Tag Archives: greenstuff

Palm oil: who’s still trashing forests?

How ‘clean’ is the palm oil used by major brands around the world? Today, we’re releasing the results of our investigation into which companies are keeping promises to stop deforestation in Indonesia for palm oil. Take a look now to see who’s keeping up – and who’s lagging way behind.

Forest fires in West Kalimantan, September 2015.Forest fires in West Kalimantan, September 2015.

The biggest forest fires of the century tore through Indonesia just six months ago. They reduced millions of hectares of of vibrant, living tropical rainforest and peatland to smoking ash – and with it, some of the last habitat of Indonesian orangutans.

A forest fire in Indonesia may seem like a far away issue, but for the past ten years, our investigations have exposed how the everyday products in our cupboards and on our bathroom shelves have direct links to the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests.

Despite the haze, children in Central Kalimantan continue to play without any protection. Indonesian forest fires impact the health of millions, causing heart and lung problems, and weakening newborn babies.Despite the haze, children in Central Kalimantan continue to play without any protection. Indonesian forest fires impact the health of millions, causing heart and lung problems, and weakening newborn babies.

For the average person, being a part of the solution isn’t as simple as making a few changes to your shopping habits. From Doritos to Colgate to Johnson & Johnson baby soap, palm oil is in so many products that it’s hard to avoid. Even if you could, palm oil isn’t the problem – deforestation is the problem, and that will only stop when corporations take responsibility for the palm oil they buy.

Burnt remains of forest on peatland that has been cleared in preparation for plantation (2006).Burnt remains of forest on peatland that has been cleared in preparation for plantation (2006).

A young oil palm plantation on peatland (2010)A young oil palm plantation on peatland (2010)

So when hundreds of thousands of Greenpeace supporters took action, they took the fight straight to the companies responsible. Using the power of mass pressure, one by one we began forcing the biggest brands that use palm oil or paper from Indonesia to promise to protect rainforests.

Then, a breakthrough. Two years ago, a host of massive brands – including Mars, Mondelez and Procter & Gamble committed to our campaign. Suddenly the biggest brands on the planet were all saying the same thing – that the destruction of these amazing forests had to stop.

And that’s not the end of the good news! This kind of collective action from corporations – with their immense purchasing power – puts huge pressure on traders and producers working directly on the ground. Companies like Wilmar International and Golden Agri Resources may not be household names, but they’re giants in the industry. And because of this they agree to end deforestation – an incredible result!

Environmental activists unfurl a banner in an area affected by forest fires in Central Kalimantan.Environmental activists unfurl a banner in an area affected by forest fires in Central Kalimantan.

Now, the best part of a successful campaign like that is getting to see the real results: Protected forest, healthy orangutans, and an end to rampant deforestation and forest fires. That’s why we have to make sure the companies are keeping their promises.

So last December Greenpeace contacted 14 massive companies to find out how they were getting on with their commitments. What we found was a bit alarming. Only a few companies are making significant headway towards ensuring that there is no deforestation in their palm oil supply chains, and most are moving far too slowly.

It turns out, some companies might think that making a promise is easy – and that no one’s going to notice if they don’t keep it. Find out more in the report here.

A crime scene: burned peatland and forest remains, planted with oil palm seedlingsA crime scene: burned peatland and forest remains, planted with oil palm seedlings

Out of all the companies we surveyed, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo show the poorest performance and are failing to keep the ‘no deforestation’ promises they made to their customers. Tell them to up their game now.

The truth is, we can’t afford to wait. Unbelievably, deforestation rates in Indonesia are actually increasing, instead of decreasing. And those huge fires from six months ago? They’re due to return in just a few months.

Otan, a 7 month old orangutan who was rescued from the forest firesOtan, a 7 month old orangutan who was rescued from the forest fires

The palm oil industry is still a leading cause of all this destruction. And what’s even more frustrating is that palm oil can be produced responsibly. One amazing project we’ve been working with is a community in Dosan, Sumatra that is producing palm oil and protecting and restoring the surrounding rainforest. And there are lots of other schemes like this in Indonesia that need support.

It’s so important that these companies step up and deliver. Everyone knows what needs to happen, and how – so don’t let them get away with empty promises. Demand real change and real action on the ground.

And check out the scorecard report here.

Annisa Rahmawati is the Forests Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Indonesia.

