Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe.

Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe.

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: November 20, 2018 SNIP: A decade ago, the U.S. mandated the use of vegetable oil in biofuels, leading to industrial-scale deforestation — and a huge spike in carbon emissions. The fields outside Kotawaringin village in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, looked as if they had just been cleared by armies. None of the old growth remained — only charred stumps poking up from murky, dark pools of water. In places, smoke still curled from land that days ago had been covered with lush jungle. Villagers had burned it all down, clearing the way for a lucrative crop whose cultivation now dominates the entire island: the oil-palm tree. The dirt road was ruler straight, but deep holes and errant boulders tossed our tiny Toyota back and forth. Trucks coughed out black smoke, their beds brimming over with seven-ton loads of palm fruit rocking back and forth on tires as tall as people. Clear-cut expanses soon gave way to a uniform crop of oil-palm groves: orderly trees, a sign that we had crossed into an industrial palm plantation. Oil-palm trees look like the coconut-palm trees you see on postcards from Florida — they grow to more than 60 feet tall and flourish on the peaty wetland soil common in lowland tropics. But they are significantly more valuable. Every two weeks or so, each tree produces a 50-pound bunch of walnut-size fruit, bursting with a red, viscous oil that is more versatile than almost any other plant-based oil of its kind. Indonesia is rich in timber and coal, but palm oil is its biggest export....
‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

SOURCE: CBC DATE: November 17, 2018 SNIP: Last year, 12,812 hectares of B.C. forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. It’s an annual event — a mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province. The eradication of trees like aspen and birch on regenerating forest stands is meant to make room for more commercially valuable conifer species like pine and Douglas fir. But experts say it also removes one of the best natural defences we have against wildfire, at a time when our warming climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and more common. When aspen and other broadleaves are allowed to flourish, they form “natural fuel breaks” if their leaves are out, according to Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of B.C. That’s why aspen stands are often referred to as “asbestos forests” in wildfire science circles. The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller. The concern is that trees like aspen will out-compete conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the timber industry. If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, a chemical known more familiarly as the active ingredient in Roundup. Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have been treated with the herbicide. “At the end of the day, we have rules that make fire-resistant trees illegal in our forests. That’s just nuts,” James Steidle, a member of the anti-glyphosate...
Bolsonaro’s election is catastrophic news for Brazil’s indigenous tribes

Bolsonaro’s election is catastrophic news for Brazil’s indigenous tribes

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 31, 2018 SNIP: Brazil has just elected as its president a far-right nationalist with authoritarian tendencies and fascist inclinations. The country’s 900,000-strong indigenous people are among the many minority groups Jair Bolsonaro has frequently targeted with vitriolic hostility. “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians,” he once said. If he enacts his campaign promises, the first peoples of Brazil face catastrophe; in some cases, genocide. Survival works closely with groups from the Guajajara tribe in Brazil’s Maranhão state, who have taken it upon themselves to protect what remains of this eastern edge of the Amazon rainforest; not only for the hundreds of Guajajara families who call it home, but also their far less numerous neighbours: the uncontacted Awá. These “guardians of the Amazon” are subject to violent attacks from the powerful logging mafias who operate illegally in the area. Some estimates suggest up to 80 members of the tribe have been killed since 2000. Meanwhile, in the north, in the largest area of forest under indigenous control in the world, the Yanomami are besieged by illegal gold miners. The tribe, whose territory extends over the border into Venezuela, is suffering a measles epidemic, most likely as a result of these invaders. As well as sickness, these miners have mounted violent attacks on some communities, often with impunity. In May, two uncontacted Yanomami were reportedly murdered by gold miners working illegally near their community. These violent incursions are likely to increase as loggers, land grabbers and miners feel emboldened by Bolsonaro, and make greater and...
The Amazon Rainforest Faces ‘Genocide’ Under Brazil’s New Far-Right President

The Amazon Rainforest Faces ‘Genocide’ Under Brazil’s New Far-Right President

SOURCE: Earther DATE: October 29, 2018 SNIP: It is not hyperbole to wonder if the outcome of Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil is a planetary game over when it comes to climate change. Proto-fascist Jair Bolsonaro handily won the presidency on Sunday on a platform of xenophobia, homophobia, and a promise to silence political dissidents. It’s a dark day for the world’s ninth-biggest economy and the 47 million Brazilians who didn’t vote for Bolsonaro or subscribe to his views. But his plans for the Amazon are what will reverberate far beyond the country’s borders and well into the future. The Washington Post reports that Bolsonaro has a plan to privatize vast swaths of the forest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he would like to expand hydropower and nuclear power in the region, and has indicated he will not let outside environmental groups have much sway over conservation. He also said he would like to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement, meaning two of the world’s six largest carbon emitters will have potentially turned their back on international climate action. His policies of environmental and cultural violence could work in tandem in the Amazon to devastating effect. The forest is already in a weakened state after decades of logging, extraction, and agribusiness interests taking their toll. And while previous governments have paid lip service to protecting the region, degradation has continued. The threat to indigenous people is likely to increase under Bolsonaro, who has expressed admiration for Brazil’s former military dictatorship that was part of a wave of neoliberal suffering that afflicted Latin America in...
Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns

Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: October 7, 2018 SNIP: The impacts and costs of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) of global warming will be far greater than expected, according to a comprehensive assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released Sunday in Incheon, South Korea. The past decade has seen an astonishing run of record-breaking storms, forest fires, droughts, coral bleaching, heat waves, and floods around the world with just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1.0 degrees Celsius) of global warming. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health, and well-being,” said Priyardarshi Shukla, Chair of the Global Centre for Environment and Energy at Ahmedabad University in India and co-author of the Special Report, in a statement. Such impacts include stronger storms, more erratic weather, dangerous heat waves, rising seas, and largescale disruption to infrastructure and migration...