Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Momentum for Change: Mapping for Rights

MappingForRights

Protecting our Rainforest!

“MappingForRights can improve how forests are protected and governed, making it easier to enforce illegal activities when needed.”

By Linn Smith
July 6, 2017—Momentum for Change is headed by the Climate Change branch of the United Nations. Its goal is to shine a light on the global activities which are moving the world toward a low-carbon future. It recognizes innovative solutions that address climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges. The solutions are called Lighthouse Activities. If you are leading a project with this objective you can apply to enter the yearly Momentum for Change Awards.

ForestLink

MappingForRights employs many women.

MappingForRights

MappingForRights is one of the winners for 2016. Specific attention is given to indigenous women, allowing them to be involved in this project. The system is based on enabling communities to map and monitor their lands through low-cost technologies, providing an online interactive map. It’s a project of the Rainforest Foundation UK and its partners in the Congo Basin.

MappingForRights puts indigenous communities on the map digitally, showing traditional lands and resources that are used to claim land rights. It also challenges harmful projects such as logging, by making all data available online, and by advocating for legal reforms. It provides communities with accurate printed maps of their lands, and allows indigenous community leaders to easily access this accurate geographical information about community lands, showing the allocation of the forests around their villages.

ForestLink

Forest Link helps monitor and protect our rainforest.

ForestLink

In 2015, the project launched ForestLink to monitor remote communities and to capture and transmit alerts on illegal logging anywhere in the world using a satellite. ForestLink shows an accurate report of illegal logging by timber or palm oil companies. The illegal activity can be collected using a tablet computer or smartphone and then transmitted to an online map via a satellite modem transmitter in as little as 20 seconds, costing about the same as a text message. This real-time monitoring of the forest transforms the way forest illegalities are documented and laws enforced, transmitting the location which leads to more targeted and effective forest protection.

Mapping for Rights

Protecting our rainforest in the Congo.

Rights of Indigenous People

MappingForRights secures the rights of the indigenous people, shifting responsibility to the local indigenous communities. The information gathered is stored in a central geographical database where it can be assessed and analyzed by experts or automatically re-broadcast for in-field verification. The reports can be searched for data related to the reports, such as name of companies involved in logging or type of infraction.

By 2017 it is expected that more than 700 communities in the Congo Basin will have mapped their lands through the MappingForRights program, mapping up to 6 million hectares (over 23,000 sq. miles) of forest land.

Protecting Our Rainforest

There is evidence that securing community rights to land and resources is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty, halt deforestation and reduce the harmful effects of climate change. This system can improve how forests are protected and governed, making it easier to enforce illegal activities when needed.

MappingForRights

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Cocoa and Deforestation

Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance: Sustainably Grown Chocolate

By Linn Smith

Cocoa plantations created by clearing away the rainforests create multiple environmental problems.

February 5, 2016—Who doesn’t like chocolate? When we eat this delicious melt-in-your-mouth treat we want to enjoy it–not think about the environmental destruction connected with it or how it may be affecting our everchanging climate. My first reaction–NO! Not chocolate too! But alas–it seems so!

To keep up with our sweet tooth demands, cocoa farmers have shifted from natural, sustainable farming to methods that are environmentally destructive, including clearing away the rainforests.

Cocoa Production: A Huge Industry

Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures. According to Wikipedia, cocoa farming can only take place 15 degrees north or south of the Equator, with West Africa being the biggest producer. The Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s cacao for chocolate. Other cacao producing countries are Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Peru. The market value for the world’s chocolate for 2016 is approximately $98.3 billion–a huge industry that can also be corrupt, involving everything from child labor to smuggling.

Cacao Tree and Chocolate

Grown on Plantations-Destroying Rainforest

The Environmental Impact of Cocoa Production

What is the environmental impact of our sweet tooth? Cacao is traditionally grown on small farms. The trees that produce the beans grow naturally under the large leafy canopies of the rainforests, but many cocoa farmers have cleared away the rainforest to create cocoa plantations in the open sunlight, as it makes the pods easier to harvest.

Cocoa plantations created by clearing away the rainforests create multiple environmental problems. Farmers have moved towards plantations because they produce a greater quantity, lower quality and a higher yield of cocoa, but planting cacao in an open, cleared field attracts pests which requires spraying with chemicals. Also, animal habitats are destroyed and tons of CO2, which is stored in the leaves and trunks of the cleared trees, is released into our atmosphere, furthering the warming of our planet. “The more intense the farming practices are, the more damaging they are to the ecosystem. Cocoa farming becomes a destructive circle as farmers wear out the soils and cut further into the forest to obtain fresh land. All of these processes stress the Cacao trees and eventually lead to lower yields of cocoa, giving the opposite effect to what the farmers expect from these practices.”

