Turn up the heat on McDonald's for killing orangutans

Do you tweet?  If so, do the world a favor and tweet this line today:

Is @McDonalds driving #orangutan habitat loss? For #FastFoodDay RT to demand McD’s uses zero deforestation #PalmOil pic.twitter.com/ZsxagRPFAk

Rainforest killer...

Rainforest killer...

Imagine chomping into a Big Mac and finding a dead orangutan finger.  That's effectively what's happening because McDonalds refuses to stop using palm oil that contributes to rainforest destruction.

Today is National Fast Food Day, and ALERT is helping the Union of Concerned Scientists to turn up the heat on McDonalds.  UCS asked a series of leading corporations to tighten up their palm oil policies and most were happy to oblige -- but not McDonalds.

It's time to tweet, folks. 

And remember also to vote with your wallets -- and ask your friends to do so too. 

McDonalds is a massive consumer of palm oil -- the kind that kills rainforests.  If they don't want to play nice and help save orangutans and countless other species, let's just boycott them until they do.

 

Ten ways you can help stop the sixth mass extinction

Anthony Barnosky is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and he's one smart dude.  He's just written a brilliant essay entitled "10 ways you can help stop the sixth mass extinction". 

We really can save nature -- if we get moving now.

We really can save nature -- if we get moving now.

As we all know, we are living in an age of biodiversity crisis.  Some believe we could lose up to three-quarters of all species on Earth in the coming century

Others believe the extinctions will be less severe, but even optimistic estimates suggest the age of humans -- the Anthropocene -- could be one of the greatest extinction events in Earth's 4.5-billion year history. 

Barnosky emphasizes that there's still time to avoid the Sixth Mass Extinction, but we need to pull our thumbs out and get moving -- today. 

We briefly summarize his 10 key messages below.  See his original essay for details about each suggestion:

1. Spread the word, to your family, friends, co-workers, and social media circle: the extinction crisis is real.

2. Reduce your carbon footprint.

3. Buy products from companies committed to using sustainably produced palm oil in their products.

4. Eat fish from only healthy fisheries.

5. Eat less meat.

6. Never, ever buy anything made from ivory -- or from any other product derived from threatened species.

7. Enjoy nature.

8. Adopt a species or become a citizen scientist.

9. Vote for and support leaders who recognize the importance of switching from a fossil-fuel energy system to a carbon-neutral one, who see the necessity of growing crops more efficiently, whose economic agenda includes valuing nature, and who promote women's rights to education and healthcare.

10. Don't give up.

Bottom line: We are not doomed to any particular fate, but we will be if we fail to confront the growing extinction crisis. 

A planet that's too hostile to sustain much biodiversity will not be a good place for people to live either.

 

Export markets are driving much of tropical deforestation

Why are tropical nations cutting down their forests?  Is it to feed and house their people?  To provide goods for their domestic markets?

Who's benefiting from forest destruction?

Who's benefiting from forest destruction?

Not so much.

In fact, a lot of deforestation is happening so that tropical nations can export stuff -- especially agricultural goods, timber, minerals, and oil -- to consumer nations. 

And who are the big consumers?  At least for major commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy, and timber, the European Union and China rank as the biggest importers.

That's the conclusion of a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development, an independent think-tank based in London and Washington, D.C.

The analysis focused on six of the most important tropical nations -- Bolivia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea -- as well as Argentina and Paraguay.  These countries produce a big chunk of the four internationally traded commodities (beef, soy, palm oil, timber) that were the focus of the study.

The study found that about a third of all deforestation could be directly attributed to those four export commodities.  And if one includes beef production in the Amazon, which is mostly 'exported' to the major population centers in southern Brazil, then exports of the four commodities account for a whopping 57% of all deforestation.

In all of the studied countries except for Bolivia and Brazil, export markets were the dominant drivers of deforestation.  Moreover, for most of the eight countries, the importance of export markets as a driver of deforestation and greenhouse-gas emissions increased over time.

What this says is that much of tropical deforestation is being driven not by the needs of local people, but by growing global demand.  The E.U. and China are big sinners, but there's plenty of blame to spread around among other nations.

A lot of the food and timber we consume comes from tropical nations.  We all want to live well, but there is no free lunch.  Somewhere, a chainsaw is roaring and a bulldozer growling so that we can have cheap food and timber.

 

Will new supercrops feed the world and help save nature?

We live in a hungry world -- and one that will soon grow much hungrier.  Global food demand is expected to double by mid-century because of rapid population growth and changing food habits.  Producing that much food could require a billion hectares of additional farmland -- an area the size of Canada.