Keeping the Wolverine Wild

Keeping the Wolverine Wild

By Jessica Knoblauch | Wednesday, February 10, 2016



Wolverine Nazzu/Shutterstock

Earthjustice is fighting to protect the wolverine, a tough-as-nails creature that’s nevertheless extremely vulnerable to climate change and development.

Nazzu/Shutterstock

Once decimated by traps and poison, only a few hundred wolverines remained at the turn of this century when Tim Preso, the managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office, took up their cause against unsympathetic state governments and the George W. Bush administration. After many years and court battles, in February 2013 the federal government proposed to protect the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the government failed to follow through on that proposal, instead acquiescing to state objections in 2014 by issuing a decision to withdraw the proposed listing.

Now Earthjustice is back in court with a legal challenge to that decision.  Our aim is to provide the wolverine the legal protections it needs to withstand a host of threats, including a warming climate that is literally melting away the wolverine’s snowy habitat. We spoke with Doug Chadwick, author of The Wolverine Way, to help understand the exceptional nature of the wolverine and its vulnerability in the face of climate change.

Jessica Knoblauch: When did you first hear about wolverines?

Doug Chadwick: I was about 16, living in Alaska, and a fellow I met there looked like he had run into a Cuisinart mixer. It turns out that he had trapped a wolverine, clubbed it in the head and then began carrying it back to camp with its paws bound together and looped over his head. As you can probably guess, it turned out the wolverine wasn’t dead.

Jessica: Whoa. That’s intense! So most people are not familiar with wolverines. Why do we know so little about them?

Doug: Until we had GPS technology, I don’t know anybody alive that could keep up with a wolverine for 24 hours. These are 30-pound animals that are only three feet long, and yet they have home ranges the size of a grizzly bear. We’re talking 400 to 500 square miles for males, and about half of that range for females. And, they’re going up peaks and through passes and along cliff faces.

Doug

Chadwick holds a tagged wolverine.
Photo courtesy of Doug Chadwick

The other reason we don’t know much about them is because they’re very territorial, so you can’t fit very many of these wide-ranging animals into one spot. Even a place as big as Glacier Park, which is 1,500 square miles, only has between 30 and 45 wolverines. That same park has an estimated 340 grizzly bears living in it.

That tells you something very important about wolverines, which is you need connections between existing wild lands for the population as a whole to endure over time. The wolverine is reminding us of something that really applies to almost all of the big, wide-ranging animals, which is that we must link these preserved areas together so that their genes can flow across the landscape.

Jessica: I’ve heard that wolverines can eat just about anything…

Doug: There’s plenty of wildlife to hunt in the Rockies, but they’re found more down on south-facing slopes, away from the wolverines. So what are the wolverines living on? Well, the answer seems to be food they have cached during the warm months when the big critters are up in the high country. It could be something they killed or something that a cougar or grizzly bear killed months ago. The wolverine carries off pieces of it and stores it in snow banks during the summer or puts pieces under boulders that have cold water running under them. It has food stored in all these natural refrigerators, and it can come back six months later in January or February and grab this stashed food.

Wolverines can also crunch bones. They have very strong jaws, and we would find autopsied wolverines whose stomachs felt like they were full of gravel because they were full of bones.

Most importantly, wolverines have this attitude where they will walk up to a grizzly that has a carcass they want and say, “That’s mine.” They start issuing this wolverine growl that sounds like a Harley Davidson mating with a chainsaw, and it’s real velociraptor quality stuff.

Jessica: So they can be quite ferocious?

Doug: There are lots of stories of how they attack people but no one has ever been able to trace down a true story of that happening. But if you do corner one in a trap, they turn into the wolverine of myth. They’re like caged plutonium. They just keep coming at you, and they’re growling and they’ve got saliva coming out of their mouths, so you can kind of see where the assumption comes from about wolverines being vicious.

One time I was doing a story for National Geographic on endangered species and somebody asked me, “Do you want to come and see something interesting?” Of course, I said yes, and the guy leads me to about a half-acre pen where there are a ton of wolverines inside. He asks, “Do you want to go in?” And I’m thinking, “No.” But we did go in, and I see these wolverines rolling around together like puppies and playing with each other in big furry balls and then they come scampering over to see us.

Right then, I came to the conclusion that there was a lot more to these critters than I’ve heard from all the old frontier tales. One reason I was eager to find out more about them was that, like so many animals, the more we know about wolverines, the more the old image changes. They turn out to have dimensions we never guessed, and they turn out to be way more fascinating.