Clearing the Rainforest for Cocoa

Where rainforests are protected by the government, farmers and corporations will often cut down forests illegally. An example of this was recently documented by scientists and conservation groups, charging United Cacao with “quietly cutting down more than 2,000 hectares (one hectare equals about 2 1/2 acre) of primary, closed-canopy rainforest along the Peruvian Amazon.” Scientists watched this happen via satellites which monitor the earth’s surface and provide data on how the earth is changing over time. In 2013 United Cacao also boldly stated on their website that they were starting the “clearing work to ready their land for a cacao plantation.”

Dennis Melka, CEO of United Cacao, has also been involved in the palm oil industry, cutting down rainforests for palm oil. Clinton Jenkins, ecologist at the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil, says, regardless of data, that United Cacao will continue to claim the land was already deforested when they obtained it—that they created their cocoa plantations on previously cleared land and United Cacao had nothing to do with the deforestation! But Clinton states, “It was already deforested because United Cacao has deforested it!”

Certified Sustainable Practices

Look for Products with the Green Frog

Educating Cocoa Farmers

Training farmers in sustainable farming is the key to deforestation. Organizations such as the World Cocoa Foundation, Deforestation-Free Cocoa and Rainforest Alliance are attempting to return cocoa farming to its sustainable roots, planting the trees in their natural habitats underneath the broad leafs of the rainforest canopy. Even though rainforests are already cleared in many places, farmers can still be educated in ways to sustainably grow cacao, such as financing farmers on the condition they will not deforest further, ensuring fair labor and organic practices, and selling through a farmer’s coop that assures higher prices.

Rainforest Alliance

Dove Dark Chocolate

What can you do to help? Buy only Rainforest Alliance chocolate. “The Rainforest Alliance has been working to strengthen the position of smallholder cocoa farmers since 2006, both on the land and in the marketplace, by training them to conserve natural resources, increasing productivity and securing a decent living and working conditions.”

Rainforest Alliance brands are stamped with the little green frog on the wrapping! Some companies that use chocolate from Rainforest Alliance farmers are: Clif Bar, Dove Dark Chocolate, Dagobac, Hershey’s Bliss, NibMor.

Protecting forests plays a key role in fighting climate change.


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The Irresponsible Practices of the Palm Oil Industry

Palm oil and negative environmental impact

Palm oil plantations are in demand as the world uses more palm oil

The use of palm oil products, that further the destruction of our planet, its people and wildlife, is not acceptable!

By Linn Smith

December 4, 2015—Being curious about palm oil and its devastation to wildlife habitats and the environment, many questions have lingered in my mind. What are the various kinds of palms and what palms are used as oil palms? What is the relationship of oil palms to coconut palms? (I use a lot of coconut oil!) How is the harvesting of products from palm trees effecting our environment? So I decided to investigate and here’s what I found:

Palm Oil Products

According to Philadelphiazoo.org, a zoo currently working towards spreading awareness of the negative impacts of palm oil, the oil can go by many different names in many different products, such as foods, cosmetics, hair and lotion products, cookies, toothpaste, cleaning products, and the list goes on. Here are some of the different names for palm oil you may find on these products: Cetyl Palmite, Ethyllhexyl Palmitate, Hydrated Palm Glycerides, Octyl Palmitate, Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol, Palmolein, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palmate….and more!

The Arecaceae Family

Oil palm and other palms, including coconut, come from the family Arecaceae which means “palm”–but there are thousands of different species of palm trees which grow a variety of different fruits, from dates and acai to coconuts. The fruit of the palm oil tree has kernels which are pressed to make palm oil. Most palm oil comes from the species Elaeis Guineensis. Coconut palm is from the species Cocos Nuciferas. A website, davesgarden.com, describes many of the various fruits of the palm family.

The Palm tree, which we get our coconut oil from, is mostly cultivated in Indonesia, the Philippines and India on a very small scale. The coconuts, harvested by local farmers, are a renewable resource. The coconut palm is known as a “three generation tree”, as it continues through three generations, supporting the farmer, his children and his grandchildren. The farmers produce coconut for coconut milk, coconut oil, fibres for rope, mats, mattresses, and paint brushes.

Removing tropical forests for palm oil

Tropical forests are burned to make room for palm oil plantations.

The Negative Impacts of Palm Oil

Quite the opposite of coconut production is the environmentally unfriendly production of palm oil. The oil palm is mass cultivated on large plantations that have been created by removing not only the indigenous people from their homes, but also have devastated the habitat of wildlife, mainly the Orangutan and Tiger in Indonesia and Malaysia. Tropical forests have been cleared to create plantations. This clearing has added to the warming of our planet as the valuable trees are cut and sold, leaving the rest to be burned down. Burning of the tropical forests emits large quantities of smoke into our atmosphere. Oil palms are then planted.

When the forests are cut they release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, driving up temperatures by the greenhouse effect. Indonesia is the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. It is estimated that 714 million acres of tropical forests will be cleared by 2050 adding another 169 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the the atmosphere, significantly raising global temperatures.

Oil palm industry and child labor

Child labor is used by the oil palm industry.

Violations by the Palm Industry Corporations

Corporations involved in the palm industry are accused of human rights violatons by employing child labor and taking the land owned by indigenous people for their own financial benefit–to supply the world with palm oil! Without their own land, the indigenous people have no choice but to become palm plantation workers, getting paid barely enough to support their families.