But if we develop new high-yielding 'supercrops' and farm them intensively, could we feed the world with less land and thereby spare some land for nature?  Many have argued in favor of this idea.

A tsunami of oil palm  (photo by William Laurance)

A tsunami of oil palm (photo by William Laurance)

But a new study published in the leading journal Science suggests the opposite: supercrops will actually encourage more habitat destruction for agriculture, especially in the species-rich tropics.

The authors argue that new varieties of palm oil, which are highly productive and profitable but grow only in the tropics, are simply going to keep spreading apace.  That's because there's so many different uses for palm oil, including for many food items, cosmetics, and biofuels, that demand for it will remain high.  

And, as palm-oil production rises, its price will likely fall, meaning that it will increasingly out-compete other oil-producing crops, such as canola (rapeseed), sesame seeds, and peanuts.

This, the authors say, will simply shift the footprint of agriculture from areas such as North America and Europe to mega-diversity regions such as the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

What's the answer to the tsunami of oil palm and other profitable tropical crops?  There really is only one alternative: we need proactive land-use zoning to determine where agriculture should and should not go -- to ensure it doesn't just overrun nature.  And we need better law enforcement to reduce illegal deforestation.

And we direly need to limit the explosive expansion of roads into wilderness and high-biodiversity areas.  By 2050, it's expected that we'll have an additional 25 million kilometers of new paved roads -- with nine-tenths of these in developing nations that sustain many of the world's biologically richest ecosystems.

There really is no other option.  Supercrops may help feed a hungry world, but if they're not constrained they will destroy much of nature in the process.

 

Palm oil chief grossly distorts facts about deforestation

Malaysia is one of the world's biggest producers of palm oil, but one of its top palm oil officials is again grossly distorting facts about the crop's role in deforestation.

Expanding oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia  (photo by Rhett Butler)

Expanding oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia (photo by Rhett Butler)

At a recent conference in Borneo, Yusof Basiron, the dogmatic CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, argued that 80 percent of Sarawak's forests are "still undeveloped".  He further claimed that "there's no issue of deforestation", according to the Malaysian Star.

Basiron is full of bunk.  A recent scientific analysis showed that less than 20 percent of Sarawak is covered by intact forest.  Most of Sarawak's remaining forests have been heavily logged, and nearly 500,000 hectares of forest was felled for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, according to a recent study.

Sarawak aims to convert nearly a million hectares of additional land to oil palm by 2020, according to the leading environmental website Mongabay.com.  Much of that hand is held under native customary rights, suggesting the potential for large social conflicts in the future.

Basiron is renowned for making ridiculous pronouncements.  For instance, he has argued that oil palm has not caused forest loss in Malaysia -- a laughable assertion

He has also claimed that orangutans benefit from oil palm plantations by feeding on palm fruit, but in fact orangutans are commonly killed as pests in and around plantations -- and the plantations are rapidly replacing the native forests in Borneo and Sumatra that the apes require.

Finally, Basiron has fought efforts to clean up the palm oil industry -- attacking sustainability commitments and zero-deforestation pledges by some of the world's biggest palm oil producers and buyers.  

Palm oil is expanding internationally at a dramatic rate.  It's an important and highly productive crop, but its net benefits are hugely diminished when it's allowed to drive the destruction of the world's most biodiversity- and carbon-rich forests. 

Spreading gross distortions and lies about oil palm -- as is increasingly the habit of Yusof Basiron -- does nothing to improve the credibility of palm oil advocates.

 

Company to spend $12 million felling Papua's rainforests

How much rainforest can you destroy with $12 million?  Quite a lot, actually...

Make way for oil palm...  (photo by William Laurance)

Make way for oil palm... (photo by William Laurance)

According to a recent report by the Indonesian policy group Greenomics, an Indonesian oil palm company plans to spend $12 million over the next three years to clear over 38,000 hectares of intact rainforest in Papua

That's an area roughly the size of 75,000 football fields.

The Indonesian province of Papua encompasses the western half of the island of New Guinea.  Its ancient rainforests are among the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth.

Notably, the oil palm company planning to fell the forests, known as PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk -- or ANJT for short -- has been a key supplier of the mega-corporation Wilmar, the world's biggest palm oil producer. 

Earlier this year Wilmar issued a "no-deforestation pledge", promising not to clear any more forests for palm oil production.

Clearly, Wilmar's pledge will be laughable if it promises it won't clear forests, and then simply buys palm oil from ANJT -- which is busily bulldozing some of the world's most biologically diverse and carbon-rich rainforests.

So, let's all keep a sharp eye on Wilmar -- while urging it to steer clear of forest-killing companies like ANJT.