps it's no surprise that water is a theme that runs rapidly through the Film4Climate competition.

Videos already sent in to this competition focus on subjects like the food we get from the ocean (spoiler alert: it's fish), the freshwater habitats that are at risk to climate change and the irreversible damage we are doing to our reefs thanks to ocean acidification. Higher temperatures and a shift in extreme weather patterns affect availability and distribution of rain, snow, river flows and groundwater and further deteriorate water quality.

Videos already sent in to this competition focus on subjects like the food we get from the ocean.Stephanie Rabemiafara

The films devoted to these impacts, whether they tell a story of remote villagers that must now travel farther for sketchier sources of water for their family or they document the growing number of vanishing species resulting from vanishing habitats, underscore the connectivity that comes with the water challenge.

Many of the water films are incredibly positive stories as they tend to focus on localized solutions and individuals who are determined to make water access easier for their communities. Through a number of the positive heroic actions the water struggle is explained by focusing on the heroes instead of the villains.

But if there it's villains you are into then look no further than the issue of ocean acidification. Ocean Acidification, the result of warming water and subsequent chemical reactions, has a dramatic impact on calcifying species like oysters, clams, shallow water corals and deep sea corals along with a number of other creatures under the sea.

Above the sea, more than a billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein and a huge number are employed by getting those creatures on dinner tables around the world. The films dealing with ocean acidification all touch on the food aspect, as well as the fact that acidification is already taking hold on some of the world's most vibrant habitats like the Great Barrier Reef.

If you have a story about better caring for or preserving our water resources in times of climate change, please enter your film.

With more than 200 films entered in the Film4Climate contest and each one of those containing a real story about how the climate crisis is taking hold around the world, there's a lot for any film fanatic to take in.

I hope that when the submission deadline hits in September we have many more stories to watch and more inspiration for action to take on climate change. After all, we should all be working towards a happy ending on climate change.

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