Wolverine

Wolverines are more complex animals than their reputations give them credit for.
kan_khampanya/Shutterstock

Jessica: How does climate change affect wolverines?

Doug: Females require deep, persistent snowpack to raise their young from February through May, and they don’t tend to tolerate warm temperatures very well.

As scientists model various climate regimes, they have predicted that wolverines are going to lose perhaps a third of their existing range in the U.S. by 2050.

When people hear about wildlife and climate change, I think the standard thinking is, “Oh boy, the polar bear and maybe the caribou up in the Arctic are going to have a real problem.” We think of the shrinking ice cap. But now we have an animal, the wolverine, that’s very closely tied to climate, that lives in the Rockies, and it’s telling us the same thing.

Jessica: Tell me about the wolverine called M3.

Doug: Ah, my hero! M3 is the badass’ badass. He is a big male, chocolate-colored with bronze stripes on his side. As we were tracking him, he kicked out an older male in the territory north of him and expanded his territory until it included a good part of Canada as well as Glacier Park. He was like the Genghis Khan of gulos. [Gulo gulos is the scientific name for wolverines.]

In the course of doing all this, he climbed the highest peak in Glacier, which is 10,460 feet. And he completed the last vertical mile in 90 minutes, up a rock face that looks like it’s the world’s steepest, longest ski jump. People subsequently tried to do what they called the M3 route. They went about a third of the way up and bailed.

Other wolverines have done similar exploits. And why are they doing this? I really don’t know, but I know they do it regularly, and I know it’s a big part of their lifestyle. That’s one of the reasons I call them inspiring. If you can master the mountains like that, you’re my heroes.

Glacier NP

Wolverines spend much of their time climbing.
Michal Ninger/Shutterstock

Jessica: In your most recent book, The Wolverine Way, you talk about the wolverine’s approach to life. Can you describe what that is?

Doug: It’s basically climb everything, whether it’s trees, cliffs, avalanche chutes; eat everything, whether it’s small, large, alive, dead; and never back down, even from a mountain and least of all from a grizzly bear.

I think they live life as fiercely and relentlessly as anyone has ever lived. Personally, I can’t imagine living in a world where we give up animals like this, these great creations. What are we saving nature for if we can’t keep critters like this?  

This interview originally appeared as a Down to Earth podcast in 2014. Listen to the full interview here

Latin America Green News: rising temperatures affect Mexico’s crop production, Ecuador feels impacts of climate change, Chile to build innovative solar hydropower plant

Maria Martinez, Program Assistant, Director of Programs & Latin America Project, Washington, D.C.

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

To get the weekly Latin America Green News blog delivered directly to your email, subscribe here.

January 30th – February 5th, 2016

Climate Change

The Valle del Yaqui, Mexico’s largest producer of wheat, suffered a 30 percent loss of crop production in 2015. A one degree increase in minimum average temperature caused the decreased productivity and totaled losses of nearly $2 billion pesos in the region. Since wheat is one of the most important and abundant crops in the country, the decrease in production also affected jobs in the region, not only in the agricultural sector but others as well. For the fourth time in eleven years, maximum temperatures were broken. Bram Govaerts, winner of the 2014 World Food Prize, estimates that if trends continue, Mexico’s three main food crops, corn, rice and wheat, can lose up to 28% of its domestic production due to climate change. (Televisa 2/2/2016)

In a press release this week, Cuba’s Ministry of Science Technology & Environment (CITMA) announced the ministry’s chief areas of work will center on responding to the country’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Some of their central objectives will include reducing the risks to coastal settlements associated with sea level rise, preventing salt water intrusion and promoting conservation efforts of four river basins and coastal areas. Further bolstering the island’s commitment to climate change mitigation, the Deputy Minister said “we are prepared to fulfill the commitment made at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed at the end of 2015 in Paris, France.” (CiberCuba News 2/1/2016)

Two site visits made recently by authorities from Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment found evidence of the effects of climate change on two of the country’s largest ecosystems – the Sierra Nevada and the Amazon. During a flyby through the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon, scientists found low flows in several rivers and lagoons, which they attribute to the alteration of the hydrological cycle as a result of deforestation in the region. Under Secretary for Climate Change, Jorge Burbano, also found the effects of climate change during a visit to Chimborazo, an ancient and extinct volcano. Burbano verified the retreat of the glacier covering the mountain has decreased 58.9 percent between 1962 and 2010. Equally troubling, the rise in temperatures in the area caused unusual mudslides in Chimborazo last November and December that effected roads, pasture and potable water resources. The Ministry recognized the need for urgent action and stated they are working in conjunction with other government institutions to develop and implement adaptation and mitigation measures. (Ministerio del Ambiente 2/3/2016)