Another negative effect of cutting tropical forests for palm oil plantations is the destruction of peatlands, which store carbon. These peatlands, which have developed over thousands of years, are drained and cleared. According to biofueldaily.com, “Draining the peatlands exposes the upper layer to oxygen, raising decomposition rates and soil carbon losses. Most of the carbon is emitted into the atmosphere, speeding up climate change by emitting still more greenhouse gasses.” Clearing a single acre of peatland rain forest can release up to 15,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, (one hectare releases up to 6000 tons of CO2).

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established by producers, manufacturers, traders, bankers and investors of the palm oil industry, with the objective to “promote growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards.”

Greenpeace and many other environmental organizations have criticized this group as, “Falling short of protecting the rain forests and reducing greenhouse gasses,” because the RSPO which has created the certified sustainable palm oils is not guaranteed to be deforestation-free. The RSPO also allows the destruction of peatlands by the industry. In 2013, 200 scientists asked for stronger standards, but the RSPO failed to respond.

In 2014, 67,000 tons of palm oil was used by Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Nature Valley, requiring 44,700 acres of tropical land to be cleared to grow the palm oil.

According to the Union Of Concerned Scientists there are steps we can take to let the industry know these practices are not acceptable. By going to the website:https://secure3.convio.net, you can sign a letter to the industry to increase sustainable practices.

The use of palm oil products, that further the destruction of our planet, its people and wildlife, is not acceptable! Do what you can to make a difference!

Cell phones can detect loggers in real time.


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Saving Our Rainforests

“The idea in a nutshell is to place solar-powered phones high up in the tree canopy of the rainforests where they’re tough to spot, but they can listen in for the sounds of chainsaws”

By Linn Smith

October 10, 2014—According to Wikipedia, “Rainforests are responsible for 28% of the world’s oxygen turnover, processing it through photosynthesis from carbon dioxide and consuming it through respiration. A rainforest emits and absorbs vast quantities of carbon dioxide.” Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s surface. Today, they cover less than 2%, but they are habitat to approximately 50% of the planet’s plants and animals.

The Destruction of our Rainforests

Today, rainforests are being destroyed by logging, cattle ranching, agriculture, mining, oil companies searching for new oil deposits and when found, pipelines, and dams. Our planet loses about 6,000 acres of rainforest every hour. According to The Rainforest Foundation, tropical deforestation is the second largest cause of climate change. The Stern Report titled, The Economics of Climate Change, states, “the loss of natural forests contributes more to global (carbon) emissions each year than the transport sector.”

One innovative thinker is working towards saving our rainforests. Silicon Valley physicist and engineer Topher White, has founded a non-profit organization, Rainforest Connections. White says the current ways to detect poaching of trees in the rainforests are either too slow or too expensive. Currently, satellite pictures are used for after-the-fact images of disappearing trees, and aircraft are used to fly over the rainforests to spot logging activity.

Cell phone technology can help halt the destruction of rainforests

Detecting loggers in our rainforests.

Cell Phones: Listening for Loggers

White has come up with another idea involving our recycled cell phones, which could detect intruders in the forests before extensive destruction has begun. Here’s how it works according to Rainforest Connections, “The idea in a nutshell is to place solar-powered phones high up in the tree canopy where they’re tough to spot, but they can listen in for the sounds of chainsaws (and eventually vehicles and poachers). When they detect the sounds of illegal activity, the hidden phones use existing GSM cellphone networks to alert authorities of the location in real time, so that the authorities can deploy to the area and stop the loggers before they fell too many trees.” Each cell phone is housed in special protective casing attached to a solar panel and can protect up to one square mile of forest. White says most areas have good cell phone reception because developing countries find it more efficient and less expensive to set up the technology for cell phone use than running phone lines throughout the countryside.

The original plan of spacing cell phones a mile apart throughout the forest was found to be inefficient as there was too much shade and not enough sunlight in the canopy of branches. White refined his invention and developed the pedal method of installing cell phones in trees, “The petal [design] that you see [in our images] is able to maximize the amount of power that comes out of these rays of light and sunflecks that are able to make it through the canopy.” This method was tested in 2013 in Sumatra, detecting loggers attempting to clear away the forest in less than two weeks of cell phone listening .

Training the Local Community in Maintenance

Dealing with the cell phone payment plans of another country has been an unforseen challenge, but after raising the needed money, Rainforest Connections is ready to take their invention to a larger scale, testing it in Africa and the rainforests of the Amazon. Thereafter, White will work with local law enforcement and environmental groups to train them in running and maintaining the systems. White says that it’s unclear how long the devices will keep functioning in the treetops, but he suspects most will run for a year or two at least and it’s doubtful the supply of discarded phones will run out anytime soon!

The group also plans to create an app that will let anyone in the world listen to the sounds of the rainforest at any time, and receive alerts from the trees in real time.

This will engage others all over the world to help save the rainforests.