Planet Earth Weekly

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

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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.

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.