Category Archives: Deforestation

Move over palm oil, make room for the vegetable oil of the future: Algae oil.

If we open our fridge, bathroom cabinet or laundry room, and take a close look at the products we keep in there, we have a very high chance of finding palm oil in at least half of them. In most ingredient lists, palm oil often hides behind the “vegetable oil” pseudonym, which makes it hard to identify.

Palm oil has taken over most of our every day products. It’s in our shampoos and soaps, cleaning agents, in our chocolate, margarine, spreads, soft drinks, baked goods, ice creams, chips and potato fries, and even in our powder milk.

PalmOilProducts

OK, so what is so bad about Palm oil?

The problem is that it comes with a side of deforestation.

In a previous article linking palm oil and deforestation, I explained how huge palm oil mono-cultures are rapidly substituting Indonesia’s old growth forests, pushing some of the last Orangutans, and countless of other species to the brink of extinction. Deforestation is also placing Indonesia as one of the top CO2 emitters in the world -not from burning fossil fuels, but from the massive CO2 levels released from deforestation-.

The last orangutan populations in the world are found in Indonesia and Malaysia, the two largest producers of palm oil in the world. Over 80% of the palm oil produced in the world comes from Indonesia, and the vast majority has been produced at the expense of some of some of the last old growth tropical rain forest in the world.

Despite this gloomy future, our thirst for vegetable oil is just going to increase.

But maybe we can feed it with a different and more sustainable type of oil. And here is where Solazyme, a San Francisco based biotech company comes into play. Solazyme produces high quality algae oil that is not only much more sustainable but also healthier than palm oil.

As stated in Solazyme’s website:

“Solazyme has pioneered an industrial biotechnology platform that harnesses the prolific oil-producing ability of microalgae. We use standard industrial fermentation equipment to efficiently scale and accelerate the microalgae’s natural oil production time to just a few days. Our platform is feedstock flexible and can utilize a wide variety of plant-based sugars, such as sugarcane-based sucrose, corn-based dextrose, and sugar from other biomass sources including cellulosics. By growing our proprietary microalgae in the absence of light using fermentation tanks to convert photosynthetic plant sugars into oil, we are in effect utilizing “indirect photosynthesis.”

solazyme

In March of 2010, Solazyme entered into a research and development agreement with Unilever, the world’s largest consumer of palm oil, to develop oil derived from algae for use in soaps and other personal care products. The agreement followed the culmination of a yearlong collaboration between Solazyme and Unilever, in which Solazyme’s renewable algal oils were tested successfully in Unilever product formulations.

What is more, Solazyme algae based oils have been proven to offer superior health benefits when used as substitutes for vegetable oils in food products. These benefits include reduced calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, and functional benefits such as enhanced taste and texture for low-fat formulations, while also providing lower cost handling and processing requirements.

Many experts regrettably say that orangutans and Sumatran tigers are walking extinctions. But if companies like Solazyme are able to turn sustainability into profit, they might still have a chance.

Will REDD help save our Forests?

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a very controversial measure. Environmentalists don’t seem to agree if it’s a good idea due to its lack of clarity.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the entire global transportation sector combined.

Deforestation in Amazon, Brazil

Rainforests provide essential ecosystem services; they absorb CO2, release oxygen, regulate global rain and humidity patterns and are home to most plants and animal species in the planet.

Therefore what REDD stands for is in theory wonderful. Reducing deforestation is key in order to fight global warming.

REDD’s basic premise is that if  industries in developed nations want to continue releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere they would have to pay for parts of tropical rainforest or rainforest “regeneration projects” in other parts of the world such as Brazil or Indonesia.

REDD is presented as an “offset” scheme of the carbon market and will produce carbon credits. Carbon offsets are “emissions-saving projects” that in theory compensate for the polluters’ emissions.

REDD detractors state that offsets allow polluting governments and corporations -which have the historical responsibility to clean up the atmosphere- to buy their way out of the problem with cheap projects that exacerbate social and environmental conflicts in the South.

Other major concerns in the REED program are the lack of agreement on the definition of forest degradation, the specific factors causing deforestation, or the funding sources and administrators.

Most local NGO’s agree that indigenous people or local organizations  should be the ones involved in forest regeneration projects  instead of foreign organizations or centralized governments who are often out of touch or easily corrupted.

According to Greenpeace Forest campaigner ” The market oriented draft, which focuses more on investment rather that reducing deforestation, only benefits big companies which huge emissions”.

Greenpeace also explains that from an environmental perspective, REDD will not save the climate nor protect forests, nor will it stop dangerous emissions levels. In fact, they state that REDD will offer polluting industries a way to avoid emissions reduction through cheap offsets and allow them to actually increase pollution.

Orangutans face extinction due to deforestation. REDD could help save them if implemented correctly by preserving the last Indonesian rainforests and tackling the root of their habitat loss: expansion of palm oil plantations.

Jane Goodall is among one of the REDD supporters, and she believes REDD is a great idea because saving parts of rainforests will be able to promote conservation and biodiversity.