In alignment with the country’s commitment made at the COP21 in December, Bolivia plans to triple its water conservation, shift 80 percent of its energy matrix to renewable energy and reach zero deforestation by increasing its forest land by more than 54 million hectares. According to the country’s minister of planning, René Orellana, Bolivia assumes the responsibility of lowering gas emissions by diversifying its energy matrix and outlining a plan to increase renewable energy to 13,300 MW by the year 2030. In addition, the Bolivian government plans to integrate mitigation and adaptation goals with water, energy, forests and agriculture development. During the month of January, 17 municipalities in Bolivia experienced record heat levels since 1950. (Eju, 1/31/2016)

Foreign leaders from the member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) gathered in Quito, Ecuador last week for the 4th annual CELAC summit. During the event, Jose Mujica, a representative from Uruguay, took a deep look at the issue of climate change in the region. He stressed that beyond scientists predicting the possible effects of climate change, it is imperative for the region to develop a financed strategy to protect communities from such effects. He added that “no country, however powerful, can confront the disasters caused by climate change alone.” The new president pro tempore of CELAC, Danilo Medina, agreed and added the he strives for the group to become a productive space for dialogue, debate and solutions of the most important development issues facing the region.

Clean Energy

The Chilean company Valhalla plans to build a 300MW solar and hydropower project called Espejo de Tarapaca (Tarapaca Mirror) in the Atacama Desert, Chile’s driest desert. Without the use of dams, the plant will use solar-power during the day to pump sea water up a tunnel where it will be stored in a reservoir at the top of a mountain and at night the plant will release the water to generate electricity on its way down. While this type of system is not new, using solar power to run the plant is. Chile is one of the best locations in the world for solar, almost 15 percent better suited than Arizona, according to co-founder of Valhalla, Francisco Torrealba. The project, which is cost-competitive with coal, will begin construction by the end of 2016 and will be providing electricity to utilities by 2020. “You could very easily envision a South America in twenty-five years which has an integrated grid all throughout the continent, in which Chile could be providing very cheap, clean electricity with this combination of pump storage and solar power,” says Torrealba. (EcoWatch, 1/22/2016)

Electro-intensive industrial companies in Uruguay could obtain up to a 30 percent discount in their electric energy bills. In Uruguay, electric energy makes up a small portion of industry costs, on average less than 3 percent. However, certain industries rely significantly more on electricity and thus spend a greater portion of their bills on energy. In the case of these industries, the secretariat of the state aims to support those energy-intensive industries by reducing their energy costs. Included in these industries are the following sectors: cement, chemical, rubber and plastic, as well as other manufacturing and some food. (La Red 21, 2/5/2016)

In Michoacán, Mexico, the Secretary of Economic Development, Antonio Soto Sánchez, presented the first nopal-powered plant in the world, which has the potential to power 300 homes. The nopal, known as prickly pear in English, is native to Mexico and grows extensively in the region. The nopal-powered plant, called Nopalimex, has been developed under a pilot program, which is expected to reduce the cost of gasoline by at least 40 percent. The nopal is put through an anaerobic engineering system in a biodigestor, which extracts the nopal’s gas that is then captured and used to generate electricity. (El Ciudadano, 2/1/2016)

Deforestation

Authorities in Puerto Rico inaugurated the first center for studies on climate change effects on dry forests in the Caribbean and U.S. Within the next 30 years, data extracted from the Guánica Dry Forest will be analyzed in real time by scientists from all over the world. Experts will study the impacts of climate change in the atmosphere, the soil and biodiversity of flora and fauna, as well as the exchange of gases between the forest and the atmosphere, infectious diseases and plagues, invasive species and contamination. The center will include a 68-foot tower with an anchor system to extract soil and a room with the equipment necessary to collect information and send it directly to the data center at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) headquartered in Colorado, where it will be shared with other investigation centers. (Terra, 1/29/2016)

This week’s blog was completed with the help of contributions from Andrea Becerra.

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs.

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More drinking water contamination linked to the oil and gas industry in Texas and Pennsylvania

Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst, Washington, D.C.