Many argue that she is just “desperate” and “naive” to think that REDD will work to save large areas of rainforests or promote forest regeneration in a sustainable and effective manner.

REDD could in fact be a wonderful measure. But all players need to agree on basic principles. Also funding sources and administration must be open.

REDD should never be used as a cheap way to pay off extra CO2 emissions. Fines should be much higher for corporations who pollute more than established. The fine money could in turn be used to buy land to be kept untouched by developers, or to promote sustainable forest regeneration projects where indigenous people should be heavily involved.

The Amazon at “Steak”

25beef-span-6001

The cattle industry is responsible for 80% of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon according to a recent report by Greenpeace : “Amazon Cattle Footprint”.

Brazil has rapidly become the world’s largest beef exporter:


USDA

USDA

Over the last ten years more that 10 million hectares of forest (an area about the size of Iceland) has been cleared for cattle ranching. And the figures are rapidly increasing; the Brazilian government wants to double the beef production by 60% , and most of this expansion will take place in the Amazon, where land is cheap and available.

Greenpeace

Greenpeace

Industrial agriculture is also a large contributor to the Amazon deforestation, soy plantations are on the rise, mainly for bio-diesel and cattle feed production. Both cattle farmers and agribusiness are very powerful in Brazil, many of the country’s most influential politicians are linked to the industry.

A lot of money is being made at the expense of the Amazon, but the value of this ecosystem is far greater than what we are destroying it for.  It’s terrifying to know that we’ll probably find out it’s real value when it’s too late.

The Amazon rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, being the home of at least 40,000 different plant, 430 mammal, 1399 bird, 500 amphibians and 3,000 fish species, and many others that we haven’t discovered yet (and could be potential cures for human diseases).

Deforestation causes over 20% of global carbon emission, more than the world’s entire transport sector. The Amazon is estimated to store over 120 billion tonnes of carbon, which would be equal to over 50 years of current US carbon emissions if destroyed.

Cattle ranching in the Amazon also has social impacts on the region, including the highest rates of slave labor in Brazil. In 2008, 3005 rural workers who were kept in slavery were freed from cattle ranches in the Amazon.

The Amazon is also home to over 300,000 indigenous people who depend on the forest for their food, shelter, tools and medicines.


deforestation1

Greenpeace believes that Brazil can reach zero deforestation by 2015 through stronger enforcement of its existing environmental laws such as asking landowners to keep 80 % of their land forested,  promote sustainable development programs, increasing funding for monitoring and law enforcement, etc.

We as consumers can also do our part by reducing our carbon footprint. Some ways of doing so include reducing the quantity of meat that we consume, and checking its origin and how it was produced.

The greenhouse gas emissions from beef are 13 kilograms of CO2  per kg. This means that eating a kilogram of beef represents roughly the same greenhouse emissions as flying 100 kilometers of a flight, per passenger.

To know more about your carbon footprint go to this site.

Stop Flushing Ancient Forests Down the Toilet

WWF-Kurt Prinz

WWF-Kurt Prinz

We hear it in the news, we see it everywhere, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Most of us are aware that deforestation is one of the most serious problems of the century, but we continue to flush old growth forests down our toilets.

Most people are extremely surprised when they learn that the two largest manufacturers of tissue products in the world still use virgin fiber from old growth forest to make toilet paper. It seems like a bad nightmare, but it’s a reality!

Kimberly-Clark (Kleenex, Scott, Scottex and Cottonelle) and Procter & Gamble (Bounty) sell millions of tons of tissue products in over 150 countries annually, making each over 14 billion US dollars of profit every year.

Their toilet papers are made with virgin fiber that comes from old growth boreal forests located in Canada, Russia and the Balkans. They also use virgin pulp from tropical forests located in Asia and Latin America.

WWF published in a recent report that “Every day, about 270,000 trees are flushed down the drain or end up as garbage all over the world”.

This is clearly unnecessary and it needs to stop!

You as the consumer have the power. Buying 100% post-consumer recycled toilet paper is a very easy way to protect some of the last old growth forest left in the world.

Yes, recycled toilet paper is not as soft , but it’s a very small sacrifice that can save millions of trees!

And anyways, how soft do you really need your toilet paper to be? You only use it a few seconds a day!

According to the NRDC, “ If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees”.

There are tons of recycled toilet paper alternatives out there, these are just a few…

In the US: Seventh Generation, 365 (Whole Foods), Earth First and Green Forest . And Naturelle, Ecotopia and Essential in Europe among others.

Also note that the whiter the tissue, the more likely it is to contain high levels of virgin fibers and huge amounts of bleaching, which also has very negative impacts in the environment.

So from now on try to buy recycled toilet paper, and if your supermarket doesn’t carry it ask for it!

The consumer has the power. Vote with your money!

You can also ask Kimberly-Clark to stop using old growth forest here.


Sources:

NRDC

WWF

Greenpeace-Kleercut Campaign