Two recent drinking water investigations in Texas show dangerous levels of contamination.

The larger study tested 550 water samples collected from public and private water wells in the north Texas Barnett Shale region over a three-year period and found that the closer a water well is to a fracked gas well, the higher the concentration of contaminants including arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium. This investigation also found “alarming” levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.

A smaller study in in south Texas sampled water quality in 80 homes in the Eagle Ford shale region. Of the 80 samples, 20 (25%) showed contamination with high levels of bromide. According to the scientist who conducted the investigation: “almost exclusively those were found within one kilometer of the drilling sites.” The sampling also found a few occurrences of volatile organic compounds that are dangerous to human health.

Bromide is known to be found in oil and gas wastewater, and when combined with chlorine, which is often used in drinking water disinfection, it can form highly toxic byproducts known as trihalomethanes.

In Pennsylvania, a 2015 report issued by Public Herald, a non-profit team of journalists, looked at transparency and procedural problems at the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment by reviewing hundreds of files where water had been contaminated. Back in 2014 I blogged about 248 cases in Pennsylvania where oil and gas companies contaminated private drinking water supplies. Public Herald looked at those and others. Among other things, the report found:

  • DEP used post-drilling water tests to determine contamination in some cases, instead of baseline water tests.
  • DEP never issued determination letters on some cases.
  • DEP does not issue determination letters when a homeowner is working to resolve the issue directly with the oil and gas company, so there are no public records of contamination for those cases.
  • Files were destroyed after only five years.
  • DEP issued different conclusions to homes near each other with similar complaints.

The report includes valuable analysis and offers a roadmap for state regulators to improve their complaint and enforcement process.

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TPP: Not a done deal

TPP




The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has just been signed by all twelve participating countries. But the massive and highly controversial trade agreement still has a long and rocky road ahead before it can go into effect.

The deal must be ratified by Congress, whose leadership is increasingly opposed to letting the TPP become law. Meanwhile, the growing movement against the TPP even has presidential frontrunners in both parties criticizing aspects of the agreement, if not opposing the whole thing.

Bad for farming

President Obama continues to tout the agreement as one of his top legislative priorities for his remaining time in office, despite widespread and persistent opposition from labor unions, environmental groups, and even industry groups like automakers and tobacco companies. We’ve written before about how and why TPP will be bad for our food system; farmer groups like the National Farmers Union (NFU) continue to strongly oppose the deal. After the release of the full text in November, NFU President Roger Johnson said:

After years of negotiating in secret for an enormous agreement guarded from the public under lock and key, the text of the TPP has at last been made public. Unfortunately, it appears to be as bad for America’s family farmers and ranchers as we had feared.

The full text of the TPP also revealed how the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) chapter would negatively effect farmers and bolster the Big 6. According to Ben Lilliston from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,

The TPP’s IPR chapter provides a glimpse into what this new mega free trade deal is all about. The chapter’s requirement that countries grant patent protection for multinational biotech seed companies has little to do with trade and nothing to do with respecting farmers’ innovations, their livelihoods or countries’ food security. It is about asserting, in a very raw way, corporate power over sovereign nations and the farmers who live there.

Opposition is growing

So who will win this trade battle? Only time will tell, but recent signs from Congress have made me more optimistic than ever that we can stop this thing.

First off, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has not wavered in his opposition to the TPP — so to achieve ratification, Obama will need Republican leadership on board. However, in a recent meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Obama failed to get the Republicans to commit to push the TPP forward. McConnell announced in a statement after the meeting that he has problems with the agreement and wants to wait until after November’s election to call for a vote.

Why would there be more support in Congress after the election? Because TPP is so unpopular with the public that our elected officials are afraid to vote “yes” right before they face re-election. Presidential candidates are taking this cue as well: Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both publicly oppose the TPP, as does Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio previously showed support for the treaty, but throughout their presidential campaigns have expressed criticisms.

Tell Congress to say no

Now that the TPP is signed, it will be sent to Congress for review and approval. So don’t wait — tell Congress to oppose the TPP now — and share our action alert with others. Obama will do his best to get a vote on TPP soon; we need to do all we can to make it an uphill battle.

And don’t forget about that other massive trade deal in the works — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The agreement between the United States and the European Union is nearing the finish line, now entering its twelfth round of negotiations. While the TTIP is flying relatively under the radar, most trade deal opposition groups are betting that if we can stop TPP, it will be easier to stop TTIP as well.

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